January 29th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1913, Edward Hopwood was hanged for the murder of his girlfriend, Florence Silles.
Silles was an actress and music hall songstress who had broken off her relationship with the 45-year-old manager when she found out that, contrary to his representations, Hopwood was (a) still married; and (b) not wealthy.
Hopwood contrived to track his ex down in a hotel bar, and after an evening’s drinking and talking, the two got into a cab together. There, Hopwood shot her point-blank through the head.
It sounds — and was — pretty open-and-shut, but Hopwood’s bootless defense took the case through a brief detour of an odd cul-de-sac of English jurisprudence. Hopwood claimed that he’d been trying to commit suicide, and that Silles caught her bullet accidentally as she attempted to stop him killing himself.
While it’s clear that nobody else in the court believed this, it’s also the case that suicide is a felony by law. And up until 1957, it was legal doctrine that anyone who, in the course of commission of this felony, managed to kill another person, could be held liable for homicide. (Source)
Accordingly, as the London Times reported on Dec. 10, 1912, that with respect to the attempted-suicide claim, “even if the prisoner’s story were true, the prosecution submitted that in law his crime would be at least manslaughter, and in all probability murder.” Hopwood attempted to appeal his conviction on the basis of botched suicide, and an appellate ruling wrote this very doctrine into precedent.
Part of the Daily Double: Century-Old English Legal Novelties.
Also on this date
- 1745: Eve, her smoke visible throughout the country
- 1879: John Achey and William Merrick, the first hanged in Indianapolis
- 1253: P. Morret, poor guesser
- 1912: Albert Wolter, white slaver
- 1869: Chauncey W. Millard, candy man
- 1810: Pedro Domingo Murillo, for Bolivian independence
- 2006: A female spy by al Qaeda
- 1547: Not Thomas Howard, because Henry VIII died first