Unsolved Murders

Willian John Maddern

Age: 7

Sex: male

Date: 14 Feb 1900

Place: Newlyn Harbour, Penzance

Willian John Maddern fell into the sea on 14 February 1900  at Newlyn Harbour, Penzance and drowned.

His body was later found in the sea underneath a cliff.

His 12-year-old sister was initially arrested on suspicion of his murder but she was soon after discharged after it was alleged that their stepmother had counselled her to commit murder and she was arrested on that charge and sent for trial, but at the Cornwall Assizes she was discharged after it was heard that there was no true bill or prima facie case to go forward and nothing more is known about the matter.

A Younger Sister said that she saw her 12-year-old sister push Willian Maddern off the quay into the harbour.

However, after the hearing at the police court Willian Maddern's mother was charged with having aided and abetted, counselled and procured the 12-year-old sister to commit murder.

However, when Willian Maddern's mother appeared at the Cornwall Assizes on Friday 9 November 1900, no true bill was returned, it being noted that a more contradictory story by the two witnesses, the 12-year-old sister and her Younger Sister could not be imagined.

It was claimed that Willian Maddern's mother had told the 12-year-old sister to push Willian Maddern over the quay side and into the sea where he was drowned.

It was initially claimed that she had done it because Willian Maddern had been insured, thus proving a motive, but it was later heard that he had not been insured.

However, at the Assizes it was heard that amongst many things, it could not be determined whether Willian Maddern's mother had been the principal, or was an accessory before the fact. The bill as it was presented had her down as an accessory before the fact, which meant that the charge on the child would turn on whether she knew what she was doing was wrong or not.

The court heard that the children lived at home with their father and stepmother, the children being:

  1. 12-year-old sister.
  2. 11-year-old sister, (Younger Sister).
  3. Willian John Maddern.
  4. 6-year-old brother.

It was alleged that on Monday 12 February 1900, that the stepmother told the 12-year-old sister:

Drown Willian John.

It was then alleged that on Wednesday 14 February 1900, as the children were again going out to play after they had been to school, that the stepmother said:

Mind you drown him before you come in tonight. I will starve you if you don't and you shall not come in tonight.

It was as such then alleged that acting on that the 12-year-old sister went to the seaside and pushed Willian Maddern into the sea. She was alleged to have stated that Willian Maddern had been fishing at the time with a bit of worsted twine with a hook at the end that his stepmother had given him to catch a fish for her breakfast in the morning.

However, at the Assizes it was asked what evidence there was to corroborate the story, it being submitted that there was absolutely nothing. It was further noted that it was not known what the other children that had been present on the Monday would say or what sort of treatment they had had from their stepmother.

It was also noted that the stepmother had only just been confined of a child about a week earlier and had hardly recovered from her long illness and had not been out of bed for the whole of the day.

However, it was heard that the Younger Sister said that it had been the Tuesday that their stepmother had spoken to them and told her sister that she would give her a penny if she would do it and that her 12-year-old sister had said all right.

It was also heard that the 6-year-old brother said that it had been a piece of blue twine that Willian Maddern was sent off fishing with whilst the 12-year-old sister said it had been a piece of white twine that her stepmother gave to Willian Maddern before he left the house, whilst the Younger Sister said that it had been a piece of blue twine and that her 12-year-old sister had instead been given it and put it into her pocket and that she had seen her later take it out of her pocket and give to Willian Maddern. She said that Willian Maddern had been sitting down and that her 12-year-old sister had taken the piece of blue twine out of her pocket and put it on his feet and that he had then begun to fish with it.

It was also heard that the 12-year-old sister had said that she had pushed Willian Maddern in with one hand but that her Younger Sister claimed that her 12-year-old sister had used two hands and that Willian Maddern had been standing up at the time.

It was also heard that the 12-year-old sister had claimed that she had gone to the quay by herself, but the Younger Sister said that all three of them had gone together.

It was also heard that the 12-year-old sister had said that their stepmother had allowed them back into the house without saying a word, whilst the Younger Sister had claimed that their stepmother had asked her 12-year-old sister whether she had pushed Willian Madder over and that she had replied, 'Yes'.

As such, the court was told that of the two stories, that if they were to take one as corroboration of the other, that they were simply a contradiction of the each other.

As such, it was claimed that regarding the charges against the stepmother that the stories were so contradictory that no reliance could be put on them and that as there was no other evidence to corroborate the story of the 12-year-old sister, then there was no case to put the stepmother on trial.

It was noted that Willian Maddern was drowned on 14 February 1900 and his body found on 15 February 1900 but that the inquest had not suspected foul play and that it was initially thought that it was an accidental death or found drowned verdict and that it was only later after certain talk going around and things the girls had said that the 12-year-old sister was taken up, after which she was herself discharged when the investigation turned to the stepmother.

As such, the defence at the Assizes noted that there had to be another enquiry to look into the circumstances of Willian Maddern's death, and that that enquiry could not be at the stepmother's expense, noting that they could not put a person on trial merely to inquire into the cause of death and that they had to have a prima facie case first.

As such, it was submitted that another inquest would have to be held which would need to be ordered by the attorney-general. However, the defence added that whether the attorney-general would think it necessary to order an enquiry, it was not possible to say, but submitted that as it stood there was no case, on the depositions, upon which the stepmother could be put on trial.

Following that the grand jury returned no true bill against the stepmother and made a presentment that another inquiry by the Coroner should be ordered, to which the judge agreed, adding that he would like to know the truth of the matter, after which the stepmother was ordered to be released immediately.

However, it is not known whether another inquest was held, or whether there were ever any further developments in the matter after the Assizes on 9 November 1900.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Cornishman - Thursday 25 October 1900

see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 27 October 1900