Evil Female Murderers. Part 16

Winson Green Prison
Dorothea Waddingham
Dorothea's medical experience consisted of a short time as ward orderly at the Burton-on-Trent Workhouse Infirmary.
William Norman Birkett, 1st Baron Birkett, QC PC (6 Sept 1883 - 10 Feb 1962)
Copyright © Harewood Downs Golf Club
She had several ventures into running what passed for nursing homes, all unregistered.

Waddingham, Dorothea.

Dorothea was born in 1899; she was born on a farm just outside Nottingham. She was usually referred to as ‘Nurse Waddingham although she had never had any formal nursing training. the only training that she had ever done was to have been a ward maid in a Workhouse infirmary near Burton-on-Trent.

Aged 26 she met and married a man called Thomas Willoughby Leech in 1925. He was aged about 52 years at that time and was dying of cancer. During her marriage to Leech she served two prison terms, one for fraud and the other for theft. Just five years after her marriage, in 1930 her husband died of cancer. At this time she had been seeing another man, named Ronald Joseph Sullivan. He was thirteen years older than Dorothea and had fought in World War I. He had been awarded the Military Medal for gallantry. He also served in Ireland after the end of World War I. It was true they had a lot of feelings for each other and they were married. (Date unknown.)

They had four children and a happy marriage. They had a large house and Dorothea started to take in elderly and infirm patients, telling them that she was a nurse. They were living at No. 32, Devon Drive, Nottingham at this time.

Waddingham was her maiden name and she started to use the name again after the death of her elderly husband.


In January 1935 her first two patients were admitted who were 89 year old Mrs. Baguley who suffered from senility and her 50 year old daughter, Ada, who suffered with creeping paralysis.

In February 1935 another patient was admitted, namely a Mrs. Kemp who died from an illness which required large doses of morphine. There was plenty supplies of this drug left on the premises.

These two ladies came to an agreement that whereby the home would care for the two women, until their deaths, on condition that Mrs. Baguley left Dorothea her entire estate. The value of this came to around £1,600, a considerable sum of money. That arrangement suited Dorothea.

On the 6th May 1935, Mrs. Baguley rewrote her will to this effect just six days later she died, with the cause of death being given simply as a ‘cerebral haemorrhage’ (A stroke.)

Ada Baguley also made out her will  leaving the sum of £1,600 to Dorothea and her husband and anything left to be shared equally between her two cousins, Lawrence Baguley and Fred Guilbert. However, for some reason this will was destroyed by Ada in May 1935. A new one was written that actually left everything to Dorothea after they both had died.

Ada actually lived right through the summer months of 1935, although her condition was slowly getting worse. Later, it was said that Dorothea was quite attentive towards her, in fact she rather liked Ada.

In September of 1935 Ada received a visit from an old family friend, Mrs. Alice Briggs who spent the afternoon with her cheering her up. Mrs Briggs told Waddington that she would have Ada over to her house for tea in a couple of days time.

But, on September 11th (the very next day) Sullivan called Dr. H. Mansfield that his patient, Ada was in a coma. Mansfield visited the home and actually found that Ada had died. As this was expected at any time he wasn’t suspicious, and after getting further details from Dorothea he duly filled out the death certificate stating that Ada died of cardiovascular degeneration.

Ada had already given permission for her body to be cremated. Had this cremation gone ahead as Dorothea expected now then she would have got away with murder. However, the cremation certificate needed to be signed by 2 doctors and this could only be done after the family of the deceased had been notified and given their approval.

This was difficult as rather strangely Ada had put in her will that she didn’t want any relatives notified about her death; a very strange request. Waddington then reported that there were no relatives. This was known to be a lie. This was one of her big mistakes and aroused suspicion.

The Cremation Referee.

Unfortunately for Dorothea Waddingham, the man in charge of cremations; (known as the ‘Cremation Referee.’ Was Dr. Cyril Black, who was also the Medical Officer of Health in Nottingham. Banks had never thought very highly of Dorothea’s so called ‘Nursing Home.’ He also knew that there was no State Registered Nurse on the staff (as there should have been) He read the note from Ada, regarding not to inform relations about her death and became very suspicious and ordered a post mortem. Dorothea was now extremely worried about what they might find.

The post mortem found nothing suspicious connected to Ada’s physical condition that could have immediately caused Ada’s death. This then led to an analysis of the organs of the deceased by Dr. Taylor, the senior assistant to the Nottingham Analysis. He found considerable traces of morphine (over 3 grains) in her stomach, liver, kidneys and even in her heart.

As a result of these tests suspicions were raised regarding the death of Ada’s mother, Mrs Baguley and an order for exhumation was given by the Home Office. This was handled by Dr. Roche Lynch, a very well known doctor at that time. He found that her mother had died of morphine poisoning, as Ada had. This then led to the arrest of Dorothea and Sullivan by the police.

On the 4th February 1936, after Sullivan, was found that insufficient evidence was available. Dorothea faced trial on her own. She was defended by a good barrister a Mr. Earls, who did a good job on her behalf but he was up against the prosecution in the form of Norman Birkett (later Sir Norman Birkett.) This was an unusual case for Birkett as he was usually in the role for the defence. Birkett was such a brilliant barrister and that showed when he brought out such a lot of damning evidence. He spoke about Ada’s meals and how the morphine was disguised.


The result being was that Dorothea was convicted of murder by morphine poisoning and that the reason was greed and the inheritance of a lot of money. It was however a long trial as Dorothea fought ‘tooth and nail’ for her life. She was found guilty and sentenced to death on the 27th February 1936.

She was taken to Winson Green prison in Birmingham to await her punishment.

A plea for mercy was vigorously fought as she had young children but the Home Office refused the plea and she was duly executed by Thomas Pierrpoint  and assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrpoint on the 16th April 1936. Shortly before she was executed she confessed to the murders of both women.

Dorothea was the mother of 5 children and she was still breastfeeding her 3-month old daughter. It was estimated that 10,000 people gathered at the gates of the prison, who were mainly women and continually chanted ‘Stop this mother murder,’ continuously until the notice of death was posted on the gates and then the crowds slowly drifted away.

The fiancé of Ada Baguley, the daughter who Dorothea murdered, committed suicide after her death.


Notice: –

The execution is dramatised in the 2005 film ‘Pierrpoint,’ in which Waddingham is played by Elizabeth

Hopley. Many of the records show that Waddingham was executed by Albert Pierrpoint but that was not true.


Researched and written by David Rowland.

Welcome to the Finsbury Publishing

David Rowland has just launched his 15th and final book, “The Spirit of Winsome Winn II”, all about the B-17 Flying Fortress which crashed at Patcham after being hit by anti-aircraft fire over Germany.

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