13 April 1920 – Frederick Rothwell Holt

An ex-World War I soldier put his crime down to post-traumatic stress disorder, but he still ended up on the gallows. Lieutenant Frederick Rothwell Holt had murdered his girlfriend, then tried to plead insanity. But there was a huge question of a £5,000 life insurance policy hanging over the case…

Point Breaks

An invalid following the war, Holt retired from the army and shacked up Kitty Breaks in Lancashire, who’d split up from her husband. They had a tidy £500 income per year, which Holt had inherited and things were seemingly going well. So it was a bit of shocker that, on Christmas 1919, when everyone should be preparing for the wintery festivities, Breaks’ body turned up on the beach at Lytham St Annes, near Blackpool. She’d been shot three times.

Footprints nearby matched his boots and his gun and a bloodied glove were also found buried near the corpse.

On this evidence, Holt was hauled in for questioning and it transpired that just a month before the murder, Breaks had taken out life insurance to the tune of £5,000, and guess who was the sole beneficiary? Holt: and that formed the basis of the prosecution. He stood accused of living beyond his means and killing his girlfriend so he could pocket the payout.

A lad insane

Holt, on the other hand, accused the police of setting mad dogs on him and trying to kill him with germ-ridden flies and poison him with gas. In other words, he was claiming post-traumatic stress and depression. However his plea of insanity fell on deaf ears and the jury found in favour of the prosecution.

He then appealed asserting that he’d caught syphilis while serving in Malaya and this had tipped him over the edge. But the Home Office refused to entertain the idea after he was checked over by psychiatrists.

Holt was executed, aged 32, at Strangeways in Manchester by John Ellis.

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3 Responses to “13 April 1920 – Frederick Rothwell Holt”

  1. alison Says:

    Kitty breaks was my great aunt. if anyone has any info please email me. I have quite allot of news cuttings and family history if anyone is interested.

    • Jo Zanetti Says:

      Dear Alison
      I have just read your comment on a blog about your Great Aunt Kitty Breaks. I am really interested to learn more about this unfortunate incident, and what, if it was recorded, her family’s thoughts were on the situation? It appears to be a very interesting case with strong personalities involved (and I include Sir Marshall Hall in that bracket too), and it would seem a lot going on in the background to it all. If you have the time I would love to hear from you.
      My background – my Granny lived in St Annes, and I spent all my childhood holidays up there, I loved it there. I’ve just taken my children up to revisit St Annes, and since coming home have been through my mum’s attic as I’m researching the family tree. (Historian by degree and it’s never left me!) She had a book on St Annes history and there was a short chapter on Kitty in there. For the last two days I’ve been trawling the web trying to find more information, and have just stumbled upon your comment!
      I hope I’m not troubling you, I would really like to learn more if at all possible.
      Thank you so much.
      Kind Regards
      Jo

      • Alison Woolley Says:

        Hello, thank you for your reply. I am on holiday at the moment, I do have a lot of info including personal letters from Kitty to her sister, my grandmother, newspaper cuttings, police statements and other bits and pieces. I do have them on disk so could email them if you are interested. I have always thought that it would make a good TV drama as it was all so very scandalous at the time. I worked at Bradford Crown Court for a while and used to travel home with a judge there. The case was also famous as it changed the law on insanity and ability to plead. Apparently the case is used at law school as being very interesting. . There is a book called “the trials of sir Marshall Hall” and a whole chapter is devoted to this case.
        My mother’s cousin lives in the Lytham area and she has the most info about all this. I am not really in touch with her and my mum passed away 3 years ago. It wasn’t until the last few years that she even mentioned anything about her aunt as I think she was embarrassed about it!
        I live in Yorkshire, and I will give you my email address, please feel free to contact me . alisonjwoolley@gmail.com
        Best wishes
        Alison

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