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Sensational Murder Trial in Hazeleigh, Essex ~ James Ramsey 1853 ~ 1940

I came across the extraordinary story of James Ramsey whilst researching a family history, the brief had been to find out how the family was connected to Sir Alf Ramsey who managed Ipswich Town FC between 1955 – 1963, which I did, but also found James Ramsey was the great grandfather of my customer. I found James Ramsey in Portland prison in 1901, and this caused me to investigate him further.

James Ramsey was born in Nacton, Suffolk to James and Mary Ramsey, his father was a farm labourer.

In 1871 James was farm labouring in Copdock, Suffolk. He married Eliza Quinton in 1875 in Trimley, Suffolk. They had 5 children, Eliza died young, and the next year James married Mary Anne Clarke in Ipswich, soon after this the couple and children moved to Hazeleigh in Essex, where James Ramsey was an engine driver of farm threshing machines.

On the night of 15th April 1893 James Ramsey, his son also James Ramsey, 15 and two brothers, John and Richard Davis, and Charles Sale, were implicated in the murder of a policeman, Sergeant Eves, during the course of a theft of sacks of corn. Seargent Eves confronted the thieves, and was bludgeoned over the head and body, his throat slashed with a knife and dead in a ditch. The sacks of corn were cast into a pond with bricks and all traces of the murder were removed. James Ramsey junior was acquitted early on and Charles Sale was acquitted.

As the trial progressed, John and Richard Davis were sentenced to hang, James Ramsey senior was acquitted.

John and Richard Davis made confessions whilst waiting to be hung in Chelmsford prison, which revealed the truth of what happened on the fateful night, the confessions were sent to the Home Office, as a result Richard Davis’ death sentenced was reprieved to life imprisonment, but John Davis was hung on 16th August 1893.

This murder trial and the aftermath generated acres of sensational newspaper coverage, mainly in Essex but also nationally. The Davis brothers’ elderly father, wives and their sisters were all interviewed by reporters, a fund was set up for the dead sergeant’s widow which raised £350 which was invested in an annuity for her.

Essex County Chronicle November 17th, 1893

The last scene in the Hazeleigh tragedy was enacted before the Lord Chief Justice at the Essex Assize, on Friday, when James Ramsey was sentenced to 14 years penal servitude for taking part in the corn robbery on the occasion when Sergt. Eves was so brutally murdered. The cheers which arose in court upon this sentence being pronounced will practically be echoed throughout the country, for there has been a very general feeling ever since the true facts of the case came to light that when Ramsey was acquitted of the murder the worst malefactor of the three who participated in it had escaped justice. Much of the evidence given against the prisoner on Friday, was, of course, the same as that adduced in the murder case. There was some fresh testimony, however, which added to what had gone before, left no shadow of doubt as to Ramsey’s guilt in the minds of judge and jury.

Ramsey cross examining the convict Richard Davis upon the story he told of the crime was a remarkable incident to witness. Davis, who is now undergoing penal servitude for life, came forward, as he said, to state the exact facts of the case as he knew them. In addition to this evidence, there were the statements made by Ramsey himself – statements which hardly could have been made by any person who was not an actual participator in, or witness of, the crime. Ramsey was in August last acquitted of the murder through the ingenious arguments of a learned counsel, linked with the fact that the chain of evidence against him was lacking a slight link or two. It has now been shown beyond reasonable doubt, we think, that he was as guilty of that crime as he was of the robbery which proceeded it; indeed, Richard Davis states that his brother John – recently executed – told him that Ramsey was the man who actually cut the sergeant’s throat. It seems a pity that the law does not permit such a villain as this to be confined in penal servitude for the rest of his life. He ought properly to be hanged, but that cannot be. It is supposed that in a few years Richard Davis, whose conduct in gaol is described as exemplary, will be released on a ticket of leave.

The fact that Ramsey was not defended by counsel on the charge of corn stealing has caused some surprise. Why was he not defended? The circumstance is not a little odd if it be true as we believe it is, that on the day before the trial a solicitor endeavoured to retain Mr Horace Browne, the learned counsel who so adroitly defended Ramsey on the charge of murder. It is said that Mr Browne declined the retainer in consequence of more important professional engagements in London.

The Essex Newsman Nov 11th, 1893

The Case of James Ramsey

The Judge on the Murder of Sergt. Eves

There was one case on the calendar with which, no doubt, the people of the county were thoroughly familiar. It was the case of stealing a quantity of corn, in respect of which stealing there was a murder committed. Two persons were convicted – one of them was executed, and the other had been sentenced to penal servitude for life – of the murder of a policeman in the course of a robbery. The person indicted before them on this occasion was acquitted of the murder by the jury last summer. Since his acquittal the evidence, which at that time was imperfect, had been completed, and supposing all the witnesses spoke the truth, the actual hand that committed the murder was that of the man with whom they had to deal – but on another charge. The prisoner could not be a second time indicted for the murder, because by the law of England nobody could be twice put in peril for the same offence. His Lordship went on to remind the Grand Jury that they were asked to find a bill in respect to the robbery only, and to take no account of the murder except as an incident of the case.

If you’ve got this far, James Ramsey senior served his 14-year prison sentence, and around 1907 came out and lived with his son and daughter in law, James and Ada Ramsey, in Barking, Essex. His second marriage had broken down and his wife had gone back to her home county.

Shortly after, James Ramsey junior had left his wife Ada and 6 children permanently, and I found him starting a new life on the other side of the country. James Ramsey senior meanwhile had got his feet well and truly under Ada’s table, he remained in her household, living and working, for the next 30 years, during which Ada had two more daughters, until his death in 1940 at the age of 87.

Calendar of Prisoners 1893 (The National Archives HO140/143)

Physical description of James Ramsey 1905. UK Registers of Habitual Criminals & Police Gazettes, 1834-1934 The (National Archives Metropolitan Police MEPO 6/15)

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