Modern account of the crime
The following is an 'easy read' account the crime and trial of Sarah Dazley, published in 1993. No sources are referenced in the account and it cannot therefore be fully verified. The author may be giving his own interpretation of events. This should be taken into consideration when reading.
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Murder Most Foul: by Paul Harrison
In 1819 the village barber in the Bedfordshire village of Potton, Phillip Reynolds, became the proud father of a fine baby girl, who was named Sarah. Reynolds was a hard-working man who attempted to provide for his family, but eventually the unfortunate barber succumbed to the burden of debt.
For many months he had procured necessities 'on tick' with the promise of payment at a later date, but these promises were ill founded for Reynolds had no money. He was forced to close the barber's shop and in 1825 he was gaoled at Bedford for bad debts, a bitter blow to the Reynolds family.
Worse was to follow in 1826, when shortly after his release from Bedford prison, the unfortunate Phillip Reynolds died. The damp and miserable prison conditions had seriously affected his health, which was none too good before his gaol sentence. The stability of a father figure was lost forever to young Sarah.
It would seem that sexual promiscuity was an accepted part of the lifestyle of Sarah's mother. Certainly there were a number of different male visitors to the family home whilst husband Phillip was alive, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Phillip Reynolds knew of his wife's affairs but for reasons best known to himself preferred to ignore them. Sarah, then, had a succession of men whom she would be instructed to refer to as 'Uncle'; the poor child must have found it difficult to understand why her mother continually introduced new men into the house. Matters improved slightly when several months after her husband's death Mrs Reynolds remarried.
Despite the inadequacies of her mother, Sarah grew up to be a pretty and confident young woman. Her long silky auburn hair was generally worn in a bun, but from contemporary sketches it would seem that this did little to enhance her appearance and in fact seemed to age her. Being a tall girl Sarah possessed an elegant gait, and her dark brown eyes rounded off her beauty. Such a good-looking woman is seldom without an admirer and, following in her mother's footsteps, Sarah had numerous boyfriends.
In 1838 Sarah apparently settled down and married a local man, Simeon Mead. The couple remained in Potton for about two years before moving to nearby Tadlow in 1840. The reasons behind the move are uncertain but some claimed that Sarah had taken up an extra-marital relationship and that Simeon had found out and insisted upon moving to sever his wife's contact with her lover. Whatever the reason, it seems to have been of benefit to the couple's relationship as they were soon blessed with a child, a son. The euphoria of becoming parents was short-lived, however, as the child lived for just a few months.
This was a devastating time for Simeon, who worshipped the child. Both he and Sarah seemed greatly agitated by the loss, although it seems that Simeon mourned day and night, virtually turning into a recluse. Neighbours rallied round and attempted to ease the couple's pain with continued support and of course, much-needed sympathy, but no-one realised that beneath this obvious grief lay more serious domestic issues. Outwardly the couple had seemed content, but they had been at loggerheads for many months with Sarah generally agitating the domestic harmony. Like her mother, Sarah was sexually promiscuous; her flirtations with other men from the surrounding villages caused Simeon much grief.
Very suddenly, in October 1840, Simeon Mead passed away. The whole community were horrified and great sympathy was showered upon Sarah. Despite the curious death of her child, then husband, no-one seems to have suspected foul play, though the deaths had taken place within just a few weeks of each other. For a short time Sarah played the grieving widow whose life had been ruined.
Like her mother before her, Sarah took up another relationship within weeks of her husband's death. She was regularly seen in the company of a 23 year old labourer by the name of William Dazley. In February 1841, just four months after Simeon's death, the couple married and almost immediately escaped from the viperous tongues of Tadlow (which had begun to realise that all was not as it should be with the young woman) to a small house in Wrestlingworth, which is situated about three miles from Potton.
Sarah Dazley, as she was now known, was very much the dominant partner in the relationship. She insisted that Ann Mead, her dead husband's 14 year-old sister should come to live with them, and William offered no objection to this and accepted the girl as part of his family responsibilities. As in her previous relationship the couple seemed quite happy; both were popular members of the community although some of the womenfolk held their suspicions as to Sarah's character, but provided she did not touch their husbands then there was no problem! Others were sceptical of the circumstances surrounding Sarah's family bereavements, which were a long-standing topic of village gossip.
The wedded bliss the couple portrayed was little more than a sham and as the weeks progressed William was seen drinking in the Chequers Inn, Wrestlingworth. He was often alone and the drinking sessions became more and more frequent. Everyone knew that something was troubling him, for it was out of character for him to behave in such a manner. William would not confide in anyone, he kept his marital problems to himself - sadly, his wife could not do so.
One Saturday evening William returned home from the village inn and a violent quarrel ensued as his wife demanded to know where he had been. Sarah scolded her husband for drinking so much, William declined to get involved, but Sarah was livid and continued to rant and rave until William could take no more. In a brief moment of despair he lashed out at his wife. It was to be an action which he would regret for the short time he had left to live.
The following day Sarah met with one of her supposed lovers, William Waldock, a local man. She told Waldock about her husband and how he was continually ill treating her, adding that she 'would do for anyone who hits her'. The insecure woman then proceeded to tell another neighbour a similar tale in a bid to gain sympathy and to poison people's minds against her husband. The good people of Wrestling-worth realised that there were two sides to every tale, and the stories told by Sarah were, in the main, ignored.
A few days after this incident William Dazley was taken seriously ill, vomiting and complaining of wretched stomach pains. Doctor Sandell from Potton was called and duly carried out a thorough examination, pills were prescribed and almost immediately William began to recover.
Within a few days William was on the mend although still bedridden. Ann Mead was busying herself in the kitchen of the small house when Sarah, who was unaware of Ann's presence, came in. The young girl stood quietly and was amazed to see Sarah begin to roll her own pills! It did not mean a great deal to her at the time, she found it more curious than anything else, believing that Sarah was making the pills to sweeten the taste of those prescribed by the doctor.
Later that same day Sarah visited one of her friends, Mrs Carver in Potton. She told Mrs Carver that she was worried about her husband's health (she did not explain that he was getting better) and that she was going to visit Doctor Sandell for more pills. Mrs Carver offered her kindest regards to William and Sarah left. A few minutes later Mrs Carver saw Sarah walking back towards Wrestlingworth. She was within a few feet of her when she saw Sarah throw some pills into a hedgerow, seemingly replacing these in the container with some others. Mrs Carver called out to Sarah that she had dropped some pills, but Sarah replied that she had little faith in Doctor Sandell's medication and she had visited the village healer, Mrs Gurr, who had provided a different remedy.
At home Sarah offered the pills to her husband, who at once noticed a difference between these and the ones given to him by Doctor Sandell. He refused to take them. Ann Mead became involved; she had been nursing William and a good trusting relationship had been forged between them. Ann persuaded William to take the pills by taking one herself, and William consumed the medication proffered by his wife. In consequence of this both Ann and William fell violently ill, once again with severe stomach pains and vomiting. William Dazley rushed out of the house and into the rear yard, desperate to gulp in quantities of fresh air. He vomited on the ground by the pig pen and returned indoors. Unwittingly the vomit was eagerly lapped up by one of the greedy pigs in the yard; the sad beast was found dead the following morning!
Both William and Ann survived the sickness, which was most mysterious, and amazingly neither suspected Sarah of any nefarious actions. Sarah was now desperate. She continued to feed her husband more and more pills in greater dosages and reassured him that the pills were from Doctor Sandell. William Dazley died on 30th October 1842. The subsequent inquest was a farce. No suspicious circumstances were deemed to surround the death, which was ascribed to an infection. William was buried in Wrestlingworth churchyard.
At the tender age of 23, Sarah Dazley had twice been widowed. For most people such tragedies would be catastrophic and cause long term grief, but Sarah Dazley was not your average human being. Indeed, Sarah typified evil. Within a few weeks of William Dazley's death she had taken up an open relationship with William Waldock. It was not that Waldock attempted to force himself upon her, indeed it was the opposite. Once again Sarah's strong personality dictated the future of the relationship and within a few weeks the couple announced their engagement to be married.
Amongst the inquisitive villagers of Wrestlingworth the general consensus of opinion was that Sarah had had something to do with William Dazley's death. Peer pressure was placed upon William Waldock to sever his relationship with Sarah and various facts were pointed out to him, including her promiscuity. He duly broke off the engagement, electing to refrain from seeing her any more. Some of the villagers decided to inform the local coroner, Mr Eagles, of their suspicions, and the official listened intently and agreed to reinvestigate the deaths of Simeon Mead, his child and William Dazley. This would either clear Sarah Dazley of suspicion or prove her guilt. He ordered that the body of William Dazley be exhumed and a further post mortem held.
On Monday, 20th March 1843 an inquest was held in the Chequers Inn, Wrestlingworth. It was announced that William Dazley's body contained lethal traces of poison; white arsenic had been found in his intestines. The death was confirmed to be under suspicious circumstances and a warrant for Sarah's arrest issued. However, that cunning young woman knew that all was about to be revealed and she took off, searching for sanctuary in London.
Superintendent Blunden of Biggleswade made a few discreet enquiries within
the district and ascertained Sarah's precise whereabouts. Arriving in Upper Wharf Street, London, he found Sarah and effected an arrest. She told him that she was aware of the vicious rumours emanating from Potton and Wrestlingworth about her killing her husbands, but they were not true. The evil woman proclaimed that she was innocent until proven guilty and that the authorities would find it impossible to prove her guilt, as she had no knowledge of poisons and had never procured any other than official medication prescribed by Doctor Sandell. She calmly stated, 'I was on my way to Bedford to give myself up, I am innocent.'
The rooms of her London lodgings were searched but revealed very little in the way of evidence. The return trip to Bedford was carried out in two stages, the prisoner and her captors staying overnight at the Swan Inn, Biggleswade, where Sarah spent a sleepless night, constantly asking her travel companions questions upon executions and trials.
Meanwhile the authorities had begun to investigate every facet of the case, and the bodies of Simeon Mead and his child were exhumed and examined. Positive signs of poison in the young child were found but insufficient evidence existed to prove that Simeon Mead had died by similar means.
Sarah had begun to plot and scheme. She told the authorities that her first husband and child had been poisoned by none other than William Dazley, who wanted rid of them so he could have her all to himself. She further claimed that once she knew of this she poisoned Dazley, handing out her own form of retribution. An ingenious story but one which was filled with inconsistencies and no-one believed her. The fact that she was suspected of the murder of her own innocent and helpless baby manufactured great public hatred towards her.
The trial of Sarah Dazley commenced at Bedford in July 1843. Her defence counsel, Mr O'Malley explained that she had administered the poison to her husband, William Dazley by mistake, a total contradiction of what she told the investigating authorities. It was her final attempt to twist the truth to her own benefit. The court did not examine the murder of the young baby, since sufficient evidence existed to prove Sarah Dazley's guilt in murdering her husband and such guilt would indicate that the baby died by the same callous hand.
The case offered by the defence began to crumble, not through any fault of Mr O'Malley, but through the lies Sarah had told him. First, two chemists came forward and gave evidence that they had sold arsenic to Sarah Dazley a short time before William Dazley had passed away, while Mrs Carver told of the episode she had witnessed with the pills. William Waldock was called to confirm that on 13th October 1842, Sarah and William Dazley had a violent verbal altercation. He told the court that Sarah had said to him, 'He struck me, I'll be damned if I don't do for any man that ever hits me.' The evidence against Sarah Dazley was overwhelming.
The jury retired, only to return just 30 minutes later with a verdict of 'guilty of murder'. The judge, Baron Alderson found himself angered whilst passing sentence upon Sarah; he commented that it was a sin to murder a man she supposedly cherished, but to take the life of a young innocent child was utterly heartless. He could not sufficiently express his anguish over such an atrocious deed and recommended that she should ask for the mercy of her Redeemer. He then sentenced Sarah to death and instructed that she should be returned to Bedford prison until such time as the sentence was carried out.
It is said that whilst incarcerated in prison, Sarah taught herself to read and write. She took to reading the Bible and begged her Maker for mercy each evening. She refused to talk with other prisoners and was very much a loner.
The execution date had been set for Sunday 5th August 1843 and she therefore had very little time to fret over her situation. She would sit for hour after hour staring into space and sobbing aloud, and she found it difficult to eat as the fateful day grew closer. News of her grief quickly spread throughout the town and this suffering amazingly aroused great sympathy. Indeed, so great was this sympathy that the authorities were forced to place an extra guard on her cell door as it was believed that some citizens of the town were plotting her escape.
The day of the execution soon arrived, when a crowd of some 12,000 assembled to witness Sarah Dazley's last few minutes on this earth. It was the first execution to take place in Bedford since 1833. A buzz of excitement ran through the crowd as the minute of the execution neared; among those gathered was William Waldock who, unlike most people there, stood in silence. It is impossible to understand what emotions must have been running through his mind as he watched his ex-fiancee executed.
A stage had been erected upon which stood the gallows. The executioner, William Calcraft stood awaiting the arrival of Sarah Dazley, who was brought up from the condemned cell. The prison governor asked if she had anything to say prior to being 'turned off'. She declined the offer to confess her sins but asked that Calcraft be swift in his operation. He pinioned her hands in front of her, which was seen by the assembled throng as the time to fall silent. The officials withdrew from the platform, Calcraft made one or two slight adjustments and turned her to face away from the crowd. The signal was given and the bolt was withdrawn, plunging Sarah Dazley through the platform, suspended by the executioner's rope. Dazley died almost immediately.
From: Hertfordshire & Bedfordshire Murders
- Paul Harrison 1993 - ISBN 1 85306 263 4
Reproduced by kind permission of the publishers:
Countryside Books, Newbury Berkshire