Canterbury’s 6th Hanging Took Place – 13th December 1913

It wasn’t until morning’s first light that the fate of Mrs. Rosana Lilley could be fully understood.  Upon discovering her body via candlelight, just 30 yards from their farmhouse, her husband John Allan Lilley had concluded that she had just collapsed and passed away suddenly.  But as the police and a doctor arrived the following day, it was soon obvious that foul play was involved.

Two days earlier, on the morning of 15th October 1913, Mayfield’s blacksmith – Alfred Mortam Biddle – had been at the Lilley’s door.  Eight year old Leonard Lilley had seen it was Biddle at the door but had not heard the conversation that occurred between Biddle and his mother.  When slipping her raincoat over her dressing gown, she informed her four children that neighbour, Mrs. Maria Montgomery, was ill and had asked for her.  And with that she left with Biddle beside her.

After the second evening without his mother having returned home, Leonard decided to head over to the Montgomery’s to ask when she would be coming home.
The alarm was raised – Rosana had never arrived and there had been no one sick at the house.  Robert Montgomery went immediately to fetch John Allan Lilley who had been working away from Mayfield and wasn’t due home for several more days.
John reached home around 9.30pm.

He had even entertained the idea that Rosana had left him, as strange personal items seem to be missing, such as the dress she had been in the middle of making.
Upon walking the property, he soon came across his wife amongst the tussock.

It appeared that there had been a struggle as Rosana’s hat and shoe lay beside her.
A blacksmith’s hammer covered in blood and hair also lay close by. The doctor confirmed that she had endured three blows to the head.  A bicycle was also found; tossed aside amongst some trees.  Both of these items were later proved to belong to Alfred Mortam Biddle who, it seemed, had fled town and hadn’t been seen for a few days.

After interviewing the Lilley’s neighbours, it was reported that Biddle had been asking for directions to the Lilley’s as he had money to collect.  John confirmed that he had owed Biddle a couple of pounds but hadn’t even received a bill nor had he been approached about the debt.
Biddle had been Mayfield’s blacksmith for four years and had been well liked by everybody.

On 20th October 1913, close to a pile of vomit, twenty eight year old Alfred Mortam Biddle was arrested in the bed of Turner Creek – just a mile away from his blacksmith shop.   After drinking poison, he had to be helped to his feet.  He appeared exhausted, emaciated and confessed his crime to those around him.
He was experiencing financial difficulties but stated that he had no idea why he attacked Rosana Lilley.

Permanently crippled – both physically and mentally – by his suicide attempt, Biddle had to be helped in and out of the dock during his trial. There were times he took great interest in the court proceedings but others that he would slip into a stupor. Pictured here is him being delivered to court, unable to walk without help

He was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

With the help of prison guards, he faced the gallows on the morning of 13th December 1913.
His death was instant.

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