Violet. Victor. Violence.

Drive through Tintern and Llandogo, then just before the bridge which crosses the Wye into Gloucestershire, turn left into the maze of narrow country lanes that entwine the Welsh side of the river. In  Whitebrook find a dilapidated grave in the precipitous cemetery below the Baptist Chapel, now a holiday rent. If it was not for the work of the Gwent Family History Society the identity of the grave and the story that it holds would be lost forever. Even in the short years since the patient cataloguing by Mary and Ellen Spencer-Jones and Sheila Matthews in 2008 there had been irreversible deterioration. The inscriptions are fading but it is still possible to distinguish the words.  John and Amelia Pick are buried with three of their daughters who they lost in a terrible year – Gertrude, Hannah and their youngest, twenty years-old Violet. And poor Violet was murdered by Victor Jones in Monmouth in 1910.

The murder of Violet Pick created ‘intense consternation’ in Monmouth. It has never been the kind of place where such things happen. What seemed to make it worse was that she was well known in the town as ‘a pretty and charming girl.’ Now she lay dead on the historic Vauxhall Bridge over the Monnow. She’d been strangled.

An off-duty policeman Constable Biston had been alerted by a woman screaming ‘Oh, God! You are killing me!’ at about 10.30 pm and had rushed to the spot with his neighbour Thomas Addis, a flour merchant who brought his lantern. Violet was lying dead in a clump of bushes whilst Victor Jones twenty two, was standing by her, mumbling repeatedly, ‘Lock me up. I have murdered Miss Pick.’ There was a tightly-pulled white handkerchief round her neck with the ends pushed into her mouth. There was blood on her linen collar caused when her dental plate with six teeth had shattered.’ Her hat was found nearby, along with two hat pins bent during the terrible assault. There was no evidence of ‘outrage. Victor made no attempt to hide his guilt. ‘No doubt,’ he said, ‘it will be the rope round my neck, and I want it as soon as possible.

Violet was a minor celebrity in the town. She had been an accomplished singer and was in demand as a soprano in local concerts. She had done well as a pupil at Monmouth High School and had started work as a pupil-teacher at the boys’ school in Priory Street. She spent her weekends at home in Whitebrook but lodged in Agincourt Street during the week. At 8.00 pm on Thursday 3 February 1910 Violet had told another resident that she was going for a walk. According to Victor they met and wandered around the racecourse. Then they went to the bridge.

The press quickly and simply explained the case. Victor loved Violet but she discouraged his attentions since she was engaged to Sergeant Fred Tyler of the King’s Own Rifles, who was playing the clarinet as a bandsman in Gosport. However, it wasn’t so straight-forward.

In Victor’s pocket the police found a Christmas card from ‘Violet L. Pick. ’They had recently been seen talking at a dance and Victor’s mother gave a reporter a letter Violet had sent him which was gleefully published. In it Violet asks him if he has got rid of any of his old girl friends and appears to imply that Fred did not care for her. He hasn’t ‘found it convenient to go out with me again yet, and I very much doubt whether he ever will.’ She ends her letter with ‘Love, from your loving Violet. x x galore.’

Poor Violet was returned to Whitebrook, where it had been confidently anticipated that she would become head mistress of the village school. Her coffin was carried along the winding paths through the village with, appropriately, a wreath of violets and lilies of the valley from Fred Tyler and another from her school. There was also a harp with a broken string from the Monmouth and District Choral Society. When the chapel was reached two women fainted, and ‘several had to be led outside to prevent them creating a scene by their grief.’

Victor was a fragile personality. He lived with his mother on Dixton Road and had originally worked for the Monmouth Electrical Lighting Works and a mineral water manufacturer in Aberdare. A move into a career as an insurance salesman had not gone well and there was some talk that he might like  to be an engine driver. Later in court his mother revealed that her own father had been described as an imbecile and her cousin had died in an asylum. When he was six Victor fell from the top of a house on his head and seemed affected ever since. He was depressed and afraid he would do something wrong.  He talked about the ‘terrible impulses that came to me to do certain things.’ When he saw a motor-car he wanted to throw himself under it. He had been seeing his own doctor regularly with phantom complaints.  He had complained of his heart, kidneys, stomach, and nerves. The doctor warned Victor that if he did not pull himself together he would end up in an asylum. He certainly regarded Victor as feeble minded.
 Falling in love with Violet, already engaged to a soldier doing manly things like playing the clarinet, was not likely to stabilise his psychic balance. She was a respected member of her community – bright attractive and talented. And how did he see himself?

 When the case came to court on 15 March 1910 Justice Grantham agreed that Victor was a peculiar boy but declared he wasn’t insane. He could tell the difference between right and wrong. He felt that a well-educated girl like Violet should not have written as she did to Victor but that the jury should ignore it, as women of that age did not do the same things as they would do later in life. ‘It was possible that she was a girl who liked to have two or three strings to her bow.’ 
The jury retired and returned a guilty verdict within forty minutes, with a recommendation to mercy because of his age.
There was a bizarre contrast in court when Victor was sentenced. There was the dreadful theatre of Justice Grantham assuming the black cap, saying it was very sad that someone so young would have to suffer the extreme penalty of the law. Victor himself however was quite jaunty.  He couldn’t explain what he had done, merely that God must have called her.  ‘Thank you my lord. I shall be in a better land where I shall meet the dear girl,’ he said. He waved to the gallery,’ Ta ta! Goodbye boys. Goodbye all.’

The Defence appealed against the verdict on procedural issues – the publication of the letter was wrong, there was alleged misdirection of the jury – and also on the grounds of his youth. He could have slipped away into the dark, undiscovered; he could have thrown her into the river. He didn’t, so  clearly he must be mad. The appeal failed. The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, was urged to grant a reprieve and a petition was signed by seven hundred people in Monmouth and in Usk where he was to die on 29 April. However a week before the execution he was visited by ‘lunacy experts’ and within days the sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. He wasn’t insane they decided but had ‘mental infirmity.’

He was sent to Parkhurst where he was said to have developed’ a sullen and forbidding-looking countenance.’ He was placed in the section ‘set apart for weak-minded inmates’ but found the prison very threatening. ‘I was all right at Usk,’ he said ‘but they will do me in down here.’ In 1913 he was transferred to Broadmoor where he remained for two years and then returned to Parkhurst. Records show that he was released in February 1925 and sent to Chelmsford to work as an engine driver. He seems to have died around 1950. And all that time Violet lay undisturbed in the soft rain of the Wye Valley.

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