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Beatrice Annie PACE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
Classification: Justice miscarriage
Characteristics: Tried and acquitted for murdering her husband with arsenic
Number of victims: 0
Date of murder: January 10, 1928
Date of arrest: January 1928
Date of birth: 1892
Victim profile: Harry Pace, 36 (her husband)
Method of murder: Poisoning (arsenic)
Location: Fetterhill, Gloucestershire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Found not guilty by a jury on July 6, 1928
 
 
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Transcribed by Don Cameron

Harry & Beatrice Pace - Murder Trial
 
 

By J. Carter Wood

"Mrs. Pace" and the Ambigous Language of Victimization
 
 

Beatrice Annie Pace, the wife of a Gloucestershire quarryman and sheep farmer, was tried and acquitted for murdering her husband with arsenic in 1928. Extensive pre-trial hearings had revealed the horrifying extent of the dead man's physical and psychological brutality throughout eighteen-years of marriage. The dramatic twists and unexpected developments in the case were eagerly picked up by the voracious newspaper media, making the trial a sensation. 'Mrs. Pace', as she was known, achieved celebrity status; no longer simply an individual, she also became a popular and sympathetic media persona.

 
 

Acquittal of Mrs. Pace

No case to go to a jury

Sunday Times

July 8, 1928

LONDON, Saturday - Mrs. Beatrice Annie' Pace met with poetic Justice yesterday when Justice Sir T. C. Herridge, at the close of the prosecution's case, ruled that there was no case to so to a Jury.

Thus the tragic widow was release after an ordeal which is without precedent in living memory. It lasted six months which is an exceptionally prolonged period for British Justice, but the wheels of the Coroner's inquest ground so slowly that the widow was kept in confinement at Harrow for four months before eventually being committed for trial on a charge of poisoning her husband.

As the inquest was adjourned and re-adjourned, the widow became a pathetic picture of woe, repeatedly collapsing under the long-drawn strain until the public lost patience and demanded that the matter be brought to trial forthwith or the widow, released.

The Paces lived at Starveacre Farm, Bleak Moor, Forrest Dean, where they kept a few sheep. The husband died early in January after a long illness. The widow said that it was possibly suicide, because her husband had often said that as he was ailing, life was not worth living and threatened to drink sheepdip powder, whereof arsenic is a constituent.

But the deceased's brother, Elton Pace, remembered that the widow had often said she wished "the old would die." He told the police that he suspected it was murder, and publicly unbranded her as a murderess.

The Coroner ordered an examination of the remains, which proved that the husband died from arsenical poisoning. The widow was charged with murder, but seldom has there been a prisoner committed on a capital charge who so enlisted public sympathy.

The Solicitor-General, who prose cuted, admitted that she had loved her husband, but she had 19 years of married misery. She was an exceptionally pretty girl at seventeen when she married, but the cruelty began a few months after marriage. Her husband often thrashed her, and had even beaten her shortly before the birth of her baby, yet, according to the doctors she was a devoted nurse during her husband's long illness and wore blisters on her feet through tramping upstairs, and downstairs. She got him eventually admitted to a hospital, but her husband insisted on returning home, and the wife resumed her ministrations.

The fatal bout of illness developed at Christmas, 1927, and a doctor told how the wife ploughed her way for three miles knee deep in the snow over a blizzard-swept hillside to fetch him and then re-trudged home.

The husband's brother, Elton, contended that this devotion and grief were playacting. She wanted her husband to die, and he charged her with carrying on an intrigue.

Public subscriptions enabled the engagement of a leading King's Counsel for the defence, and the wife's relatives have been inundated with offers to take care of the children and presents have been showered on them. Every appearance of the widow during the trial was made a triumphal procession.

The trial opened at Gloucester on Monday last, and 60 Birmingham police were drafted in to control the anticipated crowds. Thousands flocked in from the country, and special charabanc trips were run. Because the crowds wanted to catch a glimpse of the widow going to and from the Court and give her an encouraging cheer, every day police formation was broken and reinforcements, including mounted men, failed to keep the street clear.

On one day. Elton Pace, who had given evidence accusing the widow of designing his brother's death, was mobbed and another witness for the prosecution fainted. The police decided henceforth to drive back the crowds into the side streets, but when the widow's conveyance appeared, the rush of women waving handkerchiefs rescattered the police. The widow's baby, meanwhile, held court at a local hotel and people sent up money and gifts.

A woman juror on the second day developed a heart attack, and the judge, fearing further prolongation of the widow's ordeal if a fresh start were necessary kept a doctor and nurse beside the jurybox. It was at first espected that the trial would last four days, but the prosecution alone absorbed four and a half days. It was then certain to continue over the weekend until the Judge interrupted the proceedings.

Mr. Norman-Birkett, K.C., for the widow, submitted that he had no case to answer, as the Crown had not proved the administration of poison by the prisoner, but on the contrary had proved that she was a devoted nurse.

The Solicitor-General placed himself in the Judge's hands.

The judge replied that he would direct the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.

Immediately many of the jurors jumped up and gave their verdict before the Clerk had time to put the usual formal question to the foreman.

The judge quickly retired. The spectators cheered so loudly that a crowd of 6000 outside knew the meaning of it and made a great demonstration, while a brass band played the National An-
them.

After the widow had been rejoined by her two children, who had been in the waiting room, the police escorted them along the motor way, and they were driven homeward amidst hysterical cheering to rejoin the widow's children in the Galeford village.

It is believed that the Pace trial is the first time in connection with a murder charge wherein the full resources of the Crown, including the Solicitor-General, Scotland Yard, the Home Office and medical and poison experts have collapsed for lack of Crown evidence, but the "Daily News" understands that Sir Archibald Bodkin, the Public Prosecutor, felt that the verdict of the coroner's jury could not be ignored.

The matter is to be raised in the House of Commons. It is suggested the inquest verdict should be quashed, and the police conduct of the case referred to the forthcoming Royal Commission on Police methods.

A strong squad of mounted police escorted Elton Pace's motor for three miles after the trial.

The "Daily News" in a leader expreses the opinion that Coronial procedure as well as the police system needs investigation.

The "Daily Mail" in a leader on "one of the most extraordinary trials in English annals" says that the public will insist on the assurance that no persons in future will be allowed to suffer prolonged anguish before being brought to trial.

 
 

A sheep farmer's death

Widow charged with poisoning

The Argus

June 30, 1928

LONDON. May 21.- An inquiry into the death of Harry Pace, a sheep farmer in the Forest of Dean, in Gloucestershire. who died on January 10, was ended this week when the jury found that death was due to arsenic and that the poison was administered by Beatrice Annie Pace, the widow.

During the five months of inquiry intense public sympathy was aroused on the widow's behalf. She has five children, the youngest being a baby in arms. Manifestly she underwent a shocking ordeal owing to the jury's decision being deferred week after week. Harry Pace was a sheep farmer. It was suggested that his illness might have been due to the absorption of arsenic through the skin while he was dipping sheep. Home Office experts, how ever refused to accept the suggestion. When arrested in court on the coroner's warrant Mrs Pace fell to the ground in an agony of tears, wailing. "No, I didn't, no, I didn't." The foreman of the jury wept when he announced the verdict, and there was hissing by the public in the court. No more painful scene has occurred in a court in recent memory.

The case became sensational last week when Sir William Willcox, the Home Office medical advisor, gave the results of his investigations. He had found 3.62 grains of arsenic in the liver and 1.018 grains in the kidneys, an indication that a large dose had been taken within 48 hours of death. As the stomach, was free from arsenic none could have been taken during the last six hours of life.

Sir William Willcox's opinion was that Pace was suffering from acute arsenical poisoning from July 24. and that one or more doses were taken between Christmas Day, 1927 and January 10. He said that there was no evidence of any extensive wound upon Pace's body so that the possibility of the illness being due to the absorption of arsenic through the skin from dipping sheep might be dismissed.

Professor Walker Hall, a Bristol pathologist, gave evidence that arsenic must have passed into the dead man's liver for a period of at least 14 to 21 days, and he added that the condition of the heart suggested that the period might be extended to more than three weeks and, perhaps, up to six months. Mrs. Pace's counsel quoted a case in which (6.5) grains of arsenic were extracted at a post-mortem examination, after it had gone through the skin, but Professor Hall said that this was the case of a child, and that the skin of a child and that of an adult differed. The skin of a healthy adult would not absorb arsenic.

Mrs. Pace's story

Such was the state of the evidence when Mrs. Pace went into the box last week, after having been cautioned. She said that her husband's life was insured for 69. She had paid 8/6 arrears upon her husband's insurance policy on the night before he died. Her husband was ill in bed between July 25 and August 19, complaining of pains in the stomach. He then lost the use of his hands.

On July 22 she had bought two packets of sheep dip. which her husband had put in a sheep box. She saw her husband empty a tub of dip a day or two after the dipping of the lambs The empty tub was left down by the railway line, where the dipping took place She helped her husband to do the dipping of the lambs. They used a "dolly tub" for the purpose.

The coroner pointed out that the tub was only 21in wide, and asked whether Mrs. Pace asserted that that was the one used. "Yes, I swear it, "She re- plied. The coroner then referred to the breakfast which Pace took to work on the morning on which he was taken ill in July Mrs Pace said that it consisted of bread and butter, and cake and tea, which she prepared herself. When her husband returned home he complained of pains in the stomach and head, and he was very ill. On the Sunday before he died she took him a glass of cornflour and milk. She placed it on the table beside him and went down stairs. She believed that he took some of it later. During the whole of his illness, both before and after his admittance to the infirmary, she prepared all his food. She did everything for him.

About a week or a fortnight before Christmas he cried nearly all the afternoon, and said that he would never be any good to her or the children any more, and he went to the window to throw himself out. She caught hold of him and got him back on to the bed, and told him that he would soon be better. "With this knowledge" asked the coroner, "did you remove any thing with which he might do himself harm?" "I really did not think he meant it, for he had threatened it so many times," said Mrs Pace. She added that she sub- sequently found a bottle in the fender, and said, "Harry, you haven't taken anything out of the bottle, you won't leave me and the children?" She could not account for the finding of a bottle in a cupboard containing potassium permanganate and sheep dip.

In his summing up, the coroner told the jury that Harry Pace was organically sound, and he asked whether it was conceivable that a man would dose himself with arsenic from July to January. Was it conceivable that a man would dose himself in July with sheep dip lotion to see how much he could take, or how long he could linger before he killed himself; and was it conceivable that he would take one big dose within a short space of his death. Pace's life was insured in 1924, and in 1925 he became ill suddenly. There was no evidence that any other member of the family became ill in the same way. The jury must consider who had the opportunity of preparing the dead man's food drink, and medicine, and who had the opportunity of administering that which might have contained arsenic.

 

 
 
 
 
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