Since it’s nearly Halloween I thought I would tell you about a murder that took place on Bodmin Moor in 1844. Bodmin Moor is reasonably close to where I live in Cornwall.
On the 14th April 1844, Charlotte Dymond was brutally murdered on the moors. It’s said Charlotte’s ghost still wanders the moors in the Sunday best clothing she was tragically killed in.
The reason this story really sticks out to me is that I think the wrong man was found guilty. I mean, I obviously wasn’t around when the murder took place, one-hundred-and-fifty years ago, but I’ve done a lot of reading in to it.
Charlotte Dymond was an eighteen-year-old domestic servant at Penhale Farm, situated on the edge of Bodmin Moors. There were two other in-house servants called John Stevens and Matthew Weeks, both in their early twenties. The farm was owned by widowed Phillipa Peter and her son, John.
Matthew Weeks and Charlotte developed a relationship, much to the shock of everyone else. Charlotte was pretty, dressed well and was notoriously flirty. Matthew was the opposite; he was short, noticeably missing some teeth and had a recognisable limp on his right leg. In March 1842, Matthew came into a small inheritance, shortly before Charlotte hanging out with him. Charlotte was illegitimate with no family. It is said that Charlotte was the daughter of a local schoolmistress who wanted nothing to do with her, probably due to shame, but that hasn’t ever been confirmed.
Thomas Prout is the nephew of Phillipa who lives a few miles away from Penhale Farm. Thomas and Charlotte are believed to have had an affair, with the possibility of eloping together. John Steven’s apparently overheard Thomas saying he would steal Charlotte away from Matthew. Thomas and Matthew had worked together in the past, it is believed the two didn’t get along particularly well.
On Sunday 18th April, everyone changed into their Sunday best outfits. Early evening, around 4 o’clock, Matthew and Charlotte decided to go for a walk. Charlotte mentioned that she wouldn’t be back in time to milk the cows, but that Matthew would. It wasn’t uncommon for them to leave together, then return separately. A witness, an elderly farmer, said he saw the lovers walking on the moors in the fog; he recognised Matthew’s limp but he couldn’t identify the young woman with him, he assumed it was Charlotte due to her dress. Later on, Matthew returned alone, his trousers were muddied and his shirt was torn. He denied being on the moors.
A few days later, Charlotte still hadn’t returned. Matthew had mentioned she had been offered a position in a little town a few miles away called, Blisland. He said she was going to stay at a friends house. A week later, Phillipa was still sceptical so decided to find out if the position was real, it was not. Charlotte had not been offered a new position and she hadn’t stayed with friends. At this point, Matthew had left the farm with no intention of returning. It is seeming very likely Matthew murdered Charlotte.
On the 23rd of April, just over a week after she went missing, a search
party found Charlotte’s body on a riverbank, still on the moors. She had a very deep cut across her throat, from ear to ear. They classed this as the likely cause of her death. It may have even been two cuts. It was becoming clear that Matthew had been the one to kill Charlotte. Her injuries were ruled as not self-inflicted. The wound was rather horrific. It was extremely deep, just under 3 inches, so there is no doubt this is what killed her. It seems that the object used to kill her wasn’t a sharp one because the wound looked heavy-handed and forced.
Matthew was found in Plymouth, at his sisters’ house. There he was arrested. They found women’s gloves and a bloodied handkerchief on him, which is a little suspicious. At Bodmin Assize Court on August 2nd, Matthew was tried for the murder of Charlotte Dymond. He pleaded not guilty, but the jury took just over thirty minutes to find him guilty. Matthew Weeks was sentenced to death by hanging.
Matthew Weeks was held in Bodmin Jail for ten days between sentencing and execution. Here he wrote two letters. One for his family and one was seemingly a confession. Matthew was a labourer so wasn’t expected to be very literate, but this confession was not what you’d expect from him. The letter seemed to show him indirectly confessing to the murder of Charlotte:
“I hope young men will take a warning by me and not put too much confidence in young women, the same as I did; and I hope young females will take the same by young men. I loved that girl as dear as I loved my life; and after all the kind treatment I have showed her, and then she said she would have nothing more to do with me. And after this was done, then bitterly I did lament, thinking what would be my end. And I thank the judge and jury too, for they have given me no more than was my due.”
Another confession was supposedly written by Matthew Weeks, giving explicit details about the murder, but people don’t seem to believe it was actually written by him because the writing was more sophisticated than the writing in the letters. There is speculation that the police wrote the second confession to frame him, and stop public outrage. Have any of you watched ‘Making A Murderer’? I believe the cases are similar. The murder of a young woman, and the framing of an innocent man.
At noon on the 12th of August, Matthew Weeks was hanged in front of a few thousand people. The public hanging took place at Bodmin Jail. He was buried in the prisons coal yard. Personally, I think the wrong man hung. I do not believe Matthew committed this crime. I remember learning about his case during an English lesson when I was about thirteen, I’ve been fascinated with it ever since! I’ve done a lot of reading into it, and I’ve read many theories, but I just don’t believe he did it.
There is, obviously, a possibility that Matthew did commit this murder, but I do believe he is innocent. I think there could be other suspects. Thomas Prout, for example. There were no accounts to his whereabouts, and he had a motive. There does seem to be a love triangle. Matthew and Thomas both fighting for Charlotte affections. Is it not possible that Charlotte chose to stay with Matthew, and Thomas murdered her in a jealous rage? Of course! Thomas also had the physical strength to kill her. Matthew had a limp, and Charlotte would’ve been able to get away from him. Physically I believe Thomas is more likely to have killed Charlotte. Even if Matthew did kill Charlotte, wouldn’t there be more blood found on his clothes rather than just a trace? Especially considering the severity of her wound.
The elderly witness is unreliable too. He mentioned that the moors were foggy, and he could only recognise Matthew Weeks from his limp. The witness said he couldn’t tell who the person accompanying Matthew was, he only thought it was Charlotte due to her Sunday best clothes.
Could the talk about Charlotte’s mother be true? Was she an ashamed schoolmistress? Could she have killed Charlotte? Maybe! There were never any confirmations of Charlotte’s family, it was thought she had none. This is all just theory and talk. But maybe Charlotte bumped into her Mother after Matthew left to head back to the farm. They could have argued and that could have turned violent. Charlottes Mother could have killed Charlotte in rage to rid herself of the shame. This could have happened.
Maybe it was an unknown person. Charlotte’s body was found with some items of clothing missing. Maybe Charlotte encountered someone who wanted to hurt her and it turned deadly. An old lover perhaps? Or even a total stranger.
In 1978 the case was reopened by an amateur historian named Pat Munn. She concluded that Matthew was innocent. There are questions about her report though, she didn’t provide any other candidates. She did question the fact that Charlotte’s shoes were missing and never found – not even on Matthew. When I learnt about this case in school, we learnt that Charlotte body was probably moved after she was killed. This seems probable! I know she was found on the edge of a river, but surely there would’ve been a lot more blood than there was? Matthew could barely walk himself, let alone drag a body through the mud on the moors. Pat also discovered that the witnesses who said they saw Charlotte with Matthew changed their story after Charlotte’s body was found. They only said it was her afterwards but before they said they didn’t know who the girl was. If you want to know more about Pat Munn’s findings, you can buy her book here.
To me, there are too many factors and possibilities saying that Matthew could have been innocent. From the moment I started looking into this murder case, I’ve been convinced he is innocent. I could be wrong, she did die One-hundred-and-seventy-four years ago so it’s not something I witnessed first-hand. I can only go off the stories and records I’ve found online. I also believe that all of the records from the time of the case are pretty biased. I’ve not found one article or newspaper extract that shares the possibility of another suspect or possible murderer. I think that the town all just agreed that Matthew was guilty to stop the fear of the possibility of a murderer walking around with them. I think that the town picked on Matthew because he wasn’t particularly ‘worthy’ in the town, he was just a farm labourer. Phillipa may have been protecting her family and saw Matthew as an easy target. There are too many theories to write about in
this post. We’ll probably never know whether Matthew was the person who killed Charlotte.
A monument was placed on the moor where Charlotte was found. The town rallied together and had the monument made.
The murder of Charlotte Dymond inspired the poet Charles Causley to write a ballad about the famous murder simply called ‘The Ballad of Charlotte Dymond’:
‘It was a Sunday evening
And in the April rain
That Charlotte went from our house,
And never came home again.
Her shawl of diamond redcloth,
She wore a yellow gown,
She carried a green gauze handkerchief
She bought in Bodmin town.
About her throat her necklace
And in her purse her pride
As she walked out one evening
Her lover at her side.
Out beyond the marshes
Where the cattle stand,
With her crippled lover
Limping at her hand.
Charlotte walked with Matthew
Through the Sunday mist,
Never saw the razor
Waiting at his wrist.
Charlotte she was gentle
But they found her in the flood
Her Sunday beads among the reeds
Beaming with her blood.
Matthew, where is Charlotte
and wherefore has she flown?
For you walked out together
And now are come alone.
Why do you not answer,
Stand silent as a tree,
Your Sunday woollen stockings
All muddied to the knee?
Why do you mend your breast-pleat
With a rusty needle’s thread
And fall with fears and silent tears
Upon your single bed?
Why do you sit so sadly
Your face the colour of clay
And with a green gauze handkerchief
Wipe the sour sweat away?
Has she gone to Blisland
To seek an easier place,
And is that why your eye won’t dry
And blinds your bleaching face?
“Take me home!” cried Charlotte,
“I lie here in the pit!
A red rock rests upon my breasts,
And my naked neck is split!”
Her skin was soft as sable,
Her eyes were wide as day,
Her head was blacker than the bog
That licked her life away.
Her cheeks were made of honey,
Her throat was made of flame
Where all around the razor
Had written its red name.
As Matthew turned at Plymouth
About the tilting Hoe,
The cold and cunning Constable
Up to him did go:
“I’ve come to take you, Matthew,
Unto the Magistrate’s door.
Come quiet now, you pretty poor boy.
And you must know what for.”
“She is pure,” cried Matthew,
“As is the early dew,
Her only stain it is the pain
that round her neck I drew!”
“She is guiltless as the day
She sprang forth from her mother.
The only sin upon her skin
Is that she loved another…”
They took him off to Bodmin,
They pulled the prison bell,
They sent him smartly up to Heaven
And dropped him down to Hell.
All through the granite kingdom
And on its travelling airs
Ask which of these two lovers
The most deserves your prayers.
And your steel heart search, Stranger,
That you may pause and pray
For lovers who come not to bed
Upon their wedding day.
But lie upon the moorland
Where stands the sacred snow
Above the breathing river,
And the salt sea-winds go.’
If you are interested in this case, want to make your own mind up and are ever in Cornwall, then you can attend a ‘courtroom experience’ at the ‘Shire Hall’ which were once the county courts. You find out more information here: https://bit.ly/2A1Mq8D.
What do you think happened? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Thanks for reading!