Unsolved Murders

Jenny Morgan

Age: 46

Sex: female

Date: 22 Jan 1923

Place: 125 Caerleon Road, Newport, Monmouthshire

Jenny Morgan died from arsenic poisoning on 22 January 1923 at 125 Caerleon Road, Newport.

Her 23-year-old son, a clerk, was charged with her murder following the inquest, but acquitted at the magistrates hearing on Tuesday 24 April 1923 and formally discharged at the Monmouthshire Assizes on Friday 29 June 1923. He had lived at 49 Morden Road in Newport.

It was also noted that a helper at her household, a girl, later failed to turn up at the inquest and was later found dead in the canal at Newport on Friday 16 March 1923.

Jenny Morgan had been the wife of a butcher in Newport.

She had first become ill in December 1922 and took to her bed in a back room above her husband’s shop at 125 Caerleon Road where she remained until she died on 22 January 1923.

They had had five children, but one son had been killed during the war, which was said to have worried her very much.

It was heard that Jenny Morgan had made complaints before she died that everything her husband gave her to eat burned her mouth.

It was also heard that her husband complained to his sister that he had been being treated like a dog at home.

Before she died, her two son's assisted Jenny Morgan in writing her will.

A woman said that she spoke to the son that was charged with Jenny Morgan's murder, about his mother's will and suggested that he and his brother discuss the matter with Jenny Morgan whilst she was out of the room. However, she said that when she returned they seemed to be at a standstill and so she suggested that the other son take down the will at Jenny Morgan's dictation, which he did, and that Jenny Morgan then signed it.

She said that the day after Jenny Morgan's death, whilst she was outside the shop talking to Jenny Morgan's husband, that the son that was charged with murder came up and that his father said to him, 'Here is a fine to do. There is to be an inquest'. She said that the son then asked him what he was worrying about, and that she replied that perhaps it was because of the inquest.

She said that the son then said, 'Why should he worry if he has a clear conscience? It is a funny thing, but I said whilst Mum was bad that, if anything should happen to her, I should have an inquest'. She added that he also said, 'I shall be blamed for this', meaning, she thought, the inquest.

The woman added, that on one occasion, Jenny Morgan said to her, 'I have been very ill, and if God spares me to get up from this bed I shall make a will putting my children right'.

She noted that the other brother had written the will at Jenny Morgan's dictation, but that she didn't sign it until after the two sons had taken it to her house for her husband to see. She noted that when Jenny Morgan did sign it that she, the son charged with murder and Jenny Morgan's husband had all been there, with her husband guiding Jenny Morgan's hand.

However, she said that the following morning that in consequence of what her husband told her that she went to their house and told one of the sons, believing it to be the one charged with murder, that her husband had told her that they ought to get a proper will drawn up and that she then arranged for the son charge with murder, Jenny Morgan, her husband and herself to be present that evening to witness Jenny Morgan's signature, but said that when they went as arranged, they were met by the other son who told them that Jenny Morgan had already signed the will.

The woman noted that during Jenny Morgan's illness that the son charged had shown some concern.

A niece of Jenny Morgan said that she had gone to see Jenny Morgan on several occasions during her illness and had on some occasions fed Jenny Morgan malted milk and arrowroot.  She added that on 16 December 1923 that the son charged with murder had told her not to go up to Jenny Morgan as the doctor had wished her to be kept very quiet.

When questioned, she denied that the son charged with murder had suggested, whilst she was making broth for Jenny Morgan, that he had told her that she had better taste it or he would think that she was trying to poison his mother.

She further added that there had been no complaints about her food.

Following her death, which was said to have followed a long and painful illness, it was heard that the doctor considered her symptoms so strange that he refused to give a formal death certificate and various organs from her body were sent to the county analyst for tests.

The doctor said that Jenny Morgan's cardinal symptoms were those of paralysis with peripheral neuritis, and that her voice had almost gone.

He said that he never prescribed arsenic for her, but that her post mortem appearances were consistent with ingestion of that strong irritant.

He noted that Jenny Morgan could not have fed herself for weeks before she died.

He noted that one of the symptoms that Jenny Morgan had described was the sensation of 'pins and needles' over her body, and noted that he knew that that description had been used in other cases of arsenical poisoning.

It was noted that there was then a heated passage of arms between the defence and the doctor regarding the sediment in one of the bottles, which the doctor said would have been due to bismuth and magnesia. The defence then asked the doctor, 'Have you any bismuth in stock now?' to which the doctor replied, 'Yes, I have'. The defence then asked, 'Has it been analysed?' to which the doctor replied, with some heat, 'No, it has not'. The defence then asked, Have you ever heard of impure bismuth being on the market?', to which the doctor replied, 'No, but it is allowed to contain a very small portion of arsenic'.

The defence then asked, 'A small portion. How much?' to which the doctor replied, 'Two parts of bismuth to one-millionth part of arsenic, and that is the natural impurity'.

When the doctor was asked if Jenny Morgan had died before the other doctor had been called in whether he would have given a certificate of death, he replied, 'I do not think I should. I did not expect her to die'.

He added that it would have required 120 of the tablets that he had prescribed to make a fatal dose.

A county analyst that examined Jenny Morgan said that he found a quantity of arsenic in her organs and that from the quantity of arsenic in her hair, that the arsenic had been in her system for a long time, probably several weeks.

He said that he was of the opinion that Jenny Morgan died from arsenical poisoning with the arsenic having been administered in several doses.

He said that the total quantity found was 1-46th part of a grain, noting that there was no strychnine, lead or mercury in the body. He said, 'It is not the arsenic found in the body which caused death. It is that which has been eliminated. The fact that I found 1-46th of a grain proves arsenic has gone out of the body. I estimate in all the organs I received there was 1-30th of a grain of arsenic, and I am of the opinion a lethal, or sub-lethal dose was administered within seven days of death'.

He said that he thought that the arsenic had been administered by mouth, and that if Jenny Morgan had had an average head of hair, from what he found, 1-30th of a grain being present in the hair, that he had come to the conclusion that several lethal, or sub-lethal, doses had been administered over a period of several weeks.

Another doctor that examined her body said that in his opinion her death had been due to arsenical poisoning, administered in small doses, noting that individually the doses would not have killed, but that collectively they would do so.

He added that he was further of the opinion that Jenny Morgan must have had a dose within ten days of her death.

He added that her sudden collapse on 21 January 1923 could be consistent with her having taken arsenic.

A consulting surgeon said that as a result of the evidence that he had been provided that he was of the opinion that Jenny Morgan's death had been due to arsenic being taken through the mouth over a prolonged period.  He added that having regard to the condition of Jenny Morgan's internal organs, that he would still been of the opinion that her death had been due to arsenical poisoning, even if no arsenic had actually been recovered from her body.

Following the discovery of arsenic, detectives from Scotland Yard were called in as it was felt that strangers to the district would be better placed to pursue delicate investigations than members of the Newport police, many of whom were known personally to the people they might have had to question.

A Scotland Yard detective said that they took a variety of articles for analysis from the house, including:

  • Arrowroot tins.
  • Malted milk bottles.
  • Pills.
  • A wine bottle containing a little liquid.

He added that he took five statements from the son that was charged with murder between 8 February and 1 March 1923.

Jenny Morgan's sister-in-law said that when her brother, Jenny Morgan's husband, told her that he was treated like a dog, that he also told her that he was being watched everywhere and that his son was making their other son as bad as himself. She said that he also told her that Jenny Morgan was leading him a hell of a life, and that she had wanted a separation, and that he had to allow her £6 5s a week and pay her rent.

She added that he told her that he had 'slaved and toiled all his life, and that that was what he got, they were going to turn him out'.

She said that when she asked Jenny Morgan what made her so cross with her husband that she replied, 'He is a changed man. He is so cross with me'.

She said that Jenny Morgan later thanked her for giving her food, stating that everything that her husband gave her tasted salty and burnt her poor mouth. However, she said that she placed no importance to that remark at the time, saying that she thought that it was, 'just a fad'. It was said that when she gave that evidence at the inquest, that she had appeared very indignant when asked whether she had been drawing on her imagination, retorting, 'Not at all'.

She noted that on one occasion when she had been mixing some arrow root for Jenny Morgan that she had noticed black specks, like dust, in the mixture.

She said that on the Saturday before Jenny Morgan died that a woman showed her a gold wrist-watch and said, 'He is very fond of me, and gave me this watch', referring to Jenny Morgan's husband. When she was asked why she had not given that evidence earlier, Jenny Morgan's sister-in-law said, 'I would much rather not have said this. Until I heard the analyst's report, I thought my sister had died from natural causes. Having heard that report, I thought it was my duty to say all I knew'.

When Jenny Morgan's husband gave evidence at the inquest, he said that he did not have the slightest suspicion that Jenny Morgan had met her death by foul play.  He said that he didn't hear Jenny Morgan say anything about her food affecting her stomach, and noted that she had told him to go out of the room at one time, but said that that was only because they were talking and her head had been bad.

When he was asked about whether he knew that Jenny Morgan's will had been made, he said that he didn't know.

When he was asked about 9 December 1922 when Jenny Morgan had not been able to get out of bed, but could reach the table beside her, and whether there had been any medicine bottles on the washstand, he said that there had been some aspirins, which was the first that was heard of aspirins at the inquest. He said that he once removed a bottle of aspirins from the bedside table and put them on the dressing table, but said that he didn't tell the doctor about them.

He noted that he got some lotion from the chemist for Jenny Morgan that smelt very strong and made them all feel bad, and said that it made Jenny Morgan sick.

He said that he didn't know that his family was fond of chemistry, but that he believed that the other son had tried some experiments with a bottle of Congreve's Mixture, and that he had tried to set fire to it, but that he could not explain further, suggesting that the son could.

When he was asked about whether they had any fowls die suddenly, he said that they had five die at different times, noting that he found them in the yard, but didn't know why they died. He said that he also thought that a cat had been poisoned about a couple of years earlier, stating that he found it in the backyard.

When the Coroner asked him whether he had any suspicion that Jenny Morgan might have died by foul means, he replied, 'No'. When he was asked whether he had been entirely ignorant as to how Jenny Morgan took the arsenic, he said, 'Not to my knowledge'. The Coroner then repeated himself, 'You are entirely ignorant', to which Jenny Morgan's husband replied, 'Yes'.

He noted that Jenny Morgan had never refused food from him.

When he was asked whether he thought that his business was more important than his wife when he went out in the morning of her death, he said, 'Well, I could do no good by staying'.

At the inquest it was heard that if weedkiller had been brought into the house that it could not have been to kill weeds, as they had none.

The storekeeper to the Shell-Mexican Petrol Company at Newport where Jenny Morgan's son worked said that there had been weed-killer in the office since the previous summer and that it was replaced as used. He said that the tins of weed-killer were accessible to anyone in the office. It was said that the weed killer there had contained 76% pure arsenic, or 330 grains per ounce and noted that 2 grains was an average fatal dose.

The analyst that examined Jenny Morgan's body said, 'Weed killer tastes salty and has a hot burning taste. I have tried a bit on my finger, and I have mixed it with malted milk'.

He said that he had examined medicine and lotion bottles found at the house, but found no arsenic in them and only infinitesimal quantities of arsenic in some beetle powder.

The helper that was later found in the Monmouthshire Canal had been missing for three weeks at the time she was found. In her pocket was fourpence, which her mother had given her on the night of her disappearance for a tram fare and a letter, the nature of which was not disclosed. It was not known how she came to be missing and her death was described as a mystery.

Her mother said that immediately her daughter received the summons to attend the inquest on Saturday 24 February 1923, that she had begun to cry, saying that she could not go to such a place because no good could come of it.  She said that on the Monday she threw herself on the bed and cried her heart out and that apparently no one saw her afterwards.

It was also reported that on the Monday morning she had been sent to deliver some washing and that that was the last that was seen of her.

Before her discovery, her mother had said, 'I don't know where she can have got to. She could not have had more than fourpence in her pocket at the time'.

She had done daily work at the house where Jenny Morgan's niece was in service, and all she had had to say at the inquest, was her version of the conversations that the niece had had regarding the gold wristlet watch that the niece had referred to in her evidence.

It was said that it was not thought that her evidence was too important, but noted that what was later deemed to be important had often at first seemed insignificant. It was reported that it was first thought that the reason for her absence was stage freight at the prospect of the ordeal of the Coroners court.

The Coroner summed up on Friday 9 March 1923 after Jenny Morgan's husband gave his evidence. He noted that there were three persons in the house who could have placed poison in Jenny Morgan's food, her husband, and her two sons.

He described Jenny Morgan's husband as a paradox, callous and indifferent at times, affectionate, loving and protective of others, and noted that he had had no means of getting the poison.

He noted that the son that was charged had given some extraordinary explanations which might or might not be true.

He said that there were not many contradictions between the evidence of the other son and that of the other witnesses.

The Coroner noted that the salty flavour in the malted milk was consistent with a mixture of weedkiller, and asked who had access to it? He further considered whether the son charged had told his father about Jenny Morgan having complained of the salty taste, replying to himself, 'Not a word'.

It was noted that whilst the Coroner was summing up that one of the women was recalled and she stated that whilst she was at Jenny Morgan's house between 28 October 1922 and 2 January 1923, that she heard the son that was tried declare that if anything happened to his mother that he should seek an inquest. She added that following Jenny Morgan's death that he reminded him not to remember his bitterness against his father.

However, the Coroner said that he had a conviction that things were being suppressed.

It was noted that the desire of the public to gain admission at the inquest was keen and that queues commenced to form as early as 6am. It was reported that the spectators in the gallery, fashionably dressed women for the most part, were not seen to move, it being suggested that perhaps they bore in mind the long wait in the queue at the public entrance from the early morning and didn't care to risk losing their seats.

It was further noted that the hearing had piqued the interest of the public and that local tradesmen had been seizing the opportunity and had plastered their shops with roughly-scrawled contents bills giving points from the hears, resulting in their windows being besieged.

The jury retired at 8.15pm and when they returned at 10pm with a verdict of murder against Jenny Morgan's son, the clerk, he was arrested. After his arrest, the other son broke down. The verdict was said to have caused a sensation.

However, the magistrates later acquitted the son and he was formally discharged at the following Assizes.

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

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - MEPO 3/849, ASSI 6/58/7

see Belfast Telegraph - Wednesday 07 February 1923

see Gloucester Citizen - Wednesday 25 April 1923

see Northern Whig - Saturday 10 March 1923

see Londonderry Sentinel - Thursday 10 May 1923

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Tuesday 27 March 1923

see Shields Daily News - Tuesday 20 February 1923

see Pall Mall Gazette - Tuesday 20 February 1923

see Sunday Illustrated - Sunday 04 March 1923 (image of Jenny Morgan)

see Southern Reporter - Thursday 15 March 1923

see Pall Mall Gazette - Wednesday 07 March 1923

see Berks and Oxon Advertiser - Friday 29 June 1923