We have told the terrible tale of Mary Jane Brown of King's Coughton, Alcester, in a previous issue: in 1945 this lady had taken the body of her father from his cottage into the garden and dismembered it, prior to burning some of the parts on a garden fire. Local magistrates charged her with a failure to provide decent Christian burial for her father and with obstructing the coroner. From the local press, this was all we knew; however, Mr. S. White of South Glamorgan has kindly supplied details of the indictment which went to the Warwick Assizes early in 1946.
Many people made depositions - police, neighbours, doctors, forensic experts - and it soon became clear that the events in the garden did not kill the old man; he was already dead when Mary Jane dragged him from his bed in the cottage, killed in all probability by a fall and striking his head on a sharp object. The Indictment already had written on it the words 'Insane on arraignment' and the Assize was quick to accept that Mary Jane was an uneducated woman who, indeed, was mentally retarded. The evidence showed that the burning of parts of the body had been inflicted on a corpse and not on living tissue.
Among all the grisly details, including the sawing of various members, was the discovery of the old man's head in the River Arrow, though no evidence was given as to how it got there. Medical examination of the head suggested that the cause of death was probably shock, caused by intracranial haemorrhage.
Before the Assize hearing, Mary Jane Brown had been kept in Birmingham prison, where 'she was in a filthy state on reception'. She told the medical officer there that she had cut off her dad's head and limbs as she could not get him into the hole she had dug. 'She is quite confused and thinks she is in the Asylum. She is quite incapable of looking after herself and her affairs and is certainly insane.'
The Assize Court had a fairly easy task: the charges of not giving her father a decent Christian burial and obstructing the Coroner were very obvious and the question of murder was not given a serious airing. The papers seen by Mr. White were the Indictment papers and do not include the Assize's judgement. It is believed, however, that Mary Jane Brown was committed to the Asylum and that she probably died there.
The story of Mary Jane highlights the hidden tragedies which are probably not uncommon in our own countryside; Mary Jane, getting older, unable to cope with an ancient father who, in turn, probably had an unenviable way of life. Surely, someone knew!
Summer 1997 Index