Sprowston Murder 27th August 1904

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From a report in The Times 10th November 1904

At Norwich, on Tuesday, before Mr. Justice Bigham, ROBERT HORACE STANLEY Curtis, 20, labourer, was' indicted for the wilful murder of Laura Emma Curtis: Sprowston on August 27 last. Mr. Poyser and; Mr. Eversley appeared for the prosecution; and Mr. E. Ernest Wild for the defence. The woman was the wife of the prisoner, having been married to him just a year before her death, when she -was 18. They lived at Sprowston, a, suburb of Norwich, and their married life seemed to have been an -unhappy one, there being frequent quarrels between them. On last August Bank Holiday Mrs. Curtis "Was seen to have black eye and swollen face, and a neighbour threatened the prisoner with a thrashing if be ill-used his wife anymore. On another occasion he threatened to chop her head off with a billhook. On August 26, the day before Mrs. Curtis met her death, the prisoner was out shooting, using an old single-barrelled converted " chasse-pot " rifle, the breech of which opened by drawing back a bolt, and then was loaded by inserting a cartridge filled with shot. With this weapon he shot several larks on the wing. Next day, a Saturday, the prisoner and his wife returned about 10 p.m. to their house, a two-roomed cottage. Miss Frankland, a neighbour, heard them " jangling." The woman said, " You know that's wrong, Bob." The prisoner said, " I'll do it." The woman" Don't do it; let's go to bed." The prisoner again said, " I'll do it," and was then seen to lock the door of the house. Miss Frankland then heard the explosion of a gun. Neighbours were sent for, and came in, and Mrs. Curtis was found with her baby in her arms lying between the fireplace and the window 'in a pool of blood shot at a distance of only 18ins. through the bead,' and dead. The prisoner, who was in the room, said, " Look what I have done," and then, " I am innocent. It's a pure accident." Miss Frankland said, " You lie for I distinctly heard you say, I’ll do it.' " He answered, " I was only joking." The police were then sent for, and the prisoner having been left alone for short time in a room, another explosion of the gun was heard, and the prisoner admitted that be had made an attempt upon his own life. For the defence the prisoner gave evidence denying that he had ever threatened of ill-used his wife. the gun was an old and defective one, and would go off " on its own occasion " when the breech-bolt was closed sharply upon the cartridge. On the evening in question, he was playing with the gun in the room, as he did scores of times. the cartridges were near him in a basket on the chimneypiece. He put one into the breech and shut the bolt of the gun, which exploded, killing his wife, whose head was then within 18ins. of the muzzle. The jury returned a verdict of " Manslaughter " against the prisoner, and the learned Judge, saying that he accepted that finding, as he was sure the jury meant him to accept it, not as an expedient to save them from the disagreeable duty of finding the prisoner guilty of murder, but as their judgment that the prisoner had been guilty of most culpable carelessness in the use of firearms, sentenced him. to five years' penal servitude.