Date: 27 May 1947
Whilst the case of Dr Robert Clements, his wife Amy Clements and Dr James Houston was technically accounted for at the coroners hearing, the complexity of the events leave scope for suspicion.
Amy Clements was first found dead at her nursing home in Southport on 27 May 1947. James Houston had recorded her death as being due to natural causes, myeloid leukaemia, at a private post-mortem arranged by Robert Clements. However, after further investigation was carried out and it was found that she had died from morphine poisoning, which was also suspected before her death, and when suspicion fell on Robert Clements for having killed her, he apparently committed suicide on 30 May 1947 at his flat. Them, some weeks later, after it became clearer that James Houston had not recorded Amy Clements's death as having been due to morphine poisoning, he too apparently killed himself on 2 June 1947.
The timeline of the events were:
Amy Victoria Clements
Amy Clements, who was Robert Clements's fourth wife, had been taken to the Astley Bank Nursing Home in Southport after becoming ill at the flat she shared with her husband and died there on 27 May 1947. Following her death Robert Clements arranged for James Houston to carry out a private post-mortem on Amy Clements's body and he recorded a verdict of death by natural causes. However, after suspicions were raised, what was left of her remains were examined by another doctor, who had only her spinal column to examine, who concluded that Amy Clements had died from morphine poisoning, a conclusion that was supported by another doctor.
The coroner later said 'I cannot imagine why this should have taken place without my authority. To say the least, it was very distressing. I am well aware that in certain cases private post-mortems are carried out, and that no reference is made to the coroner. I am not going to say anything further in connection with that type of case, but the law is quite clear with regard to deaths that ought to be reported to the coroner. They are violent or unnatural deaths due to accident or injury, drugs, or poisons etc., and in addition death, the cause of which is unknown. Was not this a sudden death, or a death the cause of which was unknown? Dr Holmes admitted that he was not certain of the cause of death. Therefore, the issue is clear. He had a duty as a medical attendant of the deceased Mrs Clements to the state to report the matter forthwith, either to myself or to my officers, so that machinery could be set in motion. He had no further responsibilities, from that time onwards it was my responsibility. I do feel that if this case had been reported to me as it might have been and ought to have been, the interests of justice would have been better served'.
At Amy Clements's inquest, the coroner stated that the morphine had been taken either in tablet or liquid form and that they had to decide how it had been administered, accidently, in a suicide attempt, or by murder.
When the coroner summed up, he noted that Robert Clements had told other doctors and relatives that Amy Clements was mentally defective in some way, however, the coroner stated that there was no evidence to support her being mentally defective that his claims were in fact untrue.
The coroner stated that when Amy Clements was first seen by a doctor on 18 December 1946, the doctor was told that she had been taken suddenly ill whilst driving a car, presumably the day before. It was said that Amy Clements had said that she had felt that she was going to die and that it was only with difficulty that she could keep her car from stopping and starting. It was also heard that she had complained of headaches. However, when the doctor examined her, he found no disease. The doctor that was treating her said that he visited her continually at a few days' interval until 9 February 1947, stating that during that time improvement was noted. He said that he was shown a blood count in January that showed a moderate degree of anaemia but said that no disease was found.
The doctor that had been treating Amy Clements said that he had called to see Amy Clements on other occasions, but that he had been unable to gain admission to her flat. He said that his treatment had consisted of pheno-barbitone, vitamin preparations and some iron capsules. He said that he had considered an early cerebral tumour was a possibility and had suggested an investigation at the infirmary but said that that suggestion was not accepted by Robert Clements.
Another doctor that had attended to Amy Clements said that on 15 January 1947, that he had come to the conclusion that Amy Clements's toxaemia was due to incorrect feeding and suggested that a brain expert be consulted. He said that Robert Clements called him on 20 May 1947 and asked him to call on 23 May 1947 which he did. He said that when he was alone with Robert Clements, he was told that Amy Clements was having frequent attacks during her sleep that she was unaware of and was refusing further medical or surgical examination.
At the inquest, it was noted that when Robert Clements had told the doctor that Amy Clements had been having frequent attacks in her sleep that he had frankly not believed him. He said that he thought that Amy Clements was a perfectly healthy woman apart from some minor maladies.
Other witnesses gave evidence at the inquest, including a woman who had seen Amy Clements in October 1946, stating that at that time she had not been well and that her face was small and white. She said that then, just before Christmas, Robert Clements told her that Amy Clements blood was deficient and that her liver and gall bladder were wrong and said that he later told her that Amy Clements was poorly and that it was only a matter of time. The woman said that about three weeks before Amy Clements died, she saw her, stating that she was not too well and had said to her, 'Last week I had an awful day. I could only see Bertie in a mist, and if it wasn't for him I would not be here now'. She added that on the Whitsun she had met Amy Clements and Robert Clements in a cafe and said that Robert Clements had told her whilst out of Amy Clements's hearing, 'Vee is not too well, and I am coming up in a week to see you'.
Another woman said that she saw Amy Clements on 23 May 1947 and noticed that she was ashen grey in colour, but that her manner was cheerful and bright. However, she said that she was more grey than she had ever seen anyone.
Another woman that knew Amy Clements said that Amy Clements had been ailing since Christmas 1946 and had suffered periodical attacks that had caused her to lose her voice and 'go off' for a few hours. She said that the last attack to her knowledge was three weeks before she died.
A man said that Amy Clements and her husband had been constant visitors to his house where he lived with his wife, and said that in November 1946 that Amy Clements told her that she had been paralysed and had had a premonition hat she was going to die and that Robert Clements had massaged her for two hours. The man said that Robert Clements called alone in December 1946 and told him and his wife that Amy Clements was ill in bed with jaundice and said that when they later went to see Amy Clements, Robert Clements told them that there had been complications, including gall bladder trouble and that Amy Clements was a 'mystery' to their doctor.
He said that Robert Clements told him that Amy Clements was having bouts of sickness, accompanied by dizziness and that she was up one day and down the next. The man said that Robert Clements and Amy Clements visited them in March 1947 at which time Amy Clements seemed much better, but noted that she had lost considerable weight, noting that her legs were thinner. He said that some days her complexion was sallow and on other days more normal.
At the inquest the coroner noted that Robert Clements had kept a diary that recounted a day-by-day description of Amy Clements's condition and he read out a number of extracts from January 1947 onward. Throughout Robert Clements had referred to Amy Clements as Vee. The extracts read:
On 26 May 1947, Robert Clements called Amy Clements's doctor and told him that Amy Clements was dying and asked if he would call. The doctor said that his reaction was one of suspicion as Amy Clements had been so well and he could not conceive of her being so near death, but sad that when he arrived at their flat 11.40pm he saw that she was obviously dying, noting that she was unconscious and Cheyne-Stokes breathing and saw that she had pin point pupils. He added that his conclusion was that Amy Clements was suffering from morphine poisoning and after Amy Clements was taken to the nursing home he drew the attention of the matron to the fact that he thought that her pin-point pupils looked more like morphine then cerebral trouble to him.
When the doctors went to see Amy Clements at the Astley Bank Nursing Home, they found her in a state of collapse. One of the doctors said that he found Amy Clements deeply unconscious, with a sallow complexion and small pupils, but not pinpointed and came to the conclusion that Amy Clements had been suffering from the last stages of a cerebral tumour.
The inquest heard that after Amy Clements died, the doctor advised James Houston who was to carry out the private post-mortem to check her body for hypodermic injections. However, the following day James Houston called the doctor and told him that he had found traces of myeloid leukaemia which he said was confirmed by another doctor, and that he had recorded her death as being due to natural causes.
It was heard then that the very material organs of Amy Clements were then destroyed, leaving only her spinal column for another pathologist to examine for morphine poisoning.
Although the post-mortem carried out by James Houston recorded death by natural causes, because of the suspision involved and other possibilities arising out of the police awareness of the deaths of Robert Clements's previous wives, the police ordered the second post-mortem which was carried out on her spinal column, that revealed that she died from morphine poisoning. Following the results of the second postmortem Robert Clements was instructed to attend the inquest, but he failed to attend and when the police went for him at his flat they found him dead. A note was found by his body that read, 'My dear friends, I cannot stand this diabolical insult to me. Thanks to my friends for so many kindnesses. Please carry on. God bless you always, Bertie'.
At the inquest, the coroner noted that all the evidence of Amy Clements's illness did not help them decide whether Robert Clements had killed her, and said that they main questions should include whether Robert Clements had desired to rid himself of Amy Clements, his fourth wife.
The coroner noted that it was found that Robert Clements had made a number of purchases of morphine sulphate tablets and asked why he had done so noting that neither of the two doctors attending her had found any physical disease and had not prescribed morphine as a treatment and neither had Robert Clements, in thinking that morphine was required as a treatment for Amy Clements, discussed that with either doctor. After her death, the police found a bottle at the flat labelled 'Tablets' that had originally contained phenol-barbitone but which when found contained three small tablets of quarter grain morphine. The coroner noted that it was for the jury to decide whether it was by design or accident that the bottle had been wrongly labelled, emphasising that the bottle was not wrongly labelled by the chemist.
The coroner then asked, 'What were these attacks that Mrs Clements suffered from? Were they really illnesses or were they illnesses produced by morphine or by natural causes?'.
The coroner then asked why Robert Clements had told one of their friends at the cafe that 'The doctors say it is only a matter of time', before Amy Clements death even though neither doctor had stated that they had expected Amy Clements to die and that they had both thought that there was nothing wrong with her at all, emphasising that neither doctor had told Robert Clements that it was 'only a matter of time'.
The coroner noted that an entry in Robert Clements's diary for 26 May 1947 stated that he and Amy Clements had gone for a walk along the promenade during which Amy Clements had lost her voice and the ability to use her limbs and that he had got her home 'with difficulty', but noted that a woman who had seen them walking back from the promenade, at about 10.15pm, arm-in-arm and had watched them walk up the path, Amy Clements apparently in good health, and certainly not being assisted into the flat. The coroner then noted that, considering that all the medical men had concluded that there was no organic disease in Amy Clements that could have accounted for her collapse, that was it not strange then that within an hour she had become unconscious.
The coroner also noted that a man said that Robert Clements called him at 8.57am on the 27 May 1947 to tell him of Amy Clements's death, but that the matron at the nursing home said that Amy Clements had not died until 9.30am. The coroner also noted that in his diary, Robert Clements had entered, 'Vee died at 9.15', and said to the jury that they might ask themselves why Robert Clements would murder his wife, but said that the motive was immaterial nd tha they were not obliged to find a motive and that they were not unduly concerned with one.
The coroner noted however, Robert Clements and Amy Clements were frequently referred to as a happy, affectionate couple, and that there was no evidence that Robert Clements would have benefited from Amy Clements's death although her estate was worth over £22,000.
He concluded by stating that if the jury could not decide whether Amy Clements had died by accident, suicide or wilful murder that they could return an open verdict. However, they returned a verdict of murder against Robert Clements.
Robert George Clements
Robert Clements was found dying at his flat on the day of the inquest into his wifes death. It was thought that he had killed himself after being suspected in having murdered his wife Amy Clements who died from morphine poisoning at Astley Bank Nursing Home on 27 May 1947.
He died before he could be admitted to hospital.
However, it was not known how Robert Clements killed himself or whether it had been by the same means that Amy Clements had died although he had apparently left a note suggesting that he had taken a morphine overdose. The coroner noted that if the morphine had been taken orally that there was no evidence of that and asked whether it was possible that Robert Clements could have injected himself hypodermically and for the evidence of that to have been destroyed by the time of the post-mortem.
When the coroner spoke to the jury, he said that it was for them to decide whether Robert Clements had killed himself whilst of sound mind or felo de se, and added that they might want to ask themselves if they decided that he had committed suicide, then why did he do it? The coroner said, 'Did he realised at the last moment that an act which he had committed had come to the knowledge of the police? Did he realise that a net was closing around him and decided to take his own life?'.
However, the coroner noted that in Robert Clements's suicide note that he had referred to a 'diabolical insult' and asked what he had meant by that? Whether it was that Amy Clements's death was being investigated? Or that two policemen had asked him to attend the inquest? The coroner noted that neither could have been the 'diabolical insult' that Robert Clements was referring and then asked the jury whether they might think that after Amy Clements's death that his faculties might have become so deranged that he took his own life?
James Montague Houston
James Houston had formerly lived in Belfast where he had held several appointments at the Royal Victoria Hospital there before going to Southport in January 1947. He was born in Cairo in January 1908.
He had carried out the private post-mortem on Amy Clements and had concluded that her cause of death was myeloid leukaemia and then destroyed important body organs. After a further analysis of Amy Clements's remains were ordered, upon which only her spinal column was left for examination it was determined that she had died from morphine poisoning and for some reason James Houston then killed himself on 2 June 1947.
It was later suggested that he had made an error of judgement in the post-mortem after being misled as to Amy Clements's cause of death and in the absence of any knowledge of any poison having been involved.
A colleague of James Houston said that James Houston had not been at fault in not returning the organs, stating that he would at the time have had no reason to suspect that there was any further interest in them.
When the coroner summed up in his case, he referred to the fact that James Houston was said to have bene depressed over the housing situation and the responsibilities of his position at the infirmary and referred to the fact that following the finding of morphine poisoning that he had written a note to the coroner admitting his 'errors of judgement'.
James Houston was said to have had a brilliant career having been a student at the Methodist College from 1922 till 1925 where he took an active part in the sporting life of the college, captaining the athletic team in 1925 and also being the schools sprint champion. He was said to have head a brilliant career at Queen's University where he qualified as MB and then BOh and BAO in 1931. He took out his MB degree in 1935 and BSc the following year and was then a resident medical officer at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast in 1932 and 1933.
The date that James Houston killed himself was the day on which it was reported that the three previous wives’ of Robert Clements had all died intestate, leaving their estate to him.
James Houston was found dead in his laboratory on 2 June 1947 having died from cyanide poisoning. He was found to have had a quantity of sodium cyanide the equivalent of 22.6 grams of prussic acid in his stomach which was said to have been more than 300 times the lethal dose.
It was noted that at the time he had been taking soluble quick acting insulin for diabetes, and it as noted that if he had missed a dose, and been working late, that it would have had a distinctly prejudicial effect on his mental condition. It was noted that when Amy Clements's doctor told James Houston of his morphine suspicions, James Houston's breath had smelt of acetone, which was said would have indicated that his diabetic condition was severe and that he had had less insulin than he should have had to keep him in health approaching normal.
After James Houston was found dead, a note was found that read, 'I have for some time been aware that I have been making too many errors of judgement and have not profited by experience. One just follows another. Yours faithfully, James M. Houston'.
The jury retired for about 50 minutes before returning a verdict that James Houston took his own life whilst the balance of his mind was so disturbed that he did not know what he was doing.
It was reported on 5 June 1947 that the police had been 'interested' in Robert Clements since the death of his third wife, Sarah Clements in 1942 and it was said that they had, acting partly on information from a friend of Sarah Clements, and partly because the death certificates of his previous two wives had been signed by him, that they had tried to stop the cremation of her in Liverpool, but were too late. It was reported that Robert Clements had been unaware of the police move when he married Amy Clements and moved into the flat on the Southport Promenade in which Amy Clements's dead parents had previously lived.
On 2 June 1947, it was noted that the three previous wives of Robert Clements had all died intestate. The details were:
It was reported on 3 June 1947 that when asked, the Ulster Home Office said that they had received no request from the Home Office up to that point to exhume either of Robert Clements's first two wives, the first of whom was buried in Belfast and the second of whom was buried in Doagh.
Amy Clements married Robert Clements six months after the death, in a Southport nursing home, of her father, a director of the Liverpool Cartage Co. Ltd.. Her father had died on 21 January 1940 at the age of 72 and did not leave a will. Amy Clements was appointed administratrix of his estate on 5 March 1940 in London and the estate was finally sworn at £22,386 1s 3d and Amy Clements inherited it all.
In his will, Robert Clements left £18,047 gross (£17,808 net), duty paid £1,791 in his will to his wife Amy Clements.
see Liverpool Echo - Friday 27 June 1947
see Hull Daily Mail - Monday 02 June 1947
see Larne Times - Thursday 05 June 1947
see Liverpool Echo - Tuesday 24 June 1947
see Gloucester Citizen - Friday 27 June 1947
see Dundee Courier - Thursday 26 June 1947
see Liverpool Echo - Friday 14 November 1947