Date: 20 Mar 1930
Place: Thurmaston, Leicester
Edith Lucy Mills died in a fire at her house above her and her husband’s hardware shop.
Edith Mills died from shock following partial asphyxiation.
Her husband said that he was awakened by a smell of burning about 1am. In his statement he then said:
I rushed upstairs and called to my wife, who was awake, and told her the shop was on fire. She said 'Oh, my God, the children'. She rushed to their room. The fumes were bad, but there was still no fire. I noticed flames in the house when I got out of the shop. I ran to the constable's house and asked him to telephone for the brigade. When I returned to the shop it was burning fiercely. I got a ladder and climbed up to the room. The little girl was passed down to me and I groped round and found my son and lifted him out. I had a handkerchief round my mouth, climbed in, and found my wife unconscious with the aid of a flash lamp. I tried to get her through the window, but could not, and climbed out for fresh air. I again tried to rescue her and by that time the brigade had arrived. My financial position is very poor. The shop and house belong to my wife and £243 is owing on them. The stock and furniture were insured for £400 each. I am unable to state the cause of the fire. It is the first I have had. I have recently been pressed for money. My debts are about £50, and I have several County Court summonses.’
The Coroner said that he was not happy with the husband’s statement and asked him why he had left his wife and children in the burning house.
When the jury returned an open verdict the foreman said 'We would like to add that we are not satisfied with the conduct of the husband. We think he might have done a great deal more in this case to have affected a rescue of his wife. The lodger was also in the house, and he could have done something. We do not pay any attention to the lodger's evidence'.
The Coroner then said that it was a most unsatisfactory case, to put it mildly. He said 'It is quite clear that the life of this woman was lost in rescuing her children, and no one seems able to have rescued her. The most amazing thing is the mistake which her husband said he made. It is amazing that he left his wife and children in there and went off for the policeman, whereas the neighbours or anyone would have come. The whole four could have come down the stairs together. It is very easy to criticise after the event, but you must remember that these people were roused at one o'clock in the morning. It seems a shame that this woman was not rescued. The most important point is the origin of the fire, and nobody could say as to that. It is significant that the husband shut up the shop, and was the only person to go into it after that. He was the only person to get up that night. He was the only person to find out about the fire. It is significant and suspicious, and the evidence of the insurance raises some suspicion. But of course, charges cannot be founded on mere suspicion alone. I must say, on the evidence before you, that you have no direct evidence against the husband. This Thurmaston fire mystery must remain unsolved.'
One of the firemen that had been called out said that when he arrived there were flames coming out of a window and door and that he was told that there was a woman in the house. He said that when he went to the back he saw a ladder reared against the bedroom window with a fireman on it and said that there was another fireman inside. He said that the front room was ablaze.
He said that he then went up to the back bedroom and with the aid of the officer’s flash lamp saw Edith Mills lying on the floor at the foot of the bed with her feet towards the window. He said that she seemed unconscious or dead and that with help he carried her down the stairs and into a neighbour’s house where artificial respiration was tried. He said that Edith Mills murmured and that her left arm went up as though he were hurting her and then she died.
The fireman said that Edith Mills's husband then came into the room and asked about his cash box and a blue suit which he said had been burnt. The fireman said that he was surprised that he should talk about such a thing when his wife was dead and swore at him.
The fireman said that when he had found Edith Mills she had had a towel wound round her neck. The Coroner asked if it was knotted and the fireman said that it was wound round loosely and gave him the impression that she had been using it to stop the smoke.
When the husband was asked why he had left his wife and children in the burning house he said that he had done it on impulse when he realised that they needed help. He said that he realised his mistake after. The Coroner noted that he would have had help if he had shouted. The husband said that he had been shouting all the way but said that there was nobody about at that time of night. The Coroner said to the husband that he could have replaced his house but not his wife and asked why he did not make some attempt to save them and the husband replied that he thought that the lodger would make some attempt. The Coroner then asked the husband why when he had gotten back into the room did he not move his wife to the window sill and he said that he could not get a proper grip on her and that he was getting overpowered and came out for air. The Coroner asked him why he could not have first helped her to the window sill before he left and then noted that others had lifted her out. The husband replied that he had had a good try. The Coroner then noted that if anyone had jumped out of the window they could have done no more than break a leg, and the husband replied that he had done his best.
The Coroner then asked him why he had gone for the five insurances and the husband said that he was preparing for his wife and children and that he had never thought of himself.
The Coroner then asked him if he had been trying to get rid of his business and the husband replied 'No'. The Coroner than asked whether or not he had previously been in correspondence with a firm in Holborn stating that he had wanted to get rid of his business and house stating that the reason for him selling was illness and the husband said 'Yes'. He said that he had three letters but that he had not answered them and added that it was due to the illness of his wife.
The Coroner then said to the husband 'You realise that if you had shut the door and gone upstairs, your wife and children could have been saved without any trouble?’, and the husband said 'Yes, but I wanted help'. The Coroner then said to the husband 'It did not occur to you that while you were putting on your coat and boots you could have saved your wife and children?' and the husband replied 'No'.
The Coroner also noted that as far as he could see there was no apparent origin of the fire and that the jury would have to consider the possibility of it having been started deliberately.
The husband was then asked by someone else that if it had not been for him rousing his neighbours then there might have been three deaths instead of one and the husband said 'Yes'. The man then said 'You realise that you made one mistake in running off for help instead of staying to get your wife and children out' and the husband replied 'Yes'.
An open verdict was returned.
The police enquiry later involved Scotland Yard being called in.
During the inquest the Coroner ordered a man arrested for perjury and on 19 April 1930 the man, an inquest witnesses, was committed for trial. The man was a 19-year-old shoe hand from High Street, Syston near Leicester. He had said that he had been passing the shop on the night of the fire and saw smoke and that when he had jumped off of his machine and looked through the window and had seen Edith Mills bending over the flame. However, he had later corrected his statement to say that it was not true. A policeman said that the show hand came up to him about the fire saying that he had read something in the newspapers about a man with a bicycle and said 'They have got the wrong man, it has worried me'. The shoe-hand then said that he had seen a flame spring up in the shop and that he had seen the shadow of a man bending over the flame but did not know who the man was. It was noted that at the inquest the shoe-hand had said that he was sure that the man had been Edith Mills's husband and that he had thought that he was putting the fire out but when the inquest was resumed on 26 March 1930 he had said that it was not true and the Coroner ordered him arrested.
see Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 05 April 1930
see Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 05 April 1930
see Western Daily Press - Friday 28 March 1930
see Western Morning News - Saturday 05 April 1930
see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Friday 28 March 1930
see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 28 March 1930
see Gloucester Citizen - Saturday 05 April 1930
see Tamworth Herald - Saturday 19 April 1930
see The Scotsman - Thursday 27 March 1930
see Western Daily Press - Thursday 27 March 1930
see Nottingham Evening Post - Tuesday 15 April 1930