Louisa Baguley and Ada Baguley Murders: How Did Dorothea Waddingham Die?

Investigation Discovery’s ‘Deadly Women: Cash In’ chronicles the double murders of Louisa Baguley and her daughter Ada Baguley nearly a century ago in Nottingham, England, in 1935. The episode shows how the perpetrator would have almost gotten away with murder if not for a last-minute twist. If you’re interested in finding out more about the case, including the perpetrator’s identity and current whereabouts, we’ve got you covered. Let’s begin then, shall we?

How Did Louisa Baguley and Ada Baguley Die?

Louisa Baguley, 89, and her daughter Ada Baguley, 50, were assigned by Mrs. Blagg, the Honorary Secretary of the County Nursing Association, to a nursing home at 32 Devon Drive, in Nottingham, England, in January 1935. According to reports, the octogenarian suffered from senility and was too weak to care for her daughter, who had a chronic disease named disseminated sclerosis or “creeping paralysis.” The mother-daughter duo was relatively well-off financially yet required a lot of care due to their old age and illness.

Louisa died on May 12, 1935, and her initial cause of death was stated to be natural causes. Due to her old age and fragile health, the attending doctor did not suspect foul play and determined she died of cardiovascular problems. A death certificate was issued promptly, and the 89-year-old was buried. Louisa’s daughter, Ada, continued living cheerfully at the Devon Drive nursing home through the summer of 1935. One of her friends, Mrs. Briggs, visited her on September 10 and found her in high spirits.

According to reports, Mrs. Briggs even told the nursing home authorities that she would have Ada over for tea at her house in a few days. However, the 50-year-old went into a coma the following day and allegedly died of a cerebral hemorrhage. But Dr. W. W. Taylor, Senior Assistant to the Nottingham Analyst, conducted an autopsy to find considerable traces of morphine in her stomach, liver, kidneys, and heart. As a result, Louisa’s body was also exhumed, and Dr. Roche Lynch did a postmortem to find even she had died of morphine poisoning. 

Who Killed Louisa Baguley and Ada Baguley?

Following the shocking discovery that Louisa and Ada were murdered, the nursing home owner, Dorothea Nancy Waddingham, and her husband, Ronald Joseph Sullivan, were immediately arrested. According to reports, Dorothea, usually known as Nurse Waddingham, was married to Thomas Willoughby Leech in 1925. She had three children with him. He was considerably older than his bride and died of cancer in 1933. Meanwhile, Dorothea had already served two prison terms on counts of fraud and theft.

After Thomas’ death, Dorothea reverted to her maiden name and began dating her then-lodger, Ronald, a World War I veteran who had won the Military Medal for gallantry. Besides, he had served in Ireland after the war. Though they were never married, Dorothea and Ronald had two children together. With five children to raise and care for, the couple experienced severe financial constraints until she hatched a plan to open a nursing home on their spacious residence at 32 Devon Drive, Nottingham.

According to the show, Dorothea had no official experience or professional medical degree except for the knowledge she gained working on the wards of Trent Workhouse infirmary in Staffordshire after passing high school. Yet, she lied to the county authorities, who deemed her a competent nurse and authorized her nursing home. On January 12, 1935, Dorothea and Ronald were tasked with looking after the Baguley mother-daughter duo in exchange for a weekly pay of thirty shillings (£1.50).

When her only other patient died in February 1935, Dorothea began to face monetary issues and was tired of the extensive care the Baguleys required in exchange for such meagrely pay. The episode showed how she allegedly threatened Ada with sending her and her mother to the workhouse since she could not take care of them anymore. Alarmed by the prospect, the latter summoned her solicitor, Mr. Lane, and wanted to change her will. Previously, she had willed her estate of £1,600 in trust for her mother after her death and divided the rest between her two cousins.

On May 4, Ada changed her will and made Dorothea and Ronald the sole beneficiaries of her will on the condition that they would look after Louisa and herself for the rest of their lives. The latter died six days later, whereas her daughter died a few months later. After Ada’s death, Dorothea produced a letter dated August 29, in which the former had allegedly expressed her wish to be cremated. The family doctor, Dr. Mansfield, issued a death certificate and a certificate permitting cremation. 

However, Nottingham’s Medical Officer for Health, Dr. Cyril Banks, got suspicious while studying the documents. According to reports, Ada had written about her last wish, expressing a desire that her relatives were not informed about her death. But Dr. Banks suspected the words, cramped together, were inserted after the original letter had been written. He ordered an autopsy of Ada’s body, and the report found she had been poisoned with morphine. When Louisa’s body was exhumed, the cause of death was the same as her daughter’s. 

How Did Dorothea Waddingham Die?

Dorothea and Ronald were jointly tried at Nottingham Assizes on February 24, 1936, on charges of murder. While the latter was discharged on the second day of the trial due to a lack of evidence against him, his partner was found guilty. Dorothea claimed she had administered morphine on the orders of the clinic’s doctor, which the latter denied. He stated he had prescribed the drug for another patient, Mrs. Kemp, and not Ada. On February 27, the jury found Dorothea guilty but added a recommendation to mercy.

Nevertheless, the judge and Home Secretary ignored the mercy recommendation, and Dorothea was sentenced to death. Since Nottingham no longer had an execution facility, she was shifted to Birmingham’s Winson Green prison. Dorothea’s date of execution was set on April 16, 1936, once her appeals were denied. Despite protests by thousands of campaigners outside the prison, she was hanged at 8:00 AM. According to reports, the 36-year-old had confessed to the double murder shortly before the hanging.

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