Unsolved Murders

John Robert Jesson

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Date: 26 May 1900

Place: Illston-on-the-Hill, Leicestershire

John Jesson died from strychnine poisoning.

John Jesson's wife was tried for his murder at the Leicestershire Assizes but was acquitted.

They married on the Whit Monday, May 1899 and he went to live at a farm in Ratcliffe which he took over the running of with his brother-in-law from his wifes father. He found £120 to fund the venture but it failed.

Afterwards he went back to Leicester where he continued his work as a carpenter.

It was said that after he went back to Leicester his wife wrote him letters reproaching him for not returning and in one promised that she would not give him a dose.

After John Jesson returned to Leicester, his wife went back to live with her father in Illston-on-the-Hill and John Jesson visited her three times.

While John Jesson was in Illston-on-the-Hill on 13 May 1900 he became ill for a day or two.

When he went over to Illston-on-the-Hill again on 26 May 1900 he had tea and supper with the other members of the family and when he went to bed at 9.30pm he seemed alright. However, half an hour later he was dead.

John Jesson's post mortem stated that he had undoubtedly died from strychnine poisoning.

The contents of his stomach, two pieces of his intestines and a portion of his liver were sent to a Home Office analyst who stated that he had found enough strychnine to suggest that John Jesson had swallowed about two grains of strychnine. The Home Office analyst said that based on the other ingredients that were found in his organs that the strychnine had been taken in the form of Battle's vermin killer. The analyst said that as such there was no possibility that it might be what he might call a chance death and said that the strychnine must have been administered internally by one person or another.

It was heard that on 17 May 1900 John Jesson's wife wrote John Jesson a letter asking him to buy some Battle's vermin killer saying that she had a mouse in her room. She had written 'Will you please get me a sixpenny bottle of Battle's vermin killer from Berridge's. Please get Battle's, as the other is no good. You will have to sign your name for it, but I don't care about that if I can get rid of the mouse.'.

Another letter dated 16 May 1900 was read out in court which said 'Will you please bring me the stuff I told you of on Saturday?' and in another letter dated 17 May 1900 she wrote 'You are not to get the stuff for me. I have never seen any, and I don't want any'. When John Jesson's wife was questioned about the sentences she said that she was referring to articles for the purpose of mending or making John Jesson's clothes. However, it was heard that that reason was not quite consistent with a line in a latter part of the letter which read, 'You say I would give you a dose. No, I would never do that. I have more love for you than you have for me'.

Then in another letter written on 20 May 1900 she wrote 'I must say I have taken the saltpetre. The strychnine I have neither touched, tasted, nor handled, nor have I ever seen any, not have I ever taken anything to keep me from being in the family way.'.

It was also heard that none of the letters that John Jesson had sent his wife in reply were available as John Jesson's wife said that John Jesson himself destroyed them on13 May when he was in Illston-on-the-Hill.

John Jesson's wife's mother said that she went to meet John Jesson at the George Hotel in Leicester with her husband in the afternoon on 26 May 1900 and that John Jesson then drove them all back to Illston-on-the-Hill where they had tea at about 3.30pm. She said that John Jesson seemed in his usual spirits but had told her that he was not very well and that he had a bad cold. She said that when they got to Illston-on-the-Hill they had tea, consisting of bread and butter, seed cake and tea. John Jesson's wife's mother said then that John Jesson walked about the place until supper time and then he sat down with the rest of the family for the supper which consisted of mackerel, bread and beer. She said that her husband went to bed at about 9pm and that everyone else followed at about 9.30pm.

John Jesson's wife's mother said that she had not been in bed long before her daughter came to the door and said that John Jesson was not well and asked her to come. She said that when she went into the bedroom that John Jesson was in she saw him knocking his arms about. She said that as soon as she went into the room she saw her daughter fall onto the bed in a fainting condition and that she didn’t see anything in her hands nor saw her give John Jesson anything.

John Jesson's wife's mother said that she then took her daughter back to her own room and that she and her son then went back to see John Jesson and said that by then he was choking. She said that she and her son then tried to lift him up but he said 'Oh, don't, please don't'. She said then that her son went off to send for a doctor. John Jesson's wife's mother said that when she went back to see John Jesson with her other son, he was dead. She said that that was at about 10pm or a few minutes before.

John Jesson's wife's mother said that she then took a cup downstairs that she found on the window sill saying that it was empty and that it had smelt of whisky. She said that with that exception there was nothing else in the nature of cups or bottles in the room although she noted that she had not searched John Jesson's clothes.

John Jesson's wife's mother said that John Jesson had come over the Saturday before, 12 May 1900 and said that he had slept the night at the farm and that the following morning he had had breakfast and then said that he was sick and had gone out and then come back and had a little more breakfast and then gone back to bed. She went on to say that John Jesson later got up at 11am but didn't seem well for the remainder of the day.

John Jesson's wife's mother said that on 12 May 1900 her husband had bought some weed killer from Leicester which had been in a tin and said that it was put on the scullery shelf where it remained until the Monday morning when she used it on the paths in the garden.

John Jesson's wife's mother also said that she remembered receiving a letter from John Jesson, but could not remember when and said that in it John Jesson had complained that her daughter had taken strychnine the summer before. However, she said that she burnt the letter on the day that she got it and in court her statement was objected to on the grounds that it could not be taken as admissible evidence.

When John Jesson's wife's mother was asked if her daughter was on affectionate terms with John Jesson, John Jesson's wife's mother said 'Yes'.

The doctor that carried out the post-mortem said the flavour of strychnine was very bitter. He also confirmed that it was often taken in very small doses as a pick-me-up. It was heard that a sixpenny packet of Battle's vermin killer would fill about half a teaspoon and amongst its other ingredients would have about 2 grains of strychnine.

The doctor that was called to see John Jesson said that he arrived on the Saturday night, 26 May 1900, shortly after 11pm, and found John Jesson dead. He said that he was lying on his back on the bed with his hands clenched and his thumbs drawn in. He said that John Jesson's head was drawn back and his eyes partly closed, that his lips were blue and his face was pallid. He said that John Jesson's body was cold and that he had probably been dead for about an hour.

A chemist who had two shops, one at Cheapside and the other on Granby Street in Leicester said that he was shown a photo of John Jesson's but said that he didn't recognise him and said that he didn't remember selling any drugs or poisons to him. He produced both of his register of poisons from both shops and found no entry of sale in either to John Jesson. He added that the Cheapside shop-book had been properly made up between 16 January 1900 and 16 May 1900 although there were no entries between those dates.

A policeman said that he had inspected all the records from chemists in Leicester for the last two years and could find the name of Jesson in none of them.

A man that knew John Jesson said that John Jesson always spoke well of his wife and that he had told him that he was making arrangements for her to come and live with him in Leicester and that he had seemed quite lifted up at the prospect.

Another man, a builder, said that he had known John Jesson for about fourteen or fifteen years and said that he had always enjoyed good health and was a strong man. He said that he met him on 21 May 1900 and that he arranged some work for him and said that John Jesson had told him that he was not feeling very well and had told him that on 14 May 1900, the day that John Jesson had said that he had first become ill, his wife had given him some wine before breakfast that had made him ill and that he had been sick and had then slept for six hours. The builder said that John Jesson looked ill all week.

Another carpenter who said that he had known John Jesson for nine or ten years said that John Jesson had told him about not feeling well after having drunk the wine and said that he asked him 'Do you think you have had some poison, Bob?' and said that John Jesson replied 'Oh, no. I don't think that. We were on the best of terms. She waved her handkerchief to me as I was coming away. I was to be sure and write during the week to let her know how I was'. The carpenter said that he then replied, 'It couldn't be that then'.

After all the evidence was heard at the magistrates hearing, the defence summed up saying that there was not enough evidence to send John Jesson's wife for trial. It was heard that they had been on good terms and that even John Jesson had ruled out the thought that his wife had tried to kill him. It was said that after drinking the wine in the morning on the previous Saturday John Jesson had engaged in some vigorous exercise and that it was no wonder he was ill. They also said that there was absolutely no motive for John Jesson's wife to murder him. It was also heard that there was no evidence to show that John Jesson's wife had had the opportunity to poison John Jesson and that there was also no evidence that she had ever had the poison. It was also heard that because strychnine was so bitter it would not have been possible to have drunk it without noticing and that if one had a glass of whisky, one didn't gulp it down like physic, but at least had a taste or two first and that if John Jesson had done so he would have noticed the poison. The defence went on to say that it was more likely that John Jesson had taken the strychnine himself as a pick-me-up and that not thinking that the amount in the vermin killer would kill him had taken too much. It was further said that it was known that a person could have taken strychnine and walked around for 20 minutes like nothing had happened before they felt the effects and that if the strychnine had been in the whisky there would not have been enough time for him to have taken it before his wife’s parents were alerted to his spasms and that it was probably more likely that he had taken it before he had retired and then when he had first felt ill from the effects had asked his wife for the whisky which he had then drunk.

John Jesson's wife was acquitted.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Norfolk Chronicle - Saturday 24 November 1900

see Leicester Chronicle - Saturday 11 August 1900

see Cheshire Observer - Saturday 24 November 1900