In 1978 I saw a televised reconstruction of the murder of Charlotte Dymond, which took place in Cornwall in 1844. I knew that a book was planned, and waited with interest for it to appear. The details faded with time, but the name remained fresh in my memory. I began to wonder if the book had ever been published, however, in a moment of serendipity in 1999 I spotted it in a Surrey bookshop, and bought it at once.
Pat Munn, the author, is a Cornish historian and has written several books on the county’s history. She has had access to the original records of the trial, and this, together with her already extensive knowledge of Cornwall and its history and her obvious talent for painstaking research mean that the book is a fascinating addition to a true crime library. Pat Munn, however, is primarily a student of history and not of crime – in fact she freely admits in the book that this is the first crime about which she has ever written. After reading and re-reading the book, I can say that while I have every praise for her research, I cannot agree with her conclusions.
Cornwall in 1844 was a largely rural county of scattered villages and farms. One such farm was Penhale, adjoining Bodmin Moor.
The owner was a 61 year old widow, Phillipa Peter, who ran the holding with the assistance of her 38 year old son, John, and three live-in servants, John Stevens, Matthew Weeks and Charlotte Dymond. John Stevens was aged about 20. He had been taken on by Mrs Peter on March 25th. This was Lady Day, the traditional start of Spring when servants and labourers were taken on or laid off. Matthew Weeks was about 23, and had been in service with Mrs Peter for seven years. Matthew was not, by all accounts very prepossessing in appearance. He was 5ft 4inches tall, and lame in his right leg, so that he walked with a noticeable limp. His face was pock-marked, and he had heavy brows which gave him a sullen look. When he smiled, the lack of teeth in his top left gum made him appear to smirk. His best feature was his light brown curly hair. He was generally considered to be well behaved, and was better dressed than was usual for a farm labourer. Unknown to the public at the time of the trial, Matthew had come into a small inheritance in March 1842. This was shortly before he started “keeping company” with Charlotte, and it may be that the two events were connected. That Lady Day, Charlotte Dymond, who had lived and worked at Penhale for eighteen months had been paid off, but come mid-April she remained there, having no other position to go to. She was about eighteen, and was illegitimate. Although her parentage has not definitely been identified it has been suggested that she was the daughter of the village schoolmistress. It had been rumoured that her mother wouldn’t have her in the house, and had said she would kill her if she stepped inside. The reasons for this are not clear – possibly her mother wished to protect her reputation, although in communities such as these, everyone at least knew everyone else, and was most likely related to them, too. Another possibility was that Charlotte, who was attractive and smartly dressed, was reputed to be a flirt.
It had been well known for some time that Charlotte and Matthew had been seeing each other, even before she came to work at Penhale. There was, however, a rival for Charlotte’s affections. Thomas Prout, aged about 26 was a nephew by marriage of Mrs Peter, and lived some four miles away. Matthew had worked with Prout before, and they had not got on well together. A few days after Lady Day, Prout visited Penhale, and John Stevens overheard words between him and Matthew. Prout had said that he was thinking of moving to Penhale, and if he did, he would soon deprive Matthew of his girlfriend.
On Sundays the inhabitants of Penhale changed the clothes they had worn all week for clean ones, and the dirty clothes were put ready for the laundry on Monday. On Sunday 14th April 1844, a somewhat damp and muddy day, the clothes were changed as usual, and Matthew got clean blue stockings and a clean shirt. The shirt was not new – it had been mended by letting a piece into the shoulder, and the collar button stitching had been strengthened. Later that day, Prout visited again, and spent some time outside talking to Charlotte. The subject of their conversation was not revealed until later. At about 4 o’clock, Charlotte and Matthew had both changed into their best clothes and were preparing to go out, though where they were bound for they didn’t say. Charlotte indicated that she would not be back in time to milk the cows, though Matthew would. The two set off together.
Later in the evening Isaac Cory, a 63 year old farmer who was related to Stevens, Prout and Mrs Peter, arrived at Penhale, having been to the afternoon service at the local church in Davidstow. He mentioned that on the way he had seen Matthew, who he knew at once by his limping gait, in company with a young woman. He had not been able to identify the woman, but he described the clothing Charlotte had been wearing for her walk – a green striped dress and red shawl. Although it had been foggy earlier, he reckoned he could still see a fair distance.
Mrs Peter’s servants were expected to be in at half past nine of an evening. That night, Mrs Peter, John Stevens and John Peter were in the kitchen. Isaac Cory had left some time ago. Matthew returned home, but on being questioned said he did not know where Charlotte was. At half past ten the men went to their beds, and Mrs Peter waited up for Charlotte, but Charlotte didn’t appear and at half past eleven, Mrs Peter went to bed.
Monday was washday and Charlotte was still missing. Matthew was again questioned but repeated that he knew nothing of where Charlotte was. Later that day Mrs Peter was surprised to find that Matthew’s blue stockings that he had worn the previous day were muddied up to the knees. It had rained on the Sunday but not, she felt, enough to get the stockings into that mess. The mud, she observed, was like that found in the turf-pits on the moor. Later she again asked Matthew where Charlotte was and this time he said he had accompanied her as far as the gate in Higher Down Field, just before the edge of the moorlands. Charlotte, he said, had gone onto the moor alone, but he had gone in the opposite direction towards Halworthy, where Mrs Peter’s daughter Mary and her husband John Westlake lived. They had not been at home, but he had called at the house of John Westlake’s mother, Sarah.
Mrs Peter was puzzled by this story, for according to Matthew he had not been on the moor at all that afternoon, but Isaac Cory had seen him on the moor with a woman of Charlotte’s description.
It was on Tuesday that John Stevens first noticed that Matthew’s shirt was torn at the collar and a button missing. Matthew insisted on mending it himself. Suspicions were growing, and that day Matthew mentioned to a visitor that if Charlotte were to be found dead, her mother would be tried for her life. Mrs Peter tackled him again, insisting on knowing the truth., and this time he had a story to tell. Charlotte, he said had gone to take up a position at Blisland, ten miles away, as she had received a week’s notice from Mrs Peter. (Mrs Peter denied this). It was too far to get there that night so she intended to stay the night at the house of one Hezekiah Spear. She had heard of a position by letter from Rebecca Lanxton, a niece of Mrs Peter. By Wednesday Mrs Peter was openly accusing Matthew of making away with Charlotte out of jealousy, but Matthew stuck to his story.
The work of the farm continued as normal. That Friday a pig was to be killed, and the local butcher was to do it. Matthew was still wearing the shirt he had worn the previous Sunday, as there would be no clean one till next Sunday, and asked the butcher if he could kill the pig, which he did.
The farmhouse may have been isolated but it was not short of visitors and each one went away with a story to tell about Charlotte’s disappearance, so that the tale spread around the area. The whole household and the neighbours were openly voicing their suspicions about Matthew. The following Sunday Mrs Peter noticed the trousers which Matthew had worn when he walked out with Charlotte, and which were muddied up to the knees in front.
By now, it had been decided that some action must be taken. John Peter and John Stevens went out to check on the truthfulness of Matthew’s story, and Matthew himself went out, so Mrs Peter and her daughter decided to search his room. Apart from two handkerchiefs which they thought might have belonged to Charlotte and a newspaper cutting which Matthew had brought back from his mother three weeks before they found nothing suspicious. As to the handkerchiefs, it could not be proved that Charlotte had had either of them when she went out, and the cutting which was about a murder case, related to a man in prison being supported by his daughter. Why Matthew should have had this is not clear, especially as he could not read, but it is of doubtful relevance to the case. It was also known that Matthew had kept some of Charlotte’s clothes for her in a box in his room, so the presence of the handkerchiefs was not especially suspicious, but these were all details which told against him at the trial.
When the two Johns arrived back at Penhale the results of their enquiries gave rise to even deeper suspicion. Charlotte had never stayed at Hezekiah Spear’s house, and Rebecca Lanxton had not sent her a letter – in fact she had not even known Charlotte was in need of a position so had not looked for one for her. It was clear that someone was lying. Either Matthew had made up the story to account for Charlotte’s disappearance, or Charlotte herself had made it up and he had simply repeated it.
But where was Matthew? On Sunday April 21st, a week after Charlotte’s disappearance, he had put on his best clothes, taken an umbrella and walked out of Penhale farm, never to return.
The following Monday was washday again, and Mrs Peter found the shirt Matthew had worn on the day of his walk with Charlotte, and had continued to wear during the week. Inspecting it she saw that the stitching of the pleats on the front was unripped, and the collar was partly torn off. There were also some blood spots on the shirt. By now, the case against Matthew seemed complete, especially as he seemed to have fled, so it was decided that the Moor should be searched.
On the Tuesday, the three Johns, Peter, Stevens and Westlake together with a neighbour, who unusually didn’t seem to be related to anyone else, set out to search the Moors. As they proceeded through Higher Down field they noticed the print of pattens, undershoes worn by women to protect their shoes against the wet. Three quarters of a mile from Penhale farmhouse was Higher Down gate where Matthew said he had left Charlotte. The marks continued onto the moorland where they ended, as the ground was too grassy to take a print. Joined by another neighbour, the party walked toward Lanlary Rock, a local landmark towards which Cory said he had seen Weeks and his companion walking, and in the boggy ground beneath the rock found prints of the same pattens they had seen earlier. They also found a man’s boot print. The party had swollen to twelve by Roughtor Ford, and split into two groups either side of the River Alan. They followed the stream to a place where the land was washed in water when the level rose in bad weather.Beside the stream was the body of a woman.
She lay face upwards, about a foot from the where the water was flowing but looking as though she had been washed with the water. Her throat had been cut. Her shoes were missing as were her pattens, bonnet, bonnet cap, handkerchief, bag, shawl and gloves. There was no blood to be seen and no sign of a weapon, but just behind the head was a broken coral necklace. Some of the men retraced their steps to look for footprints and found prints of pattens and a man’s boots. These latter had metal toe and heel plates, which meant they were his best boots. Working boots had no toe plates but were nailed all over the sole.
The clothes on the corpse were wet underneath but dry on top suggesting they had dried as the water level receded, and there were pale stains on the gown – blood washed pale by river water. A doctor, Thomas Good, was called to examine the body on the spot, then it was taken back to Penhale by cart and placed in the barn.
Another view of the murder site
On the following day Good examined the body in detail. The wound that had ended Charlotte’s life had been terrible indeed. It was eight and a half inches in length, starting on the left side of her neck and extending all the way around to the right. It passed two and a half inches below her ear and was two and a half inches deep. It was deeper on the left side, where the whole of the soft tissues were divided right down to the bone. The windpipe was completely divided, the oesophagus partly. The instrument had even gone between two vertebrae partially separating them. Although from external appearance there was one long cut, the fact that an artery had been severed and then nicked in another place suggested that there had been two cuts made. It was clear that great force had been used. The roughness of the sides of the wound meant that the instrument was unlikely to have been very sharp. He did not think it possible that she could have inflicted the wound herself. She was a healthy woman, not pregnant, although the hymen had been ruptured some time before. There was no evidence of rape.
At the inquest, evidence was given regarding Matthew’s story of having visited the Westlakes, all of whom said they had not seen him on the day he had walked out with Charlotte. Isaac Cory told of having seen Matthew on the moor with a woman, and two other witnesses came forward to say they had seen a man and a woman walking towards Roughtor Ford. One of them observed that the man was lame. The inquest jury found a verdict of murder against Matthew Weeks.
There was a warrant for his arrest, but where was Matthew? Matthew was one of ten children of John and Jane Weeks and had been brought up in Larrick, and this seemed like the best place for Constable Bennett to begin his search. On the way he passed through Coad’s Green where he learned that Matthew had called on the Stevens family on his way to Larrick, and had shown one of the children a black silk woman’s handbag he kept in his pocket. The Constable knew that Matthew’s sister lived in Plymouth, and it was there that Matthew was found and arrested. It seemed that he had been intending to travel on to the Channel Islands. A search of Matthew’s pockets revealed a pair of striped ladies’ gloves. His best boots were taken to the moor to compare them with the prints found there, and although the prints were no longer very distinct, it was felt that there was a match. The constable also found some marks on Matthew’s jacket which he was sure was blood. One of Charlotte’s handkerchiefs was in Matthew’s pocket and his own handkerchief, spotted with blood.
Thomas Prout was also able to solve the mystery of the conversation he had had with Charlotte. They had made an arrangement to meet at Tremail chapel later in the day.
An informal hearing was held before three justices, and the evidence was laid before them. By now, Matthew had made a further statement in which he admitted walking with Charlotte further than he had at first said – he now said he had crossed over the road and walked a little way, nearly up to the spot where Isaac Cory had seen him. Cory and his wife had visited the moors again, with a constable, determined to find Charlotte’s missing clothes. In the marsh, less than half a mile from where the body was found, and in the direction of Penhale he found in a turf pit, hidden with moss Charlotte’s shoes, pattens, shawl, bonnet and a piece of string. In the wet turfy marsh were indistinct footprints. Whoever had passed through the marsh would have been muddied up to his knees. A man’s boot print was found near the pit where the clothes were buried. It was compared with Matthew’s boot and found to be identical.
The constable also took another look at the site where the body was found, and noticed that a clod of earth had been removed from the bank and replaced. Lifting it, he found a great deal of blood.
On 25th April Charlotte’s body was laid to rest in Tremail. Matthew remained in custody and the trial opened at Bodmin Assize Court on August 2nd 1844, when he pleaded “not guilty”. Asked if the wound that killed Charlotte was the kind a person might have inflicted upon themselves, Surgeon Good initially agreed, but later made a point of explaining his testimony. He made it clear that he thought it impossible that she could have inflicted such a wound as that. It is difficult to know what Good had meant when initially referring to the “type of wound”, and I can only speculate that he was speaking of the generality of knife wounds to the throat. The direction, from left to right was consistent with suicide, but it was also consistent with a right handed assailant from behind. The judge in his summing up agreed that it was next to impossible for the wound to be self inflicted, and that Charlotte had been murdered. Twelve hours after the jurors had been empanelled they filed out to make their decision. At twenty four minutes past ten they returned after only 35minutes of deliberation to bring in a verdict of guilty, and Matthew was sentenced to be hanged. He was brought back to Bodmin Gaol in a state of collapse.
While in Gaol, Matthew dictated two letters (he could not read or write) one to his family, which mainly dealt with the disposition of his assets, and one to Mrs Peter. He also dictated a confession. I will return to these later, but I find it interesting that the confession was in far more literate language than the two letters.
At noon on 12th August 1844 Matthew Weeks was led from the Gaol, and hanged in accordance with the law. He was buried in the coal yard adjoining the Gaol.
Pat Munn’s Conclusions
Ms Munn strongly believes that Matthew was innocent, and I was expecting her to suggest other candidates for the post of murderer, but after surveying the field she comes to an entirely different conclusion. She declares that in her opinion the evidence all points to suicide. I have to confess that I find this extraordinary. In my opinion, it is only possible to support a contention of suicide by ignoring the evidence that points clearly to murder, and forcing the rest of it to fit. Let us look first of all at the question of motive. There is not a shred of evidence that Charlotte was contemplating suicide. Ms. Munn’s theory is that Charlotte killed herself because she imagined she might be pregnant and had nowhere to go as her mother had disowned her. Charlotte, we know, was not pregnant, and the idea that she might have imagined she was is pure speculation without any factual support. Even if she had thought she was pregnant, she could hardly have thought she was in anything but the very earliest of stages. Dramatic suicide is a somewhat extreme and very unlikely measure, especially as she did have an alternative. Marriage to the besotted Matthew might not have been ideal, but it would have been preferable to cutting one’s own throat. And what a cut that was! Over 8 inches in length, so deep that it separated the vertebrae, and made with considerable force. On the surface it appeared to be one long cut but the double cutting of the carotid shows that it was made in two stages. It is possible that on the first cut, the knife snagged on the coral necklace Charlotte wore, the beads of which were found scattered at the murder site. There are two basic methods of creating a cut of that nature. In the first, there was a single cut from under the left ear to the front of the throat, then the blade was withdrawn, and somehow reinserted into the cut and a second cut made. In the second method, the knife is not withdrawn at all, but at the furthest extent of the first cut, from left to right, the knife travels a short distance left without being removed from the wound, and then makes the second part of the cut. In cases of suicide by cut throat, tentative cuts are often seen, as the suicide makes a few initial incisions while gathering courage. Ms Munn suggests that the fact there were two cuts supports the suicide argument. It does not. The tentative cuts of the suicide are short and relatively shallow, and bear no resemblance at all to the deep wounds in Charlotte’s throat. (I have seen photographs of both homicidal and suicidal cut throats.) From Surgeon Good’s description, the wound that killed Charlotte bears a far greater resemblance to a homicide than a suicide wound. It is common in homicide cut throats for the soft tissues to be divided down to the bone, and extremely rare in suicide. Suicide wounds tend to start high on the left side but homicide wounds much lower down. The wound on Charlotte’s throat started two and half inches below her left ear. Ms Munn also comments on the putting of the turf over the blood pit. To fit her suicide theory, the only person who could have done this was Charlotte herself. What motive she might have had for doing so is unclear. In Ms Munn’s scenario Charlotte first cut herself badly enough to create the pool of blood, covered up the blood with a piece of turf, and then cut herself again. So either she made a cut, and after covering up the blood reinserted the knife in the cut and continued the cut, or, she did the covering up with the knife still in the cut. I see no sense at all in either of these scenarios. How much more likely it is that a murderer tried to cover up the blood pool. As to the missing knife, it is suggested that it fell into the river and “slithered to obscurity”. The knife was never found, so we will never know if was the sort which was capable of floating away down a river. Another reason for the suggestion of suicide is that Charlotte wore no collar or shawl, when found, indicating that she might have removed them before cutting her throat. Unfortunately there is no evidence to describe the condition of these items when found unearthed from the turf pit. Did they or did they not have blood on them? Were they soaked by rain or muddy? We don’t know. Another explanation for these items being where they were is that there was a struggle between Charlotte and her murderer, and the shawl and bag were dropped, the bonnet and collar torn off. Pattens, being overshoes, could have come off in such a struggle, or if the body was moved. The removal of the shoes is something of a mystery. Did Charlotte remove them, or her murderer, and why? Did she perhaps wade barefoot through the waters of Roughtor Ford, which were too deep for the pattens to effectively protect her best boots? We shall never know, but their absence from her body is not a strong indicator of either suicide or murder.
Means Motive and Opportunity
So did Matthew Weeks kill Charlotte? Leaving aside minor points of evidence which can be read either way, let us look first at the question of motive. Mathew had been seeing Charlotte for two years and she had just told him she wanted no more of him. She had recently been seen talking to another man who had boasted that he could take Charlotte away from Matthew. Certainly Matthew had a motive, one of the oldest and commonest ones there is. No-one has suggested that he did not have the means, although there was debate about what sort of a knife he might have had. Such an implement was a common enough item for a farm labourer to carry. He clearly had the opportunity, for although he denied at first being on the moor with Charlotte, eyewitness evidence put him there with her at the time of her death. He could not deny he had walked out with Charlotte, but he was careful on his return to Penhale to say he left her at the gate and did not go with her onto the moor . Most importantly, he told this story before the body had been found, before anyone even suspected that anything had happened to her. This lie, told at this point in time, strongly suggests that Matthew knew what had happened and was trying to place himself somewhere else. Only after witnesses came forward to say they saw him on the moor did he change his story, saying he came a little way past the road. Two days after Charlotte’s disappearance he was saying that if she were found dead, her mother might be tried for her life, which suggested again that he knew she was dead, and was trying to divert the blame. There was no foundation at all for his tale that Charlotte had gone to take service elsewhere, indeed we know she was planning to go to Tremail that evening to meet Thomas Prout. In fact, every story Matthew told to explain his activity was proven to be a lie. (Unless you want to believe that every other person who gave evidence against Matthew – over twenty people – was either mistaken or conspiring against him, which is very unlikely.)
I do not set a lot of store by his official confession, which has some errors in it, and reads as if it was written by someone with a better command of English than the person who wrote the letters, however the two letters ring very true. In my 40 plus years of studying true crime I have read a lot of such letters, and I can say that there are two things missing from them which I would expect to see if Ms Munn was correct. First, I would expect to see a protestation of innocence, and secondly, fervent hopes that one day the truth would all come out. There is no such thing in the letters, far from it, the second of the two contains a very clear confession. The extract is below.
“I hope young men will take a warning by me and not put too much confidence in young women, the same as I did; and I hope young females will take the same by young men. I loved that girl as dear as I loved my life; and after all the kind treatment I have showed her, and then she said she would have nothing more to do with me. And after this was done, then bitterly I did lament, thinking what would be my end. And I thank the judge and jury too, for they have given me no more than was my due.”
Is anyone seriously suggesting that this is what a man would write if he was innocent? But of course, Matthew’s inability to read or write must always leave some doubts hanging over anything written on his behalf. We have no way of knowing how accurate any of it was.
I want now to look at the evidence of the eyewitnesses to Matthew and Charlotte being on the moor. The first such witness is Isaac Cory. The interesting thing about his statement is that he commented on what he saw only a short time after seeing it, to the inhabitants of Penhale, at a time when Charlotte was probably still alive. The other two witnesses came forward much later. Isaac Cory reached his wheat field at Trevillian’s Gate at about twenty to five. He stopped to inspect the field, and saw Matthew Weeks with a young woman who was wearing a red shawl. Ms Munn makes a great deal of the fact that Cory did not identify Charlotte who was also known to him by sight, however there is nothing very strange about this. The woman with Matthew had an umbrella which was up so he could not see her bonnet, and her back would have been to him. Matthew, of course was more identifiable by his characteristic limping gait.
Before we go on I shall give some indication of distances. From Penhale Farm to Roughtor Ford is about 4 miles. Penhale to Higher Down Gate ¾ mile and 220 yards, Higher Down Gate to Lanlary Rock, 1 ½ miles, Lanlary Rock to Roughtor Ford 1 ¼ miles. The average walking speed on normal ground is about 3 miles per hour (and not 5 as Ms Munn suggests). On rough ground, a limping man and a woman wearing pattens would have averaged far less. Cory stated he had seen the pair south of the road, on the moor, about 60 yards from the corner of his field. He also mentioned that they had been going at a steady pace but not fast, and that twenty minutes later they were about a quarter of a mile further on. This is a very slow pace indeed.
By the time of the inquest, there were two more witnesses to the couple on the moor. William Gard was a Wesleyan minister of 48 and had passed Roughtor Ford at about 5 30, going approximately westwards. Just before reaching it he saw a man and a woman on the Lanlary Rock side of the Ford, walking at a very slow pace as if away from the ford and towards Lanlary Rock. The man wore a frock coat and the woman carried an umbrella. He observed them for about five minutes. Sometimes the man would stop , and the woman would walk on and stop, and then the man would catch her up. They did this several times. He had observed them before at a greater distance and they had seemed then to be going towards the Ford. Going on his way Gard occasionally looked back at them and saw that they would occasionally go a few steps and then stop. When last seen they were standing still and looking towards the Ford. He did not distinguish their features or, due to the slowness of their walk, notice if the man limped. He was not able to positively identify either of the two people.
Richard Pethick was a 20 year old cattle farmer. At six o’clock he saw two people coming from Lanlary Rock in the direction of Roughtor Ford. Occasionally they would stop and turn to face each other. The man was little and lame and the woman carried an umbrella. Pethick was seeking his cattle and so lost sight of the couple, but he returned later and saw the couple about 70 yards from Roughtor Ford, standing about twenty yards apart. He added that as the woman had an umbrella he couldn’t see her face. He spoke to them, asking if they were afraid of each other, or if they had lost their way, but they didn’t reply. He noticed the man’s dark frock coat and also his limp. He moved on and lost sight of them, but his curiosity had been aroused by their behaviour. He got off his horse and went back to observe them. They were now standing closer together and he observed them for ten minutes, then he left. This would have been at about 7 o’clock. When he got home he mentioned having seen them. At the magistrate’s hearing Pethick would say no more than that Matthew was very like the man he had seen on the moor, though by the time of the trial he was willing to swear the man was Matthew.
So the sum total of the eyewitness evidence is that three people saw a man and a woman on the moors that afternoon. One man knew Matthew by sight and said it was him straightaway, the other two described someone of Matthew’s build and dress, and one of them noticed his limp. None of the three identified Charlotte, but all described a woman in a dark dress with an umbrella which made it impossible to see her face. Cory saw the couple at approximately 4.40 on their way towards Roughtor, and the other two saw them later on, between Lanlary Rock and Roughtor. Both saw the couple acting strangely, in that they were obviously not on their way anywhere but walking back and forth, stopping and starting. There is sufficient similarity between the three accounts to make it extremely likely that the three observations were of the same couple. The last two observations, which are notable for the description of the odd pattern of progress, surely must be of the same couple. There is no evidence to suggest that a completely different couple was observed, or that Matthew was on the moors with a woman who was not Charlotte. It has been suggested that Charlotte was on the moors with a man who was not Matthew, but no-one mentioned that there was another short limping man in the neighbourhood who might have been confused with him. The simplest explanation is that the three observations were of Charlotte and Matthew.
Ms Munn has paced out the land and drawn conclusions about how fast Charlotte would have been travelling. A lot depends on where she was going and how fast she needed to get there, and I will return to that point shortly. Charlotte and Matthew were seen by Isaac Cory approximately a mile from Penhale, about 40 minutes after they set out, that is at 20 to 5. Gard saw the couple going back and forth between Lanlary Rock (3 miles from Penhale) and Roughtor Ford (4 miles from Penhale) at 5.30. This suggests they covered a mile in 40 minutes, and about 2 miles more in 50 minutes. We don’t know how precise the timings and distance estimates of the witnesses were, but it is certainly possible for the couple to have made the journey they did without exceeding a reasonable walking pace.
One of the oddities of this case is the fact that Charlotte’s body lay undiscovered for so long. This has led to suggestions that she was not killed where she lay, and her body was brought there later. The extracts from the post mortem I have seen do not refer to the degree of decomposition of the body, but we do know that if Charlotte’s body had lain partially in cold running water this would have greatly slowed the process. If there had been any indication that she had been killed much later than nine days since she had last been seen alive, Surgeon Good would surely have mentioned it, but in none of his medical evidence did he suggest that the murder had taken place anywhere other than where the body lay or on any other day than 14th April. The pooling of the blood at the spot is conclusive evidence that the murder happened right there, but how was it possible for the body to lie there that length of time, undiscovered? I had wondered that until I myself visited the site. The body had been found on the banks of the little stream on the Advent Parish Side, the opposite bank from where the monument to Charlotte now stands, and a little way down from Roughtor Ford. The Advent side slopes down to the stream which cuts deeply into the land so that the opposite side in St Breward parish is a vertical bank. To get there I had to leap a number of rivulets and wade through tall grasses. If the body had been rolled down the sloping bank to the stream, it would not have been easily visible to the casual passer-by until they were quite close.
To summarise: Charlotte Dymond was last seen alive with Matthew Weeks, whom she had been seeing for two years and had thrown over for another man. Matthew returned from that walk with a torn and bloody shirt, and trousers covered in turfy mud. Before murder was suspected he told lies about both his and Charlotte’s whereabouts during the crucial time, and when suspicions against him grew, he fled. Her body was found near the spot where they were last seen together, and her possessions buried in turfy mud. After Mathhew’s trial he made no protestations of innocence, but accepted his fate.
When one comes down to it, this is a simple murder tale of a classic kind. People love unsolved mysteries, and feel dissatisfied with a mundane closure to a case such as this, but my observation is that murder is frequently commonplace and predictable. I believe that when Matthew and Charlotte walked out that day he had no plans to kill her. They did not tell anyone where they were going because their purpose was not to travel to any specific place – that is borne out by their slow pace, the stopping and starting and going back and forth. I think that they went outside onto the rainy moor in order to have some privacy in which to talk. Which one of them prompted this, we do not know. They had a great deal to say to each other, or maybe they did what so many in their position have done before, talk round and round in circles, going over the emotional ground again and again. They certainly talked for a long time. It was four when they left Penhale, and at seven they were still out, talking, but three hours is not a long time to rake over the embers of a two year relationship. According to Matthew’s letter, Charlotte told him she wanted no more to do with him. She was the kind of girl an ill-favoured young man might only have dreamed of, yet she had been his for two years. No doubt he had hopes of marriage. She had rejected him, probably in favour of another man, and this created a murderous, jealous uncontrollable rage. The condition of Matthew’s shirt suggests that there was a struggle. Charlotte dropped her bag and shawl, lost the collar and pattens. She may have turned to run from him, and he lunged at and seized her, pulling back her head, and cut her throat in two deep angry strokes. There would have been blood on the sleeve of his coat, and scattered drops on his shirt as he pulled the knife through, but most of the blood coursed down the front of her dress. He pushed the body down the bank into the stream where it would be hidden from plain sight, and gathered up her fallen belongings and buried them in the turf pit to hide them, muddying his stockings and trousers. He still loved her, and maybe that was what prompted him to keep her gloves and bag. It was foolish, yes, but no-one ever accused Matthew of being sensible. Much of his behaviour following Charlotte’s disappearance was extremely short-sighted. Matthew was a man who acted impulsively, and rarely thought out the long-term consequences of his actions. His stories were aimed only at putting off the immediate enquiries, without considering that his statements could be easily checked and disproved the next day. As suspicions deepened, he fled to Plymouth with the object of taking a ship to the Jersey or Guernsey. Once found guilty he no longer denied his guilt, but accepted his sentence.
The murder of Charlotte Dymond is solved. But then, it was never unsolved.
The murder site can be visited easily and is marked by a monument to Charlotte, erected by public subscription.
Monument to Charlotte Dymond
To get there, travel north on the A39 through the delightful little town of Camelford. (Of course you could approach from the North without going through Camelford, but Camelford is well worth a visit!) As you leave Camelford, there is a turn to the right signposted to Roughtor. Keep going to the end of this lane. There is a car park at the end, and Bodmin Moor lies before you. Leaving the car park, cross over a small bridge. Look to your right and you will see the monument. Charlotte’s grave can still be seen in Davidstow churchyard, marked by a broken stone cross.
Penhale Farm is private property.
The Shire Hall, Bodmin, where Matthew was tried, opened to the public in April 2000. You can see a reconstruction of the trial using sound, light, animatronics and video, and record your verdict afterwards.
The book, The Murder of Charlotte Dymond by Pat Munn, was published by Bodmin Books in 1978. You could try ordering it through Amazon Books, or the Shire Hall Bodmin.