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The Murder That Never Was

The Death of Mr Watson 

These events took place in the early 1920's, both Mrs Becker and Mr Watson were in their 50's

Mr Watson lived in Newmarket, he was a well known local artist, who specialised in drawing horses, he sold his drawings to a gallery in Newmarket owned by Clarence Haley. He was friendly with a Mrs Becker, who lived in the thatched cottage near the old Shepherd and Dog Inn, now called the 'Crooked Cottage'. She had bought the cottage from the Cheveley Park Estate for 75. She sold Mr Watson the cottage for 150 and had a wooden bungalow built at the end of the cottage garden.

On the day in question Mr Watson and Mrs Becker had been to Bury together by train, on their return to the village several people witnessed a violent row between them. Later that day Mrs Becker ran to the Shepherd and Dog in a distressed state and informed those present that Mr Watson had poisoned himself in her bungalow. Gilbert Vincent, nephew of the landlady, ran to the nurse's house (Priory Cottage), but she was not there. The Police and doctor were called by telephone, but Mr Watson was dead by the time they arrived. Those who witnessed his demise found him laying on a bed gasping for air, with a glass and bottle of cyanide on the table beside him.

Three Inquests were held, in the Crooked Cottage, involving Police, Judge, Jury and Witnesses. Gilbert was one of the witnesses called on all three occasions, for which he received 7/6d (37 New pence) The police from Newmarket were obviously not satisfied with the verdict but due to lack of any evidence and the fact that Mrs Becker did not benefit from Mr Watson's death, an open verdict was returned. One of the policemen attending the case was a Mr Marjorham, later to become the Inspector in charge of Newmarket Police Station. Mrs Becker's husband came from Germany for the hearings, he had been butler to Sir Ernest Cassel of Moulton Paddocks and had possibly returned to Germany due to the war. He was none too pleased to be with his wife and returned to Germany soon after the hearing. Mrs Becker left the village soon afterwards and settled in Newmarket, building a house in Centre Drive.

These events were told to me by Gilbert Vincent in December, 1993 JRG

John Bull, September the 3rd 1932


For more than four months an elderley woman living alone in a remote English village, has been shunned by almost all that know her because she has been publicly put under suspicion of having committed murder.


By sheer accident, the clearest evidence was found six weeks ago, to dissociate her completely from any part of the supposed crime. the evidence has been in the possession of the Police for all that time and has been verified by them in every particular. But the Police, who, it is now apparent, blundered terribly in the case have so far kept the secret of the vital new evidence to themselves.

JOHN BULL however, has discovered this secret and we consider ourselves justified in revealing it so that the branded woman may have her good name restored to her. Our disclosure inevitably reveals the stupid mismanagement of the affair by the authorities. The case which aroused widespread interest in the early summer was one of the strangest poisoning mysteries of recent years. It involved the death of Mr Harry Watson, a 52 year old artist, who lived by himself in a picturesque old cottage in the Arcadian village of Moulton a few miles from Newmarket Watson was an artist of some repute and his best ability was shown in animal studies, he had found wide scope for it for 13 years in the Newmarket district, portraying celebrated racehorses with brush and camera.


Separated for a long time from his wife and family, he had come to be regarded as a recluse, and for many years his chief interest, outside his professional work was the elaborate decoration of the interior of his thatched cottage which was his lonely home. 20 yards from the cottage and connected to it by a field path is a bungalow, occupied by Mrs Helen Becker who also lived alone and upon a legacy left to her by her employer, the late Sir Ernest Cassel. She was cook at the famous Moulton Paddocks and when the present King, King Edward and the ex-Kaiser were in residence there, she was responsible for the royal meals. One evening last April Mr Watson in his night attire was found dead in bed in Mrs Beckers bungalow. A riot of fantastic rumour which has since been disproved piece by piece following the discovery.

The inquest proceedings which had lasted nearly a month were given much publicity and for long afterwards the newspaper crime reporters were camped in the neighbourhood awaiting sensational developements. Watson had died from the result of cyanide potassium, of which deadly poison he had swallowed much more than a fatal dose in liquid form.


Mrs Becker's statement made to the police on the night of the tragedy and repeated at the inquest, was that it had been her custom occasionally to cook an evening meal in her bungalow for the artist. On the night of his death dressed in his usual clothes he came to her house with a piece of steak and asked if she would grill it. She told him to return for it in 20 minutes. Before the meal was ready she saw a strange spectacle of Watson wearing his night-shirt and unlaced boots coming along the garden path. She said he was reeling as if he were drunk, and appeared to be at the point of fainting. At the bungalow door he exclaimed "I am bad" and collapsed. Mrs Becker than saw that he held in his hand a small bottle unlabled and uncorked, containing a little colourless fluid. (This was later proved to be cyanide of potassium solution)


The woman next told how she assisted the man into her bedroom, laid him on the bed and pulled off his boots. When he did not speak or show any signs of returning to consciousness, after she forced whiskey and milk between his lips, she called help from the village inn, which was behind the bungalow and a doctor nurse and policeman were summoned. Watson was then dead. Other facts which emerged from the enquiry were that for a month before his death Watson had been receiving only half-salary from a firm with which he was professionally associated, and for the first time in 13 years had taken a day off work on the day he died. One witness said there had been a great change in his manner in the previous two weeks and that he had become "insolent". A number of love letters addressed to Watson from different women in distant parts of the country were found. These had allusions to his long separation from his wife, divorce and suggestions that the writer could share his life and home. Before his death, his entanglements with these women had become known to his wife. But the whole case hinged on whether or not Watson ever bought poision and if it had actually ever been in his possession. None could be found by the police in his cottage. 

The coroner adjourned the inquest to allow the police to continue widespread enquireies into this aspect of the affair. In the end the police reported that the investigation had been carried to every shop of the 4 counties, Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire, including the Isle of Ely, and there was no evidence that Watson had ever purchased poison in recent years. The coroner told the jury that if they believed the whole of Mrs Becker's story, they would have to find that Watson took his own life. But the jury did not accept Mrs Becker's verdict declaring that the evidence was not sufficient to show how the poison had been administered. That was 4 months ago and since then Mrs Becker has borne the brand of Cain, as plainly as if it had been put upon her in the felon's dock. For nearly 40 years she had lived in Newmarket district and formed a host of friends. One by one they have deserted her. She is passed by in the streets and ignored at every turn, little children have even been told to avoid her. Her ostacism is complete. Everywhere she has seen the accusing finger. Today she is on the verge of a nervous prostration. Only one set of circumstances could have proved her innocent, that Watson bought or possesed cyanide of potassium or that any of the poison was or had been in his own cottage. If there had been the slightest evidence produced to establish any of these things the jury would have had no option but to find that Watson died by his own hand, either suicidally or accidentally. Thad evidence does exist, evidence as clear and complete and irrefutable as has ever been found in any poison case, and the Police are keeping it to themselved. Six weeks ago some workmen were making the dead man's cottage ready for a new occupier. One of them exploring a recess below the stairway, found a brick loose and removed it. From the cavity he took out a large medicine bottle, with a poison label, about half full of crystals. It was easy for the police to trace the origins of the bottle from the label. It came from lthe shop of an old established chemist in the principle street of Newmarket.


A rapid test proved that the contents of the bottle were cyanide of potassium. The chemists register showed that Watson had bought the poison there 20 months before his death, and the dead man's name was bold and clear in the poison book ! The evidence for which the police has scoured every chemists shop over 6,000 square miles of country was under their noses all the time as plain as a pike staff. The chemist's shop at which Watson obtained the poison is not only the nearest one to his cottage - it is the nearest one to the police headquarters from which the search across four counties was directed - within hailing distance in fact. Why have the police not openly announced the discovery of this, the most important evidence in this case ? They have certainly had long enough and had every facility to do so. We demand as the most common justice that action be taken without delay so that Mrs Becker's character shall be officially cleared before the world. This suffering woman's torture must be ended, even if in the process the detective work of the police is not likely to be commended.

see also Gilbert Vincent, memories
2000 Julie Hefford

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