Unsolved Murders

Mary Jane Sewell

Age: 6

Sex: female

Date: 9 Feb 1928

Place: The Garth, Sunnybrow, County Durham

Mary Jane Sewell was murdered at 'The Garth', Sunnybrow, on Wednesday 29 February 1928.

She was found dead 30 yards from her home.

Her mother said that the attack on her daughter had been foretold in a dream she had had as well as a prophecy she had been told.

She left her home at 12 Hill Street at out 7.30pm to take a paper to a woman who lived in the next street, Percy Street. The back doors of the two houses were only 3-40 yards apart. The errand took her only a minute, she went into the woman's house, put the paper on the table and then came straight back and went in and washed her hands and face and then went out without saying where she was going. Although it was unusual for her to wash herself at that hour, no importance was placed on it.

At first her parents were not at all anxious when she didn't return as they thought that she had gone out to play with her chums but as the night drew on they became worried. However, their fears were strengthened by a dream that the mother had had the night before and by a prophecy that a man had made to the father about ten days before.

A few hours later Mary Sewell was found dead behind some houses near a railway cutting in a small enclosed field or paddock known as 'The Garth'.

The mother said that when she began to get anxious about Mary Sewell she remembered a dream that she had had the night before. She said 'I had dreamt that a man was trying to tear Mary away from me. I couldn't see his face, but I saw that he wore a blue suit. He was dragging her by one arm, and I had hold of the other and was pulling with all my might. It was a dreadful dream. I could see blood on her arms, and I screamed as he succeeded in dragging her away from me. I don't pay much heed to dreams as a rule, but this one so distressed me that I mentioned it to my husband and children at breakfast. Mary only laughed when she heard about it'.

She went on to say that stranger than the dream was an earlier incident. She said 'Ten days ago my husband and a friend were in a place in Newcastle, when a man came in selling 'Moore's Almanacs'. My husband and his friends were telling the man that they didn't attach any importance to the prophecies in almanacs, when the man said to my husband, 'I'll tell you this. Something terrible is going to happen to your family before a Thursday. It may not be this Thursday. It may be the next!'. On the Wednesday night as we were sitting together my husband said 'Well, there isn't much time left for the man's prophecy to be fulfilled'. Nothing happened that night, and we dismissed the prophecy. But it came true before the next Thursday'.

At the inquest Mary Sewell's father, who found her body, said that there was nothing unusual about Mary Sewell being out at night and that they were not distressed. He said that she regularly went to look after their neighbour’s children and that they thought that she had done so that night. He said that a serious search for her didn't begin until 10pm and that she was found at 11.30pm.

Her death was stated as being due to suffocation caused by a handkerchief being forced into her mouth.

A policeman said that the ground where he body was found was partially covered with grass and that the approach to the gap was hard and littered with straw, cinders and rubbish which made it impossible to trace any footprints.

Later, at the Coroner's inquest the Coroner noted that certain facts had come to light that created suspicion and indicated that Mary Sewell might not have been wanted and that it was inconvenient to have her. However, he said that although it created very grave suspicion, a verdict could not be found on it and that the only safe course was to return the verdict that she had been murdered by some person or persons unknown.

On the 9 March 1928 at the inquest as it was adjourned a strange looking man of about thirty with an unkempt appearance and wearing a beard of some days' growth was brought into the court by a constable and given a seat. When he name was called he jumped up holding his right hand and said in a mild tone 'Take me. I do not care what you do with me. I am not responsible for what I said on Thursday night.  A police superintendent asked him if there was anything else that he wanted to say and the man said 'You can say I am the man, but I was insane at the time'. The police superintendent then asked the man 'Did you do that to the girl? Tell the truth?' and the man replied 'No, I didn't'. The police superintendent then asked 'Then what are you talking about?' and the man replied 'I know nowt'. the Coroner then said that he was not going to swear the man and he was led away to another room.

At another inquest hearing the Coroner asked Mary Sewell's mother if it were true that she had entered her name at a Durham registry office as a single woman requiring a position as a cook-general and was later interviewed by a woman saying that she wanted to go into service because her husband had no work, and she said that it was.

Mary Sewell's mother also said that at about 6.30pm on the night of the murder she had been with Mary Sewell on the edge of a battery of coke ovens and had indicated that she had wanted to go down for some leeks but that Mary Sewell had not wanted to go and they had both then gone home.

Mary Sewell's mother also said that she had very recently also lost her younger eighteen-month-old child who had died.

At the inquest the Coroner said noted that the case was the third murder case in a fortnight and added 'You cannot pick up a newspaper today without seeing great black headings of horrible murders and the details. I suppose there never was in your memory and there never has been in mine such insatiate craze for the horrible details of crime, and I doubt whether there has ever before been a better and more completely equipped or competent press to deal with the facts which are placed before the public. Is it all to the good? I very much doubt it myself. I am not quite sure that the publicity given to the sordid details of these crimes is not a breeder of crimes itself, or that it is in the interests of the public morality'.

The Coroner concluded the inquest by saying that there were three possible motives, the first being that there had been interference, but not of an improper kind, the second that it was the act of a madman and the last that Mary Sewell had not been wanted. He said that at the beginning of the inquest the last option had been the least likely but at the conclusion of the inquest it appeared to be the most likely of the three but that there was not enough evidence to return the verdict that she had been murdered by some person or persons unknown.

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

see find.galegroup.com

see "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 9 July 1928: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

see Durham Record Office - CCP 13/158/1

see Sunday Post - Sunday 04 March 1928

see Leeds Mercury - Saturday 14 April 1928

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Saturday 10 March 1928

see Dundee Courier - Saturday 24 March 1928

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Monday 05 March 1928