Murder, Mayhem, Trials and Tribulations in Sedgley

Many thanks to Sue Challenger for stories 1 - 4 inclusive.

Murderous Attack on Gornal Vicar.

A few minutes before ten o clock on the morning of Friday, August 8th 1879, the Reverend James ROOKER, vicar of St James, Parish Church, Lower Gornal, left his rambling vicarage to do a little local shopping in The Green - known as Five Ways.

Half-way across The Green he stopped to have a frendly chat with Charles HARTLAND, a member of the church choir. The chat finished, Rooker bid Hartland a cheery goodday and made his way to the butcher's shop kept by Ben MARSH, after ordering the week-end joint he re-crossed the Green and walked into the grocer's shop owned by Jabez ADDENBROOKE. There was no one behind the counter and the only other person in the shop was Charles Hartland, the chorister with whom he had chatted a few minutes earlier.

Everything seemed peaceful and ordinary. Outside the shop villagers were crossing and re-crossing The Green. Suddenly the quietness of the peaceful Lower Gornal spot was shattered by the sound of gunfire. People were immediately thrown into a state of great confusion and alarm. The shots appeared to come from the doorway of Jabez Addenbrook's grocery store.

Following the initial shock of the explosion passers-by rushed towards the premises. They saw Charles Hartland walk away in the direction of Ruiton Street. Inside the shop there was pandemonium.

Mrs Addenbrook and her sister Mrs Bird, were helping their blood-stained vicar to his feet. Blood was gushing from his head and nose. The onlookers helped Mrs Addenbrook and Mrs Bird to carry the vicar across the narrow road and in to his vicarage.

Dr T.A.WALKER was hastily summoned from his Upper Gornal home. William Henry SHAW, who lived close by at 'The Gables' in Summer Lane, quickly harnessed his pony and trap and drove off at speed to fetch Mr.ROOKER. Junior, who was in camp with the Sedgley Corps at Oxley Manor. Meanwhile Doctor Walker had discovered that the Rev. James Yates Rooker had been shot in three places. Two bullets had entered his head, one above, and one below the right ear, and a third bullet had lodged in the roof of the vicar's mouth. Miraculously the victim was still alive though gravely ill. Dr. Walker realised that Rooker needed expert medical attention. He telegraphed Dr. FURNEAUX JORDAN, an eminent consulting physician from Birmingham. This prompt action undoubtedly saved the vicar's life.

The commotion had bought PC. WRIGHT on The Green. A few words with the onlookers and away he went along Ruiton Street hot on the heels of Charles Hartland. He caught up with him as Hartland made a bee-line for his home in Ruiton. In the words of PC. Wright "When apprehended the suspect was solemn but spoke rationally". News of the outrage spread quickly through the parish.

People were stunned. The Rev James Rooker was 65 years old and had been their vicar and sincere friend for nearly thirty-two years. Almost every social improvement they enjoyed had been at the instigation of their vicar. During bitter and frequent wage disputes-both in the nail and coal industries - the workers could rely upon his services. He had a gift for preventing ill-feeling between employers and employed. How would anyone - least of all the choirmaster-wish to murder a person so devoted to the welfare of the poor parishioners.

Throughout that long Friday and into the week-end Rooker's wife, three daughters and one son, stayed at his bedside. Rich and poor made there pilgrimage to the vicarage. Sir Horace St.PAUL and his wife. Lady St.PAUL, from Ellowes Hall, were early, anxious callers. They were followed by streams of bare-headed, tear-stained labourers and their wives. The Earl of Dudley requested that he be kept constantley informed of the vicar's condition.

Hartland was taken to Bilston Police Court. He was bought before magistrates S.Loveridge and A.C.Twentyman and charged with attempted murder. He was moved to Stafford and formally remanded week to week until. so it was fervently hoped, the vicar would be sufficiently recovered to give evidence. That Sunday morning service following the shooting was charged with emotion. For as long as a good number of the worshippers had attended St. James parish church, the Rev. James Yates Rooker had conducted the service. His absence on that morning proved too much for some of the old faithfuls.

Eventually the trial of Charles Hartland, charged with the attempted murder of the Rev. James Yates Rooker, was heard in the following November during the Winter Assizes at Stafford. The presiding judge was Baron POLLOCK. Evidence was given that the prisoner's family were highly respected in their native Upper Gornal. A carpenter by trade Hartland was working a small stone quarry immediately before the tragedy. He had many relatives living in the locality and his brother was said to hold a responsible position under the Earl of Dudley.

In 1877 the would be murderer had been summoned for indecently exposing himself to young girls. He was sent to gaol without the opinion of a fine. The indecency offence took everyone by surprise. Hartland was an outwardly respectable man and at that time. was choirmaster at Rooker's church. He was visibly shaken by the severity of the sentence and in an angry outburst threatened to murder one of the magistrates. It so happened that James Yates Rooker was one of the magistrates who heard the case. The threat went unheeded but when Hartland subsequently repeated it several times a number of close friends thought it expedient to warn the vicar. Indeed solicitor Gould, who was Rooker's son-in-law, advised him to have Hartland bound over to keep the peace. The vicar refused to take any such action. Quite the reverse. He actually allowed Hartland to rejoin the choir.

The past annoyances appeared almost forgotten. Hartland became an even closer friend of James Yates Rooker. Then came that fateful Friday of August 8th 1879. In the evidence Rooker recalled the minutes leading up to the tragedy. After leaving the butcher's shop, he went into the grocery shop owned by Jabez Addenbrooke. Alone in the shop was the prisoner with whom he had passed the time of day just a few minutes before.

Rooker asked Hartland if Mrs. Addenbrooke was around. Hartland said she was not and Rooker turned to go outside.

"Before I reached the door" he told the court "I was startled by an awful noise, like an explosion of gas".

He quickly turned to face the counter and there was Hartland pointing a pistol towards him.

"Before I had time to speak" he explained "Blood gushed from my mouth and nose".

The prisoner walked past the blood-stained Rooker and out into the street before any help could be summoned.

In court Rooker pleaded for leniency to be shown to the assailant. He had been associated with the prisoner for about twenty years. Indeed Hartland had been entrusted with the contract when the parish church had been enlarged and improved some years earlier.

Other motives were suggested, at the time of the shooting Hartland was experiencing monetary difficulties and the bailiffs were due to call at his home on the day following the shooting. The prisoner considered this to be an injustice for which Rooker was indirectly responsible. It happened this way. Hartland's late father-a very well-to-do man - had appointed James Yates Rooker as a trustee under his will, and it was believed that whole of the estate had been left to Hartland's widow. Young Hartland was incensed.

Rooker's inpassioned plea for leniency did have some effect on the jury. After Baron Pollock had reminded the prisoner that only prompt action and the skill of the medical profession had saved him from the capital charge of wilful murder, he sentenced Hartland to twelve years penal servitude - a comparatively light sentence for that day and age.

Meanwhile the poor parishioners of St. James donated two hundred pound towards the expense of sending their beloved vicar to Leamington for a long spell of recuperation.

Early in 1880 a petition was launched to plead with the Home Secretary to reduce the sentence, it being alleged that at the time of the attempted murder Hartland was in great pecuniary difficulties which caused him to lose self control. The name of The Reverend James Yates Rooker was amongst the leading signatories. The petition did not reach the Home Secretary until August 1882. He immediately wrote back to say that he could not recommend H.M. the Queen to interfere with the sentence.

Rooker recovered and continued his ministry until he died in 1887. He was able to make his first public appearance as a magistrate at Sedgley court in August 1880. exactly 12 months after the shooting.

His family vault can still be seen in St. James churchyard. This article has a photograph of Rev James Yates Rooker, The Family Vault and Gornal Green - (Five Ways) and say's that the building which was the grocery store, where the shooting took place, was then used in 1982 as a Licensed betting Office.


Recent find on 1881 census RG11 0897 74 33
HM Convict Prison Chatham Kent
Gillingham, Kent

Charles Hartland Male, Age 42, Married, Upper Gornal, Stafford
Prisoner Convict
The PRO says "All gaoled offenders were known as prisoners,
but those sentenced to penal servituted (hard labour) or transportation were known as convicts."

Thanks to Sandra Yate for this extra information.

On the right is a extract taken from "The Times" newspaper of 9 Aug 1879

Rooker-Hartland Times Newspaper



Murder of a child by a pitiful young Mother.

Ann PLANT aged 22, was indicted for the wilful murder of John PLANT on the 22nd October 1857, at the parish of Wolverhampton. The prosecution was conducted by Mr SPOONER. The prisoner was un-defended.

The prisoner looked wan and dejected, and exhibited, throughout the whole of the trial, a demeanour becoming the awful position in which she was placed.

Mr Spooner very briefley opened the case to the jury, and then called Hannah HICKMAN of Hall Green, SEDGLEY, who it will be remembered, was the woman to whom the prisoner confessed to having drowned her child. She went through the whole of the evidence, which was the same as given at the coroner's inquest.

William PONDER, police officer at Bilston, was next examined, after which the evidence of Henry DEWS BEST, surgeon of Bilston, was received who said "I examined the body of a male child at the police station on Thursday October 29th, which was shown me by police-officer Ponder. Death had been caused from drowning; there were no marks of violence on the body that I could detect".

The judge questioned Mr Dews Best, "You looked for them I suppose?" The witness replied "Oh yes my lord".

The prisoner's statement was read by the clerk of the court. It was as follows. "I did it for want, I had no home to go to, I had been confined only a month, and had to sleep all night in a brew house, I had no home to go to". The prisoner, in reply to his lordship, said she had nothing to say to the jury, nor any witness to call.

The learned judge then summed up the evidence in a very lucid manner to the jury, who after a very brief consultation returned a verdict of "guilty", but recommended her to mercy on account of her age, and the distress she had been placed.

The learned judge, who was moved with deep emotion during the delivery of the sentence, observed that he should take advantage of the recommendation of the jury and save her painful feelings which a sentence of death would have upon her, and should order that a sentence of death not be recorded against her, the effect of which she will be kept in penal servitude for the remainder of her life.


Trial of Philp Clare


Philip CLARE, aged 30, was indicted for the wilful murder of Elizabeth HOPLEY, on the 20th April 1857, at Bradley, Bilston. The prosecution was conducted by Mr. Scotland, assisted by Mr. Hill. The prisoner was defended by Mr. Kettle.

Mr. Scotland addressed the jury at some lengths, and from his address and examination of the witnesses, it appeared the deceased was a young woman, 18 years of age, the daughter of a farmer of Wem in Shropshire, with whom she had lived within up to six months before her death, when she removed to an Uncle's named WHITTON, of Bradley, near Bilston.

She had been engaged on a pitbank whilst at her uncle's, but had subsequently worked for other parties, amongst whom was the prisoner. The deceased had never been in the habit of stopping out late at night; but on the evening of the 19th.April she left her uncle's house about half past 9 o clock, without either bonnet or shawl, and on the following morning about 4 o clock, her dead body was found in the canal by a man called BUCKLEY. It lay at the point between two arms of the canal, which are shaped like a "V".

The evidence against the prisoner to connect him with the murder of the unfortunate woman was as follows:- About six o clock on the night in question, the prisoner was seen by a man named GRIFFITHS, going in the direction of Moxley, and shortly after that hour, until eleven o' clock, he was in the Square and Compasses Inn, Bilston. He left there at eleven o' clock that night with a man called WOOLISCROFT, and went towards Moxley, where he lives. About twelve, a policeman named HAGUE, met the prisoner going in the direction of his own house.

After the examination and cross-examination of a large number of witnesses, amongst whom was the lame man, named Samuel WALL, alias POWELL, who it will be remembered absconded, after giving information. Mr Kettle addressed the jury in an able speech, on behalf of the prisoner, commenting that the evidence, apart from Wall's statement, did not show that any murder had been committed, and that Wall's evidence was so extraordinary, improbable and un-corroborated, that it was the duty of the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.

His lordship the Honourable Baron Martin, somewhat favoured the prisoner in summing up the evidence and the jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict of "Not Guilty".

Scandalous divorce in Lower Gornal in 1863

Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes before Sir J.P. Wilde.

ROOKER v ROOKER & NEWTON. (18 Nov 1863)

The Rev. William Yates Rooker prayed for a dissolution of his marriage with Sarah Massingberg Rooker on the ground of her adultery with Henry Skidmore Newton. The respondent did not appear. The co-respondent pleaded a denial of the charge.

Dr. Deane, Q.C., and Mr. Thrupp appeared for the petitioner and Mr. A. Staveley Hill for the co-respondent.

The petitioner, who was formerly the incumbent of Winchester, in Virginia, married the respondent, whose maiden name was Walker, and who was an American, in February 1842. The marriage was solemnized in Virginia, and Mr. and Mrs. Rooker lived in America for several years afterwards, occasionally paying visits to England. They had four children. In 1860 they were settled in England and Mrs. Rooker with one of the children went for a short time to America. She returned in 1861 and lived for a few months with her husband, who was then minister of a church in the neighbourhood of Hackney. She had unfortunately become addicted to drinking, and her husband was obliged to separate from her on account of this propensity, A few months after her return from America, in 1861, he accordingly sent her to live at Lower Gornal, near Wolverhampton, and made her an allowance.

His brother, the Rev. James Rooker, was the incumbent of Lower Gornal, and the allowance was paid through him. The Rev. J. Rooker stated that he had taken a cottage for the respondent, and that when she first went to Lower Gornal two ladies had lived in the same house with her, but they had been obliged to leave her in consequence of her drunkenness. She made the acquaintance of the co-respondent, who is a lime burner at Lower Gornal, was the leader of the choir in the Rev. J. Rooker's church, the superintendent of the Sunday-school, and a married man. It was proved by Mary Bates, Mrs. Hooker's washerwoman, that on the evening of the 31st of December 1862, Newton and some others of the choir, who had been practicing singing in preparation for a tea party which was to take place the next day, called at Mrs. Rooker's house, and that when the others were going away Mrs Rooker had taken possession of Newton's hat and insisted upon his remaining, saying that she wanted to have a word or two with him. They all went away except Newton and Mary Bates, and Mary Bates said, "I shall not go until Newton goes, for Newton has got a wife." Mrs. Rooker ordered her out of the house, and Mary Bates, seeing, as she said, that her temper was up, thought it. would be prudent to go.

Mary Bates went home to fetch a shawl, and then returned to Mrs Rooker's house and listened at the window and heard them "talking and kissing" very comfortably together." Another witness, Betsy Walker, proved that they bad been together in a room of which the door was locked.

The Rev. J. Rooker having heard rumours of the respondent's misconduct went to her between 9 and 10 o'clock one night and saw Newton in the same room with her. He thereupon dismissed Newton from the choir and from the Sunday school.

A letter was read which Newton had written to the Rev. J. Rooker upon his dismissal, in which he used a great many religious expressions, and subscribed himself "Yours is brokenheartednes of soul." but did not give a distinct denial to the charge made against him.

Mrs. Rooker had written to her husband entreating him to have mercy on his miserable and erring wife, and to stay his hand and not apply for a divorce. She had also signed a formal confession that she had committed adultery with Newton on the 3Ist of December, when she had unfortunately had too much to drink.

The evidence of the validity of the marriage was an affidavit by the Hon. James Murray Mason as to the marriage law of Virginia, but there was some doubt whether it was sufficiently proved that the persons referred to in Mr. Mason's affidavit were the petitioner and the respondent in the suit.

Mr. STAVELEY HILL said he could not resist the evidence which had been in support of the petition.

Dr DEANE said there were peculiar circurnstances in the case which induced the petitioner not to press for costs against the co-respondent. If the Court was not satisfied with the evidence of the marriage, there would be some difficulty in obtaining further evidence, in consequence of the state of affairs in America.

His Lordship said he was satisfied with the evidence of adultery and he would consider whether the evidence of the marriage was sufficient. He observed that the House of Lords and this Court seemed to him to have been somewhat unnecessarily strict in requiring proof of a marriage, because it was hardly credible that persons should apply to have a marriage dissolved if it had never taken place.


The Deepfields Tragedy

The Shocking case of The Fatal Shooting of Mrs. Davies From Meadow Lane - Which Shook An Old Black Country Hamlet In 1890 known as 'THE DEEPFIELDS TRAGEDY'

This story give's detailed reports from 'The Daily Herald' and tells of the shooting of Mrs Davies, the mother of James Davies.

John Wise was born in 1857, he was the son of John and Jane Wise. He married Martha Glare, daughter of Joshua and Lydia Glare of Meadow Lane, Sedgley. By 1889 John had four children, Albert, William, John and Phoebe.

The couple's married life had been spent between houses in Ettingshall Road, Rookery Road and Meadow Lane, Deepfields. It was this last residence in August 1890 that events unfolded that were to become known locally as 'The Deepfields Tragedy'

On Saturday the 23rd August Martha Wise and their youngest child went missing from home, also a James Davies together with a substantial portion of John Wise's possessions, to the value of fifteen pounds, including a navy suit, two blankets, four sheets, two pairs of shoes, two silver watches, a silver chain and three pound cash. All the items were found to have been pawned as the tickets were later discovered.

John Wise bought a gun, then having failed to trace the couple he went to the house of Mr and Mrs Davies at Deepfields, the parents of his wife's lover to inquire as to whether they knew of their son's whereabouts. He had previously been on good terms with this couple. It is not certain what was said, but it ended with his shouting words to the effect of "If I had found them I would have served them like this" whereupon he produced a revolver from his pocket and fired, the bullet entering Mrs Davies's side. Running from the house she collapsed in the street. John Wise left the house, was seen to unbutton his waistcoat, turn the revolver on himself and pull the trigger. Although badly wounded he survivied the suicide attempt. Mary Daives was carried to the nearby Railway Tavern where injured too badly to be moved. Believing that he was about to die, John Wise asked for his sister. Mrs. Sarah Ann Simner to be summoned, requesting that she take care of the his children. He was later taken to Wolverhampton Hospital where the bullet was removed. News of the tragedy spread through the village like wildfire.

On the 19th August the inquest and inquiry upon the body of Mary Davies was opened at 'The Railway Tavern' Deepfileds. The inquest was adjourned until the following Thursday morning. Saturday 6th September 1890. The Adjourning Inquest Verdict of 'Wilful Murder' On Saturday Afternoon last, the unfortunate victim of the Deepfields Tragedy was laid to rest at Sedgley, and as was expected, the funeral attracted a very large number of spectators , though there was a entire absence of boisterous excitement. The inquest resumed on Thursday 4th September, hearing evidence from several witnesses, among them Thomas Williams who sold John Wise the cartridges, and PC Tittensor, stationed at Coseley, who had been well acquainted with Wise prior to the shooting. Perhaps the most informed witness was Mrs Sarah Butler of 31 Meadow Lane, Deepfields, neighbour to Mr and Mrs Wise who was able to recall for word arguments between Wise and his wife which she was able to hear 'through the crack in the wall'.

James Davies and Martha Wise were arrested on Wednesday 3rd September at Arch Street, Rugeley. They had taken lodgings there a week previously. James Davies finding work at Brereton Collery a day or two later.'They presented a somewhat smart appearance, especially the woman who it said to have outdone all her neighbours in the way of dress. On their arrest, both were taken into custody and charged with stealing certain goods belonging to John Wise. PC Tunnicliffe of Deepfields traced the couple following the receipt of an anonymous letter. 'Dear Mr Tunnicliffe, I think you will find Jim Davies and Mrs Wise at 26 Arch Street, Rugeley'. The identity of its author was never discovered.

Saturday 20th September 1890. A Further Remand.

'A large crowd again gathered outside Bilston Police Court yesterday where Martha Wise (23) wife of John Wise, ironworker of Rookery Road, Meadow Lane Deepfield, and James Davies (19) miner of Meadow Lane were charged with stealing several items of wearing apparel, two silver watches, a silver chain and other articles, property of John Wise, husband of the female prisioner. Mr Clarke said the prisoner (John Wise) was unable to be present to give evidence and therefore asked for another remand. The man unfortunately still in hospital. The magistrate granted the remand for a week, Davies's bail was renewed and Mrs Wise was retained in custody. When next they appeared John Wise said he wished to withdraw the prosecutions, (Mrs Wise on hearing this commenced crying) The bench abandoned the case, the defendants were bound over pending the consent of the Public Prosecutor to the withdrawal. Davies was bound over to his previous bail. Martha Wise on her father's surety of ten pound.

On the 10th October, John Wise was taken from Bilston to the county Gaol at Stafford.

The following entry appears in the Home Office Records-Calendar of Prisoners for 1890. Record HO 140/121 (Tried at the Autumn Assizes) Prisoner No 22. John Wise. Age 35. Steel Fitter. (R) Received into custody at Stafford 16th Oct. Charged on the 27th August 1890 at Sedgley with the wilful murder of Mary Davies, also charged the same on coroner's inquisition. Tried on 16th December 1890. Verdict - Not Guilty of Murder, but Guilty of Manslaughter. No previous convictions. Sentence - Imprisonment with hard labour for six days in HM Prison, Stafford. (Able to read)


The man who no-one knew

It was a cold night in the middle of January 1914. Heavy black snow clouds scudded across the sky pushed by a wind that cut through the air.

In Millfield Road, Ettingshall, a small vehicle with its dull headlights picking their way through the blackness drove slowly and came to a bumpy stop near a piece of waste ground.

Two people got out and wrapped their coats closer around them to keep out the damp chill. Then together they started to pull a long, dark bundle from inside the vehicle and struggled as its awkwardness hindered them. One of them strained to stop the bundle falling to the ground and with a deliberate slowness they made their way towards a nearby eight foot high wall.

Surrounding the wall was a narrow trench about two feet four inches deep?dug no one knows for what purpose. They let their bundle fall into the trench. But before they left one of them dropped a handful of cartridges around the bundle. Then without breaking their silence they turned and made their way back to the vehicle. It drove off into the blackness… taking with it two people whose secret has baffled criminologists for 58 years.

The bundle turned out to be the body of a 24 year old man. Two young girls were the first to see it a little before 8 a.m. on the morning of January 20 as they passed a shaft adjoining Wright's Foundry.

It had been there a few hours. They ignored it because, as one later said, they thought it was a drunk sleeping off a night's drink.

A little while later two workmen saw the bundle and one of them turned it over. As its coat fell away he saw the bloodcaked face of what had been a young man looking up at him. They both ran off to alert the police and within an hour a handful of detectives and uniformed policemen from Staffordshire Constabulary started an investigation which taxed their ability to such an extent that the then Chief Constable described events as a nightmare.

They lacked facilities, mobility, communications and know how. But they made progress and from a letter found in the dead man's suit pocket sent to him from an aunt near Manchester, identified him as Kent Reeks.

Kent Reekes

Artists impression of the dead man.

Kent Reeks had been brutally murdered. His once handsome face had been smashed by three bullets. One had passed through the side of his forehead; another through the centre of his skull; and the third through his left eye.

His neatly dressed body was wearing a well fitted blue serge suit. His underwear was expensive and of high quality. His blue plaid overcoat in naval style, a scarf and collar and tie were also of good taste, costly and elegant.

The motive for murder was obviously not robbery. In his trouser pocket was found £9 2s 3d - the hallmark of a wealthy man. Also untouched was a gold watch and a silver chain. But there was nothing else to indicate who Kent Reeks might be.

With nothing but the letter to go on a team of top detectives worked on a crime that became more baffling. They spoke to his aunt a Mrs. Kent, but she was unable to help them. Their inquiries spread all over England and around the world, even to Australia where it was known that the dead man had been born

But their questions failed to produce any answers. They searched for the gun that killed Reeks but it was never found. Men searched the pit shaft that went down 250 feet to a further 150 feet of water but they drew a blank.

As the threat of war with Germany loomed as an evergrowing menace detectives continued to investigate a killing without clues. There was no weapon, No one knew the dead man or at least there was no evidence from anyone, it was not known what he did for a living; whether he was married; whether he had any girl friends; or whether he had any friends. He was a name and nothing else.

As the time passed and detectives exhausted all avenues of inquiry it became apparent that the lack of know-how and facilities were to be the biggest stumbling block in a case which today might have been solved with scientific aids, mobility and communication.

The then Chief Constable Colonel the Hon. G. A. Anson, regarded the case as a nightmare and admitted that his detectives, experienced as they were, could not get going and had become clogged down.

Col. Anson was succeeded by Col. Sir Herbert Hunter who studied the Reeks Affair. Although he reached various answers he was never able to bring the investigation to a successful conclusion. The man-hours spent on the murder hunt were numerous, but as the time went on and the conflict between Britain and Germany became a foregone conclusion, public interest began to wane and the police had to bring to a close their inquiries.

But the matter did not end there. Colonel Hunter, who died four years ago aged 88, had his own theories. He was convinced that Reeks was not murdered in Staffordshire but was brought into the county by one or possibly two killers men or women?who knew their way around.

On the day he was murdered Reeks was seen wandering around Liverpool 80 miles away in the company of two women. The police had learned that "in the background" were two so-called "fancy men." Numerous inquiries were made in the dock city but the four people were never traced. He had been seen with a wallet full of American dollar bills but being a world traveller Reeks was known to be able to handle himself in cities like Liverpool.

Colonel Hunter was convinced that Reeks was murdered at a late hour on Monday, January 19, 1914 by probably two people, one who knew the locality of the pit shaft at Ettingshall.

Reeks - a young, wealthy man, was murdered and that had been proved beyond doubt. But there must have been more to it than just killing. Was Reeks death a warning? Remember the pit shaft at Ettingshall? It was 400 feet deep. If a killer in a well thought out murder knows what he is doing one of the first things he or she will do is hide the body.

The killer or killers had the same opportunity here. Why drop Reeks' body in a shallow trench in an area used by many people? It would have been simpler to have dropped him into the shaft?at the bottom which was 150 feet of water. He would never have been found.

Did he stumble across something in Liverpool? Was he killed for the sake of being killed? He was not known to have a wife or friends and his aunt did not know much about him. So he would not have been missed.

He was not killed for his money but why he died will always remain a Midlands Mystery.


A fatal explosion of Gun Powder

Extract from "The Times" newspaper of Monday 17th December 1855

A frightful catastrophe occurred on Friday at Coseley, near Sedgley, in South Staffordshire, which has already occasioned the death of four persons, and injured several others, some of whom are not expected to recover, in addition to destroying a considerable amount of property.

It is customary in the mining districts of Staffordshire for the overseers of pits, either of iron, stone or coal, and who are technically called "Butties," to keep in their possession large quantities of blasting gunpowder, which is not unfrequently kept in places far from secure, and is used with a guilty want of caution. The following catastrophe is one of the results, it is feared, of this reprehensible practice.

The immediate scene of the disaster was a block of three small houses, belonging to Mr. John COTTERILL, and situated at the Coppice, on the road from Sedgley to the Deepfields Station, on the Stour Valley branch of the London and North-Western Railway.

These houses were occupied respectively by an old widow, named Elizabeth JACKSON and her daughter, by David MILLARD, a butty collier, in the service of Mr. H. B. WHITEHOUSE, with a wife and four children and by John CADDICK, a bricklayer, his wife and mother.

On the morning of Friday David MILLARD, who occupied the middle house of the three, went to work at a colliery at Priorfields, and was preceded by two of his brothers-in-law and a son, aged 12, named Joseph. After they had been at work about two hours a boy of nine years, named Thomas LEAR, and who worked for David MILLARD was sent back to the house of the latter to procure a quantity of gunpowder from a stock that was kept in the cellar.

The gunpowder was given to the boy by MILLARD's wife (since dead), and a second lad, named Samuel MILLARD, was afterwards despatched from the pit to fetch horse corn. These two boys are said to have met each other at COTTERILL's house, where the corn was to be obtained, and where MILLARD was desi red by the occupants to wait awhile in order that the corn might be pro­ perly supplied to him. The lad in order, as he alleged, to warm himself went into his father's house. He had left COTTERILL's house only a few minutes when there occurred a tremendous explosion, which blew up the three houses de­ scribed, with all their inhabitants.

Hitherto, however, death has occurred in only the centre house, which was the immediate site of the explosion; and here no fewer than four persons were killed in an instant. The names of the deceased, with their ages, are:

Jane MILLARD, the wife of David, and the mother of the other de ceased, aged 32 ;
Samuel MILLARD, the boy who was sent for the horse corn, aged 9;
Absalom MILLARD, aged 11 months;
and Hannah MILLARD, aged seven years.

Two children in the same house were injured:

David MILLARD, aged three years, who is hurt about the head and loins, but is expected to recover ;
and Fanny ALLEN, the nurse of the infant Absalom, aged 10 years.

This girl has sustained such severe injuries to the head that no reasonable expectations are entertained of her recovery.

In the first of the three houses Elizabeth JACKSON. aged 22, the daughter of the tenant, is injured in both legs. In the third house, the wife of John CADDICK is injured only slightly; but Hannah STEPHENS, his mother, who lived with them, is seriously injured about the head.

As speedily as possible after the explosion three surgeons were in attendance upon the injured persons, and the melancholy tidings were conveyed to the bereaved husband and father, David MILLARD, who at the time was engaged in the pit before referred to. Upon reaching the spot where just before his family slept in security and his property was safe, the first thing that among the shattered ruins of his dwelling attracted him was one of the lower limbs of his wife crushed against the place where the window had stood, and where she appeared to have been standing to prepare breakfast. The other parts of her body were buried beneath the rubbish, and life had for some time fled from the now shattered corpse.

The father of David MILLARD, and the grandfather of the children, was looking about among the ruins when he heard his grandson David call out from beneath a portion, with a faint voice, “Oh, grand-dad, do pull me out!” The poor little fellow, who was lying near the lower step of the stairs, was extricated, and, as we have stated, is expected to survive. Upon further search the dead body of the girl Hannah was found, also by her grandfather.

Samuel MILLARD, the boy who was sent for the horse corn, was found dead in the cellar, and the infant was lying a corpse in the arms of the girl ALLEN.

Nothing absolutely certain is yet known as to the cause of the explosion; but there is no doubt that David MILLARD was not an exception to the general rule, and that he kept powder in the cellar of his house. This he admits, but adds that in the barrel there was on Friday only a small quantity. From the position of the body of the boy Samuel, and from the circumstance of gunpowder having been found in his pockets, no room is left to doubt that, with the desire of possessing some powder - a desire incited, probably, by seeing his companion LEAR with some - he took a light into his father's cellar, and was obtaining the dangerous prize when a spark ignited the powder and the explosion ensued.

A fourth house is considerably injured; but the three destroyed are now as level with the ground as if they had been, duly taken down.

Note! The 4 deceased person's deaths can be found on the FREEBMD website under the Dudley Registration District, Volume 6C, Page 49. I couldn't find Fanny ALLEN though, maybe she survived? Ian Oct 2004


Death of John Grainger at Gospel End.

Many thanks to Judy Mellowes for this story.

Extract from the Wolverhampton Chronicle of Wednesday January 25th 1865

BOY SHOT BY ANOTHER – On Friday, Mr Phillips deputy coroner, held an adjourned inquiry at the Summerhouse Inn Gospel End, into the cause of the death of a boy named John Grainger aged thirteen years who died on Monday, from injuries received from the firing of a gun in his face by another boy name Rupert Hickman.

James Bagley a labourer residing at Gospel end stated that on the day preceding Christmas Day, he left his gun hanging up in his house. It was not loaded. On his return he found that his son had fetched it out, loaded it, and that the deceased had been shot.

James Bagley son of the above, deposed that on the 24th of December, he loaded his father’s gun with powder and shot, and placed it in the stable ready for use an left it in there uncocked.

Shortly afterwards he saw Hickman go into the stable and told him not touch the gun. The witness then saw it in Hickman’s hand, and cautioned him that he might do some mischief. Hickman thereupon replied that he could shoot as well as the witness and pointed it at him. In a minute after he heard the report of firearms, and found that the deceased was shot in the forehead.

There had been no quarrel, and witness did not think Hickman shot deceased purposely but considered it to be an accident. Hickman at the time seemed very sorry and rendered every assistance in his power to the poor sufferer. Hickman had shot a lad some time ago accidentally, but the lad did not die. The witness was positive the gun he left in the stable was not either full or half cocked. (The gun was produced and it was found that at full cock it would go off very easily). The jury considered the occurrence purely accidental, and returned a verdict accordingly. The Coroner cautioned the boy Hickman against the future incautious use of firearms.

Further Information: It appears the Rupert emigrated to Australia around 1872 and died in Bundaberg, Queensland in 1916 - See newspaper clippings below. The cuttings were found in a teapot belonging to the Mother of the great nephew of Rupert's daughter.
Mrs.Sarah Hickman

The death occurred yesterday at her residence, Gooburrum, of Mrs Sarah Round Hickman, at the age of 81 years. Mrs. Hickman was born at Wolverhampton, England, and had resided in Queensland for 65 years. Her husband the late Mr. Rupert Dudley Hickman. was the first school master appointed to Bundaberg and the family home has remained in the district for over 60 years. Mr. Hickman. died in 1916.

Mrs. Hickman, despite her age. enjoyed remarkably good health until comparatively recently, and was held in the highest esteem by a large circle of friends both in the city and in the Gooburrum area. She is survived by a family of six suns and three daughters.

The funeral will take place this morning leaving the Church of England at 11 o'clock (service at 10.45 for the Bundaberg General Cemetery. The arrangements are in the hands of Messrs. F. C. Brown and Co.

HICKMAN : At her residence, Gooburrum, on the 8th July, 1937, SARAH ROUND, relict of the late Rupert Dudley Hickman. Aged 81 years 9 months.
At Rest.

The obituary of  Rupert Hickman from the Bundaberg newspaper of the time (17 Nov 1916)

Rupert obviously went on to lead a good and productive life which just goes to show that youthful silliness is just that...


Yesterday there passed away one more of the fast vanishing pioneers of Bundaberg, in the person of Mr. Robert D. Hickman, of Gooburrun, whose death occurred at the General Hospital at an early hour in the morning. To the present generation Mr. Hickman was best known as a systematic farmer, but there are those in the community who remember the now deceased gentleman as the kindly dispositioned but thoroughly practical teacher of the few children who formed the juvenile portion of the population of Bundaberg some forty years ago.

In Bundaberg's primeval days, Mr. Hickman came to the district in the heyday of young manhood, full of enterprise and determination - factors in the building up of the present city. Away back in the year 1874 Bundaberg was only an embryo settlement, but its few settled residents were full of resourcefulness and having decided that the district was to become a permanent place, and that Bundaberg was to be the main centre, they set to work to establish a primary public school. In those days, when Queensland itself was young and just attempting to become a self-supporting colony, communities desirous of having schools under the Board were required to raise locally one third of the cost. It was thought desirable, however, to raise a sufficient fund by local subscription to secure the estsblishment of a primary public school. The number of claims on the local liberality had necessarily been very considerable, and a subscription list was twice unsuccessfully started. A third attempt was, however, successful, and the money being forthcoming, tenders for the erection of a school building were called for, and Mr. T. E. Thornton, the successful tenderer, completed the work expeditiously.

The school was opened on February 26, 1875, with an attendance of 53 children, the teacher being Mr. R. D. Hickman. Some few years later Mr. Hickman, who had become enthusiastically impressed with the future possibilities of Bundaberg, resigned his educational appointment to enter upon farming pursuits. He secured land in the Kolan and other districts, eventually settling down at his well-known residence, Oberon, Gooburrun. Mr. Hickman did not take an active interest in political matters, nor did he interfere in local authorities' work to any extent. But in matters of a useful or elementary nature his name was generally associated.

In February of 1876, upwards of forty years ago he was actively associated with leading residents in forming an elocution class, whilst later in the same year the services of a volunteer rifle corps were accepted by the Government, Captain R. D. Hickman being first officer. Although he took no active part in contentious legislative matters he devoted much time to the improvement and cultivation of his farm, and was voluntary organiser at the Anglican Church at Gooburrum, from the time the building was dedicated.

Amongst the earlier possessions of Mr. Hickman was a grazing block in the Upper Boyne district, near the present Glassford Creek mining township. Mr. Hickman, who was 66 years of age, had won for himself a large circle of friends, and the funeral yesterday afternoon was extensively attended.

The Rev, Canon Beasley officiated at the graveside. To the bereaved family a full measure of sympathy is accorded in their affliction.


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