Fred Morse’s clothes were saturated and he was shivering when he was seen in the Somerset village of Curry Mallet on the afternoon of FEBRUARY 23rd, 1933. The 33-year-old quarryman said he had been collecting his rabbit traps from a field. His 12-year-old niece Dorothy Brewer had accompanied him, and he had told her to wait for him in a shed because it was raining. But when he went to the shed with his traps, there was no sign of her. She had been threatening to kill herself because she was pregnant, and on their way to the field he had stopped at a pub and bought her some rum to cheer her up. Now fearing the worst, he had searched a nearby river bank for her, and in doing so had fallen in the water.

Dorothy was reported missing, the police launched a search, and her body was found in the river the next day. An autopsy found that she had drowned, and there were no marks of violence on her body.

Questioned by the local police about the girl’s pregnancy, Morse denied that he was responsible. Four days later the investigation was taken over by two detectives from Scotland Yard. Morse now allegedly admitted to them that he was the father of the child Dorothy had been expecting. He also allegedly said that he and Dorothy had gone to the river to carry out a suicide pact because they would both “be better off out of it.” They had jumped in together, but had then changed their minds. He had tried unsuccessfully to save her, but after going under twice himself he was too weak to help her. “I saw she was under the water. I lay on the bank bringing up water…”

At his trial for murder, he repudiated the statement the detectives said he had made to them. He claimed he had been so exhausted by his interrogation that he’d told them to write down whatever they wished.

The officers insisted that the statement contained no words that he hadn’t spoken, but it was evident that he was so illiterate that he could not have used some of the words attributed to him.

He denied making Dorothy pregnant, but now admitted that he had found her body in the river. He had been unable to get it out, he told the court.

The prosecution claimed that he had drowned Dorothy, or she had perished in a suicide pact; and if two people agreed to commit suicide and one of them died, the survivor was guilty of murder.

In a summing-up that was almost entirely unfavourable to Morse, Mr. Justice Goddard told the jury that they could acquit or convict the prisoner. If the verdict was guilty, they must say whether it was intentional murder or murder arising from a suicide pact.

After deliberating for just over an hour, the jury returned with a verdict of wilful murder, and Fred Morse was hanged at Taunton Prison on July 25th, 1933.