FREDERICK ROTHWELL HOLT AND KATHLEEN ( KITTY) BREAKS
Wooster without Jeeves
Frederick Rothwell Holt was a lucky man. He was thirty one years old. He had inherited five hundred pounds a year from his mother. This was in 1919 when a labourer would earn £140.00 a year. In addition he lived with his father and stepmother at Lakeside , Fairhaven, Lytham St Annes. He had few living expenses since he lived with his father and step- mother. He enjoyed jazz dancing in Blackpool and sports and he had many friends. And he had a beautiful girlfriend, Kitty Breaks,25, from Bradford.
Kitty Breaks was a stunner. She was called : “the prettiest girl in Bradford. “ She had previously been married aged 18, but the relationship had failed. She led a curious life. Part of the time she lived on a farm near Bradford. The other part of her life she was the glamorous and immaculately dressed companion of Frederick Rothwell Holt.
Frederick had served in France as a Lieutenant in Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and had been medically discharged rheumatism, depression and amnesia. He was a cheerful and outgoing young man known for his good humour and his love of sport. Perhaps he was a little over-exhuberant. Many young men had been killed and amongst those still alive their was a mood of frivolity with something darker not far below. Frederick was one for the girls and apart from his liason with Kitty is was expected that he would become engaged to the daughter of a wealthy Blackpool man.
Kitty Breaks travelled with Frederick from Bradford on December 23, 1919. She went for a meal at the Palatine Hotel at about 7.00 pm. She cut a striking figure. At about the same time that she went into the Palatine Hotel Frederick was having a drink at the Fairhaven near his home. He then got onto a tram and bought a two-penny ticket to the Manchester Home where he arrived at quarter to eight.
About 8.30 Kitty Breaks left the Palatine Hotel and made enquiries about the tram service to St Annes. She caught a tram to the Manchester Home. The Manchester Home is in the sandhills on the Western side of Clifton Drive. Part of the complex is now modern apartments but the older structure is still there. That part of the coast is isolated between the suburbs of St Annes and Blackpool, it must have been a bleak place in December 1919.
The positioning of public transport stops is conservative and the tramstop that Kitty and Frederick used is now a bus-stop. There is a pathway through the sandhills , north of the Manchester Home, to the beach. Interestingly there is a notice next to the bus-stop asking people to behave appropriately. The sandhills have always had a reputation.
At 10.26pm Frederick was seen by a tram driver.
Early the following morning, Christmas Eve, a man collecting driftwood found the body of Kitty Breaks in the sandhills. On examination she had been shot four times. Amongst her belongings were a number of letters from Frederick. At lunchtime Frederick was arrested at the Clifton Hotel, Lytham. He asked the Policeman arresting him if he could finish his coffee.
Doctor Spilsbury gave evidence on behalf of the home office that small stains on Frederick’s coat were of blood.
During this time and during his trial, appeal and up to his execution Frederick William Holt showed little concern about his own situation.
An examination of Kitty’s belongings showed that she had numerous passionate letters from Frederick. However there were shadows on their relationship and she seems to have been in touch with other admirers. She was insured for £5000.00 and had made a will in favour of Frederick Holt. Frederick Holt’s revolver and gloves were found at the sandhills. Distinctive footprints in the sandhills matched Frederick’s boots. The revolver was traceable to him because he had bought it in Preston and there was a record of the sale.
Given these facts the defending barrister Sir Edward Marshall Hall had his work cut out. Frederick’s father said that he had been at home. Frederick said that he had been for a walk after leaving the Fairhaven Public House and then gone home. Against this there was the evidence of the revolver, the footprints, the sightings by tram drivers, the careful notes in Kitty’s diary about how to get to the Manchester Convalescent Home, the insurance policies, the will.
Marshall Hall decided on a defence of insanity ( the Mnaughton Rules, which have an interesting connection with Blackpool, state that a person is not guilty if unable to understand what they are doing). There were good grounds for this defence. Frederick seemed to have little awareness of his situation. His family had a history of mental illness. Two eminent doctors gave their view that he was not aware of the significance of his actions. The actual murder was so bungled that Frederick was arrested within hours of the body being found. In addition although his general demeanour was jovial and unconcerned he did complain that the police were pursuing him in his cell with dogs and flies.
The jury found that he was fit to plead.
Marshall Hall’s defence was along two lines. On the one hand he said that Frederick had an alibi. On the other hand he said that if Frederick did do it he must have been insane because nobody sane would commit an act so callous and certain of discovery. Although he was an outstanding performer Marshall Hall had very little scope to defend Frederick. Marshall Hall’s defence was desperate: he was saying that Frederick didn’t do it but if he did do it that proved that he was insane and therefore not guilty.
Frederick was sentenced to hang. It is said that people in the past were more callous, but the judge was crying when he sentenced Frederick. On the other hand Frederick did not seem much concerned. He was seen hastily pushing the newspaper he had been reading into his pocket before sentence was passed.
There was an appeal which sought further medical confirmation of Frederick’s mental condition. A Doctor who had been unaware of the case said that he had been treating Frederick for a form of syphilis which can cause slow and barely noticeable mental deterioration.
It was to no avail. In his cell amongst his grief-stricken family Frederick alone was unconcerned. As he said before his appeal failed: “The only thing I’m really worried about is the hockey club. It seems to me that the season will be over before I get out of here.” It would indeed.
Frederick Holt expressed no remorse for Kitty Holt, nor did he admit to the crime. He did he not display any anxiety about himself. He had a good humoured relationship with the warders. It his hard to imagine his state of mind and one reason for the failure of the insanity plea was that he did not appear insane. Reading between the lines he was not a dangerous intellectual.
Saddest of all we imagine his last meeting with his sister and his father before his execution. Frederick Holt was the only person in the room who was unconcerned.
The idea of murdering for insurance money may have been inspired by the example of George Smith, the Brides in the Bath Murderer, whose trial which included evidence about the murder of Alice Burnham in Regent Road Blackpool. The trial of George Smith in August 1915 was one of the most widely reported cases of the century. The location of the murder of Kitty Breaks, the most isolated spot on the Fylde coast, shows planning. The image of the two wandering into the sandhills with very different outcomes in mind on that dark December night moves us to sorrow and pity.
Despite appeals by his family Frederick Holt was hanged on Tuesday April 13 1920 at Strangeways. As he walked to his death he was as always unconcerned.
Looking back Frederick it is hard to picture what went on in his head. Imagine how he felt after he had killed Kitty Breaks and gone back to his home to sleep and got up in the morning to go to Lytham were he was arrested whilst he had a cup of coffee. Kitty had letters from him, she had insured her life and he was the beneficiary, he had left a glove, a revolver and distinctive footprints at the sandhills. How did Frederick Holt think the world worked? Did he believe that Kitty Breaks’ body would be found and that despite the evidence he would not be questioned and that the insurance company would hand over the £5000 and that Investigators would decide that it was just one of those inexplicable cases of a Bradford Girl being found shot dead on the sandhills? Frederick Holt’s murder of Kitty Breaks must be one of the most easily solved crimes in the history of murder for profit. He was arrested a few hours after Kitty Break’s body was found. He was the obvious and only suspect.
The case brought together people who were also involved in the Brides in the Bath Case. Sir Edward Marshall Hall, the gifted defender, Spilsbury the forensic scientist and the hangman John Ellis from Rochdale, who later committed suicide.
For a time rough wooden crosses appeared at the spot where Kitty Breaks ‘ body was found. The case was very widely reported and for a time tourists from Blackpool and Lytham St Annes used to visit the spot.