British Executions

Louis Van De Kerkhove

Age: 32

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 9 Apr 1918

Crime Location:

Execution Place: Birmingham

Method: hanging

Executioner: John Ellis


Louis Van De Kerkhove was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend Clemence Verelst 35 and sentenced to death.

He stabbed her in room 10, on the third floor of the Shaftesbury Hotel in Station Street, Birmingham on 13 January 1918.

Louis Kerkhove had been a Belgian tool-maker and had come to England after the fall of Antwerp.

Clemence Verelst was also a Belgian.

Clemence Verelst was married and had lived with her husband, who kept a tea-shop in London but had left him about 18 months earlier and lived with Louis Kerkhove at various places where he had worked.

She later left him for a time and went back to London but later joined him again in Dudley. However, after that Louis Kerkhove said that he broke off relations with her and that she again returned to London, but in January 1918 she returned to Birmingham, where she lived with a woman and started working in the tea-shop.

On 13 January 1918, Louis Kerkhove visited the woman and asked her where Clemence Verelst was and later found her in a public house near the tea-shop and at about 9.15pm they engaged a room at the Shaftesbury Hotel and retired to it.

About half-an-hour later screams were heard and the boots knocked at the hotel room door, which was locked. Louis Kerkhove then opened the door and threw out a jack-knife, saying, 'I have done it'.

He had been in his shirt. Clemence Verelst was seen sitting in her chemise on the floor with her feet under the bed. She then turned over and crawled out of the room on her hands and knees. She was then taken to the hospital but died there on 15 January 1918.

She had 14 stab wounds on her body, two on the back having pierced the chest cavity and one serious, but not fatal wound, on her abdomen.

It was later heard that sounds as though she had been being chased round the room had been heard shortly before she was found stabbed.

Her clothes were found strewn about the floor and the luggage stool was found to have had three legs broken, one of which was found lying in a pool of blood. The gas bracket in the room was also found to be bent.

It was said that there had evidently been a desperate struggle.

Clemence Verelst's money, £22, was found under the pillow and her satchel, with £1 odd, was found on the floor.

Clemence Verelst's version of what occurred, which she had told her friend, was that after they had undressed that Louis Kerkhove had accused her of living with another man and then attacked her and that she had then struggled to get under the bed.

Clemence Verelst also told a doctor that Louis Kerkhove had first tried to strangle her with his hands and had then attacked her with the knife.

She said that he had threatened her with a knife before.

The doctor said that when he suggested that it was stupid to have to do with such a man, that Clemence Verelst replied, 'You don't understand, you do anything when you love them'.

However, Louis Kerkhove said in his statement that Clemence Verelst had pursued him from place to place and that on one occasion had knifed him when he was about to leave her.

He said that after they had got into bed that she had asked him to lick her, but that he had refused, and that she then hurt him, and that he could remember no more.

The police report noted that Louis Kerkhove's version of events was to some extent corroborated by:

  1. His remark when charged with wounding her, 'That's right, she should not have fooled me about the same as she has done her husband'.
  2. By the contents of Clemence Verelst's letters, written for her by a friend, that afforded some evidence of perverted tastes.

The letters were in Belgian, but included obscene doodles, including a man's penis.

However, it was noted that it did not seem probable, having regard to the contents of the letters, that Louis Kerkhove would have accused her of living with another man. It was said that she made no secret of satisfying her desires where she could.

It was further stated that it could be true that Clemence Verelst had pursued Louis Kerkhove as he said, but noted that on that occasion, he had come from Dudley to Birmingham to seek her out.

The police report stated that the only defence was that of insanity, however, it was noted that Louis Kerkhove had known what he had done, and gave a reason for doing it when charged. It was further noted that when he was convicted and sentenced to death that there had been no recommendation to mercy and the police report to the Home Secretary concluded that they saw no reason for interference with his sentence.

Louis Kerkhove was convicted of murder at the Birmingham Assizes on Monday 18 March 1918 and executed at Winson Green Gaol on the morning of 9 April 1918.

There had been about 200 people outside the prison at the time the bell tolled to indicate that the sentence had been carried out.

The Shaftesbury Hotel was also known by a number of other names, including the Shaftesbury Temperance Hotel in 1911, the Victoria Temperance Hotel in 1912 and the Temperance Hotel (formerly the Shaftesbury Hotel) in 1924 when it was up for sale. Its exact location in Station street is not known for certain but is likely to be the building that is currently the Comfort inn and which was in 1889 the Market Hotel.

see National Archives - ASSI 13/48, HO 144/1493/358854

see The Scotsman - Tuesday 19 March 1918

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 09 April 1918

see Birmingham Daily Post - Wednesday 10 April 1918