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During the year I have received several messages through this blog, all have been interesting. Thank you. Several messages were interested in Dorset Police and these contacts I have passed on to Ian who hopes to be bringing you a history of the Dorset Police force and the Policemen who walked our streets, in 2018. Other messages were members of the Beck or House family, I have loved meeting you on line and hopefully in person in 2018. Wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Sylvia Photo of May taken at Blandford Police Station most likely during WW1

The Wilfully and Malice Murder of Winifred Mitchell

As a detective, the murder of a young women in 1913 was Grandad Beck's highest profile case.  This case was noted on his Obituary, September 1947, in the same year Mr. Beck was appointed to the Merit Class.  Grandad Beck, Mr Plummer, Deputy Chief Constable, Superintendent Ricketts, and Sergeant Stockley were commended for their presentation of the case in a letter from the Public Prosecutor, Charles W. Matthews.

Policeman with shot gun
P.C. Stockley: The policeman who discovered the body (Western Gazette 23 May 1913)

There are numerous accounts of this murder in contemporary newspapers from all over the UK and more recently in books and on the Internet.  The Western Gazette included photographs, which was unusual. The illustrations used in this post are taken from the on-line British Newspaper Archive.

The murder reads like an Agatha Christie without Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot!

The Setting

Gussage St. Michael is a small rural village in East Dorset, between Blandford Forum and Salisbury. This is an area of small villages and hamlets where agriculture was the main employment.  In 1911 the population was 159 with 50 children at the school. The village had a Manor house, post office, shop, blacksmith and several farms.  In the 1911 census, living at Gussage Manor was Widow Phyllis Good (87 years) with her 4 spinster daughters and 2 bachelor sons.  They had 2 housemaids and a cook. Manor farm was run by her two sons, George (55 years) and Henry (53 years).  In 1913 only the eldest son George is called as a witness.

The Main Characters

24-year-old brown haired Winifred Mary Mitchell, was described as 5ft 5 inches tall and slender, she worked as a cook at Gussage Manor.  She wore false teeth given to her by her last employer. She had been born and brought up with her 3 brothers and 3 sisters, at her parents home at Manswood, Mere Crichel a few miles from the Manor.  Her father was a woodman for Lord Alington. Winifred had worked for Mr George Good for about 5 months, she had previously been in service at several houses in East Dorset.

29 years old William Burton had lived all his life in Gussage St. Michael. In 1913 he lived with his wife and 3 year old son, Cyril Harry, at the village Post-office. Variously described as gamekeeper (1911 census) groom-gardener, trapper, Mr Good said Burton had worked for him as a gamekeeper and trapper for about 5 years. He was reported as a regular churchgoer and apparently led an exemplary life.

Burton is listed in Kerry's Directory 1911 as Sub-postmaster but in the  1911 census it is his wife Lillian (Lily) who was the post mistress.  Lillian was 12 years older than her husband and also taught the infants at the local school.

William and Winifred were distant cousins. They met soon after Winifred (also referred to as Win or Winnie ) started work at the Manor.  They became close friends and started their love affair, this included an intimacy of an improper character. They exchanged letters and presents.  Local people knew about their relationship but it is unlikely that Burton's wife did.  Winnie and Lily were friends and were often seen together.

The Disappearance

Winnie's mother Rose Mitchell told the inquest that on Sunday, March 30th Winnie visited the family at home. She told them that she would be leaving and going to work for a lady in London, but wouldn't give a name or address, saying she would send them on later.  Winnie packed a box of her belongings and asked her sister, Beatrice to bring the box up to the Manor the next day and collect her bicycle.  Beatrice and her brothers Henry and Ernest went to the Manor the next day but Winnie wasn't there.

The Housemaid at the Manor, Winifred May Bailey, knew about the friendship between Winnie and Burton.  She often passed notes from Burton to Winnie, the last one was on 29th March.  Winnie left the house on Monday afternoon, 31st March, on her bicycle. She said she was going to meet a motorcar from Wimborne to make arrangements to leave.  Winnie had told her that she was eloping to Canada with Burton but not when, making her swear not to tell anyone else.  Winnie had been suffering from morning sickness and thought she was pregnant.

Three days later her parents told the police Winnie had disappeared, but also told them that she may have gone to London.  She had left a situation before and Winnie's mother was not worried.  At that point there was no suspicion that anything had happened to Winnie.

Earlier Burton told Frederick Butt, a carter at the Manor, that he was thinking of leaving the village with Winnie.  Butt tried to persuade him not to go. After Winnie left, William told different people different versions of were she had gone, to London, emigrated to Canada and at his trial, gone off with a man from Poole.

The Discovery

George Gillingham dairyman at the Manor found a plate with 3 false teeth on April 6th when taking a short cut through Sovel Plantation (part of Manor Farm, 5 or 6 minutes walk from the village).  He told his wife, who told the rector's wife on April 29th.  The Rector's wife told her husband, who with Sergeant Stockley called on the George Gillingham to look at the false teeth.

The police didn't know were to search until two boys Henry Palmer and James White told the them that on Sunday 30 March they had been picking primroses at Sovel plantation and seen a big hole.  They showed P.S. Stockley where the hole had been.  The police then dug up Winifred, they found her face down, fully clothed except for her lower underwear, she had on several pieces of jewellery.

The many newspaper reporters and photographers came to the village and plantation. The newspapers reported hundreds of people visiting the site, cycling many miles including from Yeovil, Winchester and Southampton.

The grave of Winifred Mitchell
The Grave of the Murdered Girl (Western Gazette 6 June 1913)

The Investigation

During the investigation Grandad Beck took photographs of the grave and surrounding area.  14 of these were given to the courts. The police interviewed the families and friends of Winnie and William and other residents of the villages, before arresting William Burton. Some of these people were called to give evidence including three of William's friends.

Leonard Mitcham said he lent William, his father's gun on 31st March.  William told Leonard that he wanted to shot a black and white cat.  The two friends walked up the hill, when they saw Mr King, a local farmer driving his trap, they hid because neither had a licence for the gun.  William shoot at a couple of birds and Leonard fetched some more cartridges.  They discussed how the gun could kill someone before they parted.   The gun was returned at five o'clock, William told his friend that he had shot the cat and asked him not to say that he had had the gun.  The cat had not been killed.

Frederick Boyt told how William called for him at eight o'clock on the day of the Winnie’s disappearance to go trapping together.  At the plantation, William went ahead and returned to Boyt with a girls bicycle.  He told his friend that it was Winnie's, he expressed his surprised to find it. He said he would take it to her home as she had gone away somewhere. The two men left the bicycle in the garden of Winnie's mother, where it was found the next morning.

Burton spoke to Frederick Butt, a carter at the Manor, on the Friday before his arrest.  Burton said the police were digging up the plantation, they have told my wife I am liable to be arrested as I was the last one to see the cook. Superintendent Ricketts told the inquest this was untrue.

The Inquest

The inquest was held in Burton's former school-room at Gussage St. Michael and where his wife taught. Mrs Lily Burton had a nervous break down and went to stay with her parents at Milborne Port, Somerset taking their son.

Prison officer with Burton by cart
Burton charged with the crime arriving at the Police Court Wimborne (Western Gazette 23 May 1913)

The jury were men from the village and near by Gussage All Saints.   They heard how Winnie had been killed by a gun shot to the face and neck. The gun had been discharged at a distance of no more than four feet, while Winnie was sitting down or standing.  She had been picked up and carried to the grave after being shot. She was neither chaste or pregnant.

After 12 minutes of deliberation the Jury concluded that Winifred Mary Mitchel was feloniously, wilfully, and of malice aforethought killed and murdered by William Walter Burton.

The papers reported a large crowd outside the school room including Burton's pitiful father, while his mother watched from her daughter's near by house. Burton was taken to Dorchester from Broadstone railway Station (13 miles away) via Poole. This avoided the large crowds waited at Wimborne in the hope of seeing Burton.

The Funeral

Winifred's funeral was on Thursday 15th May, 6 weeks after her murder. The coffin was carried by four of her former school colleagues, the half-a-mile from her parents home to St. Mary's church, Long Crichel. Followed by her family, friends and villagers, some in tears. The Rector Rev. E. H. James conducted a brief service to a packed church, many mourners had to remain outside, in the rain. She was buried in the church yard, where bunches of Narcissus were dropped onto the coffin.

The Trial

The 2 day trial was on 3rd and 4th June 1913, at Dorset Assize, in Dorchester.  William Burton pleaded not guilty.

Queue of people in the street
Witnesses entering the court in Dorchester (Western Gazette 6 June 1913

The prosecution held that Winifred had been shot around 3pm on Monday 31st March, buried in Sovel Plantation. At the trial the jury heard how William was seen at four o'clock trapping a distance away from the plantation.  The grave was an important matter, because the prisoner's duties took him to the plantation practically daily trapping, and it was difficult to imagine that if the grave had been dug by someone else, and he had seen it, he would not have spoken about so remarkable and terrifying a thing.

Burton claimed he had seen Winifred at 3 o'clock for a few minutes, then she cycled her bike away, that was the last time he had seen her.  He denied killing her. He had not fired a shot after he left his friend.

The Verdict

The Jury took 19 minutes to find William Burton Guilty of the murder of Winifred Mitchell.  The Judge them sentenced William, wearing his black hat, saying that there was no doubt of William's guilt and he delivered the death sentence.

The Confession

During his last week William was visited by his mother, wife and son and was reported to have make a full confession.  Showing fortitude and strength of nerve which characterised him during his trial, he expressed his sorrow for what he had done, and his belief that he had received the Divine forgiveness.   He killed her because she threatened to expose him unless he took her to Canada, he had no money to pay the fares.

In letters Burton wrote I was proper led way. She made me believe all sorts, and beg me to go away with her...If I didn't she should write a letter or else come down to see Lily (prisoner's wife) and tell her everything…. She nearly drove me wild...This is why I done it.

The Execution

On Tuesday morning 24th June a large crowd gathered at the gates to Dorchester. They could hear the Prison bell being tolled and the Chaplain reading the last prayers.

William Walter Burton dressed himself in a blue suit and laced his shoes.  He walked unassisted to the scaffold where at 8 O'clock, he was executed.

The doomed man met his end unflinchingly and without a tremor.

All original content by Sylvia Collins is copyright protected.

Ref: Quotes in italics
1911 Kelly's Directory
Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 7th May 1913
Western Gazette 1913: 9 May p12; 16 May p2; 23 May p2; 30 May p2; 6 June p 2 & 3; 13 June p4; 27 June p12; 25 July p10.


  1. […] written about four cases were he gave evidence in court, two above and previously I wrote about the murder case in 1913 and mutiny at Upwey in […]

  2. This is about my late grandads brother

  3. Thank you for your comment, Christina. I assume your ancestor was William Burton. When I wrote this piece I was aware that there was a lot written about this and that there may be family members that would prefer I didn't add to it. Though it was a significant case in my Great Grandfathers career, knowing his character, he would have been concerned for William's family. I think that the conversations he had at home with his wife Rebecca would have included is sympathy for William's mother, wife and other family members. It was sad for them and must have been very distressing.

  4. Winifred Mitchell was a Great great Aunt of my friend who i'm currently researching their family history .. thank you for the very well written account, do you have any more information on how they were distant cousins ?

  5. James,
    Thank you for your lovely comments. As so much had been written about this murder it was difficult to decide how to write this. I used mainly newspapers reports (see the references at the bottom of the post) and the comment about them being related came from this, I can't remember if there was any more about the relationship in the reports. I would be really interested to hear more about your research and read your findings. Please do email me if I can help.
    Best wishes Sylvia

  6. Who was your mother as this too is about my late grandads brother.

  7. My Nan has been telling my Mum and her friends and myself this story for as long back as I can remember. She has just told it to some new people and I decided to Google it.
    My Nans name is Audrey Brickell and her Mum's name was Clara Brickell.
    RIP Winifred

  8. Richard,

    I have only just seen your comment (I had been having email problems so this may be why) I apologise that it has taken so long to approve your comment. I hope you hear from Christina.

  9. Aaron,
    Thank you for your comment. How does your Nan know about the story? Does the story differ from what I was able to find out?

  10. My Granddad, Herbert George Burton, was one of William Walter Burton's four brothers.

  11. Roy, thank you for reading my post. I hope you found it interesting. I feel it is very sad for all the families involved. It must have affected your Grandfather, it can't have been a pleasant time for him or the rest of the family. I can't imagine how they all coped, they lived in tighter communities than we do now. I will be interested if you have any other information.

  12. My Grandad too was ,Herbert George Burton,one of Walter's brothers. My Dad was Herbert's son, we knew there had been a murder in the family and no one was allowed to call their children William and it was not talked about. It was not until a few years ago when doing my family tree that I discovered it was Grandads brother as me and my sisters had thought it was a few more generations back. so it was quite a shock. We always wondered what affect was had on the rest of his family living so close.

  13. There was a book called A mix of murders by Kembra publications I downloaded 13 pages bout the murder in that there is mention of my Granmother's brother Fred Boyte who was a witness at the trial. William had told Fred him and Winnie were planning on running away as cover so when she went missing Fred would say perhaps she had gone on ahead. Fred was with William when he pushed Winnie bike back from the plantation, he was to of glared at Fred warning him "if you mention about me pushing the bike back it'll be a bad job for you" Fred not being the bravest of men knew he would be no match for Burton and took the threat very seriously.

  14. Shirley, thank you for your comment. I can believe that no one talked about what happened and tried to bury it. It is interesting that any children couldn't be called William. It must have been an awful shock to the brother's at the time and I can imagine this lasted through the generations. I am glad you are all making contact. If any of the family wish please send me an email, providing you give me permission, I will pass your contact details on.

  15. yes I am willing for you to pass on my email to any family members, I was hoping I could be put in contact with Roy as he is my older cousin, and possibly at my Aunts funeral yesterday, but we never got to chat to him.

  16. Doreen Dicketts7 July 2019 at 09:58

    This is also. my late grandad brother. I wonder now, where his grave is.

  17. Doreen Dicketts7 July 2019 at 10:00

    We must be related, as this is also my great uncle.

  18. Doreen Dicketts7 July 2019 at 10:24

    My mum was Lena Burton, she had seven sisters and one brother, l think his name was Ron though I may be mistaken. His father was Herbert Burton and his mother was Elizabeth. I had a photo of him and his wife who I believe was called Flo. Would this be your parents?

  19. Thank you for your comments on my blog. I believe that Shirley has met some of the other descendants of William Burton. I will email you.

  20. yes. I have emailed you.

    Thanks to Sylvia for passing your email on.

  21. I believe he was buried in Dorchester in the grounds of the jail, not sure.
    I do get a strange feeling when we go to Dorchester and we pass by the old court.

  22. Dorchester prison has recently been sold for housing development. There are plans to exhumed the bodies and move them to Poundbury Cemetery. I have just found this article from February.

  23. oh wow that's interesting.

  24. William Walter Burton is my X3 Great Uncle

  25. Sorry for the delay in approving this comment, Josh. The descendants are arranging a get-together later this year.

  26. Elaine Hayes-Egerton7 March 2020 at 11:15

    Hi, I have been helping my daughter in law research her family tree. Her names if Lewun Jones (Ferret). William Walter Burton was her second Great Uncle.
    We recently visited Gussage St Michael and were surprised at how small a place it is. I’ve also contacted the National Archives and have arranged for Williams prison records to be sent to me.
    If there is to be a family meeting this year, I know my daughter in law would be very interested.
    She would appreciate any info/ photos regarding William Burton/ Winifred Mitchell.
    She would like to connect with any family members, if they are willing.
    Thank you,

  27. Elaine, Thank you for your comment. I understand the family of William Burton are discussing a meeting this year and I will email you a contact.

  28. Elaine Hayes-Egerton10 March 2020 at 14:47

    Thanks. Received

  29. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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