Returning to St. Erth, Cornwall, in 1907 after working as a miner in America, William Hampton fell in love with Emily Tredrea, a teenager living with her mother in the town’s Vicarage Row her father was away from home, working as a miner in South Africa.
The youngsters became engaged in 1908, and Hampton became the lodger of Emily’s mother. All seemed to go well until May, 1909, when Emily, by now 16, told Hampton she no longer loved him. She found him a boring kill-joy who never wanted to go out, and she was through with him.
The next evening, MAY 2nd, her mother went out to visit Hampton’s grandmother, who had a bad leg. In her absence Hampton took the opportunity to talk to Emily about what she had told him the day before. But he got nowhere. She just repeated that she wanted to have nothing more to do with him.
Enraged, he rushed at her, grabbed her throat and throttled her. Their row had been heard by Emily’s nine-year-old brother Rowland, who left his bed and looked down from the landing to see his sister lying on the kitchen floor, Hampton kneeling on her and gripping her neck. The boy shouted to the lodger to stop, but Hampton ignored him.
Rowland returned to his room, dressed quickly and returned to the landing to see Hampton put Emily in a chair, from which she toppled.
When the boy tried to leave the house to run for his mother, Hampton told him to wait and they would go together. Then while Hampton tried to put Emily back on the chair, Rowland made his escape and ran off to his mother.
Moments later Hampton left the house, jumped over a hedge opposite and made off across fields. Fearing he would be roughly handled if he were arrested in St. Erth, he went to Hayle and gave himself up there.
“I think I have killed a maid at St. Erth,” he said. “I choked her with my hands. I think she is dead right enough, because I picked her up and she could not stand, and then I put her in a chair and her head fell over on one side…I was going with her and now she won’t have anything to do with me. I suppose it was temper that caused me to do it.”
At his trial his defence was provocation, his counsel Mr. R.G. Seton also pointing out that the crime had taken place in the kitchen where there were many knives, but Hampton had used his bare hands. This indicated there was no premeditation, Mr. Seton claimed, submitting that the offence was therefore manslaughter.
The jury disagreed. After only 15 minutes’ retirement they returned to convict William Hampton of murder, and on July 20th, 1909, he became the last man to be hanged at Bodmin Prison. He was 23.