Sunday 11 July 2010

Winnie Mitchell's Grave

In 1913, Dorset rabbit trapper Bill Burton was, according to contemporary accounts, described as a lady killer [womaniser] - an apt description to which he would live up to.

He seduced Winnie Mitchell and, after she revealed she was pregnant, said he would elope with her. Burton changed his mind and Winnie threatened to go public. Two day's later, he lured her to Sovel Plantation and shot her in the head with a shotgun, burying her body in a shallow grave.

Police discovered fragments of Winnie's shattered teeth in the wood and discovered her grave nearby. Arrested and confessed, he faced a jury at Dorset Assizes who took only 19 minutes to find him guilty. On midsummer's day 1913, he was hanged by Britain's best known executioner, Thomas Pierrepoint. A post-mortem revealed that Winnie was not pregnant when she died.

Photographers, at the time, were quick to make a profit from accidents or sensational murders and one photographed the empty shallow grave where she was discovered. His name or the price he charged are unknown. As he scratched the caption on the reverse of the glass plate negative, the difficulty of writing the wrong way round is revealed by his use of back-to-front Ns in her Christian name.


Christine H. said...

What a fascinating story! Poor Winnie. I'm always naively puzzled by men who murder women who may be carrying their offspring. It just seems contrary to the instincts to perpetuate our genes.

Jo said...

I have listed some archived articles on the murder of Winifred Mary Mitchell and the execution of William Walter Burton for the crime.

Laurie said...

Jo, Thanks for pointing me in the direction of this information. Very useful.

Jo said...

Hi Laurie,
Since posting I have found a few more references on the Trove site that refer to the case.
We have the same original picture of the grave in the family. I didn't realise that it was widely distributed at the time.

Jo said...

I have posted a picture of Winifred Mitchell on my link. Also recently read the account written by Roger Guttridge in his book Dorset Murders.

David said...

If Albert Pierrepoint hanged him he must have been remarkably precocious as he would have only been eight years old in 1913! more likely his father Henry or his uncle Tom.

Laurie said...

Thank you, David. It was Thomas Pierrepoint and I have just found this useful website

Jo said...

Hello Laurie & David,
Two more links for info on William Burton's executioner>
I recently updated my blog on Winnie with links to a few more newspaper articles I found as well as books written about the case.

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An illustrated look at the World of Graveyards and Cemeteries. There are many Stories behind the Stones that Stand in them. Who knows what we might find?


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