Unsolved Murders

Margaret Helen Yoke

Age: 60

Sex: female

Date: 19 Sep 1934

Place: Pontybodkin, Flintshire

Margaret Helen Yoke was found burnt to death but it was later found that she had died from violence.

Her husband was tried but there was not enough evidence and the trial was stopped.

She was last seen alive on the night of 18 September 1934.

Her dead body was found the following morning at about 8am, 19 September 1934 near an outhouse about 110 feet away from her house. There had been a tremendous fire of some sort and her clothing was completely burnt off and all of her body except her feet were charred.

On the same morning Margaret Yoke's husband was seen to run out of his house shouting, 'Come at once. Madge has taken fire'.

Her husband, a boot repairer and clogger, later told the police that Margaret Yoke had got up before him to make some breakfast and said that when he got up she had gone outside. He also said that Margaret Yoke was in the habit of using a little paraffin on a rag to make the fire go, and he thought she must have used it that morning.

She was later buried on 18 September 1934 but her body was later exhumed on 10 November 1934 and the husband was later tried on 4 February 1935 but acquitted.

Margaret Yoke's husband said that they had been married for 32 years and added that Margaret Yoke had been crippled for 35 years on her right side and said that he had had to struggle to get medical aid for her.

The court heard that it was Margaret Yoke's husband’s suggestion that she had caught fire after a spark from the fire had caught her clothes, setting her on fire. However, the court also heard that none of the neighbours had heard Margaret Yoke scream, either from her house or as she would have gone to the place where she was found, even though she would have had to pass two of the neighbours houses to get to where she was found.

Also, it was heard that during the post-mortem it was found that Margaret Yoke had bruises on her scalp which it was alleged had been caused shortly before her death.

It was also heard that on 1 October 1934 the police had found a belt of cotton material, similar to the frock that Margaret Yoke had been wearing, in the grass near her body, which showed no signs of burning. It was added that after Margaret Yoke's body was exhumed, bruises were found on Margaret Yoke's neck which was thought to be due to some sort of pressure having been exerted by a ligature of some sort, which could have been the belt.

The prosecution then said that Margaret Yoke's death had been due partly to asphyxiation with the belt. They said that the burning had taken place before her death and that it was due to three things, violence to her head, partial strangulation and burning.

Four of the neighbours said that they saw nothing unusual near the house on 19 September 1934.

The woman that lived next door said that at about 8am on 19 September 1934 she heard Margaret Yoke's husband go out towards an outhouse, noting that he appeared to be wearing clogs, and then heard him racing back to his house. She said that he then entered by the back door, bolted it, went upstairs, and then left by the front door. She said that he then returned with another man. The other man that she was referring to was the man that Margaret Yoke's husband said that he had gone off for whilst shouting, 'Come at once. Madge has taken fire'.

The neighbour said that when she then went out she saw Margaret Yoke lying on the ground near a hedge. She said that she didn't hear Margaret Yoke's husband shouting to his wife or hear Margaret Yoke scream. She said that she also didn't smell any smoke.

The doctor that carried out the post-mortem after Margaret Yoke's body had been exhumed said that the objective of the exhumation was to study her neck more closely and said that he concluded that in his opinion, her death had not been due to natural causes. He said that in his opinion violence had been applied to her body and head shortly before her death, noting that it was insufficient to have caused death, but sufficient to have caused unconsciousness.

He also said that examination of portions of Margaret Yoke's neck both with the naked eye and under the microscope indicated that a ligature had been applied shortly before her death. He also said that the condition of her tongue suggested that death was due to asphyxia and that the burning of her body had been assisted by an inflammable liquid.

Tissues and certain articles were sent to the Forensic Medicine Department at the University in Edinburgh for examination.

Tissue samples included:

  • Portion of skin removed from the back of the neck of the deceased at the exhumation.
  • Specimens of the tongue, larynx and trachea of the deceased removed at exhumation.
  • Sections of skin from the area of blistering of the left thigh, right thigh, left chest and right shoulder.
  • Tissues removed at Post-Mortem Examination on September 20th 1934.
  • Examination of the blood

Samples of her clothing were also sent for analysis which included:

  • Remains of undervest.
  • Remains of corset.
  • Chemise.
  • Flowered dress.
  • Stockings.
  • Belt of dress.
  • Slippers.
  • Cloth found in privy.
  • Stockings alleged to have been worn by Margaret Yoke's husband.

Of the portion of skin from the back of Margaret Yoke's neck which was about four inches square, it was noted that on the left side there was erosion of the surface and putrefaction and at the right lower margin, there were signs of burning and on the upper margin there were a number of singed hairs. The report also stated that across the middle of the specimen there was a distinct groove which was narrow and deeper on the left, shallower and broader on the right, varying between about 3/16 and 1/2 an inch. He said that the groove did not appear to be a natural wrinkle of the skin but appeared to be due to pressure exerted by a ligature. He added that from the middle portion of the groove sections were taken for microscopical examination and that in those sections small areas of haemorrhage could be seen.

The report stated that Margaret Yoke's tongue at the first post-mortem was reported as having been firmly grasped by her toothless gums and that her jaw had to be opened forcibly for her tongue to be released. It also stated the the section examined in Edinburgh showed a deeply grooved area behind the tip where it had been grasped by her toothless gums and that that portion of the tip that had protruded had shown evidence of burning on its under surface. The report went on to state that on microscopical examination of the tongue, the remains of squamous epithelium could not be made out. It also stated that several minute haemorrhages could be observed in the tissues of the tongue.

The report also stated that no trace of carbon particles could be observed in the larynx or trachea and that there were no signs of haemorrhages visible to the naked eye. The report also stated that the hyoid bone was strongly calcified and both horns were ankylosed to the body and that it was unbroken. It reported that the thyroid cartilage was partially ossified but presented no signs of fracture.

It also stated that examination of the skin from the left thigh and right thigh both showed signs of minute haemorrhage beneath the superficial layers

The report stated that the sections of scalp that had been taken at the first post-mortem showed haemorrhage into the tissue in the part of the scalp overlying the bruises and a general congestion of the rest of the scalp tissue.

The report stated that when the blood was examined, no carbon monoxide was found.

When the examination went on to the clothing samples, it stated that no smell of paraffin could be found on the remains of the undervest. The rest of the clothing was described as being burnt to various degrees, including the slippers, but the dress belt was found to have not been burnt.

The report stated that when it examined Margaret Yoke's husband’s stockings, several hairs and fragments of organic material were found on the soles which matched the hair from Margaret Yoke and which was shown to be singed, having been exposed to heat. However, it also noted that considering that Margaret Yoke's body had been taken back into the house for the post-mortem, no importance could be attached to that finding.

It was further noted that from the foregoing examination, the doctor that carried it out was of the opinion that Margaret Yoke's death had not been due to natural causes and that violence had been applied before death. It stated that the violence was insufficient to have caused death but was sufficient to have caused loss of consciousness.

The report stated that the naked eye and microscopic appearance of the tissues about the neck indicated that a ligature had been applied to Margaret Yoke's neck shortly before her death and also stated that the position and appearance of the tongue and the congestion of the tissues suggested that death had been due to asphyxia. The report then concluded that the burning of Margaret Yoke was assisted by the use of an inflammable liquid and that the burning had taken place before her death.

Margaret Yoke's husbands statement read, 'About 7.15am today my wife got up to make the fire and prepare breakfast, which is the rule as I don't get up first. I was a little later getting up this morning which would be about 8.10am. I came downstairs and found the kettle on the fire boiling, so I brewed the tea thinking my wife had gone to the lavatory, which as a rule she goes to the lavatory before breakfast, but this morning it was an unusual thing to find a letter on the floor unopened, which as a rule she always opened them to see what is the news from the family. On seeing the letter on the floor untouched, I thought there was something wrong, and I thought that she had been taken bad in the lavatory. I opened the back door and shouted, 'Mag' and having no answer I slipped my shoes on and went down to the back and upon going down to by the lavatory, I found my wife lying on the ground by the lavatory, all her clothing was burnt and she was dead. I then ran across to a neighbour’s house and the neighbour came back with me, and his son went for the police. As a rule my wife used a little paraffin on an old piece of rag to make the fire blaze and the only thing I can think of is that she used paraffin this morning and that the fire blazed up and that her clothing caught fire'.

During another statement he said that he always had a pint of paraffin in the house as he used it for work.

When Margaret Yoke's husband was later questioned in further detail and was asked how he thought Margaret Yoke had come to be burnt so badly, he replied, 'She caught fire and ran out'.

When he was asked whether Margaret Yoke had had a belt with her frock he replied, 'No belt on it, no, no belt belonging to the frock. They were all loose. I feel almost sure all loose, but in winter she would sweat'.

When he was then asked why he didn't think that Margaret Yoke called out when she caught on fire he said, 'No, I can't help. She has been so bad. It would be around about 12 months last January she would have it we were poisoned and went to a herbalist and later to her sister and saw the doctor. In that time she had always been a woman that got up in the morning. She used to shout from downstairs that she was bad'.

When the police stated to him, 'The letter drew your attention and you called out of the back door?', Margaret Yoke's husband replied, 'I called out 'Mag, Mag', put my clogs on. There was no burning when I got down there. She had not a rag on her'.

When the police asked him what time they got their letters Margaret Yoke's husband said, 'It varies, all times'.

The police then asked, 'Did you ever see her light the fire with paraffin?', and Margaret Yoke's husband replied, 'Yes, she pushed it underneath with the poker after it was lit'.

The police then said, 'Your suggestion is that something flew into her frock and set fire to her?', and Margaret Yoke's husband replied, 'I cannot understand how it is the neighbours had not seen her. I here has not been a truer woman in a day's march'.

The police then said, 'The burns were very extensive?', and Margaret Yoke's husband replied, 'Yes, yes, my daughter and the matches. I have thought a lot about it. There is another thing. The bottle found in the pail was not put there by our hands I have great faith in my woman'.

The police said that shortly after questioning him again they decided that the should charge Margaret Yoke's husband. They said that when he was cautioned and told that he was to be taken before the magistrates and charged with causing the death of his wife he replied, 'Well, you have got me now. I am as innocent as ----'.

When he was later charged he said, 'Well, you have me like a rat in a hole. You do what you can for me'. When he was later taken to Mold and charged, he said, 'I have not realised it until yet, I know no more about it than that grate. I am absolutely innocent of the charge'.

Whilst on remand in HMP Liverpool, he was examined by a doctor. The doctor said that whilst there, having arrived on 10 November 1934, his behaviour had been rational and he had not shown any signs of insanity. The report stated that for a few days following committal for trial he had been in a state of mental excitement and distress, protesting innocence of any offence, but that apart from that, he had not shown any emotional reaction to the charge against him.

He was committed for trial but the case was later dismissed due to lack of evidence.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see Gloucestershire Echo - Thursday 07 February 1935

see Nottingham Journal - Wednesday 19 December 1934

see Hull Daily Mail - Friday 16 November 1934

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Friday 16 November 1934

see Gloucestershire Echo - Friday 16 November 1934

see National Archives - ASSI 65/39/3