Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at the shocking murder of a future mayor's wife...
On the first Wednesday of May 1893 news broke locally of the shocking murder of Mrs Nellie Norris Whittle, wife of Mr Humphrey Norris Whittle, a member of the Chorley Town Council who would become Mayor in 1896.
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Her death had occurred at the Vale of Gresford between Wrexham and Chester.
What unfolded was a painful tale of domestic tragedy. About six weeks earlier Mrs. Whittle, aged 28, separated from her husband through unpleasantness with regards to George Shellard.
Shellard, aged 40, a horse dealer living in Chorley, with a wife and two daughters, had been an employ of Mrs. Whittle’s mother as groom/coachman. Known for his horse dealing Shellard had recently been supplied with funds by Mrs, Whittle to purchase a horse for her, much to the annoyance of her husband. In fact, his anger led to Mrs. Whittle leaving home to live at a place called Hollyfield in Gresford with a Miss Taylor as her companion.
Shellard had been in Chorley on the Monday, and had given his wife of twenty years and daughter a couple of sovereigns, telling them it was the last they would see of him as he bade them farewell. Shortly afterwards he visited the shop of ironmonger Aaron Hall, who he knew well, asking for a bulldog revolver and six cartridges on approval for a trial for a friend, promising to return the revolver or pay for it in a couple of hours.
That afternoon Shellard was observed leaving Chorley by train heading for Gresford. On the previous Friday Mrs. Whittle had been seen in Liverpool with Shellard and her husband hearing of this had made a brief visit to Gresford over the weekend to confront her about that and rumours that Shellard had been visiting her at Gresford.
Mrs. Whittle met Shellard when his train arrived at Gresford and they went on to Wrexham and visited a horse dealer there. The pair arriving at Hollyfield at about 8 o’clock in the evening.
What unfolded was revealed at an inquest held a couple of days later at the Plough Inn in Gresford.
Prudence Taylor described the events saying that the couple had been at loggerheads over the purchase of the horse, but appeared friendly when they arrived that evening. She stated that whilst out in the yard getting coal she had heard the sound of gunfire, prompting her to run upstairs and into Mrs. Whittle’s bedroom. Shellard was standing behind the door and Mrs.
Whittle was lying on the bed in apparent agony. After ordering her to draw the blinds he then pulled out a razor and slit Mrs. Whittle’s throat saying he wanted to end her agony. Within seconds he had said ‘I will follow her’ and pointing the pistol at himself fired it and slumped to the floor.
Miss Taylor immediately ran out of the house to raise the alarm and when she returned, accompanied by a police constable, they saw Shellard partly undressed and still alive laid on the bed next to Mrs. Whittle. Within a couple of hours Shellard also died and in his pocket was found a letter declaring ‘ I will come over and finish her, as it has been going on long enough’.
The coroner’s jury concluded that Shellard had murdered Mrs. Whittle and had then committed ‘felo de se’ and that he was sufficiently sane at the time of the act to know what he was doing.