Thursday, June 30, 2011

July 26, 1865 --- The Rode Murder

The Queen is "pleased" to respite the death sentence imposed on 21 year old Constance Kent, sentencing her instead to life in prison. Thus, the sensational five-year old mystery of "Rode Hill House" is finally brought to a close.

In a Devizes courtroom, Constance had come forward a few days earlier to answer "Guilty" in a clam, barely audible voice, to the charge of killing her half-brother. Constance is the daughter of Samuel Kent, a rather loutish factory inspector who first seduced and - upon the death of his wife - then married Constance's governess. Settling in the Somerset village of Rode, Kent and his new wife soon had a son of their own. Constance was never happy in Rode Hill House and ran away at least once.

Late one night in June, 1860, 4-year old Francis was found slain in the privy; his throat horribly slashed. While baffled magistrates could only blame "person or persons unknown," many villagers suspected the unpopular Mr. Kent. Enter finally Scotland Yard's first "super-sleuth" Inspector Whilcher. He shocked everyone by quickly arresting Constance, his theory was that she killed the boy out of jealousy.  The police searched everywhere for Constance's missing nightdress (with telltale bloodstains?).  Constance explained that the garment must have been "lost in the wash." The dress was never found and the grand jury refused to indict. Whilcher became so obsessed with the case he was forced to resign.

The Kents moved to Wales but without Constance who entered a convent. The case languished until a Brighton curate came forward with Constance in tow to confess. In her written statement, Constance recalled how she "thought the blood would never come" as she drew the razor across the neck of the sleeping child. Admitting her guilt, she sat silently (The Daily Telegraph remarked on her "expression of dull stupidness") as she was sentenced to hang. The respite is not generally accepted; The Saturday Review  rejected any hint of insanity: "She was not mad; only pre-eminently wicked, crafty, unfeeling, treacherous, vile, deceitful and hard-hearted beyond almost all human experience."

However, the mystery being finally solved, few wanted the gallows for such a young woman. She was to spend the next twenty years in various of Her Majesty's prisons. Released from Portland Prison in 1885, she vanished, leaving behind several "much admired" mosaics in the chapel.

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