Historic murder victim. Charlotte was a servant at Penhale Farm, on the edge of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, and was involved in a relationship with Matthew Weeks, a farmhand. On a Sunday 14th April, in the afternoon, the couple walked out on the Moor to the foot of Roughtor, where they became embroiled in an argument. Matthew lost his temper and cut her throat. Her body was found in a stream near Roughtor Ford a week later, by which time Matthew had absconded. He was captured in Plymouth, and later tried and convicted in Bodmin where a crowd of 20000 watched him hang. He was buried in the Gaol's coalyard, and the Gaol today is a tourist attraction, as is Bodmin Shire Hall which displays a mock-up of the trial. Charlotte was interred at Davidstow, and a monument erected by public prescription now stands near Roughtor Ford. In the last three decades, doubts have been cast upon Matthew's guilt by the Cornish author Pat Munn, and a Pebble Mill documentary was screened about the case in 1978.
Further information courtesy of Elsadigg:
Cornwall in 1844 was a largely rural county of scattered villages and farms. One
such farm was Penhale, adjoining Bodmin Moor.
The owner was a 61 year old widow, Phillipa Peter, who ran the holding with the
assistance of her 38 year old son, John, and three live-in servants, John
Stevens, Matthew Weeks and Charlotte Dymond. John Stevens was aged about 20. He
had been taken on by Mrs Peter on March 25th. This was Lady Day, the traditional
start of Spring when servants and labourers were taken on or laid off. Matthew
Weeks was about 23, and had been in service with Mrs Peter for seven years.
Matthew was not, by all accounts very prepossessing in appearance. He was 5ft
4inches tall, and lame in his right leg, so that he walked with a noticeable
limp. His face was pock-marked, and he had heavy brows which gave him a sullen
look. When he smiled, the lack of teeth in his top left gum made him appear to
smirk. His best feature was his light brown curly hair. He was generally
considered to be well behaved, and was better dressed than was usual for a farm
labourer. Unknown to the public at the time of the trial, Matthew had come into
a small inheritance in March 1842. This was shortly before he started "keeping
company" with Charlotte, and it may be that the two events were connected. That
Lady Day, Charlotte Dymond, who had lived and worked at Penhale for eighteen
months had been paid off, but come mid-April she remained there, having no other
position to go to. She was about eighteen, and was illegitimate. Although her
parentage has not definitely been identified it has been suggested that she was
the daughter of the village schoolmistress. It had been rumoured that her mother
wouldn't have her in the house, and had said she would kill her if she stepped
inside. The reasons for this are not clear - possibly her mother wished to
protect her reputation, although in communities such as these, everyone at least
knew everyone else, and was most likely related to them, too. Another
possibility was that Charlotte, who was attractive and smartly dressed, was
reputed to be a flirt.
It had been well known for some time that Charlotte and Matthew had been seeing
each other, even before she came to work at Penhale. There was, however, a rival
for Charlotte's affections. Thomas Prout, aged about 26 was a nephew by marriage
of Mrs Peter, and lived some four miles away. Matthew had worked with Prout
before, and they had not got on well together. A few days after Lady Day, Prout
visited Penhale, and John Stevens overheard words between him and Matthew. Prout
had said that he was thinking of moving to Penhale, and if he did, he would soon
deprive Matthew of his girlfriend.
On Sundays the inhabitants of Penhale changed the clothes they had worn all week
for clean ones, and the dirty clothes were put ready for the laundry on Monday.
On Sunday 14th April 1844, a somewhat damp and muddy day, the clothes were
changed as usual, and Matthew got clean blue stockings and a clean shirt. The
shirt was not new - it had been mended by letting a piece into the shoulder, and
the collar button stitching had been strengthened. Later that day, Prout visited
again, and spent some time outside talking to Charlotte. The subject of their
conversation was not revealed until later. At about 4 o'clock, Charlotte and
Matthew had both changed into their best clothes and were preparing to go out,
though where they were bound for they didn't say. Charlotte indicated that she
would not be back in time to milk the cows, though Matthew would. The two set
Later in the evening Isaac Cory, a 63 year old farmer who was related to
Stevens, Prout and Mrs Peter, arrived at Penhale, having been to the afternoon
service at the local church in Davidstow. He mentioned that on the way he had
seen Matthew, who he knew at once by his limping gait, in company with a young
woman. He had not been able to identify the woman, but he described the clothing
Charlotte had been wearing for her walk - a green striped dress and red shawl.
Although it had been foggy earlier, he reckoned he could still see a fair
Mrs Peter's servants were expected to be in at half past nine of an evening.
That night, Mrs Peter, John Stevens and John Peter were in the kitchen. Isaac
Cory had left some time ago. Matthew returned home, but on being questioned said
he did not know where Charlotte was. At half past ten the men went to their
beds, and Mrs Peter waited up for Charlotte, but Charlotte didn't appear and at
half past eleven, Mrs Peter went to bed.
Monday was washday and Charlotte was still missing. Matthew was again questioned
but repeated that he knew nothing of where Charlotte was. Later that day Mrs
Peter was surprised to find that Matthew's blue stockings that he had worn the
previous day were muddied up to the knees. It had rained on the Sunday but not,
she felt, enough to get the stockings into that mess. The mud, she observed, was
like that found in the turf-pits on the moor. Later she again asked Matthew
where Charlotte was and this time he said he had accompanied her as far as the
gate in Higher Down Field, just before the edge of the moorlands. Charlotte, he
said, had gone onto the moor alone, but he had gone in the opposite direction
towards Halworthy, where Mrs Peter's daughter Mary and her husband John Westlake
lived. They had not been at home, but he had called at the house of John
Westlake's mother, Sarah.
Mrs Peter was puzzled by this story, for according to Matthew he had not been on
the moor at all that afternoon, but Isaac Cory had seen him on the moor with a
woman of Charlotte's description.
It was on Tuesday that John Stevens first noticed that Matthew's shirt was torn
at the collar and a button missing. Matthew insisted on mending it himself.
Suspicions were growing, and that day Matthew mentioned to a visitor that if
Charlotte were to be found dead, her mother would be tried for her life. Mrs
Peter tackled him again, insisting on knowing the truth., and this time he had a
story to tell. Charlotte, he said had gone to take up a position at Blisland,
ten miles away, as she had received a week's notice from Mrs Peter. (Mrs Peter
denied this). It was too far to get there that night so she intended to stay the
night at the house of one Hezekiah Spear. She had heard of a position by letter
from Rebecca Lanxton, a niece of Mrs Peter. By Wednesday Mrs Peter was openly
accusing Matthew of making away with Charlotte out of jealousy, but Matthew
stuck to his story.
The work of the farm continued as normal. That Friday a pig was to be killed,
and the local butcher was to do it. Matthew was still wearing the shirt he had
worn the previous Sunday, as there would be no clean one till next Sunday, and
asked the butcher if he could kill the pig, which he did.
The farmhouse may have been isolated but it was not short of visitors and each
one went away with a story to tell about Charlotte's disappearance, so that the
tale spread around the area. The whole household and the neighbours were openly
voicing their suspicions about Matthew. The following Sunday Mrs Peter noticed
the trousers which Matthew had worn when he walked out with Charlotte, and which
were muddied up to the knees in front.
By now, it had been decided that some action must be taken. John Peter and John
Stevens went out to check on the truthfulness of Matthew's story, and Matthew
himself went out, so Mrs Peter and her daughter decided to search his room.
Apart from two handkerchiefs which they thought might have belonged to Charlotte
and a newspaper cutting which Matthew had brought back from his mother three
weeks before they found nothing suspicious. As to the handkerchiefs, it could
not be proved that Charlotte had had either of them when she went out, and the
cutting which was about a murder case, related to a man in prison being
supported by his daughter. Why Matthew should have had this is not clear,
especially as he could not read, but it is of doubtful relevance to the case. It
was also known that Matthew had kept some of Charlotte's clothes for her in a
box in his room, so the presence of the handkerchiefs was not especially
suspicious, but these were all details which told against him at the trial.
When the two Johns arrived back at Penhale the results of their enquiries gave
rise to even deeper suspicion. Charlotte had never stayed at Hezekiah Spear's
house, and Rebecca Lanxton had not sent her a letter - in fact she had not even
known Charlotte was in need of a position so had not looked for one for her. It
was clear that someone was lying. Either Matthew had made up the story to
account for Charlotte's disappearance, or Charlotte herself had made it up and
he had simply repeated it.
But where was Matthew? On Sunday April 21st, a week after Charlotte's
disappearance, he had put on his best clothes, taken an umbrella and walked out
of Penhale farm, never to return.
The following Monday was washday again, and Mrs Peter found the shirt Matthew
had worn on the day of his walk with Charlotte, and had continued to wear during
the week. Inspecting it she saw that the stitching of the pleats on the front
was unripped, and the collar was partly torn off. There were also some blood
spots on the shirt. By now, the case against Matthew seemed complete, especially
as he seemed to have fled, so it was decided that the Moor should be searched.
On the Tuesday, the three Johns, Peter, Stevens and Westlake together with a
neighbour, who unusually didn't seem to be related to anyone else, set out to
search the Moors. As they proceeded through Higher Down field they noticed the
print of pattens, undershoes worn by women to protect their shoes against the
wet. Three quarters of a mile from Penhale farmhouse was Higher Down gate where
Matthew said he had left Charlotte. The marks continued onto the moorland where
they ended, as the ground was too grassy to take a print. Joined by another
neighbour, the party walked toward Lanlary Rock, a local landmark towards which
Cory said he had seen Weeks and his companion walking, and in the boggy ground
beneath the rock found prints of the same pattens they had seen earlier. They
also found a man's boot print. The party had swollen to twelve by Roughtor Ford,
and split into two groups either side of the River Alan. They followed the
stream to a place where the land was washed in water when the level rose in bad
weather.Beside the stream was the body of a woman.
She lay face upwards, about a foot from the where the water was flowing but
looking as though she had been washed with the water. Her throat had been cut.
Her shoes were missing as were her pattens, bonnet, bonnet cap, handkerchief,
bag, shawl and gloves. There was no blood to be seen and no sign of a weapon,
but just behind the head was a broken coral necklace. Some of the men retraced
their steps to look for footprints and found prints of patterns and a man's
boots. These latter had metal toe and heel plates, which meant they were his
best boots. Working boots had no toe plates but were nailed all over the sole.
The clothes on the corpse were wet underneath but dry on top suggesting they had
dried as the water level receded, and there were pale stains on the gown - blood
washed pale by river water. A doctor, Thomas Good, was called to examine the
body on the spot, and then it was taken back to Penhale by cart and placed in
On the following day, Good examined the body in detail. The wound that had ended
Charlotte's life had been terrible indeed. It was eight and a half inches in
length, starting on the left side of her neck and extending all the way around
to the right. It passed two and a half inches below her ear and was two and a
half inches deep. It was deeper on the left side, where the whole of the soft
tissues were divided right down to the bone. The windpipe was completely
divided, the oesophagus partly. The instrument had even gone between two
vertebrae partially separating them. Although from external appearance there was
one long cut, the fact that an artery had been severed and then nicked in
another place suggested that there had been two cuts made. It was clear that
great force had been used. The roughness of the sides of the wound meant that
the instrument was unlikely to have been very sharp. He did not think it
possible that she could have inflicted the wound herself. She was a healthy
woman, not pregnant, although the hymen had been ruptured some time before.
At the inquest, evidence was given regarding Matthew's story of having visited
the Westlakes, all of whom said they had not seen him on the day he had walked
out with Charlotte. Isaac Cory told of having seen Matthew on the moor with a
woman, and two other witnesses came forward to say they had seen a man and a
woman walking towards Roughtor Ford. One of them observed that the man was lame.
The inquest jury found a verdict of murder against Matthew Weeks.
On the way he passed through Coad's Green where he learned that Matthew had
called on the Stevens family on his way to Larrick, and had shown one of the
children a black silk woman's handbag he kept in his pocket. The Constable knew
that Matthew's sister lived in Plymouth, and it was there that Matthew was found
and arrested. It seemed that he had been intending to travel on to the Channel
Islands. A search of Matthew's pockets revealed a pair of striped ladies'
gloves. His best boots were taken to the moor to compare them with the prints
found there, and although the prints were no longer very distinct, it was felt
that there was a match. The constable also found some marks on Matthew's jacket
which he was sure was blood. One of Charlotte's handkerchiefs was in Matthew's
pocket and his own handkerchief, spotted with blood.
An informal hearing was held before three justices, and the evidence was laid
before them. By now, Matthew had made a further statement in which he admitted
walking with Charlotte further than he had at first said - he now said he had
crossed over the road and walked a little way, nearly up to the spot where Isaac
Cory had seen him. Cory and his wife had visited the moors again, with a
constable, determined to find Charlotte's missing clothes. In the marsh, less
than half a mile from where the body was found, and in the direction of Penhale
he found in a turf pit, hidden with moss Charlotte's shoes, pattens, shawl,
bonnet and a piece of string. In the wet turfy marsh were indistinct footprints.
Whoever had passed through the marsh would have been muddied up to his knees. A
man's boot print was found near the pit where the clothes were buried. It was
compared with Matthew's boot and found to be identical.
The constable also took another look at the site where the body was found, and
noticed that a clod of earth had been removed from the bank and replaced.
Lifting it, he found a great deal of blood.
On 25th April Charlotte's body was laid to rest in Tremail. Matthew remained in
custody and the trial opened at Bodmin Assize Court on August 2nd 1844, when he
pleaded "not guilty". Asked if the wound that killed Charlotte was the kind a
person might have inflicted upon themselves, Surgeon Good initially agreed, but
later made a point of explaining his testimony. He made it clear that he thought
it impossible that she could have inflicted such a wound as that. It is
difficult to know what Good had meant when initially referring to the "type of
wound", and I can only speculate that he was speaking of the generality of knife
wounds to the throat. The direction, from left to right was consistent with
suicide, but it was also consistent with a right handed assailant from behind.
The judge in his summing up agreed that it was next to impossible for the wound
to be self inflicted, and that Charlotte had been murdered. Twelve hours after
the jurors had been empanelled they filed out to make their decision. At twenty
four minutes past ten they returned after only 35minutes of deliberation to
bring in a verdict of guilty, and Matthew was sentenced to be hanged. He was
brought back to Bodmin Gaol in a state of collapse.
While in Gaol, Matthew dictated two letters (he could not read or write) one to
his family, which mainly dealt with the disposition of his assets, and one to
Mrs Peter. He also dictated a confession. I will return to these later, but I
find it interesting that the confession was in far more literate language than
the two letters.
At noon on 12th August 1844 Matthew Weeks was led from the Gaol, and hanged in
accordance with the law. He was buried in the coal yard adjoining the Gaol.
I want now to look at the evidence of the eyewitnesses to Matthew and Charlotte
being on the moor. The first such witness is Isaac Cory. The interesting thing
about his statement is that he commented on what he saw only a short time after
seeing it, to the inhabitants of Penhale, at a time when Charlotte was probably
still alive. The other two witnesses came forward much later. Isaac Cory reached
his wheat field at Trevillian's Gate at about twenty to five. He stopped to
inspect the field, and saw Matthew Weeks with a young woman who was wearing a
red shawl. Ms Munn makes a great deal of the fact that Cory did not identify
Charlotte who was also known to him by sight, however there is nothing very
strange about this. The woman with Matthew had an umbrella which was up so he
could not see her bonnet, and her back would have been to him. Matthew, of
course was more identifiable by his characteristic limping gait.
Before we go on I shall give some indication of distances. From Penhale Farm to
Roughtor Ford is about 4 miles. Penhale to Higher Down Gate ¾ mile and 220
yards, Higher Down Gate to Lanlary Rock, 1 ½ miles, Lanlary Rock to Roughtor
Ford 1 ¼ miles. The average walking speed on normal ground is about 3 miles per
hour (and not 5 as Ms Munn suggests). On rough ground, a limping man and a woman
wearing pattens would have averaged far less. Cory stated he had seen the pair
south of the road, on the moor, about 60 yards from the corner of his field. He
also mentioned that they had been going at a steady pace but not fast, and that
twenty minutes later they were about a quarter of a mile further on. This is a
very slow pace indeed.
By the time of the inquest, there were two more witnesses to the couple on the
moor. William Gard was a Wesleyan minister of 48 and had passed Roughtor Ford at
about 5 30, going approximately westwards. Just before reaching it he saw a man
and a woman on the Lanlary Rock side of the Ford, walking at a very slow pace as
if away from the ford and towards Lanlary Rock. The man wore a frock coat and
the woman carried an umbrella. He observed them for about five minutes.
Sometimes the man would stop , and the woman would walk on and stop, and then
the man would catch her up. They did this several times. He had observed them
before at a greater distance and they had seemed then to be going towards the
Ford. Going on his way Gard occasionally looked back at them and saw that they
would occasionally go a few steps and then stop. When last seen they were
standing still and looking towards the Ford. He did not distinguish their
features or, due to the slowness of their walk, notice if the man limped. He was
not able to positively identify either of the two people.
Richard Pethick was a 20 year old cattle farmer. At six o'clock he saw two
people coming from Lanlary Rock in the direction of Roughtor Ford. Occasionally
they would stop and turn to face each other. The man was little and lame and the
woman carried an umbrella. Pethick was seeking his cattle and so lost sight of
the couple, but he returned later and saw the couple about 70 yards from
Roughtor Ford, standing about twenty yards apart. He added that as the woman had
an umbrella he couldn't see her face. He spoke to them, asking if they were
afraid of each other, or if they had lost their way, but they didn't reply. He
noticed the man's dark frock coat and also his limp. He moved on and lost sight
of them, but his curiosity had been aroused by their behaviour. He got off his
horse and went back to observe them. They were now standing closer together and
he observed them for ten minutes, then he left. This would have been at about 7
o'clock. When he got home he mentioned having seen them. At the magistrate's
hearing Pethick would say no more than that Matthew was very like the man he had
seen on the moor, though by the time of the trial he was willing to swear the
man was Matthew.
So the sum total of the eyewitness evidence is that three people saw a man and a
woman on the moors that afternoon. One man knew Matthew by sight and said it was
him straightaway, the other two described someone of Matthew's build and dress,
and one of them noticed his limp. None of the three identified Charlotte, but
all described a woman in a dark dress with an umbrella which made it impossible
to see her face. Cory saw the couple at approximately 4.40 on their way towards
Roughtor, and the other two saw them later on, between Lanlary Rock and
Roughtor. Both saw the couple acting strangely, in that they were obviously not
on their way anywhere but walking back and forth, stopping and starting. There
is sufficient similarity between the three accounts to make it extremely likely
that the three observations were of the same couple. The last two observations,
which are notable for the description of the odd pattern of progress, surely
must be of the same couple. There is no evidence to suggest that a completely
different couple was observed, or that Matthew was on the moors with a woman who
was not Charlotte. It has been suggested that Charlotte was on the moors with a
man who was not Matthew, but no-one mentioned that there was another short
limping man in the neighbourhood who might have been confused with him. The
simplest explanation is that the three observations were of Charlotte and
Ms Munn has paced out the land and drawn conclusions about how fast Charlotte
would have been travelling. A lot depends on where she was going and how fast
she needed to get there, and I will return to that point shortly. Charlotte and
Matthew were seen by Isaac Cory approximately a mile from Penhale, about 40
minutes after they set out, that is at 20 to 5. Gard saw the couple going back
and forth between Lanlary Rock (3 miles from Penhale) and Roughtor Ford (4 miles
from Penhale) at 5.30. This suggests they covered a mile in 40 minutes, and
about 2 miles more in 50 minutes. We don't know how precise the timings and
distance estimates of the witnesses were, but it is certainly possible for the
couple to have made the journey they did without exceeding a reasonable walking
One of the oddities of this case is the fact that Charlotte's body lay
undiscovered for so long. This has led to suggestions that she was not killed
where she lay, and her body was brought there later. The extracts from the post
mortem I have seen do not refer to the degree of decomposition of the body, but
we do know that if Charlotte's body had lain partially in cold running water
this would have greatly slowed the process. If there had been any indication
that she had been killed much later than nine days since she had last been seen
alive, Surgeon Good would surely have mentioned it, but in none of his medical
evidence did he suggest that the murder had taken place anywhere other than
where the body lay or on any other day than 14th April. The pooling of the blood
at the spot is conclusive evidence that the murder happened right there, but how
was it possible for the body to lie there that length of time, undiscovered? I
had wondered that until I myself visited the site. The body had been found on
the banks of the little stream on the Advent Parish Side, the opposite bank from
where the monument to Charlotte now stands, and a little way down from Roughtor
Ford. The Advent side slopes down to the stream which cuts deeply into the land
so that the opposite side in St Breward parish is a vertical bank. To get there
I had to leap a number of rivulets and wade through tall grasses. If the body
had been rolled down the sloping bank to the stream, it would not have been
easily visible to the casual passer-by until they were quite close.
To summarise: Charlotte Dymond was last seen alive with Matthew Weeks, whom she
had been seeing for two years and had thrown over for another man. Matthew
returned from that walk with a torn and bloody shirt, and trousers covered in
turfy mud. Before murder was suspected he told lies about both his and
Charlotte's whereabouts during the crucial time, and when suspicions against him
grew, he fled. Her body was found near the spot where they were last seen
together, and her possessions buried in turfy mud. After Mathhew's trial he made
no protestations of innocence, but accepted his fate.
When one comes down to it, this is a simple murder tale of a classic kind.
People love unsolved mysteries, and feel dissatisfied with a mundane closure to
a case such as this, but my observation is that murder is frequently commonplace
and predictable. I believe that when Matthew and Charlotte walked out that day
he had no plans to kill her. They did not tell anyone where they were going
because their purpose was not to travel to any specific place - that is borne
out by their slow pace, the stopping and starting and going back and forth. I
think that they went outside onto the rainy moor in order to have some privacy
in which to talk. Which one of them prompted this, we do not know. They had a
great deal to say to each other, or maybe they did what so many in their
position have done before, talk round and round in circles, going over the
emotional ground again and again. They certainly talked for a long time. It was
four when they left Penhale, and at seven they were still out, talking, but
three hours is not a long time to rake over the embers of a two year
relationship. According to Matthew's letter, Charlotte told him she wanted no
more to do with him. She was the kind of girl an ill-favoured young man might
only have dreamed of, yet she had been his for two years. No doubt he had hopes
of marriage. She had rejected him, probably in favour of another man, and this
created a murderous, jealous uncontrollable rage. The condition of Matthew's
shirt suggests that there was a struggle. Charlotte dropped her bag and shawl,
lost the collar and pattens. She may have turned to run from him, and he lunged
at and seized her, pulling back her head, and cut her throat in two deep angry
strokes. There would have been blood on the sleeve of his coat, and scattered
drops on his shirt as he pulled the knife through, but most of the blood coursed
down the front of her dress. He pushed the body down the bank into the stream
where it would be hidden from plain sight, and gathered up her fallen belongings
and buried them in the turf pit to hide them, muddying his stockings and
trousers. He still loved her, and maybe that was what prompted him to keep her
gloves and bag. It was foolish, yes, but no-one ever accused Matthew of being
sensible. Much of his behaviour following Charlotte's disappearance was
extremely short-sighted. Matthew was a man who acted impulsively, and rarely
thought out the long-term consequences of his actions. His stories were aimed
only at putting off the immediate enquiries, without considering that his
statements could be easily checked and disproved the next day. As suspicions
deepened, he fled to Plymouth with the object of taking a ship to the Jersey or
Guernsey. Once found guilty he no longer denied his guilt, but accepted his
The murder of Charlotte Dymond was solved. But then, it was never unsolved.
St David Churchyard
Cornwall Unitary Authority
Plot: recumbent slab on left of path leading to church doors
Created by: Mark McManus
Record added: Sep 03, 2006
Find A Grave Memorial# 15590718
To Charlotte I have heard about you in my Drama Class and we are learning about you|
Added: Mar. 4, 2013
Charlotte, I heard about you in my English class when I read your ballad, and your story has touched me deeply. I am leaving Bluebells for you, and my thoughts are with you, such a beautiful bright young woman with her whole future cut short by the one yo...(Read more)|
Added: Feb. 20, 2013
Charlotte, I heard about you in my English class when I read your ballad, and your story has touched me deeply. I am leaving Bluebells for you, and my thoughts are with you, such a beautiful bright young woman with her whole future cut short by the one yo...(Read more)|
Added: Feb. 20, 2013
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