Waddingham, Dorothea (1899–1936)

views updated

Waddingham, Dorothea (1899–1936)

English murderer . Name variations: Dorothea Leech; Nurse Waddingham. Born Dorothea Nancy Waddingham in 1899 in England; hanged on April 16, 1936, in Nottingham, England; married Thomas Willoughby Leech (died before 1935); lover of Ronald Joseph Sullivan.

It is not certain that the woman known as Nurse Waddingham had any nursing training at all before she opened her own private nursing home on Devon Drive in Nottingham, England, in 1935. By this time, her husband Thomas Willoughby Leech was dead, and she had resumed use of her maiden name. Despite her haggard, even ghoulish appearance, Dorothea Waddingham had a powerful hold over her lover, Ronald Joseph Sullivan, a World War I hero who performed all the heavy chores in the nursing home and demonstrated almost servile devotion to Waddingham.

After receiving accreditation from the County Nursing Association, Waddingham admitted her first patients: the 89-year old Mrs. Baguley, who suffered from senility, and her daughter Ada Baguley , 50, who had creeping paralysis. Shortly after arriving in Nurse Waddingham's home, Ada changed her will, leaving her entire estate of around £2,000 to Waddingham and Sullivan. On May 12, 1935, Mrs. Baguley died; the cause of death was listed as old age. However, when Ada died on September 12—supposedly of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by eating too many chocolates—suspicions were raised by the haste with which Waddingham wanted the body cremated. Dr. Cyril Banks, the medical officer asked to approve the cremation, ordered an autopsy on Ada's corpse, despite the fact that Waddingham produced a letter dated August 29, 1935, purportedly written by Ada, in which she stated her desire to be cremated. The letter was later declared a forgery.

The autopsy of Ada Baguley—along with the subsequent autopsy on her mother's body—revealed that both women had been given excessive amounts of morphine. Both Waddingham and Sullivan were arrested, although only Waddingham was charged with murder. At her trial, which began on February 4, 1936, a calm Waddingham contended that Dr. H. Manfield, the doctor who signed both of the Baguleys' death certificates, had directed her to give the patients morphine. Manfield's testimony to the contrary ("I never prescribed them. I never gave them") undermined her story. Waddingham also admitted to feeding Ada Baguley a large, heavy meal the night before the patient's death, belying her claim that Ada was already suffering from severe abdominal pains that required morphine. The prevailing opinion, summed up by the judge, was that no nurse with common sense would have served such a dinner to a suffering patient. Waddingham was found guilty of both counts of murder, and although the jury recommended that mercy be shown, she was hanged on April 16, 1936.

sources:

Nash, Jay Robert. Look for the Woman. NY: M. Evans, 1981.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York