Wednesday, 17 September 2014


On 15 September 1885, a 45 year-old Walsoken farmer called Robert Goodale murdered his wife, Bathsheba. After battering her about the head with a billhook, he attempted to hide her corpse by throwing it down a well. 
It was a troubled marriage, and Bathsheba Goodale had frequently sought refuge with a neighbour from her husband's violent temper. Goodale had confided in a friend, that he "had done the business, she won't bark at me any more."

This is an extract from a contemporary newspaper account.
A woman named Goodale. the wife of a small farmer and market gardener, was. about seven o’clock on Wednesday morning, found dead in well on the premises belonging to their cottage, which is situate near the Rifle Butts. The deceased woman owned several places in Albion Place, Wisbech, in one of which she and her husband were accustomed to sleep, as the cottage at the Butts was lonely. Some suspicion was aroused by the arrival of Goodale in Wisbech without his wife on Tuesday evening, and the following morning the discovery her body was made. On the woman’s head were several severe wounds, evidently Inflicted by some sharp instrument. 

The husband is in custody, and will be brought up before the Norfolk magistrates, in which county the scene of the supposed murder situated. The accused was brought in custody on Wednesday, before Mr. A. W. English, a Norfolk magistrate, charged with the wilful murder of Bathsheba his wife, at Walsoken, on the 13th of September.—Sergeant Houghton deposed that he went towards the house the accused, and saw him on the river bank. He noticed he had some blood on his “chummy hat and waistcoat." When taken into custody, he said, It’s a rum job.” He asked where she was, and witness told him her body was in the well. asked witness to let him and see, and he went with accused to the well. There was a body in it partly covered by water. Accused was then left in charge of two men. while the body was got out of the well. Witness recognised the body as that of Bathsheba Goodale. 

There was a large wound on her left temple, another large wound on the top and back of her head, with blood flowing from them. The wounds witness thought were sufficient to kill her. The depth of the well was twenty feet. Witness had not found any instrument that might have caused the wounds. There were blood spots on his trousers, which appeared to have been washed. Accused said that he got wet by going through the marshes. Cross-examined by prisoner: I don’t remember you saying it was earlier than five o’clock when you left your house.—The prisoner was committed to Norwich Castle, to be brought up for trial at Terrington on Monday next.

Goodale was found guilty of murder, and was executed on 30 November, 1885, inside Norwich Castle. The hangman was James Berry of Bradford, but his calculations went awry. 

Norwich Castle at the time of Goodale's execution

As the trapdoor opened, and the 15 stone Goodale fell to his death, the official onlookers gasped with horror as the rope rebounded out of the trapdoor, swinging loose. As Berry and the prison surgeon looked under the staging of the scaffold they saw the Goodale's body lying there - with his decapitated head, still wearing the execution hood, beside it on the ground.
It had not been a great year for Berry. Earlier in the year he had famously failed to hang John Babbacombe Lee (The Man They Couldn't Hang) when the trapdoor repeatedly failed to open. Here is James Berry's calling card.
Please check back at the weekend for the next installment of MURDER MOST FOUL