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A REAL HANSOM CAB MYSTERY., Issue 7904, 11 May 1889
A REAL HANSOM CAB MYSTERY.
[From Our Special Correspondent ]
London, March 22,
It must have been with mixed feelings Mr Fergus Hume, on Wednesday morning, read of the conviction of the Manchester murderer, Charles Parton, for a crime precisely analogous to that described in the • Mystery of a Hansom Cab.' There can, indeed, be very little doubt that if Mr Hume's shilling " marrow-curdler " had never been written the estimable but bibulous Mr Fletcher would never have been poisoned. A copy of the novelette was found in Parton's possession, and there can scarcely bo room for doubt that it originally suggested to him his nefarious scheme.
Charles Parton was (though but eighteen years of age) described by his pals as a •'loose fish" and a "bad egg." He loafod about public-house bars and billiard rooms, spending his time talking, " sharping," and swiping, and bore the enviable reputation of being up to any villainy. Some six weeks ago Parton scraped a bar parlor acquaintance with Mr Fletcher, a florid, elderly gentleman of bibulous tendencies, who drank more gin and water and wore more jewellery than was at all safe or prudent. Parton noted this jewellery, and turned over various schemes in his mind for gaining possession of it, but it was not presumably till he came across Mr Hume's "shocker " and had perused it that he thought he saw -his way to a safe, novel, and successful robbery. The plan was, indeed, simplicity itself, and not—one ought in fairness to remember intentionally murderous. Mr Parton merely waited till he met his victim ** three sheets in the wind," when he first "hocussed" him with a dose of chloral in some beer, and then got him into a cab. To strip the old man of his jewellery and empty his pockets was a simple matter, end to slip out of the cab unobserved comparatively easy. The crime was, indeed, so ingeniously planned and cleverly executed that but for two circumstances one attributable to Parton's own imprudence, the other to pure accident, it might have escaped detection, and the estimable young man havo gone Bcot free.
"Mr Fletcher (says the 'Telegraph' in an interesting analysis of the evidence) was sufficiently given to indulgence in intoxicating liquors to justify the assumption that he had died of alcoholic poisoning, the result of habitual intemperance. As a matter of fact, that was the view taken of the cause of his death by the house surgeon of the Manchester Infirmary, who first examined his body when it was brought to that institution. Dr Barker deposed on oath that, * had he not been told by the public analyst that traces of chloral had been found in the corpse, he would have formed the opinion that death was due to alcoholic poisoning.' Dr Reynolds, another member of the infirmary medical staff who took part iD the post mortem, examination, stated that the deceased was a bull-necked man, who had undoubtedly consumed a vast quantity of ardent spirits, and whoso liver was that of an habitual gin-drinker * in an early stage.' Neither he nor his colleague, Dr Barker, would swear that Mr Fletcher had not died from alcoholic poisoning. Thus, it might have been impossible for the prosecution to prove Parton's guilt, despito his suspicious behavior on the night of the murder—when he Bported the spoils of his victim in a Manchester public-house bar—had not the two circumstances above referred to brought it home to him with fatal directness. The first was his theft of a bottle of chloral from a chemist's shop in Liverpool, just a week before the murder. He was identified by the tradesman in question as the very person who, on February 19, had applied to him for forty grains of chloral, on the pretence that his mother was suffering from angina pectoris. The dose was too large to be supplied to any applicant, save on the authority of a medical prescription. The chemist, however, ultimately consented to let Parton have ten grains, and took a bottle of chloral down from a shelf for the purpose of serving him, placing it upon the counter. Whilst he was writing out a label, Parton caught up the bottle, ran off with it, and disappeared. After his arrest, on suspicion of having murdered Mr Fletcher, the Liverpool chemist picked him out from among seven other men at the Manchester Police Office. Possibly the fact that Parton waß in pos-ession of a pound of chloral, obtained by nefarious means, at the time when he persuaded Mr Fletcher to drink and ride in a cab with him might have been regarded, from the strictly legal point of view, merely as a piece of strong presumptive evidence in his disfavor, considered in conjunction with other incriminating matters that came to light in the course of his trial. All doubt as to his culpability, however, was removed by the testimony of a witness who had held aloof from the magisterial investigation preceding Parton's committal on the capital charge, but who came forward at the assizes to swear that he had seen the prisoner furtively pour the contents of a phial into one of the two glasses of beer with which Mr Fletcher and Parton were supplied at the Three Arrows public-house on the evening of the 26 th ult. This witness, Mr Edward Phillips, bookkeeper to the Manchester branch of the London Dress Company, whilst himself partaking of refreshment at the tavern bar, noticed Parton and the deceased gentleman •sitting between two tables.' They called for beer, and after they had been served he saw Parton empty a small bottle, containing a yellowish liquid, into one of the glasses, both of which he subsequently held up to the light and 'looked at,' finally setting them-down, ona on each table. Mr Fletcher was talking at the time, not looking at his companion, and besides was so placed that he could not possibly have seen what Parton was about. It appears to have struck Mr Phillips that Parton was taking a dose of medicine in beer, probably to disguise its disagreeable flavor, and he gave no further thought to the occurrence until the proceedings in the Police Court, consequent upon Parton's arrest, obtained publicity. Gathering from the report that the prisoner had convoyed Mr Fletcher from the fish-shop (outside which he had engaged him in conversation) to the Three Arrows, where he had remained with bim for some twenty minutes, and had thence driven off with him in the cab in which the murdered man was found later on, all but dead, Mr Phillips went down to the police office, and there identified Parton as the person whom he had observed pouring liquid from a small phial into a glass of beer on the occasion above referred to. The witness had withheld his evidence, on the ground that he 'did not wish to be mixed up in the case,' until—the Manchester detectives having ascertained from the landlady of the Three Arrows that he had noticed ' something suspicious' in connection with Parton's behaviour in that tavern—he was taken in hand by the authorities, and called upon to make the statement which he repeated in Court on Monday last. His evidence practically cleared up the ' Manchester cab mystery,' and sealed the fate of Parton. The jury added to their verdict of guilty a recommendation to mercy on account of the prisoner's youth. Whether that compassionate rider produces any effect or not, it does not lessen or extenuate the hcinousness of the crime itself."
A REAL HANSOM CAB MYSTERY., Issue 7904, 11 May 1889
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