Did the last woman to be hanged at Yorkshire prison really poison her husband with corned beef?

On December 19, 1934, Ethel Major became the first and last woman to be hanged at Hull Prison after she was found guilty of murdering her husband Arthur by poisoning his corned beef with strychnine.
On December 19, 1934, Ethel Major became the first and last woman to be hanged at Hull Prison after she was found guilty of murdering her husband Arthur by poisoning his corned beef with strychnine.
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The cousin of the only woman to be hanged at a Yorkshire prison will continue her quest to discover the truth about her relative 84 years on as her story unfolds on the BBC One programme Murder, Mystery and My Family.

On December 19, 1934, Ethel Major became the first and last woman to be hanged at Hull Prison after she was found guilty of murdering her husband Arthur by poisoning his corned beef with strychnine.

Ethel protested her innocence and at a court trial she was defended by infamous barrister Norman Birkett QC, who had never lost a murder case before. However, it took the jury just one hour to find Ethel guilty of murder.

The jury, her family, the public and even the Lord Mayor of Hull all campaigned for a reduction of her sentence, but this was to no avial and she was hanged

Now, 84 years later, Ethel’s cousin Jill Brown is desperate to discover the truth about Ethel in the programme, which will air on Friday at 3.45pm.

Ms Brown discovered the case via her late father, who had researched his family history extensively. Jill has many questions for the barristers and wants to know if there was proof that

Ethel was guilty of poisoning her husband, or if the case was simply built on suspicion and circumstantial evidence.

As part of the show, barristers Jeremy Dein and Sasha Wass will investigate the poisoning of Arthur by Ethel, which was exposed at the time by an anonymous note.

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The programme will look at how the First World War veteran and Lincolnshire lorry driver fell ill after eating corned beef on May 22, 1934. He complained of suffering convulsions and severe pain, but nothing untoward was suspected at first.

Arthur died two days later. Coincidentally, the neighbour’s dog had also died after eating the left over corned beef.

Originally the cause of death was given as epilepsy and his funeral was set for May 26, however the police got a tip off in a letter signed “Fairplay” and stopped the funeral, taking Ethel in for questioning.

An autopsy carried out by the famous pathologist, Dr. Roche Lynch, revealed that both Arthur and the dog had been poisoned with strychnine.

Ethel’s father kept some poisons at home for use in connection with his work as a gamekeeper and these were in a locked chest, but the key for the chest had gone missing.

A search of Ethel’s handbag revealed the chest key, however when she was asked about the poisons Ethel told police she did not know about them nor that her husband had died of strychnine poisoning, which had not been mentioned by the police, and as a result she was charged with murder.

Ethel was tried at Lincoln between October 28 and November 2 1934, before Mr. Justice Charles.

She nearly collapsed when the verdict and sentence were pronounced and had to be assisted, sobbing, from the dock.

Ethel appealed the verdict on the basis that the judge’s summing up was biased but this was dismissed.

She was hanged by Tom Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew, Albert, at Hull prison at 9am on Wednesday, December 19, 1934.

This was the last of ten hangings and the only female execution at Hull.

According to myths, Ethel’s ghost is said to still haunt the prison where she is buried.