For nearly 20 years James Johnson, a 43-year-old Newcastle-on-Tyne bookmaker, had been known to the police as a drunken brute who habitually carried a razor and associated with racecourse thieves.
When he was jailed for theft in December 1928, a friend named Ridley became his lodger and helped to run his bookmaking business. But trouble brewed after Johnson’s release when he suspected his wife Mary Ann of having an affair with the lodger. After threatening to kill her and their four younger children who still lived with them, on May 9th, 1929, he attacked his wife, who left home and sought police protection.
On MAY 13th, however, she was persuaded to return and that night the police were called by neighbours who reported a disturbance. Mary Ann was found on a bed with her throat cut, and in a letter found in the kitchen Johnson had written of his intention to kill her.
He had carried this out, and at his trial his claim that she had committed suicide was rejected. Convicted of his wife’s murder, he went to the gallows.