Date: 6 Oct 1908
Place: 25 New Street
Mabel Jenkins was found dead on her step with a head injury.
It was thought that she might have been hit over the head with a blunt instrument or fallen down the stairs.
She was the wife of a bargeman.
The inquest heard that her husband said that he came home on the Monday morning and found her in an unconscious condition down stairs. He said that he last saw her at about 1pm on the Saturday in the back kitchen when he went out through the front.
He said that he put his money on the table, 25s, (two half-sovereigns and two half crowns) from 30s 6d that he had earned that week, noting that he had kept the rest to buy a shovel.
He said that he said, 'Here, Mabel, here's your money. I want to go up the street', and said that he went back out again and came back at 1.30am.
He said that when he got back Mabel Jenkins was lying down on the step between the two kitchens at the bottom of the stairs but that he hadn't taken much notice of how she was lying as he thought that she was drunk.
He said that he then went to get a neighbour and that when the neighbour came over and looked at Mabel Jenkins, the neighbour said to him, 'Your wife is dead, she is quite cold'.
Mabel Jenkins's husband said that Mabel Jenkins had blood all over her face, but said that there was no sign of a struggle but said that a few pieces of carpet were crumpled up on the floor. He also said that he picked up a bottle that had been lying beside her and said that he didn't see any stick or other instrument of that kind near her. He also said that he could not see any of the money that he had left her or tell what she might have done with it.
When a policeman examined Mabel Jenkins he said that he found 7s 6d on her body.
The husband said that he didn't make any enquiries as to where she had spent the money or whether she had been drunk or if anyone had seen her. The Coroner then asked him if he had come home and found a dog or cat dead whether he would make enquiries and the husband said 'yes', and the Coroner then questioned, 'You would not about your wife?' and the husband said, 'She must have killed herself'.
The husband said that he had been drinking and playing cards during the evening until 11pm at the Champion of Wales pub and said that he had then been with his mother between 11.30pm and 1.30am with whom he generally had his meals.
He said that their five children were up in bed and that when he asked his 12-year old son if he had heard anything he said that he hadn't. He said that he then called his other children down to see their drunken mother.
He said that the lamp had burnt dry and that their neighbour had to bring some oil to fill it.
The Coroner asked the husband why he degraded his children by calling them down to see their drunken mother and why he brought the neighbour into the debauch and the husband said that he had called his neighbour because the neighbour would not believe that his wife used to drink.
The husband said that his children had been unable to say how his wife had got where she was but it was then pointed out that he had not asked them. A member of the jury at the inquest then pointed out that the daughter had said that she had heard Mabel Jenkins groaning and the Coroner then asked the husband why he had not told him that before and the husband replied, 'That was the little girl'. The Coroner then called for the children to be fetched.
The neighbour’s wife said that she last saw Mabel Jenkins alive at about 10.55pm on the Saturday night saying that she had been in the kitchen sitting in a chair, noting that she didn't know how long Mabel Jenkins had been in because she had only been home for about a quarter of an hour herself. The neighbours’ wife said that she then sat in the chair in her kitchen until about 12.45am and never heard a sound and could not say whether anybody had gone into the next door house until Mabel Jenkins's husband called her and her husband to come and look at Mabel Jenkins.
A doctor that was called arrived at 2.27am on the Sunday morning and said that he found Mabel Jenkins fully dressed and prone, lying in front of the kitchen face downwards and resting on her right cheek and with some blood coming out of her left nostril. He said that she was dead and that she had been dead for about 2-4 hours. He said that he found a box of matches, a piece of candle and a belt under her body.
The doctor said that when he carried out the post-mortem he found her body to be healthy but said that there was no food in her intestines or stomach. He said that there was a bruise on her left temple about the size of a shilling and that in her scalp there was a starred fracture running in three directions. He said that when he opened the skull he found haemorrhage all over the brain and said that death was due to a fracture of the skull. He added that he found no signs that Mabel Jenkins had been an habitual alcoholic.
After the children presented themselves at the inquest they said that Mabel Jenkins had been sitting in her chair at about 7pm sewing after which they had their tea and had then gone to bed. The 12-year old child volunteered that he thought that Mabel Jenkins had fallen down the stairs but that when he was further questioned by the Coroner he cried bitterly and then stated that he didn't really think that she had fallen down the stairs. Two other children aged 9 and 6 both corroborated his statement saying that they heard nothing after they went to bed.
Mabel Jenkins's sister also gave evidence at the inquest to say that when she had seen Mabel Jenkins on the Thursday, Mabel Jenkins had borrowed 2s from her as she had had no food and that she also showed her her arms which were bruised and then quickly made a grave allegation against the husband.
When the Coroner summed up he said that it was the most deplorable state of affairs that he had ever inquired into. He said that there was a man not coming home until 1.30am and finding his wife, whom he alleged was drunk, and so frequently, lying dead at the foot of the stairs and then did nothing to help her but wasted time calling a neighbour to see Mabel Jenkins drunk and was then callous and cruel enough to call down his children to see their drunken mother. The Coroner then said that for himself, he did not believe that story for a moment.
The jury returned a verdict of that her death was due to a fractured skull and added a rider cautioning the husband.
The Coroner then added that it was the most callous and cruel case that he had ever investigated and that if there had been the slightest opportunity for him to have introduced into the case a suggestion of manslaughter, he would have done so.
see North Devon Gazette - Tuesday 06 October 1908