October 11, 1933
Robert James Kirby (26) is hanged for the murder of his girlfriend Grace Newing (17)
Kirby was reportedly unemployed when he met and began courting Newing, who was working at a sweetshop. Because of Kirby’s lack of employment, he was able to dedicate a large amount of his time to being in the company of Newing, and was often seen waiting for her shift to end or visiting her home.
A few days after Newing’s 17th birthday, Kirby reported to Newing’s mother his suspicion that she might be pregnant. He assured Mrs. Newing he would “do the right thing” in regards to her daughter.
On July 6, 1933, Kirby and Newing were seen together, as per usual. Around 1 a.m. on July 7, however, Kirby alerted his brother and mother he had killed Newing. “I have done Gracie in,” Kirby told his family. When questioned about what he meant, he repeated himself and declared, “I am going to give myself up,” which he promptly did.
Kirby directed the police constables to the scene of Newing’s murder within her house. She was found between the sitting room and kitchen, a green cord wrapped tightly around her neck. A postmortem examination confirmed she was indeed 4 weeks pregnant.
Kirby claimed Newing had asked him to kill her and provided the cord in which to carry out the grim request. “I knew the full consequences,” Kirby told the authorities. “She wished to die and I did her that favour. I would do anything for the girl.”
The defense attempted an insanity plea but was unsuccessful, in part due to the Brixton prison medical officer deeming Kirby “sane although not of bright intelligence.” The jury convicted Kirby after a short recess of approximately 15 minutes and recommended mercy. The judge disregarded the recommendation and sentenced Kirby to hang.
Kirby was hanged on October 11, shortly over three months after Newing’s murder.
English & Welsh executions 1932-1964. Capital Punishment U.K. Accessed: October 11, 2020. http://www.capitalpunishmentuk.org/hanged2.html
Odell, Robin and Donnelley, Paul. The Mammoth Book of More Bizarre Crimes. London: Robinson, 2016
Fielding, Steve. Hanged at Pentonville. Stroud: The History Press, 2008
“Insanity Defence at Murder Trial.” The Manchester Guardian. September 22, 1933