British Executions

William Walter Burton

Age: 29

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 24 Jun 1913

Crime Location: Sovell Plantation, Gussage St Michael, Dorset

Execution Place: Dorchester

Method: hanging

Executioner: Thomas Pierrepoint


William Walter Burton was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Winifred Mary Mitchell 24.

He shot her at Gussage St Michael, Dorset on 31 March 1913 and then buried her in a grave that he had previously dug for her in a plantation.

William Burton was a rabbit trapper and was employed by a farmer.

He was married and his wife was a postmistress in Gussage St Michael.

Winifred Mitchell was a cook at the farm that William Burton worked at.

It was heard that Winifred Mitchell had previously told a friend that he had had connection with Winifred Mitchell and feared that she was in trouble and wanted to find a young unmarried man to put the blame on.

Winifred Mitchell eventually made preparations to leave her place and told her mother that she was going to London.

On 31 March 1913 she put on all her best clothes and trinkets and left the farm on her bicycle at about 3pm. She later met William Burton in Gussage and was last seen alive talking to him there.

Earlier in the afternoon at about 2pm William Burton borrowed a gun and three cartridges from a lad saying that he was going to shoot a cat. They then fired two shots at birds and William Burton sent the lad off for another two cartridges that he said he might want. The lad gave William Burton the two additional cartridges and then went back off to work.

It was thought that William Burton then hid the gun and went to meet Winifred Mitchell in Gussage St Michael. It was thought that he then decoyed Winifred Mitchell away to Sovell Plantation where he shot her in the head and buried her body in a grave that he had previously dug.

William Burton was next seen between 3.30pm and 4pm bicycling through Gussage St Michael from the direction of the plantation towards The Drove on the other side of Gussage St Michael where he was later seen attending to his traps.

He then later returned the gun and two cartridges to the lad.

It was heard that William Burton on two occasions thereafter told the lad to conceal the fact that he had had the gun that afternoon.

Later on, at 8pm, William Burton got a friend to go up with him to Sovell Plantation. He stopped the friend outside the plantation and went in and then returned with the bicycle which he wheeled to Winifred Mitchell's mother's house where he left it in the garden. William Burton then told his friend that if he let on about the return of the bicycle that it would be the worse for him.

William Burton later spoke to several people about Winifred Mitchell's disappearance, hinting that she had gone to Canada.

On 6 April 1913, a person found three false teeth on a plate in the plantation, but they were not given to the police until 30 April 1913.

On 30 May 1913, the police learned that on the Sunday, 30 March 1913, the day before the murder, a lad that had been out picking primroses had seen a grave prepared in the plantation but had thought that a sheep had died and that someone was going to bury it.

A search was then made for Winifred Mitchell's body and her body was then found buried in the plantation.

It was found that she had been killed by a gunshot fired from three or four feet from behind. The shot had carried away the right side of her face and eye.

The police report noted that Winifred Mitchell was not a virgin, but that she was not pregnant.

When she was found, she had no drawers on, although her fellow servant said that she was sure that Winifred Mitchell had put on a pair in the morning.

The police then arrested William Burton.

When Winifred Mitchell's things were searched, the police found compromising letters that had been torn up which had been written to her by William Burton.

At his trial William Burton pleaded not guilty, saying that Winifred Mitchell had gone off with a chap from Poole and that she had asked him to return her bicycle.

At his trial, William Burton was described as a tall, well-built, clean-looking, athletic man, dressed in a blue serge suit, with a fresh complexion, light brown hair, a long sandy moustache, and greyish-blue eyes.

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death with no recommendation to mercy on 5 June 1913.

On 12 June 1913 he wrote a letter to his mother in which he confessed to the murder. In his letter he said, 'I was proper led away, she made me believe all sorts and beg me to go away with her to London, and then to Canada so soon as we could, she was going to ask her brother up there to get us a place if he could for a time, she said she knew where to go to so I promised her to go with her to keep her quiet, she said if I didn't she should write a letter or else come down to see my wife and tell her everything about me and what I had give her and everything, well I knew what that would mean if she did, and I hadn't had any money to go away with her. I didn't want to, so she nearly drove me wild the last two or three weeks, the housemaid told me she meant it to tell my wife, her brother ran away to London with a girl when he went up there so she wanted me to do the same, this is why I done it I must confess'.

In his letter he also said that he had turned to Jesus and had confessed his sins and been forgiven and said that he knew that he would go to heaven. He said, 'The Clergy comes to see me every night he is a nice man, he quite comforts me that I see no danger I am looking forward to it. I no it won’t be long now. Thank God I shall soon be in heaven I no that I am sure of it, so don't worry now. I have had all my sins forgiven, and thank God I can feel it too, I feel a different man altogether'. Further on in his letter he wrote, 'I want to meet you all in heaven I shall be waiting for you it won't be long, you no a thousand years in heaven is but a day here, so when we meet again it will only seem as if we been parted a night, its will only be like a nap of sleep'.

He was executed at Dorchester Prison on 24 June 1913. Before his execution he also made a complete confession.

The Coroner's jury viewed William Burton's body after his execution and the Coroner’s inquest was completed with the Jury returning the verdict that 'Judgement of death was duly executed upon Burton, by his being hanged by the neck until dead'.

Following the verdict, a member of the jury proposed that their fees for attending the inquest be given to the Discharged Prisoners Aid Society. The rest of the jury readily assented, and the money was handed to the Governor as secretary.

The jury then asked to be shown about the prison, and their request was courteously granted and they were then shown over prison by the head warder. Although they were not shown the place of execution, they  visited the quiet burial ground at the prison that had been consecrated by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol shortly before 1836. They then saw the grave of William Burton in which William Burton was interred shortly afterwards.

see National Archives - HO 144/1272/239008