British Executions

William Henry Palmer

Age: 50

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 19 Jul 1911

Crime Location: Walcote, Lutterworth

Execution Place: Leicester

Method: hanging

Executioner: John Ellis


William Henry Palmer was convicted of the murder of Ann Harris 73 and sentenced to death.

He strangled her in her cottage in Walcote, near Lutterworth on 24 January 1911.

Ann Harris was found strangled at the bottom of the stairs in her cottage on the morning of 25 January 1911. She had part of a webbing bandage that she normally wore on her leg in the daytime tied tightly round her neck and thence to a chair.

Six of her ribs on each side were also broken which were thought to have been done by William Palmer when he knelt on her in the act of strangling her.

It was thought that she had been strangled between 2am and 4am. It was noted that her door had been found broken open.

Her bedroom had been ransacked and there were two purses found lying empty. It was also found that her watch and chain were also missing.

William Palmer had arrived in Lutterworth at about mid-day on 24 January 1911 whilst on tramp. He booked a room at a lodging house, and during the evening he drank with a fellow female lodger. However, they were later turned out of the lodging house and then, after visiting a pub they had a row in the street and were moved on by the police and separated.

William Palmer was last seen by a policeman at about 11pm going off in the direction of Walcote which was about one and a half miles away.

During the night a villager who lived in a cottage about three hundred yards away from Ann Harris's cottage was awakened by a thud on her door in the middle of the night. She said that she looked out of her window and saw a man, who she later picked out from amongst others as William Palmer, trying doors and visiting an empty cottage close by. She said that he had lighted matches in his hand and later saw him with what she took to be a piece of candle. It was noted that a candle was later found missing from the lodging house in Lutterworth where William Palmer had been.

Another villager said that he also heard a thud on his door but didn't look out.

It was noted that the fastenings on both of the villager’s doors were found to have been loosened, showing that an attempt had been made to break into them in the same way that Ann Harris's cottage had been broken into.

William Palmer was found the following morning at Lutterworth Railway Station at about 6am by a porter. He told the porter that he wanted to take a train to London and booked on the 6.39am train.

After taking the train, William Palmer got out at Rugby at about 6.50am and visited a pub where he had drinks, paying for them in three-penny bits, saying that his last employer had paid his wages in three-penny bits. William Palmer then got a piece of paper and wrapped up his remaining three-penny bits and went off to another pub, The Central, where he had more to drink, again paying with three-penny bits.

It was noted that Ann Harris made a hobby of collecting three-penny (3d) bits and 43 more of them were found at her cottage.

Whilst at The Central pub it was noted that a barman unbolted a door and showed William Palmer the way to a WC. William Palmer then got the barman to write him out a telegram addressed to his son in Montagu Street in Manchester, saying that he was going to London.

William Palmer was next seen at Charing Cross Station where he booked a train to Folkestone. He then visited some relations and was later arrested there on 28 January 1911.

When he was arrested he told the police that he had gone straight from Lutterworth to London and did not get off the train, but it was noted that he blurted out later 'Should I have been fool enough to send a telegram from Rugby if I had been guilty of this crime?'.

He accounted for his money on the morning of 25 January 1911 by saying that he had found some in a handkerchief, which he threw away, while on the road at Rushden, which it was noted, was miles out of his route from Manchester to Lutterworth. However, he later said that he had picked up the handkerchief on the road near some villages close to Lutterworth, and when he was given the opportunity of pointing out the spot where he said he had found the money and thrown away the handkerchief, no trace of the handkerchief could be found. It was also noted that a blacksmith gave evidence to say that he had been walking along the road with William Palmer passed the place where William Palmer said he had found the money and said that he did not see William Palmer pick anything up or throw anything away.

It was also noted that on 24 January 1911 William Palmer had begged from several people on his way to Lutterworth.

William Palmer was committed for trial, and although there was a strong case of suspicion against him, it was noted that the only real evidence against him was the woman whose door he had tried and who had looked out of her window to see him trying cottage doors and later identified him in an identity parade.

However, In June 1911 the police later searched the cistern of the water closet that William Palmer had visited at The Central pub in Rugby and found a gold watch and chain as well as a reading glass and part of a leather purse, all of which was sufficiently identified as having belonged to Ann Harris. It was also noted that the watch had stopped at 7.15 and the barman said that William Palmer had come in at 7.30am.

The police report stated that the finding of the articles was conclusive.

At his trial the defence appeared to have confined their questioning to the identification of the articles found in the cistern as having been the property of Ann Harris as well as the identification of William Palmer by the woman who door he had tried. The defence also stated that the watch had been so little affected by the water from the cistern that it could not have been in the water all those months, January to June, and that it must therefore have been put there by someone other than William Palmer.

The police report noted that William Palmer was a man of very bad character. It stated that he had been in the Army Service Corps from 1882 until 1894 (3 and 9 years in Reserve) and that in 1895 he had joined the Militia and gone off with them to South Africa where it was thought in 1901 he had been convicted of the manslaughter of a black woman who he attempted to rape and stabbed with a pair of scissors and was sentenced to six years for and was discharge with ignominy.

When he returned to England he became engaged as a temporary carter by the Manchester Corporation Cleansing Department from 27 October 1904 to 10 August 1906.

It was also noted that that after he returned to Manchester in 1904 he had been convicted several times for crimes, including one time for burglary during which he had struggled with an old lady for which he had got 4-months hard labour in 1908. He was also convicted in 1907 for setting fire to two beds in a lodging house in Mill street in Ancoats, doing damage to the extent of £5. It was said that he had gone to the lodging house accompanied by a woman whom he represented to be his wife, stating that he was working for the Manchester Corporation and took a furnished room on the ground floor for 5/- a week. He had only occupied the room for one night and in the following morning when his bed, and another bed in a nearby room, were found to be on fire he said that his wife was missing and that he had been robbed of some money. Previous to the fires being discovered, William Palmer had been seen in the vicinity of the house stopping and speaking to young girls passing along the street and his conduct attracted the attention of two men who kept him under observation and followed him to the lodging house in Mill Street where they eventually saw smoke issuing from and gave alarm to the other inmates and rendered assistance in extinguishing the fire. He was sentenced to two months imprisonment in default and released on 4 September 1907 after which on 13 February 1908 he went back to the lodging house in Mill Street where the landlady was at once informed that he had entered, and she found him upstairs in the rooms occupied by an elderly couple who had been in bed asleep at the time. The landlady said that she asked him what he was doing there but said that he made no reply. She then drove him out of the room and down the stairs with a sweeping brush where she was met by her husband and son who then belaboured William Palmer and threw him out into the street.

On 19 October 1908 he was convicted for burglary and liberated at the end of January 1909.

On 9 February 1910 William Palmer was sentenced to 6 months hard labour for attempted warehousebreaking and released on 4 July 1910 but on 19 July 1910 he was convicted for frequenting with intent to commit a felony, together with another man, and was then liberated from prison on 4 October 1910.

He was later convicted on 25 March 1909 at the Manchester Police Courts for stealing a ham and a horse rug and sentenced to four months hard labour.

It was noted that he had latterly done no regular work but had hawked herrings, rabbits, matches and flowers in the streets.

It was also noted that he had a respectable hard-working wife in Manchester and a son who was doing well in the post office.

He was last seen at his home on 16 January 1911 when he had gone off with the supposed purpose of hawking but never returned.

He was sentenced to death without any recommendation to mercy and his leave to appeal was refused. He was executed on 19 July 1911.

see National Archives - ASSI 13/41, HO 144/1148/210057

see Leicester Chronicle - Saturday 11 February 1911