Date Of Execution: 24 Mar 1908
Crime Location: 1 Hyde Park Street, Gateshead
Execution Place: Durham
Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint
Robert Lawman was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Amelia Bell Wood 24 and sentenced to death.
He cut her throat at her lodgings at 1 Hyde Park Street, Gateshead on 1 February 1908.
Robert Lawman had been married but his wife left him four or five years earlier and a year later he met Amelia Wood who was at the time on the streets. Amelia Wood moved in with Robert Lawman and his two sons but there were frequent quarrels as they both had violent tempers and drank. around Christmas 1907 Amelia Wood was seen with bruises all over her body. It was said that Amelia Wood apparently plied her trade while Robert Lawman was at work and that she would come home late at night which angered him.
On 22 January 1908 Amelia Wood left Robert Lawman's house and then two days later both Robert Lawman and Amelia Wood called at the police station where Amelia Wood asked for protection and Robert Lawman stated that he didn't want Amelia Wood to live the life that she was leading. However, the police told Robert Lawman that Amelia Wood was not his wife and that as such she could do as she pleased.
Later on Thursday 30 January 1908 Amelia Wood hired a room at 1 Hyde Park Street in Gateshead saying that she had been living with a man but had left him. The next day she went out with Robert Lawman at about 7.30pm and came back with him to her lodgings at 11.30pm.
Earlier on the Friday, 31 January 1908 Robert Lawman had told his son that he was going out and was going to shave off his moustache and then look for Amelia Wood saying that if he found her he would hit her. He also gave directions as to the disposal of his wages that were due to him. After he went out his son said that he noticed that the bread knife was missing.
When Amelia Wood returned to her lodgings with Robert Lawman on the Friday night she told the landlady that Robert Lawman was her boy whom she had been living with.
Early the next morning on 1 February 1908 Robert Lawman went out and bought two bottles of beer and some whisky. Later on at 11.30am Robert Lawman called the landlady and sent her out for 8d of whisky and 3d of sweets. The landlady said that when she returned with the whisky and brought it in their room she found them both in bed looking at two photos of themselves in a pendant.
Soon after Robert Lawman went into the kitchen and put the pendant on the mantelpiece and then asked the landlady to fetch 3d worth of more beer. The landlady then went out and got the beer which she brought back in two white glass bottles and then poured out two glasses worth and gave them to Robert Lawman and Amelia Wood who were again in bed.
After she left the room she heard the door shut and bolted. Later she took them breakfast and knocked but found that the door was fastened. She said that she kicked the door and then heard Amelia Wood moan. She said that Robert Lawman then called out that he would open the door when he was ready. The landlady said that she then heard Amelia Wood scream and that she then ran out to look through the window and then went off to fetch a policeman who tried to force the door.
When the policeman was at the door Robert Lawman said 'I will be there in a minute' and a moment later 'I can't I am too weak'. The policeman then forced the door and found Amelia Wood lying dead and Robert Lawman leaning over her with a wound in his throat.
It was thought that Robert Lawman had at first tried to throttle Amelia Wood causing her to moan and had then remembered his knife which caused her subsequent screams.
Robert Lawman then said, 'I killed her, I loved her and I’ll swing for her.'.
It was noted that there had been a violent struggle and that there was a lot of broken glass about. One of the beer bottles was found broken with blood on it and some of Amelia Wood's hair. The police also found Robert Lawman's bread knife outside the door behind a curtain close. It had been blood stained but wiped and also had some of Amelia Wood's hair on it in the crack between the blade and the handle. When a police inspector picked up a piece of broken glass Robert Lawman said, 'that is what I did it with'.
The medical evidence stated that the cut to Amelia Wood's throat was an inch long and had punctured her windpipe. It was said that whilst it could have been caused by the broken glass it was more likely done with the knife and not the neck of the bottle. She also had two other small punctures to her windpipe. It was also stated that the small pieces of glass that the inspector had picked up could not have caused the wound. It was shown that there were also parallel cuts to her throat showing that more than one attempt had been made.
Amelia Wood also had defensive wounds to her hands and her palms were cut and a piece was cut out of her left thumb.
There were also severe bruises on her head that could have been caused by the bottle before it had been broken and pressure marks on her throat.
Robert Lawman had an inch cut on his throat that had punctured his windpipe that could also have been caused by a piece of glass. He also had a wound to his chin and his hands were cut.
After Robert Lawman was taken into custody he told the police that after shaving off his moustache Amelia Wood had not recognised him and had taken him for a complete stranger. He said that he had not meant to deceive her. He said that Amelia Wood then found the pendent with the two photos of them in his pocket and he told her that he had got it from the man that she had lived with and that she then took it to show her landlady and that when she returned she had locked the door. He said that she then looked at his raincoat and recognised it and found the breadknife that he said he had brought to kill himself with if she refused to speak to him and that she then attacked him with it.
He said that she struck him in the neck with the knife and that he then got her against the door and she slashed him on the jaw with it. He said that she then drew the bolt on the door and ran out into the passage and threw the knife away and that he pulled her back into the room and bolted the door. He said that he then knocked a bottle from her hand and then hit her in the face with it and she fell. He said that he then looked for the knife but could not find it and so did his best to cut his throat with a piece of glass.
The judge said that some of what Robert Lawman had said might have been true but that on the whole, in the face of the other evidence, he thought that it should be regarded as a tissue of lies.
The police report stated that it was difficult to account for the knife being found outside the door but that it was clear that Robert Lawman had been working on Amelia Wood whilst the landlady was kicking on the door and that she had been screaming all the time as the landlady had gone outside to look through the window during which time it was thought that Amelia Wood had been fighting for her life and had received the injuries to her palms whilst trying to protect her throat.
It was suggested that Robert Lawman had opened the door whilst the landlady had gone for help and gone out and hidden the knife under the curtain and then gone back in and bolted the door again and then attempted to cut his own throat with the glass found by the police inspector.
The murder was described as deliberate and premeditated and it was said that Robert Lawman had disguised himself in order that he could get Amelia Wood to take him home with her. It was said that he had armed himself with the knife when leaving the house in order that he could kill her if he got the chance. However, it was said that it was thought that Amelia Wood had recognised Robert Lawman on the night she met him.
Robert Lawman was sentenced to death with no recommendation to mercy. It was stated that Amelia Wood's loose behaviour did not extenuate his crime.
A tracheotomy was carried out on Robert Lawman and it was doubtful that he would be well enough to be hanged but he was executed on 24 March 1908 at Durham Prison by Henry Pierrrepoint, the executioner.
see National Archives - HO 144/874/162921