A crime of passion
Cricketer Leslie Hylton hanged for pumping 6 bullets into wife's body
MAY 7, 1954 — Staring at the bars of his cell at the Central Police Station in Kingston, popular West Indies fast bowler Leslie Hylton could hardly believe the dramatic turn of events in his life, just one day after the brutal gun-slaying of his wife, Lurline.
The script had all the elements of successful novels — adultery, betrayal, famous personalities, and a crime of passion. Jamaica quickly became absorbed with this drama which had left many in shock, awe and, at the same time, disbelief and disappointment that this greatly admired cricketer had reportedly pumped six shots into his wife after she had admitted to him her guilt in an adulterous relationship.
The reputed lover — a man overseas named Roy Francis — was the cause of what Hylton later described in court as his reason for losing his temper; exacerbated by the bitter words thrown in his face by his wife, who said, in part: "...Roy is a better man than you. I love him. Just the sight of you makes me sick. I cannot bear to touch you. I can't bear you to touch me. I am finished with you!"
An anonymous letter posted at Brooklyn in New York, USA and received by Leslie Hylton on April 17, that year, was what started this rapid decline in the relationship and eventually the destructive and tragic end to the story.
The letter stated that Hylton's wife, Lurline, who was then in New York, had been carrying on an adulterous relationship with Francis, who lived in that city.
A Home Circuit Court jury later heard that upon receipt of the letter, Hylton said he would cable his wife to come home, and if she did not, he would go to New York and shoot her. When he was told if he did that he would be hanged, his reported retort was: "They would not do that as I have the anonymous letter to show."
Lurline Hylton, the records disclosed, spoke to her husband later that night, having received his cable, and she returned to Jamaica on May 2, 1954. The day before, Leslie Hylton had allegedly started preparing to kill her, acquiring cartridges for his revolver.
How his wife was killed was later unveiled before Justice Colin MacGregor (later Chief Justice) and a jury in a trial which attracted massive crowds in and around the Supreme Court building. Loud cheers greeted every glimpse of Hylton's defence team as the trial proceeded.
Attorney Vivian Blake (later appointed Queen's Counsel) instructed by Noel N Nethersole, solicitor, appeared for Hylton. The case for the prosecution was presented by Harvey DaCosta, a senior prosecutor in the Attorney General's Department, assisted by Louis B Fox, crown counsel (later Judge of the Court of Appeal).
The trial was gripping. The evidence was that after calling her home, Hylton met his wife at the airport. To the casual onlooker, the relationship between the two appeared cordial.
The court heard that on the afternoon of May 5, some six hours before she was shot, Mrs Hylton mailed a letter to her New York lover. Her husband saw the letter and tried unsuccessfully to retrieve it from the post office. It was the prosecution's case that the accused suspected that by writing that letter, his wife was confirming the allegations in the anonymous letter and had, therefore, shot her out of jealousy.
Mrs Hylton died on the early morning of May 6, 1954 from the effect of, according to the government pathologist, six entry bullet wounds into her body and two exit wounds. There were also two abrasions on the body and two bullets were reported to have struck the wall on the right or southern side of the bed. The shooting was alleged to have taken place in the maternal bed in a house owned by the mother of the deceased at 31 Arnold Road in Kingston. All the injuries were inflicted on the left side of the body.
Several confessions allegedly made by Hylton shortly after the shooting were tendered in evidence. In his defence, he denied issuing any threats as alleged. He claimed he had purchased the cartridges for security reasons as a neighbour's house had been broken into the month before. He insisted that he had accepted his wife's denial of the charges in the anonymous letter and the relationship between them was a happy one.
He recalled seeing that the letter his wife had written had been addressed to Roy Francis and he admitted that he had tried to get it back from the post office. He had questioned his wife about the letter while lying in bed in the early morning of the 6th. He told her he would obtain it later that evening, whereupon he said, she confessed that she had committed adultery with Francis. She then went on to abuse him.
That is when the accused recited the words contained in the abuse, to wit: "Since you have been going to all this trouble you might as well know here and now, because I cannot stand the torture of the past few days any more. I have written to him, so what?! I should have followed my parents' advice and not marry you. You are out of my class. What have you done to make me happy? You are a hindrance to me... Roy is a better man than you. I love him. Just the sight of you makes me sick. I cannot bear to touch you. I can't bear you to touch me. I am finished with you!"
Shocked, Hylton said, he asked his wife: "Are you crazy? What is going to happen to us and to G?" (G being the couple's nine-year-old son who had been attending one of Kingston's prestigious prep schools).
This is what he related was his wife's response to the question:
"You brute! After all these years, I have wasted my life with you, and now that I have found the man I love; you cannot stand in my way. He has given me joy what I have never known with you. I want to bear his children. Yes, I have slept with him. I never felt like that before. My body belongs to him. I am Roy's, Roy's, Roy's!"
Then Hylton re-enacted this dramatic scene for judge and jury:
Accused: (to his wife): "I am your husband; you can never get rid of me. I promise you that."
Mrs Hylton: "You stand in my way, I will show you!"
He continued: "She then took up the revolver which was on the window sill and attempted to shoot me. I heard it click."
According to Hylton, he struggled with his wife at that point. He took the revolver from her and then he had a complete blackout and had no recollection of shooting his wife. But he believed he did shoot her as he found the revolver in his hand and saw her bleeding. He said he reloaded with two cartridges and tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide.
He told the Court he completely lost control of himself due to the provocation brought to bear on him by his wife. The jury, however, was unimpressed.
On October 20, 1954, five months after the killing, they returned a unanimous verdict of guilty of murder and the judge pronounced the death sentence. His appeal against the verdict in the Court of Appeal was dismissed on January 10, 1955. An application was then made to Her Majesty in Council for leave to appeal, but that too was refused on April 21,1955.
Chief Justice Sir John Carberry presided in the ensuing appeal in the Appeal Court of Jamaica. With him were Sir Alfred Rennie and Justice Cools-Lartigue.
In a judgment delivered by Carberry, note was taken of two instances where there were inaccuracies as to the facts, in the summing up of the trial judge. However, the court did not think "either of them material".
Among other things, the judgment said:
"The appellant (Hylton) said that his wife confessed to him that she had committed adultery; let it be conceded that this was a sudden and unexpected confession and that she added the words he repeated in his evidence — which were described by his counsel as words of abuse, insult, derision, and contempt — and that she took up a loaded revolver, pointed it at him and pulled the trigger, as he heard it click.
"To this provocation he retaliated by firing six bullets into her body. Assuming that the appellant's defence is accepted in its entirety, we are of opinion that there was not sufficient material for a reasonable jury to form the view that a reasonable man, so provoked, could be driven through transport of passion and loss of self-control to the degree and method and continuance of violence that the appellant used in this case.
"His mode of resentment was entirely disproportionate to the provocation he suffered. We are satisfied that even if there had been a perfect summing up and had the question objected to not been allowed in cross-examination and the answers given, a reasonable jury must have come to the conclusion that the appellant was guilty of murder.
"There is one other matter which should be mentioned. The appellant said that the provocation he received caused him to suffer a 'blackout'. There is no evidence of insanity and, apparently, he meant that when he discharged the six bullets he was suffering from a temporary loss of consciousness...
"We are of opinion that no miscarriage of justice has actually occurred in this case. The appeal is dismissed and the conviction and sentence are affirmed."
As time drew near for the famous cricketer to make his final walk to the gallows, reports from the Spanish Town District Prison, where he spent his last moments, were that his hair had turned completely white overnight. And Leslie Hylton was hanged on the gallows for the murder of his wife, Lurline on Tuesday, May 17, 1955, almost a year to the day he blasted her with his gun, after she had blasted him with her tongue.
Next week: A story of murder with a happy ending
Sybil Hibbert is a veteran journalist and retired court reporting specialist. She is also the wife of Retired ACP Isadore 'Dick' Hibbert, rated as one of the top detectives of his time. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org