Fryniwyd Tennyson Jesse (1888-1958) was a “British lady reporter,” grandniece of the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, fiction writer, a keen observer of human nature, and one of Britain’s best crime journalists of all time. As a young woman, she was a war correspondent on the Front. Jesse was a prolific writer and had several other fiction works to her credit. A sample of her prose and a brief recap of her fiction career are on the web.
Jesse became famous as an author of, most notably, A Pin To See the Peepshow, a fictional treatment of Edith Thompson's love affair and her execution. It was an awful crime, and even worse was the state-sponsored killing that followed. “Everyone interested in real-life murder, the defects of the criminal justice system, or the horror and anomalies of capital punishment knew of the Thompson-Bywaters case. It had spawned novels, plays, films, and its share of the journalism of moral outrage,” writes famous mystery writer P.D. James in her latest, The Murder Room.
Jesse is still noted today for her contributions as writer and editor for the Notable British Trials series. She also wrote Murder & Its Motives (London, W. Heinemann Ltd., 1924), dividing killers into six categories based on their motivations: those who murder for gain (William Palmer), revenge (Constance Kent), elimination (the De Quérangals), jealousy (Mrs. Pearcey), lust of killing (Neill Cream), and conviction (Orsini).
Among the entries in the Notable British Trials that she edited are:
The Trial of Alma Victoria Rattenbury and George Percy Stoner (1950). Alma Rattenbury was a Canadian-born musician who emigrated with her second husband to England. She then fell in love with their young chauffeur. When said husband was murdered, the chauffeur was convicted and sentenced to death. Alma was acquitted, but she promptly committed suicide by stabbing herself in the heart. The Prince Rupert Public Library in British Columbia, where Alma was born, has prepared an excellent summary of the case featuring original research.
The Trial of Madeleine Smith (1927). Ms. Smith was a young and beautiful woman who was accused of poisoning her lover. His diary noted that he “saw Mimi a few moments” shortly before he fell sick and died – a fact she denied. In a ruling that to this day is a law school essay question, the court excluded the evidence as inadmissible hearsay, and Ms. Smith was acquitted.s
The Trial Of Samuel Herbert Dougal (1928). Dougal was tried in 1903 for the murder of Camille Cecile Holland in Essex. The police department of said city has an interesting summary of the case posted on its website.
The Trial of Sidney Harry Fox.(1934). Fox was tried in Sussex for ending the heavily insured life of his mother.
The Trial of Thomas John Ley and Lawrence John Smith (The Chalk Pit Murder) (1947). The accused murderers of John McMain Mudie, a barman, were tried in London in 1947. What made the case remarkable was that defendant Thomas Ley was a former Minister for Justice in Australia! Indeed, Ley seems to have been in the vicinity of several curious disappearances. The National Library of Australia has prepared an article featuring original material about Mr. Ley, “politician and murderer,” that also contains a bibliography on the case. The library’s collection of Ley materials also includes—I kid you not—Ley’s ashes.
The Trials of Timothy John Evans and John Reginald Halliday Christie (1957). A fellow true crime aficionado, Stephen Stratford, has prepared a good summary of the murderous career of sexual sadist John Christie, who killed not only several women, but who also framed an innocent man, Timothy Evans, for some of the crimes. The unfortunate Mr. Evans was eventually pardoned… posthumously, after his execution.
An old biography of Ms. Jesse is worth tracking down: Portrait of Fryn: A Biography of F. Tennyson Jesse by Joanna Colenbrander (London: Sterling Pub. Co., 1984).