Arthur Hellewell rubbed his eyes in disbelief, but they were not deceiving him. It was the afternoon of MAY 5th, 1908, and with his horse and trap he was returning from Bramthorpe to his grocery in the Yorkshire town of Otley. On reaching Holbeck Wood Corner on the road from Leeds to Otley, he had only a mile to go when he saw a man on the footpath at the roadside, busily hacking away at a woman’s body. He had just finished cutting off her head.
Hellewell reined-in his horse and asked the man what he was doing. Receiving no reply, and seeing that the woman was beyond help, he whipped up his horse and hurried to Otley Gasworks, where he phoned the police.
Two gasworks employees then accompanied him to the scene in his trap, one of them taking a crowbar as a precaution. The man was now a few yards away in a field. He had stripped the woman and was trying to cut off one of her arms.
Hellewell and his companions shouted to him to throw down his knife, but he ignored them until he was threatened with the crowbar. Then he dropped the knife, and the gasworkers grabbed him.
“I don’t know what made me do it,” he said, tucking the woman’s umbrella, hat and corsets under his arm before they took him to the road. He could sell the umbrella for 7s. 6d., he added, the corsets for 2s. 6d. and the hat for 1s. 2d.
Smoking a cigarette while they awaited the police, he said he’d been walking from Leeds to Otley with burglary in mind when he spotted his victim and attacked her.
A police sergeant arrived and took him in Hellewell’s trap to Otley police station, where the man said he was James Jefferson, a 21-year-old coal miner. His victim was identified as Elizabeth Todd, the 31-year-old wife of an Otley shoemaker and the mother of three children. She had been on her way to visit her mother in Otley when Jefferson waylaid her.
Further inquiries established that although the chubby-faced, five-foot-two killer looked no more than a boy, he had a long criminal record, mostly for theft. At his trial at Leeds Assizes his plea of guilty was changed to not guilty on the judge’s instructions, after the court heard medical evidence that he was unfit to plead because his mind was liable to wander and he was having delusions.
On July 20th Jefferson was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but his appeal on the grounds of insanity was successful and he was committed to an asylum.