British Executions

Richard Clifford Brinkley

Age: 53

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 13 Aug 1907

Crime Location: 32 Churchill Road, Croydon

Execution Place: Wandsworth

Method: hanging

Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint


Richard Clifford Brinkley was convicted of the murders of 55-year-old Richard Beck and 57-year-old Elizabeth Beck and sentenced to death.

He poisoned them with prussic acid at 32 Churchill Road, Croydon on 20 April 1907.

Richard Brinkley was a carpenter by trade but also dealt in dogs and fowls. He was described as a man of respectable appearance but of the worst possible character.

He had been friends for some years with an elderly woman who had lived in Fulham and whom had seemed to have expressed her intention of leaving her property to him, to the exclusion of her daughter and grand-daughters. However, in December 1906, with the help of another man, Richard Brinkley prepared a forged Will signed by the elderly woman in which she left her property to him. The witness signatures that were on the will were Richard Brinkley's friend who had helped him forge the will and that of a third man and it was dated 17 December 1906. The elderly woman died on 19 December 1906. As soon as the elderly woman died, Richard Brinkley took possession of the property.

However, the will was disputed by the elderly woman's daughter and an action was taken out in the Probate Division of the High Court claiming that the Will should be set aside on the grounds of undue influence. The friend of Richard Brinkley who had signed the will signed an Affidavit saying that the will had been signed by Richard Brinkley in the presence of himself and the third man. However, the difficulty arose when it became clear that the third man would have to be called as a witness. The signature was his but he denied signing the Will as a witness. At the trial the third man said that he recalled signing what he thought was an 'Outing' paper for Richard Brinkley at Hennessy's pub. The police later said that there was some reason to doubt that the third man had not known that he was signing a will, but either way, there was evidence that his signature was actually affixed to the document in Hennessy's pub with a pen and ink that were supplied to him there.

It was said then that when Richard Brinkley realised that he could not rely on the third party to support his claim under the Will that he formed the design of getting him out of the way. It was also thought that he might have made two previous attempts to poison him before the main one.

On 20 April 1907, Richard Brinkley went to see the third man at the house where he lodged with Richard Beck and Elizabeth Beck, ostensibly in order to see a bull dog that the third man had for sale. When Richard Brinkley arrived at 8.20pm he took out a bottle of oatmeal stout from which they both drank. But before they both left together, Richard Brinkley asked for some water and the third man went to fetch him some saying that he was gone for about three quarters of a minute and it was thought that during that period Richard Brinkley had put prussic acid in the bottle with the intention that the third man would later drink it.

Richard Brinkley and the third man then went out together to walk Richard Brinkley to the railway station leaving the bottle on a table in the third man's sitting room. The third man then went back to his lodgings. However, the third man only stayed for 15 minutes and then left, informing Richard Beck that he would not be back that evening.

After the third man went out Richard Beck and Elizabeth Beck, who were married, and their daughter all drank some of the stout after Richard Beck poured out the stout for them all. Richard Beck and Elizabeth Beck died within a few minutes whilst their daughter became dangerously ill but survived.

However, the story of Richard Brinkley's visit to 32 Churchill Road was witnessed only by the third man. Although Richard Beck was said to have seen Richard Brinkley at 32 Churchill Road earlier with the third man, he was dead and could not provide evidence and his daughter had returned home after Richard Brinkley had left. Further, it was heard that the third man was not of very good character and that his story of Richard Brinkley's visit could not be taken unless confirmed by other evidence. This was made more significant after it was found that Richard Brinkley had absolutely denied being in Croydon that night. He said that he had been in Chelsea that evening until about 7pm with a certain man after which he had gone straight back to his house where he had remained for the rest of the evening.

When the police questioned Richard Brinkley about his visit to Croydon he had denied going and had said, 'Well, I'm sugared! This is very awkward, isn't it?'. He also said that he was a teetotaller.

However, the police found two primary witnesses who said that they had seen Richard Brinkley on the night.

The first witness was a Railway Inspector who knew Richard Brinkley and who had seen him at Chelsea Station between 6pm and 7pm, presumably on his way to Croydon.

The second witness was a 13-year-old boy who worked in a shop in Croydon who said that Richard Brinkley had come in at about 8pm and bought a bottle of oatmeal stout. The police said that his identification of Richard Brinkley was a particularly good one because when he had seen Richard Brinkley at the Police Station with a grey moustache he had identified him but also added that when he had come into the shop he had had a black moustache curled at the ends which was later determined to have been true.

The police also said that they had evidence as to how Richard Brinkley had obtained his poison saying that he had recently got prussic acid from a dispenser, after saying that he needed it to poison a dog. The police also said that Richard Brinkley had later been left alone in the dispenser’s shop during which time he could have helped himself to a further supply.

The police also noted that there was further evidence that Richard Brinkley had dealt in poisons for many years and that in 1893 a girl that had been living with him had died from arsenic poisoning which had admittedly come from Richard Brinkley's box of poisons. However, in the absence of direct evidence against him the Coroner's jury had returned a verdict of suicide.

Richard Brinkley's character was described to be as bad as it could possibly be. He was said to have been frequently guilty of larcenies and to have one or two convictions. He was also said to have frequently obtained money from Insurance Companies by setting fire to property which he had insured. He was also said to have adopted that course in March 1907 in order to raise money to carry on proceedings in connection to the elderly woman's Will.

He was also said to have ill-treated his wife and her relations had said that they believed that his ill-treatment had killed her.

Also, one of his children, aged 8, was found dead, although no cause of death could be obtained at the inquest. It was also noted that another girl that had lived with him had been turned into the streets because she had been pregnant and would not submit to an operation for an abortion.

Richard Brinkley was executed at Wandsworth on 13 August 1907.

see National Archives - HO 144/854/151898

see Longford Journal - Saturday 27 April 1907

see Penny Illustrated Paper - Saturday 27 July 1907

see Leeds Mercury - Thursday 25 July 1907

see Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper - Sunday 28 April 1907

see Dublin Evening Telegraph - Monday 22 July 1907