Preston man killed woman with kick in row over dog ownership in this shocking case from yesteryear

The Right Honourable George DenmanThe Right Honourable George Denman
The Right Honourable George Denman
Local historian Keith Johnson looks at the thragic death of a woman in a dispute over a pet...

At the Lancaster Spring Assizes of 1874, weaver John Caton, aged 22, appeared before Mr. Justice Denman, charged with the killing of Jane Waterhouse, aged 58.

The deceased was described as a woman of frail appearance, who, like the accused, lived in Crown Street in the Moor Lane area of Preston.

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According to various witnesses In mid-afternoon on the last Monday of February 1874 the accused and two other men were seen in Crown Street and on reaching the home of the victim Caton seized the door latch and finding the door bolted he burst it open with his knee and entered the house.

Within a couple of minutes, screams were heard and Jane Waterhouse was seen to rush out of the front door followed by Caton, who had a dog under his arm. In pursuit of the woman he was seen to take a running punch at her, hitting her in the ribs with his clogged foot as the woman sank to her knees.

Her husband was by then in the street and rushed towards Caton, successfully knocking him to the ground and at this point Caton’s pals came to his aid and pulled her husband off him.

Caton, with the dog in his possession, then went home. A couple of women who had seen the incident then helped Jane Waterhouse to her home. The fracas had been over the dog seized by Caton who claimed the greyhound of Italian breed was his. Although Mrs. Waterhouse maintained that it had been given to her by another person.

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At nine o’clock that evening a local surgeon was called to see her and he found her in a state of collapse. On examination he discovered that the tenth rib on her right hand side was broken and she was in severe pain. From then on he found it necessary to visit her daily until the following Tuesday when she died early in the morning.

A post mortem examination showed that the lung tissue had been perforated by the fractured rib. Prior to the incident, the woman had been suffering from consolidation of the lungs and from the surgeon concluded that he would not have been surprised had she died from that complaint itself within a few weeks.

He also stated the fact that the skin in the area of the fracture was not discoloured, suggesting that the kick inflicted was only a slight one.

Caton was charged with violently assaulting Jane Waterhouse, and a few days before her death, was present when local justices took a deposition from the woman. In that, she spoke of Caton’s aggressive behaviour and the assault, and how he deliberately punched her in the ribs.

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Caton then accused her of getting hold of a poker and hitting him on the head, a charge which she denied.

The court heard that when Caton was later examined there was no sign that he had received such a blow, his only injuries being from the skirmish with Mr. Waterhouse. Other witnesses called to testify told of threats that Caton had made to the woman’s well-being, including the remark that he would “either have the dog or her life”.

When all the evidence had been submitted His Lordship told the jury they must decide if the prisoner was guilty of a cruel, brutal murder, a lesser charge of manslaughter or not guilty.

The jury returned after a short deliberation with a verdict of wilful murder, although they strongly recommended mercy. The prisoner appeared agitated and asked for more witnesses to be called, but His Lordship dismissed his pleas. Without donning the black cap, he then pronounced sentence of death and Caton was removed from the dock, wringing his hands piteously.

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When news reached Preston that he had been sentenced to the gallows, a petition was drawn up to save him and a few days later the newly appointed Home Secretary Mr. R. A. Cross, a familiar Preston figure who was born at Red Scar, substituted a sentence of ‘Penal Servitude For Life’.

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