Dorothea Waddingham

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Dorothea Waddingham

Dorothea Nancy Waddingham (1899 - 16 April 1936) was a nursing home matron and convicted murderer in the United Kingdom.


Dorothea Waddingham is usually referred to as "Nurse" Waddingham, because the two murders she was accused and convicted of were committed in a nursing home she ran near Nottingham in England. In actuality she had no right to the title nurse. Born on a farm near Nottingham, the only medical training she may have been able to get was as a ward-maid at an infirmary near Burton-on-Trent. She married a man named Thomas Willoughby Leech in 1925. He was twice her age and dying of cancer. During their marriage she served two prison terms, for fraud and for theft.[1] Leech died in 1930, at which time Waddingham was seeing another man named Ronald Joseph Sullivan. Sullivan had fought in World War I and actually won the Military Medal for gallantry and also served in Ireland after the war.[2] They would marry and have four children.[3] While married to Sullivan she began to take in elderly and infirm patients, and turned her home at 32 Devon Drive, Nottingham into a nursing home.


It appears that prior to the arrival of the Baguleys the nursing home was doing fairly well in a small way. A Mrs Blagg, the Honorary Secretary of the County Nursing Association, approved of Waddingham's work, and arranged for a Mrs Baguley who was 89 and her daughter Ada (who had disseminated sclerosis or "creeping paralysis") to become patients. In February 1935 another patient named Mrs Kemp died from an illness which required large dosages of morphine. Plenty of the drug remained on the premises of Waddingham's nursing home.

Ada Baguley had made out a will leaving her estate of £1,600 in trust for her mother after her death, and with the rest to be divided between two cousins, Lawrence Baguley and Fred Gilbert after her mother died. Ada had been informed that it was likely she would precede her mother in death. However, this will was destroyed by Ada in May 1935, and a new will created that left all the money to Dorothea Waddingham and Ronald Sullivan when Ada and her mother both died (it being in recompense for the nurse's care of them). The elderly Mrs Baguley died in the second week of May.

Ada lasted through the spring and summer of 1935. Later it was said that Waddingham was quite attentive to her. In September 1935 Ada received a visit from an old family friend, Mrs. Alice Briggs, who spent an afternoon cheering her up. Mrs Briggs told Waddingham that she would have Ada over for tea at her home in a couple of days. But on September 11 (the next day) Sullivan called Dr. H. H. Mansfield that his patient Ada was in a coma. Mansfield came and found Ada was dead. As this was expected the doctor was not suspicious, and after getting further details from Waddingham he filled out a death certificate that Ada died of cardiovascular degeneration.

Ada had given her permission to be cremated and if the cremation had gone through it is probable that Waddingham could not have been proved guilty of Ada's death. But for the body to be cremated needed two doctors to sign the certificate, and this could only be done after the family of the deceased was notified. Ada, for some reason, had put into her will a request not to notify her relatives. This was odd by itself. Then Waddingham said there were no relatives. This was known to be a lie.

Unfortunately for Waddingham, the man in charge of cremations (known as the "cremation referee") was Dr. Cyril Banks, who was also the Medical Officer for Health in Nottingham. Banks had never thought highly of Waddingham's establishment as a so-called "nursing home", and knew there was no State Registered Nurse on the staff (as there should have been). He became suspicious at the note from Ada Baguley that authorised cremation[4] and ordered a post-mortem. The post-mortem found no traces of anything connected to Ada's physical conditions that could have immediately caused death. This led to an analysis of the organs of the deceased by Dr W. W. Taylor, Senior Assistant to the Nottingham Analyst. He found considerable traces of morphine (over three grains) in her stomach, liver, kidneys and even her heart.

Suspicions were now raised about the death of Mrs Baguley, and an exhumation ordered by the Home Office occurred. This was handled by Dr Roche Lynch, who found the mother had also died of morphine poisoning. This led to the arrests of Waddingham and Sullivan for the two murders.


Waddingham's trial started on the 4th of February 1936. She was tried by Judge Rayner Goddard.[5] Her barrister was Mr. Eales,[6] who did the best job he could. But the prosecution was in the hands of Norman Birkett (a rarity, for Birkett was normally handling criminal defence). Birkett brought out much damaging testimony, including how Ada Baguley's last meal was incredibly heavy and rich for a woman in her condition: Waddingham admitted that she gave Ada pork, baked potatoes, kidney beans and fruit pie - and gave her two portions of this. It suggested an effort to disguise the cause of death, and a lack of concern for the patient's welfare.[7] The result was that Waddingham was convicted of using morphine to poison Mrs. Baguley and Ada. The purported motive behind the murders was to gain the Baguleys' estate. It was also revealed that Waddingham claimed that Dr. Mansfield gave her surplus morphine tablets for Ada Baguley, which that doctor denied.[8] In trial, Sullivan was discharged for insufficient evidence, despite the fact that the so-called note from Ada Baguley regarding cremation was written by him.[9] Waddingham, however, was found guilty on the 27th of February, and, despite recommendation of mercy, due to her being a mother of several young children, she was hanged on the 16th of April 1936, having confessed to the crime shortly before her execution.[10] Her execution was carried out at Winson Green Prison and her hangman was Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by his nephew Albert Pierrepoint.

Waddingham was a mother of five and was still breastfeeding her 3-month old baby at the time of her execution. 10,000 people gathered outside the gaol to demonstrate against the execution, chanting "Stop this mother murder!".[10]

The fiancé of Ada Baguley, the daughter, committed suicide after her death.[10]

Popular culture[edit]

The execution is dramatised in the 2005 film Pierrepoint, in which Waddingham is played by Elizabeth Hopley. Although the film shows Timothy Spall as Albert Pierrepoint carrying out the execution, in fact the hangman was Thomas Pierrepoint (Albert's uncle); Albert acted as his uncle's assistant. Furthermore, the execution took place at Birmingham's Winson Green prison, not Holloway Prison in London as is implied in the film. The film is also incorrect in that it depicts the execution taking place during the war years.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rowland, p. 138-139.
  2. ^ Wilson and Pitman, p. 534; Rowland, p. 140.
  3. ^ There is some confusion about the parentage of the children. Wilson and Pitman say that Leech was the father of some children (p. 533-534) while Rowland said she only bore Sullivan children (p.149).
  4. ^ Wilson and Pitman, p.534-535.
  5. ^ Real Crime
  6. ^ Rowland,p.148.
  7. ^ O'Donnell, p.91.
  8. ^ Wilson and Pitman, p.535.
  9. ^ Wilson and Pitman, p.534.
  10. ^ a b c National archives