A Very Quiet Tenant.

Ruthin 15c courthouse
www.georgeplunkett.co.uk
Carlisle Magistrates Court
GOV.UK
Mrs Bates
Psycho

A cursory glance at the results of the court proceedings from the Quarterly Assizes at Ruthin, Denbighshire 1960 wouldn’t have suggested that the trial involving a 65 year old widow, Mrs, Sarah Harvey, was in any way unusual.That is unless you had been in the court on the actual day.

Mrs, Sarah Harvey

She was falsely obtaining the sum of £2 a week under a court order that had in truth been invalid some  time ago, although, of course illegal, still not the biggest crime in the world and certainly not ‘sensational.’ What made a difference was the fact that she was claiming this money on behalf of a dead woman. This made it macabre, especially when you know the story.

The woman in question had been dead for 20 years and that did seem to worsen the crime a bit. The claim had continued  throughout the 20 years and amounted to a tidy sum by now. This was certainly carried out in the full knowledge that it was totally wrong. There was no doubt that Mrs. Harvey committed a deliberate deception in preference to believing that it was, perhaps, absent-mindedness.

Therefore perhaps it was fair, then, after all, that the seemingly harmless old pensioner was sent to prison for a total of fifteen months.

However, forgetting the rights and wrongs of the offence, the bare facts really hid a much more and stranger story, one in which people would never have guessed. It was a story which could have come from ‘horror fiction,’ which, had it come from the pen of a script-writer for Hammer Films, had it been so, then people may have believed it was too far-fetched to have been believable by the general public.

Mrs. Frances Knight

This is the story of Sarah Harvey and her lodger, Mrs. Frances Knight, who was the quietest tenant of all time.

The story starts early in 1939, Frances Knight, a semi-invalid, moved into the home of Sarah Harvey. She was only around for a matter of a few months, the story being she was passing through and just wanted some accommodation for a short period.

Moving on for a full 21 years and while Mrs. Harvey was away, spending a few days in hospital. Her son Leslie, a taxi driver, after visiting her decided to give his mother a surprise. He thought she would be delighted, if, when she returned home from hospital she found her small little home had been decorated with a coat of paint.It would be a very nice surprise, he thought.

However, it was Leslie who had the surprise, in fact the surprise of his life.

5th May 1960

He started to get things in the house ready for painting when, on the landing was a locked cupboard. He had never looked inside this cupboard as it had always been kept locked. He remembered this from his childhood, he had always been curious as to why his mum kept it locked, was there treasure or perhaps hordes of money hidden and locked away. He went downstairs and soon returned with a screw driver. He forced the cupboard door open.

There, still dressed in her nightdress and dressing gown, although the clothes were now little more than rags, was a cob-webbed mummified body. This was not the sort of discovery you want to make at any time, let alone in the very year that Alfred Hitchcock’s film, ‘Psyco’ was released and showing at the local cinema. The body had a definite air of ‘Norman Bates’s mother about it. Maybe it was dry hair and the hollow gaze; who knows?

Leslie duly called the police and when the police surgeon arrived he found that the corpse, which was entirely rigid and had stuck to the linoleum flooring. He had to use the garden spade to prise the body loose, a totally unpleasant job.

Scientists concluded in their examinations that the mummified body, rather than a more natural rotting process, had occurred was probably due to the circulation of air via a small gap in the cupboard door frame. The dead female might well have had an illness, but at least she’d been cured of it, in a manner of speaking.

Later, forensic examination suggested that the body was that of a female aged between fifty and sixty with a pronounced limp, and when Mrs Harvey was interviewed about this unexpected find she then confirmed that it was her lodger, a Mrs Knight. Her story was that she had found Francis Knight dead after she had suffered a bout of a flu like illness. This was just a few months after she had moved in and, not being very sure of what she should do with the body, she had put it in the cupboard.

Arrested

The Police accepted implicitly that the body was that of Mrs Frances Knight but they were highly suspicious of the marks they found on her neck. These marks suggested that she may have been strangled, with a stocking. Sarah Harvey was then taken to the police station where she was duly charged with the murder of Francis Knight.

At her trial all the macabre facts were revealed at her 5-day trial held in Carlisle. The evidence that was presented by the Prosecuting Officer was largely scientific. Death, so the experts suggested, was probably due to disseminated sclerosis, from which Mrs Knight was known to have suffered with. Mrs Harvey, meanwhile, continued to strenuously deny that she murdered her. Having been ‘sent out’ by the Judge to deliberate the case, they returned shortly after a brief period returned a ‘not guilty; verdict on the count of murder. However they did find her guilty of claiming Mrs Knight’s £2.00 a week.

One must ask, ‘did she kill her lodger? Well, only Mrs Harvey knows that but what is certain is that Frances Knight was the only tenant in history to pay £2.00 a week to live in a cupboard for 21 years without once complaining to her landlady.

Frances Knight, though, is not entirely alone in living an extended ‘life’ of sorts after death.

Robert Farrell

Robert Farrell of Boise, Idaho, USA, kept the mummified body of his deceased mother in his house for six years. Georgia Farrell was found lying on her sofa in March 1993 and it was estimated that she died in 1987 at the age of 88 years. Robert, who was living with his widowed mother, never reported the death and whenever the neighbours asked about her, the stock answer was that she was ok and ‘inside.’

Robert evidently got used to his mother being part of the furniture but first prize for absolute ingenuity on that front must go to a man who lived in Derby. When he was faced with getting rid of the body of a man that he had recently murdered. He thought long and hard about what he should do about it and then opted for the most novel solution of just about all time. After his efforts to cut it up proved very hard and difficult, he suddenly had the brainwave of tossing a throw over it, nobody had any idea about the corpse that was now indoors.

Then in 2001, the police called and discovered the hunched corpse, the man had been using it as a coffee table, it was just about the right height. If he’d been six feet five instead of five feet six, he might have been a ‘tall boy.’ Such is death, sometimes.

David Rowland

Special thanks.  The Law’s strangest cases by Peter Seddon.
Published in 2001 by Robson Books, London.

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