She was only walking home to Alton but 20-year-old Jessie Warwick would be brutally murdered by the very person she should have been safe with – her fiancé, an ex-policeman.
In light of recent convictions of Met Police officers Wayne Couzens for rape and murder and David Carrick for the violent abuse of women in his life, this might seem like a very contemporary story. But this tragedy happened more than 140 years ago.
It was on July 8, 1879, that Jessie was slain by James Lancelot Rock to whom she had become engaged some two years earlier, when he was serving as a constable at Holybourne.
Rock is believed to have become enraged with jealousy after coming across Jessie walking with Walter Warwick – even though the young man was her cousin and had no romantic relationship with her.
The next day, Rock cut Jessie’s throat in front of her mother who desperately tried to save her daughter.
The Hampshire Advertiser recorded the incident with a sensationalist glee that makes modern tabloid reporting look tame by comparison: “Great excitement was caused in the town shortly after midday on Tuesday, by the report, which unhappily proved too true, that a shocking murder had been committed on the highway between the villages of Holybourne and Froyle, about two-and-a-half miles from Alton.”
Jessie was the daughter of Rupert and Patience Warwick and she had been staying with them at their home in Anstey Mill Lane for about a week after leaving her work as a housemaid in London, with the intention of starting a new job.
She had been accompanying her cousin Walter to his work in Alton when they met Rock, who had either left or been dismissed from the police force following some sort of irregularity that is not known, and had done different jobs in various places since.
On meeting him, Jessie left Walter and took Rock to her parents’ cottage for “cheese, bread and a porter” before he returned to the Wheatsheaf pub where he was lodging that night.
The next day Rock was going to Farnham and asked Jessie to walk part of the way with him. She agreed to go, according to the Advertiser, despite her parents warning her not to because Rock had appeared to be very depressed.
Sometime after they left, Jessie’s mother decided to go after them, ostensibly to take her daughter her waterproof as it had started to rain but “also to relieve her anxiety for her daughter’s safety”, the newspaper claimed.
Mrs Warwick caught up with the couple returning towards Holybourne and after giving her daughter her cloak, she walked a few paces ahead until she heard a scream and turned round to see Rock with his arm around Jessie’s neck and an open razor in his other hand.
He cut one side of Jessie’s throat and a struggle ensued as her mother frantically fought to save her daughter’s life.
She knocked Rock to the ground, but he got up and slashed again at Jessie’s neck, badly injuring the older woman as she tried to shield her daughter.
“She twice warded off further attacks, receiving in her daughter’s defence a fearful gash penetrating to the bone, in the left arm near the shoulder,” the Advertiser reported.
Rock made off towards the Golden Pot at Shalden, and hijacked a pony and trap being driven along the Odiham Road, before eventually being caught with the help of an inspector quickly called in from Winchester to help local police.
At a later inquest, Jessie’s mother told how her daughter lying dying in her arms had said Rock had declared she “shouldn’t have Walter”.
To modern ears, the case sounds very much like one of controlling behaviour by Rock, but it is difficult to judge as it emerged that the former police officer had been discharged from Brookwood Lunatic Asylum as “cured” only the day before the murder. How long he had been there and the diagnosis of his mental illness is not known.
Within days, Rock was found to be insane and, instead of facing the death penalty, was sent back to an asylum by order of the home secretary.