I had the opportunity to view the Police files for this case a number of years ago, and handled many handwritten documents and ephemera relating to the awful crime.
When handling such things, it is both fascinating and macabre; especially a case that also involves tangled romances.
As with most famed criminals, the one in question in this story had at least two aliases. The name he was tried under was Joseph Reginald Victor Clarke also known as Reginald Kennedy, also known by his many lovers as ‘Teddy Bear’. He was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk circa 1908, and when his parents separated – he was taken in by a female relative. At the age of 16, his carer passed away – he took this as a sign to join his mother; whom had emigrated to Virginia. At around this time, he acted as a subject for hypnotism at Princeton University, where he worked in the kitchens – he later claimed he used this as a tool in his love affairs. After romancing the daughter of a well to do businessman and going ‘too far’ – he was found out by her father and he fled, taking passage on a liner as a pantry boy back to England in 1927.
Setting foot on home soil once again, he was soon up to his Valentino ways – he began courting a girl in Southampton – where he had landed. He somehow managed to convince her to buy him a whole wardrobe full of new clothes, he also began affairs with a number of other young ladies at this time – all of them doling out money to him; him feeding them various chat up lines and that he was a ‘spark’ on a big Atlantic liner. After a while, he either tired of his situation – or more likely, he was again chased out of town, and he set his anchor down in Liverpool.
On a rainy day in early 1928, he met Miss Mary Agnes Fontaine, whilst both taking shelter under the same doorway. He was charming and seemed like a nice boy, again she fell for his talk of steamships and grand ocean adventures – and it wasn’t long before she had invited him to tea at her family home; 110 Northbrook Street. She shared this house with her widowed mother, Alice, who also welcomed this bespectacled stranger into their cosy home – yet, it was not long before she had her doubts.
He resided at the large house rent free, and also borrowed varying sums of money from the two women – which he never repaid. Their nickname for him ‘Teddy Bear’ seemed very misjudged even at this early stage. Just as Mary accepted his proposal of marriage, Mrs Fontaine found a love letter from one of Clarke’s many past flames. This was a recent letter, with the young lady writer professing her love for him and still believing they were very much destined to be together.
When we look at some of the letters he sent to his various ‘loves’ – we can see how his pathetic rhetoric made him seem helpless to them…
‘Oh girl! Can you imagine wearing the same underclothes for six weeks with never a change? … Or sleeping in the nook of a warehouse with a sack for a mattress?’
He once romanced four sisters in the same family at once without arousing their parents suspicion. When he was apprehended by the girls’ mother – he attempted to strangle her. When then banished from the family for good – he produced a pyjama cord from his pocket and attempted to strangle the youngest daughter, who was also his favourite. Luckily, the young terrified girl had a lucky escape by screaming for the Police – and Clarke left the family alone. They did not go to the press or police, due to fear of the shame of the whole ordeal.
When Mary and her mother read the letter, they ordered Clarke to leave their home. He refused. They summoned a policeman. He still refused. This went on, with the women receiving poison pen letters from their now unwelcome guest.
On Sunday 4th November, things turned black. The Teddy Bear turned. He first became entangled in an argument with Mrs Fontaine – a war of words on his behaviour, his owing of money, and his betrayal of her daughter. He snapped, just as he had done before. He strangled the woman in front of him, killing her outright – preying upon her already weak lungs. He next turned to his darling ‘Boofie’.
He attempted to strangle his sweetheart with a pyjama cord, grappling around her bedroom. She passed out and he cut her throat. Whilst he got his breath, she awoke, and ran for her life out into Northbrook Street where Sunday worshippers were on their way to and from church.
He went quietly with the police and was held in Walton gaol. From his cell, he wrote to his fiancée – and astoundingly she responded, and stood by him to the end. She visited him in prison numerous times and accepted his love letters.
After two appeals, Clarke faced the fact he was going to be executed. Over 200 people waited outside the prison gates on the morning of his hanging, mostly women.
I have an interest in the after effects of cases such as these, on the people that are left behind when a person close to them was hanged. I have researched Mary Fontaine’s later life, and I’m pleased to say it appears to have been a happy one. She met and married a man named Rodney H. Geary, whom she met whilst working as a stewardess on board a ship. They had at least 3 children, and resided in Garston.