April Fool – The murder of Jane Padley

The house in High Street stank of fish. That is what the reporters first noticed –salt fish mingling in a sickly way with smells from the dwelling itself and with those from the backyard where the animals were kept.  A fit place for an intensive investigation by the local board of health is what they thought. But that could wait. The reporters were there to see the bodies, those of Josiah and Jane Padley.

But they were warned – the house was dilapidated, there was little furniture and the rickety stairs may not take their weight.

There is a sense of poverty and squalor which runs through this story- of unhappiness , waste, dirt, futility and of course, madness.

The shed leaning against the rear of the house had beams from which herring were hung for drying. It was here that Josiah had hanged himself. There was a new rope around his neck, intended to repair a fisherman’s net. He had jumped off some steps and since he was a heavy man, death appeared to have been instantaneous .In death Josiah appeared calm, his good features untroubled by the horror he had left behind. Jane was lying in an ill-furnished room upstairs.

Josiah had decided in November 1883 that something had to be done, either to himself or his wife, on 1 April 1884. He had told the police that something would happen, though never explained what. He told an acquaintance, Henry Marle, that Jane was trying to poison him but that Ist April would settle it all. And so at midnight on 31 March 1884 he wrote a letter and soon after murdered Jane.

She was 47 and the mother of 17 children, of whom only seven were still living. You might think that there had been enough sadness in her life already. But Josiah was a jealous man.

It seems extraordinary that after living with her for 27 years Padley should have such suspicions of her conduct.

But he did. And she paid for them.

They had lived at 171–172 High Street for 12 years. . It was almost directly opposite the police station,  on the corner of Pottery Street.  Josiah was a fishmonger and had extensive and lucrative trade in fish, potatoes and vegetables. He was however, improvident in his habits. Josiah was addicted to heavy drinking and was sometimes violent. Jane did her best to keep the business operative and had on occasion moved out, taking the youngest children with her. In fact he had been bound over to keep the peace about a month previously. The police had often been involved in the relationship. His mother in law, Mary Harris said that he had not been properly sober for nine years.

But there had been a sense of foreboding in the air. Josiah had talked to the servant Emma Jenkins repeatedly about 1 April. That was when he would “do it.” He told Mary Harris that he would do it on the first of April but never explained what that might be. He told his son in law that The first of April will tell all.

Arguments were common. On one occasion she had thrown turnips at him and had accused him, ironically perhaps, of going with other women

That evening he had seemed neither excited nor drunk. Relationships appeared to be quite cordial.  He had come home from work, sat down and read the paper. Rather ominously he had been very keen to tell his daughter Victoria and the servant Emma about two men who were about to be hanged.

Josiah had left a note for the coroner, written on business memorandum forms. It was dated Midnight 1 April 1884.

This is to certify that I, Josiah, the once happy husband of Jane Padley until the Brothers Ley seduced her, then I could not have any rest with her, drunk nor sober. It is through they I got the three months in prison for breaking a few articles, not for striking her with an hatchet this is my last word we have had words tonight.

Victoria had indeed heard them arguing, though nothing too serious. In fact he appeared to be on unusually friendly terms with her mother. Then in the night Josiah had come into her room, put an envelope under her head, saying, There’s a letter. Then he went back to his room and there were sounds as if he was beating something. He returned to Victoria’s room and put an unlit candle on the table. She asked him what was the matter. Nothing he said and went downstairs. There was silence, apart from the sound of what she thought was her mother snoring..

Victoria called out to her father after about 45 minutes but there was no reply. She was frightened. It didn’t seem right. Emma looked in the bedroom and then called for a policeman.

Jane was lying on her bed, with deep cuts to her head. Her skull had been smashed.  She was still alive when she was taken to the hospital but never recovered consciousness and died 24 hours later..

Her sister Hilda shared their parent’s bedroom. She had seen Josiah with a black-handled knife in his hands as well as a small crowbar. When he saw Hilda looking he put out the candle. But she was there. Jane suffered five wounds to her head. The left temple was smashed in. A blow to the forehead had broken through the skull to the brain.

There was only one possible verdict. That Jane died by wilful murder at the hand of her husband and that Josiah Padley committed suicide whilst suffering from temporary insanity.

The Ley brothers, James and George, were potato merchants were anxious to vindicate themselves, having been directly accused in a letter from a disturbed man which the Western Mail had seen fit to publish. Of course they denied any involvement. When Padley had started to advertise the prospect of horrible events in April , they had actually been in Australia and had not returned until January.  They believed that Josiah had invented the story because the Leys refused to do business with him and preferred to work with Jane. This might be open to some misinterpretation, but for them it was quite simple.  Josiah wouldn’t pay. He owed them a considerable amount of money. She traded on her own account, selling vegetables.  And she paid a heavy price.

They were both buried in St John’s churchyard, almost exactly opposite where they had lived.

This story first appeared in my book Swansea Murders and I have now arranged for 25 more copies to be printed. I should receive them in mid-April. Go to the Swansea Murders page in the menu at the top of this page, or by clicking on this link, to find out more,
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