British Executions

Percy George Barrett

Age: 20

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 8 Jan 1919

Crime Location: MillHill Road, Town End, Pontefract

Execution Place: Leeds

Method: hanging

Executioner: Thomas Pierrepoint


George Walter Cardwell and Percy George Barrett were convicted of the murder of 62-year-old  Rhoda Walker who they killed during a robbery and sentenced to death.

They battered her to death at her shop in Millhill Road, Town End, Pontefract on 16 August 1918.

Rhoda Walker was found seriously injured behind the counter at her shop and later died.

She had been a jeweller and was found by a lady that had been lodging with her. When the lodger returned she found Rhoda Walker unconscious and the shop ransacked.

She was taken to Pontefract Infirmary where she later died but had been unable to give an account of her assailant or assailants before she died.

Rhoda Walker had been in sole charge of the shop at the time of the attack.

After her death her dog called Toby, had to be destroyed owing to the fact that since Rhoda Walker's death he had continued to whine piteously.

George Cardwell and Percy Barrett were both soldiers. Percy Barrett had never served abroad, but George Cardwell had served in France and had been wounded four times and gassed once.

Percy Barrett had been to an industrial school whilst George Cardwell had in March 1914 been sent to Borstal for three years for stealing but was released after a year to join the army.

However, they both deserted the army in June 1918, having been based with the ASC at Osterley Park and had gone to live with George Cardwell's sister in Ackworth, three miles from Pontefract.

They worked there as miners for about three months, but use to wear their uniforms when not at work. George Cardwell had six wound stripes, although it was noted that he was only entitled to five, whilst Percy Barrett wore two stripes, later saying that he did so as a disguise as he was a deserter.

George Cardwell and Percy Barrett were in Pontefract on Thursday 15 August 1919 where they seemed to have discussed the question of breaking into Rhoda Walker’s shop, but did nothing that night.

The following day, Friday 16 August 1919 they got up at 2pm and went into Pontefract.

Rhoda Walker was found in a dying condition on the floor of her shop behind the counter at about 4.20pm.

Her head had been battered in by five or six separate blows with a blunt instrument, thought to have been Percy Barrett’s walking stick, and she died the following morning in the infirmary.

A large quantity of jewellery had been stolen.

A few days later George Cardwell and Percy Barrett were arrested separately in the Old Kent Road, London.

Percy Barrett had had about 60 pieces of the jewellery in his pockets, whilst George Cardwell had about 20, however, it was noted that his share was the more valuable.

The police report stated that there was no doubt whatever that both of them were equally guilty of the murder, but that it was impossible to say exactly what part each had played as they had both accused each other of having struck the blows.

A woman said that at about 3.55pm on 16 August 1919, that she had been passing Rhoda Walker's shop when she saw a soldier standing by the shop 'watching a hand which was in the window taking something out of it'.  She said that the hand had a sleeve of dark material and it was thought that it had probably been Rhoda Walker's hand.

Additionally she noted that the soldier had been wearing six wound stripes on his left arm and that he had crossed guns on his right arm. It was noted that it had been George Cardwell that had the six wound stripes on his left arm and that the crossed guns were above them, but it was not thought that that mistake on the woman's part  was material or affected the value of her evidence.

She said that shortly after she saw a postwoman coming towards the shop. The postwoman said that she arrived at the shop at about 4pm and that she went into the shop and said, 'Post, Mrs Walker', and put a letter down on the counter. She said that she noticed nothing out of the way in the shop, but didn't notice any soldier near the shop.

Two sisters that had been out for a walk said that they were near the shop at about 4pm and saw the postwoman go into the shop and one of them said that they spoke to the postwoman when she came out and the other said that she recalled seeing a soldier outside the shop at the time standing on the footpath a few yards away from the window.

The sisters said that they then continued their walk and returned some 20 minutes later when the sister that saw the soldier said that she saw the soldier in about the same spot again. However, she noted that on neither occasion did she notice any wound stripes. However, it was noted that the other sister said that she noticed wound stripes on the soldier, but didn't recall how many there were.

One of the sisters also said that when they were returning that they noticed a hand in the window of the shop, but didn't notice what it was doing.

The woman that lived with Rhoda Walker had been employed at Barclays Bank and had left work at 4pm and arrived back at the shop at 4.20pm to find the front door locked. When she got in at the back she then found Rhoda Walker on the floor behind the counter.

Following the arrests, Percy Barrett said that they arranged for George Cardwell to first go in and buy a watch to see if the coast was clear and that after he came out that he was to go in and steal the jewellery.

However, he said that after George Cardwell went in that he then beckoned for him to go in too and that when he did he saw Rhoda Walker on the floor behind the counter and that George Cardwell asked him to fetch something to put over her mouth and that he then fetched a cushion. He said that George Cardwell then went upstairs and washed and that they then went back to George Cardwell's sister's place in Ackworth.

George Cardwell on the other hand said that Percy Barrett suggested that he (George Cardwell) wanted a watch key and that he gave Percy Barrett 2/- to go in and get a watch key and that after Percy Barrett had been in the shop for some time that he came out and said, 'I believe I have killed the old woman', and that they then went away together. He said that he never went into the shop at all and that he had no idea that either robbery or murder was to be committed.

After the murder they both returned to George Cardwell's sister's place in Ackworth and had their tea and then left at 7pm and took a train to Halifax, arriving at George Cardwell's mother’s cottage in the middle of the night. They then got her to pawn a ring, part of the proceeds of the robbery, after which George Cardwell's mothers said that Percy Barrett washed his trousers, saying that he had stained them with coffee or cocoa and then sat there without his trousers on whilst they dried. However, Percy Barrett said that it had been George Cardwell who had washed his trousers and that George Cardwell had laid in bed whilst he (Percy Barrett) attended to the drying of George Cardwell's clothes by the fire.

They then both went to London on the Monday, 19 August 1919 where they were arrested the following day.

It was noted that George Cardwell had been slightly lame and that he had had a thick walking stick with which it was thought probable that the murder had been committed with. It was further noted that they had been seen on the afternoon of 16 August 1919 going towards Pontefract, at which time Percy Barrett had been carrying the stick.

Percy Barrett said that they threw the stick out of the train on the way to Halifax.

It was noted that the exact sequence of events was not known, but that it was thought that it was possible that it had been George Cardwell that had been seen outside the shop at about 4pm and again at 4.20pm and that the robbery might not have taken place by 4pm, and that George Cardwell might have gone in between those times and taken the large part in the murder as ascribed by Percy Barrett, it being observed that it was unlikely that the postwoman would have gone into the shop and not noticed Rhoda Walker lying on the floor with Percy Barrett beside her, but possible that he had been hiding in the sitting room when she came in.

However, it was thought that it was more probable that they had both gone into the shop to buy a watch key and then attacked Rhoda Walker when she appeared from upstairs and that George Cardwell had then gone outside to keep watch whilst Percy Barrett had collected the jewellery and that when the postwoman had gone in Rhoda Walker had been behind the counter and Percy Barrett had been hiding in the parlour. However, it was additionally noted that if that was the correct version, that it was unlikely that it would have taken 20 minutes to collect all the jewellery, requiring George Cardwell to have been standing outside on watch for all that time.

However, it was noted that there was no doubt that both of them were clearly guilty of the murder as Percy Barrett on his own account had confessed to assisting by fetching a cushion and to sharing the proceeds, whilst George Cardwell also shared the proceeds and didn't deny Percy Barrett's confession when it was read out at the magistrates. It was further noted that the case against George Cardwell as to having struck the fatal blows, whilst resting mainly on Percy Barrett's statement, was corroborated not only by the evidence of his general conduct but by the fact that he didn't deny it at the magistrates.

In the police report to the Home Secretary, it was noted that the case could be compared to that of:

  1. Stratton brothers.
  2. Reubens brothers.

All of whom were executed.

It was suggested that there were no grounds for a reprieve and they were executed at Leeds on 8 January 1919.

see National Archives - HO 144/1506/372732

see The Scotsman - Tuesday 20 August 1918

see Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Monday 19 August 1918

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 21 August 1918