The Thompson – Bywaters case involved the murder of Percy Thompson by Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters. The dead man’s widow Edith Thompson was found guilty of murder by the common law legal doctrine of “Common Purpose”; where someone who incites and encourages the murder of a person is just as guilty as the person who struck the fatal blow.
Edith Thompson wrote several letters to her lover Bywaters, which he kept. These were used by the prosecution to establish a motive for the murder of Percy Thompson, as well as establishing Edith Thompson’s role in the crime.
On 9 January 1923, Edith Thompson was executed at Holloway prison while Bywaters was executed at Pentonville prison.
For more information on Edith Thompson, I recommend the excellent and comprehensive book “Criminal Justice: The True Story of Edith Thompson” by Rene Weis, published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN: 0-241-12263-5.
I also strongly recommend Rene Weis’s excellent web site https://edithjessiethompson.co.uk/
Edith Thompson was born Edith Jessie Graydon on 25 December 1894 in Stoke Newington, Middlesex, the daughter of William Eustace (a despatch clerk) and Ethel Jessie Graydon.
The 1901 England and Wales Census had the Graydon family living in Shakespeare Crescent, Manor Park, Essex.
|William E Graydon
|Ethel J Graydon
The 1911 England and Wales Census has the family still living in Shakespeare Crescent, Manor Park, Essex.
|William E Graydon
|Ethel Jessie Graydon
|Edith Jessie Graydon
|Avis Ethel Graydon
|Newenham Eustace Graydon
|William George Graydon
|Harold Albert Graydon
On 15 January 1916, Edith Jessie Graydon married Percy Thompson at St. Barnabas Church, Manor Park, Essex.
At the time of Percy Thompson’s death, Edith Thompson worked in as a bookkeeper and manageress in a wholesale millinery business, Aldersgate Street, London.
Percy Thompson was born on 10 April 1890.
The 1891 England and Wales Census had the Thompson family living in the Commercial Road, Stepney, London.
The 1901 England and Wales Census had the Thompson family living in Charles Street, Stepney, London.
The 1911 England and Wales Census had the Thompson family living in Clements Road, East Ham, Essex.
|Margaret Mary Thompson
|Eliza Allsop Thompson
|Counting House Clerk
|Richard Halliday Thompson
|Counting House Clerk
On 10 December 1915, Percy Thompson enlisted in the 14th London Regiment (London Scottish). Contained in Thompson’s service papers, at the National Archives, is an Army Form B.204 “Application for Discharge of a Recruit as not likely to become an Efficient Soldier” with the following remarks.
He was subject to fainting fits up to age of 15. Has always had palpitations and dyspnoea after slight exertion, also frequent attacks of giddiness. Has never been able to go through physical drill – can’t march, has to fall out after 3 miles. His heart is dilated, apex beat 6th intercostal space and sounds audible to right as far as nipple line – aortic systolic murmur. Has aortic obstruction.Percy Thompson’s Army Form B.204 (National Archives).
On 15 January 1916, Percy Thompson married Edith Jessie Graydon. Six months later, on 3 July 1916, Percy Thompson was discharged from the army as medically unfit and award Silver War Badge number 97297.
At the time of his death, Percy Thompson worked as a ship-brokers clerk.
FREDERICK EDWARD FRANCIS BYWATERS
Frederick Edward Francis Bywaters was born on 27 June 1902, in Manor Park, Essex.
The 1911 England and Wales Census had the Bywaters family living in Browning Road, Manor Park, Essex.
|Head – Wife
|Lilian Helen Bywaters
|Frederick E. F. Bywaters
|Florence May Bywaters
|Edward F Bywaters
|Father – Widower
At the time of Percy Thompson’s death, Bywaters was a P & O company laundry steward on the ship “Morea”. When not on the ship, Bywaters lived with his mother in Upper Norwood. Bywaters,, whose ship came to Tilbury Dock, found it more convenient living with the Graydons at Manor Park. It was through this connection that Bywaters became acquainted with Edith Thompson.
THE DEATH OF PERCY THOMPSON
On 4 October 1922, Percy and Edith Thompson had been to the theatre. They were frequent theatre goers and Edith Thompson enjoyed dancing. Percy Thompson accompanied his wife to dances but did not dance due to his heart condition.
At approximately 12.30am, about 100 yards from their home, they entered Belgrave Road, Ilford. Someone emerged from the darkness and pushed Edith Thompson to the ground, before stabbing Percy Thompson multiple times, with two wounds in the right-hand side of his neck. He managed stagger some 20 yards before collapsing on the pavement. A doctor from a neighbouring street was summoned but it was obvious that Percy Thompson was dead.
During the Crown Court trial, several witnesses testified as to what had happened.
- Miss Dora Pittard, of Endsleigh Gardens Ilford, stated that as she was returning home, Edith Thompson ran towards her crying “My God, my God, will you help me? My husband is ill and bleeding. Will you fetch a doctor?” Walking along, Dora Pittard found a man lying on the pavement. She asked Edith Thompson what had happened. Edith Thompson said “I don’t know. Someone flew past and as I turned to speak to him blood was pouring out of his mouth.”
- Mr. John Webber, sales manager of De Vere Gardens, Ilford, said he heard a woman scream “Don’t do it!” He went out and found Percy Thompson on the pavement.
- Dr. Maudsley said he was called up by Miss Pittard, and found Percy Thompson lying on the pavement. He examined him by the light of a match and found he had been dead about ten minutes. Edith Thompson, who was standing beside him, was confused, hysterical and agitated. When told that her husband was dead, she said “Why didn’t you come sooner and save him?” Dr. Maudsley testified that he saw no signs of a struggle.
- Dr. P. J. Drought, police surgeon, said he thought Percy Thompson assailant must have been at his back when the blow was struck, severing the artery. The wounded man travelled 44 feet before he fell. A knife produced could have caused the wounds.
BEFORE THE TRIAL OF THOMPSON and BYWATERS
On the following day, the police in conjunction with Ilford Council officials, search a number of drains near the crime scene but found no weapon.
A day after the Percy Thompson’s death (05 October 1922), his widow Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters were charged with his murder and remanded in custody.
At the remand hearing on 6 October 1922, Edith Thompson was still wearing the same clothes in which she attended the theatre. These were a brown coat with mole fur collar and cuffs, a hat also of fur, plain white gloves. Beneath her brown coat was a grey crepe de chine dress trimmed with black silk. When requested to lower her collar, she disclosed a pallid face with eyes which looked vacantly across the court. In a state of collapse, she had to be assisted to and from the dock.
Bywaters entered the court smartly dressed in a blue flannel suit with faint white stripes. He had a low-cut waistcoat and an immaculate collar and tie.
On 9 October 1922, a blood-stained dagger was found, by the police, in the mud of a sewer in Seymour Gardens, about five minutes walk from where the murder was committed. The dagger was 8 to 10 inches long, with the blade being about 5.5 inches long.
A day later, Percy Thompson was buried in City of London Cemetery, Manor Park, London. However, less than one month later (3 November 1922), Percy Thompson’s remains were exhumed from the cemetery. A post-mortem, performed by Bernard Spilsbury, found small traces of morphine. No poisons or ground-up glass were found in his examination. The body was reburied later that day.
A bottle of aromatic tincture of morphine was discovered in Percy Thompson’s possessions. Edith Thompson asked her husband about the bottle and he said he had obtained it from a chemist; presumably to reduce pain from his heart condition (which caused his discharge from the army in 1916) and help him to sleep.
THE TRIAL OF EDITH THOMPSON and FREDERICK BYWATERS
On 6 December 1923, the trial of Edith Jessie Thompson and Frederick Edward Francis Bywaters started at the Central Criminal Court, London. The presiding judge was Mr. Justice Shearman.
The crowds outside had queued since 4am in an attempt to gain admissions. In contemporary photographs, published in newspapers, the crowd resembles that outside a top West End show, instead of the trial of two people who were facing death. People were selling their spot, near the front of the queue, for £5 (approximately £200 in 2021). People further back were charging £2 and £1.
The Solicitor-General (Mr. T. W. H. Inskip, KC), Mr. Travers Humphreys and Mr. Roland Oliver conducted the case for the Crown. Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett, KC, Mr. Walter Frampton and Mr. Ivan Snell appeared for Edith Thompson. Mr. Cecil Whiteley, KC, Mr. Huntley Jenkins and Mr. Myles Elliott appeared for Frederick Bywaters.
Before Thompson and Bywaters were asked to plead, Whiteley made an application that there should be two separate trials. The prosecution objected, which was supported by the judge.
Both Thompson and Bywaters pleaded not guilty.
Curtis-Bennett than made an objection that Edith Tompson’s letters to Bywaters should not be admitted as evidence. After the jury left the court, legal arguments continued. The Solicitor-General argued that as Edith Thompson was charged as a principal in the murder and that the letters were admissible to show that she gave the incitement without which, alleged the prosecution, the crime would not have taken place.
Mr. Justice Shearman ruled that the letters were admissible both as evidence of intention and of motive. The jury then returned to the court.
THE PROSECUTION CASE
The Solicitor-General then opened the prosecution case. He provided biographical information about Percy Thompson, Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters.
He then explained that the acquaintance of Bywaters and Edith Thompson became more intimate after a date in 1921. In June 1921 Bywaters accompanied the Thompsons on a holiday to Shanklin, on the Isle of Wright. He returned with them to their house at Ilford and stayed until some date in August, when an incident happened which made him leave the house. It appeared that at that time the relations between Percy and Edith Thompson had become less happy.
On 21 September 1921, Bywaters left England in a new ship, returning in the autumn and departing in November 1921. During Bywaters’s absence there was a passionate and ardent correspondence between Bywaters and Edith Thompson. All the letters had been found among Bywaters’s possessions. One contained the following passage.
It is the man who has no right who generally covets the woman . . . But darling, it is not always going to be, is it? You will have the right soon, won’t you? Say yes. The time goes slowly enough in all conscience. I do not seem to care who helps me to spend the money . . . I had the wrong porridge today, but I don’t suppose it will matter. I do not seem to care much either way. You will probably say I am careless but I do not care either way.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
The prosecution went on to read a letter dated 3 January 1922, in which Edith Thompson had written
Immediately I receive a second letter I destroy the first and when I get the third I destroy the second . . . I have surrendered to him unconditionally now. If you understand me. I think it is the best way to disarm any suspicion . . . He has several times asked me if I am happy now and I have said “Yes quite”, but you know that is not true don’t you?The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
The prosecution counsel then read another of Edith Thompson’s letters, which included the following
Darling, you must do something this time. I am not really impatient but opportunities come and go by. They have to, because I am helpless, and I think and think and think . . . At about 2am he woke me up and asked me for water as he felt ill. I got it for him and asked him what was the matter, and this is what he told me. Whether it is the truth I don’t know or whether he did it to frighten me. Anyway, it didn’t. He said someone he knows in town had given him a prescription for a draught for insomnia, and he had it made up and had taken it and it made him ill. He certainly looked ill and his eyes were glassy . . . I think perhaps that it might be useful at some future time that I had told somebody. What do you think darling?The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
Bywaters returned home in March 1922, and at the end of the month sailed again. Edith Thompson’s letters then indicated a strengthening of the desire and a greater determination to take action against her husband.
On 31 March 1922, the day Bywaters sailed, she wrote
This time really will be the last you will go away like this . . . We said so before darling. I know and we failed, but there must not be . . . If things are the same again then I am going with you. Wherever it is, I am going too, and if it is to nowhere I am going also, darling. You will never leave me behind again.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
The next letter, which was long and ardent, contained passages which were extremely important to the prosecution’s case.
Don’t keep this piece . . . I am not going to try anymore until you come back. I had made up my mind about this last Tuesday. He was telling his mother, etc, the circumstances of my Sunday morning escapade, and he put great stress on the fact of the tea tasting bitter, as if something had been put into it. Now, I think whatever else I try it in again will still taste bitter. He will recognise it and be more suspicious still, and if the quantity is still not successful, it will injure another chance I may have of trying when you come home.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
On 24 April 1922, Edith Thompson wrote
I used the light bulb three times. The third time he found a piece, so I have given it up until you come time.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
The prosecution counsel told the jury that they were not to decide whether Edith Thompson attempted to poison her husband. They were asked to decide whether Edith Thompson incited to kill Percy Thompson.
On 1 May 1922, when Bywaters’s ship was at Port Said, Edith Thompson wrote
“I don’t think we are failures in other things, and we must not be in this. Darlint fate can’t always turn against us, and if it is we must right it. You and I are strong now. We must be stronger. We must learn to be patient. Well wait on darling, and you will try and get some money, and then we can go away and not worry about anybody or anything. You said it was enough for an elephant. Perhaps it was. But you don’t allow for the taste, making a small quantity to be taken . . . I do want you to believe I did for both of us. I was buoyed up with the hope of the “light bulb” and I used a lot – big pieces – not bitter – and it had no effect . . . Oh darlint, I do feel so down and unhappy. Would not the stuff make some small pills, coated with soap, and dipped into liquorice, like Beecham’s – try while you are away . . . I know I fell I shall never get him to take a sufficient quantity of anything bitter.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
The prosecuting counsel asked the jury to think of the effect that letters, such as these, “. . . would have on the mind of a young man whose affections she was engaging.”
On 18 May 1922, Edith Thompson wrote letter containing “. . . almost innumerable suggestions to encompass her husband’s death.” This time the quote came from a book called “Bella Donna” written by Robert Hitchens.
It must be remembered that digitalis is a cumulative poison, and that this same dose, harmless if done once, yet frequently repeated become deadly.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
On 13 June 1922, Edith Thompson wrote to Bywaters about an apparent illness of her husband’s.
Darlingest Boy . . . On Thursday he was on the ottoman at the foot of the bed and said he was dying and wanted to – he had another heart attack – through me. Darling, I had to laugh at this, because I knew it couldn’t be a heart attack. When he saw this had no effect on me he got up and stormed. I said exactly what you told me to and he replied that he knew that was what I wanted, and he was not going to give it to me. It would make things far too easy for both of us, especially for you.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
On 23 September 1922, Bywaters’s ship arrived at Tilbury Docks, and sent a telegram was sent. “Can you meet Peidi, Broadway, 4pm?” On 25 September 1922, Edith Thompson and Bywaters met in a tea room and Percy Thompson was killed on 4 October 1922. Between 30 September and 1 October 1922, Edith Thompson wrote to Bywaters.
Darlingest, lover of mine, thank you a thousand times for Friday. It was lovely. It is always lovely to go out with you, and then Saturday! Yes, I did feel happy . . . I tried so hard to find a way out tonight, darlingest, but he was suspicious and still is. I suppose we must make a study of this deceit sometime longer . . . Don’t forget what we talked about in the tea room. I will still risk and try, if you will. We have only 3.75 years left darling.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
Police Sergeant Mew testified that after arranging for the removal of Percy Thompson’s body, he took Edith Thompson home. On the way she said “Will he come back?” Sergeant Mew said that he would. Edith Thompson then said “They will blame me for this.” Later, Sergeant Mew asked her if she could account for the cuts on her husband’s neck. She replied “No. We were walking along and he said “Oh.” Edith Thompson said “Bear up,” thinking that her husband was having one of his fits. She then said that her husband fell on her and then against wall and to the ground.
The judge, Mr. Justice Shearman, then asked Police Sergeant Mew what he thought Edith Thompson had meant by the question “Will he come back?” Mew said that he thought she was referring to her husband and that she didn’t realise that he was dead.
Mr. Richard Thompson, Seymour Gardens, Ilford, testified that the health of his brother Percy Thompson, the night before his death, was quite good. He saw Edith Thompson soon after the affair and she told him her husband had complained of pains in his leg on the way home from Ilford Station. She was very agitated when he saw her.
Frederick Bywaters’s mother, Lilian Bywaters, gave evidence. She said that she knew Edith Thompson slightly. On 2 October 1922, a woman spoke on the telephone and asked for her son. She didn’t recognise the voice. Her son went out for the day. Next day he went out again after another phone message, and returned late at night. On the morning of the 4 October 1922. she said to him “You were rather late last night?” He said “Yes.” Lilian Bywaters then asked “Did you go to sleep in the train?” He said “Yes, I went on to Norwood Junction.” She went to the City with him the next day, and did not see her son again until he was arrested.
Lilian Bywaters remembered her son having a conversation with her in August 1921 about Edith Thompson. He said that Edith Thompson lived a very unhappy life with husband, and asked his mother how Edith Thompson could get a separation from her husband. When questioned by Bywaters’s counsel, Lilian Bywaters replied that she told her son she didn’t know how to get a separation but no there was no law to compel a woman to live with a man if she was unhappy with him.
Mr William Eustace Graydon, Edith Thompson’s father, testified that he had known Bywaters for between two and three years. After his last voyage, Bywaters visited the house several times. He came to see him on the evenings of 2 and 3 October 1922. Avis Graydon remarked that the Thompsons had gone to the theatre. At about 7pm, on 4 October 1922, Bywaters came to Graydon’s house.
Have you seen the paper tonight Mr Graydon? It’s a terrible thing, if it’s true.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
Graydon replied that he did know what had happened.
Mrs. Lester, who lived in the same house as the Thompsons, said Bywaters returned with the Thompsons after the Isle of Wright holiday. One day in August 1922, Edith Thompson showed Mrs. Lester her arm, which was black from the shoulder to the elbow. She said that Percy Thompson was having a few words with Bywaters, and when she interfered he pushed her against the table. A day or two later, Bywaters left the house.
Evidence was given by police officers regarding the letters found in the room occupied by Bywaters at his mother’s house and in a ditty-box in his cabin on the ship Morea, letters from Edith Thompson and a photograph of her.
Detective Sergeant Hancock said he found a sheath-knife in a drain about 250 yards from Kensington Gardens, Ilford. Later he searched the house of the Thompsons and in a bedroom he found a small bottle labeled “Aromatic tincture of opium” and also “Dr. Jenkins’s Cholera Drops – Brown.”
Detective Inspector Francis Hall testified that he saw Edith Thompson at her house on 4 October 1922. She described what had happened to her husband, and that she would make a voluntary statement.
Inspector Hall continued his testimony by stating that after making the statement at Ilford police station, Edith Thompson was taken by him to the Matron’s room. On the way they passed the library in which Bywaters was being detained. Edith Thompson saw him as she passed, and said
Oh God, oh God, what shall I do? Why did he do it? I didn’t want him to do it. I must tell the truth.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
Inspector Hall said Edith Thompson was a little hysterical. He said to her “Do you realise what you are saying?” He cautioned her that it may be used in evidence against her. She then made the following statement.
When we got near Endsleigh Gardens, a man rushed out from the gardens and knocked me away from my husband. I was dazed for a moment, and when I recovered I saw my husband scuffling with a man. The man I know as Freddy Bywaters was running away. He was wearing an overcoat and a grey hat. I knew it was him, although I did not see his face.The Times newspaper, 7 December 1922.
Inspector Hall then recounted the written statement made by Bywaters, who made it clear that Edith Thompson was not aware of his movements on the evening of 2 October 1922.
Bywaters’s statement went on to say that he left Manor Park at 11pm and he proceeded to Ilford, to watch for Edith Thompson and her husband. He pushed Edith Thompson to one side, then told Percy Thompson “You have got to separate from your wife.” He said “No.” Bywaters said “You will have to” and they then struggled. Bywaters took the knife from his pocked and stated that Percy Thompson got the worst of it. In his statement, Bywaters said he fought Percy Thompson because he never acted like a man to his wife. He always seemed several degrees lower than a snake. I loved her and could not see her go on leading that life. The statement ended with Bywaters saying that he didn’t mean to kill him but just to injure him. He threw the knife down a drain.
Mr. John Webster, senior analyst to the Home Office, testified that he found 9 stains of human blood on Bywaters’s overcoat. He was unable to say if the stains on the recovered knife were bloodstains. He performed tests on contents of bottles provided by Bernard Spilsbury. The bottles contained some of Percy Thompson’s internal organs. In the liver and kidneys, he found traces of morphine. Aromatic tincture of opium would contain morphine, and was used to treat pain as well as insomnia. Percy Thompson also had a heart problem, which caused him to be discharged from the army in 1916.
Bernard Spilsbury stated that he made a post-mortem examination of Percy Thompson on 3 November 1922. He found no signs of poisoning or scars in the intestines; where you would expect to find damaged caused by swallowed glass. Spilsbury testified that he had
carefully examined the organs to find if there was a scar anywhere caused by glass, and there was none.”The Times newspaper, 8 December 1922.
THE DEFENCE – BYWATERS
Bywaters testified in his defence. After being called to the witness stand, he was questioned by his counsel Mr. Cecil Whiteley. Bywaters said that when he arrived home on his last voyage he went to stay with his mother at Upper Norwood. He had previously lived at Manor Park, where the Graydons lived. He had attended school with the Graydon boys and was on good terms with the family. He was away between 24 February and 4 June 1921, and on his return he joined Percy, Edith and Edith’s sister Avis Thompson for a holiday to the Isle of Wright. At the invitation of Percy Thompson, on 18 June 1921, he went to stay with the Thompsons at their home in Kensington Gardens. He stayed there until 5 August 1921, when he left after an argument between Percy and Ethel Thompson. Percy Thompson started to knock his wife around and also overturned a chair.
When asked by the judge about the cause of the argument, Bywaters replied that a pin was the cause. Edith Thompson was sewing in the garden and said she needed a pin. Bywaters went in to the house to fetch a pin. When he came back they were arguing. They went in to tea, and the quarrel and the struggle took place afterwards. Bywaters then left the house at the request of Percy Thompson and his own judgement. Bywaters’s counsel Cecil Whiteley then asked if he had been out with Edith Thompson. He replied that he had been out with Percy and Edith Thompson.
Bywaters continued to testify, saying that he was in London between 5 August and 9 September 1921 and was meeting Edith Thompson occasionally. He described the relationship between himself and Edith Thompson as friends and that he was fond of her. He believed that Percy Thompson knew that they were meeting. Before Bywaters left in August, he testified that he had a conversation with Percy and Edith Thompson about a separation or divorce.
When Bywaters returned on 29 October 1921, he was only in London for two weeks yet admitted to meeting Edith Thompson practically every day. During this time, he had a conversation with Edith Thompson about a separation “Can’t you come to an amicable understanding?” Edith Thompson replied that “I keep on asking him but it seems no good.”
Bywaters testified he had a conversation about separation and divorce with Percy Thompson. Percy Thompson, according to Bywaters, said “I don’t think it concens you.” To which Bywaters replied
You are making Eddie’s life a hell. You know she is unhappy with you.The Times newspaper, 8 December 1922.
Percy Thompson replied “Well I have got her. I will keep her”. He eventually promised Bywaters that he would stop knocking her about.
Mr. Whiteley then read a passage from one of Edith Thompson’s letters.
All I could think about last night was that compact we made. Shall we have to carry it through? Don’t let us darling.The Times newspaper, 8 December 1922.
Bywaters testified that the “compact” mentioned, was a suicide compact, suggested by Edith Thompson. He said that he suggested it as a way of calming Edith Thompson.
Bywaters’s counsel then said
I am going to ask you at once, Bywaters, at anytime was there any agreement between you and Edith Thompson to poison her husband?The Times newspaper, 8 December 1922.
Bywaters replied “Never. There was never such an agreement.” He also confirmed that there had never been an agreement to use violence against Percy Thompson and that he had never given Edith Thompson any drugs or poisons.
Cecil Whiteley asked Bywaters about a passage in another letter: “I wish you would take me with you.” Bywaters replied that Edith Thompson had suggested they should go away in 1923 to Australia.
Cecil Whitely then asked Bywaters
In those letters which have been read by the prosecution was there anything which incited you in any way to any violence to Percy Thompson?The Times newspaper, 8 December 1922.
Bywater reply was
Nothing whatsoever.The Times newspaper, 8 December 1922.
Bywaters testified that his ship arrived at Gravesend on 23 September 1922 and he met Edith Thompson every day from 25 to 30 September 1922. On Monday morning 2 October 1922, Edith Thompson telephoned him. It was usual for Edith Thompson to phone him every morning when he was home on leave. Bywaters repeated that the only agreement he made with Edith Thompson was to help her get a separation from her husband. He purchased a sheath knife in November 1921, and took it with him on voyages.
In the morning of 3 October 1922, Edith Thompson phoned Bywaters as usual. Putting the sheath knife in his inside jacket pocket, he met Edith Thompson and they had lunch at a restaurant in Cheapside. She went back to her business and he went to Fuller’s teashop. About 5.10pm Edith Thompson came to Fuller’s teashop and they had a conversation about arrangements for the following day. She told Bywaters that she was going to the theatre that night with her husband, her uncle and aunt from Stamford Hill and her sister Avis Graydon. He left her at Aldersgate Street Station.
Bywaters then travelled to the Graydon’s house to collect some tobacco, Edith’s father used to get a special brand for him. After leaving the Graydon’s house, Bywaters headed towards home via East Ham Station. However, when he arrived at East Ham Station, he changed his mind and stated that he was thinking of Edith Thompson and
I don’t want to go home. I felt too miserable. I want to see Edith Thompson to see if I can help her.The Times newspaper, 9 December 1922.
Bywaters stated that he then turned round from East Ham Station and walked towards Ilford. He knew that Percy and Edith Thompson would be together and he hoped to make things better for them.
After arriving at Ilford Station, Bywaters crossed over the railway bridge, turning down York Road into Belgrave Road. He then saw Percy and Edith Thompson walking along Belgrave Road towards Kensington Gardens, with their backs to Bywaters. He overtook then and pushed Edith Thompson away from her husband. Bywaters said to Percy Thompson “Why don’t you get a divorce or a separation, if you can?” Percy Thompson replied “I know that is what you want but I am not going to give it to you.” Bywaters replied “You take a delight in making Edie’s life a hell.” He said “I have got her. I will keep her and I will shoot you.” As Percy said that, he punched Bywaters in the chest with his right hand. Bywaters replied “Will you; oh will you?” and he drew his knife and stabbed Percy in the arm.
When asked by his counsel, why had he drawn the knife, Bywaters replied that he thought he was going to be killed.
‘Bywaters then continued with his testimony. He stated that a struggle then began between Percy Thompson and himself. He stated that he had no recollection of how Percy’s neck wounds were caused. All Bywaters could say was he had the knife in his left hand and they got there somehow. After the struggle, Bywaters ran away and went home. The following day, he came to London with his mother and did some shopping. That afternoon, Bywaters went travelled from the city to Manor Park to see the Graydons. He bought a paper at Manor Park Station and found an account of what had happened. Bywaters testified that this was the first time that he heard that Percy Thompson was dead. The police than came and asked Bywaters to accompany them to Ilford Police Station. Bywaters testified that he was at the police station the whole of that evening up to midnight. He made a further statement on 5 October 1922. He also stated that he taken from the station’s library to its C.I.D office, where Edith Thompson was located.
Bywaters was then cross-examined by the prosecution.
Bywaters was asked about a letter that stated
He put great stress on the fact of the tea tasting bitter, as if something had been put into it. Now, I think whatever else I try it in again it will still taste bitter. He will recognise it and be more suspicious still, and if the quantity is still unsuccessful it will injure another chance I may have of trying when you come home.The Times newspaper, 9 December 1922.
Bywaters stated that Edith Thompson was referring to her taking some quinine tablets provided by Bywaters. When asked to clarify the statement that it was enough to kill and elephants, he replied that it referred to the amount of quinine he gave Edith Thompson.
THE DEFENCE – EDITH THOMPSON
Edith Thompson testified on her behalf. She was given a seat in the witness box. The Times newspaper stated that “She spoke in a low voice, and was at times almost inaudible.”
Examined by Walter Frampton, she confirmed Bywaters’s testimony. She stated that on 1 August 1921. The matter was brought to a head by Edith’s sister Avis not appearing for tea. Percy Thompson made remarks about her family, which Edith resented. He struck her several times and threw her across the room. Hearing the noise, Bywaters came in to the room from the garden. He interfered and stopped the her husband. Later there was a discussion about her getting a separation.
Frampton then asked Edith Thompson several questions: Have you ever done anything to injure your husband? Have you ever been in possession of poison? Have you ever administered any poison? Have you ever given him ground glass? Have you ever given him pieces of a broken electric light bulb? Edith Thompson replied “Never” to all of these questions.
The Solicitor General then rose to cross-examine Edith Thompson. When challenged about statement in her letters, such as “the tea tasting bitter”, she claimed that she had invented the statement for Bywaters information. Asked what the point of that was, Edith Thompson replied “To make him think that I had done what he suggested.” The judge then asked “What, give your husband something?” Edith Thompson replied “Yes.”
The Solicitor General then asked Edith Thompson about the phrase “I am going to try glass.” Edith Thompson replied that she had no idea of trying that.
It was put to Edith Thompson that Bywaters was suggesting to her that she should poison or kill her husband. She denied that was the case, but then in reply to the question “What was his suggestion?”, she said that he would give me something. The judge reminded her that she had referred to “. . . putting something in his food.” Edith Thompson then replied
Something to make him ill, so that when he had a heart attack he would not be able to resist.The Times newspaper, 9 December 1922.
The judge then stated
You are suggesting now that it was Bywaters’s suggestion and you were humouring him and did not do it?The Times newspaper, 9 December 1922.
Edith Thompson said “Yes.”
The Solicitor General then asked Edith Thompson about another passage in her letters. He asked “Did she try to find the prescription (for the aromatic tincture of morphine) to prevent her husband taking an overdose?” She replied “Yes” She added that she anxious and worried about an overdose and had no intension of poisoning her husband. She said that she was acting to Bywaters that she wished to destroy her husband’s life.
The judge then said “Did I take you down rightly as saying ‘I wanted him to think I was willing to take my husband’s life?’ ?” Edith Thompson replied that she wanted Bywaters to think I was willing to do what he suggested.”
The Solicitor General then asked Edith Thompson about another phrase in her letters.
Whatever else I try it in again will still taste bitter. He will recognise it and be more suspicious still, and if the quantity is still not successful it will injure another chance I may have of trying when you come home.The Times newspaper, 11 December 1922.
Does that mean to try to poison your husband?
That is what I intended him to infer.The Times newspaper, 11 December 1922.
Whether that incident was an actual incident or not, what you were speaking of in that paragraph as something you were going to try had been discussed between you when you were together?
Edith Thompson replied “It had been.”
The Solicitor General then drew Edith Thompson’ attention to the extract “You said it was enough for an elephant . . . It sounded like a reproach. Was it meant for that?” and asked “Did he in his letter, to which that was an answer, again refer to this plan of poisoning your husband?”
Edith Thompson replied “He probably did.”
Continuing on this theme, the Solicitor General asked “Did he also tell you that you must be very careful in anything you did not to leave any finger-marks on the boxes?”
Edit Thompson confirmed that Bywaters did tell her that.
Edith Thompson’s sister Avis Graydon was then called to the stand. She testified that on Easter Monday 1922, she was in the garden with Percy and Edith Thompson. Percy was dismantling a grand piano case and cut a finger. He asked Avis to fetch some antiseptic from his medicine chest. When she went to the medicine chest, she saw a large bottle of tincture of opium in the chest. She came downstairs with the antiseptic and told Edith Thompson, who come in from the garden to the morning room, about the opium bottle. While Avis went in to the garden to attending to Percy’s finger, Edith Thompson went upstairs and got the bottle of opium and gave it to Avis, who poured the contents down the sink.
Cecil Whiteley then made his speech for Bywaters. He explained that to convict Bywaters of murder, the prosecution would need to show that he had formed the intent to kill Bywaters (the guilty mind or mens rea) and he did the deed (the guilty act or actus rea). It was put that Bywaters genuinely believed that he was going to be shot and so defended himself from Percy Thompson and therefore not guilty of murder. Bywaters saw that Edith Thompson would not leave her husband and the meeting on the night of 3 October 1922 was not premeditated between Edith Thompson and Bywaters. Whiteley said that
Edith Thompson was an emotional, hysterical woman, a woman with a vivid imagination, and one who for some years had been living very unhappily with her husband. She became infatuated with a young man eight years her junior.The Times newspaper, 11 December 1922.
Sir Henry Curtis Bennett then started his address on behalf of Edith Thompson. He stated that the letters were the outpouring of a hysterical, melodramatic lady. The prosecution thought the only way for them to prove the statements in the letters were true was to exhume Percy Thompson.
What did they find? They found no possible trace of any kind or type of poison. They found no trace of glass having been administered in that body.The Times newspaper, 11 December 1922.
Curtis Bennett complained that the prosecution was not generous enough to admit
We will let you have the whole benefit of that. There is no sort of corroboration that Edith Thompson gave poison or glass to her husband.The Times newspaper, 11 December 1922.
The real heart of Edith Thompson, according to Curtis Bennett, borne out of her letters, was that “she was a woman who would go on telling any lies so long as she could keep her lover Bywaters.”
The judge offered the following advice to the jury.
The only other thing was, having regard to the surroundings for so many days, by all means to look at the atmosphere and try to understand what the letters meant; but they should not forget that they were in a Court of Justice trying a vulgar and common crime. They were not listening to a play from the stalls of a theatre. When they were thinking it over they should think it over in that way.The Times newspaper, 11 December 1922.
THE VERDICT and SENTENCE
After a trial lasting five days, the jury of 11 men and 1 woman deliberated for 2 hours and 35 minutes. They found Frederick Bywaters and Edith Thompson guilty of murder.
When the judge asked Bywaters if he knew of any reason why he shouldn’t be sentenced to death, Bywaters shouted “The jury is wrong. That woman is not guilty!”
When the judge asked Edith Thompson if she knew of any reason why she shouldn’t be sentenced to death, she just groaned and became hysterical. As the death sentence was pronounced Edith Thompson exclaimed “My God, I am not guilty! My God, I am not guilty!” She then had to be helped from the dock by two wardresses.
Both prisoners were then taken from the dock; Bywaters to Pentonville Prison and Edith Thompson to Holloway Prison, to await their executions.
In The Times newspaper 15 December 1922, appeared the following advertisement.
MADAME TUSSAUD’S EXHIBITION
BAKER STREET STATION.
The Ilford Tragedy.
Lifelike Portrait Models of
EDITH THOMPSON and
Admission 1s (tax 3d). Extra Rooms 6d (tax 2d).The Times newspaper, 15 December 1922.
The appeals by Edith Thompson and Frederick Bywaters were heard at the Court of Criminal Appeal on 21 December 1922, before the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Darling and Mr. Justice Salter. Edith Thompson was not present in the court. Bywaters sat in the dock with three warders.
Bywaters’s grounds of appeal were
- The trial judge was wrong not to grant a motion for Bywaters and Edith Thompson to be tried separately.
- Bywaters was the only witness called on his behalf and no document introduced by the defence. Therefore his counsel had the right to address the jury last.
- The prosecution had no right to address the jury again after Bywaters’s counsel.
- The trial judge was wrong to admit letters written by Edith Thompson to Bywaters between 12 August 1921 and 2 October 1922.
- The trial judge misdirected the jury that there was evidence of a conspiracy between Bywaters and Edith Thompson to murder her husband up to 3 October 1922.
- The trial judge was wrong to direct the jury that these letters showed Bywaters coming to the scene where Edith Thompson saw her husband murdered.
- The trial judge was wrong not to draw the jury’s attention to the evidence of Dr. Webber and Bernard Spilsbury.
- The Trial judge concentrated upon phrases in the letters favourable to the prosecution and didn’t mention phrases favourable to the defence.
- The verdict of the jury was against the weight of evidence.
Edith Thompson’s grounds of appeal were
- Edith Thompson was not guilty of the charged offence.
- That there was no evidence to support the jury’s verdict.
- The jury’s verdict was against the weight of evidence.
- The only proper verdict, based on the evidence, was “Not Guilty”.
- The trial judge was wrong not to grant a motion for Bywaters and Edith Thompson to be tried separately.
- The trial judge was wrong to admit letters written by Edith Thompson to Bywaters between 12 August 1921 and 2 October 1922.
- The trial judge misdirected the jury regarding the presence of a conspiracy between Bywaters and Edith Thompson to murder her husband.
The Lord Chief Justice gave the judgement of the court, that the trial judge was correct in his discretion regarding his ruling on separate trials and that the judgement to admit the letters was correct. He went on to say that the trial judge’s summing-up started with him putting the following clear and simple question to the jury
When two persons by arrangement with each other had murdered Percy Thompson and the jury were satisfied that it was by arrangement then Edith Thompson was guilty. If it was not done by arrangement, then Edith Thompson would be not guilty of murder.
The Lord Chief Justice said that
The case was clearly put to the jury. There was ample evidence, partly direct, partly evidence from which inference might properly be drawn, and on that evidence, in a case which exhibited, from the beginning to the end, no redeeming feature, the jury had convicted Edith Thompson.The Times newspaper, 22 December 1922.
The appeals of Frederick Bywaters and Edith Thompson were dismissed.
CAMPAIGNS FOR A REPRIEVE
Petitions asking the Home Secretary to recommend a reprieve for Frederick Bywaters was started.
Among the letters received at the office of Barrington Matthews, who was organising the petition for Bywaters, was letter from a married woman who wrote
I think Fred Bywaters is too much of a boy to know how serious his action was. Some women do not know what harm they do by playing fast and loose with men.The Daily Mirror newspaper, 16 December 1922.
The Daily Mirror newspaper, 23 December 1922, reported that Bywaters’s petition had collected over 673,000 signatures and expected to grow to one million. Bywaters’s mother sent in a petitions yesterday (22 December 1922) with 1,460 signatures.
The same newspaper also contained the following statement from the Home Secretary (Mr. W. C. Bridgeman).
The Secretary of State, after careful consideration of all the circumstances, is unable to advise interference with the due course of the law in the cases of Frederick Edward Francis Bywaters and Edith Jessie Thompson, who were convicted of the murder of Percy Thompson.The Daily Mirror newspaper, 6 January 1923.
The executions would take place at 9am, at prisons about 0.5 miles apart: Bywaters at Pentonville and Edith Thompson at Holloway prisons.
Edith Thompson’s execution would be the first execution of a woman since Rhoda Willis, baby farmer and murderess, who was hanged at Cardiff Prison in August 1907.
THE EXECUTION OF FREDERICK BYWATERS
Bywaters passed a fairly good night and awoke at an early hour. He had a little breakfast and afterwards smoked a cigarette. Shortly before the execution, Bywaters sent a message to Pentonville’s Governor and officials, thanking them for all they had done for him during this time in the prison.
At a few minutes before 9am, the executioner William Willis and his assistant Thomas Pierrepoint escorted the firmly walking Bywaters to the scaffold, where he received a drop of 7 feet 4 inches.
The official notices of execution were posted on the prison gate at 9.45am.
Later that afternoon, the inquest on Bywaters was held at the prison by Mr. Walter Schroder, Coroner for Central London. Police Inspector Hall gave formal evidence of identification. Major Blake, Pentonville’s Governor, stated that the execution was properly carried out and Bywaters was dead within 30 seconds of leaving the condemned cell. The post-mortem confirmed that Bywaters’s injuries were a consequence of judicial execution.
Bywaters was then buried within Pentonville prison’s graveyard.
THE EXECUTION OF EDITH THOMPSON
The Graydons make their last visit to Holloway Prison. Unlike other visits, Edith Thompson was not waiting for them at the table. Two wardresses were helping her to put on her stockings and a dressing gown. Edith Thompson is under the care of Dr. Dora Walker, the Assistant Medial Officer, and Dr. J. H. Morton, the Governor and Principal Medical Officer. They have been giving her morphine injections to help her remain calm and get some kind of sleep. She spends her last night alternating between sleep and hysterically crying out for “Freddy”.
Upon being informed that her solicitor’s second appeal to the Home Secretary had failed and that she will be executed the next day, Edith Thompson broke down at Holloway. She suffered dramatic mood swings, one moment thinking of her present situation and then letting herself sink into a drug-induced stupor.
Edith Thompson woke up at 5.15am, when she drank a cup of tea and had a cigarette. She started crying and has to be comforted by the two wardresses, who also help her to dress in the mourning costume that she wore at her trial.
At 8am, two male prison warders, from nearby Pentonville Prison, arrived at Holloway Prison. As with all female executions, the woman is escorted from the condemned cell to the scaffold by male warders not the wardresses who have been monitoring the prisoner.
At 8.15am, Dr. Morton called on Edith Thompson and injected her with 1/32 grain of strychnine. At 8.40am, she was injected with 1/100 grain of scopalmine-morphine and 1/6 grain of morphia. Edith Thompson quickly became dazed and barely conscious.
Outside Holloway Prison, a crowd had begun to gather from 7.30am on 9 January 1923. Carrying a placard “Murder can’t be abolished by murder”, a woman paraded in front of the prison.
A solitary mounted policeman was on duty in the road outside the prison and a small force of police guarded the main entrance to the prison. By 8.15am, despite the falling rain, about 50 people had gathered outside the prison. As the time of the execution (9am) approached the police was augmented and the crowd had grown to several hundreds.
The Under-Sheriff of Essex (Mr. Hamilton Gepp) arrived at the prison soon after 8am, and a little later was joined by the prison chaplain.
At 8.59am, the executioner Ellis and his assistant entered the cell and pinioned her arms, dress and legs with straps. She is carried by the two male warders to the scaffold, where they hold her up for the hood and rope to be applied. Ellis then pulls the lever and Edith Thompson receives a drop of 6 feet 10 inches.
At 9.33am the official notice of execution was posted outside the prison.
The Graydons returned to Holloway Prison for the inquest; the coroner is Dr. F. J. Waldo. Edith Thompson’s father confirms the identify of Edith Thompson’s body. The post-mortem confirmed that Edith Thompson had died as a consequence of judicial execution. Her body is then buried within Holloway Prison’s graveyard.
EVENTS AT EDITH THOMPSON’S EXECUTION
There were reports of haemorrhages from Edith Thompson caused by the force of the drop breaking her neck.
One claim is that Edith Thompson had a miscarriage. She had been in custody for three months and had gained weight. If she had indeed been pregnant, then she would have had every incentive to inform the prison authorities of her pregnancy, as her death sentence would have been commuted.
At a time when abortion was illegal, Edith Thompson’s aborted her pregnancies, with Bywaters, ending in a miscarriage. Rene Weis’s excellent book also mentioned that Edith Thompson used abortifacients. This use of drugs also accounts for Percy Thompson complaining of his tea tasting bitter; she had put the abortifacient into the wrong food portion. This would also account for the Bywaters bringing large amounts of quinine back from his travels; a drug that in sufficient quantities could act as an abortifacient and also taste very bitter.
I believe that the do-it-yourself abortions had damaged her body, when combined with the force of the hanging drop, caused the haemorrhages.
THE GRAVES OF PERCY and EDITH THOMPSON and BYWATERS
Percy Thompson is buried in the City of London Cemetery, square 197, grave 92743.
Frederick Bywaters is buried in the unconsecrated graveyard inside Pentonville Prison.
Edith Thompson was buried in the graveyard inside Holloway Prison. In March 1971, building work at the prison caused the graves of the five executed women to be exhumed.
The five executed women were
- Amelia Sach (3 February 1903)
- Annie Walters (3 February 1903)
- Edith Thompson (9 January 1923)
- Styllou Christofi (13 December 1954)
- Ruth Ellis (13 July 1955)
The remains of Ruth Ellis were returned to her relatives. The other ladies, including Edith Thompson, were buried at Brookwood Cemetery in a communal grave. The Home Office failed to inform Avis Graydon, Edith’s sister, that she could have claimed her sister’s remains.
In July 2018, an exhumation order was granted and Edith Thompson’s remains were exhumed from Brookwood Cemetery. On 20 November 2018, Edith Thompson was buried alongside her parents in the City of London Cemetery.