Saunders, Louisa

Saunders, Louisa     1901 November 22nd

Laverstock

On Tuesday morning, as a carpenter named Wort was going to his work, through the meadows at Laverstock, he discovered the dead body of a woman floating in one of the watercourses which drain the meadows. He did not wait to ascertain who it was, but hastened into the village and summoned assistance. A number of people went to the spot, and the body on being taken out of the water, was found to be that of Mrs Saunders, an old lady of 66 years, and widow of the late Mr William saunders, carpenter, of Laverstock. The deceased woman’s husband had died recently and it was thought that this bereavement, coupled with business worries, must have led her to commit the terrible act. When found the unfortunate woman was wearing her night apparel, and from the evidence at the subsequent inquest, it was gathered that she had retired to her bed on Monday night. In order to reach the water-side she had to climb two barbed wire fences, and at some distance from the spot where the body was found a piece of linen, presumably torn from her nightdress, was discovered on the barbed wire.

Inquest

The Coroner for the district (Mr R A Wilson) held an inquiry into the circumstances touching the death of the deceased, at the old Schoolroom, Laverstock, on Wednesday morning, Dr Manning (of Laverstock House Asylum) was chosen foreman of the jury.

The first witness was Frank Wort, carpenter, of Woodfalls, who was the first to find the body. He deposed that on Tuesday he was going to his work across the meadows, at about 7.30, when on crossing the footbridge he saw the body of the woman floating in the water clad in her nightdress. Witness did not recognise the body. He ran back to the laundry and raised an alarm. Some people from the laundry came back to the scene with him and some men took the body out of the water.

John Russell, of Laverstock, a gardener, said he was the last to see the deceased alive. That was at 9 o’clock on the previous evening. He had seen the body since and recognised it as that of Mrs Saunders. On Monday night at 9 o’clock, he went to deceased’s house and saw her on business. Witness asked if she wanted anything done and she replied “not to night.” There was no footpath or right of way to the point where the body was found.

The Coroner then asked if anyone had seen the body taken out of the water. Two of the jury said they had, but their evidence of course could not be taken.

Robert Harris, a carpenter, living at Laverstock, was sent for and deposed that he was managing the business of the deceased. He did not see the body until it had been brought to the house. He saw Mrs Saunders about 6pm. He had seen her several times a day since the death of the late Mr Saunders.

Arthur West, a solicitor’s clerk, of St Mark’s Road, Salisbury, gave evidence to the effect that deceased was his mother-in-law and was 66 years of age. She was a widow, her husband having died on October 30th last. The late Mr Saunders was a carpenter at Laverstock. Since her husband’s death deceased had been living alone. He first heard of the occurrence on Tuesday morning between 8 and a quarter past. He was told that Mrs Saunders was taken ill. He went to the house at Laverstock, and then went to the scene and saw the body taken from the stream into the house. Deceased was wearing her nightdress. She had slept in her bed. Witness and his wife had seen her about every other day since Mr Saunder’s death. She had worried considerably about her business affairs although witness had asked her not to, as he would take every responsibility. An extra cause of anxiety to the deceased was the fact that she would have to sign her name to a life policy in a week’s time. He had not the slightest inkling that his mother-in-law was likely to do anything of the sort and at the time of Mr Saunder’s death he offered to come over with his wife and live with her, but she would not hear of it.

Dr Manning asked if he had ever heard that deceased was in the habit of sleep-walking.

Witness said his wife told him the other day, when he asked her that question, that she had never known her mother to walk in her sleep. Continuing witness said deceased must have walked down “Cow Lane” into a field and got over two strands of barbed wire. Witness understood that there were several lacerated wounds on deceased’s leg, which must have been caused by the barbed wire.

Mr L D Saunders, a medical practitioner, living at Salisbury, said he knew the deceased, having attended her professionally. He also attended the late Mr Saunders during his illness. Witness had not seen deceased since her husband’s death. Mr Saunders was ill for eight or ten days. Before her husband’s death, witness had told her that an internal operation upon herself was necessary. This was put off owing to her husband’s illness, and this undoubtedly worried her.

The Coroner said he did not think there was much doubt as to the poor woman having drowned herself. The only question was the state of mind she was in at the time.

The Foreman said he was of opinion that deceased was attacked with a sudden mental disorder, and acting on the impulse threw herself in the water.

The jury agreed, and returned a verdict of “Suicide whilst temporarily insane.”

The Foreman thought that the first witness might have satisfied himself that the body was dead before running away.

The Coroner said it was a peculiar fact that many people were so frightened at the sight of a dead body that their first and only impulse was to run for assistance.

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