Unsolved Murders

Hannah Jane Smith

Age: 26

Sex: female

Date: 4 Nov 1922

Place: 13 Harper Street, Blyth

Hannah Jane Smith died from an illegal operation at the Royal Infirmary in Newcastle on 4 November 1922.

She died from blood poisoning.

She was said to have made a dying declaration but in which she implicated a certain doctor at whose surgery the police later found an implement that he was said to have carried out the operation with. However, it was said that when the deputy magistrate took down Hannah Smith's dying deposition that she had not finished it by saying 'I make this statement knowing that I am dying'. The magistrate said that he said to her, 'Do you know the doctors say you are very ill, very ill indeed, and you are not expected to get better?', and said that whilst he said that that he had hold of her hand and said that whilst she did not reply, that he felt a definite pressure on his hand in response.

However, the judge said that the dying deposition was not allowed as evidence.

The doctor was tried at the Newcastle Assizes but acquitted.

The doctor was charged with two counts, first the manslaughter of Hannah Smith on 4 November 1922 and secondly that on 21 October 1922 that he used a certain instrument on Hannah Smith for the purpose of procuring an abortion.  He pleaded not guilty to both counts.

Hannah Smith's husband had one leg and walked with the aid of a crutch and was a colliery timekeeper.

He said that Hannah Smith was a healthy woman and that he had not known that she was pregnant.

He said that he came home on Thursday 26 October 1922 at about 8.40pm and that when he got to his back door that a woman shoved him out and told him to come back when it was all over. He said then that a doctor came to the door and told him that Hannah Smith had given birth to a male child but that it was dead.

He said that when he went into the house five minutes later and saw Hannah Smith and asked her how she was keeping, she replied, 'Champion, fine'.

However, he said that Hannah Smith became really bad later that night and that he sat up with her all night. He said that he then went to work the following day and that when he gott back Hannah Smith was still bad and so he sent for a doctor and sat up with her all night the following Friday night, saying that she then started to shiver.

He said that on the Saturday morning that the woman came back over to attend to Hannah Smith and that a doctor was later called for and that on the Saturday night another two doctors and an assistant were called for and Hannah Smith was then taken to the infirmary where she died at about 8pm on 4 November 1922.

Hannah Smith's husband said that he was present when Hannah Smith died and that he also visited her on the Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

When he was asked by the coroner whether Hannah Smith had been conscious during his visits, Hannah Smith's husband said, 'She always knew me, but she was not in her own senses sometimes'. When the Coroner then asked him whether he thought that she was temporarily insane, Hannah Smith's husband replied, 'I would not say so, she always knew me'.

When he as asked to give a description of what Hannah Smith was like on the Friday night, he said, 'All I can say is that she was shivering', however, he added that she had been talking queer.

He said that Hannah Smith had had two other children, one of whom was still alive, noting that her first child died in February 1921 aged 8 months. He said that after her confinement for that child that Hannah Smith had come through her confinement all right and said that she was an exceptionally healthy woman, noting that the only time that she had been ill during their married life was when she had had a sore throat.

He said that Hannah Smith was conscious until just before she died and that she had appeared to have known quite well what she said.

He said that he first heard that she had visited the other doctor who was tried for her murder after he had been to see Hannah Smith at the infirmary.

A woman that knew Hannah Smith and who lived at 8 Harper Street in Blyth said that she was sent for by Hannah Smith's mother on 26 October 1922 and that when she went to 13 Harper Street she had found Hannah Smith ill, but not very ill. She said that a doctor was sent for and that Hannah Smith gave birth to a baby four hours later at about 8pm but said that the child was born dead.

When the woman was asked whether there was anything unusual about the baby other than it was dead, the woman replied, 'Yes, the right arm was swollen and much discoloured. The body was that of a fully formed male child of about five or six months'.

She said that on the Saturday she had remained with Hannah Smith all day and when she was asked whether she had done anything the woman said that she had taken Beecham's pills.

She said that when she was there that there had been three doctors present.

When the neighbour was asked about whether Hannah Smith had visited the other doctor who was tried, she said that she knew that Hannah Smith had been to see him but said that when she had asked her whether she had given her anything Hannah Smith had said 'No'. However, she said that when she asked Hannah Smith what the doctor had done to her, she told him that he had used an instrument.

She said that during the time that Hannah Smith was ill after the abortion she agreed with Hannah Smith's husbands’ statements to the fact that she had more or less been queer the whole time. She said that she was more or less queer from the Friday morning until she was taken to the Infirmary, noting that by that she meant that Hannah Smith did not seem to understand what she said and gave foolish answers.

However, she noted that she thought that Hannah Smith's confinement had been a normal one, saying that she had a good deal of experience with that matter.

Hannah Smith's regular doctor who lived in Croft Villa in Blyth said that Hannah Smith was a club patient of his and that he had attended her confinement on 26 October 1922. He said that he had examined her at about 7pm and that when he later went back he found that the child had been born and said that he thought that it had been dead for at least about twelve hours. When he was asked whether there was anything unusual about the child, he said that 'the arm was a bit swollen' and added that he thought that it was the left arm and that he noticed an abrasion on the forearm, but said that it was not very much.

The doctor said that when he called on Hannah Smith the following day that she said that she had been up all night and had been shivering and said that he found that she had a temperature of 102. He added that she complained of a slight pain in her abdomen.

He said that when he asked her whether anyone had tried to bring her abortion on that she replied, 'No'.

The doctor said that he found that Hannah Smith's condition on the Saturday night was worse and said that he told her that he had great fear of her condition and said that she then mentioned to him that she had been to see the other doctor who was tried for her murder, noting that she said that of her own accord and that she then told him that the doctor had used an instrument on her. When the Coroner asked the doctor whether Hannah Smith had told him that she had been to see the other doctor for a bottle, he said, 'No'.

He said that on the Thursday night that Hannah Smith's mental condition was rational, but said that on the Saturday night that he found that she had a temperature of 106 and a pulse of 170 and that she was delirious and agreed that when she had made the statement to him about having gone to see the other doctor and having had an instrument used on her that she had been delirious, saying that she was wandering.

He said that when he examined the child's body that he considered that the abrasion on the child's arm had been caused before the child had been born. When he was asked whether he thought that Hannah Smith could have caused the injury to the child’s arm herself, he replied, 'Yes', but said that he did not form an opinion as to whether or not she had done it.

The doctor said that he did not initially suspect that there was anything wrong until the Friday morning when he found Hannah Smith to be in a septic condition saying that he put it down to a previous condition, noting that it would take about three days to have arrived at that stage of infection.

He said that he didn't place any importance on the abrasion on the child’s arm at first because there was nothing inconsistent with it being formed at birth.

He said that when he sent Hannah Smith to the infirmary, he did so because he thought that the surroundings and facilities there were better than at her home and that she would have stood a better chance of recovery, but added that Hannah Smith had not been afraid or unduly concerned about her condition then.

A doctor that later took over the practice of the other doctor, who he had known for 20 years, after his arrest, said that when he examined the doctors diary that he saw an entry that read:

'C. etc., Mrs Smith 8 Marlow Street'.

He noted that 'C. etc.' was a common abbreviation for a consultation. It was also noted that the back entrance to Hannah Smith's house was known as 8 back Marlow Street.

A justice of the peace said that on 3 November 1922 that he went to the Newcastle Infirmary with a woman and a policeman and found Hannah Smith in bed and being attended to by a doctor who was also present when he then took Hannah Smith's depositions which he said that he then read over to Hannah Smith who then made her mark in writing.

He said that after he told Hannah Smith that he was a magistrate that Hannah Smith said:

'I went to the Doctor. He used an instrument on me. I came here on Sunday morning. He did it in his own surgery on Saturday night a week before I came here. The other doctor told me not to give him any money. I make this statement knowing that I am dying'.

The magistrate added that Hannah Smith had made the statement without having any questions put to her and that nothing was suggested to her and that there was no prompting on the part of anyone and that her statement was quite voluntary.

He added that Hannah Smith was in a very weak condition but said that she quite realised what she was saying.

However, another doctor that had been present said that when the magistrate took Hannah Smith's depositions that he had not told Hannah Smith that she was dying but asked her whether she realised that she was very ill and said that neither did he hear Hannah Smith say that she knew that she was dying and noted that he did not think at the time that Hannah Smith thought that her case was hopeless.

Another doctor that gave evidence, said that he had called at 13 Harper Street on the night before she was removed to the infirmary and said that her mental condition was quite clear and that when he asked her some questions, that she said, 'I went to the doctors surgery on Saturday and asked for a bottle of medicine. He suggested it would be better to use an instrument and did so. He wanted two guineas, but he is not going to get it'. He noted that when she made that statement that two other doctors and the neighbour had been present.

The pathologist that carried out Hannah Smith's post mortem said that he found that her death was due to peritonitis and general blood poisoning consequent on septic abortion, noting that he thought that the conditions that he found her in where consistent with having been caused by an instrument.

A policeman that went to the doctor’s surgery after Hannah Smith died said that he found an instrument and the diary. He noted that the back entrance to Hannah Smith's house was known as 8 back Marlow Street and said that there was no other family with the name Smith in Marlow Street or Harper Street.

He said that he had been present when the magistrate had taken Hannah Smith's dying deposition, and said that he thought that when the magistrate told Hannah Smith that she was dying that Hannah Smith had looked 'vague like' for a second or two and had then said, 'I know I am very, very ill and I am dying', and said that she appeared to understand what she was saying.

He then said that he heard Hannah Smith use the words, 'I make this statement knowing I am dying', noting that it was not taken down after a question had been put to her.

He said that he did not know how the magistrate had happened to have been called for to take the depositions and said that although he knew of the allegations against the doctor, he did not give the doctor the opportunity of being present, saying that they knew Hannah Smith was very ill and wanted to see her before she died.

However, at the Newcastle Assizes on Thursday 15 February 1923 the doctor was acquitted of manslaughter and of having used an instrument to procure an abortion. He was acquitted after the judge ruled that Hannah Smith's dying statement was inadmissible and the prosecution refused to proceed.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Newcastle Daily Chronicle - Friday 16 February 1923

see Blyth News - Thursday 15 February 1923

see Blyth News - Thursday 23 November 1922

see Blyth News - Thursday 30 November 1922

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 23 November 1922

see Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Friday 16 February 1923