WILLIAM Hopkins apart, no one fully knew what happened in her bedroom and why he strangled his mother.

It's an abiding mystery.

What drove him to do it and did he mean it?

Hopkins claimed it was a mercy killing that had hideously gone wrong. His ailing mother, had begged him to do it but all he intended was to frighten her.

The judge thought otherwise, his remarks underlining his belief that he had deliberately killed her out of exasperation from her spiralling drinking. Hopkins, 28, came from a trouble background. His mother was 67, bizarrely called by her son and children as 'Granny'. But the traditional image of a doting grandmother was far from removed. She was an alcoholic. So too had been her husband who had predeceased her and their parents.

Hopkins himself had once broken into a Ringwood factory where he worked as a collar cutter to steal money. He absconded but returned a few days later and surrendered to the police. That same year, 1909, he appeared at Hampshire Assizes where he attributed his crime to drink.

His firm offered him the opportunity of returning, provided he gave up alcohol. He accepted and was bound over. True to his word, he never touched another drop.

Unlike his mother whose condition became so grave that a doctor sternly recommended that she should leave her home in Southampton Street, Ringwood, and be moved to the workhouse where she would be looked after by the Guardians.

But neither she, nor her two sons wanted it. instead she came to live at the other brother's home in Moor Town.

Hours later, on July 9, 1912, she was dead.

Who killed her was never disputed, prosecutor S H Emanuel told jurors when Hopkins appeared at Hampshire Assizes on November 11 to face a charge of wilful murder.

Dressed in a smart black suit, he spoke in a clear voice when asked how he pleaded.

"Not guilty," he answered.

Emanuel's opening statement to the jury took just eight minutes, alleging he had stuffed a handkerchief into her mouth to stifle her cries: "There is only one verdict you can come to."

Bessie Moore, his niece, told the court of a conversation between Hopkins and his mother that fateful morning.

"He came into my room before I got up. I asked him how his mother was and she had replied to him: 'I don't think I shall get any better.'"

Later he gave her 2s and asked her to get some milk. "I did not notice anything about him when he came down about 20 minutes later."

Moore then told jurors how he had confessed to her what he had done.

"He came downstairs and said: 'I have done it."

"What?" I asked.

"I have strangled mother. She made me do it, she prayed for me to do it and I have done it."

He had been crying and looked worried and at his request, she accompanied him to the police station.

In company with the police superintendent and the police surgeon, they returned to the house. her body was covered by bed clothes. One handkerchief was stuffed in her mouth, another was tied around her neck.

The Crown's last witness, Dr Charles Cressey, told the court that the loose handkerchief was too small to have caused suffocation. The other around her neck had been tightly tied with a knot on the right side and her thyroid cartilage had been fractured.

"The injury could not have been self inflicted. She could not have put the handkerchief in her mouth and tied the other one."

How was it caused, Emanuel asked.

"By pressure between something outside and the backbone," he explained.

"Impossible to do it herself," suggested Mr Justice Buckland.

"I wouldn't say it was impossible for her to have caused the fracture but it is very improbable."

The doctor then gave an insight into the defendant's state of mind.

"His health has improved since he has been in prison. The day before the occurrence he was in a highly exited condition, neurotic and hysterical. He was crying and running up and down. On the day of the occurrence, he was in a lethargic condition owing to the reaction from the excitement of the previous day."

G W Ricketts defending, asked; "Was he in such a condition that he could be easily induced to do anything?"

Cressy: "Yes."

The judge interposed: "Near the borderland of insanity?"

Cressey: "I would not say insane."

The judge remarked: "I did not ask you that. I purposely did not ask that."

Ricketts stressed he was not putting forward insanity as the defence but suggested to Cressey: "Would the special stress to which he was exposed, taken with his unstable inheritance, render him liable to mental confusion?"

Cressey: "Yes."

Ricketts: "Supposing she had pressed him to kill her and supposing he, in a moment of irritation, had wished to frighten her by appearing to comply with her request, was he in a condition, according to your opinion, to judge how much pressure he was exercising or how it would be safe to exercise it without killing her?"

Cressey: "No."

Ricketts: "Do you think his mind might have been in such a state that he did not know danger of the force he was exercising?"

Cressey: "His mind might have been in such a state that he could not judge of the danger of what he was doing."

Ricketts: "Did she ever ask you to make away with her?"

Cressey: "Yes

Ricketts: "Was that recently?"

Cressey: "Yes, on the 8th."

The judge then asked: "Would there not be some struggle, even if the a person wanted to be strangled as life was ebbing out?"

Cressey replied: "Not necessarily."

His evidence concluded, Hopkins stepped into the witness box, reliving how his mother in the grip of drink would attack him, make complaints and cause a disturbance. "Her drinking habits upset me greatly."

When he and his brother discussed putting her into a workhouse, she had been very upset at the prospect and smashed things in the house. He spent the night before her death in a chair, "very worn out and tired".

That morning his mother was running about the bedroom but he persuaded her to return to bed, giving her a kiss and hoped she would be better. After he had gone downstairs, she began running about again and he gave Bessie 2s to get some milk.

He then returned to his mother, urging that if she left the drink alone, she had a good chance of getting along.

"She turned very awkward. She snatched a handkerchief out of my pocket and begged me to strangle her. She placed one end in her mouth and began to tie the other around her neck. I pulled the two ends and went downstairs."

In answer to questioning from his barrister, Hopkins insisted he had not intend to strangle her. "I did it to frighten her."

He then went downstairs, made himself a cup of tea and when he returned, he found his mother dead.

"Had you any expectations of finding her dead?" Ricketts asked.

"None whatsoever," he replied.

Ricketts: "You told Bessie you had strangled her."

Hopkins: "Yes, but I was so frightened that I gave myself up to the police."

Emanuel centred his cross-examination on the knot, Hopkins denying he had tied it.

Emanuel: "If the knot was tied before you pulled it, you would not have been able to pull it?

Hopkins: "I only gave it one pull and went downstairs."

Emanuel: "Did you give it a hard pull?"

Hopkins: "Yes."

Emanuel: You went downstairs, had some tea and came up again. Why?"

Hopkins: "To see how she was, thinking she might have removed it. I thought she was dead. I did not touch her but I saw she was black in the face through her not being able to breathe. I didn't loosen the handkerchief because I was scared."

Emanuel: "What was it that drove you to do it?"

Hopkins: "Worry, trouble and excitement."

Emanuel: "Was it because she exasperated you about the drink?"

Hopkins: "No, not about the drink, there were other things as well and that drove me to do it."

Emanuel finally asked why, when charged with murder, he had not told the police he had not intended to kill her.

"I was very excited. Before the magistrates I was so worn out I could not speak."

In his closing speech, Ricketts described Hopkins as "a good son and kept a home for this drunken and worthless mother". Having given up drink, he more acutely felt her condition.

"He did what he did in a fit of temper, wishing only to frighten her of the dreadful condition she was in. He did it to show what strangulation was like but he never intended to put her to death."

Jurors retired for 10 minutes before acquitting him of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

After Ricketts had urged him to pass a lenient sentence, the judge said he found the circumstances difficult and adjourned sentence until the following day.

Speaking with emotion, the judge expressed his own thoughts.

"No one would have been surprised if you had been found guilty of wilful murder. If I use the words that you had a narrow escape, I would be speaking the truth and you know it."

Crediting him for trying to redeem her from drink, he alluded to the mystery of how his mother was found lying peacefully on her back strangled.

"How she got into that position of peaceful rest apparently no one knows and you have not explained it. You say she snatched the handkerchief away from you and took another from under her pillow. She could not have been in that lying position in which she was found when she did that."

He then damned him over what he had told his niece.

"You said 'I have done it, I have strangled her, she drove me to do it' but you did not say you had done it to frighten her or that you didn't expect to find her dead. It was an after thought and was stated for the first timed yesterday, except when you saw your brother but you did not say it to Bessie or the police.

"I am not finding fault with the jury's verdict.The only sensible way to understand it is that they have given you the benefit of the doubt and that you may have acted from an impulse and with no intention to kill her. I am bound to pass a severe sentence. The doctor says you are not insane and that in his opinion the fracture could not have been inflicted by the woman and there must have been severe force to inflict the fracture.

"The sentence of this court is that you go penal servitude for 10 years."