Unsolved Murders

William John Davis

Age: 4 months

Sex: male

Date: 14 Mar 1907

Place: Digey, St. Ives

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

William Davis had his head cut off.

A boy was charged with the child’s murder but was later discharged.

The mother said that she last saw her child alive on the afternoon of the Thursday at 4pm. She said that she had left it in the cradle in the kitchen. She said that there was a washtray half filled with water and that there was a sharp knife that she had been using on the table and that the there was a fire on in the kitchen. She said that when she left she had given the child a bottle of milk. She said that the kitchen was approached from the street by a flight of stairs and that when she left there was also an oil lamp on one of the tables. She said that when she got back the oil lamp had been spilt. When she left the door from the kitchen into the bedroom was closed.

The mother said that as she was going down the stairs out of the kitchen she saw one of her boys who was coming out of the stable from below the house and said that he went off towards Digey and then off towards Fore street whilst she went off to Porthmeor beach for her little girl.

She said that as she went out she saw the boy that was charged with her baby's murder standing on his doorstep which was near to her own house. she said that she asked him if he had seen her daughter and he told her that he had saying that she was down at Porthmeor beach.

The mother didn't see her daughter at the beach and so she went to see her mother and had a cup of tea. She said that on the way to her mother's place in Back Lane she passed through Digey and looked towards her house and also the house of the boy but said that he was not there then. When the mother went to her mother's house she said that she found her daughter there and that she stayed there for about 15-30 minutes and then came home with her daughter.

As the mother was coming home she met a couple of women including the mother of the boy that was charged with the murder. She said that the woman was running towards her home with another son and then also went partly into her home to get her other daughter who was crying there. When the mother went up the stairs to her home and into the kitchen with the woman she said she could smell a strong smell of paraffin and then saw water all over the floor and said to the woman 'My God, your boy has been here again'. The mother said that she then looked into her cradle and saw that her baby was not there and said she said to the woman 'My baby has gone out of the cradle. Your boy has taken my baby'. However, the woman then said 'Here is your baby'.

When the mother looked she said that the woman then remarked 'A big dog has been here and pulled the baby's head off'. The child's body was no the fender and its head was in the fire.

The mother said that she noticed that part of the water from the washtray was gone, that the oil was gone from the lamp, and that the milk bottle had been taken out of the cradle and put on the table although the teat was still in the cradle. She also said that a box of matches had gone as well as the breadknife.

The mother said that she then asked the woman to empty the remainder of the washtray as she didn't want people thinking that she was a dirty woman.

She said that when her husband later returned he sent him off to get the police.

At the Coroner's inquest the mother said that the woman's boy who was charged initially with the murder was frequently in her home but that she had been keeping him out for the previous fortnight because he was always stealing things but said that he would come in on tip toes. She said that she had seen him that morning at the top of her steps and told him that he couldn't come in.

A labourer who lived on Back Street said that he had seen the mother come out of her house and that shortly after he saw the boy that was accused playing on her steps although he didn't know whether the boy had gone into her house.

The 9-year-old brother of the boy that was accused of the murder said that he went into the house and saw the bay on the fender and its head in the fire. He said that when he went in he saw his bother sitting on his step eating some bread and butter and that when he went out of the house to tell his father his brother was still sitting there. he said that he didn't see his brother go into the house or come out of it all afternoon. He said that when he told his father they went back to the house and his father took the body off of the fender and the head out of the fire and put them on the floor and then went off with the two boys to their grandmother's house. when he was asked questions about his brothers boots he said that after they got back from their grandmothers his father burnt the boy who was accused's boots on the fire in their kitchen.

When the boy’s father was questioned he said that he had been down at the wharf with his son who was accused of the murder from 2pm until about 4pm and that they got back home at about 4pm and said that about 20 minutes later he was called over to the mothers house where he saw the baby's head in the fire and it's body on the fender. he said that he used a poker to roll the head out of the fire and placed it on the fender and put the body on the floor.

He said that after he went out to look for his son that had been accused but could not see him. The Coroner asked him why he had looked for him and the father said that he wanted to keep him in his possession and the Coroner asked him why and the father said that he didn't want anybody to see him near the house. When the Coroner asked why the father said 'If he did it, he did it, and if he didn't, he didn't. I wanted to keep him in my possession.

When the coroner asked the father about the boots her denied that he had burnt any boots saying that the boots that his son who was accused of the murder had been wearing had been handed down to the younger son.

When the doctor was called he found the body of William Davis on the floor and the head nearby. He said that the limbs were cold and estimated that it had been dead for two hours. he said that the child's body and clothing was soaking wet and smelt strongly of paraffin. He carried out a post-mortem the next day and concluded that William Davis died from haemorrhage due to decapitation. He said that there were four superficial incised wounds on his face and the whole of the head had been scorched. He said that the body might have been decapitated whilst in water or put in water directly afterwards and then the head put into the fire. He said that it wouldn't take long to decapitate him with a knife, about two minutes.

The doctor said that he had seen the accused boy and said that he found him weak minded.

When a policeman arrived he found the washtray on the landing outside and said that there were bloodstains on it. He said that the next day he also found cartilage in the tray adhering to the wood.

After the policeman when to see the accused boy’s father at a house in St. Peter Street and said that he saw the boy there with his grandmother. He said that when he saw him he said 'Baby's head cut off' and that when he had said that his grandmother gave him a shake and told him to be quiet. The policeman said that he then took the boy into custody.

When the Coroner summed up he said that the facts seemed clear and it was for them to deduce their conclusions from them. He added that he mother had had nineteen children only three remained. He said that that was a high rate of infant mortality even though three were still born and the rest had been medically attended and had died of natural caused. He noted that the infantile mortality rate in St. Ives was very much more than it ought to be, averaging 140 deaths to a thousand births a year.

He added that there was a good deal of contradictory evidence stating that the younger boy had said the boy’s boots had been burnt whilst the father said that he had swapped them and the mother saying that they were the same boots he had had on when he was arrested. The Coroner also pointed out that when the boy’s father was first notified of the murder that his first thought was seeing it was to look out for his boy. The Coroner also stated that the behaviour of the mother in cleaning up after find her baby dead showed a desire to cover things up and was not satisfactory. He concluded that the evidence was purely circumstantial and that if it pointed to anyone then it pointed to the boy but he said that he could not say that it was enough for the jury to return a verdict of murder.

The jury retired for a short moment and returned with the verdict of 'Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown'.


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


see Western Morning News - Saturday 23 March 1907

see Royal Cornwall Gazette - Thursday 28 March 1907