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Constance Emily KENT





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (16) - Her motive had apparently been to exact revenge against the second Mrs Kent for her treatment of Constance's mother
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 30, 1860
Date of arrest: July 16, 1860
Date of birth: February 6, 1844
Victim profile: Francis "Saville" Kent, 4 (her half-brother)
Method of murder: Cutting his throat with a razor
Location: Rode, Whiltshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to death on July 19, 1865. Commuted to life in prison owing to her youth at the time and her confession on July 25, 1865. She served twenty years and was released on July 18, 1885, at the age of 41. Died at the age of 100, on April 10, 1944
photo gallery

Constance Emily Kent (6 February 1844 – 10 April 1944) was an English woman who confessed to a notorious child murder that took place when she was sixteen years old. The Constance Kent case in 1865 raised a series of questions about priest–penitent privilege in England. In later life Kent changed her name to Ruth Emilie Kaye.

She was born in Sidmouth in Devon in 1844, the daughter of Mary Ann Kent (1808-1852) and Samuel Saville Kent (1801-1872), an Inspector of Factories for the Home Office.


Sometime during the night of 29 June and the morning of 30 June 1860, Francis "Saville" Kent (almost four) disappeared from his home, Road Hill House, in the village of Rode (spelled "Road" at the time), then in Wiltshire. His body was found in the vault of an outhouse (a privy) on the property. The child, still dressed in his nightshirt and wrapped in a blanket, had knife wounds on his chest and hands, and his throat was slashed so deeply that the body was almost decapitated. Although the boy's nursemaid was initially arrested, she was soon released and the suspicions of Detective Inspector Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard moved to the boy's sixteen-year-old half-sister, Constance. She was arrested on 16 July, but released without trial. The family moved to Wrexham, in the north of Wales, and sent Constance to a finishing school in Dinan, France.


Constance Kent was prosecuted for the murder five years later, in 1865. She made a statement confessing her guilt to an Anglo-Catholic clergyman, the Rev. Arthur Wagner, and she expressed to him her resolution to give herself up to justice. He assisted her in carrying out this resolution, and he gave evidence of this statement before the magistrates. But he prefaced his evidence by a declaration that he must withhold any further information on the ground that it had been received under the seal of "sacramental confession". He was but lightly pressed by the magistrates, the fact of the matter being that the prisoner was not defending the charge.

The substance of the confession was that she had waited until the family and servants were asleep, had gone down to the drawing-room and opened the shutters and window, had then taken the child from his room wrapped in a blanket that she had taken from between sheet and counterpane in his cot (leaving both these undisturbed or readjusted), left the house and killed him in the privy with a razor stolen from her father. Her movements before the killing had been conducted with the child in her arms. It had been necessary to hide matches in the privy beforehand for a light to see by during the act of murder. The murder was not a spontaneous act, it seems, but one of revenge - and it was even suggested that Constance had, at certain times, been mentally unbalanced.

There was much speculation at the time that Constance Kent's confession was false. Many supposed that her father Samuel Savill (or Saville) Kent, a known adulterer, was having an affair with the toddler's nursemaid, and in a fit of rage, murdered the child after coitus interruptus. It fitted a pattern with the senior Kent, who had romanced the family nanny Mary Drewe Pratt while his first wife Mary Ann Kent née Windus (Constance's mother) was dying, and subsequently married Mary Drewe Pratt (who was Francis' mother). Many were suspicious of Mr. Kent from the start, including the novelist Charles Dickens.

In her 2008 book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, however, author Kate Summerscale comes to the conclusion that if Constance Kent's confession was indeed false and merely an act to shield another person, it was not for the benefit of her father but for the benefit of her brother, William Saville-Kent, with whom she shared a very close brother-sister relationship which was even deepened by the circumstances that her father Samuel Savill Kent turned his paternal attentions away from the children from his first marriage to Mary Ann Windus to the children he had with his second wife Mary Drewe Pratt. William Saville-Kent was indeed suspected during the investigations, but never charged. Summerscale states that if Saville-Kent wasn't the culprit solely responsible for Francis Saville Kent's death, he was at least an accomplice to Constance Kent.

Constance Kent never recanted her confession, neither after her father's nor her brother's death. She also kept her silence about the motive for the murder. In all of her statements she emphasized and insisted that she bore no hatred nor jealousy towards her murdered half-brother. As a result of her research, Summerscale comes to the conclusion that the murder of Francis Saville Kent was –- no matter whether it was committed by Constance Kent or William Saville-Kent either alone or by both of them – an act of revenge to Samuel Saville Kent for turning his attention to the children of his second marriage, of whom Francis Saville Kent was his reported favourite.

Press excitement

At the Assizes, Constance Kent pleaded guilty and her plea was accepted so that Wagner was not again called. The position which Mr Wagner assumed before the magistrates caused much public debate in the press. There was considerable expression of public indignation that it should have been suggested that Mr Wagner could have any right as against the state to withhold evidence on the ground that he had put forward. The indignation seems to have been largely directed against the assumption that sacramental confession was known to the Church of England.

Parliamentary comment

Questions were asked in both Houses of Parliament. In the House of Lords, Richard Bethell, 1st Baron Westbury, Lord Chancellor, in reply to George Thomas John Nugent, 1st Marquess of Westmeath, stated that:

...there can be no doubt that in a suit or criminal proceeding a clergyman of the Church of England is not privileged so as to decline to answer a question which is put to him for the purposes of justice, on the ground that his answer would reveal something that he had known in confession. He is compelled to answer such a question, and the law of England does not even extend the privilege of refusing to answer to Roman Catholic clergymen in dealing with a person of their own persuasion.

He stated that it appeared that an order for committal for contempt of court had in fact been made against Mr Wagner. If that is so, it was not enforced.

On the same occasion Lord Chelmsford, a previous Lord Chancellor, stated that the law was clear that Mr Wagner had no privilege at all to withhold facts which came under his knowledge in confession. Lord Westmeath said that there had been two recent cases, one being the case of a priest in Scotland, who, on refusing to give evidence, had been committed to prison. As to this case Lord Westmeath stated that, upon an application for the priest's release being made to the Home Secretary, Sir George Grey, the latter had replied that if he were to remit the sentence without an admission of error on the part of the Catholic priest and without an assurance on his part that he would not again in a similar case adopt the same course, he (the Home Secretary) would be giving a sanction to the assumption of a privilege by ministers of every denomination which, he was advised, they could not claim. The second case was R v Hay.

Lord Westbury's statement in the House of Lords drew a protest from Henry Phillpotts, the then Bishop of Exeter, who wrote him a letter strongly maintaining the privilege which had been claimed by Mr Wagner. The bishop argued that the canon law on the subject had been accepted without gainsaying or opposition from any temporal court, that it had been confirmed by the Book of Common Prayer in the service for the visitation of the sick, and, thus, sanctioned by the Act of Uniformity. Phillpotts was supported by Edward Lowth Badeley who wrote a pamphlet on the question of priest–penitent privilege. From the bishop's reply to Lord Westbury's answer to his letter it is apparent that Lord Westbury had expressed the opinion that the 113th canon of 1603 simply meant that the "clergyman must not ex mero motu and voluntarily and without legal obligation reveal what is communicated to him in confession". He appears, also, to have expressed an opinion that the public was not at the time in a temper to bear any alteration of the rule compelling the disclosure of such evidence.


Constance Kent was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to life in prison owing to her youth at the time and her confession. She served twenty years in a number of gaols including Millbank Prison and was released in 1885, at the age of 41. During her time in prison, she produced mosaics for a number of churches, including work for the crypt of St. Paul's cathedral. In Noeline Kyle's book A Greater Guilt she discusses the work Constance Kent was engaged in while incarcerated, and what Kyle describes as the myth of the mosaics.

Later life

Kent emigrated to Australia early in 1886 and joined her brother William in Tasmania, where he worked as a government adviser on fisheries. She changed her name to Ruth Emilie Kaye and trained as a nurse at the Alfred Hospital, Prahran, Melbourne, before being appointed sister-in-charge of the Female Lazaret at the Coast Hospital, Little Bay, in Sydney. She worked for a decade at the Parramatta Industrial School for Girls from 1898 to 1909, was domiciled in the New South Wales country town of Mittagong for a year, and was then made matron of the Pierce Memorial Nurses' Home at East Maitland, serving there from 1911 until she retired in 1932, Constance Kent died in a private hospital in the Sydney suburb of Strathfield at the age of 100, on 10 April 1944. The Sydney Morning Herald (on 11 April 1944) reported that she was cremated at nearby Rookwood Cemetery.


  • 1862: Elements of the case were used by Mary Elizabeth Braddon in Lady Audley's Secret (1862).

  • 1868: Elements of the case were used by Wilkie Collins in The Moonstone (1868).

  • 1870: Charles Dickens based the flight of Helena Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) on Kent's early life.

  • 1945: The film Dead of Night, UK Ealing 1945, included in its five separate stories a section called "Christmas Party" with Sally Ann Howes. This story is loosely based on the Constance Kent case; "Christmas Party" was an original screenplay based on an original story by the screenplay author Angus MacPhail. While playing hide and go seek in an old house, Howes hears a child sobbing and comes into a bedroom where she meets a little boy named Francis Kent whose sister Constance is mean to him. Howes comforts the child, and then leaves him when he is asleep. Then she finds the others from the party and learns that Francis was killed by Constance over eighty years before.

  • 1980: The case was dramatised for television by the BBC over eight episodes, starring Prue Clarke as Constance Kent, and Joss Ackland as Samuel Kent, as one of three cases that made up the series A Question of Guilt (1980) about female murderers;

  • 1980: The Constance Kent case plays a central role in William Trevor's novel Other People's Worlds (1980)

  • 1983: Francis King's 1983 novel Act of Darkness is a fictional re-imagining of the Constance Kent case, transferring the setting to 1930's India.

  • 1989: James Friel's novel Taking the Veil (1989) is inspired by Kent's life.

  • 1991: Sharyn McCrumb's 1991 novel Missing Susan refers to this case.

  • 2008: Kate Summerscale's book The Suspicions of Mr Whicher about this case was read as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week from 7 to 11 April 2008. It won Britain's Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction in 2008.

  • 2010: An episode of the Investigation Discovery channel series Deadly Women, "A Daughter's Revenge", features a segment on Constance Kent.

  • 2011: The case featured as a drama on ITV under the title The Suspicions of Mr Whicher on 25 April 2011.


Constance Kent and the Road Hill House Murder

Jonathan Whicher was one of the original members of the Detective Branch which had been established at Scotland Yard in 1842. In 1860 he was called in to assist the investigation into the horrific murder of 4-year-old (Francis) Savile Kent. The child had been taken from the nursemaid's bedroom at night and was found, with his throat cut, in an outside privy in the garden of his family's house the next morning. The murder brought notoriety to the small village of Road (sometimes spelled Rode) in Wiltshire.

When the nursemaid, Elizabeth Gough, reported the child missing at 7:15am to Mrs Kent, a search commenced for the child, who was found dead in an outside privy with his throat cut and a stab wound to the chest. There was no sign of blood in the house, but the drawing room window had been found open despite the servants having closed it the night before.

The local magistrates soon became impatient for results from the local police Superintendent Foley's investigation, which was largely directed towards the nursemaid Elizabeth Gough who had had responsibility for the child. They asked the Home Office for assistance from Scotland Yard without the agreement of the local Chief Constable, and it was after a second request from them that Detective Inspector Jonathan Whicher, then the most senior and well known of the detectives at Scotland Yard, was sent.

Whicher concentrated on a missing night dress, possibly blood stained, belonging to Constance, and there was also circumstantial evidence against her. The magistrates directed Constance's arrest and gave Whicher seven days to prepare a case. Mr Kent provided a barrister for his daughter who dominated proceedings. Constance was released on bail and the case was later dropped. The reaction in the newspapers was sympathetic to Constance, Whicher was heavily criticised, notwithstanding the difficulties he had faced, and his reputation never recovered. The nightdress was never found and Whicher returned to London.

Five years later, in April 1865, after a period abroad and in a religious institution in Brighton, Constance attended Bow Street magistrates court and confessed to the murder. Her motive had apparently been to exact revenge against the second Mrs Kent for her treatment of Constance's mother. Constance was subsequently sentenced to death, but this was commuted to 20 years' penal servitude.

The confession from Constance came too late to save the career of Jonathan Whicher who had been pensioned before Constance's appearance at Bow Street confirmed his original suspicion. It is a classic illustration of how early investigations were directed heavily by magistrates, of the influence which well-to-do people could exert over local police officers, and of the importance of immediately searching and questioning the whole household at the scene of a crime, regardless of social status.

Metropolitan Police - London


Kent, Constance Emilie

Samuel Savile Kent was the deputy inspector of two clothing factories and he lived with his family in a large, three-storey mansion, called Road Hill House, in the village of Road, near Trowbridge in Somerset. They had a large family with his first wife giving him ten children of whom only four survived, before she died in 1852. Because Samuels wife had been ill for a long time the young family had been looked after for several years by a governess, Miss Pratt, a voluptuous and attractive woman.

Once his wife was dead Samuel soon married Miss Pratt. By 1860 his second wife had managed to produce three more offspring and had another on the way. One of these was three-year-old Francis Savile, a precocious favourite of his father. Because of his wife's pregnancy Samuel felt it was once more necessary to employ a nurse, Elizabeth Gough, to look after the smaller members of the family.

Mr and Mrs Kent slept in a second-floor room with a small daughter in a crib. Across the landing was the nursery occupied by Francis, a one-year-old daughter and Elizabeth Gough. Also on the same floor were 16-year-old Constance and 15-year-old William, in separate rooms. Rooms on the top floor were occupied by the housemaid and the cook.

Miss Gough awoke at about 5am on June 30th 1860. She looked in to check on the baby and then into the cot where Francis slept. He was not there. Miss Gough was not unduly alarmed as Mrs Kent often came and collected her son during the night, so she went back to bed. An hour later she got up, dressed and went to the Kent's room to enquire of her mistress if she should take Francis. But Mrs Kent hadn't been in to fetch the child. A frantic search ensued. There was no sign of the child in the house but a window was found open in the drawing room. Samuel Kent, fearing that his son had been kidnapped, hurriedly dressed and rode off to the police station in Trowbridge.

Soon the alarm was raised in the village all of the villagers gathered and started to conduct a search for the missing child. Two of the villagers found a disused servant's outhouse and, on looking inside, found the child's body. There was a deep wound in his side and his throat had been slashed so severely that the head was almost severed. By the time that the body had been recovered back to the house Samuel Kent had returned from Trowbridge with the police.

An inquest returned a verdict of murder by some person, or persons, unknown. The police inspector now decided that he had a suspect and arrested Elizabeth Gough but soon had to release her through lack of evidence. On 15th July Scotland Yard stepped in and sent Inspector Jonathon Whicher to investigate. Whicher was hindered more than helped by the local force. While carrying out his investigation he found out that the household had an unusually large turnover of servants. He decided to interview them all in order to get a bit of background on the household. He learnt from them that the two older children did not receive the same favour from their parents as their younger siblings.

This especially applied to Constance, who it had to be said bore a great deal of resentment. After interviewing Constance he became more and more convinced that she had more to do with the death than she was saying. The problem was finding enough hard evidence to prove it.

Whicher re-interviewed the servants and found out from the maid that, on the Monday following the murder, Constance had approached her while she was preparing the laundry to go to the local washerwoman. Constance had asked for her night-gown, telling the girl that she may have left her purse in the pocket. Once they had established that the gown was in the laundry Constance asked the maid to fetch her a glass of water. By the time that the maid had returned the night-gown had gone. Whicher surmised that Constance had distracted the maid's attention so that she could remove the gown to her room, having once established its presence in the laundry. If the gown had gone missing while it was away being washed, then it wasn't her fault, she could account for all her gowns. This would cover up the fact that, in reality, she was missing a gown, a bloodstained one.

It was not a lot of evidence to go on but Whicher had decided that it would have to be enough. He arrestedd her on the 20 July. If he was expecting her to be overawed and break down under questioning he was to be disapointed. She may have only been a young girl but Constance was made of sterner stuff and maintained her denial of any involvement in the killing.

When the case came before the magistrates on 27 July the evidence was so thin that many in the audience openly laughed at it. Whicher was reviled by many and Constance was released on bail. Although she had not been acquitted it was obvious that the charge would not stand up against her.

Whicher returned to London and, shortly after, retired on the grounds of 'ill health'. Nurse Gough, who had moved to a neighbouring town and taken a job as a seamstress, was again arrested and brought before the magistrates. Again, there was no evidence and she was released. Because of the attention that his family had been receiving, Samuel Kent moved his family to Wales and Constance was sent to a convent in France in early 1861.

In August 1863 Constance returned to England and went to St Mary's Home in Brighton. This was a religious retreat where she was a paying guest. It would seem that Constance was not all bad and perhaps being unable to put up with something like murder on her concious she decided she could go on with the deception no longer. On 25 April 1864 Constance, accompanied by Reverend Wagner, the director of the home, walked into the magistrate's office on Bow Street and confessed to the murder to Sir Thomas Henry, the Chief Magistrate.

She was brought to trial on July 21 1865 at Salisbury Assizes and pleaded guilty. No witnesses were called and she was sentenced to death. Because of her age at the time of the crime her sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. She was released from Millbank Prison in 1885, after serving twenty years, and died in 1944.


The first whodunnit: How the murder of a three-year-old boy gave us the fictional detectives we know today

By Geoffrey Wansell -

July 17, 2008

It was the case that took the Victorian world by storm, and inspired Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, among others, to pen murder mysteries. Now a new book exploring the mysterious case has won a top literary prize and is set for a TV adaption.

The sun's rays were just appearing over the horizon in the early hours of a Victorian summer's morning. In an elegant Georgian house in the hamlet of Road in Wiltshire, all was quiet. The prosperous Kent family - nine family members, and three servants - were all asleep in their beds. Or so it seemed.

An hour after midnight the family's Newfoundland dog - notorious for reacting to the slightest provocation - had barked loudly, but no one paid the slightest attention. The inhabitants of Road Hill House slept on soundly.

It wasn't until just after 5am that Saturday that Elizabeth Gough - the family's 22-year-old nursemaid, who looked after the three smallest children of factory inspector Samuel Kent - woke up, and noticed that one of her charges, three-year-old Saville Kent wasn't in his cot on the other side of her room.

'The impression of the child was still there, as if he had been softly taken out,' she remembered later. For two hours Gough was convinced that the boy had been removed by his mother Mary, Samuel Kent's second wife.

But the child had not found his way to his mother's bed - far from it. He had disappeared. By 8am, a full scale search of the grounds had begun, with a reward of £10 (worth about £650 today) being offered by Samuel Kent to anyone who found his youngest son.

Less than an hour after the search had begun two local men, William Nutt, a shoemaker, and Thomas Benger, a farmer, opened the door of a servants' privy set among dense shrubbery to the left of the house's great gravel drive. The two men peered inside, and saw a pool of blood on the floor.

Lifting the lid of the privy, and peering into the darkness, Benger saw what looked like a blanket. When he reached down to pick it up, he found it was soaked in blood.

About two feet beneath the privy's seat - on the wooden 'splashboard' that partly blocked the descent into the pit beneath - lay the body of Saville Kent.

As Benger lifted the boy's body out of the privy, his head tipped back to expose the clean cut across his neck. 'His little head fell off, almost,' Nutt said later. Benger said: 'His throat was cut, and blood splashed over his face... he was a little dark about the mouth and eyes, but he looked quite pleasant, and his little eyes were shut.'

So began one of the most dramatic murder cases in British history, a crime that inspired the murder mysteries of the Victorian authors Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle - and which has just been brought memorably back to life in the book, The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher, by Kate Summerscale - which was awarded the £30,000 BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize on Tuesday. It is also set to be turned into a major television drama for ITV.

Just as the disappearance of little Madeleine McCann today produced a massive reaction among the public, so the gruesome murder of Saville Kent provoked national hysteria in Victorian England - not least because of intense public speculation and rumour about life behind the closed doors of that most respectable of houses in the gentle Wiltshire countryside.
Within a matter of days of the discovery of the small boy's body, rumours of madness and adultery among the Kents began to circulate.

The murder investigation was first led by the local superintendent, John Foley, aged 64. He suspected the nursemaid Elizabeth Gough had killed the boy, believing it to be impossible that Saville had been abducted without her knowledge.

Foley's theory was this: that Saville Kent had woken up and seen a man with Gough in her bed on the other side of the room. To silence the boy, the lovers had suffocated him. The police already knew the little boy was a ' telltale' - because Gough herself had told them that he 'goes into his mamma's room and tells everything'.

The Wiltshire police were convinced that the lovers then mutilated the body to disguise the cause of death - and even suggested Gough's lover that night was the master of the house, Samuel Kent.

And so, on the evening of Tuesday, July 10, 1860, the local magistrates agreed with the police's theory and directed them to arrest Elizabeth Gough. Rumours quickly spread that she had confessed, naming Samuel Kent as the murderer and her as his accomplice - but in reality she had done no such thing.

That very morning, the influential national newspaper, the Morning Post, had ridiculed the Wiltshire police's efforts to find Saville Kent's killer, and called for 'the most experienced of detectives' to take over the case.

In an editorial, the Morning Post insisted: 'A crime has just been committed which for mystery, complication of probabilities, and hideous wickedness, is without parallel in our criminal records... the security of families, and the sacredness of English households demand that this matter should never be allowed to rest till the last shadow in its dark mystery shall have been chased away by the light of unquestionable truth.'

The Times reprinted the same editorial the following day.

On July 14, the Wiltshire magistrates succumbed to public pressure and wrote to the Home Secretary to ask that a detective be sent to Road Hill House to investigate the case.
And so, 45-year-old Detective Inspector Jack Whicher was dispatched to investigate.

Called 'the prince of detectives' by his colleagues, Whicher was 'a stout, scuffed man with a delicate manner' to use Summerscale's words. He was also 'shorter and thicker set' than his fellow officers, according to Charles Dickens. He had been one of the eight founding members of Scotland Yard's detective force 18 years before.

Dickens also described Whicher as possessing 'a reserved and thoughtful air, as if he were engaged in deep arithmetical calculations'.

Whicher was 5ft 8in, with brown hair, a pale skin pitted with smallpox scars and startling blue eyes. He was to become the prototype of every reserved, analytical fictional detective from that day to this - from Sergeant Cuff in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone to David Jason's unmistakable Inspector Frost.

Whicher's takeover of the case took place just as the rumour mill surrounding the Kent family grew ever more fevered and salacious. It transpired that Samuel Kent's first wife, Mary Ann, was insane. She'd had no fewer than ten children, growing increasingly mad as the pregnancies mounted.

Indeed, four or five of her children died within a year of their birth.

Samuel Kent was understandably concerned about the care for his children - and so, at the birth of his ninth child, a daughter called Constance in 1844, Kent had hired a governess. She was Mary Drewe Pratt, a short, attractive, self-assured young woman.

Barely four years later, in 1848, one of Samuel Kent's bosses urged him to move house to escape the increasing gossip about his living arrangements. The man with a deranged wife and an increasingly favoured governess is a triangle that has astonishing parallels with Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre, published the year before.

The Kent family moved twice in the next four years, and on May 5, 1852, the first Mrs Kent died at the age of just 44, from 'an obstruction of the bowel'.

Fifteen months later, Kent married the governess, who bore him three further children - among them, the unfortunate Saville. Mary was eight months pregnant with a fourth child when Saville was murdered. This was the background Inspector Whicher painstakingly pieced together as he took charge of the murder case. As he did so, further dark secrets about the Kents began to emerge.

A witness came forward, insisting that while the first Mrs Kent was still alive, Samuel Kent had taken the family governess, Miss Pratt, as his lover. Some of the villagers described Kent as an arrogant, bad-tempered man, who was either rude or lascivious to his servants. Indeed, more than 100 staff had passed through his house.

Nevertheless, Whicher dismissed Samuel Kent as a suspect. He also dismissed William Nutt, one of the two men that discovered Saville's body, whom some locals had claimed was the nursemaid Elizabeth Gough's lover. Whicher was also convinced of her innocence.

To the surprise and consternation of the local population, Whicher suspected Samuel Kent's 16-year-old daughter Constance. He asked magistrates to remand her in custody for a week while he continued his investigation.

In a five-page letter to the Commissioner at Scotland Yard, Whicher explained the reasons for his suspicions - citing Constance's physical strength, the fact that she slept alone in her own room, and that she had used the privy as a hiding place before.

Constance was certainly strong enough - both physically and psychologically - to have killed her stepbrother, as 'she appears to possess a very strong mind', Whicher concluded.

But to the detective's despair, the Wiltshire magistrates disagreed, and Constance Kent was released from custody and returned to Road Hill House.

Three years later, she moved to Brighton, where she asked for admission to St Mary's home, a house for 'religious ladies', where she was to remain for the next two years. Could this have been a sign of her sense of guilt?

Just four years later - in 1864 - Inspector Whicher retired from the Metropolitan Police, apparently without catching the killer of Saville Kent, although he did tell a friend 'we will only know the truth when Constance Kent confesses'.

And there lies the final sting in this tale of brutal murder and family secrets. On Tuesday, April 25, 1865, Constance Kent - by then aged 21 - walked into London's Bow Street Magistrates' court, accompanied by a priest and confessed to the killing of her stepbrother.

She insisted that she'd acted 'quite alone' and 'not out of jealousy', although she later explained to a friend that she had done it out of hatred for her step-mother, who had usurped her own mother, Mary Ann, in the Kent household.

Constance Kent was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death by hanging, only to be reprieved by Queen Victoria. She went on to serve 20 years in prison before finally being released in July 1885, at the age of 41.

After her release, the murderer of Road Hill House disappeared completely from public view. It was to be nearly a century before anyone discovered that she'd sailed to Australia in 1886 - using the name Emily Kaye - where she worked as a nurse until her death in 1944, two months after her 100th birthday.

And her pursuer, Jack Whicher? He had been dead for nearly 60 years by then, destined to be remembered more through the fictional detectives he had inspired, than for his own forensic skill as a detective.


Kaye, Ruth Emilie

By Noeline J Kyle

Ruth Emilie Kaye was the pseudonym of Constance Emilie Kent. Born in Sidmouth, Devon in 1844, Constance Kent confessed in 1865 to the killing of her three-year-old half-brother in 1860. She served 20 years in English prisons before changing her name and emigrating to Sydney, Australia in 1886.

The Road murder

Francis Savill Kent, aged three years and ten months, was found dead in a disused, outside privy, his throat cut, on the morning of 30 June 1860, near his home, Road Hill House, Wiltshire. The local police conducted an inept investigation and the Scotland Yard detectives brought in to help were unable to gain a conviction. The father of the child, Samuel Savill Kent, was a factory commissioner, employed in southern counties of England to inspect factories employing women and children. He was not well-liked in the local community but did have important social and political contacts within the coterie of local magistrates and public officials, including those who would sit in judgment on this case. As a result, he was able to intimidate local police and partially subvert the various investigations. The children's nurse Elizabeth Gough was put on trial but to no avail. Constance came under suspicion because of perceived dysfunction in the family and her dislike of her stepmother, the mother of the murdered child, and she was arrested but released because of insufficient evidence. There was no successful prosecution in the case.

A family in flight

The Kent family moved to Wales. Constance was sent to France. In 1865 Constance Kent, now 21, confessed and went to prison for 20 years. Debate has ensued since on whether she was guilty or not. [1]

The mythology of how, when and with whom Constance Kent travelled to Australia has grown since 1987, when Bernard Taylor and his researchers found that she had indeed lived out her latter years in the Antipodes under the assumed name of Ruth Emilie Kaye. [2] The family name is also variously written with an 'e' or without despite Kent family records showing the spelling Savill. William did change his name to Saville-Kent using the hyphen to partially conceal his relationship to that awful past. [3] Despite intense and continuing interest since, no writer has written about Constance's journey away from England with any accuracy, or about her subsequent life in Australia, in any detail. A representative example is the work of Lucy Sussex:

In 1884, William [Constance's brother], who had informally changed his surname to Saville-Kent, his wife (another Mary Ann) and Mary Amelia [4] emigrated to Australia. The two eldest Kent daughters were settled and middle-aged in England, but Acland, Florence and Eveline [5] followed William to Australia the year after. With them went Constance, now known as Ruth Emilie (or Emilia) Kaye. Of the many curious things about the Road Murder, one of the oddest is that a convicted murderess should, so soon after her release, chaperone her victim's siblings on a voyage across the world. They must have been singularly forgiving, feeling her to be no threat. [6]

Most assume she travelled with her half-siblings – as Lucy Sussex notes in the quote above – or with her brother William, returning from one of his trips to England. [7] However, Constance Kent arrived on the Carisbrook Castle on 27 February 1886, just a little more than six months after her release, and she was alone. The Kent children's emigration to Australia was related to their desire to find anonymity and a new life away from and apart from the sensational and horrible events of the murder. They did not want the prying eyes of the public, the press or the police in their lives. Travelling with or being seen near Constance, even under her new alias of Ruth Emilie Kaye, was risky. None of them subsequently showed any such recklessness or boldness in behaviour, character or personality. It was as a single, independent woman that Constance arrived in Sydney and began to carve out a successful career for herself in this new land.

Sister Ruth

Constance quickly established herself in the colony, working first as a volunteer in the typhoid tents in Melbourne in 1888 and 1889. Invited to train as a nurse from 1890 to 1892 at the Alfred Hospital, she took up her first substantive appointment as sister-in-charge of the Female Lazaret at the Coast Hospital, at Little Bay in Sydney in 1894. As she worked her way through 1894 and then 1895, it was clear that Constance was a capable administrator and a proficient nurse. Constance was one of the few appointed to oversee the Lazaret to be well liked by staff and patients alike. She remained at the Coast Hospital for two more years until mid-1898, when she left to take up a position as Matron of the Industrial School for Girls at Parramatta. After Constance left, Matron Jean McMaster wrote in her register that there was a 'period of comparative calm' during the administration of 'Sister Ruth' and that it took some time after she left for suitable staff to be retained. [8]

Matron Kaye

Throughout her 11 years at the Industrial School from 1898 to 1909, Constance was known as Miss Kaye or Matron Kaye. This posting fulfilled her ambitions to earn a good salary and gain prestige in the community, and she would have been pleased with its location in the growing suburb of Parramatta. The buildings and grounds of the school were large and commodious, if somewhat forbidding for inmates. As Matron, Constance was allocated spacious and comfortable lodgings. She was, for the first time since arriving in Australia, afforded the luxury of servants attending to her domestic and personal needs. Senior girls were assigned to clean her rooms, and prepare and cook her food.

As Matron and second-in-charge of the Industrial School, Constance supervised the work of the kitchen, the laundry and every aspect of the health and welfare of the girls. She was also given additional duties, reflecting her close involvement with the daily regime of the girls. She was involved in organising and facilitating their evening activities, consisting of 'readings, recitations and vocal and instrumental music'. [9] As a young woman, Constance had been taught the 'accomplishments' at various private schools in England and France. She could read music, knew well the works of significant composers, and she was familiar with English poetry and literature. Constance had read widely as a child, her favourite books focusing on the heroines of her age, such as Florence Nightingale. She had scandalised her family by reading Darwin's On the Origin of Species while still at school.

Constance also gave a series of 'plain talk' lectures to the older girls. These talks were aimed at circumventing the 'sexual delinquency' thought to be rampant among the older girls committed to the school. Although never stated outright, after 1900 the Industrial School for girls was in reality a 'lock hospital'. [10] The girls were examined by a visiting surgeon for any 'infectious or contagious complaint' on admission, and the superintendent wrote at length about the 'immorality' of girls in his care. He also wrote of the excellent nursing care provided by Matron Kaye as each girl arrived and was placed in her care.

Constance received news in October 1908 that her brother William had died in England. William had once been her best friend. As children, they had been inseparable. After the death of their mother, they had watched with dismay as their stepmother turned their childish world upside down. William died of heart failure on 11 October 1908 shortly after an operation for a blockage of the bowel. His wife and his sister Mary Ann Alice were at his bedside. He was 62. William had lived an eventful life. His career, first at the British Museum and then in fisheries management in Australia, was extraordinarily successful. He travelled widely collecting specimens for his work and wrote several books and numerous scholarly articles. [11] At the same time as William died, a new Superintendent arrived at the school. Alex Thompson, a career bureaucrat, arrived at the same time as another change in government policy, which included the appointment of officers possessed of 'qualifications necessary' to improve the character of the training offered at the school. [12] He was effusive in his praise of the younger Edith Bubb who replaced Constance in August 1909. Not that Thompson complained about Constance. She left the position of her own accord. Her age (she was now 55) may have been a factor in her decision, leading her to seek a less demanding occupation.

Constance left to establish 'Devon Electric Treatment' at Mittagong. This move reflected both her interest in the alternative therapies of Albert Schuch and her political interest in the Henry George movement. Constance was a supporter of George's Australian branch of the Free Trade and Land Valuers' League. Constance was at Mittagong for a year before taking up an appointment as Matron of the Pierce Memorial Nurses' Home at East Maitland. She retired from this position in 1932, and in the late 1930s she left Maitland to reside at Albert Street, Strathfield, Sydney at the Loreto Rest Home. She died here on 10 April, 1944 and was cremated at Rookwood the next day.

There were several press and other publications about the Road Murder which would have been seen by Constance while she was in Sydney. In 1899 the Sydney Truth printed a sensational piece which was reprinted in other newspapers. Sir Willoughby Maycock's Celebrated Crimes & Criminals (1890) and James Beresford Atlay's Famous Trials of the Century (1899) both had chapters on the Road Murder and Constance Kent's part in it. It was John Rhode's The Case of Constance Kent however, published in 1928 by Geoffrey Bles, that provided the impetus for a 3,000-word letter mailed from Sydney in 1929. Bernard Taylor argues that there is no doubt Constance Kent read Rhode's book and then sat down to pen the letter, named the Sydney Document by the Detection Club who acquired it in 1933.[13] The Sydney Document takes Rhode to task for focusing on the alleged 'insanity' of Constance's mother and is a forceful critique of the stepmother. Constance was good with words (she wrote more than 40 long and eloquent petitions while in prison) and this long essay not only details much of the acrimonious relationship between herself and the stepmother but also describes her part in the murder (an account very similar to that of her confession and other court records from 1865). In these reflections on her childhood, growing up and the murder, Constance presents herself not as a victim, but rather as incorrigible, smart, fearless and intelligent. She describes a child well able to outsmart those around her:

…she was sent to some relatives, of her step-mother, they were extremely proper & she delighted in shocking them, it was only too easy, she was considered blasphemous because she would always speak of Sara Bernhardt as La Divine Sara, she was not with them long as she was considered incorrigible.

A final confession

In the few weeks before her death in April 1944, Constance Kent contacted her niece Olive Bailey, [14] asking her to visit her in Strathfield. During one of these visits she told Olive who she was and the story of Constance Kent and the Road murder:

Olive did not know the facts until long after her mother died. She was contacted by the matron and asked to come down to Loreto as Miss Kaye wanted to see her. I gather it was then that Constance revealed the secret. [15]

Of course, we do not know what Constance told Olive. Did she tell her the 'facts' of the case as we know of them now? That the child was murdered, that she confessed in 1865 and was in prison for 20 years? Did she confess to Olive that she was guilty, or that some other party was involved? This we cannot know, but my guess is that Constance told Olive the 'facts' as she had recounted them as she stood in the dock in 1860 and in 1865, and that the secrets of the actual events of that night died with her, never to be revealed.

Was she guilty? There are proponents who would answer yes, [16] and those who are as determined to answer no. [17] It is 150 years since the murder and of those who were resident at Road Hill House that night, Constance Kent was the last to die. We can point to her obvious personal and professional success after she left prison – especially the 16 years she worked in senior public service positions with the New South Wales government. In her work as a nurse and a public servant Constance appeared to have a natural talent for administration and the supervision of others. In addition, in her interaction with patients and with the young women at Parramatta, there is no hint of meanness, anger, malice, cruelty or even unkindness. There is no record of inappropriate behaviour. On the contrary, Constance was praised for her skill and her ability to do her work. She was not mad and nor did she exhibit visible aspects of an unstable or unbalanced character.

Any writer on this event can only refer to the same lengthy trial transcripts and depositions of witnesses, and similar newspapers reports of the time. There is no new evidence, no lost letters to be found and no one to re-interview about the crime. What is puzzling however is that no previous writer has interrogated the night of the murder or later events in the light of Constance Kent's 1865 confession and its meaning for the case. Summerscale views the confession as an act of great sacrifice. [18] Taylor argues it is simply a means of covering up the truth. I think Constance Kent's confession was a real event and it has to mean something. We cannot dismiss it as a whim, or a rant or as simply Constance's way of protecting her family or liberating William. It may have contained elements of all of these things of course; protection for the family, a way of supporting William and an act of great sacrifice. Constance Kent was only 21 and when she confessed she thought she would die in a hangman's noose. In fact, everyone thought she would die. The sentence for murder was death by hanging and she would not, indeed insisted she should not, plead insanity or any other case for remission. She did not know when she confessed that her sentence would be commuted. It was a daring and risky act.

So why did she confess? I agree with Taylor and others that she was guilty and also that her brother William played some part in the murder. He was a strong lad of 15, able to carry out such a physical act, and, like Constance, had a real hatred of his stepmother. How the actual murder was enacted remains a mystery but it is certain that Constance's part in it and her confession are central. In all her years growing up in that middle-class family Constance had played a leadership role. She had been the persuader, leading William in many of their childish pranks. It was she, too, who would not apologise and or say she was sorry for any of her rash or silly actions. And I think this act of horror, of murder, was also her idea. It was her idea (whether carried out with William or not) to kill the child as an act of revenge against the stepmother. It was not William's idea, after all he was a follower and he followed her as he always did. She believed that because of her act of thinking of the idea of murder, of revenge, and of (possibly) convincing William to help her do it that she was truly, irretrievably guilty. Her confessions, the first in 1865 and the second on her deathbed, her writing of the Sydney Document and the more than 40 petitions while in prison, her career as a public servant, her mental and physical toughness and her obvious competence as a professional and in her personal life, and the detail of her long life lived in Sydney, Australia reveal a woman of talent and fortitude. Her final words in the Sydney Document are prescient as a final note on how Constance Kent constructed herself and the way she wanted to be remembered:

After her release she changed her name and went overseas and single handed fought her way to a good position and made a home for herself where she was well liked and respected before she died.


Noeline Kyle, A Greater Guilt: Constance Emilie Kent and the Road Murder, Boolarong Press, Salisbury, Brisbane, 2009

'Constance Kent and the Road Murder', Late Night Live, ABC Radio National website,, viewed 2 August 2011


[1] Noeline Kyle, A Greater Guilt: Constance Emilie Kent and the Road Murder, Boolarong Press, Salisbury, Brisbane, 2009

[2] Bernard Taylor, Cruelly Murdered: Constance Kent and the Killing at Road Hill House, Souvenir Press, London, 1979

[3] Handwriting Collection, Letter from Elizabeth Kent, 29 January 1919, Natural History Museum, London.

[4] Mary Amelia Savill Kent was aged five on the night of the murder. She married Alfred Hutchinson in 1899 at Croydon, Sydney and had one daughter Olive. Olive married Charlies Bailey in 1936 and they settled in Newcastle, New South Wales.

[5] Acland Savill Kent was born one month after the murder. He arrived in Australia in 1885. He died in 1887 at Bendigo, Victoria. Florence Savill Kent was born one year after the murder. She never married and died at Newcastle, New South Wales in 1957. Eveline was aged two in 1860. She married Frederick Johnson and died in 1940 at Melbourne, Victoria

[6] Lucy Sussex, 'Atonement: The Mystery of Constance Kent,' in Kerry Greenwood (ed), On Murder 2: True Crime Writing In Australia, Black Inc, Melbourne, 2002, pp 264–265

[7] William Saville-Kent travelled to Australia in 1884 to take up the position of Commissioner of Fisheries with the Tasmanian government. He returned permanently to England in the early 1900s

[8] Nurses Register, 1891–1917, Prince Henry Hospital Archives, Nursing & Medical Museum Prince Henry, Little Bay, p 304

[9] Superintendent's Report, 1899, Industrial School for Girls, Parramatta, Votes & Proceedings, New South Wales Legislative Assembly, 1900, vol 6, p 483; Noeline Kyle, 'Agnes King inter alios: Female Administrators in Reformatory Schools', Journal of Australian Studies, November 1984, pp 58–69

[10] G Scrivener, 'Rescuing the rising generations': Industrial Schools in New South Wales, 1850–1910', PhD thesis, University of Western Sydney, 1996; Noeline Williamson (now Noeline Kyle), 'Reform or Repression? Industrial and Reformatory Schools for Girls in New South Wales, 1866 to 1910', Honours thesis, University of Newcastle, 1979

[11] Anthony J Harrison, Savant of the Australian Seas: William Saville-Kent (1845-1908) and Australian Fisheries, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart, 1997, p 135; William Saville-Kent, The Great Barrier Reef: its products and potentialities, John Currey O'Neill, Melbourne, 1972, (first published 1893); William Saville-Kent, The naturalist in Australia, Chapman & Hall, London, 1897

[12] Superintendent's Report, Industrial School for Girls, Parramatta, 1909

[13] Bernard Taylor, Cruelly Murdered: Constance Kent and the Killing at Road Hill House, Souvenir Press, London, 1979 p 59

[14] Olive's mother was Mary Amelia Savill Hutchinson (née Kent)

[15] Typescript of interview notes by Shirley Richards with Olive Bailey, 1989

[16] Yseult Bridges, Saint – with Red Hands? A reissue of a chronicle of a great crime – the Case of Constance Kent, MacMillan, London, 1970, (reprint of The Tragedy of Road-hill House, by Yseult Bridges, first published 1954, Rinehart, New York)

[17] Bernard Taylor, Cruelly Murdered: Constance Kent and the Killing at Road Hill House, Souvenir Press, London, 1979

[18] Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective, Walker & Company, New York, 2008


The Road Hill Murder 1860

Summarised by Terry Silcock and edited by Peter Harris

Based on information published in various sources:

Cruelly Murdered - Constance Kent and the Killing at Road Hill House by Bernard Taylor, pub by: Souvenir Press 1979  ISBN 0-255-62387-7 (this has a list of the main characters at page 13/14 and map on the end covers).

There have been other books on the subject:

The Great Crime of 1860 by Joseph Stapleton pub1861 @ East Marlborough
The Case of Constance Kent by John Rhode pub by Geoffrey Bles in 1928
Saint with Red Hands by Yseult Bridges pub by Jarrolds 1954; (pub in USA as The Tragedy of Road Hill House by Reinehart in 1955)

Note: In 1860 the village of Road was split between two counties.  Most of the village was in Somerset but part, including the area called Road Hill, was in Wiltshire.


Samuel Savill KENT born 1801, son of a prosperous carpet manufacturer, Samuel Luck KENT, who was in business at London Hill.  His mother was ? SAVILL, daughter of property owners in Colchester, Essex.

In about 1826 he met Mary Ann WINDUS daughter of Thomas WINDUS, a wealthy coach builder, of Bishopsgate St., London.  They married at St. Johns Church, Hackney on 8 Jun. 1829.  They lived in Artillery Place, Finsbury Park.

Their children were; Thomas Savill KENT (1), born December 1830, died of  convulsions January 1832 ; Mary Ann Alice KENT (2), born October 1831; Elizabeth KENT (3), born December 1832; both were strong and thrived.

Samuel S. KENT's health declined and the family moved to Cliff Cottage, Sidmouth, where he became a sub-inspector of factories, implementing the 1833 factory acts. His wife, Mary Ann, was seriously ill before the birth of their fourth child, Edward Windus KENT (4), born April 1835; followed by Henry Savill KENT (5), born February 1837, died May 1838.

In 1839 a governess had been hired for Mary Ann & Elizabeth; Mary Drew PRATT born 1820 the third of four children to Francis PRATT, a grocer, and Mary, of Tiverton, Devon.  Further children were born;  Ellen KENT (6), born September 1839, died December 1839; John Savill KENT (7) born March 1841, died July 1841; Julia KENT (8) born April 1842, died September 1842; Constance Emily KENT (9) born 6th February 1844; and William Savill KENT (10) born July 1845.  At this time Mr KENT suggested that his wife was insane, but in 1850 their parlour maid, Harriet GOLLOP, thought that Mrs KENT was unhappy, but not insane.  Mary PRATT soon became Mr KENT's mistress.  This scandal caused the family to move in 1848 to Walton Manor, a spacious secluded  mansion in the village of Walton-in-Gordano, near Clevedon, Somerset.   But by March 1852, gossip had forced them to move on again to Baynton House (20 rooms) at East Coulston, near Westbury, Wilts. On 1st May 1852 Mary PRATT left to visit her father who was ill in Tiverton, Devon.  The next day Mrs KENT became desperately ill with excruciating stomach pains, and died in agony at Baynton House days later.  Mary PRATT's father died on 15th May 1852.  After a while Mary PRATT's mother also died.  A stone was placed in the East Coulston churchyard in memory of Mary KENT.

On 11 Aug. 1853, Mr KENT married his "governess" at St Mary's church, Lewisham; from her uncle's house, which was nearby.  She claimed to be of Lewisham. Constance KENT and her 2 sisters (Mary Ann and Elizabeth) were bridesmaids.

Mary KENT's first child (11) was still-born in June 1854. 

Edward KENT (4) had entered the service of the West India Royal Mail Steam Packet Co. in about 1850.  In Nov. 1854 he was reported as having drowned off the coast of Balaclava, when his ship, Kenilworth, sank with all hands, but he later returned having been one of the few to escape to the shore.  

Mary Amelia KENT (12) was born in 1855.

In the autumn of 1855 the family moved to Road Hill House, (built in 1790) at Road Hill, Wiltshire.  Just before they moved in Mr KENT found a local lad, Abraham NUTT, scrumping apples and he started a prosecution against him.

In 1856 Constance KENT (12.5y), disguised in boy's clothes, and William (11y) tried to run away to sea, but they were caught at the Greyhound Hotel in Bath.  

Francis Savill KENT (13) was born in August 1856, he was normally known as Savill K.  Edward KENT (4) died of yellow fever on board his ship, CLYDE, on 11th July 1858.  He had written a will leaving his money (£300) to his siblings.

Eveline KENT (13) was born in October 1858.

In 1859 Constance KENT was removed to a school at Beckington, run by Miss SCOTT, with an assistant Miss WILLIAMSON.  

On the 29th June 1859 the three main servants at Rode Hill house were; Sarah KERSLAND, cook - general; Sarah COX, young house maid; Elizabeth GOUGH, children's nurse.  EG born c1836 was the daughter of William GOUGH, a respected Isleworth baker.

Additionally; Emily DOEL (14y) a local girl came in daily assisted Elizabeth GOUGH; and Mrs. Mary HOLCOMBE came in on Saturdays & Mondays to do scrubbing in the kitchen area.

There were also three outdoor male servants; James HOLCOMBE (son of Mary) who worked when required as a groom/gardener; and Daniel OLIVER of Beckington, an elderly casual helper.

John ALLOWAY had handed in his notice, because his request for a raise had been refused.  Henry TOLER a sweep from Trowbridge had swept three flues (paid 4/6d) and Tom FRICKER an elderly general labourer and jack of all trades had been repairing Mr KENT's "Dark Lantern".

In the 1860s, William GEE of Freshford wrote that Mr KENT was living beyond his means and could not pay the school bills.  There was a very high turnover of servants in the Kent household.  Over 200 different female servants in four years at Road Hill House.

In the period 1840-1860, there had been 5 cut-throat murders in the area of Road.  

The Crime (night of Friday 29th June 1860)

During the night P.C. URCH of Somerset Constabulary based at Road, was on duty until 12.50. 
A nearby resident, Joe MOON, and his companion heard barking dogs.  They worked at the local lime-kilns, but were out poaching trout from the river.  

At 7am on the Saturday morning Saville KENT could not be found.  The drawing room windows and shutter were open, and the cot had been slept in. 

Mr Kent got up and got HOLCOMBE to fetch Constable URCH.  Mr KENT then decided to go into Trowbridge, Wiltshire to get Superintendent FOLEY (It must be remembered that Road Hill House was in Wiltshire).  He also sent his son William for a constable. William met Thomas BENGER, a smallholder, and James MORGAN, a baker and also a parish constable at his shop.  URCH was a Somerset constable although his house was in Wiltshire.

The news spread quickly through the village.  A passing neighbour, Mr GREENHILL, told William NUTT, a shoemaker and the district clerk.  Abraham NUTT, brother of William, had earlier been prosecuted for trespassing on Mr  KENT's  land.  NUTT & BENGER searched the garden and then the outside privy.  They lifted the seat and eventually found Savill KENT at about 8 a.m. with a blanket wedged between the splash board and the back wall.  His throat had been cut from ear to ear. Just before Rev. Edward PEACOCK, arrived from the nearby Vicarage.

Meanwhile at Southwick Mr KENT paid the toll to Mrs Ann HALL, the turnpike gate keeper.  She told him the nearest policeman was P.C.  HERITAGE,  Mrs HERITAGE saw Mr KENT passing by.

When Savill KENT's body was brought into the house William was sent to Beckington to summon Dr. PARSONS, the surgeon.  The county coroner, George SYLVESTER, was contacted to authorise a post-mortem.  Some time after 9am, Supt. John FOLEY arrived with P.C.s HERITAGE & DALLIMORE.   Thomas FRICKER was called to empty the garden privy's vault.  Stephen MILLETT a local butcher and parish constable assisted with the search.  At about 11 am, Roland RODWAY, Mr KENT's legal adviser, arrived with Dr. Joseph W. STAPLETON, a surgeon to the local factories under Mr KENT's jurisdiction.  At about 2 p.m., Sergeant James WATTS of Frome police force arrived.  P.C. DALLIMORE's  wife, Eliza, arrived from Trowbridge to search the females present.  Later that afternoon Mrs SILCOX (?Anna tmbs), the undertaker's mother, began her task  of laying out the dead child.  The next Monday, everyone went to Road Hill House, including Captain MEREDITH,  Wiltshire's Chief Constable. 

The inquest

It was held on the next Monday at the nearby Temperance Hall, but this room was too small so the inquest was transferred to the Red Lion Inn.  The coroner was George SYLVESTER, foreman of the Jury, Revd. PEACOCK, PC DALLIMORE of Trowbridge and  his wife attended.  Also attending were Rowland RODWAY (Mr K's solicitor).  Some of the jurymen, including WEST & MARKTS, were reluctant to sign the verdict,  "Murder by persons unknown".

Later Events

Mrs Esther HOLLY and her daughter Martha went to collect laundry from Rode Hill House, they found that Constance's night dress was missing from the laundry. 

Savill KENT's body was buried on Friday 6th July in the family grave at East  Coulston.

Samuel GOUGH, Elizabeth's father, came from Isleworth for the examination of his daughter, Elizabeth had been staying at the saddler's house in Road, with the saddler's sister, Ann STOKES.   Constance KENT reported that on the Friday she had walked over to Beckington to pay a bill, and had visited Miss BIGGS and Miss WILLIAMS, but she had not visited any shops.

Inspector WHICHER of Scotland Yard was called in and eventually arrested Constance KENT.  Constance was "tried", with WHICHER prosecuting.  One of Constance's school friends, Emma MOODY, gave testimony.  After the examination Constance was released, with her father entering into a bond of £200, for her to appear if called again.

In August, a further enquiry was set up by a Mr SLACK, he examined many people including Emma SPARKES, a former servant of the KENTs.   Elizabeth GOUGH had returned to South Street, Isleworth with her father.  But on 28th September, Supt. WOLFE travelled there with a warrant for her arrest.  This inquiry began on 1st October and lasted four days.   Additional witnesses were; John ALLOWAY (Mr KENT's odd job man), Daniel OLIVER (a jobbing gardener).  Elizabeth GOUGH was discharged, but her uncle Arthur SPACKMAN of Blackheath put up bail for the whole sum of £100.  It was reported that an Elizabeth GOUGH of similar description had worked in1858-9 for a Mr HAWTREY of Eton, but she had been an "artful" girl and had been discharged owing to her misconduct.  Soon afterwards Constance Emily KENT departed for France where, at Dinan, she was registered as Emily KENT at a fashionable finishing school.

In July 1863, Constance Kent was accepted as a guest at 2 Queens Square, Brighton (St. Mary's Home), which was a convent and hospital affiliated to St. Paul's Church, Brighton.  It was organised by Rev. Arthur WAGNER, the perpetual curate of the church.   He was a "Puseyite" (very high church).  The Superior of the convent was Katherine  Anne GREAM.  Constance took confirmation, probably in 1864.

On 6th February 1865, Constance confessed to the murder in her confessional and authorised Arthur WAGNER to inform the Home Secretary.  She requested to be taken to Bow Street (24th April) when her confession was accepted and she was then transferred to Trowbridge and appeared before the magistrates at the Police Gaol on 26th April.  She was taken to Trowbridge Police Court on 5th May. Many of the witnesses and others involved had changed in the previous five years. Sarah COX (housemaid) had married George ROGERS, a farmer of Steeple Ashton in the early summer of 1863.  Jonathan WHICHER the Scotland Yard Detective had retired and now lived quietly at Salisbury.  Sup John FOLEY of Wiltshire police force had died in June 1864, of dropsy in the chest.

The Trial

Constance KENT was brought into court by Inspector GIBSON of Melksham Police and Mrs  ALEXANDER the wife of the gaoler.  Mr RODWAY was representing Constance KENT.  The court committed her for trial at the next Wiltshire Sessions, to be held at Salisbury on 19th July 1865.

At the trial Constance pleaded guilty, admitting that she killed Savill to get her revenge on the person who had usurped her mother in her father's affections.  Considering that this was a greater revenge than killing her step-mother.  But in the five years since the event she had repented and so had confessed as an atonement.  Despite pressure from the judge, Mr Justice WILLES, she refused to change her plea and emphasised that she alone had been party to the crime.  So the judge had no option but to pass the death sentence.  The trial had only lasted a few minutes.  The judge submitted a recommendation for mercy to the Home Secretary.

On 25th July, the Home Secretary: Sir John GREY, after consulting with the Cabinet,  announced that the death sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life, because if she had been tried at the time of the crime she would have been only 16 years old and she was only convicted by her confession.

A Dr BUCKNILL wrote a letter to the press in which Constance KENT confessed how the crime was committed and her motive - the possession of a devil.  However, later he disclosed the true motive, she was taking revenge on her step-mother for disparaging remarks about her mother.

The book critically analyses her confession as to how the murder was committed and concludes while certain parts of it bear signs of truthfulness, it must be acknowledged that other parts were the result of deliberate lying or hasty innovation.  The author then expands his theories.  He concludes that Constance KENT made a fuller confession to Rev WAGNER, but only authorised him to pass on her confession of guilt which specifically emphasised only her involvement. The author provides a dramatic reconstruction of his hypotheses of the murder and those who were involved.

Subsequent Events

Madame Tussaud's waxworks put an effigy of Constance KENT on display.

Constance was initially detained at Salisbury Gaol, until there was sufficient space to move her to Millbank Prison in London.  At the time of her crime a life sentence was for at least 12 years, 15 years without remission.  After an initial period at the prison she was employed in the laundry and later in the infirmary tending the sick.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth GOUGH married a Kensington wine merchant, John COCKBURN, at St Mary Newington, Surrey on 24 April 1866.

The Kent's moved away to Llangollen.  Mrs Mary Drew KENT fell ill and died on 17th August 1865, of congestion of the lungs aged 46 years.

Samuel KENT and the younger children moved further north in Wales to Llanynys, Denbigh.  Samuel died on 5th February 1872, from disease of the liver aged 72 years.  He was buried beside his wife in Llangollen churchyard.  The older children had already left home, Mary Ann and Elizabeth living together.

William KENT was working in London as a naturalist.  In 1872 he was working at the British Museum.  Later that year he married Elizabeth BENNETT, daughter of Thomas Randle BENNETT.  The latter appealed to the Home Secretary for Constance's release from prison, which was denied. 

By this time Constance had been transferred to Parkhurst Prison.  She was working on mosaics for churches; Bishops Chapel, Chichester, St Pauls Cathedral, East Grinstead Parish Ch and St Peters Church, Portland, Dorset.  She was later moved to Woking prison and then back to Millbank.  It was then realised that at the time of her sentencing, life was at least 20 years.  In 1877, 12 years after her trial, the family pleaded her case and submitted a petition for release.  This was followed by further unsuccessful petitions in 1878, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883 and 1884. 

Meanwhile William KENT's wife Elizabeth had died in 1875 at 25 years old.  In 1876 he remarried,  Mary Ann LIVESEY.  In 1884 they emigrated to Tasmania as the "SAVILL-KENT" family with his half-sister Mary Amelia (29y).

On the 16th April 1885 Constance submitted her seventh petition, as a result of which a release on licence from Fulham prison was granted on 18th July 1885, 20 years from the start of her trial.   On her release she was met by Rev. WAGNER, who escorted her by train to his home "Belvedere" at Buxted, Sussex, where he had established a religious community, affiliated to his St Mary's Church.

In 1886 her brother William left Tasmania for England and returned there with Ruth Emilie KAYE, who the author claims was Constance KENT.  She stayed with her brother when his family moved to Melbourne in 1887 and again in 1888 when they moved on to Darling Downs in Queensland.  But she later returned to Melbourne.  In 1890, during a typhoid crisis, the Alfred Hospital appealed for help.  Constance began a nurse's training course at 46 years old, which she completed in March 1892.

Her subsequent career may be summarised:

August 1892 matron at a private hospital, Perth WA.

November 1893 sister at Coast Hospital (Now Prince Henry Hospital) Sydney, NSW.

Later promoted to matron and transferred to Lazaret, an annexe for Lepers.

In 1898 (aged 54 y, but recorded as 49y) went to Mittagong - a TB sanatorium.

In 1910 , went to Maitland taking a lease on a property in Elgin St.

She reopened it as Maitland Nurses Home (previously and later known as: Pierce Memorial Nurses Home)

In 1929 a letter was received from Australia in response to the publication of John Rhode's book: "The Case of Constance Kent".  This letter of 3000 words is commonly called the "Sydney Document".

In 1936, on her 88th birthday she retired.  She then lived at various private nursing homes before she moved to Loreto, a rest home in nearby Strathfield.  In 1944 she celebrated her 100th birthday at Loreto, which was publicised in the newspapers and other media.  It was reported she was born at Waddon Manor, South Devon in 1844 one of 14 children.  She died two months later on 10th April, of old age and was cremated. Sadly nobody claimed her ashes.
Meanwhile in 1896 William and his wife returned to England.   He died at Milford-on-Sea in 1908.

The sisters Mary Ann & Elizabeth KENT were by 1896 living at Wandsworth.  In February 1913 Mary Ann KENT died at East Hill Wandwsorth of bronchitis aged 81 years and Elizabeth KENT died in 1922, just before her 90th birthday.  Both are buried at Putney Vale cemetery.

At Road, the privy and subsequent memorial arbor at Road Hill House have gone, although the house still stands, but now named Langham House and the village is now Rode.

The Red Lion Inn still stands but is now a private house and the Temperance Hall was demolished many years ago.

The headstones marking the graves of Savill KENT and the first Mrs KENT can still be found in Coulston churchyard, but are almost indecipherable.



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