Local historian Keith Johnson looks at a crime story from yesteryear with a grizzly and shocking end...
On the last Friday of November 1905 a person named as George Gillson was arrested in Burnley in connection with a series of insurance frauds.
A warrant had been issued by magistrates at Stockton-on-Tees and Detective Richardson from there was immediately sent to Burnley.
The police officer
arranged to return with the suspect and, handcuffed together, they boarded a late evening train. The train slowed down as it approached Stockton station shortly before midnight, and the prisoner made a sudden plunge for the door.
Richardson struggled to prevent his charge from escaping and the two of them fell out of the carriage door. In the struggle that followed the prisoner’s legs stretched on to the rails and were run over by the wheels of a following carriage and Richardson was left unconscious after receiving a glancing blow on the head by the
Railway officials were quickly on the scene and the pair were conveyed to hospital where Gillson died within hours and Richardson was treated for a severe scalp wound. Much to the surprise of the house surgeon when he examined the body of Gillson he discovered that the deceased was a young woman.
The subsequent inquest was adjourned following the sensational disclosures in the hope of resolving identification issues. Investigations led to Preston where George Gillson had, prior to visiting Burnley, been lodging for three weeks at a boarding house on Fishergate Hill.
The landlady of the premises informed the
authorities that Mr Gillson had been a very gentlemanly young fellow who dressed in the height of fashion, wearing a light overcoat of faultless fit, a silk hat and carried a silver-mounted walking stick.
She described him as an exceptionally heavy smoker, who had a fondness for drinking tea throughout the day. The landlady’s only suspicions were only aroused by the deft way he used a needle and thread whilst making a coat for his dog.
She felt he had an extremely sympathetic nature, having one day, after seeing a boy in Fishergate wearing a pair of dilapidated boots, taken him to a shop and bought him a new pair.
Unfortunately, Mr. Gillson had left the toy terrier behind, and it was whining at his non return.
Also regretting his departure was a young woman he had rescued from the courts by paying her fine and buying her new clothes after she had been convicted for stealing a pair of clogs.
When the inquest was resumed at Stockton in mid December it was revealed that George Gillson was in fact Edith Marion James who had, in May 1904, been found guilty of business frauds at the Old Bailey and been sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.
Shortly after her release she had embarked on her latest fraudulent activity in Bath and Bristol. Fearing that she might be arrested she had fled to the North in her disguise as a male and
continued to dupe unsuspecting clients. Miss James had been born in America in 1881, and was left an orphan at the age of five.
At the age of 15 she had come over to England and taken lodgings in London.
She had obtained a situation with an insurance company and later became an agent in that business. She had become a well known figure in London before she was tempted to transgress.
The inquest heard that amongst her possessions were a revolver, several bottles of poison and a photograph of James Whitaker Wright, the notorious swindler who had committed suicide at the Royal Courts of Justice in January 1904 after being sentenced to seven years in prison.
After this lengthy portrayal of the life of Edith Marion James the inquest jury retired. They returned with a verdict that she had lost her life whilst trying to defeat the ends of justice.