Murfin, Enoch

Murfin, Enoch        1889 August 24th           Devizes

Suicide in a Prison Cell at Devizes

A great deal of excitement was occasioned in Devizes on Friday by the rumor which rapidly gained currency that a suicide of an extraordinary nature had occurred at the Central Police Station, the victim being a middle aged man named Enoch Murfin, who was in custody on remand of a serious charge of assaulting a little girl named Emily Louisa Witts, aged eight years. Inquiry proved that the rumor was correct. The unfortunate man, who is a stranger to the town, was on his remand taken to the Central Police Station to be detained till Friday (August 16), at 11 o’clock. He had been well treated by the deputy chief constable and officials, and had frequently expressed his thanks for the kindness shown him by the authorities.

On Friday morning he was taken out of the cell by PC Palmer for ablution, and he was cheerful as usual. Shortly afterwards breakfast was served to him, and then he was taken out into the yard for exercise. He asked the constable what time he was to be brought up, and was told 11 o’clock, and that he must be in readiness at quarter to 11. He was then taken back to his cell. Shortly afterwards smoke was observed to be coming from the cell, and PC Palmer rushed and unlocked the door. As he did so a volume of smoke and hot air rushed out, and he found a head fall against his legs. He could not enter the cell, but he dragged the body out into the yard, and then found that the prisoner was unconscious. He called assistance, and sent for a medical man. The usual means of resuscitation were tried, but without avail, and Dr Dale pronounced the man to be dead. Water was poured into the cell, and it was then found that a most determined suicide had been carried out. Deceased had first of all piled the bedclothes into a heap in the middle of the cell, then striped himself naked, and put the clothes on top. He must then have set fire to the heap with a match which he had probably secreted when he was searched in the usual way, and thus suffocated himself. The charge on which he was to have been brought up would have assumed a serious aspect, the medical evidence being very damaging. There was also another case of a similar nature against him. The deceased was a carpenter and joiner, and he was 49 years of age.

The inquest was held on Saturday by Mr F T Sylvester.

Mr William Baldwin, superintendent of police stationed at Devizes and deputy chief constable of Wilts, deposed that deceased came under his observation on Monday evening last. He was brought to the county police station by PC Selman on a charge of indecently assaulting a little girl between seven and eight years of age, at Potterne. On Tuesday he was taken before the magistrates and sufficient evidence taken to justify a remand, which was granted till the following Friday. Witness visited him in his cell frequently from that time up to Friday morning. He appeared to be in his right mind, and made no complaint. He was visited every hour during the day, and at intervals during the night by men on duty. Witness detailed the circumstances of the fire, as already reported. Inspector Taylor said no matches were found on deceased when he was searched. PC William Palmer and Mr B H Dale, surgeon, gave further evidence, and the jury returned the verdict of “Felo de se,” and exonerated the police officials from all blame in the matter. Deceased’s wife arrived from Stockport later in the day, and an affecting scene took place as she identified the body.

The remains of the deceased were interred in the cemetery on Monday. A large number of people had assembled. The corpse was enclosed in a plain elm coffin, bearing a breast-plate with the name, date, and age of deceased. It was conveyed on the borough bier, and covered with a pall. The only mourner was the wife of deceased. The body was taken straight to the grave, and lowered to it last resting place. Immediately the local Captain of the Salvation Army, Captain Perkins, stood forward, and after an address offered a prayer, the bystanders reverently uncovering.


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