Sunday, 28 September 2014


As they are heard to say on BBC radio from time, "Some listeners may find this next item disturbing..." What follows is not a happy read, but although not legally a murder, it is every bit as grim as the Wisbech murders featured in earlier blogs. We live in what some people call a Nanny State. Rightly or wrongly, if things go wrong domestically, through illness or incapacity, there is supposed to be a community safety net, in the form of Social Services. Some might argue that the net has too many holes in it, but provided that when you fall, you don't hit one of the holes, there is still something there.

In 1920s Wisbech, there was no net, tattered or otherwise. This a digest of newspaper reports concerning the tragic - and painful - death of Annie Lizzie Rennison.



A revolting state of things was brought out in the evidence, the woman apparently never being moved out of her chair, and receiving no attention whatever. The prisoner, was warned on several occasions, and always promised to do something. He spent most of his time in a public-house, and had been heard to say if it was not for risking his neck he would do her in. 

A remarkable case came before Mr Justice Bray at the Cambridgeshire Assizes Cambridge on Wednesday. The prisoner, John Thomas Rennison, aged 60, a, painter, of Wisbech, was charged with killing his wife, Lizzie Rennison, by neglecting her. She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, and was unable to move. It was alleged that she had been in chair for some time, from which she was never moved for any purpose whatsoever. A curtain shutting out light had been stretched across the living-room, and it was behind this curtain, which shut out the external light, that she spent her life in the chair. She gradually got into a deplorable condition, and eventually died in her chair.
The prisoner was originally indicted for unlawfully killing Annie Lizzie Rennison. his wife at Wisbech, on July l8th 1922 , and was charged with the manslaughter on the Coroner's inquisition. The Grand Jury, however, returned true bill for murder. Medical testimony elicited the fact that the deceased woman was confirmed invalid and was unable to do anything for herself. Owing to inflammation of all structures of the joints, which caused a state of fixation, she was unable to move.

George Lucas, a Wisbech doctor, said he had treated the woman for some time, but found her incurable. If she had been looked after, there was no reason why she should not lived for many year, he said. Police-Sergeant Bush stated that he had visited the prisoner's house from to time, and always found Mrs Rennison in the same position and place, without any food or fire, in filthy condition. Sergeant Bush had warned the prisoner, and told him must see after his wife. Bush said, in evidence,

"I heard the prisoner speak of his wife in a wicked way, and once he said 'If weren't for my damned neck I would do for you once and for all'."

The prisoner was warned on several occasions, and always promised to do something. He spent most of his time in a public house. The prisoner, giving evidence on his own behalf, said he arranged for his wife to be attended to by another woman, and there was always money in a drawer near her, which she could have.

Mrs Bray, who was present when the woman died, and helped lay her out, gave a terrible description of the woman's bodily condition. There were maggots crawling over her, while her bones protruded through her flesh through sitting the same position, and there was a hole in her back caused by lying against the chair. The prisoner, under oath, said his wife could not carried, as it gave her great pain, and he thought it best for her to remain the chair. The curtain was to put up to keep out the draught, and to make her more comfortable. She was difficult to manage, and liked to have her own way. The jury found prisoner guilty of manslaughter, and the passed sentence of five years' penal servitude. 

Rennison did the crime, but never completed the time. A 1926 newspaper carried this passing report.

1926 John Thomas Rennison, a convict at  Parkhurst Prison, 63 years of age, doing a five-years’ sentence for manslaughter, died on Thursday last. He was convicted at the Cambridge Assizes in November, 1922. At the, inquest on Saturday, by the Deputy Coroner for the Island (Mr. Francis Joyce), the evidence showed that he had been suffering from paralysis for a year, and verdict of death as result of that malady, was returned.

Parkhurst Prison, Isle of Wight

It may be (and this is pure speculation) that the paralysis which Rennison suffered was actually General Paresis of the Insane - late stage syphilis. Men could contract the disease when younger. The initial symptoms would disappear, leaving a biological time bomb ticking away in the central nervous system of the afflicted person. 10, 20, 30, years later the disease would re-emerge, first affecting the victim's brain and perceptive powers, but then remorselessly shutting down his physical functions, one by one. If Rennison was suffering from this disease, then he paid a terrible price for the neglect of his wife.