Murder is a tricky business – ask anyone serving 20 to life in prison – if you don’t believe me. The cleverest murderers, of the 1800s, the ones who became the subjects of intriguing plot twists, in memorable Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes novels, were the ones who contrived to make murder look like accident or fate. In 1881, in Nassau, a poor drunkard’s demise, may very well have been, premeditated murder.
Rebecca McKeeve was an inveterate alcoholic. She was 45 years old, a widow and her race was English. She could not write her own name; she had no known profession. It was a well known fact, across the length and breadth of Nassau, such as it was in 1881, that Rebecca McKeeve, liked the drink. These are not unkind words. At her death inquest, the witness testified“She was, speaking the plain truth, an habitual drunkard.”
Charles Winter, the newly married husband, gave his profession as sail maker. On 10th July 1881, on the marriage certificate, he was listed as a widower. It is not known how many times he had been married before he wed the unfortunate Rebecca McKeeve. Winter was illiterate, he made an X for his name on the marriage certificate. Winter’s age was unknown.
On the day of her marriage, the 10th July, 1881, given the tragic circumstances of the following seven short days, it is highly doubtful Rebecca McKeeve had the presence of mind to enter into the marriage contract for when Rebecca was taken up aisle in St. Matthew’s Church, the woman was most certainly drunk. Newly married Rebecca certainly did not understand what was happening to her, as she breathed her last, alcohol fumed breaths, just seven days later, on 17th July, 1881.
Rebecca McKeeve and Charles Winter married on 10th July 1881. Exactly 7 days later, Rebecca McKeeve, now Rebecca Winter would be dead. Was she murdered?
Was Rebecca purposely murdered for some nefarious reason? Did Rebecca McKeeve have a pension of some sort from her previous husband, which the new husband wanted? Was the marriage all just a ruse to get money through Rebecca’s quick, unquestioned death? Did her new husband take out life insurance on her and wanted a quick collection? Charles Winter stood to gain something from Rebecca’s death, whatever it was, it has been lost to history.
Charles Winter kept his wife plied with alcohol during the entire week of their marriage, the very last week of her life. He made no effort to seek medical assistance for her. The new husband did not sleep in the same bed with his wife. Rebecca Winter also, by her husband’s own testimony at the death inquest, did not eat any food whatsoever, during the entire week she was married to Charles Winter. As Rebecca lay dying on the bed, Charles Winter sat on a nearby bench, in the room, watching her… waiting patiently… for the end.
What is also known, by testimony was that for the one and only week that Charles Winter was married to Rebecca McKeeve-Winter, they lived in a room, in a boarding house. The room next to them was occupied by one Benjamin Finlay. By coincidence or possibly not, one of the witnesses to the marriage was one Eliza Finlay.
Curiously as well, the marriage was done after banns. That means, the intent to marry was published on the church calendar, so that any one wishing to object, could. Rebecca had to have been without children, for surely, her children would object to their alcoholic mother marrying, knowing her deplorable state. Not even the church objected. Such was the fate of poor women and poor whites, in general, in The Bahamas in the 19th century. Charles Winter had a clear field of play, to do what he wanted, with Rebecca McKeeve.
The burning question then becomes, who on Earth would turn a blind eye and marry off an obviously emaciated, sick alcoholic woman to a man who would feed her with copious amounts liquor and watch her die only days later?
St. Matthew’s Church, Nassau where Welshman Rev. Mr. John Roberts married Charles Winter to an obvious and inveterate alcoholic Rebecca McKeeve-Winter on 10th July 1881.
Curate John Roberts from Wales, Great Britain, served in Nassau for two years married the pair.
We know that Rev. Mr. Roberts married Charles Winter and Rebecca McKeeva Winter because Charles Winter makes specific mention of it. Charles Winter testified, at the death inquest, that it was at the behest of the good gentleman Reverend Roberts that he married in the first place.
While Rev. Mr. John Roberts (1853-1959) was in Nassau, he met Laura Alice Brown, daughter of a wealthy sponge merchant named Joseph Brown. Laura Alice (1864-1941) was the cathedral organist at St. Matthew’s. John Roberts would have met her when she was about sixteen years old. She was born in 1864, and was eleven years younger than the young Welshman. After John Roberts left Nassau, they continue to write to each other. Laura Alice would much later become John Roberts’s wife.
THE INQUEST EVIDENCE
An Inquisition was held on Sunday last on view of the body of Rebecca Winter, age 45, who was found dead in her bed early on Sunday morning. – The evidence disclosed the fact that the deceased had been for some years past addicted to the too free use of alcoholic drink. She had been married just one week. There was little doubt that the woman had drunk herself to death, and the jury returned a verdict accordingly.
What the one witness Benjamin Finlay said. —-An inquest was held by the Coroner on Sunday last, 17th instant, on view of the body of Rebecca Winter, 45 years of age, who came to her death under the following circumstances:
Benjamin Finley, being sworn, stated that he knew the deceased as well as Charles Winter, her husband, being a neighbour and living in the next room. She was, speaking the plain truth, and habitual drunkard. She was married last Sunday, and, before and since, was drunk every day. A few nights ago both her husband and herself were so drunk that they stumbled about the room. One could not get the other water. There was no fighting – they were simply drunk. Witness did not think, from what he could observe, that the deceased had eaten food for a week past.
What the husband Charles Winter testified to:-
Charles Winter deposed that he was the husband of the deceased. He was sorry to say that she died of drinking. She was drunk all yesterday, and went to bed drunk. Last night Saturday, just before 8 o’clock she begged him so hard that he went and got her 3d. worth of rum, which she drank, and was still lying down. He (Winter) slept on a bench. In the morning, on going to her, he found her cold and dead. She had eaten no food for a week. The Reverend Mr Roberts, Acting Rector of Saint Matthews, advised him not to live as he had been living, and he married her. She always drank very hard.
The jury returned the following verdict: “That the said Rebecca Winter, on the 17th day of July, in the year aforesaid, by excessive drinking and not from any hurt, injury, or violence done or committed to the said Rebecca Winter, to the knowledge of the juries, did die.”