Once a week, William Ryder’s cleaner visited his home in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, where she did more than the cleaning. Ryder was a 57-year-old labourer who lived alone, and for several years Mrs. Ethel Laynton, 46, had combined cleaning with having sex with him.
She went to his house as usual on MAY 23rd, 1931, and shortly afterwards he walked into a police station to make a statement. He said he’d quarrelled with his cleaner because she was going out with other men, and the police would find her body in his scullery. Which they did, finding her throat had been cut and she had also been attacked with an axe.
But apart from her relationship with Ryder, Mrs. Laynton appeared to have been chaste. It was learned that he had not paid her for two or three weeks, and it was suspected that the quarrel could have arisen from her refusing to make love with him.
At his trial for murder Ryder’s defence of insanity was not supported by medical evidence, although the court heard he had once been afflicted by syphilis. In convicting him the jury pointedly refrained from recommending mercy, and he was sentenced to death.
The judge, however, wrote to the Home Secretary suggesting that Ryder’s syphilitic history might have lowered his resistance to provocation. Ryder’s death sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life, and he was released eight years later.