Abel Atherton fancied his landlord’s daughter, but she didn’t fancy him. He was a 29-year-old miner lodging with her parents, Jacob and Elizabeth Patrick, in Chopwell, County Durham. She was Frances Patrick, and she was only 15.
Atherton’s life revolved around his work and his infatuation with the girl. He watched her develop and often managed to kiss her and hold her round the waist. She thought it all innocent: after all, she did the same thing with her father.
But Atherton read more into it, and began to make further advances which scared Frances. Frustrated by her coldness, he started to hint that her behaviour with her father was unnatural.
By Saturday, July 24th, 1909, she could stand him and his insinuations no longer. She told her father that if the lodger didn’t go, she would leave. So Mr. Patrick ordered Atherton to go.
Moving to fresh lodgings a few streets away, Atherton told his new landlady that he’d done nothing wrong at the Patricks’. It was Frances and her father, he said, repeating his insinuations.
“It’s a good job I left before I did some mischief,” he added, producing three cartridges. “I have carried these about all day. One was meant for Frances, one for her father and one for myself.”
He made several return visits to the Patricks. On the night of August 8th he staggered in uninvited and drunk. “You have done your worst for me,” he told Frances, “and I will do my worst for you, as I can see I’m not wanted here.”
He was back the next day and the day after. Entering the Patricks’ kitchen on the night of AUGUST 10th, he asked Frances if she still kissed her father.
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t,” she replied. “He is my father and nobody has anything to do with it. There’s nothing wrong.”
“If I took it to court,” Atherton told her, “you would get wrong for it.” He made further insinuations when he called again the next day, and Mrs. Patrick told him to get out and not to return.
Back at his lodgings, his landlady saw him checking his gun. Thirty minutes later he burst into the Patricks’ kitchen, where the family were sitting with a neighbour.
Seeing his gun, Mrs. Patrick jumped up and told him, “You are not going to use that here.” Then she made a grab for the muzzle. A shot rang out in the struggle. Then the gun went off again, and Mrs. Patrick staggered out into the street and collapsed in a heap.
Atherton threw his gun out after her, and made a pathetic attempt to cut his throat with his penknife. Then he stepped over Mrs. Patrick’s body, bent and kissed her, and walked away. Further down the street he met a constable who had been called to the scene.
“I am the man you want,” he told the officer. “She is quite dead. It’s a pity I didn’t finish myself off as well.”
A note Atherton had written was found in one of his pockets. It repeated his accusation of incest: “She is as thick with her father as anybody what is married is with their wives.”
Charged with attempting suicide and with Elizabeth Patrick’s murder, he replied: “The knife was not sharp enough. The other was a pure accident. She fired one shot in the air and with the other she shot herself.”
Convicted at his trial, he went to the gallows still protesting his innocence. And Frances? Atherton’s stories of incest were so widely believed that she submitted to a medical examination which scotched the ugly rumours. It confirmed that she was a virgin.