British Executions

William Butler

Age: 62

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 24 Mar 1910

Crime Location: Tank Cottage, Bassaleg, Newport

Execution Place: Usk

Method: hanging

Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint


William Butler was convicted of the murder of Charles Thomas 82 and Mary Thomas 72 and sentenced to death.

He battered them to death at Tank Cottage in Bassaleg, near Newport on 11 November 1909.

William Butler was a labourer and had a long record of convictions from 1865 to 1905 including stealing 7 pigs in 1868 for which he was sentenced to 7 years penal servitude, stealing sacks of flour in 1878 for which he was sentenced to 10 years penal servitude and many other convictions for stealing fowls and pigeons etc.

For the previous 12 months to September 1909 he had lodged with a married couple. However, had said that he wanted to marry their 15-year old daughter, but they objected and he was turned out. He had been paying 10/- a week for his board there and at the time he was turned out he had paid all but 30/-.

He had worked at odd jobs and had said that he had been getting money from his sister in Cardiff, but the police report said that that was a lie and that in fact he was in the habit of going out at 1, 2 and 3am and had used his sisters name to explain the source of his ill-gotten gains.

Charles Thomas and Mary Thomas had lived two doors down from the family and they were friends and it was known that they had money saved and it was something that William Butler had discussed with the neighbours. He had also been in their cottage on at least one occasion and had done some gardening for them.

After leaving his lodgings at the neighbour’s cottage William Butler went to live with another couple where he stayed until the day of the murder. His board there was 10/- a week but he only paid 5/- and was hard up. He went back to the other lodgings to get his tools and also followed the daughter about, insulting her, and so she took out summonses which were to be heard on Saturday 13 November 1909.

A week before the murder William Butler threatened his old landlady saying that he would ruin her before the week was out.

William Butler was seen passing the cottages on the morning of 11 November 1909 and then later borrowed 6d from a neighbour so that he could telephone his sister in Cardiff for some money.

He then went to bed at 6.40pm, which was said to have been an unusually early hour for him and later said that he had remained in bed from then until 6.40am the next morning. However, the police report stated that that was not true as it was found that he had called at a woman's house wanting to borrow 5/-. The woman whose house he had called on said that he had been dressed untidily and that he had been wearing trousers with a large hole in the knee which the police stated had since disappeared. The woman didn't give him any money, but the woman's father gave him a paper packet of tobacco.

The police report states that it was not known where he had spent the night, but his landlady said that his bed had not been slept in that night. It was also noted that the bolt on her door, which William Butler had noted was very stiff a few days before, had been recently well oiled.

The following morning William Butler called at an eating house in Newport where he had a cup of tea where a waitress took particular notice of him. He was then next seen at about 8.30am hanging about a house in Cardiff where the sister of his previous landlady lived. He then visited a solicitor and paid £2.0.0 to be defended at the hearing of his summonses.

The police report stated that there was no credible explanation of how he came by the money that he was spending freely on that day.

He had also got two witness summonses from the Clerk at Newport, paying 5/- for them and at about 4pm he had a meal at the same eating house that he had visited earlier in the morning for which he paid 1/1 and tipped the waitress 1/- out of his change from a sovereign.

After, he tried to get witnesses to support his case for the summonses by tendering them 5/-.

Later he called at a farm and gave the servant a present of 1/- and then gave his landlady 6d to buy her supper beer and bought drink at a pub, leaving his change of 1/4 on the counter.

It was heard that on 11 November 1909, Charles Thomas had received £3.1.4 (2 sovereigns, 1 half sovereign and 5 florins) in club-money which it was thought he had put in with other cash in a purse that his wife, Mary Thomas, kept. When the police examined their cottage it was found that the purse had been emptied and that the payments that William Butler had made on 12 November roughly corresponded with the coins that had been paid in on 11 November.

Later, on the morning of Friday 12 March 1909 the family that William Butler had initially lodged with near to Charles Thomas and Mary Thomas's cottage found a strange key on their window-sill. Later that evening they found that it fitted Charles Thomas and Mary Thomas's cottage and went in. When they went in they found that the lower room had been ransacked. They then called the police who found Charles Thomas and Mary Thomas dead upstairs in their bed with their heads and faces battered in by a hammer or blunt instrument. Blood was spattered in small specks on the wall at the side of the bed excepting a space which would have been covered where the murderer had stood.

The entry had been affected by breaking a window with dung that had been wrapped up in a bodice that had belonged to the 15-year old daughter that William Butler had wanted to marry. The dung and bodice were found lying on the ground. It was then thought that the latch of the window must have been drawn with the left hand, judging by the position of the broken pane.

William Butler was sent to gaol in default of finding sureties on the Saturday 13 March and when suspicion was aroused following the discovery of Charles Thomas and Mary Thomas his large stock of clothes was examined. A fawn coat was found which was identified as the one he had been wearing on the Friday morning on which about 30 small specks of blood on the lower side of the right arm were found as well as a larger spot on the collar. The coat also had a clean cut on the left sleeve which was thought was probably done by a ragged edge of glass such as the broken window pane at the cottage. In the pocket of the coat the police also found a paper packet of tobacco and a small piece of paper smeared with blood. It was said that all the stains corresponded in age and character and that the specks on the sleeve corresponded with the small specks found on the wall of the cottage bedroom.

William Butler's current landlady said that she noticed that when William Butler came home on the Friday evening he had been wearing a large pair of elastic sided boots that had belonged to her husband. It was noted that William Butler had three pairs of boots of his own and that it was thought that he had borrowed them because they were easily slipped off and on and perhaps also to disguise his foot-prints.

When William Butler was questioned about his money he had said that he had one it by backing horses, but the police report stated that that was disproved.

William Butler was convicted of the murder at the trial with no recommendation to mercy and his application for leave to appeal was dismissed.

It was noted in the police report that after his conviction, the police received a letter stating that his initial landlords were the murderer's but the police said that that could be disregarded. They said that the case against him was very strong and that there could be no doubt as to his guilt.

The police report stated that it was probable that when William Butler failed to borrow money for his summonses that he had entered Charles Thomas and Mary Thomas's cottage where he had ransacked the lower room and that after he had found nothing he had gone upstairs and killed them to avoid being recognised and had then found the satchel containing the purse that contained the club-money.

It was also noted that the chest in one of the upper rooms contained £148 but that it had apparently escaped his notice. The police report also stated that it was a cruel murder for the sake of robbery and that his guilt was aggravated by his attempt to throw suspicion of the crime upon his enemies, the initial landlords, by using their daughter's bodice to break the window and by placing the key to Charles Thomas and Mary Thomas's cottage upon their window-sill.

see Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Friday 25 February 1910

see National Archives - ASSI 6/45/8, HO 144/1064/189481

see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 20 November 1909