1908, March 22: Wilhelmina Dewar’s Fiery Death
On March 22, 1908, a retired teacher named Wilhelmina Dewar was found burned to death under unusual circumstances in the home in Whitley Bay, England, that she shared with her sister Margaret.
Around 9 PM on Sunday, March 22, Margaret Dewar ran into a neighbor's house shouting that she had just discovered her sister, Wilhelmina, dead. Neighbors rushed to the house with Maragret, and there found Wilhelmina's charred body... lying on an unburned bed. There was no other evidence of a fire in the house.
Asked about what had happened that day, Margaret said that she had assisted Wilhelmina to bed, and at about 2 o'clock on Sunday she took up some tea to her, which Wilhelmina refused; she said she wanted to rest. The next time that Margaret checked on her sister was around 9 PM that night, when she discovered her dead.
By 10 PM, Wilhelmina's body and the scene of her death were being examined by Dr. Campbell. Wilhelmina was definitely dead; she was "burnt from head to toe," and all her clothes were burned away. There were no signs of burning underneath the bedclothes she was lying on. It was his opinion that she had been dead for ten hours; it was his further opinion that she must have been carried into the room, as "it was impossible for her to have walked up the stairs, even if she had been assisted."
At the inquest, the coroner pressured Margaret Dewar to change her story, as the facts as they lay made no sense to him. An officer who was on the scene the night of March 22 testified that "he could not get an intelligible story from Margaret Dewar, who seemed under the influence of drink." It was not questioned as to whether or not Maragret was actually drunk, or just under extreme emotional distress. Eventually, Ms. Dewar was coerced into stating that Wilhelmina had been burned downstairs, and that she had then been assisted up the stairs by Margaret, only to die in bed later. Once this story was put forward, the case was closed with no attempt to explain where the fire came from or why there was no evidence of it within the household other than Wilhelmina's remains.