Pearce, Elizabeth

Pearce, Elizabeth       1886 February 6th           Warminster

Salvationist Charged with Poisoning his Wife

An inquest was held at Warminster, before Mr Coroner Sylvester, on Tuesday afternoon, on the body of Elizabeth Ann Pearce, aged 26, wife of Edwin Burt Pearce, of Back-street, chemist’s porter, and treasurer of the local corps of the Salvation Army, who died very mysteriously on Saturday night. The deceased had been married about nine months, and of late she and her husband had led a very unhappy life, owing, as stated by Pearce, to the fact that his wife neglected her house and kept loose company. They lived with his mother, and for several months past Pearce had handed his wages to his mother, who had had the management of the household.

The deceased went out frequently to char, but never accounted to her husband for her earnings. On Saturday she came home at ten o’clock apparently in her usual health, and after sitting with her husband for a few minutes, went to bed. She had been taking medicine for some time for diarrhoea pains, but on this occasion refused to take it, remarking that she was going to take something better. Pearce followed his wife in ten minutes’ time, and got into bed. About ten minutes after eleven he was aroused by a gurgling noise and the cries of “Oh, Ted, oh, Ted!” uttered by the deceased. He got up and struck a light, and looking at his wife believed she was dead. He called his mother and a neighbour, and ran for Dr Wilcox, who, on his arrival, formed the opinion that deceased had been poisoned.

He looked around the room, and while doing so – so Pearce said – he called his attention to a bottle standing in a window, which contained some fluid. The doctor stated that when Pearce fetched him he told him he believed his wife was dead, and that he had noticed “a glass of something in the window.” In the deceased’s pockets the doctor found some of Battle’s vermin killer. In the glass he found some white powder. He had made a post mortem examination of the body, and found arsenic in the stomach. He believed this caused her death.

Mr Whittock, an apprentice at the shop where Pearce was employed, stated that the bottle of arsenic was placed on a side counter on Saturday evening, and between seven and eight on going into the cellar he found Pearce at the arsenic cask, refilling the bottle. It was explained, however, that the bottle had been placed on the counter where all empty bottles were placed for the purpose of being refilled.

Pearce, his mother, and a neighbour stated that the deceased had frequently said she should not live long. Pearce spoke of his wife as having a violent temper, and Mr Willcox, who spoke of her as a simple-minded girl, said he should not have been surprised to hear that she had committed suicide. Other witnesses, however, said she was anything but a girl of that kind.

The jury said the evidence was very unsatisfactory, and adjourned the inquiry till Tuesday next. The affair has caused great excitement in the town. Pearce is known among the Salvationists as “Happy Ted,” and on the occasion of his wedding there was considerable festivity among the corps.

The funeral of Mrs Pearce took place about mid-day on Wednesday at the parish church graveyard. A large number of persons were present, and the women hissed Pearce. On returning to his home he was stoned. A short time after he was arrested by Superintendent Perrett and lodged in the police station. It is felt that the evidence adduced before the coroner, although of a very suspicious nature, will not be sufficient to bring home any criminal charge to him, but it is rumoured that the police have obtained fresh evidence.


Adjourned Inquest 1886 February 13th


The adjourned inquest on the body of Elizabeth Ann Pearce, wife of Edwin Burt Pearce, No 1, Back-street, who died under very suspicious circumstances on Saturday, the 30th of January, was held on Wednesday afternoon, before Mr Coroner Sylvester.

The husband of the deceased is in custody on the capital charge. On resuming on Wednesday, the Coroner censured the conduct of certain members of the jury who had gone about the town and neighbourhood in the interim discussing the merits of the case. This he condemned as most culpable.

The mother of the prisoner was re-called, and was examined at great length. When the deceased went to bed (she said) she heard her at her box. Her son had left home for a night on account of the “niggle-naggle” of his wife, and witness had fastened the outside of the deceased’s bedroom door with string on these occasions, because she was afraid of her. She denied that she had ever fastened the deceased out of the house, but she had locked the door when she went out, and deceased would have to wait for her. She believed the deceased used to physic herself, but she would never let her see what she took.

PS Hayter deposed to searching the box of the deceased, where he found a packet of crimson powder, which had been sent to Dr Stoddatt for examination, and several letters which had passed between deceased and a friend at Clevedon. In one of these deceased said she wished she had never seen the day she got married, and that she believed her uncomfortable state would driver her mad.

Martha White, a widow, said the deceased had told her that her mother-in-law had been unkind to her. She made no complaint against her husband, only that he was away with the Salvation Army so much. Witness did not believe that she would commit suicide.

Dr Willcox, re-called, qualified his statement that he was not surprised to hear of the deceased’s death. He believed her to be a simple-minded girl, but not that she would commit suicide. She gave him the impression that she was taking something, and he was not surprised to hear that she had died from misadventure.

Several women were called to depose as to conversations they had had with the deceased about women being pregnant. She had always stated that she had not lived with a chemist without knowing what to take. She had never told them what the white powder to which she had referred was.

PS Hayter said that several months ago Pearce asked him to try and frighten his wife, because he believed she was taking something.

The Coroner stated that Mr Stoddart was unable to be present that day to state his result of the analysis of the stomach of the deceased, and the inquest was adjourned till Friday.

Adjourned Inquest 1886 February 20th

I will ignore the introductory re-hash of previous reports

Emma Sims stated that the deceased told her that the tea and food that she had at home made her ill.

F. Cane, postman, said he frequently delivered letters, generally from London, to the deceased, and her husband once asked him to give him the letters “because he believed there was hokey-poker tricks going on.” He once took a parcel, the postage of which was 11d.

Supt Perrett said they had proved that this parcel contained only sand, and was sent by some one as a hoax.

Esther Giles said that six days before deceased died she told her she was in the family way.

PC Maggs said that he visited deceased’s house less than an hour after she died, but unless Pearce had told him he should not have been aware than anything had happened.

Martha Pearce, East-street, said that shortly before Christmas deceased told her that her husband had said he would do for her. Witness saw deceased open the parcel of sand, and she said she believed her husband had sent it.

James Prangley, butcher, said Pearce’s mother said to him, seven or eight weeks ago, “Ted does not want a wife – a wife is no good to him – before it is over he will kill her, and will then be hung for her.”

Julie Ryall said on the Monday before Mrs Pearce died she told her she wished she was dead.

Mr F W Stoddart, analytical chemist, Bristol, said he had analysed the contents of deceased’s stomach, and found there two grains of strychnine and one and a half of arsenic. He believed the strychnine killed her. Battle’s vermin killer, which was found in her pockets, contained strychnine. Half a grain would be sufficient to kill. He could not tell whether deceased had been taking poison for a long time previous to her death, unless he examined the organs of her body.

Sarah Ferris said the deceased said to her that she was being poisoned and starved to death.

The mother of the accused, recalled, said she last paid on the policy on deceased’s life about a month ago. She did not know whether it had lapsed.

Several jurors said they were told it had, and Superintendent Perrett said she was insured for fourteen guineas.

The Coroner summed up, recommending an open verdict.

The jury found “That the deceased died from strychnine and arsenic poisoning, but how it was administered there was no evidence to show.” They thought the case a very important one, and that it should be further investigated.

During the afternoon the prisoner was taken before the magistrates and remanded for a week.

Supt Perrett said a telegram had been received from the Home Office stating that Mr Cobb, of Salisbury, had been instructed to prosecute.

Court Case 1886 May 15th

I will not reproduce the reports of the court cases, they mostly cover what the inquest sessions brought up, though with some extensions of evidence in either direction.

Evidence was brought to show that deceased could not have purchased any strychnine or arsenic herself in Warminster, but evidence also showed that she was always anxious to receive her letters without her husband knowing. Evidence was also given in prosecution as to the husband’s access to the poisons in several ways through his work, and to his telling several people that he thought his wife was taking something secretly.

It seems they slept in one room with the mother-in-law, separated only by a partition, and the mother-in-law sometimes secured herself from the deceased by locking or tying with string the door there.

It emerged that they met and married when they both worked for chemist Mr Rogers, and the young lady who succeeded to deceased’s position in the shop gave evidence as to the husband asking for her hand in marriage when his wife had died, which would be quite soon.

It was all a tangled web, with no definite proof on either side, and the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty in the end.


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