So besides ships sinking, I have a thing about unsolved mysteries – most especially spectacularly creepy murders. Doesn’t that make me sound like a bucket of bunnies and unicorns? Anyway, I hope most of you remember this guy:
That’s Robert Stack. Wow, I never realized how much eye makeup he wore before today. Anyway, I remember being a kidling and watching Stack walking around his fake police office trying to solve alien abductions, kid snatching, and old and new murders with tips from his audience on Unsolved Mysteries. I was transfixed by this crap and to a point still am. Yesterday in my interwebbings, I stumbled across a hot topic murder I’d never heard of before. HOLY CRAP, RIGHT? Yeah, that’s what I said guys. Holy crap indeed. Holy crap indeed.
So! Once upon a time in a place called Rode, England, there lived a dysfunctional family called the Kents. There was daddy Samuel Kent, his wife Mary Ann, and their two children, Constance and William. They were normal enough for a while, for English people anyway (/grin) – a nice country estate, tea and crumpets and elevensies, “Jolly Good Sirs!” and what-have-yous in the mid 1850’s – but then something terrible happened. Mary Ann got Teh Sick, and Samuel Kent (being a stellar guy and all around romantic) lamented that he no longer had anywhere to get his icky sticky, so he started playing grab happy with his children’s maid, Mary Drew Pratte. The kids weren’t keen on this. You could even go so far as to suggest they were angry about this. They were teenagers at the time it started, so it’s not like they had the blessing of youthful stupidity on their side. Nope, they were well aware that while Mom fevered it up in one room, Dad was playing hide the pickle a couple rooms down with someone else.
So Mom kicked off about 1856 or so. Dad grieved for twelve whole seconds before marrying the maid he’d been nailing. Mary Drew Pratte became Mary Drew Kent, and promptly did what any good English wife did in those days: rapidly spewed a boy child out of her loins. They called him Francis. History’s a little vague on what happened during that kid’s first few years, but all indications say whatever it was, it was not kosher. Some accounts held that Samuel Kent sort of forgot he had two other children and spent all of his time cooing over Francis. Others claimed Samuel got sick of Mary Drew and started porking yet another housemaid. Others still “gently suggested” that the two teen kids, William and Constance, were a little too close. You know, like jig-saw puzzle pieces only with naughty bits close. Creeeeepy.
Whatever the case, someone had some rage issues, because Francis Kent at almost four years old was found crammed in an outhouse vault in July of 1860. He’d been stabbed and someone had erm, nearly taken his head off. I won’t go into anymore details, but they weren’t pretty. It was really, really brutal, and incited people so much everyone was weighing in on what could have happened, including Charles Dickens (who said that the father, Samuel Kent, was a douchebag and probably killed his own son). It was one of those crimes where everyone had an opinion of what went down, but no one could prove anything. Francis’s nanny was first questioned by the authorities, but they let her go and then arrested Constance, who was sixteen at the time. She was released without a trial.
The family, being supportive, shipped Constance’s ass off to a convent and moved to Wales to hide from the overexposure.
What happened next actually shook Parliament all night long. Constance told Rev. Arthur Wagner a couple years after the fact that she killed her brother and wanted to do the right thing by going through the justice system for her crime. Rev. Wagner said he’d help her, but when he went to police, he said he’d only give them -the bare bones- of her confession because Constance was protected under sacramental confession. Keep in mind this was the Church of England, not the Catholic church, so a lot of people pointed at Wagner and called bullshit on him for invoking another religion’s rule set. The police didn’t press him as much as they could have, though, because Constance admitted to her crimes and really, what was important was they had their guilty party. She was charged five years after Francis’s death, found guilty, and shipped off to prison.
Parliament, meanwhile, bandied back and forth about whether or not to charge Reverend Wagner with anything, like contempt of court. Lots of folks said he couldn’t just make up religious rules on the spot, but others said “if we let it fly for the Catholics, we gotta let it fly for the Church of England, too”. In the end the latter group won the day, but not without a lot of grumbling and public outcry.
So post confession, it should have been a cut and dry end to the story, except a few things never matched up and people still debate them to this day. For starters, Constance claimed no motive. She said she killed Francis but bore her younger brother no ill will. The murder itself? Utterly brutal, so that doesn’t seem like a passionless crime. Everyone speculated if she did do it, it was to get revenge on her father A) for loving someone more than her, and B) as punishment for being a lecherous asshole over the years. But Constance was nothing if not temperate, and either she’d done a 180 on everyone and become something savage for a couple minutes in order to carry the murder out, or she was you know – lying about killing her kid brother.
Her disposition led a lot of people to speculate that this was the case, that William actually committed the murder and she was protecting him. At one point he was questioned for the crime but was subsequently released on the basis of no proof. If Contance and William were doing that incestuous tango bit some folks alluded to, that’d explain why the sister would try and protect the brother. William would have surely hanged for Francis’s death – and Constance nearly did (her original sentence was for death, but it was commuted to life and subsequently dropped down to the twenty years she served). But Constance never pointed fingers at anyone else. Even when both her father and brother died and she was living out her days in the convent, she flat out refused to talk about the crime beyond “I did it”, and she never tried to shuck the blame.
So there’s today’s installment of Robert Stack’s Unsolved Mysteries. Only it’s sorta solved? But not in a satisfying way.