This is the third post in a themed series for May Murder Month. You can read previous posts here and here.
A significant proportion of murders committed in the interwar period were committed in the domestic sphere, as they are today. Of the 130 women sentenced to death between 1900 and 1950, 102 had killed a child, usually their own and usually when the child was very young. After the adoption of the 1922 Infanticide Act, women who killed their own children were tried for manslaughter rather than murder, which lessened their sentence.
The other significant group of domestic killings were perpetrated by men killing their wives, girlfriends, or ex-partners. Almost all of the famous murders of the interwar period fall into this category. Scholars have argued that the trial reporting on these ‘domestic homicides’ ‘provided significant moments when fractures in the values and aspirations of (often) respectable private lives were held up for exhaustive public scrutiny.’ These murder cases have therefore often been used by historians as vehicles for a wider understanding of private lives and the performance of masculinity and femininity.
When considering homicide data, there are two datasets to work from: the people who were convicted of murder and given a death sentence; and those for whom their sentence was not commuted and who were actually executed. Around 60% of men who were sentenced to death were executed. Out of the 223 executions that took place in the interwar period, 118 (53%) were of individuals who had killed a partner or family member, so involved in a so-called ‘domestic homicide’. In the first year after the Great War, 1920, 21 people were executed – a much higher number than in any of the subsequent years of the interwar period. All 21 individuals were men who had killed their wife, girlfriend or ex-girlfriend. This suggests that the end of the war saw a spike in domestic violence as traumatised men returned from the front to partners who had had a completely different war experience, and indeed may have started relationships with others during the conflict.
Later into the interwar period, even less famous murder trials can reveal much about the private lives of marginalised groups of Londoners, such as those who were not British and those who lived in poverty. In 1934, a Cypriot man killed the landlord of his lodging house over a quarrel about a woman. Georgios Kalli Georgiou had lived with his girlfriend ‘as husband and wife’ in a different lodging house, meaning that they shared a bedroom and bed without being formally married. When they moved into the house run by Thomas James in Torrington Square, Georgios and the woman took separate rooms and she started working as a housekeeper for Thomas James. Georgios quickly became suspicious that his partner had moved her affections to Thomas, and the situation came to a head in a three-way quarrel during which Georgios stabbed Thomas to death. Although Georgios was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, after an appeal the Home Secretary reprieved him and Georgios was held captive in a prison camp on the Isle of Wight for the next nine years, instead.
As this case reveals, interpersonal relationships and living arrangements could be the catalyst for violence. In this instance, however, the foreign identity of the perpetrator, and the relative acceptance of male-on-male violence as a ‘normal’ part of masculine behaviour, likely influenced the Home Office’s decision to grant Georgios a reprieve. In other cases, the perceived social and moral transgressions of perpetrators and/or victims, as revealed during trial hearings, were presented as ‘morality tales’ by the daily press. The famous conviction of Edith Thompson has been covered numerous times in this blog; in 1935 the murder of Francis Rattenbury by his wife’s lover (and the couple’s chauffeur) gave audiences a similar ringside seat to a menage à trois between an older man, a middle-aged wife and a young lover. Although, unlike Edith Thompson, Alma Rattenbury was acquitted of the murder charge brought against her, she committed suicide a few days after her release from prison. The denouement of this case was therefore arguably almost as salacious as that of the Thompson-Bywaters trial some 12 years earlier.
Although domestic homicides constituted a large proportion of the homicides during the interwar period, only cases that were perceived to reveal something that was normally private became established in popular culture. Abusive relationships that escalated to murder rarely became notorious, but cases in which either the woman transgressed her traditional role and enacted violence on a man; or in which relationships were revealed to not be as harmonious as they had appeared, the murders became cemented as morality tales into the popular imagination.
 Annette Ballinger, Dead Women Walking: Executed women in England and Wales, 1900-1955 (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000), p. 1
 Shani D’Cruze, ‘Intimacy, Professionalism and Domestic Homicide in Interwar Britain: the case of Buck Ruxton’, Women’s History Review, 2007, vol. 16 no. 5, 701-722 (702)
 See D’Cruze, ‘Intimacy, Professionalism and Domestic Homicide’; Julie English Early, ‘A New Man for a New Century: Dr. Crippen and the Principles of Masculinity’ in Disorder in the Court: Trials and Sexual Conflict at the Turn of the Century, ed. by George Robb and Nancy Erber (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), 209-230; Ginger Frost ‘She is but a Woman’: Kitty Byron and the English Edwardian Criminal Justice System’ in Gender & History, 2004, Vol. 16, no. 3, 538-560; Lucy Bland, Modern women on trial: sexual transgression in the age of the flapper (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013)
 Bland, Modern women on trial, p. 216