As the sound of the slow moving waters in the near distance began to reemerge, the startled birds which had fled to nearby pastures could still be heard in the darkened sky above as the figure of a man stumbled onto his feet. In the distance, the low rumble of thunder could be heard, menacingly making its way towards him.
With his hands shaking and holding a small bottle, he turned around but could barely look at the sight in front of him. Lifting the bottle to his lips, the stranger nervously opened his mouth, slowly emptying the contents and taking a couple of gulps in the process.
He then paused for a few seconds before collapsing back onto his knees as the darkness of the night slowly encompassed him. And with the first specks of rain beginning to fall, he laid himself down onto the ground, closing his eyes for one last time – or so he thought.
The week leading up to Saturday, 3rd July, 1926 had been one of ups and downs for the Barker family, with Willie Stanworth Barker, a weaver by trade, apparently becoming tired of his wife’s whereabouts in recent weeks.
But life wasn’t always like this and after Willie and Sarah had married on the 19th August, 1911 – they had enjoyed a relatively happy marriage up until the end of the war in 1918. Together, they had three children, a daughter who was 14 years old and two son’s, one aged 11 and the other being 3.
Sarah was one to enjoy socialising and it appears that since the end of the war, she had began staying out late at night, and although she would always inform her husband of where she had been, it appears Willie would turn a blind eye and apparently believe everything he was being told.
However, on Monday, 28th June, and after another late night outing, Sarah returned home and despite her reassurances that she had been with friends, Willie complained, telling Sarah that she had to stop in her ways and spend more time with her family over that of her friends. Whilst no row took place, Willie made it clear he was unhappy with his wife’s apparently wayward lifestyle.
As the week wore on, the tensions that had been apparent between Willie and Sarah would become a thing of the past and by Saturday, 3rd July, Sarah would spend some time with her children, taking them into Burnley. Her daughter, Alice, had been poorly and so Sarah had been out to pick up some medicine. As for Willie, he had left home at around 1.30pm in the afternoon to help his brother-in-law with haymaking over at Haggate House Farm. However, when he returned home later that evening, at around ten o’clock, his youngest son would soon inform him that Sarah had ‘gone out’.
Three days later, and at four o’clock in the morning on Tuesday, 6th July, twenty-six year old, Richard Kay Massey stood at the front door of his home, which he had shared with his mother, Ellen, at number 16 Hill Street. Shaking, he knocked nervously on the door and waited for someone to answer.
It didn’t take long and as the door opened, he smiled at the welcoming figure that appeared in front of him.
“Feel at me, mam.” he said in a soft tone of voice. “I have killed that woman and I have taken poison.”
Confused at what Richard had just said, Ellen Massey – his mother, took hold of his arm. She could feel the coldness and dampness on his clothes as she ushered him into the living room.
Also in the house was Elizabeth Law, Richard’s married sister, who had stayed over that evening to spend some time with her mother.
Elizabeth, after seeing the state Richard was in and after hearing what he had told Ellen, immediately rushed out to call on her other brother, George, at number 6 Hill Street, Padiham. Having been abruptly woken from the sound of heavy banging on the front door, he made his way out of bed and downstairs to see what the commotion was. After hearing the story told by Elizabeth, they both quickly made their way back to number 16 Hill Street.
Upon their arrival, Richard was lying on the sofa.
“Now then, Dick. What’s up!” asked George.
“If you well go down to Cocker’s Bottom, you will see.” replied Richard.
“What is there at Cocker’s Bottom?”
“There is a woman.” replied Richard.
George at this point knew something wasn’t right with his brother, asking him; “What have you done?”
Looking up from the sofa, Richard replied; “Nothing. I’ve done nothing.”
It was obvious to George that his brother wasn’t telling the whole truth and that something was indeed bothering him as he was acting in a strange manner.
“Come along with me and we’ll go down.” George then asked.
Richard didn’t say anything, instead pausing for a while like he was in deep thought.
The silence was soon broken though when Richard mentioned his daughter, Ella; “I will go to see Ella and then I will go to the police myself.” he finally replied.
Not entirely convinced, George then concocted a story, saying he would nip home for a wash and to get something to eat before returning and going with Richard to see his daughter.
Instead of going home, George made his way to the police station over in Padiham and reported the strange events that had just taken place at his mother’s home.
It was around 6.15am when George arrived at the police station. There he spoke with P. C. Browitt who then passed on information to Sergeant John Maxwell about a woman apparently being down at Cocker’s Bottom. At this point, no one could have known what this really meant but as George had made it clear to the police that his brother was acting in a weird manner, they knew they had to go and investigate for themselves.
Cocker’s Bottom was a place nestled away just north of Hapton and not too far from an area called Castle Clough. And whilst that name no longer seems to exists, it also adjoined Fennyfold Farm which is situated just off St. Johns Road, Padiham.
The journey from the police station to Cocker’s Bottom would, on average, take around 15 minutes on foot and upon arriving, all three men – George Massey, P.C. Browitt and Sergeant Maxwell soon started to scour the area, looking for a woman who was apparently ‘down there’.
It didn’t take long though as Sergeant Maxwell would soon discover the body of Sarah Ellen Barker who was lying on her back and partly concealed in a bush which was around 35 yards from the public footpath.
Having made an outside examination, he found that her head was inclined to the right side. Her right hand was holding a pair of grey gloves, and in the tips of the fingers of the left hand there was a pocket handkerchief. Both hands were on the front of the body.
Her hat was lying on the grass close to her head and on the hawthorn tree close to her body, there were several branches broken, indicating a struggle had taken place.
However, and intriguingly, about a yard from her right foot, he found a half-pint bottle labelled Guinness Stout, which contained what appeared to be salts.
He immediately sent word back to the station and within thirty minutes, the area was soon filled with more police officers.
Inspector Guffog had also made his way to the scene and after lengthy discussions with both Sergeant Maxwell and George Massey, the two inspectors soon made their way over to number 16 Hill Street to speak with Richard.
When they arrived at the house, they were met by the brother-in-law of Richard, who let them enter the premises. In the back kitchen sat Richard, along with other members of his family.
“Which of you is Richard Massey?” asked Inspector Guffogg.
After a short pause, Richard replied; “Me.”
Inspector Guffogg then said; “I am making enquiries respecting the dead body of a woman found in a field leading to Fenny Fold Farm, Padiham.”
The inspector then cautioned Richard, to which he replied; “I understand what you mean. I was with her.”
Upon their arrival at Padiham Police Station, Richard spoke to Inspector Guffogg, telling him; “I will tell you all about it.” but the Inspector quickly shut him down, saying; “Stop! This is a very serious matter, and I caution you that what you say will be taken down in writing and may be used in evidence.”
He then told Richard to sit down and to think about what he was saying and whilst he was doing so, he would go to see the body and that if he still wished to make a statement, when he returned he would take it.
At 7.45am, Inspector Guffogg returned to the police where he would charge Richard with murdering the deceased.
Later that morning, Richard Massey would appear at Padiham Police Court on the charge of murder.
Inspector Guffogg would be the first to give evidence and in doing so he read out a statement that Richard had made whilst at the Police station;
“I live at 16 Hill Street, Padiham and will tell you all about it.
“At 8 p.m on Saturday night last, I was passing the Starkie Arms, Padiham, when a young man stopped me and asked me if I had seen Sally. I replied, No’ He then said, she has come to Padiham ; perhaps you will see her at the Old Bull, Padiham, or the King’s Arms.’
“I went into the Old Bull, but she was not in. Then I went across to the King’s Arms, and saw her there. I asked her how long she had been down, and she said, ‘I have been down a long time.’ Then I asked her where she had been.
“She said, ‘I have been shopping for Alice.’ ‘What’s to do with Alice?’ I asked. She said, ‘She was very poorly, but I have left her all right.’
“Me and Sally then left the King’s Arms, and went on to the fair. We left the fair and went up Cheapside, and she told me the last car had gone, and said she was not going home. I then asked her where she was going to go, but she said, ‘I want you to go home.’
“I said, ‘No, Sal, I am not going home.’ She said, ‘Yes, Dick, I want you to go home.’ I said, ‘Why do you want me to go home, Sal?’ but she would not tell me. She said, ‘All right then, where shall we go?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, Sal.”
“We had a wait, and then I said, ‘Come on; we will go down here.’ So we went down Kiddrow-Lane to Rose Grove, down past the engine sheds, and we got over the wall, and stayed there all the night.
“In the morning we left there, made our way across Accrington-road, over the stile, and through the fields, and stopped until night. Then we came from there, and went into the Hapton Inn. She went ill in the Hapton Inn, and we left, and went over into the field till she got all right. Then we made our way back to where we were on Saturday night.
“We left in the morning, and went on to the canal bank. We walked to Clayton until half-past two, then came back and made our way to Huncoat, and went in the Old Bull at Huncoat. We have a few drinks – four a piece – then came over the golf links, over the canal bridge, down past Shuttleworth Hall Farm.”
The statement concluded as follows:- “She asked me if I would strangle her. I said, ‘What for Sal?’ ‘Because I love you, Dick’ she said. ‘I don’t want to go home.’
“I said, ‘All right then.’ She brought this poison for me, and said, ‘You will do me first?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ So I did it with my hands. Then I drank the poison, left her, and come home.
Richard, then admitted having dictated the statement and said he had no questions to ask.
With this shocking statement, it appears that the police officers in charge of the case quickly realised that it may be a difficult one at that.
Superintendent Cleal responded, saying that a considerable number of enquiries would have to be made and it would be necessary for him to ask for a remand.
The case was then adjourned until the following Friday.
Mr. D. N. Haslewood, the Coroner for East Lancashire, opened the inquest later the same afternoon, also with the Padiham Police Station, into the circumstances of the death of Sarah Ellen Barker.
Details would emerge that would show she was a married woman, aged 33 years old and who lived at number 20 Cuerden Street, Harle Syke near Burnley,
Richard Massey, who at this time was not present was represented by Mr. J. Cash, solicitor with the foreman of the jury being that of Mr. J. Pollard.
Willie Stanworth Barker, a cotton weaver by trade, confirmed the deceased to be that of his wife, Sarah. He would tell the jury that she had been in good health and had not needed medical attention for some years.
When asked when he last saw his wife, he would reply, saying he last saw her at 1.30pm on Saturday 3rd July at their home.
He told the jury of how he had left that afternoon to help his brother-in-law over at nearby Haggate House Farm and that he didn’t return home until around ten o’clock that evening.
The coroner then asked him; “You had no idea whatever that she was meeting anyone?”
“No sir. She told our little boy she was not going out.” replied Willie.
The Coroner then asked again; “You had no idea deceased was in the habit of meeting any man?”
This would conclude the evidence and the inquest would be adjourned until Tuesday, 13th July.
The adjourned inquest would again be opened by Mr. D. N. Haslewood and this time evidence would be given by Dr. J. H. Watson of Burnley, who had made a post-mortem examination not long after Sarah’s body had been taken over to the mortuary in Padiham.
He described Sarah as being a stout woman of medium height. Her hair was disheveled and the face and neck were livid, with the nose, ears and lips markedly so.
There was a frothy, blood-stained secretion coming from her mouth. There were no marks of violence to be seen about the neck nor the chest, abdomen or extremities. Post-mortem lividity was well marked. The veins of the neck were full of dark fluid blood. The larynx and trachea contained a little blood-stained frothy mucous. The stomach and its contents were placed in a jar, sealed and sent to the county analyst. The cause of death was asphyxia. The woman, said Dr. Watson, was a comparatively healthy woman, and there was no reason why she should die suddenly.
The coroner asked Dr. Watson if it would be possible for the woman to have been strangled and no marks of violence would be visible to which the doctor would admit it was possible.
The coroner then asked; “You cannot see your way to express any opinion as to the cause of death?”
“Beyond asphyxia, which was not due to natural causes.” replied Dr. Watson.
Dr. Joynson, of Padiham and who was present at the post-mortem would tell the jury that he concurred entirely with what Dr. Watson had told them.
The County Analyst, Mr. George Elsdon, after examining the stomach and its contents would tell at the hearing that he had looked for the presence of salt of lemons, but nothing of the sort was found.
Mr. Charles McKinley Cameron, a chemist and manager of the firm, William Thornber off Whalley Road, Clayton-le-Moors, gave evidence, saying that a stoutly-built woman, aged around 40 years of age, entered his shop at around 10.30am on the 5th July and asked for an ounce of salt of lemons to take some iron mould out of clothes. He cautioned the woman about its use, telling her it was poison and she paid four pence for it.
Other witnesses came forwards; Mary Elizabeth Lord, licensee of the Castle Inn, Clayton-le-Moors; Ann Ellen Smith, wife of the licensee, T. E. Smith, of the Black Bull Hotel, Huncoat and Christopher Parsons, a labourer – all came forwards telling the jury that they had seen both Richard and Sarah on and around the 5th July, either visiting some of the public houses or walking around in Huncoat, Padiham or Hapton.
Next to give evidence were the family members of Richard. His mother, Ellen Massey, as well as his brother, George Kay Massey both took to the stand, giving details of the events that transpired on the morning of Tuesday, 6th July.
Finally, Sergeant Maxell, as well as Inspector Guffogg, would both give evidence and after a short deliberation that lasted around twenty minutes, the jury would return a verdict of “Willful murder” with Richard being committed for trial at the Lancaster Assizes.
Before the court was cleared, Supertintendent Cleal stood and made a protest about a ‘sketch’ that had appeared in a recent edition of the Burnley Express newspaper, saying it was a very improper proceeding and if he could prove that the sketch had been taken in court he would, without hesitation, proceed against the Burnley Express for publishing it.
Unfortunately he was not able to prove it was taken in court. He had seen a representative of the Burnley Express and he was told that a sketch was made at their office from memory. The sketch, albeit not a good one, was an improper thing to do.
Cleal thought that the Clerk would advise the jury that under the section of the Criminal Justice Act of 1925, no person should sketch or take a photograph in court, adding that it was an offence to publish any such sketch or photograph taken in court.
He went on to say that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to prosecute the paper and thinking that the Bench would agree, his attempts would prove futile as Mr. Coe, another magistrate, said it would only add further sorrow and discomfort to the relatives and it was not a right thing to do.
On Saturday, 23rd October 1926 – the trial of Richard Massey, charged with the willful murder of Sarah Ellen Barker would take place at the Lancaster Assizes.
When formally charged at the opening of the proceedings, Richard pleaded “Not guilty.” in a calm voice. He wore no collar, but had the same black tie knotted around his neck that he wore at the Padiham Police Court. He also had on the same corduroy trousers but the blue jacket he had previously worn had been changed for a dark grey one. In the dock, he was seated between two wardens, and throughout the case he maintained an air of unconcern which seemed to surprise all those who had seen him when he first appeared at the Padiham magistrates.
Considering the strangeness of the case, proceedings were remarkably short, lasting just under three hours.
Outlining the case for the crown, Mr. Eastham said the facts were very simple. The prisoner was 26 years of age, a widower who lived at number 16 Hill-street, Padiham with his mother.
The deceased woman was 33 years of age, was married and, up to July 3rd, lived with her husband at Briercliffe.
It would be mentioned in court that ten days after his arrest, and on July 16th, Richard had made another statement which was written down by his solicitor.
It went as follows; “On the night of Saturday, July 3rd, when she missed the last car, she said she was not going home. I asked her why, and she said, ‘You will know in a day or two when they find me!” I asked her why she was like that, but she would not tell me. I could see that she meant to kill herself, and I stayed with her that night. She told me that her husband had made a row the last time she came home late, and that she was not going home.
“She begged me to kill her that night. She said it would be easy for me to strangle her. She told me that she had tried to strangle herself, but that she could not do it. All Sunday she was the same. I tried to persuade her to go home. She said she could not do that now. She begged and prayed of me to strangle her. I argued with her, but she said; “If you loved me, Dick, you would do.’ She kept at me all the time, and on Monday, when we were walking on the canal bank, she talked about the water, and said she wished she was not afraid of water. I got her to come away. At Clayton, she said, ‘I am going to get some salts of lemon for you, Dick. I will tell him (the chemist) it is for getting iron-mold out of linen!’ She went and bought some at the chemist’s. We then wandered on towards Padiham. I had had no food since Saturday, and all we got was some dry chips and some drink. She was still at me to kill her. When we got to Cocker’s Bottom, it was dark. She began again begging and praying me to do it there. She was driving me daft with it! She mixed the powder in water from a tub close by. She said, ‘You can take this afterwards. I would not agree. She said she would have to do it herself if I would not, as she was never going home again. She again kissed me and put her arms round me and asked me, but I would not say anything. She then turned away and drank the poison. When she had the bottle to her mouth, I shouted, ‘All right, Sal,’ and went for her meaning to stop her and get the bottle. I remember nothing more until she was very still and quiet. I felt mazy. I found the poison and drank what was left, and fainted. When I came to my senses, I put her hands together and placed her gloves and handkerchief on top. I then left her. I never wanted her to die, and I never intended to kill her.”
When asked about if a struggle had taken place when Sarah was drinking the poison, Richard replied, “Yes,” and he followed this up with, “I grabbed at her to stop her. As I was stopping her, I must have got hold of her by the throat. I had to struggle to get hold of the bottle.”
Mr. Gorman, defending Richard then asked, “Did you get hold of it (the bottle)?”
“Yes. The next time I saw her, she never stirred one way or the other. Then I got the “wind up” and I supped the poison myself.” replied Richard.
“Were you some time there?” then asked Mr. Gorman.
“I must have got asleep by supping the poison. I must have been there about an hour. I wakened up in the rain – it was teeming down – then I put her hands across her body, put her gloves over other hand, and then went home and told my mother.” replied Richard.
Richard was then put under intense cross-examination by Mr. Eastham, who opened by asking; “You were very fond of her and she of you?”
“Yes.” replied Richard.
“Had you been in the habit of meeting each other?”
“We used to meet at the weekends.”
Mr. Eastham, at this point was simply trying to establish the relationship with both Richard and Sarah.
“Had you been intimate together?” he then asked.
Again, Richard answer with a simple, “Yes.”
Although it was clearly established by now that Richard had indeed strangled Sarah Ellen Barker, Mr. Eastham would keep quizzing Richard and seemed interested in how the poison was purchased and how it would be used.
“I understand that when she bought the salts of lemon she told you she was buying it for you?” asked Mr. Eastham.
“So you knew she was going to give that to you?”
“No, she was not going to give it to me. I refused to take it.” replied Richard.
“But you knew she had bought it for you?”
“Yes, she said so.”
“And that evening, did you buy a bottle of stout?”
Slightly bemused, Richard replied, “Yes.”
“Did you buy it to mix the powder in?” asked Mr. Eastham.
The questioning was relentless, and it seemed Mr. Eastham was trying his best to make Richard slip up by contradicting what he had said in his original statements.
“Didn’t you buy it not because you were thirsty, but because you wanted the bottle?”
“No, we bought it just to go down on the road with.” Richard replied.
“How much was in the bottle when you drank it? (the poison)”
Richard indicated the length of his first finger by raising it in the air.
“So she would have about half?” asked Mr. Eastham.
Despite Mr. Eastham’s questioning, Richard stood firm, never once changing his version of events.
After all witnesses had come forwards, Mr. Gorman, defending, would face the jury, telling them; “Don’t forget, members of the jury, that even after the body was found there was half an ounce of salts of lemon still in that bottle that even after he had taken some of it there was still half an ounce left in the bottle and there were still many ways by which this man could have brought about his own death had it been part of the bargain between them that he should first strangle her and then commit suicide. Suppose, for a moment, that prisoner’s statement is absolutely true. Assume that for days the woman had been pressing him to strangle her; that as a result of something he never intended, he brings about her death! It is a very difficult position for any man to find himself in. It is all right people sitting far removed from circumstances such as these to say what one ought to have done and what one ought not to have done, but it is a vastly different thing to find yourself up against the very thing, without intention, that had been discussed for some days. What would you have expected the man to do in those circumstances other than what he did? He knows he has caused her death! The one thing in his mind was that there were two of them together; she was alive a little before; she was dead now, and he alone was left. He says he got the “wind up.” One might have pardoned the use of a stronger expression than that. He takes the contents of this bottle, sleeps for an hour, then realises the position and goes and tell his mother what has happened. In those circumstances can you be satisfied it was merely because they had arranged this before that he took this salts of lemon at that time? I suggest none of us would like to be held responsible for what we might do in circumstances such as these.”
Mr. Gorman’s closing speech to the jury was a lengthy one, but he pleaded with them, saying; “I am not saying he was not responsible for her death, but it is the defense in this case that he did not deliberately, and with the intention to do it, bring about her death.”
The jury, which had included two ladies, retired at around 12.40pm to consider their verdict. They were absent only eight minutes, and on their return the foreman said they had agreed upon their verdict.
They found Richard guilty of causing the death of Sarah, but that he had no intention of causing her death.
Addressing him, Justice Branson remarked; “The jury have taken a very merciful view of the evidence before the court. It is obvious you must have used a very great deal of unnecessary violence in dealing with this woman. You must go to penal servitude for three year!”
Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Richard replied, saying; “Thank you, Sir.”
As sentence was pronounced, his mother, Ellan, gave vent to an audible sob, and she afterwards let her tears freely flow from her eyes and down onto her cheeks.
Whether these were tears of joy or not, we will never know.
The funeral of Sarah Ellen Barker took place on the 9th July 1926 and her body was interred within the grounds of Burnley Cemetery. Her grave is marked A2263.
Sources used in this story;
Lancashire Evening Post – Wednesday 07 July 1926
Burnley Express – Saturday 10 July 1926
Haslingden Gazette – Saturday 10 July 1926
Haslingden Gazette – Saturday 17 July 1926
Liverpool Echo – Saturday 23 October 1926
Burnley Express – Wednesday 27 October 1926
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