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THE BIDDENDEN MURDER.
WHY MISS PETERSON KILLED
Miss Bertha Peterson, the rector's daughter, who calmly slew John Whibley in-'her father's vestry immediately after service on Sunday,- February 12, was charged with murder before the magis- trates at Cranbrook, England, on February 20. All present were greatly moveA and agitated, except the person chiefly con- cerned. Miss Peterson was unaffectedly calm, gazing similingly round at the horrified villagers, through her pince-nez, and recognising this one and that with the assured condescension of a local Lady Bonntitul. She wore a' large fawn hat, with black feathers, a fur cloak, and a fawn dress. Mr. C. F. Gill, prosecuting for the Treasury, told the terrible story of the crime. ' He detailed Miss Peterson's shocking accusations against Whibley of corrupting little children, described her semi-apologie3 recently, and apparent de- sire to be reconciled to the man, and finally related how the unfortunate fellow was Inred into the church vestry after Sunday service, and publicly shot in the presence of several persons. Some remarkable
letters written after Miss Peterson's arrest were read. Most'of them were addressed to Miss Gould, the young friend of the prisoner. Some were in English, some in French, some half and half. One ran : My Own Darling Little One,-God told me to do what I have done. I shot this man, G.W. If you knew how I felt, dear, it would help me to bear it. I am quite happy except for yoii. God has told mo that you will have another mother. S.C. will be your mother. There is no one in the world like her.' I love you, my lamb. I am very comfortable here, and can do almost what I like." »Another note in French said :-" This will break your heart, but God bas told mo to do it for you, therefore it is right. I weep for you in other resptcts. I am content, my own lamb. If our hearts are broken, and we have to go through agonies, we shall have been partly the means of saving little girls." From tho Maidstone Gaol Miss
Peterson wrote to her friend: - "Sister
Eleanor will console and lovo you.» I love you always, ma belle, ma petite. I love you.-Your loving Bertha."
" On the evidence I have briefly laid be- fore you," concluded counsel, " I shall ask you to formally commit tho prisoner for trial at Maidstone Assizes," Once'more (according to an interesting account of the proceedings) Miss Peterson smiled. It was rather a vague smile at first, but it was transformed into a smile of intelligent welcome as Mrs. Whibley, dressed in deep black', tottered feebly into the witness-box and began telling her story. The poor widow was weak and ill, and the magis- trates spared her all they could. The Rev. W. Ra\en, curate in charge, told wf the schoolroom scene. Miss Peterson, he said, had very strong and strange religious views. Dr. Eagle Bate said extreme eccen- tricity marked prisonei's habits. She would laugh incessantly for the slightest causa. " I would not say she was insane, but she was bordering -on it. I should say she "would be very susceptible to suggestions -hypnotic suggestions, for instance. Miss Peterson's mother, after an epileptic seizure, fell in the fire and got burnt almost to a cinder." Miss Alice Bertha Gould said sho lived now at Streatham House, Nottingham. In May, 1895, she went to the rectory at Biddenden to live witjb. Miss Peterson. * In Novomber, 1S97, they left. Early in 1898 Miss Peterson went to Lady Henry Somerset's colony at Duxhurst.lt Sha and Miss Peterson were devotedly attached to one another, now, perhaps, even more so than ever before. Miss Peterson, she said, read all she could on matters relating to the; Criminal Law Amendment Act* and the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act. Once she took a poor child from the village and generously provided for it. Miss Gould told how when Miss Peterson first accused Whibley of assaulting a little girl, a special enquiry was held. Whibley was arraigned before Miss Peterson and Miss Gould, and a trial on most complete lines was held. The court was a room in the rectory at Bidden- den, and Miss -Peterson and her young friend took it in turns to be judge and jury. A whole catalogue of questions were addressed to Whibley, and the answers were all carefully written down by Miss Peterson. The maid servant, Alice Cooper, was called in to see fair play. At the end of this remarkable trial seven letters on the subject of Whibley's alleged-misdeeds were addresAd to leading English clericä. Tho first was sent to the Archbishop of Canter- bury. The pair, after that, took situations as servants at a clergyman's house in Herefordshire. Their master was a Mr. Buhner, and there was a great deal of unpleasantness. They did not like servant-maid work, and accordingly went into lodgings at Clapham Junction. Then they separated, Miss Peterson going to Duxhurst, and her friend staying in London. They corresponded, but Miss Peterson's letters were strange, as for example : ." We must have on the armour of God. Even H.C. (holy communion) or an evil angel may swoop down upon us. Suppose J.W. is a devil ? Our Lord said Judas was, didn't be, my lamb ?" The prisoner wrote again and again that she was continually receiving messages from God that " her little darling " would be' taken care of. In conversation Miss Peter- son was strange-" strange" sometimes to madness." "I should describe her as a very good woman," said Miss Gould;
"that is what I loved her for."
Miss Adelaide Oliver, of Kemp3hall, near Canterbury, said she' had received many letters from the prisoner. In August, 1S9S, she wrote : " It seems to me that the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah is hanging over ? Biddenden. So many crimes are allowed
to go unpunished." Miss Peterson once acted as matron at Lady Henry Somerset's home for inebriates. The superintendent, Miss Cannell, told 'the history of that period. Both she and the chaplain had doubts as to Misa Peterson's sanity. She was fond of repeating, ".God has forgiven me my sins." Half a dozen other wit- nesses spoke to Miss Peterson's strange
behaviour on numerous occasions. An
employee at the Junior Army and Navy Stores told how he sold the prisoner a revolver in Januaiy. She gave £2 7s. 6d.
for it. Miss Peterson was committed for tria!.