The brutal and sanguinary murder for which this unhappy man was tried, was that of Mr. William Duke, the chief police-officer of Huddersfield, in Yorkshire. Surrounded as it is by circumstances of the very greatest barbarity and atrocity, it is no small relief to find that the person by whom the dreadful deed was committed was insane, and therefore legally irresponsible for his acts.
The scene of this dreadful transaction was thus described by an eyewitness. He says, "On Tuesday the 28th of April, after tea, I paid one of my usual visits to our beautiful public exhibition, and while in conversation with a friend, I heard the cry of 'murder,' and rushed out of the back door, close to which stands our prison and the prison-house. The crowd around soon told me in what course to direct my steps, and I immediately entered the prison-house. The first object that struck my attention was Dawson, one of our police-officers, seated in a chair, literally stifled with the blood which he was stroking from his head and neck, and which was streaming from other parts of his body. All was consternation and horror. The cries of Mrs. Duke, and other females, that her husband was murdered, induced me to hasten to the prison-yard, there to witness a scene that beggars description. Blood was so largely scattered in every direction that the place resembled a slaughter-house. There I found Duke, our head police-officer, weltering in his blood, pale with exhaustion, and Mr. Wrigley, surgeon, on his knees, vainly attempting to stop the bleeding. I rushed back to the front door -- sent for all the surgical assistance to be found, and then returned to the scene of horror to hear the piteous request of the dying officer, "Don't remove me, doctor, don't be so cruel -- let me die here!"-- nearly his last words.
"On my first entrance into the prison-yard the door of one of the cells had just been locked, and the horrid imprecations of a wretch were heard amidst a scene that was calculated to appal the stoutest heart. I soon learnt the melancholy tale, that this cell contained the author of deeds that will long live in the memory of the inhabitants of Huddersfield, and for which there is no parallel in this town since the murder of Mr. Horsfall, in the days of Luddism, that very day twenty-eight years ago, and about the same hour, and in a similar beautiful season. I shall briefly state what I learnt, and which was corroborated at the coroner's inquest. A Scotch gardener named Alexander MacLaughlin Smith, who for the last twelve months has been located about Elland and Halifax, where he is well known, and has been an object of dread from his violence, was in the act of bargaining for a plant, and wishing to take advantage, he was given in charge to Dawson, a police-officer, about four o'clock in the afternoon. Being slightly affected with liquor he resisted, and became very rough, especially when taken into the prison yard, where he made an attempt to injure Duke with a pruning-knife. This, however, was taken from him, and a leg and a wrist chain were put on him, and he was locked up. He then became outrageous, and continued so until about six o'clock, when Duke, Dawson, and Dalton, the three police-officers, agreed to meet and secure him more closely. Duke opened the door of his cell, and asked what he meant by his conduct; when the prisoner (who, although chained, was not fastened to the wall) answered that he would let him know, and with an open pruning-knife in his hand, rushed out and instantly stabbed Duke, who ran, followed by the prisoner and Dawson. Dalton ran in a contrary direction, and met the three half-way round the prison. Duke was laid prostrate, and Dawson in close contact with the prisoner, bleeding, when Dalton, fortunately having a staff, knocked the knife out of the hand of the prisoner, and with assistance secured him.
"It was in this position that I found the parties, and shortly after poor Duke was removed into his house, his wounds washed, and all medical aid afforded, but he breathed his last about ten minutes after he was removed, and in about twenty minutes after his deadly encounter. Dawson was removed to the infirmary, where he now lies with hopes of recovery, notwithstanding he has received ten or twelve wounds, some very severe, one of which is nine inches long and deep to the bone. Duke's wounds are horrid to describe, some six inches long by two and a half deep; but the one that was the immediate cause of death, was in the inner-side of the thigh, four inches long and two and a half deep, which cut through two-thirds of the femoral artery.
"The dreadful news of the murder spread rapidly, and crowds assembled around the prison. The wretched prisoner in his frenzy rejoiced in his success, and regretted he had not killed more. I remonstrated with him, but was only threatened with the same fate, could he reach me. The wretch was shortly after doubly pinioned, and left for the night. The morning came; I was kindly permitted to see the prisoner, whose mind still remained callous, without a symptom of remorse, or the slightest regret, save that he had hurt his own fingers!
"To-day (Wednesday) an inquest was held at the George Inn, before Thomas Dyson, Esq., and a highly respectable jury. The whole town was in a ferment, and when the prisoner was brought in an open carriage, in his blood-stained clothes, and with his unwashed hands, with an air of savage indifference, nay even a smile on his countenance, the expression of indignation was fearful! Before the jury gave their verdict, the coroner asked the prisoner if he had any questions to ask, when, with fiendish look and sarcastic sneer, he replied, 'Me ask any question? Are you satisfied with what you have got? Then be doing!' The jury then, without removing from their seats, unanimously agreed to a verdict of 'Wilful Murder.' Shortly after the prisoner was committed and driven off to York Castle, to take his trial at the next summer assizes, amidst a dense crowd, whose suppressed indignation under the horrid exciting circumstances of this tragic scene does them great credit.
"The prisoner is about thirty-four or thirty-five years of age, with sandy hair: he stands about five feet seven inches high, is strongly built, and very broad in the chest: he has a peculiarly savage aspect. He is a native of Scotland, and has a wife and two children at Stirling, in indifferent circumstances, from whom he has long been absent. During the whole of this tragic exhibition he manifested the utmost callousness and indifference, even approaching to scorn. Not even the bloody knife or the bloody soaked clothes, when produced in court, had any apparent effect on him; and to all appearance the probability of a violent death has no terrors to him. From first to last he remained unmoved! On his road to York he was the same, and unreservedly stated, that he thought no more of killing men that acted to him as the police had done than of killing bullocks."
The wretched man during his confinement in York Castle exhibited such symptoms as could leave no doubt of his insanity, and the necessary precautions against his doing any further mischief were taken.
Dawson, the second object of his attack, after remaining in the police infirmary during upwards of a month, was sufficiently recovered to resume his duty, but he was still in a state of considerable weakness, from the great loss of blood which he had experienced.
The trial of the prisoner took place at York on the 21st of July 1840, before Mr. Baron Rolfe, when the facts which have been already detailed having been proved by various witnesses, evidence of the insanity of the prisoner was given.
The jury, in consequence, acquitted the prisoner, and he was ordered to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure.