Bywaters and Thompson

Edith Thompson lived in Ilford, Essex, with her husband, Percy, who was slightly older than her. Edith worked as a manageress and bookkeeper for a millenary firm in London. 

In the summer of 1921, Edith and Percy went on holiday to the Isle of Wight with Edith’s unmarried sister and her handsome young man Frederick (Freddie) Bywaters. Frederick Bywaters was eight years Edith’s junior and had signed up to the Merchant Navy.

From the beginning, Edith and Freddie were attracted to each other. Edith was, to some extent, a romantic and she was thrilled by Frederick’s tales of his adventures overseas. Initially, Freddie and Percy got on well and Percy invited Freddie to lodge with them. However, before long Edith and Freddie began an affair. Suspecting this, Percy and Freddie quarreled and Freddie left the house, soon after sailing with the Merchant Navy to the Far East.

While Freddie was away, he and Edith exchanged passionate, sometimes rather silly, love letters in which Edith, among other things, made hints about taking her husband’s life.

On 3rd October 1922 Edith and Percy went to the theatre in London. After the performance they caught a late train back to Ilford. As they walked towards their home a man jumped out from behind some bushes and attacked Percy. Percy died from stab wounds before Edith could summon help.

Both Edith and Freddie were arrested and tried for murder. The prosecution claimed that Edith had planned the whole incident with Freddie, including the exact spot where the murder was to take place. Extracts from her letters to Freddie were read to the jury. In spite of there being no evidence that Edith had ever actually done anything to hurt her husband, both she and Freddie were found guilty and were hanged at the same time on the same day on January 9th 1923. Edith’s hangman was John Ellis, who later committed suicide.

There is some argument that Edith’s conviction was based on society’s disapproval of an affair between an older, married woman and a younger man.

©2019 by Alison O'Leary