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Pte. Owen James Evans

No. 2 Company, 1st/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers

The Rushden Echo 2nd July 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

Soldier Billeted at Rushden Charged with Killing a Woman

Shocking Tragedy near Wellingborough

A soldier billeted at Rushden, Pte. Owen James Evans, No. 2 Company, 1st/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, aged about 30, is in custody on a charge of killing and slaying Maria Coles, aged 58, widow of the late Mr. Alfred Coles, of Wilby, on Saturday night last.

Mrs. Coles, a most respectable and hard-working woman, had since the death of her husband 2½ years ago, earned her livelihood by doing washing. Her husband, a shoe finishers, working in Wellingborough, and the Wilby parish constable, was a much respected man. He and his wife were attendants at the Wesleyan Chapel. During her husband’s illness, Mrs. Coles by her work helped to keep the home going.

Mrs. Coles’s main employment was at the residence of Mr. George Wright, The Den, Northampton-road, Wellingborough, where she journeyed most days to assist in the household duties and to look after the children. On Saturday Mrs. Coles was at the Den all day, and stayed there until shortly before 11p.m., when she left to walk to her home, a mile distant.

About this time two soldiers belonging to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers stationed at Rushden, Privates Owen Jones Evans and Benjamin Owen were also going along the road. These two men had, it appears, been at Wellingboro from early evening and, it is alleged, had been indulging pretty freely in drink. Instead of returning to Rushden as they should have done, the soldiers, it is said, set out to walk to Northampton, where they had at one time been billeted.

According to the story of Benjamin Owen they had gone some distance along the road when they passed Mrs. Coles who, like themselves, was walking on the footway. On passing Mrs. Coles they said “Goodnight” and she replied “Goodnight soldiers”. The two men had not gone many yards further on before Evans said he was going back to the woman.

Owen told him not to be a fool, but to come on, reminding him he was a married man. Evans persisted in going back, and as the road at this point is overhung by trees, it was not possible for Owen, though it was a light night, to see what happened.

In a few minutes Owen walked back along the road, and saw the woman lying on the greensward apparently quite dead, and near her was Evans. Just about this moment two Wellingborough men, Edward Gardener and John Odams, came on the scene. Gardener struck a light which enabled them to see that the woman was dead, and that her clothing was disarranged. There was a mark as of a wound on her forehead.

Other people came on the scene, and Dr. Audland and the police were called. The body was carried on a stretcher to the mortuary at Wellingborough Workhouse, and the two soldiers, neither of whom had attempted to go away, accompanied the police to the police station, where, after inquiry, Evans was arrested and charged with causing the death of the woman.

Evans was, it is stated, in another regiment before joining the R. W. F., and was expecting soon to be discharged on account of deafness. He is married with two children.

The prisoner was brought up at Wellingborough on Monday afternoon and was remanded.

The Inquest

The inquest was opened at Wellingborough Workhouse on Monday, before Mr. J. T. Parker.

Captain Griffith, of the 1st/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was in attendance.

Dr. Audland attributed death to shock. The heart was quite healthy, and the condition of the organs was such as witness would expect to find in death from shock.

The inquest was adjourned till Thursday morning when it was again adjourned.

The Rushden Echo 9th July 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

Verdict of ‘Wilful Murder’ Against a Soldier Billeted at Rushden

The Wilby Tragedy

Yesterday an adjourned inquest was held touching the death of Maria Coles, 58, a very respectable widow, of Wilby, who met with her death on Saturday Night, June 26th, and the jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against Pte. Owen Jones Evans, of the 1st/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Prisoner is billeted at Rushden.

The evidence showed that on June 26th, at 11p.m., Mrs. Coles left the residence of Mr. George Wright, The Den, Wellingborough, where she had been engaged in housework. She set out to walk to her home, a mile distant. Half way on her journey she was passed by two soldiers, Owen Jones Evans and Benjamin Owen, belonging to the 1st/6th R. W. F., billeted at Rushden.

“Good-nights” were exchanged as they passed, and then, according to the story of Owen, Evans, with an improper remark, returned towards the woman, who shortly afterwards was found lying dead on the grass between the road and the footpath, her clothing disarranged, and prisoner near her with blood on his face coming from scratches on his ear. Both soldiers were the worse for drink.

Thomas Thompson, bootmaker of Finedon, identified the body as that of his sister.

The Coroner, in summing up, said the jury would no doubt be satisfied that the woman did not come to her death by natural causes. The evidence was that a criminal assault had been committed on deceased, and Evans was seen near her under circumstances of a suspicious character, which indicated him as the person who assaulted her.

If the jury were satisfied that a criminal assault was committed, the law laid it down that if a person, whilst committing or attempting a felony, did undesignedly cause death he was guilty of murder.

A criminal assault was felony, and therefore if in this case a criminal assault was committed or attempted, then the person who did it, and thus did something to cause her death, would be guilty of murder. He thought on the evidence the jury had a strong prima facie case to justify them in returning a verdict of murder.

The jury, after half an hour’s deliberation, returned a verdict “that deceased died of shock; that she had been criminally assaulted by Owen Jones Evans, who was guilty of wilful murder.”

This verdict was explained to the accused, who was committed for trial at the Assizes.

Yesterday prisoner was taken before the magistrates and further remanded until July 16. The Public Prosecutor is to be informed with a view to his taking up the case.

The Rushden Echo 23rd July 1915, transcribed by Kay Collins

The Charge of Murder against a Soldier Billeted at Rushden

Police Court Proceedings

At Wellingborough Police Court last Friday the magistrates hearing took place of the charge brought against Owen Jones Evans, of the 1st/6th R.W.F., of being the cause of the death of Maria Coles, of Wilby, at Wellingboro’ on June 26.

The accused already stands committed to the Assizes on the charge of wilful murder but the charge as brought before the magistrates was that of manslaughter-that the accused did “feloniously kill and slay” the woman.

The magistrates on the Bench were Mr. F. Knight (chairman), Mr. J. T. Hawthorne, Mr. J. Brown, Mr. J. M. Sharman, Dr. Robb, and Mr. J. B. Whitworth.

Mr. D. H. Prynne, for the Treasury, appeared to prosecute on behalf of the Public Prosecutor, and prisoner was undefended. Capt. J. E. Parry, 1st/5th R.W.F. was sworn as interpreter.

Mr. Prynne, in opening the case said the accused was at present before them on a charge of causing the death of a woman named Maria Coles, but it would be his duty for reasons which he would give them afterwards to ask the Bench to commit the accused for trial on

The More Serious Charge

of wilful murder. Mr. Prynne then went on to relate the story of the occurrence which has already been published in the evidence given at the coroner’s enquiry.

Benjamin Owen, 1/6 R.W.F., then repeated the evidence given by him at the previous hearing and at the inquest and added that he saw blood on the face of the accused. He said to the prisoner “This woman is dead” and prisoner then commenced to cry. Prisoner said “What am I to do now?”. When Evans went back witness did not look to see what he was doing. From where he stood he could not see prisoner and the woman. He did not hear anyone about. Whilst witness and the accused were in Wellingborough they were

Drinking Together

in public houses. They had about two pints each, but they had had some in Rushden before going to Wellingborough. When they started for Northampton prisoner was not drunk and not sober; he could walk straight.

Cross examined by the accused through the interpreter, witness said it was not true to say that witness remarked to prisoner that if he met a woman he should have to criminally assault her. Witness did not then go ahead and pass a woman saying to prisoner “I must hurry up”. They did not subsequently put their top coats on the ground, and prisoner did not say “It will be better to have a sleep”. Witness did not inform prisoner that the woman was coming. They did not both of them take hold of the woman. When the woman shouted he (witness) did not run away and leave prisoner to

Take His Chance

He went on and left prisoner going towards the woman. Witness went back with a civilian, and then saw prisoner over the woman. There was not another civilian with prisoner at the time witness arrived on the scene, and it was not prisoner who first said “The woman is dead”. Prisoner began to cry as soon as witness told him the woman was dead. After prisoner got up from the woman, witness saw him adjust his dress. The civilian accompanying witness fetched policeman, on his (witness’s) instructions.

Re-examined: Witness did not touch the woman at all that night. He went to the police station and was there examined by a doctor.

Alice Coles, daughter of the deceased, repeated her evidence given at the inquest, which was to the effect that her mother was in the habit of walking along the Wilby-road, to and from her work.

Mrs. Rooke, wife of a Wilby labourer, said that when walking towards Wellingborough along the Northampton-road on the day in question she met deceased near Weavers-road at about 10.30p.m. going towards Wilby. About 50 yards further on she met a soldier who was walking on the footpath. The soldier said


A Little further on witness met another soldier who said to her “Good-night, my dear”. It was dark at the time so she would not be able to recognise the soldiers again. She thought both the soldiers were in drink. Returning later she was some persons near the footpath at the side of the road. She saw someone lying between the footpath and the road. There were two soldiers there, one standing and the other sitting at the side of the road. The place where she saw the person lying on the ground was about a quarter of a mile further towards Wilby than where she first saw the soldiers.

By prisoner: The soldiers were about 50 yards apart when she first passed them.

Sam Peasnell, labourer, Wellingborough, deposed that on the night in question he was returning from Wilby to Wellingborough. Just after passing Wilby Grange he saw one soldier standing in the middle of the road. A little further on he saw another soldier over a woman. Witness said “Good-night, sir”, and then went on. He could not say whether the soldier was criminally assaulting the woman.

The Woman Did Not Speak

By prisoner: Prisoner was on top of the woman. It was not true to say that the prisoner was on his knees trying to lift her.

Edwin Gardener, iron moulder, Wellingborough, deposed that on June 26th he was walking from Wilby to Wellingborough and at about 11p.m. when near Wilby Grange he saw witness Owen standing on the footpath looking towards Wellingborough and shouting. He walked in the direction of Welingborough, and about 15 or 20 yards from Owen he saw another soldier, viz., prisoner, bending down and looking at something lying upon the grass between the road and the footpath. Afterwards witness noticed that it was a woman he was looking at. He clothing was disarranged, being above her knees. Somebody struck a light and he then noticed some blood on the woman’s face and also on the prisoner’s. The witness Owen subsequently came up and said something to the prisoner, which witness could not understand. He waited there until the police came.

George Simpson, shoehand, of Gold-street, Wellingborough, said that when coming along Wilby-road he saw Owen, who seemed to be waiting for someone. Witness went about ten yards, and then saw Evaans standing on the grass, beside the footpath. He appeared to be bending down, as if lifting something. Witness asked, “What’s up, mate?” and then saw a woman on the ground. Owen came up and said to prisoner,

‘You Fool: You’ve Done It!’

Witness did not understand prisoner;s reply. Other people came up, a light was struck, and someone said that the woman was dead. Owen said to prisoner, “You’re a married man, with children, and you’ll be hung”. Prisoner again replied in Welsh. Both soldiers appeared to have had drink.

Dr. Audland said that on visiting the road in question, he saw deceased on the ground a little to the Wellingborough side of Wilby Grange. She was then dead. He noticed some dried blood on the left side of her face. Near her was the prisoner, lying on the footpath, with blood on his face. The body of the woman was quite warm, and she could not have been long dead. Witness found no wounds on the woman to produce the blood. When examined at the Police Station, prisoner was recovering from the effects of drink. There were two small abrasions on his left ear, likely to cause blood. On the 28th June witness made a post-mortem examination of the body. All the organs were healthy. In witness’s consideration the history of the case, a woman of deceased’s age, under any circumstances, might die from shock.

By the prisoner: In my opinion the woman

Died From Shock.

I cannot say where the blood on the woman’s face came from.

Dr. H. Hollis said he assisted the last witness at the post-mortem examination on the woman, and he entirely agreed with the cause of death being stated as “shock”. He believed considerable violence had been used. Deceased was a thin old woman.

By the prisoner: The marks were consistent with a criminal offence having been committed.

P.S. Hankins, Wellingborough, said he took the prisoner to police station, and on the way prisoner said, “I did not mean to kill her. I have never been in the hands of the police before”. Witness noticed blood on prisoner’s face, and Evans then said that the woman scratched him. Early on the following morning when witness charged prisoner with causing the death of the woman, he said he left her when she shouted.

Thomas Thompson, bootmaker, Finedon, gave evidence, identifying the body of the deceased.

The Bench amended the charge in the direction asked for by counsel, and prisoner was committed to the Northampton Assizes on the murder charge.

[The above case was not concluded when we went to press last week]

The following week the newspaper reported that Evans was convicted of the manslaughter of Maria Coles and he was sentenced to seven years penal servitude.

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