Domini Mortum

By Paul Holbrook

A supernatural murder mystery novel set in late Victorian London.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

An Interview with... a murderous old lady?

As I opened the garden gate, I stopped for a moment to look up and down the street.  ’This is the perfect setting,’ I thought to myself, ‘just right for what I am aiming for.’  I had journeyed to a small market town in North Yorkshire following a response to my classified advert.  I had placed it in the hope of finding subjects on which to base my latest book, as yet untitled, but which would look at the true life, sinister undercurrent of our society.  Those people who appear relatively normal until they are caught going one step too far and find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

These are the people who form the basis of urban legend; that strange man who lives alone and is continually re-concreting his patio; the women with torture chambers in their cellars where they lure unsuspecting men to their houses with the promise of sex but who subject them to slow painful deaths.

Following the lack of real success at my first interview, I had done my homework this time, done a bit of research into my subject, made sure that I would not be wasting my time.  In the case of this subject, there seemed to be definitely something to this story, and if true, it would be the perfect example of the type of subject I was looking for. 

As I made my way up the path of the neat, well tended garden, the anticipation within me grew.  I had spoken to the lady in question on the telephone three days ago to get a general overview of why she felt that she could take part in my study.  She was well spoken, polite, charming in fact and almost seemed too keen to get me to visit her.  Her name was Edna Bowes.  She lived, as I said, in a small market town on her own and spent her days knitting and watching daytime television.  ’Nothing peculiar there’ I thought.

“Tell me,” I asked, “why have you responded to my advert?  How do you feel that your story applies to this particular study?”

“Well dear,” she said in a fairly well spoken voice with just a hint of the West Ridings.  “You see, I have been married five times.”

Again, nothing too odd or bizarre in that, fair enough, that is maybe quite a few marriages but not completely out of the ordinary.  ”And?”  I pressed, thinking that this was another time waster, “go on.”

“I’ve had five husbands over the years, and quite a few boyfriends as well in between and the fact is… I killed them all, some slowly some quickly, but I got them all in the end.”

“Oh, that really is something that I could consider including,” I said in a calm voice, but secretly jumping for joy inside.  ”Are you available on Thursday of this week?  I could come and visit you and you could tell me some more about it.”

She agreed and gave me her address and said she would look forward to seeing me then.  As I came off the phone, I had a sudden feeling that I had been duped, that this was just another attention seeking time waster looking to earn a few quid by telling me a tall story about how they may, or may not have killed a few people in the past.

The doubt gnawed at me over the next couple of hours, so I decided to do a bit of digging, try to find out if there was even a shred of truth in what she said.  My search did not take too long.  Looking into the archives of the local newspaper where she lived uncovered more than enough information to draw me in.  

‘The Black Widow Escapes!’  There it was in bold letters, The Gazette & Herald 15th October 1994, somewhat more than the shred of truth that I was looking for. 

‘Edna Bowes left court today, acquitted of the murder of her fourth husband.  Mrs Bowes has previously been suspected but never convicted of the murder or disappearance of all of her previous husbands.  The jury found Mrs. Bowes not guilty on all charges and the case has now been referred back to the police for further investigation into the murder of Stanley Bowes, 42.’

As I now approached the door of the house of this unproven serial killer, I must admit to feeling not a little nervous.  There must be some truth in the stories, often the cases against her collapsed on a legal technicality, insufficient DNA evidence or shoddy police work.  This might just be my first real suburban killer, a predator, vicious and cold blooded, just the person to set my work flying.

I stood on the door step and rang the bell, trying to peer through the netted curtains in the door for a first glimpse of this supposed murderous vixen.  This ‘black widow’ who preyed on unsuspecting men, lured into her web of sex and then, when they could not escape, mercilessly slaughtered them in horrific and debasing ways.  My wait was nearly over.  I saw a dark shadow approaching the door, walking slowly with the stealth and guile of a predatory big cat moving towards their prey.  

‘I could run now,’ I thought to myself, ‘I could run and still get away, forget the study, I don’t have the guts for it anyway.  Not when it comes to facing real life murderers.’

Too late, door opened, on a chain.  ”Who’s there?” demanded a female voice, “who is it?”

“You er … spoke to me on the telephone the other day,” I stammer “I’m doing a study and you wanted to be part of it, said you had some personal history I might be interested in, remember?”

“Mmmm, yes.”  The door closed again and I heard the noise of the chain being removed. The thought of running again crossed my mind, not too late.  The door slowly opened and there she stood, my first face to face confrontation with a suburban killer.

She stood a little over five feet tall, she may have been taller but she had a slight hunch.  Her hair was white, curly and in a short perm with a slight blue tinge to it.  She wore thick-lensed glasses, the frames of which seemed to cover most of her small wrinkled face.  She was… an old lady.  Probably in her eighties maybe even more.  A less sinister looking individual I could not have dreamt of.  I was gutted.  Where was the cold blooded fox who all men should be wary of?  Where was the … the Black Widow.  She looked like my grandmother.  This was not good.

“Come in dear, come this way, I’ve just put the kettle on.”  She said turning and shuffling away towards a door on the left hand side of her hallway.  

For the third time today, I felt like leaving but this time for completely different reasons.  I had been done, caught out.  Of course, this woman has never been convicted, look at her, she’s harmless.

I decide to humour her, at least for the length of time it took to drink a cup of tea.  What harm can it do, it had taken me three hours to get here.  I’ll have a quick drink, maybe ask to use her toilet, then make my excuses and go.

I entered her living room and saw exactly what I expected.  The carpet seemed to have been put down sometime in the early seventies when multi coloured, swirly patterns were all the rage.  Over time the colours had faded and the carpet was becoming threadbare, the bare patches not quite covered by a beige furry rug.  There were shelves filled with clutter; pottery cats, ornamental tea sets and other such stuff, which you would find in the homes of someone her age.

She had entered the living room in front of me and then gone through a side door into the kitchen, where I could hear her preparing tea.  ”Make yourself at home dear, have a seat.”  I looked at the chairs in the room.  There was one, well worn green padded chair with wooden legs, which sat in front of the fireplace, facing an old wooden panelled television set in the corner of the room.  On the wall to my right sat a small two seated sofa with white lace coverings on the arms and the backrest.

I took a seat on the sofa, perching on the edge, ready to make a quick getaway at any time and get back home to search for a real murderer.  She shuffled into the room carrying a tray with a teapot, cups, a milk jug and sugar bowl on it.  The noise of the contents of the tray tinkled as she walked with shaking hands.  

‘How could I have been frightened of meeting this woman?’ I thought, ‘what is she going to do, beat me to death with a tea tray?’  I allowed myself a smile at the stupidity of the situation in which I now found myself.  

One for the interviews, when my book is released maybe, that funny story of the little old lady who claimed to be a serial killer just for a bit of attention.  Sad really.  ”Here let me help you with that,” I said, standing again to take the tray off her and place it on the table by the side of her chair.

“Thank you dear, very kind.”  She turned slightly and with an obvious effort edged back into the green chair, slowly sitting when the backs of her legs touched it.  ”I haven’t got the strength I used to have, dear.  Not any more.”  She laughed a little to herself and set about pouring the tea from the pot into the china cups.  ”Help yourself to milk and sugar, please.”

“I’m very grateful to you for letting me come to see you like this,” I said placing a teaspoon of sugar into my cup and stirring it.  ”Very grateful, I shouldn’t take up too much of your time, I’m very busy writing at the moment, preparing my study.”  There, I had laid the ground work, quick cuppa and I’ll be on my way.  ”You said that you had killed all five of your husbands?  That really must have taken some doing, and you’ve never been … suspected, caught, convicted?”

“Oh no,” she laughed, “I’m too clever for all those buggers, too clever by half.  No, they never got me for any of them.  They tried of course, tried their best, but no, they never really got me for them.”  She sat back in her chair, a contented smile spreading across her sweet little old lady face.  I must admit to smiling myself, however the humour I saw in the situation was more of self deprecation for being caught out by a batty, aged pensioner.

“How did you do it?  The killings … Do you have a preferred method of killing?”  If I was going to get caught in this situation, I might as well have fun with it.

“Oooh no, no favourite way dear, I just did what came to me when the moment arose.  I stabbed a couple, drowned one, even hanged one of them, and made it look like suicide.”  She let out a naughty little giggle at the memory.  

‘Maybe I should call Social Services,’ I thought, ‘and let them know that there’s someone with dementia who could use some intervention.’

“And that’s just the husbands,”  she continued “that’s not including the other men I have had here at one time or another, boyfriends, acquaintances or just one night stands, the ones I used for sex and then killed.”  

At that point, I nearly spat out the mouthful of tea I had just taken in.  

‘That’s not right,’ I thought to myself.  ’No that’s not right at all, she really does need help.’  I was beginning to feel more a mixture of pity for this poor deluded old dear and revulsion at the mental image she had placed in my mind of her having sex.  I coughed slightly, not knowing what to say.  ’Best not to say anything.’  I thought taking another sip of tea.  ’Drink up and get out of here.’

“Poison!”  She said suddenly

This time I did spit out some tea, which landed on my knee.  ”Pardon?” I said, feeling a bit more nervous now.  Maybe she believes her delusion so much that she is making it reality.

“Poison dear,” she smiled “Poison is how I got the last couple, I just don’t have the strength to strangle a man any more.  Not with my arthritis being what it is.  No, I just wouldn’t have the strength to hold a man’s head under the water until he died, I just can’t grip properly.”  She lifted her hands and I could see that, even if her memories were based somehow in reality, she wouldn’t have been able to do much harm with them.

“No, I just don’t have it in me any more for any of the physical stuff, oh the sex yes…” At that point, I must admit to gagging a little and feeling a rising bile in my throat.  Thankfully, for me, and for her carpet, I took control and pushed it down again.  

“…Yes I still love a bit of the old ‘how’s your father’, but killing with these hands?  Not any more.  It’s poison for me now.”

I had heard enough.  “Yes … that’s er…great” I said, “well it’s been lovely meeting you but really I should be off now, places to go people to see you know.”  I placed my cup back on the tray and stood up, determined that I should put an end to this straight away.  Angry at myself for setting myself up to be the sounding board for the sad and deluded minority who wished to bring attention to themselves by claiming the outrageous.

Maybe my study was a waste of time after all.  Maybe there was no seething underbelly of the local community.  Maybe it’s just my brain and my wish for some truth to urban legends and stories of cold blooded killers living among us in suburbia.  What an idiot.

“Oh, do you have to go so soon?  You’ve only just got here, I haven’t shown you around the house yet, shown you where I did the killing” She went to stand but didn’t make it first time.  Slowly she placed her hands on the armrests of her chair and with some effort pushed herself to her feet.

“No…There’s no need to get up, honestly, I’ll let myself out.  I think I have everything I need.”  Before she could say another word, I had made my way out of the living room into the hallway and was making my way towards her front door.

“I’ve got pictures you know!”  She shouted after me”… of the bodies.  I took pictures of them after I had done them in, they’re in my photo album.  Let me fetch it…”

But I was gone, through the door, up the garden path and onto the street, cursing myself for being such a fool.  My study was now in tatters.  I had been wrong all along.  Normal people weren’t murderers, but some wanted attention, to be listened to, and they didn’t mind making things up to get it.

I made my way to the train station, trying to piece together in my mind what was left of my work for the last six months.  Was it salvageable?  Could I try approaching it from a different angle?  I didn’t think so, that was it, the end.

For the next two months, I had no purpose, no direction.  I tried to adjust my previous work to fit a new angle but it just did not work.  I would have to start again, something different, another format for a book.

Until one morning, I went into the newsagents in the high street and saw it.  There it was in black and white.

I did not know whether to be overjoyed or to be even more distraught at what I had done, what I had lost.  What I did know was that I had hit on something, an idea, a focus, something that the public would love and that would sell my books by the lorry load.  I had it.

‘The Black Widow’s House of Horror’

‘A small market town in North Yorkshire has been rocked today following the death of one of it’s residents, Edith Bowes, 94.’

‘Neighbours had contacted the Police after not having seen Mrs Bowes for a number of days.  When they gained entry to her house they found her dead in her armchair, it appears she had died peacefully in her sleep.  On her lap they found a photograph album which contained pictures of the dead bodies of over twenty men possibly dating back to the 1950s.’

‘Mrs Bowes had been married five times and had been previously suspected but never convicted of their murders.  Upon further searching of the house, Police appear to have found the remains of a number of men in her cellar, which contained shackles and instruments of torture.  An in depth search of the house and the garden is now taking place ….’



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