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Title:  The Holocaust of Manor Place
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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Title:  The Holocaust of Manor Place
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Strand Magazine, 1901




[The cases dealt with in this series are studies from the actual history
of crime, though occasionally names have been changed where their
retention might cause pain to surviving relatives.]

In the study of criminal psychology one is forced to the conclusion that
the most dangerous of all types of mind is that of the inordinately
selfish man. He is a man who has lost his sense of proportion. His own
will and his own interest have blotted out for him the duty which he owes
to the community. Impulsiveness, jealousy, vindictiveness are the
fruitful parents of crime, but the insanity of selfishness is the most
dangerous and also the most unlovely of them all. Sir Willoughby
Patterne, the eternal type of all egoists, may be an amusing and harmless
character as long as things go well with him, but let him be thwarted,
let the thing which he desires be withheld from him, and the most
monstrous results may follow. Huxley has said that a man in this life is
for ever playing a game with an unseen opponent, who only makes his
presence felt by exacting a penalty every time one makes a mistake in the
game. The player who makes the mistake of selfishness may have a terrible
forfeit to pay, but the unaccountable thing in the rules is that some,
who are only spectators of his game, may have to help him in the paying.
Read the Story of William Godfrey Youngman, and see how difficult it is
to understand the rules under which these penalties are exacted. Learn
also from it that selfishness is no harmless peccadillo, but that it is
an evil root from which the most monstrous growths may spring.

About forty miles to the south of London, and close to the rather pass
watering-place of Tunbridge Wells, there lies the little townlet of
Wadhurst. It is situated within the borders of Sussex at a point which is
close to the confines of Kent. The country is a rich pastoral one and the
farmers are a flourishing race, for they are near enough to the
Metropolis to take advantage of its mighty appetite. Among these farmers
there lived in the year 1860 one Streeter, the master of a small
homestead and the father of a fair daughter, Mary Wells Streeter. Mary
was a strong, robust girl, some twenty years of age, skilled in all
country work, and with some knowledge also of the town, for she had
friends up there, and above all she had one friend, a young man of
twenty-five, whom she had met upon one of her occasional visits, and who
had admired her so that he had actually come down to Wadhurst after her,
and had spent a night under her father's roof. The father had expressed
no disapprobation of the suitor, a brisk, masterful young fellow, a
little vague in his description of his own occupation and prospects, but
an excellent fireside companion. And so it came about that the deep,
town-bred William Godfrey Youngman became engaged to the simple,
country-bred Mary Wells Streeter, William knowing all about Mary, but
Mary very little about William.

July the 29th of that year fell upon a Sunday, and Mary sat in the
afternoon in the window of the farm-house parlour, with her bundle of
love-letters upon her lap, reading them again and yet again. Outside was
the little square of green lawn, fringed with the homely luxuriance of an
English country garden, the high hollyhocks, the huge nodding sunflowers,
the bushes of fuchsia, and the fragrant clumps of sweet William. Through
the open lattice came the faint, delicate scent of the lilac and the
long, low droning of the bees. The farmer had lain down to the plethoric
sleep of the Sunday afternoon, and Mary had the room to herself. There
were fifteen love-letters in all some shorter, some longer, some wholly
delightful, some with scattered business allusions, which made her
wrinkle her pretty brows. There was this matter of the insurance, for
example, which had cost her lover so much anxiety until she had settled
it. No doubt he knew more of the world than she, but still it was strange
that she, so young and so hale, should be asked and again asked to
prepare herself for death. Even in the flush of her love those scattered
words struck a chill to her heart. 'Dearest girl,' he had written, 'I
have filled up the paper now, and took it to the life insurance office,
and they will write to Mrs. James Boric today to get an answer on
Saturday. So you can go to the office with me before two o'clock on
Monday.' And then again, only two days later, he had begun his letter:
'You promised me faithfully over and over again, and I expect you to keep
your promise, that you would be mine, and that your friends would not
know it until we were married; but now, dearest Mary, if you will only
let Mrs. James Bone write to the insurance office at once and go with me
to have your life insured on Monday morning next!' So ran the extracts
from the letters, and they perplexed Mary as she read them. But it was
all over now, and he should mingle business no longer with his love, for
she had yielded to his whim, and the insurance for 100 had been duly
effected. It had cost her a quarterly payment of 10s. 4d., but it had
seemed to please him, and so she would think of it no more.

There was a click of the garden-gate, and looking up she saw the porter
from the station coming up the path with a note in his hand. Seeing her
at the window he handed it in and departed, slyly smiling, a curious
messenger of Cupid in his corduroys and clumping boots--a messenger of a
grimmer god than Cupid, had he but known it. She had eagerly torn it
open, and this was the message that she read:

'16, Manor Place, Newington, S.E. Saturday night, July 28th.

'My BELOVED POLLY,

'I have posted one letter to you this afternoon, but I find that I shall
not have to go to Brighton tomorrow as I have had a letter from there
with what I wanted inside of it, so, my dear girl, I have quite settled
my business now and I am quite ready to see you now, therefore I send
this letter to you. I will send this to London Bridge Station tomorrow
morning by 6:30 o'clock and get the guard to take it to Wadhurst Station,
to give it to the porter there, who will take it to your place. I can
only give the guard something, so you can give the man who brings this a
small sum. I shall expect to see you, my dear girl, on Monday morning by
the first train. I will await your coming at London Bridge Station. I
know the time the train arrives--a quarter to ten o'clock. I have
promised to go to my uncle's tomorrow, so I cannot come down; but I will
go with you home on Monday night or first thing Tuesday morning, and so
return here again Tuesday night, to be ready to go anywhere on Wednesday;
but you know all that I have told you, and I now expect that you will
come up on Monday morning, when I shall be able to manage things as I
expect to do. Excuse more now, my dearest Mary. I shall now go to bed to
be up early tomorrow to take this letter. Bring or burn all your letters,
my dear girl. Do not forget; and with kind love and respects to all I now
sum up, awaiting to see you Monday morning a quarter to ten o'clock.

Believe me, ever your loving, affectionate,/

WILLIAM GODFREY YOUNGMAN.'

A very pressing invitation this to a merry day in town; but there were
certainly some curious phrases in it. What did he mean by saying that he
would manage things as he expected to do? And why should she burn or
bring her love-letters? There, at least, she was determined to disobey
this masterful suitor who always 'expected' in so authoritative a fashion
that she would do this or that. Her letters were much too precious to be
disposed of in this off-hand fashion. She packed them back, sixteen of
them now, into the little tin box in which she kept her simple treasures,
and then ran to meet her father, whose step she heard upon the stairs, to
tell him of her invitation and the treat which awaited her to-morrow.

At a quarter to ten next morning William Godfrey Youngman was waiting
upon the platform of London Bridge Station to meet the Wadhurst train
which was bringing his sweetheart up to town. No observer glancing down
the straggling line of loiterers would have picked him out as the man
whose name and odious fame would before another day was passed be
household words to all the three million dwellers in London. In person he
was of a goodly height and build, but commonplace in his appearance, and
with a character which was only saved from insignificance through the
colossal selfishness, tainted with insanity, which made him conceive that
all things should bend before his needs and will. So distorted was his
outlook that it even seemed to him that if he wished people to be
deceived they must be deceived, and that the weakest device or excuse, if
it came from him, would pass unquestioned. He had been a journeyman
tailor, as his father was before him, but aspiring beyond this, he had
sought and obtained a situation as footman to Dr. Duncan, of Covent
Garden. Here he had served with credit for some time, but had finally
resigned his post and had returned to his father's house, where for some
time he had been living upon the hospitality of his hard-worked parents.
He had talked vaguely of going into farming, and it was doubtless his
short experience of Wadhurst with its sweet-smelling kine and Sussex
breezes which had put the notion into his Cockney head.

But now the train rolls in, and there at a third-class window is Mary
Streeter with her pink country cheeks, the pinker at the sight of her
waiting lover. He takes her bag and they walk down the platform together
amongst the crinolined women and baggy-trousered men whose pictures make
the London of this date more strange to us than that of last century. He
lives at Walworth, in South London, and a straw-strewn omnibus outside
the station conveys them almost to the door. It was eleven o'clock when
they arrived at Manor Place, where Youngman's family resided.

The household arrangements at Manor Place were peculiar. The architect
having not yet evolved the flat in England, the people had attained the
same result in another fashion. The tenant of a two-storied house resided
upon the ground-floor, and then sub-let his first and second floors to
other families. Thus, in the present instance, Mr. James Bevan occupied
the ground, Mr. and Mrs. Beard the first, and the Youngman family the
second, of the various floors of No. 16. Manor Place. The ceilings were
thin and the stairs were in common, so it may be imagined that each
family took a lively interest in the doings of its neighbour. Thus Mr.
and Mrs. Beard of the first floor were well aware that young Youngman had
brought his sweetheart home, and were even able through half-closed doors
to catch a glimpse of her, and to report that his manner towards her was
affectionate.

It was not a very large family to which he introduced her. The father
departed to his tailoring at five o'clock every morning and returned at
ten at night. There remained only the mother, a kindly, anxious,
hard-working woman, and two younger sons aged eleven and seven. At eleven
o'clock the boys were at school and the mother alone.  She welcomed her
country visitor, eyeing her meanwhile and summing her up as a mother
would do when first she met the woman whom her son was likely to marry.
They dined together, and then the two set forth to see something of the
sights of London.

No record has been left of what the amusements were to which this
singular couple turned: he with a savage, unrelenting purpose in his
heart; she wondering at his abstracted manner, and chattering country
gossip with the shadow of death already gathering thickly over her. One
little incident has survived. One Edward Spicer, a bluff, outspoken
publican who kept the Green Dragon in Bermondsey Street, knew Mary
Streeter and her father. The couple called together at the inn, and Mary
presented her lover. We have no means of knowing what repellent look mine
host may have observed in the young man's face, or what malign trait he
may have detected in his character, but he drew the girl aside and
whispered that it was better for her to take a rope and hang herself in
his skittle-alley than to marry such a man as that--a warning which
seems to have met the same fate as most other warnings received by
maidens of their lovers. In the evening they went to the theatre together
to see one of Macready's tragedies.

How could she know as she sat in the crowded pit, with her silent lover
at her side, that her own tragedy was far grimmer than any upon the
stage? It was eleven o'clock before they were back once more at Manor
Place.

The hard-working tailor had now returned, and the household all supped
together.  Then they had to be divided for the night between the two
bedrooms, which were all the family possessed. The mother, Mary, and the
boy of seven occupied the front one. The father slept on his own board in
the back one, and in a bed beside him lay the young man and the boy of
eleven. So they settled down to sleep as commonplace a family as any in
London, with little thought that within a day the attention of all the
great city would be centred upon those two dingy rooms and upon the fates
of their inmates.

The father woke in the very early hours, and saw in the dim light of the
dawn the tall figure of his son standing in white beside his bed. To some
sleepy remark that he was stirring early the youth muttered an excuse and
lay down once more. At five the tailor rose to his endless task, and at
twenty minutes past he went down the stair and closed the hall door
behind him. So passed away the only witness, and all that remains is
conjecture and circumstantial evidence. No one will ever know the exact
details of what occurred, and for the purpose of the chronicler it is as
well, for such details will not bear to be too critically examined. The
motives and mind of the murderer are of perennial interest to every
student of human nature, but the vile record of his actual brutality may
be allowed to pass away when the ends of justice have once been served by
their recital.

I have said that on the floor under the Youngman's there lived a couple
named Beard. At half-past five, a little after the time when the tailor
had closed the hall door behind him, Mrs. Beard was disturbed by a sound
which she took to be from children running up and down and playing. There
was a light patter of feet on the floor above. But as she listened it
struck her that there was something unusual in this romping at so early
an hour, so she nudged her husband and asked him for his opinion. Then,
as the two sat up in bed, straining their ears, there came from above
them a gasping cry and the dull, soft thud of a falling body. Beard
sprang out of bed and rushed upstairs until his head came upon the level
of the Youngman's landing. He saw enough to send him shrieking down to
Mr. Bevan upon the ground-floor. 'For God's sake, come here! There is
murder!' he roared, fumbling with his shaking fingers at the handle of
the landlord's bedroom.

His summons did not find the landlord entirely unprepared. That
ill-boding thud had been loud enough to reach his ears. He sprang
palpitating from his bed, and the two men in their nightdresses ascended
the creaking staircase, their frightened faces lit up by the blaze of
golden sunlight of a July morning. Again they do not seem to have got
farther than the point from which they could see the landing. That
confused huddle of white-clad figures littered over the passage, with
those glaring smears and blotches, were more than their nerves could
stand. They could count three lying there, stark dead upon the landing.
And there was someone moving in the bedroom. It was coming towards them.
With horror-dilated eyes they saw William Godfrey Youngman framed in the
open doorway, his white nightdress brilliant with ghastly streaks and the
sleeve hanging torn over his hand.

'Mr. Beard,' he cried, when he saw the two bloodless faces upon the
stairs, 'for God's sake fetch a surgeon! I believe there is some alive
yet!' Then, as they turned and ran down stairs again, he called after
them the singular explanation to which he ever afterwards adhered. 'My
mother has done all this,' he cried; 'she murdered my two brothers and my
sweetheart, and I in self-defence believe that I have murdered her.'

The two men did not stop to discuss the question with him. They had both
rushed to their rooms and huddled on some clothes. Then they ran out of
the house in search of a surgeon and a policeman, leaving Youngman still
standing on the stair repeating his strange explanation. How sweet the
morning air must have seemed to them when they were once clear of the
accursed house, and how the honest milkmen, with their swinging tins,
must have stared at those two rushing and dishevelled figures. But they
had not far to go. John Varney, of P Division, as solid and unimaginative
as the law which he represents, was standing at the street corner, and he
came clumping back with reassuring slowness and dignity.

'Oh, policeman, here is a sight! What shall I do?' cried Youngman, as he
saw the glazed official hat coming up the stair.

Constable Varney is not shaken by that horrid cluster of death. His
advice is practical and to the point.

'Go and dress yourself!' said he.

'I struck my mother; but it was in self defence,' cried the other. 'Would
you not have done the same? It is the law.'

Constable Varney is not to be drawn into giving a legal opinion, but he
is quite convinced that the best thing for Youngman to do is to put on
some clothes.

And now a crowd had begun to assemble in the street, and another
policeman and an inspector had arrived. It was clear that, whether
Youngman's story was correct or not, he was a self-confessed homicide,
and that the law must hold her grip of him. But when a dagger-shaped
knife, splintered by the force of repeated blows, was found upon the
floor, and Youngman had to confess that it belonged to him; when also it
was observed that ferocious strength and energy were needed to produce
the wounds inflicted, it became increasingly evident that, instead of
being a mere victim of circumstances, this man was one of the criminals
of a century. But all evidence must be circumstantial, for mother,
sweetheart, brothers--the mouths of all were closed in the one
indiscriminate butchery.

The horror and the apparent purposelessness of the deed roused public
excitement and indignation to the highest pitch. The miserable sum for
which poor Mary was insured appeared to be the sole motive of the crime;
the prisoner's eagerness to have the business concluded, and his desire
to have the letters destroyed in which he had urged it, forming the
strongest evidence against him. At the same time, his calm assumption
that things would be arranged as he wished them to be, and that the Argus
Insurance Office would pay over the money to one who was neither husband
nor relative of the deceased, pointed to an ignorance of the ways of
business or a belief in his own powers of managing, which in either case
resembled insanity. When in addition it came out at the trial that the
family was sodden with lunacy upon both sides, that the wife's mother and
the husband's brother were in asylums, and that the husband's father had
been in an asylum, but had become 'tolerably sensible' before his death,
it is doubtful whether the case should not have been judged upon medical
rather than upon criminal grounds. In these more scientific and more
humanitarian days it is perhaps doubtful whether Youngman would have been
hanged, but there was never any doubt as to his fate in 1860.

The trial came off at the Central Criminal Court upon August 16th before
Mr. Justice Williams. Few fresh details came out, save that the knife had
been in prisoner's possession for some time. He had exhibited it once in
a bar, upon which a bystander, with the good British love of law and
order, had remarked that that was not a fit knife for any man to carry.

'Anybody,' said Youngman, in reply, 'has the right to carry such a knife
if he thinks proper in his own defence.'

Perhaps the objector did not realize how near he may have been at that
moment to getting its point between his ribs. Nothing serious against the
prisoner's previous character came out at the trial, and he adhered
steadfastly to his own account of the tragedy. In summing up, however,
Justice Williams pointed out that if the prisoner's story were true it
meant that he had disarmed his mother and got possession of the knife.
What necessity was there, then, for him to kill her? and why should he
deal her repeated wounds? This argument, and the fact that there were no
stains upon the hands of the mother, prevailed with the jury, and
sentence was duly passed upon the prisoner.

Youngman had shown an unmoved demeanour in the dock, but he gave signs of
an irritable, and occasionally of a violent, temper in prison. His father
visited him, and the prisoner burst instantly into fierce reproaches
against his treatment of his family--reproaches for which there seem to
have been no justification. Another thing which appeared to have galled
him to the quick was the remark of the publican, which first reached his
ears at the trial, to the effect that Mary had better hang herself in the
skittle-yard than marry such a man. His self-esteem, the strongest trait
in his nature, was cruelly wounded by such a speech.

'Only one thing I wish,' he cried, furiously, 'that I could get hold of
this man Spicer, for I would strike his head off.' The unnatural and
bloodthirsty character of the threat is characteristic of the homicidal
maniac. 'Do you suppose,' he added, with a fine touch of vanity, 'that a
man of my determination and spirit would have heard these words used in
my presence without striking the man who used them to the ground?'

But in spite of exhortation and persuasion he carried his secret with him
to the grave. He never varied from the story which he had probably
concocted before the event.

'Do not leave the world with a lie on your lips.' said the chaplain, as
they walked to the scaffold.

'Well, if I wanted to tell a lie I would say that I did it.' was his
retort. He hoped to the end with his serene self-belief that the story
which he had put forward could not fail eventually to be accepted. Even
on the scaffold he was on the alert for a reprieve.

It was on the 4th of September, a little more than a month after the
commission of his crime, that he was led out in front of Horsemonger Gaol
to suffer his punishment. A concourse of 30,000 people, many of whom had
waited all night, raised a brutal howl at his appearance. It was remarked
at the time that it was one of the very few instances of capital
punishment in which no sympathizer or philanthropist of any sort could be
found to raise a single voice against the death penalty. The man died
quietly and coolly.

'Thank you, Mr. Jessopp,' said he to the chaplain, 'for your great
kindness. See my brother and take my love to him, and all at home.'

And so, with the snick of a bolt and the jar of a rope, ended one of the
most sanguinary, and also one of the most unaccountable, incidents in
English criminal annals. That the man was guilty seems to admit no doubt,
and yet it must be confessed that circumstantial evidence can never be
absolutely convincing, and that it is only the critical student of such
cases who realizes how often a damning chain of evidence may, by some
slight change, be made to bear an entirely different interpretation.



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