Can a 16-year-old English girl really kill her own half-brother out of revenge and then escape trial for cold-blooded murder? How could this happen? And how was the crime of Constance Kent detected?
On the night of June 29, 1860, a small boy by the name of Francis Saville Kent went missing from his house in Rode, Wiltshire, in England. The boy, merely four years old, is found dead and stuffed in a privy (toilet) in the outhouse of the property the day after, with deep knife wounds on his body.
Someone had stabbed the toddler many times on his chest. However, the blow that must have taken his life was the one to the throat. The knife wound to the throat was deep, and almost decapitated the child.
At first, the nursemaid of Francis Kent was arrested because she was the one present with him most times. In such murder cases at the time, the initial suspicion was always away from any family member: how could a relative do such a thing?
However, in what many call the first instance of modern detective work in English history, the Scotland Yard police detective Jack Whicher found evidence that something else had happened. The nursemaid was soon acquitted of accusations, and instead, Francis Kent’s half-sister, Constance Kent, drew the attention of the police.
Although Constance Kent was arrested on July 16, 1860, she was later released without a trial. It was thought at the time that a girl of good breeding and of her class would not have committed such a horrid crime. Apparently only poor people do such things.
The Trial of Constance Kent
Five years after the murder in 1865, the case of Francis Saville Kent was reopened, and Constance was tried. She pleaded guilty to the crime she was accused of, and said she had confessed her crimes in front of a Catholic clergyman, Rev. Arthur Wagner.
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She also expressed her wish to plead guilty in court. The Reverend helped her fulfill this wish and even gave evidence of this intention in front of the judges. However, the Reverend did not tell the judges about what had happened on that fateful night of June 29, 1860.
The clergyman refrained from sharing the details that Constance had shared with him, saying that the information was protected under the ancient seal of Sacramental Confession, which only God was privy to.
Finally the details came out and, according to her confession, on that night Constance had waited until all the family members and servants went to sleep so that she could kidnap her half-brother. She had then gone down to the drawing-room and opened the shutters and the windows, to suggest the possibility of an intruder.
After this, Constance had taken Francis out of his cot and wrapped him in a blanket before sneaking out with him. She also readjusted the cot bedding so that no one would notice that Francis was gone. She then took the child to the privy of the house, where she killed him with her father’s razor that she had earlier stolen.
The murder that Constance seemingly committed was one of revenge, committed by a step-sister on her step-brother. The killing of the innocent child was not due to a personal grudge against the child but his mother. His mother was the second wife of Constance’s father and Constance hated her for replacing her own mother.
It was also suggested at the time of trial that Constance was not mentally stable when she committed the crime, which seems obvious. In fact, she was deemed mentally unstable for committing such a cold-blooded crime at such a young age.
Other Theories Around the Murder
On the other hand, many people thought that Constance’s confession was false and that she was protecting her father, who was the real culprit. According to this theory she had either shielded her father out of love, duty, or fear.
Mr. Kent was rumored to be a notorious womanizer who had a pattern of sleeping with multiple women. In fact, the second Mrs. Kent was the first Mrs. Kent’s maid and family nanny before Mr. Kent married her after a brief affair. The first Mrs. Kent died while Mr. Kent was romancing the family nanny.
This theory suggest that when the child unknowingly interrupted the lovers in the middle of their nightly rendezvous, the father killed the child with his razor in a fit of rage. This would make the crime an act of passion on Mr. Kent’s part. Since Mr. Kent’s razor was the tool of crime and his character questionable, he was a natural suspect.
However, a third theory that could have been true was based on the involvement of William Saville Kent, Constance’s blood brother. William was younger than Constance and her full brother, and the two shared a close relationship from the beginning.
After the death of their mother and the loss of their father’s attention towards them, the brother and sister counted each other as the closest family. It is possible that Constance saw William as someone she needed to look after instead of their father, Samuel.
It is also believed that the crime that Constance pleaded guilty to was either fully committed by William, or he was at least the brain behind the cold-blooded murder of their sibling. It is possible that the hatred and motive of revenge against their father’s second wife and jealousy against their brother were shared between the two.
Although it was believed by people that jealousy, revenge, and hatred were the reasons for the murder of Francis Kent, Constance never said that she committed the crime out of jealousy or hatred towards her half-brother. She never withdrew her original confession from the court too.
No matter how twisted this looks, the motive makes sense when we understand that Francis was their father’s favorite. The fact that Constance has enough criminal thought and evil in her to take away her father’s favorite from him forever as an act of revenge is a sign that Constance could have had a psychopathic mind. In her mind, it probably made sense, taking away Francis from her father just like her mother was taken away from her and her brother.
Constance Kent was sentenced to death for her crime on July 19, 1865. She was later given life imprisonment and served a sentence of twenty years of her life. However, she went on to live a long life and died at the age of 100 in the year 1944.
Top Image: Francis was found in the outdoor toilet of the Kent family household, but did Constance Kent put him there? Source: Rolands / Adobe Stock.
By Bipin Dimri
Murderpedia, 2022. Constance Emily KENT. Available at: https://murderpedia.org/female.K/k/kent-constance.htm
Harpers Weekly, Volume IX, Issue 452, 1865. CONSTANCE KENT. Available at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/h/harpersweekly/harpersweekly-idx?coll=harpersweekly;type=HTML;rgn=DIV1;id=;byte=7689979
Nijhuis, M, 2021. DETECTIVE FICTION HAS NOTHING ON THIS VICTORIAN-SCIENCE MURDER MYSTERY. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2021/06/william-saville-kent-murder-mystery/619202/