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Northampton Mercury, 1 Dec 1849

Shocking Murder & Suicide

The Town of Towcester was thrown into a state of greatest consternation by the discovery that a person names Dowdeswell, a traveller in the employ of Mr John Vernon, wine merchant, had murdered his wife and afterwards committed suicide. Not appearing at his place of business at 10 o'clock, a messenger was sent to his residence in Park Street, where the house was found to be closed. A ladder was obtained and entrance gained when the bodies of Dowdeswell and his wife were both found lying on the floor. A pistol was on the table with which the wife had evidently been shot, while the husband still grasped another in his hands, with which his suicide had been affected. The child of the unhappy pair, about two years old, was in a room upstairs crying. Mrs Dowdeswell was for some years a waiter at the Talbot and was greatly respected. Less than two years ago she was married under circumstances not calculated to promise a happy wedded life, and it is said that her husband had frequently treated her with great brutality. Her maiden name was Powell. The double crime was no doubt committed late on Thursday evening.


Northampton Mercury, 8 Dec 1849

The Household furniture & effects of the late Mr William Dowsell, Park Street, Towcester, will be sold by auction on Mon 10 Dec. All persons having any claim on the above are requested to send particulars to Mr Thomas Vernon, draper of Towcester or Mr William Martin, Buckingham.


Shocking Murder & Suicide - Inquest

Fanny Powell had lived at the Talbot for 8 - 9 years, as servant to Mrs Heady.


William Dowsell was in receipt of a comfortable salary. He was about 33 years old, and had been married about 18 months. He had resigned from his job about 1 month before on the grounds of health. He had been employed by John Vernon for about 10 years.


Fanny had a child, which she maintained was Dowsell's. While she was still lying-in, Dowsell went to see her, and was found standing over her with a poker, while twisting her hair with his other hand, trying to force her to deny the child was his. The child was later legally affiliated to him. The pair married after some months had elapsed.


On the day of the murder, Mrs Heady's little girl, who called on Mrs Dowsell before attending her school, which was opposite the Dowsell's house in Park Street, came home crying, saying the house was shut up. Mrs Heady went round to Park Street, but found the alarm was already raised. Mr Watkins the surgeon climbed in at the upstairs window.


The Inquest, held on 1 Dec, had as jury:

John Webb (Foreman), William Miles, Josiah Simco, Thomas White Gurney, Samuel Sims, John Wilcox, James Linnett, John Brown, Thomas Kirby, Frederick Baylys, Thomas Vernon, John Wright, and Francis Henry Hill.


The enquiry started at 11 am, and finished at 6 pm. The jury viewed the bodies, which were still in the room they had been found in, and then returned to the Talbot.


William Dowsell was subject to fits of jealousy, and was a man of violent temper. He had frequent doubts concerning the paternity of Fanny's child, and she had often been seen bruised or in tears. Mrs Elizabeth Heady gave evidence that Fanny had almost made up her mind to leave her husband, having shown her many bruises only a short time before. She had at one point been hit with a poker, and on another occasion had a candlestick thrown at her. In early November, William Dowsell had been seen loading two pistols at his place of work, and staff had warned Mrs Dowsell of this.


Miss Catherine Fletcher, a resident of Park Street, gave evidence that she had asked Betsy Smith, servant to William Sheppard, the Dowsell's neighbour, whether Mr Dowsell was up. Betsy had heard the child crying for an hour by about 8 am.


Robert Webb Watkins, who was superintending repairs to the house, which belonged to a maiden aunt of his, climbed a ladder to get in at an upstairs window. He found the child in its night clothes, and, descending the stairs, found the bodies of Mr & Mrs Dowsell. It looked as if Mrs Dowsell had been shot while stooping to unlace her boots, at close range. He proceeded to give the jury a graphic description, fully reported in the newspaper.


William Sheppard took the child to Mrs Heady. It has since gone to live with a married sister of Mr Dowsell's in Buckingham.


James Pinnock and others were called to give evidence of Mr Dowsell's recent changed demeanour, very moody and difficult.


Frances May, wife of John May, gardener, gave evidence that Mrs Dowsell was her niece, and in her 28th year. She had seen Fanny alive early on Thursday evening, at her house, and also Mr Dowsell, when he called in to fetch them home. The child, Willy, was playing with his father, who seemed in better spirits.


The jury verdict was that Fanny Dowsell was wilfully murdered by William Dowsell, and that William Dowsell committed suicide, but that there was insufficient evidence to judge his state of mind.