A Murder in the Family

Whenever we start investigating our family tree, I think most of us expect to find something “out of the ordinary” among our ancestral roots, whether it be a scandal, a rogue or a murder. Well, I don’t know if I should say “I’m pleased to say I have found the latter in my family”, but here is what I have found out so far, anyway:

On 1st May 1927, my 2x great-grandmother’s first cousin was shot and killed by a neighbour, who then tried to kill one of the victim’s daughters, before taking his own life. Such a gruesome and tragic episode came to my attention some two or perhaps three years ago, when another member of an Internet forum found a reference to the terrible occurrence on the online archive of The Times.

An old cider mill.

But let’s start at the beginning. Alfred Vickress, the would-be-victim’s father, was the youngest of my 4x great-grandparents’ 12 children, and like many men in his family, he turned to carpentry for a living. His elder brother William, who practically belonged to the previous generation given the difference in age between them, married in 1852 a woman called Mary Orchard. The marriage remained childless, but it probably became instrumental in the forging of yet another union some 20 years later. Given the fact that William and Mary had no children, they often had Hannah Orchard, Mary’s only niece, to come and stay with them in Marden, Herefordshire, where they lived all their lives. Young Hannah soon caught the eye of her uncle’s youngest brother Alfred, and soon a relationship blossomed. The second union between a Vickress and an Orchard took place in 1877; Hannah thus became the sister-in-law of her own Aunt Mary.

Hannah’s presence in the family was probably very well accepted, given the fact that she had known most of her (now) in-laws for some time. She and Alfred had a son, William, and a daughter, Sarah. The family lived next door to the widowed Mary at Litmarsh, in Marden, and it was there that Alfred passed away -peacefully- in 1900. His widowed wife Hannah followed him to the grave 15 years later, at the age of 77. Had she lived another 15 years she would have witnessed her only son’s murder.

Alfred and Hannah’s son William had been born in 1877 and became a mason ny his early 20’s; he was later described as a smallholder in middle-age. In 1903 William married Alice Maria Taylor, a local girl two years his senior, who gave her husband two daughters: Violet in 1904, and Rose, born two years after. How well off the family was we cannot know, but whatever his life may have been like, it is certain that William’s existence was cut short on April 29th 1927, when he went to the cider-mill in Marden accompanied by a farmer called Thomas Bown (or Bounds). The two had been neighbours for an unspecified amount of time and had even been living together -presumably Bown was a lodger at Litmarsh farm-; Bown was a retired farmer and old-age pensioner who may have moved into the Vickress’s household because he lacked the means to support himself.

Marden church is dedicated to St Mary the Virgin. The church is believed to be near the site of another murder, that of the young king of East Anglia, Ethelbert, in 794 AD. Courtesy of geograph.org.uk.

On that fateful day, one can only suppose that the two started to argue. Bown, who seems to have been mentally unstable, took out a gun (did people usually carry guns in Herefordshire in the 1920’s, I wonder?) and shot William Vickress on the spot. Upon hearing the shot, one of William’s young daughters appeared on the scene,saw her father bleeding on the ground, and made a miraculous escape when Bown pointed the gun at her as well. When she returned a few minutes later with help, Bown had fatally shot himself; her father lay on the floor, motionless, and mortally wounded. He was rushed to hospital in the city of Hereford, where he died two days later.

An inquest, which I can only imagine is preserved at the Records Office in Hereford, might well shed some more light onto what happened on 1st May 1927. I suppose that’s my next port of call.

The ending of this sad story is no less sadder. The same year William was killed his eldest daughter Violet gave birth to an illegitimate child; in 1931 she had a second baby by an unknown father, but Violet died later that very same year, aged just 27. Her two babies, I imagine, were taken care of by her mother, who died in 1950, and her sister Rose, who died a spinster in the early 1960’s. I wonder if the two illegitimate children’s descendants have any idea of the tragedies that touched their family at the beginning of the previous century?

This entry was posted in Birth, Death, England, Genealogy, Herefordshire, Illegitimacy, Marden, Marriage, Murder. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Murder in the Family

  1. A very sad story. But it is interesting to know.

  2. Les Vickress says:

    Hello just wondering who who are and where you live

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