On May 9 1884 an innocent woman, Mary Leffley, appeared at Lincoln Assizes accused of murdering her husband William at Wrangle, a village about 10 miles from Boston.
She had quarrelled previously with William Leffley and made a rice pudding before going to the market at Boston. Mr Leffley ate a portion of it whilst his wife was out and became seriously ill, dying later that evening.
Analysis showed arsenic to be present in the rice pudding and there was enough arsenic in William's stomach 'to kill 50 men'. It only took the jury about 40 minutes to decide on Mary's guilt and she was sentenced to be hanged by the neck until dead at Lincoln Prison - she protested her innocence throughout.
James Berry, the hangman, pictured left, recounted that when she came to be executed she clung to the bed and he couldn’t remove her from her cell, all the time protesting her innocence.
The Governor, a matron and the Executioner himself had to forcibly dress her and carry her to the gallows. Still screaming and resisting, the noose was placed round her and and 'she was thrown into the pit' !
James Berry in a newspaper article in which a journalist interviewed him before the innocence of Mary was established said :
"I’ve got a relic here, of every person I ever hanged." He picked up a white handkerchief, upon which were embroidered in red the initials, M.L. "This ‘ere handkerchief belonged to Mary Leffley, who I ‘anged for the murder of her husband in Lincoln five years ago. She held it between her hands when she was dropped, and she was screaming all the time. She gave three yells after I pulled the lever while she was going down."
It was years after when a local farmer, dying of cancer, made a death bed confession.
He’d fallen out with William Leffley and seeing his wife leave he sneaked into the cottage and put arsenic in the pudding !!
Mary Leffley played on hangman James Berry's mind for the rest of his life, but Berry had executed more than one innocent person.
An 18 year old boy, as he was being lead away by Berry said, ‘you’ll live to see me innocent Mr Berry’, and indeed he did.
In a twist of fate he was hanging two men for the Netherby Hall murders when one of them asked if he’d hung the boy, when he said he had the man told him he was innocent, it was his partner, about to be hanged next, who shot the policeman, his partner confirmed this before going to his death !
But it was Mary Leffley who finally brought the career of James Berry to an end, he gave up his office because the two innocent people he executed 'got on his nerves'.