25 August 2008


Dr Grumble's father died over 30 years ago. He was a surgeon, a jobbing surgeon. He did no research but he taught and examined. From time to time he would have to examine in some large town in another part of the country. Following one such trip to Bristol he returned with a tale that had plainly disturbed him.

After the examiners' meeting at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, Dr G's father was handed an old book from the library. The book gave an account of an unfortunate young man who, following an argument, had flung a stone at his girlfriend striking her on the head. After a few hours she became unwell with vomiting and was taken to the BRI where she died days later. The boyfriend was found guilty of her murder and was hanged on the steps of the infirmary. The details of all this were related in the book along with a disconcerting last line explaining that the book's binding had been fashioned out of the young man's hide.

That, anyway, is how Dr Grumble recalls the tale as it was told to him. It was a disturbing story. Flinging a stone in a fit of pique could happen to anybody. For years Dr Grumble wondered if the story was true and if he had the facts correct. A Bank Holiday and the wonders of google show that the essence of the tale is about right but over the years the details have become slightly embellished. And it seems that the boyfriend was not quite as innocent as Dr Grumble had been led to believe. And then a terrible thought crossed Dr Grumble's mind. Could the quotes attributed to the condemned man have been made up? Would a man about to be hanged for the murder of his girlfriend really say that he didn't mean to murder her but that he had planned to murder her later on? Is that likely? Could the details of the story have been embellished at the time? Perhaps to justify the hanging. We shall never know.

1 comment:

Elaine said...

Fascinating, if somewhat gruesome.