"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 17, 2016

UK: Was this man wrongly hanged for murdering a girl and hiding her in a trunk?

Andrew Anderson Bagley
Andrew Anderson Bagley
Jeannette Hensby spent her working life in the NHS but in retirement she has become a writer and crime sleuth. Andy Smart looks at her 1st cold case.

Notts-born Andrew Anderson Bagley died on Tuesday, February 1, 1937. He was hanged by the neck in Armley Jail in Leeds for the brutal murder of his 16-year-old step-granddaughter.

Despite trial judge Mr Justice Goddard - a notorious figure dubbed "the hanging judge" in the Press - sentencing him to death on "evidence which could leave no doubt ..." Bagley maintained his innocence from the moment of his arrest in Hucknall Library only 3 months earlier, to his final steps towards the gallows.

No one believed him and at 9am on that cold winter morning executioner Thomas [Pierrepoint] sent the 62-year-old convicted man to his death.

But in her fascinating 1st book "The Rotherham Trunk Murder", ex-NHS director Jeannette Hensby argues that Bagley, born a policeman's son in the south Notts village of Bunny, was innocent. She examines the evidence in forensic detail, asks questions that should have been asked at his trial, exposes a scandalous appeal hearing cover-up and, in the final chapters, points an accusing finger at the person she believes was the real killer.

Her part in the story begins in the 1950s, more than 20 years after the murder. Jeannette, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, remembers sitting on her grandmother's knee, listening to her stories as the rain teemed down outside.

"Whether she could tell that I was bored, or whether she had run out of other stories to tell, I don't know, but she certainly got my attention when she started to tell me about the murder of a Masbrough (Rotherham) girl that had been committed by somebody that she knew. She told me who the murderer was, but she didn't tell me the name of the victim; just that "a girl" had been murdered," explained Jeannette, now 67.

She tucked the memory away as she raised her family and met the demands of her career in the NHS, finally retiring as director of older people's mental health for Sheffield - but always intending to find out more about her grandmother's story.

In 2014, she finally came across an account in a local history book about murders in Rotherham.

"I was tingling with anticipation as I started to read. One of the things that I had never been sure about from grandma's story was whether or not the murderer had been brought to justice and hanged. Now I would be able to find out.

"I learned that the victim was 16-year-old Irene Hart ... murdered in her own home in Hartington Road in Masbrough, Rotherham, in 1936. Irene was strangled and her body was stuffed into an old green tin trunk and hidden in a clothes closet in her bedroom."

Suspicion fell on her step-grandfather Andrew Anderson Bagley, who lived in the same house as Irene, along with his daughter Avice and his disabled son Ambrose.

Bagley went missing immediately after the crime and police launched what became at the time the biggest manhunt in British criminal history. The case made the news around the world under the eye-catching headline "The Rotherham Trunk Murder".

For 6 frustrating weeks of a chaotic manhunt, police searched lodging houses, homeless hostels, pubs, barns and haystacks across the country.

But Bagley was an expert at staying hidden. Married in Notts in his early 20s, he soon left his wife and to avoid paying maintenance he moved to Sheffield, adopted an assumed name - Bill Smith - and there he lived in another loveless relationship for the sake of his 4 children.

For 40 years he had stayed 1 step ahead of debt collectors, chasing him for money that his drink and gambling-addicted 2nd "wife" had piled up.

He had little trouble giving police the slip until he made a fatal mistake by returning to his home county. On Friday, October 23, 1936, as he was sitting in Hucknall Library reading a newspaper, he was recognised by an old acquaintance. The police were called and Bagley was arrested. "I have nothing to fear," he told officers. "I didn't do it."

Jeannette said: "As I read it, my interest turned to disbelief and then to horror. My grandma - who had been close to the family - had told me who had committed this crime, and it wasn't Andrew Anderson Bagley. Had an innocent man gone to the gallows, I wondered?"

Helped by her sister Carol, Jeannette spent a year trawling through newspaper reports, court records and local archives.

"What we discovered was an unusual story, and a real family tragedy," she said.

"Looking at the records with the benefit of what grandma told me it became clear to me that the man that was hanged was not the murderer," she added. She found letters from members of Andrew Bagley's family, particularly his brother and sister.

His siblings maintained that he was mentally unstable, prone to attacks of dizziness and violence. His brother had concluded that the crime must have been committed during one of these episodes without him even knowing he had done it.

His family fought long and hard to get the death penalty reduced to a custodial sentence on the grounds of insanity, petitioning the Home Secretary and even writing to Queen Mary, but their efforts were in vain.

Jeannette says: "The family were decent, respectable people, and in order to distance the family from the shame of what had happened, Bagley's brother had the family surname changed from Bagley to Baguley after the execution had taken place.

"I have no idea whether the descendants of Andrew Bagley still think that he did kill Irene Hart.

"I guess that they, and other local people, would be interested to read that the records show, when read with the benefit of what my grandma told me, that I believe Andrew Bagley was not the heartless murderer of Irene Hart, but, in fact, he was a very brave and selfless man."

Jeannette believes the answer lies within Andrew's family circle ... but the identity of the person she believes murdered Irene Hart can only be found in the pages of her book.

Whether anything comes of her account remains to be seen.

Jeannette, who is now working on her second book looking at a pre-First World War murder case, adds: "I am very aware of how difficult it is to get a posthumous pardon. Iris Bentley, who spent her life fighting in vain to get her brother Derek pardoned, springs to mind.

"If the people of Nottingham, or Andrew's family, wished to mount a campaign, I would do everything that I could to support it."

Source: nottinghampost.com, March 16, 2016

To contact Jeannette Hensby, email: jhensby@hotmail.co.uk

The Rotherham Trunk Murder by Jeannette Hensby is available now from Amazon.

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