Unsolved Murders

Joan Sissons Metcalfe

Age: 6 months

Sex: female

Date: 1 Feb 1917

Place: Swine

Joan Sissons Metcalfe was exhumed after the woman that had been caring for him at the time of his death was charged with the murder of another child that she had poisoned.

Joan Metcalfe  died on 1 February 1917 at which time the doctor gave a certificate that death was due to diarrhoea.

Her body was later exhumed by Home Office order on 26 February 1917.

However, an open verdict was returned at her inquest after no trace of poison could be found and it was found that at the time of her death she had been suffering from pneumonia, which it was said could have been sufficient to have caused her death.

It was heard that the woman had been in the habit of taking in nurse children, but had failed to register under the Children's Act.

However, the woman was convicted of the manslaughter of the other infant who she poisoned with laudanum at Dowthorpe Cottages in Ellerby, Hull on 11 December 1916 and she was sentenced to ten years' penal servitude.

The woman had adopted Joan Metcalfe a few days after her birth for £7 5s.

A neighbour said that she had seen the woman look well after one child but that she had neglected Joan Metcalfe. She said that she had seen the woman shake Joan Metcalfe and 'chuck' her on the couch. She also said that she had heard the woman say to Joan Metcalfe, 'I wish you were dead, you little devil'.

A doctor that said he called on 30 December 1916 to see Joan Metcalfe said that he found that she had not been properly attended to, noting that there was no organic disease. He said that she was very badly nourished and was emaciated from, in his opinion, improper feeding. It was reported that he had found four children at her house and that he told the woman that if she continued to feed the children the way she was doing that she would kill them all as surely as if she gave them strychnine.

He said that he had been present at the post-mortem after Joan Metcalfe was exhumed and that the presence of food in her stomach convinced him that death had not been due to diarrhoea and that he thought that Joan Metcalfe had been emaciated and that her death, in his opinion, had been due to want of nourishment, or in other words, starvation. He added that Joan Metcalfe had weighed four pounds less than the normal weight for a child of that age.

The woman was later questioned by the police after the mother of the child that died in December 1916 went to them. The woman told the police that she had sent the child to an address in Albany Road in Hull and then later to a place in Southport. A police inspector met her at a railway station on 12 February 1917 with the child's mother and when he told her that they were going to go to Southport to clear the matter up that the woman confessed that she had died and she had buried the child in the garden.

She said, 'This is to certify that I, having been up several nights with the other child that has since died, broke a bottle belonging to the baby. In mistake in the dark I got a bottle which contained a small quantity of laudanum. In the morning I found it (the child) dead. I kept it nearly a fortnight before I dare bury it. It is buried in the garden in the corner on the lefthand side, where the tubs are. I had a home for the baby to go to if this had not happened'.

It was later determined that the child had ingested at least 20 drops of laudanum.

Following the discovery of the murder, the Home Office ordered that Joan Sssons Metcalfe’s body be exhumed and a fresh post mortem carried out, however, no laudanum was found.

It was also heard that an inquest had also been pending on a third child.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Driffield Times - Saturday 31 March 1917

see Sheffield Daily Telegraph - Tuesday 06 March 1917

see Leeds Mercury - Thursday 15 February 1917

see Hull Daily Mail - Wednesday 28 February 1917

see Hull Daily Mail - Monday 05 March 1917