There are killers…and killers. Frederick George Cobon was one for whom you could feel sorry.
Abandoned by his mother and brought up by his aunt Mrs. Emily Hudson in Altrincham, Cheshire, he became a director of the family firm Watson & Hudson and enjoyed a happy marriage with his wife and two children. Then in 1940 he was widowed at 28.
Lonely and wanting a mother for his children, he married his second wife Norah. She soon bore him a child, but life with her was never easy. She had frequent rows with his aunt, with whom they lived in Altrincham and who Cobon regarded as his mother. Norah wanted her out, but that was one battle she couldnt win.
As Norahs resentment intensified, she became violent, and she packed a heavy punch.
Despite their turbulent relationship she bore him two more children. But then she announced she would have no more sex unless Cobon had himself sterilised. He did so although he was only 36, but Norah didnt keep her part of the bargain. She remained frigid towards him, continuing to deny him sex.
When he returned home from work on September 4th, 1951, she complained she was bored, so he took her to a cinema. She went straight to bed when they got home and his aunt came downstairs and joined him much to Norahs annoyance, as she made clear when her husband went to bed.
What did that old bitch want? she demanded.
Cobon replied mildly that his aunt had merely wanted a chat. Then to avoid further argument, he turned over and slept. But not for long. Norah woke him shortly after midnight, launching another tirade of abuse, reinforced with painful punches to his ribs.
Later that morning, SEPTEMBER 5th, the police station in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, had a visitor: Frederick Cobon, who walked in and quietly announced, I have killed my wife in Altrincham. Officers who went to the house found Norah dead in bed, shot in the back and with her throat and wrists slashed.
Was her death a spur-of-the-moment killing, or was it premeditated? This was what the jury had to decide when Frederick Cobon was tried for murder at Chester Assizes.
His aunt told the court that Norahs violent temper would erupt over nothing, while her long-suffering husband did his best to pacify her, saying little and trying to avoid arguments. Other witnesses painted much the same picture.
The familys doctor said he had tried to talk Cobon out of being sterilised. It is unheard of for a man of thirty-six to take such an irrevocable step, he testified, but he said his wife would have no more to do with him sexually until it was done. It was at her insistence that he proceeded.
Describing his 10-year marriage, Cobon said he had taken a passive course, giving way to Norah all the time.
Many men could say the same, but they didnt kill their wives. And the prosecutions case was that the shot that killed Norah was not fired accidentally, as Cobon claimed.
Cobon said that as Norah hurled abuse at him as they lay in bed, I reached for the gun with my left hand, intending to frighten her. I brought it over and somehow she seemed to move and the gun went off. I did not intend to do her any harm whatsoever. He remembered nothing more of what happened, he claimed, saying that his next recollection was of arriving in Sowerby Bridge.
But why, the prosecutor asked, had he made a will the previous day, leaving everything to his children? And why had he also written a letter to his aunt? Cobon replied that he had no recollection of either the will or the letter.
The implication was that he had planned to kill his wife and then commit suicide.
When a man has shot through the back a woman who has given him hell for ten years, what is it more likely to be: accidental or intentional? the judge asked the jury.
They answered the question with a verdict of Guilty, and Frederick Cobon was sentenced to death. His appeal was dismissed, but he was reprieved, and in 1958 he was released from prison after serving seven years.