Robert West was a travelling showman, running a coconut shy at the fairs that toured around England. Originally from Oxford, he was around 44 years old, and was used to a peripatetic life.
He had arrived, in his caravan, at the village of Handsworth Woodhouse near Sheffield at 11.30pm on Friday night, 23 August, his intention being to remain and set his shy up at the village feast that weekend.
He started quarreling with his wife Emma, which often happened as the result of Robert’s tendency to drink. Their son – one of their six children – realised Robert was drunk, and was arguing as a result of jealousy over his wife’s perceived behaviour. The son went off for a walk to get away from them.
While he was out, at 1am, West went running up to Police Sergeant Ford of the West Riding constabulary, as he was passing the caravan on his patrols.
“I’ve murdered my wife!” West shouted, and PS Ford ran with him to the van, where he found Emma lying on the floor, almost decapitated. By her side was a large knife, and the floor was covered in blood.
West was taken into custody at Sheffield, and immediately made a written confession. However, he had, in front of PS Ford, first said that he was “satisfied” with the murder, and “regretted that he had not also murdered the man whom he alleges to have been intimate with his wife”.
In the police court, Robert cross-examined Emma’s mother himself. She had got very upset, and shouted, “You bad, bad man, you murderer, you villain!”
Robert responded, “You can talk, but you are as bad as every one of them.”
“Am I, you bad villain? You murderer of my poor daughter!” screamed his mother-in-law.
“I am very glad I did it, and I am only sorry I did not do both of them. All I want is to die now, and the sooner the better. I shall then be out of the way. I told her I should do it, and I am glad I did it. I wish I’d done the other one as well.”
PS Ford then explained that as he had walked Robert to the police station after the murder, he had said,
“This thing has been brewing, it will be 12 months next Sunday, When we was here at the feast last year I began to find out of her tricks. There’s another I intended to do first; that’s Leicester Jack, and then her, but he kept out of the way, else I should have done him first.”
Robert West was committed to the Leeds Assizes on the charge of leaving murder. As he left the dock to be committed to Wakefield Prison, he said, “Goodbye, all of you!”
The travelling showman travelled no more. He was found guilty of murder at the Assizes and was executed at Armley Prison in Leeds, on 31 December 1889.