Unsolved Murders

Alan Lewis

Age: 21 months

Sex: male

Date: 24 Feb 1956

Place: Church Farm Cottage, Orleton, Herefordshire

Alan Lewis was drowned by his mother in a water butt on 24 February 1956. She was tried for his murder but acquitted.

The jury was told that if she had acted as an automation that she was not guilty of murder.

Alan Lewis had been the youngest of seven children and the doctor said that there was no doubt that he was an imbecile.

At the trial evidence was given by Alan Lewis's 13-year-old brother who said that on 24 February 1956 he got home at about 3pm and saw his mother standing in the doorway. He said that she spoke to him about the weather and that he then went on to join his father on the farm.

Alan Lewis's mother was later seen at 3.54pm on the same day, on 24 February 1956, by a bus conductor when she took the bus to Leominster. The bus conductor said that he noticed nothing unusual about Alan Lewis's mother's behaviour when he saw her on the bus.

However, a woman that knew Alan Lewis's mother said that she saw her in Leominster and said that she didn't seem her usual self and looked strained.

The mother's son-in-law who lived in Mortimer Close in Leominster said that when she came to his house at about 4.15pm she was very distressed and that when she came in she was trying to say something and then went into his front room and laid on a couch. He said that she then said something like, 'The baby is in the tub. What have I done?'. When questioned the son-in-law said that Alan Lewis's mother didn't seem to remember what had happened, saying that she spoke in broken sentences that hardly made any sense. He added that she seemed to be waiting to be told that the baby was all right.

A friend of the son-in-law said that he was also in the house when Alan Lewis's mother came in and said that she said, 'I did not mean to do it'.

A doctor from Leominster said that he had attended Alan Lewis's family for 16 years and said that he had no doubt that Alan Lewis was an imbecile. He noted that Alan Lewis's mother had asked questions about Alan Lewis, but said that he had deliberately hedged about the matter. He described Alan Lewis's mother as a 'very wonderful mother' but added that she had been worried about Alan Lewis and said that that had been affecting her additionally noting that she had a large family to bring up and said that it must have been a struggle to live.

He said that he had attended Alan Lewis's mother on 18 February 1956 when she complained of suffering from severe pain in her head.

After the doctor gave evidence, the judge said, 'You have spoken about the mother nearing the end of her tether. There is a parable of a rope being frayed. Is this a case where the rope gave way?', to which the doctor replied, 'Yes, that is so'.

A police detective said that when he saw Alan Lewis's mother in Leominster she was in a shocked condition. He said that when he then went to Orleton he found the body of Alan Lewis in the water butt which was partly frozen over.

His cause of death was given as drowning.

The pathologist that examined Alan Lewis's body said that he had scratches to his left eyelid and several scratch marks on his left cheek that radiated from his ear which e said appeared to have been caused by some sharp material coming into contact with his skin, noting that he didn't think that they were finger-marks.

The pathologist noted that Alan Lewis's brain was abnormally formed and that he also had a defect in the penis. He added that there was little chance for Alan Lewis to have had a normal future.

The doctor that had attended Alan Lewis agreed with the statements of the pathologist and said that he was able to confirm that Alan Lewis was able to move his limbs but that he could not sit up. He noted that normally a child of that age would be able to walk about quite easily and that in his opinion was a mental defective of a lower grade.

He added that Alan Lewis's mother had previously asked him questions from time to time about Alan Lewis's inability to sit up and his lack of development in general and said that he had tried to explain to her that Alan Lewis was mentally backward rather than physically defective. However, he said that he felt that she must have suspected that Alan Lewis was not normal.

He said, 'I thought she was an excellent mother. She was a very conscientious mother and gave the best food to her children before herself. I have no doubt as to her devotion towards Alan. He was always kept spotlessly clean. I am of the opinion that she would leave herself short of food rather than the children. She had severe headaches. She was in a reduced condition because of child bearing, work and worry. I see no reason to doubt her sincerity if she professes not to remember anything about putting the child in the water butt. Indeed, this would tie up with such disjointed remarks afterwards as 'What have I done'.... 'water butt'.... 'Is Alan alright?'. It is quite possible that reaching a certain stage of distraction such a mother may have acted as she is alleged to have done without any intention either to murder or to do grievous bodily harm. I think she would have probably have had disturbed nights with this child and have lost sleep'.

He said that he interviewed Alan Lewis's mother the following day but said that at no time did he receive a direct reply.  He said that she had a hazy recollection of what happened up to 3pm the previous day but that after that her mind was a blank.

He said that when he charged her she replied, 'I would not hurt the baby'. At the trial the detective noted that it was 'quite out of pattern' for Alan Lewis's mother to had hurt him.

A doctor that was called in Alan Lewis's mother's defence at the trial said that when he had seen Alan Lewis's mother in prison she had been confused and depressed and that he found in subsequent examination that her depression varied in intensity. When the doctor was asked what he thought her state of mind would have been when she committed the alleged offence, he said, 'She would not know what she was doing'.  He added that he thought that her actions at the time would have been like those of an automation. He said, 'She was suffering from melancholia, a disease of the mind, and she would not know what she was doing'.

A psychiatrist  who had also examined Alan Lewis's mother said, 'Her conscious mind would not know what was happening. She was in a state of confusion'.

Alan Lewis's father said that he agreed with what the doctor said. He said, 'I agree with the doctor that my wife is a most devoted wife and mother. On the previous Saturday, the 18th February 1956 we were sitting at the table when my wife put her hands suddenly to her head and said, 'Oh, my head'. I held her and lifted her into a chair to prevent her from falling. The acuteness of the attack and the severe pains lasted about half an hour. Talking to my wife afterwards I do not think that she remembered anything about the period while the attack was on. She has suffered over a number of years from headaches but this was the most acute one. I saw my wife on the 24th February 1956 at my son-in-law's house in Leominster at about 5.40pm. In my opinion my wife was very ill and very distressed. I asked her some questions as to what had happened to Allen, but she did not make any reply. She then asked who was at home looking after the boys. I took it that she was too ill to realise what I was asking her'.

After hearing the evidence, the judge noted that there was no evidence to show any specific intention to kill or cause bodily harm and said that at the time she had been acting as an automation and had no intention of causing bodily harm and that as there was no intention then she was not guilty.

The judge then said that if the jury accepted the medical evidence called for the defence, and that the prosecution did not dispute it, they would have to return a verdict of guilty but insane. He then instructed the jury that they could return one of three verdicts, guilty, not guilty, or guilty but insane, but said, 'Pause long, however, before returning a verdict of guilty of murder'. He then noted that it was fortunate that Alan Lewis's mother could not remember what had happened in 'that fatal half hour'.

The jury retired for 20 minutes before returning with a verdict of not guilty.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see National Archives - ASSI 6/125, ASSI 89/38

see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 19 June 1956

see Kington Times - Friday 23 March 1956

see Kington Times - Friday 22 June 1956