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Three children orphaned as mother almost beheaded by 'Big Bob' in her sleep

LancsLive logo LancsLive 01/10/2022 Rachel Smith

In 1882, a shocking murder left three children orphaned when their mother was killed in her sleep as she lay beside them.

Betty Scott's throat was cut so deeply her head was cut almost clean off as her terrified children, aged 11, nine and five, lay beside her. Mrs Scott, a widow, was well known and respected within the community of Lowerhouse, Burnley, as a hard working and industrious woman. .Following the death of her husband William, she tried to make ends meet by taking in lodgers and other people's washing, to put food on the table for her young family.

On January 2, 1882, the young mother's life was cruelly taken from her by one of the men she gave a home to.

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Robert Templeton, 36, arrived in Lowerhouse nine months earlier and took up lodgings with Betty at her home in Brook Row. The tall, dark haired man, known as "Big Bob" found work as a printer and became known for his work ethic and impeccable timekeeping. Little was known of his background but he was thought to have hailed from Scotland. Before long, he and Betty formed a romantic relationship, and the couple agreed to marry.

However as the months passed by, another side of Templeton emerged. Betty, aged 33, became resentful of her surly husband-to-be's drinking, which left her feeling neglected and ashamed. Betty's brother, Robert Nuttall, said Templeton spent all his money on drink and by Boxing Day 1881 his sister had had enough. She broke off their engagement, calling time on their romance, and moved from the bedroom she shared with Templeton to her children's bed.

The George IV pub © Google The George IV pub

Betty told Templeton he must leave the house but he pleaded for a week's notice. By the following Monday, January 2, he had made no move to leave. Instead, he went to the Bird In T'Hand pub, a quarter mile from the house in Brook Row, at asked the landlord for a gill of Scotch.

This in itself was not unusual for Templeton, but when the drink arrived, Templeton told the barman he would send a boy to pay for it. As a newcomer to the pub, he had always paid upon receiving his drinks, but nonetheless he continued his drinking at the George IV pub, where he remained for several hours.

By 4pm he returned to Betty's house, quite the worse for wear. He demanded his dinner, but when the plate slipped from Betty's hand, he said: "You have thrown that plate down the same as if you were throwing it to a dog", and left the table without eating,

He went straight to bed and stayed there until Betty, her children, her brother and the two other lodgers at the property retired at 11pm. The Scott family slept together with Betty and the children sharing one bed and her brother Richard Nuttall, an invalid, having his own. The lodgers shared a second bedroom and Templeton slept alone in the third.

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At 1am the following morning, Betty's brother woke to see Templeton in the bedroom. An argument took place between the couple, as Templeton tried to get in bed beside the young mother. Betty's brother ordered Templeton to leave and the youngest child shouted out "Big Bob, if I were as big as you I would lick you", but Templeton told his estranged partner, "I shall never leave you Betty."

But at 3.30am the Mr Nuttall saw Templeton return and lean over his sister's bed, before creeping away, undisturbed. It was only minutes later, when he heard gurgling coming from his sister's bed, that Mr Nuttall realised something was wrong.

He lit a match and saw one of the children sit bolt upright in bed, her nightclothes covered in blood. Mr Nuttall scooped the children up and placed them in his bed before turning to his sister. By the light of the moon he could see she was bleeding heavily. He crawled downstairs to raise the alarm. Several neighbours heard his cries and rushed to the property where the other lodgers were rousing from their sleep. Templeton was pacing up and down the landing.

In the bedroom lay Betty's body, in a pool of blood, with a devastating injury to her neck. The Burnley Express later reported: "The unfortunate woman was lying in the bed in pool of blood dead, with a frightful wound in her throat— indeed, her head was nearly severed from her body, and the bed and clothing were saturated with blood."

As the neighbours and lodgers faced the grim discovery, Templeton remained in his room and made no attempt to speak to anyone. The lodgers ran to Habergham and summoned PC Eastham, the first officer on the scene.

When the officer tried to cuff the accused, his manacles were too small, but Templeton did not protest. He simply said: “Oh dear, take me away from here; you know what it is, take me away. You can tie me or do anything you like, but I don’t wish to stay here.” He offered to go to the police station in Padiham quietly, with the simple request of a glass of water. "His demeanor" during the journey was sullen, and he appeared to be reflecting upon the act that he had committed", the local press reported.

A search of the house revealed a razor thrown into the fireplace, believed to be the murder weapon. It was covered in blood.

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Templeton was quiet as he whiled away his time in the cells, asking only for a cup of tea. But as time went on he was heard to sigh loudly, and mutter 'oh dear' as he reflected upon his crime. An inquest, held at the Bird In T'Hand pub found Betty was unlawfully murdered, with the jury needing to time to retire to consider the verdict.

At a trial at Manchester Assizes, William Sagar Smirthwaite, a surgeon practising at Burnley, told the jury how, after examining the body of Betty, he found an incised wound to the left side of her neck, six inches in width and one half of the circumference of the neck. It extended from the back of the neck within about an inch of the middle line to within an inch of the right side of the windpipe, cutting through all the important structures on that side of the neck and the windpipe down to the vertebrae.

He made it clear to the jury that the wounds could not have been caused by the victim herself, but might have been done by someone else with a razor such as the one PC Eastham had recovered from the scene. He also told the jury that the cut had been a clean one and had been given during sleep, as Betty did not appear to have opened her eyes.

Throughout the trial, Templeton showed no emotion until the jury returned the verdict of wilful murder. He was condemned to the noose and ordered to spend two weeks in his cell at Strangeways before his execution. But while on death row a petition, gathering more than 1,000 signatures, was sent to the Home Secretary Sir William Vernon Harcourt. It claimed Templeton could not afford a solicitor and vital information was excluded from the trial.

The document stated Templeton was not of sound mind and had been diagnosed as having a mental disorder, as the result of drinking, four years earlier. Furthermore, an accident had seen him fall into a quarry and suffer head injuries, the scars from which could still be seen.

It was a last ditch attempt to spare Templeton from the noose, but it was unsuccessful and on February 13 1882 Templeton was to hang. At 8am, the prisoner washed, dressed and styled his hair, before taking the short walk to the gallows. He was heard repeating the words "God have mercy on me" three or four times before the bolt was drawn and he met his death.

In a series of letters written from his cell, Templeton expressed his penitence for the crime he committed. In one tear stained letter he wrote: "I would like very much if you would convey to all Mrs. Scott’s relatives the grief of my heart for such a crime, and implore all their forgiveness for their sad bereavement. God knows I bore the greatest kindness and love towards Mrs. Scott, and never meant anything but marrying her, but, dear sir, it has been willed otherwise. I cannot express the heartfelt grief and sorrow for this crime, but by faith in the Lord Jesus Chris, I look for mercy and forgiveness."

Betty's remains were laid to rest in the grounds of All Saints Church, Habergham. Templeton's were buried among other condemned men, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester.

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