A Man With An Abnormal Brain, 1898


Bradford Daily Telegraph, November 27, 1898

A Company Promoter’s End.

A shocking discovery was made at the Midland Hotel, Bradford, this afternoon when the dead body of a man named John Herbert Wilkinson, about 50 years of age, was found in a bedroom of the hotel. The deceased was plaintiff in an action at the last Leeds Assizes, when he sued Mr. John.Blakey, leather merchant and boot protector maker, of Leeds, to recover the sum of £7,651, which was alleged to be due under certain agreements executed by the defendant.

The jury, without leaving the box, returned a verdict for the defendant – a decision which was received with applause in court. Judgement was entered accordingly, and on the application of defendant’s counsel Mr Justice Day ordered the documents in the case to be impounded.

Mr. Wilkinson who is a chartered accountant, arrived at the Midland Hotel on Sunday and took apartments. He had no luggage. As he did not come downstairs this morning in reasonable time, and made no response to repeated knocks at his door, suspicions were aroused.

The manager of the hotel communicated with the police, and Detective Supt. Dobson went on to the hotel and burst open the door. Upon entering the bedroom the officer found the dead body of Wilkinson, which was quite cold. Dr Lodge was called in and pronounced life extinct, the man having been dead some hours. Upon him were found two letters , one of which was addressed to a friend and one to his mother. These have been taken possession of by the police, who, of course, refuse to divulge their contents.

There is every evidence that the deceased man was troubled about the trial which was pending respecting his share in certain transactions which had been taken up by the Public Prosecutor. He was committed for trial by the Leeds Magistrates but allowed bail. It is thought that deceased brought about his own end by poison.

On the 31st of August Wilkinson, along with Arthur Beevers, clerk of Leeds, Wm. Hy. Forster of Leeds was charged before the Leeds Stipendary with conspiring to obtain the stock in trade, machinery, and plant of John Blakey, boot protector manufacturer of Leeds by false pretences and also to obtain a debenture for £5,000 the property of John Blakey Limited. After several hearings Forster who had acted as Blakey’s solicitor in the promotion of the company, was discharged. Wilkinson along with Beevers, who was for some time Blakey’s managing clerk, was committed for trial at the Assizes, both being allowed out on bail.


A “Company Specialist’s” End.

The Worries of the Business Illustrated.

Suicide’s Strange Letters

A Man with an Abnormal Brain.

At the Bradford Town Hall this morning, Mr J G Hutchinson, junior, deputy coroner, conducted an inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of James Herbert Wilkinson, the Leeds Company Promoter, who was supposed to have committed suicide at the Midland Hotel.

Mr Young, from the office of Mr Benson Bailey, solicitor, Leeds, appeared for the widow of the deceased, and Mr Barber of Harrogate, for his parents.

Henry Frank McDowell of 11 Queen’s Square, Leeds, secretary to the deceased, said he had held that position for nearly seven years. Wilkinson described himself as a company specialist, but witness could not exactly define the term. On Sunday night, witness saw the deceased off by the eight o clock train from Leeds to Bradford. Wilkinson told witness that he was going to Bradford to see his counsel (Mr Waugh), whom he had retained to appear for him at the pending trial. Witness did not know whether deceased had any bottles or powders in his possession. He recognised one of the two bottles produced. He had seen it in Wilkinson’s study. It contained liquid similar to that with which it was now filled. He had never seen an envelope of the description produced in deceased’s possession. Deceased arranged to acquaint witness by wire by what train he would return on Monday. Deceased had never to witness’s knowledge threatened to take his life, but he had of late been low spirited, and since the commencement of the legal proceedings had been very peculiar in his manner. He had at times expressed a dread of having to undergo imprisonment, and had said it would be an awful thing for his family.

The two letters produced were in Wilkinson’s handwriting. Witness believed that there had been some endeavour to serve upon deceased a bankruptcy notice. An appointment was made for this purpose at eleven o clock on Monday morning. Deceased was aware of this appointment on the Sunday night when witness left him. The proceedings about to take place at Leeds Assizes were in consequence of the attempt to float Blakey’s boot protector business as a company.

The Coroner: Have you heard that the deceased carried about with him anything to destroy life? – No.
Have you ever known him to take anything that would destroy life? – I have known him to take narcotics to induce sleep. Continuing, witness said that he had never seen deceased take narcotics, and did not know how he had become aware of the fact that he was in the habit of so doing.

The Coroner: Had the deceased lately been avoiding service of this notice? – No, not avoiding service, because then he would never have made the appointment to have it served upon him.
Do you know whether he was aware that they were trying to effect service upon him prior to the making of this appointment? – I think he was aware.
Did he take any luggage with him when he went away on Sunday night? – None whatever.
He did not take any night clothes, though he intending staying the next day? – No
Did you inquire about this? – No. He was a peculiar man, and it was not in my province to inquire.
Dr Lodge stated that the bottle recognised by the witness contained laudanum.
Several questions were suggested by Mr Young.

The Coroner: Has the deceased been at all peculiar lately? – Very peculiar
In what particular? – He has been wandering about the house, laying upon floors, and catching hold of the legs of chairs. In fact his whole demeanour had been very peculiar, and I was the only person who could control him.

Later witness asked to be allowed to withdraw the part of his reply which stated that the deceased had been in the habit of seizing chair legs. He further added that about a month ago the idea was continually present in deceased’s mind that someone was watching at the door for him.

By Mr Barber: Deceased’s peculiarity of manner dated from the time of the commencement of the legal proceedings.
Was his restlessness increased by anything he had seen in the papers? – Yes
Did he tell you what it was? – I read it myself. It stated that some sensational developments might be expected in a company case tried recently at the Leeds Assizes, and that on public grounds the Attorney General had issued a fiat against certain persons who would all be charged. Deceased was exceeding upset about it. He said, “Of Course, it can’t affect me at all.” But he was much upset, and it did materially affect him.
In what manner? Did it make him more low spirited and restless? – Yes, low spirited, melancholy and restless.
You say that he was under the impression that there was somebody watching about the house? – Yes

Was that a hallucination? – I am under the impression that it was because he came into my room several times to ask me to go out and see. I went to see, and assured him that there was nothing of the kind..

Witness went on to relate that some time ago two men came to deceased’s house at two o clock in the morning and knocked them all up. He did not know what they wanted but they were very abusive and apparently drunk. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday last the house was watched by five clerks from the office of Messrs. Bond, Barwick and Peake, solicitors of Leeds, who wished to serve a notice. Witness added that the firm mentioned had harassed deceased to death.

The following letter was then put in and read: -

Midland Hotel, Bradford, Nov 27 1898, 10.30.

My Dear Mother, – Certain important communications you will find in my safe at Leeds. These will convey my reasons. Craven will tell you what transpired at our interview last evening and it seems a fate that he should have come. I am sorry to say that Melissa has been very ill today and I am obliged to leave her possibly forever. Time is pressing. I am hunted to death, and tonight to use scriptural phraseology, I am sick unto death. Able and unscrupulous counsel, solicitors and perjured witnesses are trying to hunt me into prison. I am innocent of any crime but that which nowadays will hang any man. I am a company promoter in the legal sense, vide “Directors Liability Bill, 1890”. Not content with this there is bankruptcy facing me with the object of further torture by public examination. Barber will tell you what that means. Having no case against me they want to bring on the public examination before my trial.

And that will prejudice me in the eyes of the jury. Though innocent like Dreyfus and others I should be found guilty as the fates are against me, I hope you all respect my wishes given “in morte”. Bury me in Harrogate and arrange for my wife to rest with me. A more true, noble, honest and truly God organised woman no man ever had. My last day on earth has been very happy, solemn and sad; yet at the same time true and noble. I cannot ruin her and my family and possibly go through the torments of a prison cell. I have been there three days and never again. So long as you are alive I have no interest in my grandfather’s estate, and my present action will enable all to be made right. She has £50 per annum at least. And also get an order of court to charge the sum upon the children’s share which will now be vested. I shall want no more cash, so let it be arranged that while she lives she will want nothing essential. May you live long. May my dear father get better, and may my dear children be brought up in the fear of God, to love him, serve him and obey him, and may we all meet at last where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. I am weary. Good-by.
Your loving son,

A second letter addressed to Mr McColl was also put in and read as follows:-

Midland Hotel, Bradford, November 27th 1898.

My Dear McColl – I am very sorry that I introduced you to J.B.’s company. It was done for the best, but I had no idea then of Forster and Charles Webb’s lies. The Treasury want to get hold of me for some reason known not, but as you know all has been right, honest and true. For God’s sake make my memory right. My apparent apathy in the case you will have noticed, but it really arose from the fact that I had made up my mind that death was preferable to dishonour. Had I been sure of Judge Grantham I would have faced all, but the other judge was at the court when Lord Chief Justice Russell made his noted speech re company promoters. The public have been so swindled by them that a jury would think I was one who had fleeced them, and find me guilty. The rights I had will still be got under the debenture . do help to get my family their rights. The solicitors on the other side and their counsel have no honour. I admit it is business, yet it is not honest. No honest man can live in such an atmosphere, and it seems hard to leave the world against one’s wish, just at the zenith of your work, a young family and a wife of whom God almighty could be proud. The public can investigate and when they have done so, possibly to my dear children there may come a recompense. On this eventful Sunday evening, nearing death as I am, I have the one grand and honest consolation that I am innocent. Wishing you luck for the future, if we never meet again, I again say how sorry I am to have introduced you to the matter.

Yours Faithfully.


Evidence of the deceased’s movements at the Midland Hotel, the finding of the body, and the bottle etc was given by Maude Tomlin, Lucy Slate and Detective Inspector Dobson.

Mr McDowell, in answer to the Coroner, stated that the deceased was insured for something over £2,000.

Thomas Edgar Fox, managing Clerk for Messrs Bond, Barwick and Peake, solicitors, of Leeds, related the circumstances in which it was attempted to serve the bankruptcy notice upon the deceased. The house was not watched for the purpose of effecting service by more than two clerks at a time.


Dr Lodge detailed the results of the post mortem. The lips and the tongue had a scalded appearance. There were no signs of disease in the brain, but it was the largest witness had ever seen. Its weight was 63 ½ ozs. In his opinion deceased’s death was due to poison.

The stomach and its contents were handed over to the Coroner’s constable in a sealed glass bottle. The bottle found in the deceased’s bedroom contained prussic acid, which would be likely to produce the post mortem effects described.

By Mr Young: Witness did not know whether it would have been possible for the deceased to drink the prussic acid, place the bottle in the drawer in which it was found and return to bed. The thing seemed hardly credible.

The jury dispensed with an analysis of the contents of the stomach, and returned a verdict of suicide whilst temporarily insane.