Unsolved Murders

Mary Phillips

Age: 69

Sex: female

Date: 13 Jan 1906

Place: Hawthorne Cottage, Stoke Park, Coventry

Richard Phillips and his wife Mary Phillips were found dead at Hawthorne Cottage, Stoke Park, Coventry.

A man was tried for their murder but acquitted.

Richard Phillips was a retired watch finisher.

They were discovered dead on their bed. It was thought that they were attacked with either a jemmy or a short bar.

Richard Phillips was on his back on the bed with his head and shoulders under the top corner of the bed with Mary Phillips on the opposite side to him hanging by her nightdress from the left bottom bedpost. Mary Phillips body was supported by her buttocks on her left knee with her right foot and left hand on the floor. She was sitting on her nightdress which was caught by the post and holding her in that position.

Mary Phillips had a pair of linen drawers tied lightly twice around her mouth and across her chin. The first round was knotted over her mouth and the other end brought round again to the mouth but not quite fixed although enough to muffle her voice and flatten her bottom lip.

There was blood and excrement between Richard Phillips head and the window about a yard from his head. The lower part of Richard Phillips was uncovered with the upper part covered by a shirt and a little by the bed clothes. There was blood and excrement on the soles of his feet and a little on his legs. He had sixteen wounds.

It wasn’t thought that they had offered much resistance to the attacks.

It was noted that some of Richard Phillips's wounds could have been self-inflicted.

The cause of death was given as coma produced by concussion due to multiplicity of injuries to the heads.

The wounds to Richard Phillips were not so severe as those of Mary Phillips. Five of his wounds might have been caused whilst he was standing and were vertical. The other eleven wounds were less vertical. It was noted that Richard Phillips could not have remained standing and received all the wounds.

From the position of Richard Phillips, it appeared that he had been drawn from his original position and his head and shoulders were under the bed. Considerable oozing of blood was on the floor and spots of Richard Phillips blood were found on the walls. There was also evidence of blood on the floor where Richard Phillips had been lying. 

It was noted that it was impossible for the wounds on both bodies to have been inflicted with a straight instrument.

It was also thought that it would have been impossible for a person to inflict the wounds with a short instrument and not have blood on their own clothing.

It was not possible to state who had been attacked first but it was noted that Mary Phillips was gagged with her bed clothes and so would not have been able to cry out.

A woman who lived opposite at Doreen, Stoke Park, about 20 yards away from Hawthorne Cottage, on 10 January 1906, said she was standing at the back of her house between 9.40pm and 10pm when she saw a light in the glass conservatory of Hawthorne Cottage which she described as not continuous but intermittent and which she thought was a bicycle lamp or lantern. She said she watched it for about five minutes and thought that it was someone searching for something.

Another person that lived opposite Hawthorne Cottage said that he was passing Hawthorne Cottage at about 7.50pm going to the post office which was in Bull's Head Lane when he saw Mr and Mrs Phillips through a lighted window in their cottage. He said that Mary Phillips was sitting and Richard Phillips was standing. Later, at 10.15pm he looked out of his bedroom window and noticed that the light was still on but didn’t see Mr or Mrs Phillips there. He said that the night was bright with nearly a full moon. He said that the next morning on the Thursday he looked out and saw that the venetian blinds on the bedroom were still down as the night before. He said that they stayed down on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday and he assumed that they were not doing their ordinary household duties.

The milkman said he last saw Mary Phillips on the Wednesday, 10 January 1906 at 10.30am when he lent her a newspaper and left some milk. He said he called the next day on Thursday 11 January 1906 and went round the back as usual and noticed that the pantry window was open with one sash pulled up and the back door closed. He said he saw some plates on the flower bed under the window and on the other side some more plates with oranges in them. He said he looked through the window but didn’t notice anything out of place but did see a pork chop on the trawl. He said he didn’t leave any milk. He said he called the next day on Friday 12 January 1906 and didn’t leave any milk then either but did notice that the plates were still in the flower bed. He said he again called on the Saturday and found things the same but his suspicions were not aroused as he thought the old people had gone away. He said he had known them for twelve years and had also known Mary Phillips first husband.

The baker who used to deliver bread to Hawthorn Cottage said that he called on the Wednesday afternoon on 10 January at about 4.45pm and went in as usual to the back of the house where he saw Mary Phillips and left her a loaf of bread and said she told him not to call on the Thursday as she would not want bread. He called again on the Friday and noticed some plates on the rockery below the window. He said he also noticed some plates inside the windows and two or three apples and oranges that seemed as though they had rolled off the plates. He said he also saw the pantry window was open with the bottom sash thrown up as far as it would go and saw a screen lying inside on the floor. He didn’t leave any bread. He said that he didn’t have any suspicion that anything was wrong. He returned on the Saturday 13 January 1906 and found everything in the same position it had been before which he thought was strange and so he went over to a neighbour’s opposite and with some assistance went back to Hawthorne Cottage and got inside through the pantry window. He said there was no disorder in the pantry or the kitchen and so they went upstairs to the landing and looked through the bedroom door which was wide open and saw Mary Phillips with her arm around the bedstead and her right leg slightly drawn up and a pool of blood. He said he couldn’t see her face saying that her head was completely knocked in and covered in blood but that she appeared to be quite dead. He said he was in the room about three or four minutes and also saw Richard Phillips's pocket knife which was closed on the floor near the window and a pair of boots on the floor saying that there didn’t appear to be any signs of a struggle. He said he then left the house and went on delivering bread.

The police arrived shortly after.

Inside the conservatory they found a bicycle lamp that they linked to a 22-year-old carpenter. He was tried for their murders but acquitted.

The police traced the bicycle lamp found in the conservatory to a bicycle that had been stolen which was then traced to the man charged. Evidence against the accused included the fact that he had financial difficulty and had also asked a young man why he did not do burglaries and had then shown him how to open windows. It was also shown that in December 1905 he had had two steel instruments made which the prosecution said one of which had been the murder weapon.

He had also failed to account for where he was between 11pm and 4.30am in the morning when it was heard that two people had seen him near Hawthorn Cottage.

The court heard that a bicycle had been stolen in September 1905 with the bicycle lamp on it which was found in the conservatory whilst the bicycle itself was found in the possession of the man accused. They also found paper attached to the bicycle lamp that was identical to some paper found at the man’s house. It was also said that the lamp wick in the bicycle lamp was the same as that in the cottage lamp but it’s not clear what cottage although it was noted that when the man’s parents were shown the bicycle lamp they both swooned.

The court also heard that the man’s parents were the undertakers at Mr and Mrs Phillips funeral but that the man charged took no part in putting their bodies into the coffins.

The court heard that the man had been in a drunken state on 10 January and had not slept at home that night. He was also said to have said that he expected 'to get slung for it' but nevertheless would not give away another man because he was married and had five children.

At his trial, the judge summed up the case saying that the prosecution had sought to prove the connection between the man and the bicycle lamp and that if they failed in that, that the case practically failed. He added that there were no bloodstains on the man’s clothing and that it was said that no clothing was missing. It was also considered that the murderer had had an accomplice and that he urged the jury to consider if they thought an accomplice had struck the blows that killed the couple then they should not convict the man unless they were sure that they had both gone to Hawthorn Cottage with a common purpose.

The man was acquitted and the case remained unsolved.

However, in April 1922 the man hung himself from a tree at Gibbet Hill in Coventry. The rope had been tied to a branch 18ft from the ground and it was thought that he had climbed up, tied the rope to the branch and then climbed down to a lower branch, tied the rope round his neck and then jumped.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see National Archives - ASSI 13/36

see Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Friday 27 July 1906

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Friday 14 April 1922

see Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 24 March 1906

see Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 28 July 1906