This is the story of Henry Thomas Gaskin, who was the Uncle of Josephine Mary Gaskin mother of Mary (My wife) The story is the subject of several books! This item contains the different accounts at the time and the family account of what happened. It’s suprising what you unearth when you take a look at your family history. I can beat this(if that’s what you would like to call it) as two of my Nans brothers were put to the hangmans knot, one in America the other Down under, unfortunatly i have not been able to find out any information to prove this.It seems to be something which my family did not want remembered, but when istarted my family tree some years ago, a late cousin told me about this!
Henry Thomas Gaskin
Date Of Execution: 8 Aug 1919
Place: Birmingham Winson Green
Executioner: John Ellis
Henry Gaskin murdered his wife Elizabeth Gaskin 23 who he strangled and battered in woods on Hednesford Hill on 19 February 1919. Henry Gaskin had fought in the Great War and when he returned he became a miner. They had married in 1913 and she had had a child 2 months later but it wasnt Henry Gaskin’s. She also had 2-3 other illegitimate children while he was at war but only one survived.
Henry Gaskin was sent to jail in 1914 but 2 years later he was released so that he could join the army. His wife received an army allowance but that was later stopped, possibly because of her character.
Whilst on leave from the war in September 1917 they rowed.
After Henry Gaskin returned from the Great War on 1 february 1918 he and his wife decided to seperate and Elizabeth Gaskin moved out of the house they shared in Bridgtown, Cannock and went to live with her parents in Hednesford in winter 1918.
On 19 February 1919 Henry Gaskin sent a note to Elizabeth Gaskin asking to see her and she went to meet him. They were seen walking past the colliery at 2.30pm talking louding as though argueing but she was never seen again.
Her parents went to see Henry Gaskin and asked where she was but he said that she didnt turn up. A search was made for her but she wasnt found.
A week later Henry Gaskin broke down and confessed to her murder. He showed the police where her dismembered body was. He had dropped parts of her down the well of a gasholder. He said they had met as planned and they had gone to his home where he asked her to come home with him for good but she refused and asked for a divorce so she could be with her new lover, a soldier that she had been walking with and who was the father of her last child who she had given birth to 2 months earlier. He said he became irate and later strangled her in a wood after which he dragged her 20 yards out of the wood and then carried her 8 yards to a culvert where she was first hidden and the next morning he took her to a place near the gasworks in a wheelbarrow and dismembered her.
Blood was found on his clothes and on his pocket knife.
The above account is from the National Archives.
However there is another account which was from the family!
There is some doubt over this picture as besides Lizzie the other woman in some accounts calls her the sister in law, whilst others call her the Mother in Law, or the Sister.
The next is a picture of a Post Card issued and is Cannock Gas works and the funeral with Lizzie in the centre. I have no idea what the top picture is of.
This could be Gaskins Mom and Dad. Gaskin himself
Noone is sure as photo just says
Mr and Mrs Gaskin.
The following tale is based on a series of true events.
The year was 1919 and although they were husband and wife Henry and Elizabeth Gaskin had only seen each other once in the previous 5 years.
In February 1914 Henry Gaskin had been sent to Portland prison after being found guilty of a number of burglaries in Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley during November of the previous year.
In the August of 1914 the declaration of war was made and many of Gaskin’s fellow inmates would find their sentences reduced to enable them to join the armed forces and do their bit for king and country. This would not be the case for Gaskin though, after all, he had only served 6 months of a 3 year sentence so there was no way he would be released so soon.
By 1915 Hednesford was changing rapidly. It had become a transit town for soldiers with a massive training camp being built on the outskirts of Brindley Heath on Cannock Chase.
By now Lizzie Gaskin had not seen her husband for over a year and to supplement her lifestyle she turned to prostitution, which led to her falling pregnant in May of that year, but her child would live for only 4 months. At roughly this same time Gaskin was released from prison. His early release no doubt down to the need for more able-bodied men to join the armed forces.
Whether gaskin knew of his wife’s situation is not known but strangely he chose not to go back home after leaving prison and instead, went straight off to Join the Royal Engineers as 158037 Sapper Henry Thomas Gaskin and soon after finishing his training was sent off to the Western front.
September 1917 saw Henry being granted leave for the first time and he was heading home. When he arrived at Cannock station on 28th September he chose to go straight to his mothers house and not to his wife though the news of his return did not take long to reach her.
When they finally met the meeting of husband and wife was not a happy one it would turn out. Gaskin told his wife that he wanted nothing more to do with her and even threatened to shoot her with his service rifle, only being stopped by his mother.
October 7th would see Henry return to France after his week’s leave where he would stay until he was granted leave for a second time in October 1918.
This time he would not meet his wife as she had gone to London with another soldier and once more had turned to prostitution. On November 2nd Gaskin would once again return to the Western front but only 9 days later the war would come to an end.
Demob for Gaskin would come into effect on 4th January 1919 and he returned to his mothers house 2 days later the very day that his wife was giving birth to a son. The father thought to be a soldier from the nearby camp on Cannock Chase
One of Gaskin’s first acts on his return was to contact a solicitor to start divorce proceedings but it would seem that his wife had other ideas as she wanted them to try and repair their marriage.
On Wednesday 19th February Gaskin wrote a note to his wife and got someone else to deliver it to her. The note simply read “meet me round the pool at once, important.” Lizzie got excited as she knew the note was from Gaskin and she was convinced that he had changed his mind and wanted to try and put things right between them. Her mother told her not to go but Lizzie was determined to see him.
She made her way to the pool, now the site of Hednesford Park. She arrived around 2pm. Gaskin was still to arrive which he did about 15 minutes later. He had been drinking heavily something that he was not used to doing.
The couple were spotted arguing by 2 separate witnesses as they walked along Rugeley Road. The couple stopped and stood for a while by the plantation of trees which was on the corner of the road that led up to the valley pit.
Lizzie then walked away and took the path through the trees that also led to the pit but Gaskin chose to walk a little further along the road before he too turned and walked into the trees.
The remainder of this tale is taken totally from the statement given by Gaskin at Cannock police station some 4 days later.
According to Gaskin they reached the woods and Lizzie asked him to go home with her to which he replied “No. Come into the woods and we’ll talk things over.”
He told her he knew all about her past few years but Lizzie tried to blame him for the whole situation. She knew that her husband had been drinking heavily and no doubt would be starting to worry. She again suggested that they go home. She even offered to sleep with him thinking she could use this idea as a bargaining tool, but again Gaskin refused.
Her next words were ill chosen and were almost the last that she would speak. “Well, if you don’t want me I shall go back to Monty.” (The father of her new born son) she then started to cry and she put her arm around his neck. Gaskin gripped her throat and was now at the point of losing control. Lizzie struggled to free herself from his grip but Gaskin took a fresh hold of his wife. Lizzie then fell to the floor and gaskin stood over her. She tried to stand once more but was quickly pushed down again as the blows hit her head and face.
Gaskin was now wildly out of control so much so that he tried to rip out her womb with his bare hands. Lizzie now began to kick and try to scream and so in his rage Gaskin forced a piece of wood down her throat in an attempt to stop her.
Gaskin then cut off her clothes and went to hide them in the woods. When he returned to his wife she had managed to struggle into a kneeling position but due to the severe beating she could no longer see her husband but she could hear him. Gaskin then told her “I’m going to kill you and cut you into pieces.” A vicious kick under her chin soon followed and almost certainly rendered her senseless. He then took out his army knife and cut her open from her womb to her navel. Amazingly at this point she was still alive and conscious. Gaskin then put his heel on her neck and held it there until she finished struggling. He then cut her again this time up to her neck. He then retrieved her clothes, to cover body, but noticed that amazingly she was still breathing but he then walked away and left her in the woods to die, He then made his way home. The time was now around 4.30pm
Later that day Gaskin went back to the wood and moved his wife’s body further into the trees and proceeded to cut off her head. He also tried but failed to cut off one of her legs. He then dragged her headless corpse to a culvert near to the valley pit then took the head and her clothes to the unused gas works in Victoria Street and pushed the head into the water under the gasometer. He then caught the bus back home to Bridgetown arriving home just after 11pm
The following morning there was a knock at the door, It was Lizzie’s mother wanting to know where her daughter was. He told her that he had intended to meet with her the previous day but had changed his mind so did not know where she was.
Later that day Gaskin was approached by the police and he was sure that he had been found out but he managed to stay calm. They told him they were making enquiries about his missing wife stating that she had been seen walking with him. Again Gaskin said that he had not been with her so the sightings must have been wrong.
Gaskin was now starting to panic. The body could be found at any moment so he decided to go back and retrieve what remained of his wife’s body and dispose of it in the same location that he had hidden her head.
Gaskin picked up the torso and carried it the five or six hundred yards to the gasworks, amazingly unseen.
On Friday 21st February gaskin was again met by 2 police officers. They told him that his wife had still not been found but invited him to accompany them to Hednesford Police station where he would later be cautioned and then charged with his wife’s murder.
On Sunday 23rd February Gaskin would admit to murdering his wife and told the police he would show them where he had hidden her body.
The body was eventually recovered and the post mortem would show that Gaskins statement would tie in with the injuries found on the dead woman’s body.
Gaskin’s trial would take place at Stafford court room on Friday 4th July 1919 in which the outcome would find Gaskin guilty of murdering his wife and the sentence would be death by hanging which took place at Winson Green Prison in August 1919.
Following these events the wood would become known locally as Gaskin’s Wood !
Express and Star Account.
Another famous case, was the Gaskin murder.
Lizzie Talbot married Harry Thomas Gaskin in 1913, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. When fighting began, Gaskin was one of the first from Hednesford to enlist in the Army. After two-and-a-half years in the trenches on the Western Front, he came home to find that Lizzie had borne two children – neither of them his.
The pair separated and Lizzie moved back home with her mother, Emily.
Just before 2pm on February 19, 1919, a young man named Tom Saunders called at the Talbot residence with a message for Lizzie, reading ‘meet me round the pool at once – important’. Saunders later said he’d met with Harry Gaskin in the Anglesey Arms and been asked to deliver it. She never returned. By February 21, there was still no sign of Lizzie and police arrested Gaskin as he left West Cannock Colliery where he worked as a horse driver.
Two days later he confessed to her murder. He had met her in the woods near gasworks in Hednesford where he hit her, pushed a stick down her throat and stabbed her with a knife. He later dismembered her body before dumping her remains in a pool near Hednesford Hill. Gaskin appeared at Shire Hall on July 11, 1919, in front of a packed gallery. Despite a plea for leniency on mental health grounds and the court room packed with sympathetic spectators who thought the young war hero’s life had been ruined by his promiscuous wife, there was no doubt that Gaskin was guilty and he was sent to the gallows.
Six-thousand people signed a petition to save him to no avail. The wood in Hednesford has been known as Gaskin’s Wood ever since.
Birmingham Paper of the day reported the following-
August 8th: Henry Thomas GASKIN (25)
Birmingham Winson green.
Following marital problems, Gaskin, a former soldier, and his wife Elizabeth (23) had decided to separate. They had lived at Bridgtown, Cannock, Staffordshire but in the winter of 1918, she had moved out of the house and gone to stay with her parents at nearby Hednesford. On Wednesday 19 February, a young girl called at the parents’ house with a message for Lizzie from Gaskin. It was a note arranging a meeting for later that afternoon. Lizzie left home and was never seen alive again. She failed to return home that night, and the next morning Lizzie’s mother called to see Gaskin. He admitted arranging the meeting but claimed that he had failed to keep the appointment and had no idea what had become of his wife. The police were called but an initial search failed to uncover her body. A week later Gaskin broke down and led the police to her mutilated and dismembered corpse. At his trial, held at Stafford Assizes on 11 July, the court heard how Gaskin had met his wife as arranged then returned to his house. He asked her to come home for good, but she refused, and instead asked him for a divorce so that she could marry her new lover. Gaskin became irate and grabbed her by the throat, strangling her. He then hid the body until the next morning when he wheeled it in a barrow to a sight near the local gasworks where he set about dismembering it. The short trial ended when the jury took just thirty four minutes to convict him of the crime. Stafford gaol no longer housed a scaffold so Gaskin was taken to Winson Green prison, Birmingham, where he was hanged by John Ellis and William Willis.