Judge believes Ethel Major was guilty!

The investigation of the case of Ethel Major featured in Murder, Mystery and My Family on BBC1. Pictured taking part in the programme are Jill Brown with her uncle Peter. Picture: Chalkboard TV.
The investigation of the case of Ethel Major featured in Murder, Mystery and My Family on BBC1. Pictured taking part in the programme are Jill Brown with her uncle Peter. Picture: Chalkboard TV.

A television programme looking into the hanging of a Kirkby on Bain woman for the murder of her husband has upheld the conviction.

Last Friday’s episode of the BBC1 series Murder Mystery and My Family followed the 1934 case of Ethel Major (43), who was found guilty of murdering her husband with a poisoned corned beef supper.

Picture shows Ethel Major and husband Arthur Major who she was convicted of poisoning. Picture: Chalkboard TV

Picture shows Ethel Major and husband Arthur Major who she was convicted of poisoning. Picture: Chalkboard TV

The episode featured Jill Brown, Ethel Major’s cousin, who spoke with barristers Sasha Wass, QC, and Jeremy Dean, QC.

Sasha Wass has over 30 years experience in both prosecuting and defending serious criminal cases.

Defence Barrister Jeremy Dein brought his extensive experience of murder cases to the reinvestigation.

One of the main points brought up in the episode was whether Ethel had a motive to kill her husband Arthur by poisoning his corned beef supper with strychnine.

After hearing evidence from Sasha Wass, QC, and Jeremy Dein, QC, Judge David Radford reached a final verdict on whether Ethel was rightly hanged.

In his final statement, Judge Radford said: “There can in my view be no doubt that Arthur Major died as a result of being poisoned with strychnine.

“The analysis of the evidence given at trial carried out by Professor Johnston clearly reinforces that he was so poisoned.

“The issue for the jury was therefore were they sure that it was Mrs Major who poisoned her husband.

“Suspicion was engendered by an anonymous letter, and it was later suggested that Mrs Major had forged love letters to her husband, to allege that he had had an affair with a neighbour, a Mrs Kettleborough.

“Mr Dein points out to me that the recently obtained handwriting expert opinion from Kate Barr exculpates Mrs Major from such authorship.

“However, the reality I find is that there was cogent circumstantial evidence implicating Mrs Major as her husband’s murderer.

“Plainly, their marriage had become, for whatever combination of reasons, an entirely unhappy and fractious one.

“Mrs Major had the best of all accesses to her husband’s supply of food, and to her father’s supply of strychnine poison.

“I’ve reviewed all the component parts of the evidence, and I find that the verdict of guilty of murder against Mrs Major was a sound and safe one.”

Speaking after the verdict, Jill Brown said: “I am really disappointed by the verdict.

“I know what the judge said, and I don’t deny she had some motive, and her life was hard, and maybe she saw that as the only way of getting a decent life for herself and her son.

“Things were very different at that time than they are now, obviously, but it just seems, still to me, to be a lot of circumstantial 
evidence to actually send someone to the gallows.”

As previously reported, it is known that Ethel had a daughter at the age of 23, whom she named Auriol in 1914, but refused to tell anyone who the father was.

Auriol was brought up by Ethel’s parents and passed off as Ethel’s sister.

Ethel married Arthur Major in the summer of 1918 and gave birth to a son, Lawrence, in 1919.

It is believed that in the early 1930s Arthur found out about Ethel’s first child and demanded to know who the father was.

Ethel refused to say, and their relationship began to deteriorate.

After eating poisoned corned beef on May 22, 1934, Arthur complained of stomach pains and died two days later.

Following an anonymous letter the finger of blame was pointed at Ethel, and after a four day trial the jury took just one hour to determine Ethel’s guilt.

Despite protesting her innocence, Ethel was hanged at a prison, in Hull, in December 1934.