British Executions

William Charles Adolphus Beal

Age: 20

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 10 Dec 1912

Crime Location: Abbey Lane, Stratford, West Ham

Execution Place: Chelmsford

Method: hanging

Executioner: John Ellis


William Charles Adolphus Beal was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Clara Elizabeth Carter 17 and sentenced to death.

He cut her throat in Abbey Lane, Stratford, West Ham on 12 September 1912. However, he said that she had attacked him with the razor and had then cut her own throat.

William Beal was a Special Reservist and had been walking out with Clara Carter since the previous Christmas.

He had previously been seeing another girl, but although it was suggested that Clara Carter might have been jealous of her, the police report noted that it seemed that William Beal had entirely dropped the other girl and to have devoted himself to Clara Carter whose letters showed that she was very fond of him. However, it was noted that William Beal was jealous of Clara Carter, and the police report noted that a lot regarding the case turned on the state of their relationship.

In June 1912 William Beal went to Portsmouth for training but was at once temporarily discharged as medically unfit. When he returned to West Ham, he failed to get employment and following his return, for the next ten weeks up until the murder, he seemed to do nothing other than escort Clara Carter to and from her work and to take her to picture palaces, etc. in the evenings.

They had written each other letters and in a letter dated 22 August 1912 William Beal made vague threats of trouble and revenge for himself and punishment for her. Then, on 10 September 1912, Clara Carter wrote William Beal a letter in which she mentioned her fears of being pregnant by him. The police report noted that her meaning was quite clear but that William Beal in statements denied ever having had connection with her.

The police report noted that Clara Carter was not pregnant, but said that her hymen was broken, and noted that it would have been medically impossible to say whether it had been broken by connection or otherwise, but however, stated that they thought that the letter of 10 September 1912 placed the matter beyond doubt. The police report also noted that they thought that William Beal was lying when he said that he attached no importance to what Clara Carter had said and said that it was a letter that they thought that he could not have possibly overlooked.

The police report also noted that William Beal had admitted that on the fatal walk Clara Carter had repeatedly asked him to marry her.

It was heard that William Beal and Clara Carter had gone out for a walk on the evening of 12 September 1912 and that at about 8.30pm they were seen walking along Abbey Lane together arm in arm by two young girls who said that after they had gone on past them about 10 or 12 feet, or probably more, that they heard Clara Carter cry out for help. They said that they then saw Clara Carter on the ground and William Beal standing by her, but said that he then immediately fell. One of the young girls said that she either saw the razor then fall from his right hand, or at any rate, then saw it at his right hand when he fell to the ground.

It was noted that Clara Carter's throat was cut in a determined manner with three cuts having been made, beginning deep on the left side and trailing off on the right side where there were three endings. It was noted that the wound reached her spinal muscles and had severed all the important structures. It was then noted that William Beal's throat had one cut to it which was a slash that began tentatively at the left side and deepened to the right but did little more than superficial damage.

The doctor that examined their wounds said that the wound to Clara Carter's throat was homicidal whilst the wound to William Beal's throat was self-inflicted.

It was noted that a great deal of importance was given to the way William Beal and Clara Carter had been walking shortly before the murder as it was said that William Beal could not have cut Clara Carter's throat from the position that they were seen in. However, the police report said that what probably happened was that after William Beal and Clara Carter had passed the two young girls and gone on for some feet, William Beal had pulled away from Clara Carter, freeing himself from their embrace, and then cut her throat and then attempted to cut his own.

The police report further noted that the fact that Clara Carter was heard to cry for help shortly before she was murdered indicated that she had not cut her own throat, and further that the situation in general suggested that it was more likely that William Beal had cut Clara Carter's throat, noting that Clara Carter was only 17-years-old.

It was said that when the two young girls had passed William Beal and Clara Carter, it was difficult to say exactly how they were embraced. However, the police report stated that one thing was clear and that was that Clara Carter had been walking on William Beal's right. It was said that the two young girls that passed them said that William Beal and Clara Carter were cuddling when they passed them. In his statement, William Beal said that his right arm was round Clara Carter's waist and that her left arm was round his waist under his overcoat and jacket and that he had hold of Clara Carter's left hand with his left hand. William Beal said that his coat, which was a double breasted one, was spread over her back and that he had told her to put her right hand in his right-hand great coat pocket. The police report noted that his account of their position might have been correct, or nearly so, but that at any rate, that was how they were said to have been when they passed the two young girls.

It was later claimed in court by the defence that it was hard to see how William Beal could have cut Clara Carter's throat if they had been in the position that William Beal had said they were in and were seen to be in by the two young girls.

The situation was further complicated by the fact that William Beal had Clara Carter's watch bracelet in his left hand. They had previously exchanged watches, with Clara Carter wearing William Beal's watch, and William Beal wearing Clara Carter's bracelet watch.

However, the police report suggested that what had happened was that they had been walking along and Clara Carter had asked William Beal to marry her and that he had refused, and that Clara Carter had then asked for her watch back. As such, the police report suggested that after Clara Carter had asked William Beal for her watch back, William Beal had then taken it off of his wrist, but had then determined to take both of their lives and to end it, and that that was why it was in William Beal's left hand.

The police report said that it was not possible to say however whether William Beal had taken the razor with him with the idea of using it. At the trial, William Beal's father said that William Beal had taken the razor, which was his, so that he couldn't shave with it.

After William Beal was taken to the hospital he said, 'The parents are the cause of this trouble from the first. She has tried three times to kill me. The first time with a ginger beer bottle. Then a hat pin, and on this night,  we were walking with our arms around one another and I felt some sharp thing stick in my neck, and somebody tried to take my wrist watch off me and I remember no more till I woke up here. We are both hot tempered, but she is a bit insane'.

William Beal was convicted of murder by the jury and sentenced to death, but with a recommendation to mercy. However, the judge made it clear at the trial that he would emphatically not be endorsing the jury's recommendation and the police report similarly stated that it thought that the law should take its course. The police report noted that the recommendation to mercy based on William Beal's youth would not act as a deterrent and noted that he was two years older than the age of 18 which was the age at which youth alone entitled one to a reprieve. The police report also stated that when considering the option of 20 years' imprisonment for the miserable youth, with release at 40, which whilst a little worse than death, did not have the same effect that the execution of the capital sentence had in such cases and was far more of a deterrent on weak minds. The report stated that in such cases the execution of the capital sentence had far more deterrent power upon equally undisciplined minds than a long-commuted sentence of penal servitude. The report also pointed out the terrible frequency of murders of defenceless girls by men who reached for a gun or razor the moment they were crossed, or difficulties of their own making arose.

The police report stated that in the opinion of the police William Beal's guilt had been established beyond all possibility of doubt and stated that the only question was whether there was sufficient reason for clemency to justify acting on the jury's recommendation to mercy. However, the police report stated that if the Home Secretary considered taking that view then he should certainly talk to the judge beforehand. The police report reiterated that it thought that the full sentence should be carried out and described the murder as treacherous.

There was no interference in William Beal's sentence and he was hanged at Chelmsford Prison on 10 December 1912.

see National Archives - CRIM 1/134/5, HO 144/1237/230398