Margaret CURNOW
(Abt 1849-)


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  • Born: Abt 1849, Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, England

   Research Notes:

"A young woman, named Mary Hosking, has been arrested at Tuckingmill, in connection with a case of child murder at Exeter. On the morning of Saturday, the 12th of May, a man employed at Brown's flour mills, Bonhay-road, Exeter, found at the mill tank the trunk of a male child, which had not only been decapitated, but had otherwise been foully mutilated, the limbs having been cut or sawn off, and the lower part of the body gashed in a disgusting manner. The arms and legs were found in another part of the mill late on the Sunday; but there was nothing in the way of wrappers or other material to afford the police a clue to start with in their investigations, and they had consequently to work against great difficulties in their attempts to bring the guilty parties to justice. At the coroner's inquest medical evidence was given showing that the child had probably been killed by being first stunned with a blow on the back of the head, of which there were distinct traces, and that then its throat was cut, and it was allowed to bleed to death. A verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown was returned. It was elicited by Captain Bent, the chief constable, that the child had never been vaccinated. Working from this slight clue, the constable and his detectives made inquiries in Exeter and in various parts of North Devon—Tiverton, Crediton, and elsewhere, but failed in obtaining any satisfactory information, and although on two or three occasions circumstances pointed with some force to particular parties, in each case they proved to be on the wrong track. At length, however, the police were put in possession of some very important facts, the following up of which has led to the arrest already mentioned. It appears that in June last year a lady took lodgings at a house in Ide, a village about two miles from Exeter, representing herself to be the wife of an officer in India, and that she had come there for the benefit of her health. It soon appeared that the "officer's wife" was in the family-way, and preparations were made for her accouchement, both doctor and nurse being engaged. The lady was confined about three or four weeks after she first made her appearance at Ide. The child to which she gave birth was a boy, which she registered in the name of Reginald Hede, describing the father as an accountant of that name. The tale about the Indian officer was, therefore, confessedly a myth. While the mother remained at Ide she was visited by a female, who seemed from her features to be related to her, and also by a man of short stature, who gave the name of Hooper. About five or six weeks after the birth of the child, the mother having by that time completely recovered, she left Ide, taking the baby, and accompanied by Hooper and the other woman. All three went direct to the house of a Mrs. Tooke, of Bartholomew-street, Exeter, who had been previously communicated with by telegraph from Plymouth, and who had made arrangements for the care of the baby. Mrs. Tooke, on being first applied to, asked 6s. a week, but the parties seemed anxious to make a bargain which should relieve them of the trouble of periodical payments and after some chaffering it was agreed that the sum of £20 should be paid down, the understanding being that more money would be forthcoming at the end of a certain period. Only £12 was actually paid when the bargain was concluded. During the term covered by the £12 payment Mrs. Tooke changed her residence, removing to a house in South-street. She duly informed the party at Plymouth, with whom she had been negotiating, but heard nothing, and, finding that the child was likely to be left on her hands, she wrote threatening that unless some more cash were advanced she would put the matter in the hands of the union. The result of this letter was a visit from a woman whom Mrs. Tooke had not previously seen. She came on the evening of May 12th. The visit was at dusk, and the woman wore a thick fall, which she did not remove during her stay at Mrs. Tooke's. She stated that she had been commissioned to take the child away. Mrs. Tooke asked where the mother was, and her visitor told her that she was in the town making some purchases, and would call and pay the arrears. The strange woman carried the child away, and from that time Mrs. Tooke never saw it again alive, nor did she see or hear from the mother. Mrs. Tooke, on being shown the photograph of the dead child's head, had since identified it as that of the baby which she had been employed to nurse, and she made a further statement respecting a peculiarity in the formation of a certain part, to which the mother had called her attention—a peculiarity which would have identified the body even if the head had not been found. It was this piece of evidence which the murderer of the poor babe had endeavoured to remove by the disgusting mutilation already referred to. The police have got thus far, their next step was to endeavour to find the mother of the child. Having found the person who had been telegraphing to Mrs. Tooke from Plymouth, Capt. Bent learnt from that source that the mother was living at Camborne. Up to this stage the chief constable had conducted the inquiry personally, but being obliged to be in Exeter during the agricultural show week, he put the case in the hands of Inspector Short, who proceeded to Camborne, found out that the woman described by the party at Plymouth, and telegraphed to Mrs. Tooke to come down for the purpose of identifying her. Before Mrs. Tooke reached Camborne the mother, who turns out to be Miss Mary Hosking, had gone to Tuckingmill, a quiet country place about three miles out, where some of her friends reside. Inspector Short traced her out, and accompanied by some of the local police, went to her hiding place at eleven o'clock on Thursday night. Short experienced some difficulty in obtaining admission to the house, and when the front door was at length opened he saw Miss Hosking going out a back door. Her escape, however, was prevented by one of the local constables, and she was at once apprehended and taken back to Camborne, where Mrs. Tooke identified her. The prisoner was removed to Exeter, where she arrived on the Friday evening. Captain Bent charged her with being an accessory to the murder of her natural child, Reginald Hede, to which she replied, "I am innocent; that is my child, and I registered it in that name, but I don't know who murdered it." She asked to see the photograph, and admitted it was the likeness of her boy. The woman who took away the child from Mrs. Tooke's, and was the person in whose custody it was last seen alive, has not yet been found. Prisoner is a small delicate looking woman of about 21 years of age; some of her friends are in business at Camborne, and are in a respectable position of life.
The way in which the child came into the hands of Mrs. Tooke has also come to light. Inquiries made by the Exeter police at Plymouth, following up the clue given by Mrs. Tooke, led them to a brothel, where they learned that some time last summer a man, calling himself "Hooper," was inquiring there for lodgings for a woman about to be confined; and also seeking a person who would take charge of an infant. One of the women then living in the brothel volunteered to find such a person, and telegraphed to her relation, Mrs. Tooke, at Exeter. The telegram from Plymouth reached Mrs. Tooke on Saturday morning. Mrs. Tooke is reported to have said that it came from her cousin at Plymouth; and the purport of the telegram was to prepare her for the arrival of "Mr. Hooper," who called upon her in the course of the day. Late on Saturday night "Mr. Hooper" walked to Ide in drenching rain, and had an interview with "Mrs. Hede," his sister. On the Sunday, about noon, he was again at Mrs. Tooke's lodgings, in Bartholomew-street, Exeter, this time in company with a woman who was so thickly veiled as to almost conceal her face. Mrs. Tooke spoke of her afterwards as "the nurse." Mrs. Stone, the landlady of the house, did not notice the arrival of the party with the child, but Mrs. Tooke told her in the evening that "baby was come," and she saw it on the following day. The statement of the Ide folk and the cabman is that "Mrs. Hede" and her brother and sister were driven together from the village of Ide to the bottom of Bartholomew-street, Exeter, where they got out and walked the rest of the distance.


A further account states that Miss Mary Hosking's parents are respectably connected in the Camborne district. Her father, Mr. Henry Hoskings, was formerly a working engineer, and has superintended some works in Italy for Messrs. Harvey and Co., of Hayle. For many years the family resided at Hayle, but on Mr. Hosking returning from abroad he and his wife and children took up their abode in a pretty little villa residence at Tuckingmill. Although most of the people at Camborne are prone to disbelieve that Miss Hosking committed the horrible deed, it is stated that when she left home some time ago there was a rumour that she was 'enciente', but the story was confined to a very narrow circle, and most of those who heard the suggestion were strongly inclined to reject it as untrue. She first left Camborne some six or seven months ago, and it was thought she was living somewhere in Devonshire.
It appears that the man who called himself "Hooper" was in reality the brother of Miss Hosking, and she spoke of him as her brother when he visited her at Ide.The baby had a malformation, and the body was disfigured in such a way as suggested at first that an attempt had been made to destroy the evidence of sex. The story of Miss Hosking's arrest is somewhat remarkable, and it shows that it was by the merest chance that she is now in custody. In the first place, it should be stated that Inspector Short's (Exeter) mission to Camborne was by no means to trace Miss Hosking. His errand was solely to search for a commercial traveller, who was required to give evidence in the case, and who was supposed to be then visiting Camborne. It seems that whilst "Mrs. Hede" was staying at Ide she was in the habit of corresponding with "Hooper, Esq., care of Mr. Tonkin, chemist, Camborne." Mr. Tonkin turns out to be the husband of the married sister of Miss Mary Hosking. Inspector Short did not receive much assistance from Mr. and Mrs. Tonkin in prosecuting his inquiries concerning "Mr. Hooper." He was informed that "Hooper" was living at Plymouth, and was a commercial traveller by trade, but was just then out of work. The description was thought to agree with the appearance of a man named Eddys, but it was soon discovered that he was not the man, and eventually it was ascertained that a Mr. Hosking (the prisoner's brother) answered to the description. But before this was determined Hosking had left the neighbourhood. It was ascertained also that he had been living at Camborne all along. Meantime Supt. Miller and his constables at Camborne had become possessed of information which inculpated Miss Hosking, and this they imparted to Inspector Short. It was then arranged that Inspector Short and Sergeant Beare (Camborne) should proceed to the residence of Miss Hosking, at Tuckingmill; but when they were a short distance from the house, in order, if possible, that no suspicion should be aroused, it was arranged that the inspector, who, of course, was in plain clothes, should call at the house alone. It should be stated that there is reason to believe that Mr. and Mrs. Hosking were kept quite in the dark with reference to their daughter having given birth to a child until just before her arrest, she having accounted for her absence in Devonshire in some way that prevented suspicion. When Inspector Short called it was rather late—something after ten o'clock. Mrs. Hosking, taken off her guard, at first stated that her daughter was at home; but directly afterwards hurried footsteps were heard on the stairs, and the mother, closing the door, went to an upper room. Shortly afterwards she returned, and intimated to the officer (who had not explained the nature of his errand) that her daughter could not be seen—in fact, that she was taking a warm bath before retiring for the night. This did not satisfy Mr. Short, and he became importunate. Mrs. Hosking declined to admit him any further than the passage, and kept her hand on the handle of a door which led into a back room. "You are a long time opening that door," he said, "allow me to assist you," and dexterously opening it, he caught sight of the retreating figure of Miss Hosking, who literally walked into the arms of one of the waiting county police accompanying Short. Miss Hosking was then taken to Camborne, confronted with Mrs. Tooke, who identified her, and conveyed by an early train to Plymouth en route for Exeter. Mrs. Tonkin, her sister, accompanied her; and at the Plymouth station they were met by the brother, who had been telegraphed for at Chubb's Hotel. Mr. Hooper, alias Hosking, had not received the telegram, but he yet seemed to have information that his sister was coming by that train; and the conjecture is that, fearing discovery at Camborne, the parties had arranged among themselves that Miss Hosking should go to Plymouth in order to get out of the way, and happened to select the very train Short chose by which to convey her as his prisoner. Both brother and sister accompanied Miss Hosking to Exeter...." 1


1 West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, June 12, 1879.

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