Robert Kenyon and William Uttley

The Marston Moor Murders

The murder of two gamekeepers on Marston Moor would seem to be a typical case of a vendetta peculiar to certain types of low mentality and strong animal passions. The trial disclosed the hard, dour, bitter Yorkshire spirit so well portrayed by the sisters Brontë, but it disclosed little else. The story, however, had its dramatic points, and from the character of the man accused of the murder one can well understand the immense interest with which the case was followed by people for many miles around.

Marston Moor is a wild, desolate tract of country in the neighbourhood of Huddersfield. Few people other than gamekeepers and sportsmen in the grouse season ever crossed it; indeed, it was so intersected by gullies through which the water in the rainy months swirled and eddied that walking, unless one knew the paths, was dangerous.

The weather is never particularly inviting in the late autumn in the Midlands, and on this 9th day of September it was less so than usual. Fierce downpours at intervals swept the moor now and again, ceasing as suddenly as they had begun. Then the sky cleared and for a brief space the moor lost its cheerless aspect.

It was during one of these brief spaces​—​about half-past three in the afternoon​—​that a couple of gamekeepers climbed some rising ground, and arriving at the summit cast their eyes around on the look-out for poachers.

One of these gamekeepers was elderly, with a rugged weather-beaten face, James Kenyon by name. The other was his son Bob, not much more than a stripling despite his twenty-two years and his service in the army.

When on the top of the eminence, James Kenyon, shading his eyes with his hand, glanced about him. He was long sighted, as he had need to be, and the cessation of the rain enabled him to see a considerable distance. On this fact much subsequently depended.

“See yon man, Bob?” he exclaimed all at once.

“Aye. Who be he?”

I know, an’ he’s after no good.”

“How can you tell who he be? Why, he be pretty nigh a mile away​—​three-quarters anyway.”

“Maybe. I know him all the same by his walk an’ the way he carries his gun. You get away after him, Bob. Leave your gun wi’ me. You’ll be able to walk quicker wi’out it. I’ll fire my gun to let you know where I am if you’re not back soon.”

Robert Kenyon started, and his father watched him until he was lost to sight. He could see until they disappeared that the man his son was stalking was about a mile in front. Over an hour passing and Robert not returning, the old man fired his gun but there was no response, and after putting a mark on the under side of a stone near a workman’s cabin to indicate to his son that he had gone home (it was an old arrangement of theirs) James Kenyon went back to his house.

The evening wore on, and Robert not making his appearance his father determined to look for him, and going to the cabin found that the stone had not been turned. Throughout the night he went to and from his house walking about the moor, sometimes shouting “Bob,” but without result.

During one of these fruitless visits to the Moor a curious thing happened. It was about half-past nine, and the moon was shining, when, reaching the spot where he had parted from his son, he saw, so he declared, the “white face” of a man in the same place where he had previously seen the man whom he thought he knew, and after whom he had sent his son. He could not distinguish the features and he had no means of testing him by his walk because, to use James Kenyon’s words, “he would not stand up.” It subsequently appeared that Kenyon was very uncertain whether, in spite of the “walk,” he had positively recognised this man or not on the first occasion. He certainly was somewhat hazy on the point.

The old man’s memory was also defective on another matter and one of considerable importance. It appears that about half-past three, but whether before or after his son left him was not stated, he met a man named Shaw and spoke to him. This little fact he kept to himself and it was only dragged from him after a considerable interval. The omission was all the more significant because Shaw swore positively that the man seen in the distance was not he whom Kenyon thought it was, and Shaw knew him well.

Meanwhile, Kenyon’s neighbours began to interest themselves in the matter, especially as it was rumoured that another keeper named William Uttley was also missing. It was then resolved that two parties should search the moor.

James Kenyon was at the head of one of these parties, and while going along by a “gruff,” or gully, they came upon a startling sight​—​the body of Uttley lying at the bottom. He was dead. He had been shot in the head and was lying face downwards. His stick was close by and his dog was watching the body.

“I saw footprints up to the body,” said old Kenyon, describing the scene. “Then they went back and was lost sight of.”

Meanwhile, about 100 yards or so away, the second party had come upon puzzling marks on the grass by the side of a deep gully. The appearance of the grass suggested that something had been dragged along, but the searchers could see nothing more, and were passing on when they were stayed by a man named Sykes, who had his doubts.

“I feel sure Robert’s somewhere near,” said he. “Let’s turn back.”

They did so and, coming to a heap of stones at the bottom of the gully, Sykes uttered an exclamation of horror. He had caught sight of a pair of clogs protruding from the heap!

The stones were hastily removed and the worst forebodings of the workers were verified. Beneath the heap was found the body of Robert Kenyon. He had been shot through the spine and, like William Uttley, with a grouse gun. The murderer had in each instance stealthily approached his victim from the side, and had shot Kenyon within a distance of three yards and Uttley at about nine yards.

The marks on the grass were now explained. The body of Robert Kenyon had been dragged from the place where he was killed, but where this spot was could not be decided. Nor was it clear why his feet had been left uncovered​—​presumably the murderer was in a hurry to get away and did his work of concealment hurriedly. If so, the deed must have been done in the dark. This was against the police theory that the murder had taken place in the afternoon between the hours of four and six o’clock.

Apparently it was a motiveless crime. Robert Kenyon had no enemies, and though William Uttley carried out his duties strictly he was known to be a just man.

James Kenyon certainly was unable to throw any light upon Uttley’s death, but he had his suspicions in regard to that of his son. He was sure that the murderer was the man whom he saw nearly a mile away and whom he believed was somebody he knew.

“I won’t ask you to say who this man was,” said the coroner, “but you may write it down.”

The crowded court looked on with breathless interest while the old man laboriously moved the pen over the paper which he folded up and handed to the coroner. For days the curiosity of the public was on tenterhooks, and great was the sensation when it was known that Henry Buckley, a well-known and respected religious worker, a staunch supporter of the local Salvation Army, and the President of an Oldham temperance league, had been arrested. The secret of the folded paper was out. The name written upon it was “Henry Buckley.”

Beyond James Kenyon’s belief or certainty (as already pointed out, sometimes it was one, sometimes it was the other), what was the evidence connecting Buckley with the murder? His statement, made the day after the murder and some days before his arrest to a police constable who most improperly questioned him without any warning, was this:

“Henry Buckley” (wrote the constable), “Sholver Farm, Oldham, says that on Wednesday (the 9th of September, the day of the murder) I was on Friarmere after dinner. I sat under the wall until about 3 p.m. I shot at a bird but could not find it. It started raining. I was sitting under the wall and looking for the bird for about an hour. I saw two men on the moor about 3.15 or 3.20.… My wife and son Richard came up with my pony cart about 4 p.m. and then drove home. I went out about 5 a.m. this morning (the 10th), came back without a bird. Shot for about an hour.”

The constable told Buckley that he probably would be required at the inquest as a witness, whereupon Buckley exclaimed (naturally enough), “You’ve made me feel very queer.”

The police set all their ingenuity to work to show that Buckley’s statement as to the time he returned home was untrue, and that the hour was really 6.30. It was against their case that each of the two witnesses they brought forward for this purpose should have had a grudge against Buckley, while the evidence of a third was entirely negative. The prosecution also laid stress on the fact that when Buckley was seen in his cart he was crouching down at the back with a coat thrown over his shoulders, and his son was driving. If the inference was that Buckley was trying to conceal himself, it can hardly be accepted, as the simple explanation was that it was raining at the time, and as his wife and son were occupying the only seat there was no place for him other than the back of the cart.

On the other hand, two witnesses were produced by the defence who saw Buckley in his house a little before six; it was also proved that he was in the Temperance Hall at Oldham at a few minutes before seven. This would have been impossible had he only reached home at 6.30.

A week after the murder a puzzling discovery was made in the shape of Robert Kenyon’s watch, which was found on the moor wrapped in a red cotton handkerchief. No reason could be furnished why the watch had been hidden, while from the comparatively clean condition of the handkerchief it was fair to assume that it had been deposited some time after the murder, as there had been heavy rains in the interval. It was a moot point whether the watch had been so placed with the object of being found, or the reverse. It was partly covered with earth, and the man who saw a corner of the handkerchief peeping out thought the object of burying was concealment, and that the clod of earth had been accidentally disturbed and so disclosed what was beneath.

The handkerchief itself was part of the puzzle. Old Kenyon said he knew nothing about it, nor had he ever seen his son with such a handkerchief. The police do not appear to have troubled about it, yet it should have been followed up as a possible clue.

More direct evidence against Buckley was the presence in his house of wads and cartridges similar, so it was alleged, to those used by the murderer, and on this point a stiff battle subsequently arose between the prosecution and the defence at the examination of Buckley before the magistrates.

The animosity of James Kenyon against Buckley was manifest when the latter was placed in the dock. The dour old gamekeeper shifted his stick from his right to his left hand, clenched his right fist, and shook it at the accused man. There was, it appeared, no love lost between the two. Both had hasty tempers, and they had had hot words when on one occasion Kenyon sought to charge Buckley with shooting over the boundary which separated Friarmere from Marston Moor.

Putting on one side the dispute as to how long Buckley was on the moor and the question of his alleged identity with the man seen by James Kenyon, the crucial point to determine was whether the murderer had used black or smokeless powder. Buckley used black powder for his grouse shooting, and both Kenyon and Uttley were killed at such a short range that marks ought to have been apparent on their bodies had black powder been employed. To settle the matter the Home Secretary ordered the exhumation of the bodies.

This was done, but again there was uncertainty. The doctors differed. Dr. Aspinal could find no black marks round the wound, and he “held a positive opinion” that the murderer had not used black powder. Dr. Irving, on the contrary, saw marks on Uttley’s neck and shoulder which looked like grains of black powder.

Sympathy was wholly with Buckley, and a burst of applause greeted his advocate when he sat down after delivering one of the most convincing and impassioned addresses ever heard in a police court The Bench were an hour in making up their minds, and when they returned and the chairman announced that “The Bench are of opinion that the evidence adduced does not justify us in committing this man,” cheers which the police could not repress rang through the court, and the excitement was renewed when one of the magistrates stepped from the Bench and shook the prisoner’s hand warmly.

The mystery of Marston Moor has never been solved, and probably never will be.