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Archive - Sunday, 30 March 2003
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Poisonous secret of Rose Cottage
HE went quietly, even shyly, about his daily business and it was apparent to the Herefordshire riverside community that the loner who had come among them had no intention of throwing himself headlong into village life.
To the good folk of Sellack he was 'Mr Pilkthgton', a man of mystery who lived at Rose Cottage.
They had no idea that he was a mere shadow of his former self, for who he was and where he came from they had no knowledge.
In his secret past he was a grinning wag, a man keen on sporting bets and a favourite with the ladies. The 'shadow' that moved to Herefordshire in the 1920s was practically penniless and a sick man.
For 'Mr Pilkthgton' was in reality Harold Greenwood, a solicitor who had walked free from one of the most sensational murder trials in the years between the wars.
The lovely village of Sellack, nationally known for the tradition of pax (peace) cakes being distributed at Easter church services, was a far cry from the Carmarthen courtroom where lawyers and witnesses warred in the search for truth.
Yorkshireman Greenwood had set-up his solicitor's practice in the Welsh town of Llanelly in 1898 and life looked good.
But the business never prospered as expected and in 1919 his family life was thrown into turmoil with the rapid deterioration in the health of his wife, Mabel.
A condition that had at one stage been diagnosed by her doctor as 'the change of life' was giving huge cause for concern. There was severe sickness and diarrhoea.
Poor Mrs Greenwood was convinced that the culprit was 'the gooseberry tart' because 'it always disagrees with me'.
But this was far more than a 'disagreement', for Mrs Greenwood fell into a coma and died at about 3.30am on Monday, June 16, 1919.
Before long, tongues began to wag in the Welsh community. All sorts of tales were being spread about the deceased's last few days and there was even the occasional mention of the word 'murder'.
And the rumours became rampant when Greenwood proposed to two women in the space of a couple of days only four months after poor Mabel's demise!
The woman he married was a Gladys Jones and their new life together suffered an horrendous start.
The staging of an inquest and the exhumation of his first wife's body were not the sort of wedding presents one welcomes. And the many who witnessed the betrothal with disgust had their suspicions of foul play fuelled by the discovery of a large amount of arsenic in the first Mrs Greenwood.
Who administered the poison? George Jones, the inquest jury foreman was unequivocal that the man responsible was the one who had been transformed from widower to groom in so short a period of time.
There followed a classic murder trial, which began with Greenwood being surrounded by mounted police on his way from jail to courtroom with the baying of hatred coming from an angry crowd of onlookers.
The prosecution sought to show that Greenwood had placed weed-killer in a bottle of Burgundy quaffed by the ill-fated Mabel over lunch on June 15, 1919.
A family maid, Hannah Williams, declared on oath that Greenwood had spent half an hour in the pantry before that last lunch, obviously implying that he was adding a fatal ingredient to the Burgundy.
But brilliant barrister Marshall Hare, defending Greenwood, tore her evidence to pieces and then came a vital disclosure.
The Greenwoods' daughter, Irene, said she had drunk wine from the same bottle as her mother, with no ill effect.
The jury debated matters for two-and-a-half hours and eventually reported to the judge this statement. 'We are satisfied on the evidence of this case that a dangerous dose of arsenic was administered to Mabel Greenwood on Sunday, June 15, 1919. But we are not satisfied that this was the immediate cause of death. The evidence before us is insufficient and does not conclusively satisfy us as to how and by whom the arsenic was administered. We therefore return a verdict of not guilty.'
Harold Greenwood was a free man, but life for him in that Welsh community could never be the same again. It was said he had become a social leper.
The jury's 'not guilty' verdict on Greenwood saw the national fervour for news about him slowly subside and he died a largely forgotten figure.
How different it was for another solicitor accused of poisoning his wife. Major Herbert Rowse Armstrong from Hay-on-Wye was convicted at Hereford and hanged at Gloucester.
He will forever feature in the hall of notoriety as a murderer, a fate spared the man who became Herefordshire's 'Mr Pilkthgton'.