by Matthew Spicer ELDERLY widower James Wyndham, 73, fancied replacing his late wife with a much younger woman.

She would both share his bed and be his housekeeper, he decided, and in 1890 his children were outraged when he chose 41-year-old Virtue Mills, one of the least virtuous women in the district.

He was the tenant of Twissell’s Farm near Oakridge and had a reputation for belligerence which was shared by his 45-year-old son Frederick.

They were forever falling out, and they had another row when Virtue moved in and Mr Wyndham's unmarried daughters, who were still living with him, were turned out.

As a boy, Frederick suffered harsh treatment from his father – on one occasion he had been left standing for some 24 hours in an attic with his thumbs tied to a beam.

He had been devoted to his mother, and when he challenged his father about the introduction of Virtue to the household, the response was blunt and uncompromising.

James Wyndham replied that he had tried a dozen harlots and he liked this one the best.

She was, he said, the “biggest whore” he could find.

He and Virtue proceeded to live together as man and wife, but there was no marriage – she already had a husband, from whom she was separated.

Frederick lived in Stroud with his wife and five children, and far from becoming reconciled to Virtue, he told anyone who would listen that if his father didn’t kick her out he would shoot them both.

Nobody took this seriously, for he and his father remained on speaking terms but there was soon further tension in the family.

This arose when Frederick’s sister Susan pressed her father to repay the money she had lent him.

He didn’t want to know, ignored a letter from her solicitor, and the next time he saw her in Oakridge he tried to run her down with his horse and cart.

Knowing what Frederick was like, she said nothing to him about the incident but he soon heard of it.

While in Stroud on business, James met Frederick’s wife and told her all about it, saying he would have killed Susan if she hadn’t jumped clear into a field where he couldn’t get at her.

In Stroud, Frederick worked as a butcher and as bailiff for William Farrar, a coal merchant with whom he often went shooting.

They had had a successful day’s sport on James Wyndham’s land at Twissell’s Farm on more than one occasion, and with his consent they decided to go there again on October 19, 1893, taking Farrar’s 15-year-old brother Harold with them.

On the way they stopped in the village of Bisley, where Susan was lodging at the New Inn.

Calling to see her, Frederick asked her how she was, adding, “The old man tried to drive over you, didn’t he?”

“Yes,” Susan confirmed, saying she thought this wouldn’t happen again as her solicitor had sent their father a cautionary letter.

After downing half a pint of cider, Frederick moved on with his companions to the Butcher’s Arms at Oakridge, where he had two more pints of cider before setting out again for the farm.

James Wyndham was with two labourers lifting potatoes in a field when the shooting party arrived.

Frederick stood back while his father and Farrar exchanged pleasantries.

Then he stepped forward, and it wasn’t long before he brought the conversation round to his opinion of Virtue and his father’s attempt on Susan’s life.

He would do as he pleased, the old man replied, reprimanding Frederick for airing family matters in front of the two labourers, and telling him he was drunk.

If that was so, Frederick responded furiously, it was because of the whore his father was living with, disgracing the family.

Still arguing, the father and son began to walk to the next field, Farrar following at a discreet distance.

Had James received the letter from Susan’s solicitor, Frederick wanted to know?

The old man made no reply.

Frederick then said that on arriving at the farm he had seen a young man with a gun, two dogs and a dead rabbit.

He had taken the rabbit from him and sent him packing, telling him he would throw him in the stream if he found him there again.

James Wyndham was incensed.

That young man was a decent fellow shooting on the land with his permission, he said, telling Frederick, “I shan’t give you permission to come here again.”

The row became so heated that it attracted the attention of Mrs Georgina Stephens as the two men shouted at each other. She was passing by on a footpath and saw Farrar step between the father and son, urging Frederick to leave.

Ignoring him, Frederick yelled that he would “shoot the whore.”

Then he turned and stormed off towards Farrar’s waiting pony and trap that had brought them from Stroud.

James began to retrace his steps to the potato field, and to Farrar’s relief the confrontation seemed to be over.

But it wasn’t.

Neither father nor son was prepared to leave it at that.

They turned and approached each other again, only 10 yards separating them when Frederick cried, “I will shoot you.”

And with that he raised his gun and shot his father in the neck, firing again as the old man reeled backwards.

The second shot ripped into James Wyndham’s heart and he fell dead.

“I have shot my father under the earhole.” Frederick shouted as Farrar looked on in horror.

Feeling sure that the farmer had been killed, Farrar hustled Frederick back to the trap where Harold was waiting.

As they approached it, Frederick said he wanted two more cartridges in order to blow his brains out. He had forgotten he had a couple in his pocket, and Farrar wouldn’t give him any.

“He’s shot his father,” Farrar told Harold, and the three set off for Bisley and the police.

Meanwhile, one of the farm labourers checked that James Wyndham was dead, took the name and address of Mrs. Stephens as a witness, and sent for help.

On reaching Bisley, Frederick called on Susan at the New Inn. “I have shot my father,” he told her. “I will die for you. He’ll drive over you no more.” Then he walked to the police station.

With no illusions about what awaited him, he had already asked Farrar to visit him in prison and to ensure that his dog was given to his sister Emily.

“I have been and shot my father, and if he is not dead, I hope he is,” he told the two constables he found on duty at the police station.

William Farrar confirmed what had happened and handed in Frederick’s gun.

On going to view the body, one of the officers found it being guarded by a dog as menacing as its murdered master.

It was so fierce that it had to be driven off with stones.

The corpse was then taken to the Butcher’s Arms, while Wyndham was questioned further before being transferred to Stroud police station.

“I solemnly declare that I shot him, put two barrels into him,” he said in a statement. “I hope he is dead, and I can die happy in a minute.”

A large crowd awaited his arrival in Stroud.

“Good night, all.” he shouted. “I have done my duty.” “Good night, Fred,” one or two voices replied, the rest of the crowd remaining silent.

“If I had my liberty now, and knew the old bugger was not dead,” Wyndham told the officers escorting him, “I’d go back and put another charge in him.”

He had made up his mind to shoot his father before he set out for the farm, he told a friend who visited him in custody, wanting to know what on earth had possessed him.

After appearing briefly before Stroud magistrates the next day and being remanded for a week, Wyndham was taken to Gloucester Prison.

“Your papers should sell well tonight,” he called out to newsboys on the platform at Gloucester railway station.

At James Wyndham’s funeral on October 24, Virtue Mills was conspicuous by her absence.

This was just as well, for in his address the vicar bluntly castigated the deceased for succumbing to the sins of lust and passion.

The housekeeper/mistress was not mentioned, but everyone knew what the vicar was talking about, and they were astonished to hear a priest speak ill of the dead.

His remarks were uncalled for, a mourner protested, and he should apologise but the vicar ignored him.

Two days later Frederick Wyndham made his second appearance before Stroud magistrates.

He had only one regret, he told his escorts: he wished he’d also shot Virtue Mills.

When the court’s proceedings began and she was called to give evidence, he asked to be allowed to leave, and when this was refused he said he wanted a revolver.

In her testimony she described Frederick’s violent quarrels with his father, and as she left the witness-box he shouted, “Let me get at her for two minutes and I’ll tear her limb from limb. I could cut her to pieces.

Nothing is too bad for her. She’d better jump in the canal and drown herself.”

The hearing ended with his committal for trial, at which he intended to plead guilty. But at Gloucestershire Assizes on November 28, 1893, Mr James, his counsel persuaded him to enter a not guilty plea on the ground of insanity.

Susan was called to give evidence, but when Mr James sought to question her about how cruelly her father had treated Frederick in childhood, Mr Justice Cave stopped him, saying this had nothing to do with the case.

Surely, Mr James argued, it might have some bearing on his client’s mental condition.

“I should think nothing at all,” the judge snapped. “It was years ago.”

It was a clear case of murder, the prosecution submitted, and the jury agreed, convicting Frederick Wyndham without even leaving their box.

Asked if he had anything to say, he pointed at Virtue Mills and said, “I should like to kill the woman. She is the cause of it all.”

Sentencing him to death, the judge urged him to spend his remaining days repenting, but Wyndham was unmoved. “I will not repent for killing him,” he said.

Then, struggling with warders, he shouted, “Goodbye all of you.” as he was removed from the dock.

And Virtue Mills?

Surrounded by a mob of angry women when she left the court, she was “hustled about so much,” the Stroud Journal reported, “that she was obliged, on reaching Barton Crossing, to seek refuge in the signal box. The police and a passing clergyman took compassion on her and, dispersing the mob, escorted her to the railway station.”

If she had hoped to benefit financially from James Wyndham’s demise, she was disappointed. His will had been made before his wife’s death, and in the event of her predeceasing him he left everything to his children.

Back in Gloucester Prison, Wyndham asked his relatives not to petition for mercy, and when the execution date was set for December 21 he asked if it could be brought forward.

Three weeks, he pointed out, was a long time to wait.

There was considerable public sympathy for his family, but little for him, the Gloucester Chronicle describing him as “a man of a most callous nature,” and the Stroud Journal noting that he “openly gloried” in what he had done.

His sister Susan said he was weak-minded, had made several suicide attempts and told her he had not planned to murder their father, his shots having been fired on the spur of the moment.

On the morning of his execution, after sleeping well and refusing to see the prison chaplain, Frederick Wyndham shook hands with the hangman James Billington and his assistant Thomas Scott. On the scaffold he said: “I wish you all goodbye. I should like to have killed that whore before I died.” Then the lever was pulled and he plunged to his death.

Ironically, the Stroud Journal reported: “Wyndham was some time ago one of the applicants for the position of public hangman.”

Article and photographs courtesy of True Detective magazine.

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