British Executions

George Frederick Law

Age: 34

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 31 Dec 1913

Crime Location: 17 Bamforth Street, Sheffield

Execution Place: Wakefield

Method: hanging

Executioner: Thomas Pierrepoint


George Frederick Law was convicted of the murder of his landlady Annie Cotterill 45.

He strangled her at 17 Bamfield Street, Sheffield on 21 October 1913.

George Law had lodged with Annie Cotterill and her husband and their daughter at their house at 17 Bamfield Street, Sheffield for the previous two and a half years.

However, in October 1913, Annie Cotterill and her husband decided that they wanted the house to themselves and told George Law that he would have to go.

However, it was heard that George Law passed the request off.

The police report notes that in some of the statements that they had taken there were suggestions that there might have been some trouble between Annie Cotterill and her husband on account of George Law, but nothing of that was mentioned in evidence at the trial. At the trial Annie Cotterill's husband said that there was no reason for giving George Law his notice stating, 'nothing particular, only my wife and I thought we would give him notice'.

In the medical inquiry into the mental condition of George Law dated 23 December 1913, as he lay under sentence of death at MHP Wakefield, it stated that after a prolonged interview with George Law that he ultimately revealed the manner in which he committed the crime and also the details regarding his relationship with Annie Cotterill. The report states that George Law first became on friendly terms with Annie Cotterill and her husband some time before he went to lodge with them and that about a year before his mother's death he said that Annie Cotterill succeeded, as George Law said, in inciting him to have sexual intercourse with her, and stated that from that time onward, until the morning before the murder, a period of six years, that intercourse continued.

The medical report noted that George Law averred that Annie Cotterill was also intimate with other men, but that he did not resent that. It was also stated that George Law said that both Annie Cotterill's husband and daughter were also aware of the criminal relationship between him and Annie Cotterill. The report also states that not only did George Law have natural sexual intercourse with Annie Cotterill, but that he also frequently practised masturbation on her at her instigation.

The husband said that he gave George Law written notice on the Monday morning 20 October 1913 before he went out to work.

It was heard that ordinarily George Law and the husband slept in the same room in separate beds whilst Annie Cotterill slept in another room with their daughter.

The house had two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs.

The husband said that when he returned from work on the Monday night, he had his tea after which George Law asked him why he had given him notice to leave, and said that he replied, 'You know very well, George, what I have given you the notice for. You know that we want the house to ourselves as the daughter is getting married'. The husband said that George Law then jumped up from the couch where he had been sitting and walked out thanking him.

The husband said that after he gave George Law written notice, George Law made vague threats of violence and in consequence he hid George Law's three razors as well as his own.

George Law came home later that night drunk and went to sleep in the room with the husband. George Law then inquired about the razors and then noted that he had something sharper than them.

It was said that George Law then went out into the yard and vomited and that he seemed to have kept Annie Cotterill and her family awake all night in fear.

It was said that that George Law told the husband that there were two he would do in and would leave him 'by hissen'.

The next morning Annie Cotterill dressed in his work clothes and went out as though to work, but he waited about until the husband and daughter had left the house and then returned and strangled her with a scarf and savagely slashed her about the head, apparently with a carving knife.

When the husband got home that evening, he found Annie Cotterill lying dead on the bed. It was said that there had been a terrible struggle and that several of Annie Cotterill's fingers and been cut and fractured.

After the murder, George Law threw his blood-stained working clothes under his bed and dressed in his Sunday suit. He then had a brandy and soda at a public house and then went to his sister's house in Nottingham where he was arrested later that night.

When he was arrested, he said, 'What I did to Annie this morning I did in a temper. Is she dead? I have been expecting you'.

In his pocket, along with his written notice, the police found a piece of paper with the following written on it: 'Please - Withdraw this Notice or it will be made worse for you. From G.F. Law. The end of this'.

At his trial George Law's defence stated that he had been insane at the time. However, the medical officer said that he could find no symptoms of epilepsy or insanity.

In the medical report, George Law said that he had left the house on the morning of Tuesday 21 October 1913 with the intention of going to work, but instead of doing so he returned, feeling worried and unsettled over the notice to quit. He said that he entered the house by means of the key that he took from its place inside the window and then proceeded upstairs. He said that when he got to Annie Cotterill's bedroom she told him 'to clear out and go quietly', which made him angry. He said that he became convinced then that Annie Cotterill was really anxious to be rid of him and became angry and vexed and was further distressed by the thought that his abnormal libidinous practices with her might be made known to his friends and his neighbours to his disgrace, and so he felt that he ought to put her out of the way.

He said that he then seized her by the throat with his right hand and said that she murmured, 'Oh Lord', and that he then followed up the attack by tying the black scarf round her neck and then afterwards beat her about the head with a knotted stick.

It was noted that his account of the murder, which was taken after his conviction whilst he was awaiting execution, completely negated his claim that he had had a period of unconsciousness or automatic action or subsequent forgetfulness as his theory of epilepsy had implied.

He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death with no recommendation to mercy. However, he appealed on the grounds of insanity, but the Court refused to consider the question, stating that the Secretary of State was in a better position to do so.

He was executed on 31 December 1913 at Wakefield Prison.

see National Archives - HO 144/1297/245654

see Illustrated Police News - Thursday 30 October 1913