In 1903, Samuel Herbert Dougal, a serial womaniser, stood trial for the murder of Camille Cecile Holland, a quiet, moneyed
spinster. The case captured the public’s imagination and was extensively covered in the local and national press. Even today, the case continues to interest those who encounter it and different elements of the case have been featured in History Notebooks 4, 19 and 23. For those unfamiliar with the case, the story starts in 1898…
In 1898, Camille Holland was living in Elgin Crescent, London. She was, by and large, an independent woman. At the age of 56 she was still single and managed her own affairs, taking care of her stocks and shares which were valued at around £6,000. In the autumn of that year she had made the acquaintance of Samuel Dougal. Samuel was 4 years her junior and had enjoyed a successful career in the army, reaching the position of Chief Clerk in the Royal Engineers. His army career also provided opportunities to see the world and he spent 9 years in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, during his time in Nova Scotia, he lost both his first and second wives in quick succession.
His first wife died in 1885 after a bout of sudden illness. Two months after her death he remarried, only for his second wife to die three months into their marriage. Samuel left the army in 1887, and from then on had a rather chequered personal life and career. He formed relationships with a number of women and held a variety of jobs, none of which lasted for very long. In 1895, whilst he was working in the office of the Commander of the Forces in Dublin, he was found guilty of forgery and was sentenced to 12 months hard labour. Two months into the sentence, he tried to kill himself and he spent the remaining 10 months in an asylum.
In January 1899, Samuel and Camille moved to Saffron Walden to take possession of their new home, Coldhams Farm near Clavering. The property had been chosen by Samuel but had been paid for by Camille, who, despite Samuel’s protestations, insisted that the property remain in her name. Since the property required some attention before they could move in, Camille and Samuel lodged with Mrs Wisken in Market Row, Saffron Walden. It is noteworthy that by this time, although Samuel and Camille were not married and Camille continued “to conduct her business affairs in her own name, they presented themselves to the world as ‘Mr and Mrs Dougal’.
On 22nd April 1899, ‘Mr and Mrs Dougal’ moved into Coldhams Farm, which they renamed Moat Farm. On the 13th May they were joined by their newly appointed maid, Florence Havies. Florence had barely set foot inside the house when she discovered that she was the subject of Samuel’s attentions.
On the 14th May, Samuel made inappropriate advances to her in the kitchen and on the night of the 16th he tried to enter her room. Florence resisted his advances on both occasions. In the latter instance, she held her door shut and screamed to alert Camille. Camille arrived on the scene, sent Samuel off to bed and she and Florence slept in the same room for the rest of that night and on the following two nights.
On the night of the 19th May, Florence found herself alone in the house with Samuel. Earlier that evening, at 6.30pm, Samuel and Camille had gone out in the pony and trap. At 8.30pm Samuel returned and when Florence asked after Camille he told her that Camille had gone to London and would return later that night. For the rest of the evening, Samuel was in and out of the house. He finally returned at 12.45am and informed Florence that Camille had not returned and that she had better go to bed.
When Florence came down to start her chores at 7am the next morning, she was surprised to find Samuel already up, dressed and eating breakfast. He told her that he had received a letter from Camille in which she said that she had gone on holiday. This was of little consequence to Florence who had already arranged for her mother to collect her that morning and take her away from Moat Farm. Her mother arrived promptly, Florence collected her wages and left.
Samuel was not on his own for long. He employed a new maid, Emma Burgess, and was joined by another ‘Mrs Dougal’ who was, in actual fact, his third wife. Over the next 4 years, Samuel continued to live at the farm and enjoyed a number of liaisons with different women in the village. He became part of the local community, attending church regularly and giving generously to local causes such as the enlargement of the churchyard and the interior redecoration of the church.
How was it that Samuel, who had no visible means of support, could afford to be so generous? The answer came in March 1903, when he was charged with, ‘forging and uttering a cheque value f28 15s. payable to J Heath, dated 28th August 1902, purporting to be drawn by Camille C Holland at Clavering.’i During the trial, which began in the Spring of 1903, the prosecution produced evidence that showed that Samuel had systematically moved money from Camille’s accounts into his own, sold her stocks and shares and even transferred title of Moat Farm from her name to his. In his earlier forgery trial in 1895, Samuel’s punishment had been 12 months hard labour, but this trial carried far heavier consequences. It rekindled interest in the whereabouts of Camille Cecile Holland and prompted a police investigation into her disappearance.
On 19 March 1903, the police ‘took possession’ of Moat Farm to see if they could find any clues about Camille’s disappearance. The phrase, ‘took possession’, is an extremely accurate description of what happened because the officers involved in the case actually moved into the farmhouse. As the Essex County Chronicle reports.
‘The police officers engaged in the searching at the Farm occupy the farmhouse, preparing their meals and making their beds for themselves. Detective-Sergeant Scott acts as chef.’
The police were not the only ones who decamped to Moat Farm during the investigation. Camille’s disappearance captured the public’s imagination and reporters from local and national newspapers as well as curious bystanders besieged the farm. The Essex County Chronicle describes the scene near the farm when the body was discovered on Monday 27 April 1903:
‘Throughout the week, people have flocked to the Moat Farm in crowds, the majority of the visitors being ladies. Oranges and nuts were sold as at a village fair, and the raucous voices of the vendors were heard on every side. Souvenir postcards of the Moat House and of the grounds, showing many of the holes made by the police and the tent-like awning which conceals the grave, commanded an enormous sale. A number of the sightseers brought kodaks with them in search of effective snapshots and a still larger contingent were relic-hunters.’
Camille’s body was laid out in the conservatory at Moat Farm. Since she had been in the ground for the past four years, identification was going to be difficult. However, vital clues on the body helped the process. Her former landlady, Mrs Wiskin, and her nephew, Ernest Legrand Holland were able to identify the garments and the jewellery on the body as those of Camille Holland. Mr. Mold, Camille’s shoemaker, also came forward and identified the shoes on the body, which bore his name, as those he had made for Miss Holland.
A few days later, the body was examined by Professor Pepper, an expert from the Home Office, and Doctors Storrs and Sprague, divisional police surgeons. They discovered that Camille had been shot once in the head, at close range. Professor Pepper’s opinion was that the bullet, ‘must have caused immediate insensibility, which would have continued until death.’
On Monday 22 June 1903, in Shire Hall, Chelmsford, it was indicted that Samuel Herbert Dougal, “on the 19th May 1899, did feloniously, willfully, and of his malice aforethought, kill and murder Camille Cecile Holland at Clavering.” In his opening speech, Mr. Gill KC, for the Crown, argued that on the evening of 19th May 1899, Samuel took Camille out for a ride in the pony and trap. He then proceeded to shoot her in the head and buried her body in a prepared grave in the grounds of the farm. Mrs Wiskin, Florence Blackwell and many of the women who had had an association with Samuel or the farm over the past four years were called to give evidence.
After the cases for both the prosecution and the defence had been heard, the jury retired to make their verdict.
After an absence of 56 minutes, they returned their verdict – guilty. The judge donned his black cap and passed sentence – execution by hanging.
“… it is my duty to pass upon you the sentence of the law – that you be taken from hence to the place from when you came, and from there to a place of execution, and that you there be hanged by the neck until you be dead, and that your body be afterwards buried within the precinct of the prison in which you shall have been last confined after your conviction. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul. “
Samuel Herbert Dougal was executed at Chelmsford prison at 8am on Tuesday 14 July 1903. He was buried in the grounds of Chelmsford prison and only his initials and a number on the wall near by marked the grave of one of Essex’s most notorious murderers.