1st April 1935
Guernsey’s first female murderer goes on trial
Gertrude Elizabeth de la Mere stood trial for the murder of Alfred Brouard. She was a 27-year-old housekeeper and he was a 76-year-old farmer from St Andrews. He was also her employer.
Brouard died on 6 February. Someone had cut his throat with a 12.5in bread knife, the serrated blade of which had cut through all three arteries. He was found in bed at Camp Joinet beside an apparent suicide note, which told the police that his housekeeper had nothing to do with his killing. Coincidentally, he’d also made over his will in her favour.
Guernsey’s first female murder trial
Gertrude de la Mere was arrested, and held for two months awaiting trial. She protested her innocence on both charges, but police had convincing evidence against her. They found blotting paper in her bedroom which, they claimed, bore the impression of the suicide note. In her eyes, this prove that she’d forged it. They also pointed out that while Brouard had been an English teacher the note included spelling mistakes. It seemed unlikely he would have written it.
The prosecution called 40 witnesses, against some of whom the defence objected. Chief among them was Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the doctor who had examined Brouard’s wound. He wasn’t licensed to practice on Guernsey. The defence claimed that on this basis he shouldn’t be allowed to give evidence either. It was a feeble attempt, which the court over-ruled.
Damning blood stains
De la Mare’s dressing gown was the star exhibit. It was spattered with ten bloodstains and hair from the victim’s beard. The prosecution claimed that de la Mare had wiped the knife on it after slashing Brouard’s throat. She countered that the blood got on it from a cut finger.
The trial ran for thirteen days, and de la Mare was found guilty. The decision was unanimous: each of the 11 Jurats sided with the prosecution. They were then asked if she was sane – a question that would determine her fate. Five said they believed she was not, but six said that she was. This majority of one was enough to earn her the first death sentence since John Tapner had been hanged.
She escaped the gallows in the end. Her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She was transferred to Southampton on 29 May to serve her sentence in a mainland jail.
What else happened in Guernsey in April?
A body on a beach, an impossible alibi and an unstoppable race against time!
Check out the first book in The Sarnian series, set on the Channel Island of Guernsey.