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The Supposed Murder of Mary Ann Crouch

The Bedfordshire Mercury reported on the trial of Ann Lee at the Lent Assizes 1842 for the murder of Mary Ann Crouch of Ridgmont.

THE RIDGMOUNT MURDER. - Ann Lee was capitally indicted for having on the 26th of September last, at Ridgmount wilfully murdered Mary Ann Crouch.

Mr. Gunning, with whom was Mr.Dacent, conducted the case for the prosecution; Mr. Green of Woburn was the attorney. Messrs. Byles and O'Malley were counsel, and Mr. Green of Ampthill was attorney for the prisoner.

In calling over the names of the Jury, several were objected to by the prisoner's counsel, which occasioned some delay before they were empannelled. The prisoner appearing unwell she was accommodated with a chair.

Mr. Gunning opened the case and called on

Mr. Crouch, the prosecutor, who deposed he was a farmer residing at Ridgmount; on the 26th September last his family consisted of the prisoner, who was Cook, Betsy Gaylor, housemaid, and George Peppit who was a general servant. On the day in question his father, mother, Mary Peachy, Mary Ann Crouch (the deceased), Emma Deauvert, and Elizabeth Crouch (his sister), were on a visit at his house; the latter occasionally lived with him. He accompanied his father to Crawley church in the morning leaving the rest at home. When they returned he saw the prisoner looking out at the window, who came and opened the door for him, and said the two ladies, Mrs. Deauvert and the deceased, were ill; after they had been in the house about a quarter of an hour the deceased came down stairs and appeared very ill. Subsequently she became worse and medical aid was called in, but she died at 11 o'clock the following night. Mary Peachy had also been suffering in the same way but she recovered the same night and went home; on the Saturday previous Betsy Gaylor the house maid was ill and was obliged to go to bed. They had beef steaks and partridges for dinner that day: his sister had been ordered by her medical attendant to have beef steaks; after dinner his sister went out for a ride, and in about half an hour she returned home very ill, subsequently she partially recovered; about 6 o'clock they had tea and a cake was placed upon the table which was cut by someone present, but he could not say he saw anyone partaking of it. Shortly afterwards Emma Deauvert was taken ill and vomited violently; this awoke his suspicion that something was wrong, and he had the tea kettle examined but could see nothing of a deleterious nature in it; in the course of the evening while he was in conversation with some person in the parlour he had occasion to go out of the room, and on opening the door he found the prisoner listening at the door; in about an hour or two afterwards he went softly to the door and found her in a similar attitude: did not say anything particular to her at the time. About 11 o'clock the prisoner went to bed, and he went and searched the kitchen, when he found a tin box in which was a paper containing a powder, which he took to be carbonate of soda; that he took possession of, and on the following Tuesday gave it, with the exception of a small quantity which was given to a medical man, along with the box, into the custody of R. Turle, superintendent of police, Woburn, (the box and powder was here produced). A portion of the cake used on the Saturday evening was also given into the hands of the medical gentleman who attended the family; on the following Thursday he made a further search in the kitchen, along with the superintendent of police, when they found a quantity of pepper in a tea cup, and a tin box, which the superintendent took into his custody. The prisoner at this time was under notice to leave his service, he having given her notice to leave on account of some disrespectful language she had used in reference to his mother. After the sad transaction in question, the prisoner manifested much excitement and seemed to be in a state which he must designate as wild; he knew no other term by which he could describe her manner. he never knew of his own knowledge of any arsenic being kept in the house; but the gardener, Benjamin Robinson, had been in the habit of using it in the garden for the purpose of destroying mice.

Mr. Byles severely cross-examined the prosecutor, but did not shake his evidence.

Elizabeth Crouch was next called, who stated that on the Saturday previous to the deceased's death, she and Miss Deauvert made a cake, which was composed of flour, sugar, butter, milk, eggs, soda and carraway seeds. In making the cake she asked the prisoner for some soda, who replied there was none. She then dispatched George Peppit to the shop for some, and during his absence Betsy Gaylor brought a paper, and said she had found the soda. She then took a teaspoonful from it, which she put along with the other ingredients. The remainder she placed in the spice box which she examined on the following Tuesday, when it was in the custody of the Superintendent, and observed that there was then a considerable quantity more in the paper. When Peppit returned she did not  use any of the soda he brought. The prisoner was in the kitchen during the time the cakes were baking. About 12 o'clock that day Betsy Gaylor was taken ill, and continued so during the night. Mr. Parker, surgeon, attended her. In the evening, about six o'clock, Emma Deauvert, having partaken of one of the cakes, was taken ill, but she [Elizabeth] had no suspicion there was anything pernicious in the cake, as she and Miss Deauvert had made it themselves. She thought her illness proceeded from the same cause as her own, as she had taken ill the same day shortly after she dined. She suspected merely they had partaken of something that did not agree with them. Subsequently, however, the same evening, their suspicion was excited that their illness proceeded from poison, and that having talked about in the family, the prisoner burst into tears, and observed she hoped they had no suspicion of her. The following day Mary Peachey and Mary Ann Crouch partook of the cake, and both were seized with sickness and vomiting a few minutes afterwards. She had occasionally found fault with the prisoner, when angry words ensued.

Cross-examined by Mr. O'Malley - Never knew of any arsenic in the house, but 2 or 3 years ago there was nux vomica [strychnine] in the house for the purpose of destroying mice.

This witness was much affected during the time she gave her evidence.

Emma Harriet Sophia Deauvert gave similar evidence to the above witness.

Betsy Gaylor was next called who deposed that on the day on which the cake was made, she tasted the batter of which it was made and in about half an hour afterwards she was taken ill and vomited. The pain she felt was a sort of burning in her throat. When the prisoner saw she was sick she also pretended to be sick, but did not appear ill. She seemed very uneasy in her mind. When they went to bed she asked the prisoner what was the matter with her? who replied she thought her mistress suspected her of doing something to the food of which they had been partaking. The witness then asked her what reason she had for that? When she said she had a reason, but did not tell her what it was. On the following day when Miss Peachey and Miss Crouch were taken ill, the prisoner enquired of her if they had anything, when she said she thought not. The prisoner then observed "she was glad they were taken ill as they had eaten nothing, and that would prebent them suspecting she had done anything to the food". The prisoner subsequently asked her what Mr. Parker thought about them being ill? when she replied she thought there was something in the cake. Prisoner then said she had been thinking about the cake all night. She appeared uneasy in her mind, and complained of being unwell. On the Wednesday preceding, the prisoner threatened to drawon herself and observed to witness that she had gone to the moat several times for that purpose, but had not done it yet.

Geo. Pettit [sic], late servant to the prosecutor, proved having purchased some poison while residing there in the month of July last, a part of which he had put on some bread and grease and placed in different parts of the kitchen; the remainder he subsequently threw into the fire; he could not say the time, it might be a month.

Mr. O'Malley cross-examined this witness, when his manner of giving answers to the counsel called for a rebuke from the learned Judge.

By the Judge - The prisoner knew he had poison in the house at the time; he did not think any other one knew.

Mrs. Crouch, mother to the prosecutor, deposed that on the 26th September last, in consequence of so many of the family being taken ill, she went to the kitchen and asked the prisoner if there had been any poison in the house? she replied, "No, never". The remainder of her evidence was corroborative of that of the preceding witnesses.

Thomas Parker, surgeon, Woburn, deposed - On the 20th [sic] September last he called at the house of the prosecutor, where he saw the deceased, who was then ill. He did not then apprehend any danger, as he considered her able to proceed home that night. On the following day he received word from Mr. Crouch, the proescutor, to attend the deceased, whom he found in a state of great exhaustion, and exhibited great anxiety of countenance. He prescribed medicines for her, but she expired that night. It was his decided opinion that the deceased died from the effects of irritant poison. He made a post mortem examination of the body on the night following, in the presence of Messrs Chapman, Green, Vesey and Swaine, and the appearance of the stomach was such as the presence of arsenic in a minute quantity would produce. A portion of the contents of the stomach he applied to four different tests, but was unable to detect the presence of arsenic. A portion of the cake of which the deceased had partaken, was also submitetd to similar tests, and the result was the presence of arsenic in large quantities. He could account for the absence of arsenic in the stomach by the quantity which the deceased had taken being enveloped  in the cake, and taken unaccompanied by fluid, which traversed the stomach rather quickly, and was carried off by the diarrhoea which ensued. The powder which he received from the superintendent of the police he had analyzed, and found it to consist of nearly equal quantities of carbonate of soda and arsenic; he had also analyzed some pepper which he had received from the prosecutor, but it was entirely free from arsenic.

Mr. Chapman, Surgeon, Ampthill, corroborated the above evidence.

John Roberts senior keeps a shop at Ridgmont, and had frequently sold arsenic to Benjamin Robinson for use on the prosecutor's premises.

John Roberts junior remembered selling an ounce of arsenic to George Peppit on the 22nd July last; the paper was labelled "arsenic poison".

Benjamin Robinson deposed that he frequently purchased poison of Roberts for the puspose of destroying rats and mice on the premises of the prosecutor; he kept it in his tool house; he never saw the prisoner in that place in his life.

Benjamin Robinson junior said that no poison had been in the tool house for a month previous to the inquest.

George Stimson was in the harvest home at the prosecutor's house on Sept, 6th, and heard the prisoner say in reference to Mrs. Crouch "that old devil ought to have been dead years ago". Head her say on the day after the decease of Mary Ann Crouch "I bear no ill will to you George, but I shall never be happy any more, because they will not give me a character".

John Halton was at the house of the prosecutor on the 6th Sept, last, and heard the prisoner say "It is a pity that woman should ever be suffered to live", alluding to Eliz. Crouch.

George Horne, William Cook, Jesse Reed and William Maddams gave similar evidence.

Rob. Turle, superintendent of rural police examined. He had retained possession of the residue of the powder which was found in the kitchen ever since. On the 28th september last, he had the prisoner in his custody, when talking of the affair, she observed that the only way she could account for anything deleterious being on the beefsteak was, that she had upset the pepperbox and having put some of the sweepings of the shelves with the pepper into a cup, it might have got into the pepperbox.

Col. Boultbee, chief constable of rural police was next examined in respect to some conversations he had with the prisoner while she was in custody, which was merely corroborative of the evidence of the witness Peppit.

This closed the case for the prosecution, and the trial having lasted for nearly 12 hours the Court was adjourned until the morrow. the judge having given orders to the high sheriff to furnish ample accommodation for the jury and to have these officers to attend them.

[Thursday] The case of Ann Lee was resumed this day.

Mr. Byles addressed the jury for the defence. The learned counsel commenced his elaborate address at 10 minutes past 9 o'clock, and concluded it at 10 minutes before 12, thus occupying two hours and 40 minutes in its delivery.

The learned Judge in summing up occupied 3 hours and 20 minutes. In the course of which he observed that the prisoner was charged on the part of the prosecution with being the hand that laid the arsenic in a train to effect the murder, but of that they could only judge by the light that was thrown on it by the evidence which had been adduced. For his part he had employed the interval of last night as far as he could, and he must say that the evidence was not conclusive to his mind that the case was proved against her. The learned Judge severely censured the druggist who had sold the poison which was introduced into the prosecutor's house at Ridgmont for the careless manner in which he sold the deadly mineral. It was indeed a wonder, he observed that more mischief was not done in the neighbourhood. The learned Judge concluded by reminding the jury that if they had any doubt on their minds as to the guilt of the prisoner, it was a rule of reason and justice, as well as a rule of the laws of every country whose laws were worth respecting, to give the prisoner the benefit of the doubt.

The jury turned round in their box, and immediately found a verdict of Not Guilty.

The learned Judge with much emotion, said he was bound to say they had given their verdict quite right. The prisoner was then discharged by proclamation.