"The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." - Quellcrist Falconer
The Execution of Lorraine Lax - Armley January 1926 -
A Family Tragedy
I have separated the case into four parts - The Murder - The Inquest - The Trial - The Appeal. The final part of the article consists partly of the background to the case and partly my opinions on the events as they unfolded.
But before engaging in this narrative, I need to stress that I firmly believe that Lorraine did kill his wife Lizzie by viciously cutting her throat with a razor. There can be no doubt about this - Lorraine did kill his wife.
HOWEVER I believe that there are certain points about the main characters that need to be highlighted so that the case can be viewed in a fuller perspective.
Lorraine for instance is quite a bundle of contradictions. Judge David Bentley in his book states that Lorraine was a drunken gambler who did not provide for his family. But the facts are quite different. I found it quite strange that barely no mention was made of Lorraine's war service. The only exception I can find is an interview his mother gave to the local press. She stated that he "saw considerable service during the war in France. He was badly wounded in the battle of Loos, and his nerves were shattered by his war experience". Judge Bentley repeats this in his book but if he had accessed Lorraine's Army Service record he would have found the following
On the reverse side it states that he had a height of 5ft 71/4 inches and weighed 140 lbs (10 stone). His chest measured 38 inches when fully expanded, and he had a range of expansion of 3 inches. As for his characteristics he had a fresh complexion, his eyes were grey and he had brown hair. Distinguishing marks were a "scar right shin and left of neck". He was "Church of England" by denomination. He was passed fit for service and was appointed to the Northumberland Fusiliers on 19th October 1914
Lorraine volunteered at the beginning of the war and gave his age as being 19 years 286 days. This is clearly incorrect for the FreeBMD states that Lorraine was born "Births Mar 1897 Lax Lorraine Sheffield Volume 9c Page 691". It is my contention that Lorraine (like many others) was underage when he joined up, and so he just added two years on to his real age to ensure that he would be accepted.
He was initially posted to the Northumberland Fusiliers but within a matter of days this was changed to the 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, and it was with the Somerset's that he remained, spending 3 years and 257 days under the colours before he was discharged on 26th June 1918 as "being no longer physically fit for war service"
The reverse of the page details of his service and his injuries
On page 4 of his army record it states
HOME 19.10.1914 - 07.09.1915 - 324 days
5X FORCE - FRANCE 08.09.1915 - 01.05.1917 - 1 year 236 days
HOME 02.05.1917 - 22.06.1918 - 1 year 56 days making a total overall of 3 years 257 days
"GSW Eyebrow + head - (gunshot wound)
Shrapnel wound L Arm (sev)" which I now believe must mean several and not severed
Above that it gives the date
"5X Force France 8.9.15 is the date he went to France and 2.5.17 home w" - the date he was sent home wounded.
Based on this information, it appears that Lorraine received his injuries during the Spring Offensive of 1917 or as it is now known as the Battle of Arras. Full details of battle can be found be following the link. If he was sent home on 2nd May 1917, I think that he received his injuries during the Battle of Arleux 28 - 29th April 1917 where the familiar story of high casualties and disappointing results were recorded.
And so Lorraine did receive severe injuries that eventually led to his discharge from the Army in June 1918. There is no mention in his record of any disciplinary measures taken against him. In fact his war record is one that any man could be proud of, and unlike many, many others of his generation, he survived.
And what did he return to - "the land fit for heroes to live in." ( In 1918, a few days after the armistice of November 11th, British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, referring to the men returning home from the battlefields of the Great War, said: "What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in."). The reality was the opposite - many soldiers who returned after experiencing the horrors of the Great War now had to face the horrors of poverty, deprivation, homelessness and unemployment. The relentless degradation that many ex-servicemen experienced manifested itself in many forms - on a personal level depression, crime and even suicide; collectively, strikes, riots and even insurrections.
Sheffield in particular was badly affected by the return to a peace-time economy - the city saw a sharp and savage recession that was particularly pronounced in the traditional industries of steel making, mining and engineering. Lorraine certainly experienced bouts of unemployment, short-time working and depressed wage levels in the post war period. And even when he was in work he often had to travel a considerable distance there and back. The Sheffield Independent's report dated 1st September 1925 infers that that this was a major difficulty for Lorraine. He was born and brought up in the Woodhouse district of Sheffield where his family stilled lived, and is adjacent to the colliery at Birley where Lorraine worked. But due to circumstances he was renting rooms in Darnall which was then a considerable distance from the pit. The report suggests that in the months preceding the murder the family had made attempts to move back to the Woodhouse area but these had come to nothing.
Added to this were the observations made by Lorraine at his trial. He said that when his wife was expecting a baby "she was always more difficult to get on with". To use modern terminology Lizzie was a victim of "prenatal maternal stress" a condition that received scant attention in 1920's Darnall. Research has shown that when an expectant mother is exposed to stress that is caused by "stressful life events and environmental hardship" she may act in an irrational and erratic manner. In other words she becomes unpredictable in her behaviour. Lizzie certainly was bedevilled with "stressful life events" which tended to revolve around the shortage or complete lack of money, and the inability to have a settled home life. She gave birth at least three times in the space of five years, and at the time of her death she was the mother of three young boys, the eldest aged five.
There is no doubt that Lorraine and Lizzie had a volatile relationship that encompassed the whole range of human emotion. Separations and reconciliations seem to have been the norm in the relationship, and were commented upon by a number of witnesses. And yet there was no evidence to show that Lorraine had assaulted Lizzie prior to the attack. There had been heated arguments and on occasions Lorraine had to be restrained. Lizzie's father even pointed out that on one occasion Lizzie had jumped through a window to get away from her husband.
The evidence from members of Lizzie's family at both the inquest and the trial show a marked antipathy towards Lorraine which is hardly surprising given the circumstances of her death. But other witnesses point a different picture. For instance her mother stated that she was miserable and depressed on the Sunday night prior to her death. Furthermore her landlord Mr Harry Antcliffe added that on the same night she had confided in them that she was always short of money and that she feared for her and her children's lives. And yet her brother -in- law Mr Henry Gardner said that he saw the couple talking together on the same night and they seemed friendly enough.
His wife Alice Gardner stated that her sister Lizzie was always complaining that Lorraine kept her short of money and that his earnings were spent on drink and gambling but Lizzie's father said that he had seen him drunk on just one occasion since he moved back. The newspaper after canvassing neighbours said that Lorraine was of a "quiet disposition" and his landlord remarked "that the family kept themselves to themselves."
And so a rather confusing picture emerges of the family, but there is no doubt that the lack of money was the underlying cause of tension and unhappiness in the relationship. And this came to a head when they received notice to quit from their rooms in Ripon Street. The unsettling effect on an already stressed Lizzie is easy to imagine, and so I would predict that the days leading up to her death were ones of angry rows and despair.
It could well be that Lizzie did fear for her life - that is the only reason I can put forward for her taking Lorraine's razor to bed with her. Lorraine's account is the only one we have and he seemed genuinely surprised when his foot caught his wife's shoulder, and she produced the razor. He went across to take the razor from her, and she cut him across the face with it. A vicious struggle developed and Lorraine must have completely lost his temper by this time. The wounds to Lizzie's neck were catastrophic. Herb jugular vein was severed and at one point the razor was embedded in her spinal chord.
As I have stated before there is no doubt that Lorraine murdered his wife and that the judge had no option to but to hand down a death sentence once the jury had elected for a "guilty verdict" But it was what happened after the trial and appeal that I find most disconcerting
Somerset Light Infantry
- 8th (Service) Battalion - Formed at Taunton in October
1914 as part of K3 and attached to 63rd Brigade, 21st Division.
10 September 1915 : landed at Le Havre. 8 July 1916 : transferred with Brigade to 37th Division.
Marriages Jun 1920 - Bedford Elizabeth Lax Sheffield Volume 9cm Page 1658 Lax Lorraine
Surname First name (s) Mother District Vol Page
Births Jun 1921
Lax George Bedford Sheffield 9c 1414
Births Jun 1923
Lax Frank Bedford Sheffield 9c 1140
WW1 Army Service Record
Medal Card 1914-1918
Medal card of Lax, Lorraine
Corps Regiment No Rank - Somerset Light Infantry 15742 Private
Catalogue reference WO 372/12links to the Catalogue
Dept Records created or inherited by the War Office, Armed Forces, Judge Advocate General, and related bodies
Series War Office: Service Medal and Award Rolls Index, First World War Piece Langley P A - McGrath D
"The Sheffield Murders" 1865 -1965" by David Bentley, published 2003 byALD Design & Print, Sharrow Vale Road Sheffield
Somerset Light Infantry - 8th (Service) Battalion
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