Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Execution of Robert Hoolhouse

This is another one of those examples that never happens in the UK; the execution of a man most probably innocent.  This was 21 year old Robert William Hoolhouse, executed for the rape and murder of 67 year old Margaret Jane Dobson, and how important evidence was never investigated by the Police and the defence Barrister not calling two extremely crucial witnesses.

    It was Tuesday, January 18th 1938, when at 4.30pm Mrs Dobson left the family farm, High Grange Farm at Wolviston, near Stockton in the north east of England, saying she would be returning at 6pm.  It was well past six o'clock when She had not returned so Mr Dobson started a search, aided by his farm hands.  It was at 9.45am the following day that he made a gruesome discovery in a field; the body of his wife.  She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed.  The Police were summoned.  Quickly, they heard of scratches on the face of Robert Hoolhouse.  He was arrested and questioned, but some inconsistencies in his answers led to him being charged.  Soon, the Police believed they had a motive. Hoolhouse and his father had worked for the Dobsons, which also gave them a cottage to live in, but were fired and so lost their home.  This occurred FIVE years beforehand.  If it had been ten to fifteen years beforehand, they would have had the plot to an early eighties slasher film!

    Hoolhouse also had spots of blood on his clothes but claimed that the scratches and blood came from an accident riding his bicycle.  He said that he had been at home at 6 Pickering Street, Haverton Hill until 12.30pm then cycled into Wolviston to visit William Husband, staying until 3pm, then cycling home.  He then stated he was at home from 4pm to 6pm.  He then went back to Wolviston, by bus,to the Husbands` home, arriving there around 7pm, meeting there, a girl he was friendly with, Dolly Lax, whom had been there earlier when he visited.  They then caught a bus to Billingham, visiting a cinema.  There were no scratches on his face.  Dolly and William said that Hoolhouse arrived later than he said on his first visit.  He believed he had got his times wrong, but to the Police believed this gave him the opportunity to kill Mrs Dobson.  The time of death was given as after 5pm.  He was charged and appeared in court on March 28th.  The trial lasted three days and he was convicted and sentenced to death.

    He was executed at Durham Prison on 26th May 1938 by Tom Pierrepoint.  So why is his execution dubious?  First off, on the day of the murder and after it happened, Hoolhouse had NO scratches on his face, as stated by witnesses.  Mrs Dobson was found still wearing gloves, so Police tried experiments trying to replicate the scratches, unsuccessfully.  Even a woman with long nails could not produce a scratch with the gloves on.  Footprints around the body were never preserved with plaster.  Footprints of Mr Dobson were identified but not others.  None matched the footwear of Hoolhouse.  There was no semen stains on Hoolhouses` clothing but enough on the clothing of the victim.  His defence lawyer did not call crucial witnesses such as Margaret Barker who had also travelled on the bus with Hoolhouse.  She saw no scratches.  His next door neighbour, Doris Teale, saw him outside his house after 5pm, at the time he was supposed to have been murdering Margaret Dobson.  But the most damaging evidence not properly investigated was the sighting by Percy Swales, of a tall thin man, aged around thirty, wearing a brown smock, breeches and leggings,in the field where Mrs Dobson had been murdered, around 5pm., and this did not resemble at all, the clothing worn by Hoolhouse that day.  Indeed, an appeal for information on this individual was put out by the local newspaper, but Police were convinced they had the right man, despite the vast contradictory evidence. 

    Some years later, the father of Hoolhouse made a deathbed confession that he had been responsible, but he was not seen around the murder scene at the time, did not wear the clothes worn by the mystery man, and it was believed it was an attempt to posthumously clear his son, knowing he would not be brought to justice.   Another example of "It cannot not happen in this country!"