The Curious Case of Maud Minnie Mills: Walsall, 1912

Over the past year I have recounted a few tales that drew my attention while listing the cases of the Walsall Coroner some years back. Several further stories have since sprang to mind for a re-telling, but none so mysterious and bizarre as that of Minnie Mills. This story revolves around a horrific event that took place in 1912. Maud Minnie Mills was a 36 year-old woman who was fond of a drink and separated from her husband by court order. On the night of the 29 April, Minnie was to be shot four times in the face and at close range; it was an act that the Coroner described as ‘one of the foullest crimes of murder they have heard of in the annals of Walsall’. Despite the bullets being lodged in her head, it took several days for her to die; indeed, she tried to carry on life as if nothing had happened. Despite the fact it was obvious to the doctors that she had been shot, right up to the last she maintained it was her fault – claiming her injuries were simply the result of a fall. By the time she received medical help, it was too late. A verdict of ‘willful murder’ was passed, but nobody was brought to justice for the crime…

Early Life
Maud Minnie Mills was born in Walsall, in the mid-months of 1875. She was born Maud Minnie Toon, her father, Arthur, having come to Walsall from Atherstone with his parents around 1853. Arthur had, by 1871, settled down with Maria, a local lass. The couple were then living in the Paddock area of Walsall and had already had several children: Alfred (9), Arthur (8), John (4) and Eliza (1 month). Toon, who at 33 was a little older than his wife, was a silver-plater by profession.

The 1881 census shows that the family were still in the same locality and that three further children had arrived: William Toon in 1873, Minnie in 1875 and Joseph in 1879. Arthur and eldest son John were silver-platers, young Arthur was a brass dresser and Minnie, like Eliza and William, was a scholar.

Maud Minnie Toon and family in 1881, at 92 Paddock Lane.  (National Archives)

Maud Minnie Toon and family in 1881, at 92 Paddock Lane. CLICK TO ENLARGE.
(National Archives)

Not long after this census, Arthur Toon got involved in what turned out to become the family trade: beer retailing and the keeping of public houses. Arthur’s father, Job, had started the trait at least as far back as 1871, when he ran the Four Horse Shoes at Pleck (still there). Between the 1880s and the 1920s, several of the family operated pubs. Over these years, the White Swan (Dudley St), the Royal Oak (Lord St, and still standing), the New Inns (John St, nicknamed the Pretty Bricks and still standing), the Coach & Horses (Ablewell St) and the Walsall Arms (Dudley St) were all operated at some time by the family.

The White Swan, Dudley St. Operated from 1899-1920 by John Toon, Minnie's brother. Minnie lived next door at 108 Bath St (Walsall Local History Centre)

The White Swan, Dudley St. Operated from 1899-1920 by John Toon, Minnie’s brother. Minnie lived nearby at 108 Bath St
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Arthur Toon ran the Walsall Arms in Dudley St from the early 1880s until April 1896, which was the same month that Minnie married. It would be de-licensed in 1908. Back in 1891, the 52 year-old Arthur was still a practising silver-plater, so it is likely that the Walsall Arms would be a family operated affair. Maria, now 50, likely worked in the pub full-time; whereas William (an 18 year-old bricklayer) and Joseph (an 11 year-old saddler) helped as and when. It is possible the pub also operated a side-line in dressmaking, as Jane (an 18 year-old niece), Minnie (incorrectly stated as being 14 on the census) and an Alice Frankham (incorrectly listed as a 16 year-old domestic help) were all listed as ‘tailoress or dressmaker’.

The Walsall Arms, Dudley St, 1908. Minnies' former home (Walsall Local History Centre)

The Walsall Arms, Dudley St, 1908. Minnie’s’ former home – taken from sale leaflet.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Married Life: Family and Failure
It isn’t possible to know how and when Minnie met Charles Mills, but she may still have been living at the Walsall Arms at the time. By the time the couple tied the knot at St. John’s Church, Pleck, on 4 April 1896, she was living at as 109 Victor St, Walsall. On her wedding certificate, Minnie was simply described as a spinster and the daughter of a silver-plater; Charles was described as a clerk, the son of a chain-maker and living at 110 Pleck Rd, Walsall.

Charles was the son of Thomas William Mills, the man who owned the Crescent Chain and Anchor Works on the Pleck Rd. Thomas was a local man who married Hannah Newbrook, a farmer’s daughter from Sutton Coldfield, in 1871. Charles was the eldest of several children. He was two years older than Minnie and had grown-up in the Pleck area. In 1881, Charles had three siblings and the family were affluent enough to have a domestic helper as you would expect. Charles’ grandfather, also called Charles, lived in ‘The Crescent’, the large house opposite the works – at this time he still owned the company. By 1891, Mills, at the age of 18, was a clerk and he was still at home, now the 110 Pleck Road address from where he got married in 1896. The family had grown, with two more children arriving. Charles’ grandfather still lived next door, but he was now retired.

The Crescent Chain & Anchor Works, opposite the Workhouse on the Pleck Rd (Walsall Local History Centre)

The Crescent Chain & Anchor Works, adjacent to the canal basin (centre) opposite the Workhouse on the Pleck Rd. ND.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The couple moved into a house together, which seems likely to have been that recorded on the census of 1901: 238 Wednesbury Rd, which is in the Pleck area. Mills remained as a commercial clerk and I can only assume it is a position within his father’s business, hence his living in the Pleck. Things seemed to be going well: Harold Cyril Mills had been born around a year after the marriage and Charlie (to distinguish him from his father) popped-up in early 1899. Towards the end of 1900, Minnie’s father died, but this was mitigated by the arrival of Edmund, the last of the children, in 1902.

So far so good for the Mills', at 238 Wednesbury Rd (National Archives)

So far so good for the Mills’, at 238 Wednesbury Rd
(National Archives)

Things were to change radically. According to Charles Mills’ coroner statement, Minnie had become ‘addicted to excessive drinking’ around 1905/06, although he offered no reason for this. Minnie’s mother passed away in 1909 and, according to Mills, things came to a head in 1910 when Minnie attacked him with a knife. Indeed, he also disposed of some razors for fear of them being used on him. Again, no context was supplied to these claims. Whatever the truth of the incident, we do know from other witnesses that Minnie was a drinker – which I guess is no surprise considering her upbringing and the family trade. Further, according to a deeply moving letter sent to the Coroner, Minnie herself was very aware of her ‘weakness’. Mills walked-out on her after the alleged attack, leaving her to claim for desertion in October 1910. It is likely that the family were then living at 108 Bath St.

The desertion case comes before the magistrate, October 1910 (Walsall Local History Centre)

The desertion case comes before the magistrate, October 1910
(Walsall Local History Centre)

In the November of that year a formal separation was agreed via the Magistrate Court, with Mills giving Minnie 10/- per week for maintenance. Mills would later state that Minnie always hoped for a reconciliation; Mills, by his own later words and deeds, would show that he had no interest in this whatsoever.

A separation is arranged, 11 November 1910 (Walsall Local History Centre)

A separation is arranged, 11 November 1910
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Charles Mills would move in with his parents, who were now living at 185 Bloxwich Rd. Charles took with him Harold, the eldest of the children; and this may suggest that Harold went willingly and supported his father’s view of events. Strangely, having been attacked with a knife, he did not fight for full custody and Minnie held onto Charlie and Edmund; however, unto death she feared he may try to take them – and it seems clear that this, and the forlorn hope of a reconciliation with Charles, were the reasons for her silence over the shooting.

Charles and Harold Mills at 185 Bloxwich Rd, Walsall (National Archives)

Charles and Harold Mills at 185 Bloxwich Rd, Walsall
(National Archives)

The 1911 Red Book lists Charles Mills as the occupier of 108 Bath St that year. Minnie and the two younger boys remained here after the split. Two things are interesting: first, it is a greengrocer’s shop and second, its location on the road. Charles Mills had his own business in Wisemore in 1911 (Allen & Co, a motor fitting makers that was actually a joint business with James Aldridge), so Minnie must have operated the shop on her own (if it existed at that time – it didn’t exist in 1901, so the impression is that it could have been a front-room shop). Whatever, she was a greengrocer after her husband left and a letter in the case file also suggests she continued with the tailoring.

108 Bath St is hard to locate, but I believe it was on the west side of the road, with a rear entrance that could be accessed from Caldmore Rd – now Little Caldmore Rd. In the 1911 census it was the next entry to the White Swan on the corner of Dudley St and Bath St, which just happened to be John Toon’s pub (Minnie’s brother), but I really don’t think it was there. Still, she was within striking distance of a number of pubs including the White Swan, which would hardly have helped her with her ‘issues’.

Minnie, Charlie and Edmund at 108 Bath St - a greengrocer shop next to the White Swan, her brother's pub, in Dudley St (National Archives)

Minnie, Charlie and Edmund at 108 Bath St – a greengrocer shop near to the White Swan, her brother’s pub, in Dudley St
(National Archives)

Prior to her murder, one other thing needs to be mentioned. It seems clear from the witness statements that Minnie struck-up a relationship with a Thomas Wright at some stage. Wright had known her since she was 16 and currently lived at 73 Bloxwich Rd. Wright’s son (Tommy, to distinguish him from his father) spoke to Charles Mills after the shooting, but before Minnie had died. Mills stated that ‘your old man ought to have had more sense than to go with her’. Tommy went on to suggest it had been a lengthy acquaintance, but Mills’ response was that he had been unaware of it had it been so – but he clearly hated her. At the inquest, Wright was asked by the Coroner if he knew her intimately (which I suspect may be 1912 parlance for bed-mates) and he acknowledged that he did – indeed, his written statement said ‘recently on very friendly terms’. From this I would speculate that it was both casual and sexual, but it isn’t clear as to when relations may have started – so we must accept that it was after the split with her husband. Wright was frosty to her on the day of the attack, but visited her at home after the incident.

And so to the days leading up to the incident. Tommy Wright had seen Minnie a few weeks prior to her death; she was then ‘worse for drink’ and he warned her that she would lose her 10/- if she carried on that way. Minnie made a curious reply, ‘Oh a short life and a merry one for me [some] poison will end it all for me’. We know Minnie visited Charles on Saturday 27 April at around 6.45 pm, when Mills described her as under the influence. He said that she first berated him, but they left together and she asked him to go for a drink. He then claimed she begged him to come back to her, but he refused and left her.

Events of the 29 April 1912
I assume, through lack of evidence to the contrary, Minnie spent the night of the 28 April at her house. She was often in the habit of sleeping in the same bed as the boys, but Charlie makes no mention of the early hours in his statement. The first we have of her is in Park St at 11.30 am, when she was seen by Thomas Wright. Wright was on his way to the station to catch the train to Wolverhampton in order to go the the races; the couple exchanged a ‘good morning’, nothing more. We also know that she had been in the New Station Hotel for a drink that morning, as Thomas Hawkins (the publican) had seen her.

She was next sighted by Charlie at 12.30 pm, when he had returned home from school for lunch. We can assume she remained at the house until after Charlie left, as again, he makes no mention to the contrary.

At around 4 pm she was just around the corner, at 8 Temple St (see map below). She called on Annie Gardener at this time. Gardener, a life-long friend, said that she had been shopping and bought some cloth to make Annie’s boy a costume. On account of this, the two returned to 108 Bath St via the Black Boy Inn on New St (just off map) . Here, the two had a ‘half-pint of ale’, which was corroborated by the landlady, Elizabeth Russell. The couple remained at the pub for just a short while and were back at Bath Street by 4.30 pm, as Charlie said he returned from school at this time. Charlie doesn’t mention that Annie was in the house – she was tidying-up as Minnie was lying on the sofa. She described Minnie as ‘worse for drink… [although] able to take care of herself’. Annie left at 5.30 pm, telling the children not to waken Minnie. Minnie had been awake when Charlie returned, but was clearly asleep as Annie left.

The Dudley Sy/Bath St junction (White Swan). New St and Temple St are to the right. (Walsall Local History Centre)

The Dudley St/Bath St junction (White Swan), 25″ OS 1917, New St and Temple St are to the right.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The next page turns, as Minnie wakes. Having dressed, Minnie left the house at around 7 pm to go to the theatre – as it transpired, Her Majesty’s at the end of Park St. We know she wore a fur and a hat with a veil, which was common enough wear at the time to attend a theatre or music hall. She left the house and the boys would go to bed at 10 pm, witnessing no more that night. Minnie was next seen by her husband and his business partner, James Aldridge. The pair saw Minnie in Park St at around 7.15 pm. The pair were heading to the White Lion in Sandwell St (still there); Aldridge was a member of the Calmore Old Boys Musical Society, which was hosting a supper in the pub. Minnie appeared to be unaware that Charles was on Park St and headed toward the theatre.

Her Majesty's Theatre, showing the Bloxwich tram. The Station Hotel is to the right, but it is unclear as to which building it is. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Her Majesty’s Theatre, showing the Bloxwich tram. The Station Hotel is to the right, but it is unclear as to which building it is.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The Theatre programme had started at 6.55 pm, so Minnie was already late. We know she attended, as Hawkins’ wife attended the first performance and she saw Minnie in the theatre, alone. Mrs Hawkins was back in the Station Hotel by 9 pm. The second performance stated around this time and Minnie may have wanted to catch what she had missed, but she was in the Station Hotel at 9.20 pm. Minnie had a small stout in the Smoke Room and left at 9.40 pm. It isn’t known where she went, but Hawkins stated that she returned to the Smoke Room at 10.40 pm. She was again, alone. Hawkins would state that there were no other people in the Smoke Room when Minnie returned and that she sat alone by the door, having ordered another bottle of stout. This would be contradicted by Thomas Wilkes and Hawkins would change his story to agree with that of Wilkes.

The programme for 29 April 1912 (Walsall Local History Centre)

The programme for 29 April 1912
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Thomas Wilkes arrived at around 10.55 pm. Wilkes had been to the races, returned, had dinner at home, then gone to Hospital Street, Birchills. Hospital St (ironically once called Deadman’s Lane 🙂 ) was the site of the Epidemic Hospital, but there was some open ground to the side and here, on 29 April, there was a boxing match organised. Wilkes had gone there around 8 pm and left around 10.30 pm. He caught the tram into Walsall, alighting by the Station Hotel. He and Mr Birchinall (the Baths Superintendent) met near the stop and popped into the hotel for a swift drink prior to closing.

Wilkes walked into the Smoke Room to see Minnie, Hawkins and ‘two other men’. Minnie, he claimed, was talking to one of the men, whom he described as a ‘theatrical’. She asked about the boxing, but he pretty much ignored her, drank-up and left within a few minutes. The Coroner pursued Wilkes’ lack of interest in both Minnie and the ‘theatrical’, inferring that his lack of communication was due to him being jealous over her speaking to another man; Wilkes countered by saying that he didn’t want to talk to her as she looked like she had had a drink, that he did not know the man, had no interest in who he was and that he wanted to get to his club. Birchinall followed him after a few more moments. Wilkes headed for the Walsall Tradesman Social Club on High Street, where he remained playing billards until around 1.30 am. He then went home.

Hawkins called ‘time’ and Minnie left the hotel at 11 pm. He saw her on Park St, where she appeared perfectly sober and, indeed, ran off down Park St in order, as she said, to catch her tram. She may have been trying to catch-up with Wilkes, who was heading in that direction. If that were the case, she never managed it. The last time she was seen before the shooting would be outside of the Lloyd’s Chambers.

The Bridge. Lloyd's Chambers is on the right. The last place Minnie was seen at 11.10 pm (Walsall Local History Centre)

The Bridge around 1900. Lloyd’s Chambers is on the right. At 11.10 pm, it was the last place Minnie was seen prior to the shooting
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Abraham Smith was the publican at the Rose and Thistle in the Pleck. Not surprisingly, being a publican and from the Pleck, he knew Minnie well. At 11.10 pm he was walking down Park St towards the Bridge in order to catch a tram home. He saw Minnie talking to three men outside the Lloyd’s Bank on Park St and while they ‘appeared to be respectable and fairly well dressed’, none were her husband.

Minnie headed home at some stage, likely within minutes from being seen by Smith. Curiously, she would take a seemingly long route home via Midland Road: she said herself that she didn’t want to bump into Charles on the way home. Every indication would seem that Minnie would have no idea as to where Charles was, so why did she feel the need to be careful? We know that Charles was actually in the White Lion in Little London. He had left there with Aldridge at 11 pm and they ‘walked down to the Bridge’ to get the tram. They arrived at around 11.20 pm, with Mills getting the tram at the Bridge or in Park St. The two could have took a near plethora of routes from the White Lion to the Bridge, but the route is never stated – and I think this is a key piece of evidence that is now lost.

Originally I thought Minnie may have seen Charles while outside Lloyd’s Bank, heading off in an alternate direction so he didn’t see her talking to strange men or in a state where she had a drink. If she had seen him coming down Digbeth, she may have headed-up Bradford St via Bridgman Place, but this wouldn’t explain why she went down Midland Rd and then up Tasker St simply to return to the Bradford St/Wednesbury Rd. Midland Rd was a lonely amalgam of railway yards, a few small factories, a chapel and open space, but above all, it was dark.

All we know is that Harry Larkin was shunting in the Midland Railway Yard adjacent to Midland Rd. At 11.20 pm (a time he was certain of), he heard a noise that sounded like a revolver shot from the direction of Midland Rd. The horrific thing is that he heard three further shots, but this time saw the flashes; he described them as ‘a few seconds’ apart and the perpetrator appeared to ‘walk a few paces between each’. Larkin heard no other noise, could see nothing due to the unlit nature ‘halfway down the Midland Rd’. When examined by the Coroner, Larkin assumed it was someone messing around, so didn’t report it – he also had to get the 11.25 train ready.

Midland Rd/Tasker St Goods Yard, where Larkin was on night duty, OS 25" 1917. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Midland Rd/Tasker St Goods Yard, where Larkin was on night duty, OS 25″ 1917.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Midland Rd, likely at the point of origin of the gun flashes witness by Larkin (who would be in the old yard, behind). 2015.

Midland Rd now, likely at the point of origin of the gun flashes witnessed by Larkin. 2015.

The powder burns bear witness that Minnie was shot four times in the face at close range. She was shot through each cheek and above the right eye with 320-caliber soft-tipped bullets. Three bullets remained in her head, the fourth had grazed the cheek and earlobe. She was likely leaning forward (possibly crawling after the initial shot) when the bullets were discharged. Despite the attack, she raised herself to her feet and, as nobody saw her in Bridgman Place, she must have continued to Tasker St and then on to the Wednesbury Rd.

Tasker St, Minnie must have come this way after the shooting or she would have been seen in Bridgman Place. 2015.

Tasker St, Minnie must have come this way after the shooting or she would have been seen in Bridgman Place. 2015.

Minnie, staggering and bleeding, crossed the main road and I believe headed up Glebe Street. She was next seen by Joseph Brown (and two others). Brown was on the corner of Caldmore Rd and Vicarage Street (this is now the corner of Caldmore Rd and Little Calmore Rd; Vicarage St is now a part the northern part of Caldmore Rd, heading towards Walsall). Brown and the others saw her coming down Vicarage St. She must have passed them, as they saw the blood on her face. I believe she headed down what is now Little Caldmore Rd to the back gate to the whole row of properties on Bath St. Brown and the others watched as she went through it. She managed to open her door, leaving a blood trail on the latch for the police to trace some days later. She then undressed and collapsed, without waking the children.

Looking up Caldmore Rd to the corner where Brown saw Minnie in 1912. The building on the corner is still there. Minnie came to the corner from the other direction (that part of Caldmore Rd then being Vicarage St) (Walsall Local History Centre)

Looking up Caldmore Rd to the corner where Brown saw Minnie in 1912. The building on the corner is still there. Minnie came to the corner from the other direction (that part of Caldmore Rd then being Vicarage St)
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Immediate Aftermath
It is clear that Minnie made no effort to raise the alarm, but she had of course just had four bullets fired into her and would be completely confused. Saying that, she did manage to negotiate her way home. The house was quiet for several hours, until Minnie woke Charlie to fetch her some water at around 6 am on Tuesday 30 April. Minnie was at this time on the bed, partly dressed and with her face covered in blood. Minnie washed, drank a cup of tea and asked Charlie to fetch Mrs Gardener. Curiously, when Charlie asked about the injuries, Minnie said she had fell in some ashes in the back yard. Charlie went to fetch Annie Gardener at around 9 am.

Annie Gardener arrived at around 9.30 am and Charlie explained to her that Minnie had had a fit. The sight that presented itself was one of blood from ‘face to her feet’. She noticed the wounds and of course asked of Minnie as to what happened. It was Minnie that stated she had come home via Midland Rd, which she had done so to avoid Charles. She then told Annie that she ‘fell down’ there. When Annie suggested a doctor, Minnie’s reaction was near insane, ‘ don’t fetch anybody, if you do I will jump through the window or cut my throat’. Annie, at Minnie’s request, washed her fur and costume from that night, disposing of the torn veil on the fire. During the inquest, Annie would go on to say that Minnie always claimed she was on her own and always insisted that she injured herself; she did though elaborate a little more on the incident, saying that ‘I must have had a fit, and when I got up I kept slipping down again’.  

Charlie Mills statement to the Coroner, 1912. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Charlie Mills statement to the Coroner, 1912.
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The next to see Minnie was to be Elizabeth Russell, from the Black Boy Inn. Annie had visited her asking her to visit, as Minnie ‘looks as if she has been stabbed’. She visited and dressed her wounds with boracic powder and ointment. Minnie told her that she had done it herself, falling on some spikes in Midland Rd. She was again adamant that she didn’t want a doctor. Russell left her with hot milk. She popped her head around the door the following day, but never saw her alive again.

By now the rumour mill was in full operation, but at this stage it seems to have been confined to Minnie’s injuries coming from a beating with a knuckle-duster to stabbing. On Wednesday 1 May, Minnie was visited by Annie, as well as Alice Astbury and Thomas Wilkes. Alice, a friend from Oxford St, was initially told by Minnie that the she had fallen on spikes, but this was changed to a rubbish heap of glass, lead and so forth in the back yard. Minnie was in bed still, but did get-up to sit in the kitchen. Thomas Wilkes also visited, after Astbury had alerted him to the seriousness of the situation. Astbury was present when Wilkes arrived and they were to leave together. Wilkes was dismissed with a ‘don’t bother me’ when he asked about the injuries, but his witness statement has one piece of evidence that none of the others do and was not reported in the newspapers: Minnie had told him that she had lost her satchel that contained 14/- and as she had been in bed since the incident, the implication is that the satchel was with her on the evening in question and never came home with her.

On the same day, Sarah Toon visited her sister-in-law after Annie Gardener had dropped by the pub. Minnie told Sarah that she had fallen on some stones in the vicarge. Sarah’s testimony is also vital, as it makes it very clear as to Minnie’s state of mind at this time. Minnie began to get very agitated over the need to keep the events a secret from Charles, ‘for if he knows he will take the children from me.’

To her visitors on Thursday 2 May, namely Annie and Sarah Toon, Minnie appeared to be a lot better. She was out of bed, ‘knocking around the house’ and doing washing. On the Friday, she returned to the incident after complaining to Sarah that her head hurt and she believed she had some lead in it (the bullets were of lead, but designed to break-up; it is possible, with the location of the bullets, that she was spitting out small pieces). She told Toon that she went to the theatre and had two bottles of stout after. She went on to say that ‘I don’t remember what happened, I must have had a fit.’ At 8 pm, looking rather unwell, she consented to see a doctor and Sarah called Dr Rosser. A brief examination found nothing, but he returned on the Saturday and found some lead. At 10.45 pm, Minnie, Rosser, Sarah Toon and Alice Astbury went by cab to the hospital.

By this stage Charles had made his own enquiries and refused to give his boy Charlie the weekly allowance until he told him what was going on; Charlie did and received the money. This prompted Charles to contact the police. When Dr Sinclair examined the wounds he knew they were bullets holes and he too contacted the police. Sergeant James Burrell investigated for the Walsall Borough Police and even though it was clear that there were in fact three bullets in her head, he was told by Minnie that she ‘fell three times in some ashes in the my back yard and it is the ashes in my face not bullets’. As Minnie reached the last hours of her life, Charles Mills was heard to say ‘he would have shot the cow himself… I hope she dies’. Minnie was X-rayed and sent to theatre at 4 pm on Sunday 5 May. One bullet was extracted, the other two could not be reached. One was lodged in the nasal area, the other later dislodged and was found in the throat. Minnie never regained conciousness after the anaesthetic and died at 10 pm. Medical opinion was that the wounds could not have been self-inflicted; they were all in a downward direction and the first shot would have rendered her incapable of firing any more. She was also likely leaning forward at the time they were fired.

The inquest was opened on Tuesday 7 May, but adjourned while inquiries proceeded. Minnie was buried at Ryecroft Cemetery on the 9 May. The inquest was completed on the 14 May, with a verdict returned of ‘wilful murder against person or persons unknown. On the same day, Charles Mills sold his wife’s wedding ring to a pawnbroker for 15/-. Minnie was soon forgotten.

The mystery of the case seems to revolve around why Minnie went down Midland Rd? First impression is that she was accompanied by someone who then shot her, but she shielded him out of fear of Charles taking the children from her. From this, it is an easy step to think, as it is a secluded spot, that prostitution was involved – after all, Minnie often fretted about money. I would dispute this. Minnie was a drinker, not a prostitute; never at any stage was she accused or even a remark in either the inquests or statements that she was making a few extra shillings through selling herself.

There must have been whispers to this effect, but within the Coroner’s file is a letter written by a Mrs Davies: she was clearly a God fearing woman, who was the wife of one of the policemen on the case and had lived next door to Minnie for a year. The letter is far from critical, indeed, it speaks up for her when ‘no one speaks a word in her favour’. Davies states how Minnie would ‘make any shift rather than have what she could not pay for and would give her last penny if she saw anyone needed it… I have never dealt with a more honest and just woman in business affairs’. Hardly the actions of one who bolsters her income by selling herself.

Mrs Davies' letter to the Coroner, supporting Minnie (Walsall Local History Centre)

Mrs Davies’ letter to the Coroner, supporting Minnie
(Walsall Local History Centre)

The letter does go on to give another ‘suggestion’. Davies is clear that Minnie hated her ‘inherited weakness’ and had very low self esteem; She states that Minnie ‘valued very highly any little mark of interest showed to her by those who she considered more holy than herself’. So, did she go down Midland Rd with one of the ‘fairly well dressed’ men from outside Lloyd’s Chambers simply for company, keeping silent as she would know how it looked? It is also possible.

Everyone that reads this will have their own thoughts, but before we blindly accept the above, here is an alternative based on her state of mind and the evidence given…

Minnie’s whereabouts have been traced above. She had been drinking in the day, as she did every day. It is possible that she was in a near permanent state of intoxication, simply topping-up with each drink rather than starting from a completely sober base (but this does not mean blind drunk). She was last seen talking outside of the Lloyd’s Bank at 11.10 pm. I suggest that she left these men not long after, carrying the bag that she told Thomas Wilkes that she had lost.

The first curious thing within the evidence was when she said to Annie that she used Midland Rd as she didn’t want to bump in to Charles. To make this statement purposeful, she would need to know that Charles was at the White Lion (which is possible from other sources) or she did in fact see him coming down Bradford St or Cross St for example. If she saw him as she neared Midland Rd (and their route was never disclosed), it would then become an obvious ‘escape route’ to avoid him – as she didn’t want to see him after she had been drinking and knowing the children were home alone.

Taking this, she headed down a quiet, dark road. Larkin placed the shots at the point where there were no street lamps, near the Norton & Proffit factory. Minnie’s veil was pulled down, as the fact that it was burnt due to its being torn and bloodied testifies (in other words, it seems to me that the bullets were fired trough it). A lowered veil would make any intended romantic or sexual act somewhat difficult. It is perfectly plausible that she was followed by someone from Bridgman Place or stumbled upon someone trying to use the cover of darkness to break into this factory – or was waiting for vulnerable prey to rob, like herself.

Somehow, I suggest she was surprised and shot at close range; she fell and, if you remember her own testimony, kept fell each time she tried to get-up – however, this was not due to a fit, she kept falling but because her assailant repeatedly shot her. This would explain the few seconds delay between shots and the flashes seen from different positions. Minnie eventually got to her feet, raised her veil as her face was seen by Brown later on, and stumbled home.

Medical testimony presented at the inquest dismissed her shooting herself (no gun was ever found), but did say that it was perfectly possible for her to blank out what had happened and genuinely believe that she had not been shot. This to me tallies with what she said: she saw the attack as a fit, which she assumed was the result of her drinking and the powder burns on her face as having come from a pile of ashes. Minnie lived in a constant and clear fright of losing her children and, at the same time, in the vain hope that Charles would return. This, I believe, was at the root of her wishing not to involve the police, but not her silence over the identity of the shooter. I think the evidence is overwhelming as to why she didn’t name him, she didn’t know.

This appears to be a brutal killing, cruel to extreme; in fact it could almost be described as an execution, yet the person who fired the shots didn’t actually kill her outright. Those that knew her visited, like Wright for instance and even Mills contacted the police. I suggest this was someone unknown to her.

I am not saying this is true, but possibly room for doubt?

Charles Mills cared little of the struggles and turbulence of his wife’s single existence and less over her death. He freely offered that ‘he would have shot the cow himself’. The boys moved in with him and, I believe, he died in 1939.

Initially life was happy enough for Harold and he attended the Blue Coat School. As his mother fell into drink, Harold would clearly have suffered. He must have witnessed and was old enough to understand the nature of the arguments and could only watch the destruction of his parents’ marriage. I can only assume that he decided to remain with his father out of choice, which perhaps corroborates his father’s version of events. Harold became a boy scout and went on to work at John Shannon & Son Ltd in Walsall. He joined the South Staffordshire’s Territorial Force in 1912, at the age of 14 – one assumes this was allowed as he was a drummer. At 16 years of age, we know he was in France. In 1915 he was wounded, bizarrely on 29 April, the anniversary of his mother’s murder. He was wounded four times in all and transferred to the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was discharged in 1917, after his final wounding. He was just 20. I suspect that he died, unmarried, in 1953.

Harold Mills, wounded four times and discharge - including being shot on 29 April 1915 - bizarre (Walsall Local History Centre)

Harold Mills, wounded four times and discharged – including being shot on 29 April 1915 – bizarre
(Walsall Local History Centre)

Charlie was to be less fortunate. He too would also see his parents’ marriage fall apart, but he stayed with his mother and would go on to see her continuing struggle with alcohol, her financial pressures and horrifically would witness her injuries and death at first hand – including being interviewed by the Coroner. Charlie would find himself employed as a leather-worker and then called-up under conscription in September 1916. He was living with his father at this stage.

Charlie's attestation into the army, September 1916. (National Archives)

Charlie’s attestation into the army, September 1916.
(National Archives)

After training and a period of home assignment, he would be attached in January 1918 to the 1/5th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry and sent to Flanders. Here, he would be killed in action on 27 March 1918, just a week into the Ludendorff Offensive. The 19 year-old’s body was never found and Charles wrote in vain for news 14 months after his disappearance.

Charles Mills' faded letter begging for news of Charlie. 2 June 1919. (National Archives)

Charles Mills’ faded letter begging for news of Charlie. 2 June 1919.
(National Archives)

Edmund, I believe, moved to Kidderminster where he married an Ellen Spilsbury in 1934. I believe he died in 1982.

In memory of Minnie and the boys.

My thanks to:
Walsall Local History Centre
The National Archives

  1. […] The Curious Case of Maud Minnie Mills: Walsall, 1912 […]

  2. Linda says:

    Fascinating! I’m inclined to think it was a stranger intent on robbing .. how prevalent was gun crime in Walsall at that time though? Someone got away with murder .. R.I.P. Minnie

  3. Clive says:

    Facinating and yet tragic, when i started to read it i could not stop till i got to the end, gripping stuff mate. RIP Minnie.

  4. angvs72 says:

    Really enjoyable read, funnily enough I felt throughout that it was a woman that shot her? something about shooting four times in the face just makes me think of a female.

  5. Sandra Rutter says:

    Really fascinating stuff! Amazing the things that went on. Haven’t lived in Walsall for a long time so I am struggling to remember some of the streets!

  6. sandra says:

    i really enjoyed reading this. very interesting, poor Minnie, i hope you have some more mystery articles

  7. Flanders Field says:

    Another very interesting, if tragic, read. If she was in a near-permanent state ‘drink’ it may have numbed her sense of awareness of her wounds. It is made more interesting by the fact that I know all of the places mentioned.

  8. A really sad but interesting story, very well researched as usual. Ever thought of doing this for a living!

    Strange that I was talking to you about Job Toon and he turns out to be Minnie’s uncle, quite a coincidence. If you were a Toon and you didn’t keep a pub you were involved in horse racing as an alternative occupation. Job Toon (1851-1896) who later kept the New Inn in John Street led an interesting life, how many other licensees in Walsall could tell the story of how they lost the Irish Derby by a matter of inches in the 1870s? Job won a few good races as a jockey before taking over Thomas Cliff’s stable at Hednesford as the trainer after Cliff was run over by a horse and cart and some years later died from the injuries sustained in that accident. Job’s father, also named Job, kept a pub up Windmill Street and in one census he has his son staying there, James, he is listed as “Jockey, unemployed”, it was he that assisted Job junior at Hednesford when he was training. Job junior and his wife Rosannah had eight children and three of them, William, Walter and Herbert, cousin’s to Minnie, all became jockeys with Herbert being the most successful of the trio.

    Not sure how, or if you can, attached photos as I have a picture of Job Toon (jockey/trainer) which I could have sent.

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Hi John, yes it was somewhat bizarre that we ended-up chatting about the Toons. I did notice the jockey reference in the census when i was researching the article – always nice to expand the story though. Send me the photo by email and I will add to to the FB page. Cheers, Sonny Jim.

  9. Carol Jackaman [nee Mills] says:

    My grandfather was Harold Cyril Mills so he didn’t die in action. Maud Minnie was my great grandma.
    I have found this report really interesting so thank you for filling me in on some facts
    Carol Jackaman [nee Mills]

    • wyrleyblog says:

      Hi Carol, nice to hear from you and that you found the article interesting. Just to clarify, I didn’t say Harold was killed (that was Charlie), he was wounded 4 times and discharged in 1917. It is difficult to follow people forward in time, and suggested that he died in 1953, unmarried. Anything you can add to Harold’s brief story here would be happily added. Many thanks.

      • Jo Williams says:

        Hi carol
        I’ve just been reading this
        And feel we must be related as my mom is the the daughter of Edmund mills who was Harold brother ?

  10. Jan evans says:

    I am still in shock of the address 185 bloxwich road as this was our first property that we purchased poor Minnie though

  11. Jan evans says:

    We bought the house when we was 18 I am now 58 it is still there now still 185 it is opposite Essex St we sold it to an Indian family which I believe is still there I also know of all the streets and pubs involved as I also lived in a pub on the pleck rd I also know that we had a Minnie in the family dating back a long way also a Charles and an Harold my uncle was a thomas Charles but my gran was a Kezia Lord this is quite bazaar to me as I really want to trace my family tree but don’t know how

  12. Reymond Bart Hillback says:

    Amazing story need to find the relation to my tree. great bloger

  13. Jo Williams says:

    Maund Minnie mills is my mothers grand mother . She would love to find relatives or more info

    • Carol Jackaman nee Mills says:

      My grandfather was Harold Cyril mills son of Charles Mills . His brother Edmund was my great uncle . I met his son Terry and know he had a brother Robert and there was girl but I can’t remember her name . Is she connected to you ? My father was named after Edmund – Edmund Charles Mills

    • Carol Jackaman nee Mills says:

      Yes I sure we’re related as Harold Cyril was my grandad . Terry mills possibly your uncle has my address so please write to me . Carol

    • Carol Jackaman nee Mills says:

      I have a connection as Harold Cyril mills was my grandad and brother to Edmund mills . I know Terry mills who I believe may be your uncle . Please get in touch Carol

  14. Ernie Breeze says:

    I married into the Toon family Dennis whos real name was Joseph Toon i think was Arthur’s grandson. We all enjoyed read this fascinating history of their family and perhaps can add it to a familt tree

    • Carol Jackaman nee Mills says:

      Was it ever discussed in the family ? The case of Maud Minnie ! An Alice Hutchinson married into the Toon family . Hutchinson is in my family tree as well as Mills .

  15. Kathy McAteer says:

    This is a fascinating story that I stumbled across along with the story about Job Toon, the jockey. Maude is my 2nd great grand aunt. Her older brother, Arthur Brindley Toon is my 2nd great grandfather and Job Toon senior my 3rd great grandfather. What an interesting family – my father was Councillor Arthur Toon and who would guess he was the product of such a colourful family. For information, Arthur Brindley Toon was illegitimate, the eldest son of Job Toon and his wife Sarah Brindley, who were married 2months after his birth.

    • Carol Jackaman nee Mills says:

      Maud Minnie was my great grandma and married to Charles Mills . My grandfather was Harold Cyril Mills .

  16. Kathy McAteer says:

    My great grandfather was Arthur Toon (1864-1921) who was the older brother of Maude and Joseph (born around 1880). There may have been a younger Joseph in the next generation though (I don’t have the names of all the subsequent children, just Arthur’s). Arthur married Alice Hutchinson (1867-1898) who was youngest of 7 children. Parents were William Hutchinson and Sarah Spink. For those registered with you should be able to see my family tree (it’s titled ‘Toon_Armishaw’) and you’re welcome to copy any bits that are relevant to your own family tree.

  17. Sarah Harris says:

    I accidentally came across this story, unbelievable! My Great Grandparents were Sarah and John Toon who ran the White Swan. My Grandmother was Gladys Toon (Whick) born in 1904, she grew up in the White Swan and I have never heard this story but it does match our family tree. Thank you so much for doing the research.

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