Evil Female Murderers. Part 11
Wheeler (Pearcey), Mary, Eleanor.
The Wheeler family is probably very unique in this country as having father and daughter both executed, a little over 10 years apart, for two completely separate murders. However, there are rumours that this may not be quite true.
Thomas Wheeler was executed by William Marwood at St. Albans prison in Hertfordshire on the 29th November 1880 for the murder of a local farmer, Edward Anstee. While waiting his execution Wheeler wrote a letter to the widow apologising for murdering her husband and asking her forgiveness. Mary Eleanor was 14 years old when her father died.
Mary Eleanor Wheeler was born in 1866 but very little is known about her early life or to what extent her father’s execution had on her. She was just 24 years of age when she was arrested and was, at that stage describer as being 5’6’’ tall with ‘lovely russet hair and lovely blue eyes.’ She had nicely shaped hands and her face was not overly pretty but she seemed that she had no difficulty in attracting men.
While in her late teens she took up a relationship with a man called John Charles Pearcey and although they never married, for some reason Mary took his name.
After the relationship broke up she continues to use his name, probably to get away from the stigma of her father’s execution.
Through her life she associated with better off men and had never worked or had need to. One of her many admirers was , Charles Creighton had rented rooms for her at number 2, Priory Street, Kentish Town in North London around 1888. She was aged 22 years. She suffered from depression for some years and had only two relatives, her aged mother and an older sister. She drank heavily when she as suffering one of her depression bouts.
In addition to Charles Creighton who visited her once a week, she also fell for Frank Samuel Hogg who worked as a furniture remover and who rather impressed Mary by having printed business cards…
Mary used to put a light in her window to let Frank know that she was ‘free’ and he had a key to her front door. However, there was one serious snag to Mary’s happiness. Frank was a married man and also had a daughter, booth his wife and the daughter being called Phoebe.
Phoebe Hogg was 32 years old at the rime of her death and had been quite ill in February 1890. She had married Frank in November 1888 when she was 3 months pregnant by him and had given birth to their daughter, in the summer of 1889. Frank’s affair with Mary had been going on both before and during the marriage.
On the morning of 24th October 1890, Mary, it is alleged, asked a lad to run an errand for her. She gave Willie Holmes a penny for delivering a note to Phoebe Hogg inviting her for tea that afternoon. Around 4pm Charlotte Priddington, Mary’s neighbour, heard the sound of breaking glass coming from Mary’s house and called to ask if every thing was all right. There was no reply.
At almost exactly 7pm, a woman’s body was found lying on the pavement in Crossfield Road, by a man returning home from work and he promptly reported it to the police. The woman’s head was wrapped in a cardigan which he removed to yield the bloodstained face of Phoebe Hogg with a huge deep gash in her throat. The body was removed and taken to the local police station before taking it to the morgue. There it was found that the deceased had a fractured skull and the throat had been cut so violently as to almost severing the head. There were large bruises on the head and arms, indicating that she had tried hard to defend herself from a vicious attack.
The scene of discovery was closely examined and it became obvious that the murder had taken place at another location. At this time the police had no idea as to the identity of the body.
Later that same evening a patrolling policeman found a heavily blood stained pram in Hamilton Terrace which was about a mile away from where the woman’s body was found.
The following morning the body of a small child was discovered. She was found to have died from suffocation and was otherwise unmarked apart from a few scratches on her arms. It was possible that little Phoebe had either been murdered during or possibly after her mother. Another theory was that little Phoebe was placed in the pram and the weight of her mother on top of her could have suffocated her…
Frank Hogg and his sister, Clara report his wife and baby missing after reading about the discovery of a woman and child found murdered. Frank sent Clara around to Mary’s house to ask if she had seen her, Mary said that she hadn’t seen her at all.
However, she agreed to go with Clara to the morgue to see if in deed it was phoebe’s body. While they were at the morgue, Mary’s behaviour was very strange. Having agreed to go with Clara to the morgue, when first was shown the body, Mary reportedly said, ‘that’s not her.’ Meanwhile Clara had identified Phoebe’s clothes. She did her very best to try and prevent Clara from identifying the body and then became very hysterical when the full extent of phoebe’s injuries became apparent. The police asked Mary and Clara to view the pram that they had found. Clara identified the pram as that belonging to Phoebe.
A neighbour of Mary’s, later stated that she had seen Mary pushing a pram with a large object in it on the evening of the murder. When questioned further, the neighbour said that she was sure it was the date of the murder.
Frank Hogg was informed that the bodies in the mortuary were those of his wife and daughter and suddenly found he was one of the suspects, was searched by the police. it was at this stage that he confessed that he was having an affair with Mary, when during the search, the key was found to Mary’s house.
Next, the police decided to interview Mary, as they were not happy with the way she behaved at the mortuary. Several police officers attended Mary’s home and carried out a thorough search of it. They found substantial bloodstains and spatters of blood in the kitchen as well as a bloodstained carving knife and a poker. They also found a rug showing bloodstains and the room smelled strongly of paraffin where an attempt had been made to clean the bloodstains from the rug, without success.
During the search Mary’s behaviour became even more bizarre. She sat at her piano singing and whistling loudly and attempted to explain away the bloodstains by saying that she had been killing mice, killing mice, you understand.
Detective Inspector who was leading the search decided at this stage to arrest Mary and charge her with both of the murders. When later, Mary was searched bloodstains were found on her clothes, scratches on her hands, and two wedding rings on her fingers, one of which was identified later to have belonged to Phoebe Hogg.
Mary was kept in custody and appeared at a committal hearing at Marylebone police court on the 28th October 1890, for a magistrate to hear the prima facia evidence against her and then commit her for trial.
While in the police court awaiting the committal hearing, she told Sarah Sawhill, the woman looking after her, that Mrs. Hogg had indeed come to tea that afternoon and that they were enjoying their tea when suddenly Mrs Hogg made a remark that offended Mary and that an argument developed. Mary realised that she was incriminating herself and then declined to say anymore.
Mary’s trial started on 1st December 1890 at the Old Bailey before Mr. Justice Denman. Eleven years earlier he had tried Kate Webster. When asked how did she plead, she replied “Not guilty M’lord.” The prosecution then started to outline the case against her. They commenced by reading our several letters that Mary had sent to Frank Hogg, which they claimed showed the depth of feeling she had for him: Prior to his forced marriage to Phoebe, consequent to her pregnancy. Mary had told Frank that even if he had to marry Phoebe, she did not want him to leave her and that she would treat Phoebe as a friend. (Which for a time appeared to be the case.)
The suggested motive for the murder was jealousy of Phoebe, now that Mary had to share Frank with her. Evidence was also given regarding the place of the crime as well as the nature and method of infliction of Phoebe’s injuries. John Pearcey identified the cardigan found around Phoebe’s head as one he had given to Mary, and evidence was also given of the blinds being drawn in Mary’s house on the afternoon of the murder. Mr. Arthur Hutton Mary’s defence barrister questioned the circumstantial evidence being given against her and also whether a woman of her size and build would be capable of inflicting such terrible injuries on another person. Mary gave no evidence at the trial and allowed her barrister to do all the talking for her.
On the third day with Mary’s trial not going too well, it should be said. The Judge instructed the Jury to go to their room to consider the evidence and to return when they had reached their decision. The jury retired just on lunchtime of this, the third day.
The Jury were out for just 52 minutes and then returned to the court room.
As was the normal practice, Mary was asked, ‘do you have anything you wish to say, ‘she replied in her usual quiet voice, ‘I can only say that I am innocent of this charge.’
Mr. Justice Denman then donned the black cap and sentenced her to ‘hang by the neck until dead.’ Then added, in a sharp voice ‘take her down.’
There was no appeal in those days. It was to be 1907 before the Court of Criminal Appeal was set up. However, her solicitor made considerable efforts to try to save her alleging that she was not in full control of herself at the time of the murder. This, he added was due to epileptic fits that she had suffered since her birth.
At Mary’s request, Frank Hogg was allowed to visit her on the Monday afternoon in Newgate prison but he did not show up., which greatly upset her who wept inconsolably on her bed when she realised that he wasn’t going to come. Other than that she remained very composed through her last day and night. She was visited by her solicitor, Mr. Freke Palmer, her solicitor, whom she asked to deal with certain bequests and also to place a personal advert for her in Madrid Newspapers which she then dictated to him as follows: – MECP Last wish of MEW. Have not betrayed MEW (Mary Eleanor Wheeler) Mary refused to elaborate on the meaning of the message and also refused point blank to confess to Mr. Palmer, despite persistent questioning with the promise that he would put any relevant facts before the Home Secretary, in a last ditch attempt to get a reprieve.
On the 23rd December 1890 James Berry with his assistant came into her cell at Newgate Prison. She was very calm although she knew that in a short while she would be dead. (There had to be three clear Sundays after sentence from the Court.)
She would have been made to have a bath and then been given a prison uniform – a plain grey shift dress, before being taken back to the condemned cell.
For some unknown reason the Sheriff of London, Sir James Whitehead, decided to exclude newspaper reporters from her execution.
Strangely, Mary happened to look at her cell door at the same time that the executioner was looking at her through the Judas hole (peep hole) and she remarked to a woman guarding her, ’was that the executioner?’ he is here in good time, isn’t he?’
It was almost 8am on the 23rd December he secured her arms with a strap with her wrists tied securely in front of her. Everybody was in the correct order for the procession to the gallows and they all left the cell. While she was standing on the trap door, another leather strap was attached and finally the white hood. Everything was now ready for the execution.
Mary weighed exactly 9 stones and Berry set a drop of some six feet for her. Berry pulled the lever and Mary disappeared from view. He neck broken instantly. She was left hanging for the statutory hour before the inquest was held.
James Berry once described Mary as being the calmest person he had ever known prior to an execution.