George Appleton: A Bad Apple

George Appleton 1873-1934

Habitual Criminal of Hadleigh, Essex and Cleveland, Ohio, and my half fourth great uncle

Since I have spent so much time researching my mysterious bigamous disappearing ancestory, Angelina/Leanor Appleton/Collins/Moxon, her siblings were a natural point of interest.  I knew two of her younger full siblings had emigrated to California and two of her even younger half siblings had gone to Ohio.  Could Angelina have gone with them?

The answer is no, or at least, if she did, she left no evidence that I could find.  But what I discovered about George was interesting in itself.  Bigamy was nothing compared to his crimes.

George was the oldest of William Appleton’s six children with his second wife, Mary Peters, and the only boy.  He was born in Leigh on Sea on 11th October 1873.  In 1891 he was living with his parents in Hadleigh and working as a farm labourer.  In 1901 I am not sure if I can find him at all.  There is a George Appleton of the right age living as a lodger in Chadwell Heath (25 miles from Leigh-on-Sea) but he gives his birthplace as Maldon.  This is the last time he is seen in the UK. His next appearance was in 1920, where he turns up in Cleveland, Ohio, working as a gardener.  Although he is listed as being married, he is not living with his wife, and she was nowhere to be found.  I did, however, find her on the next census, living not with George, but with his sister, Minnie.  Her name was Elizabeth, and she was born in Northern Ireland.  And where was George?  He was an inmate of the London Prison Farm, Madison, Ohio!

Photo of Minnie from her naturalisation papers (FamilySearch).  Minnie was a registered nurse and never in any trouble, unlike her brother.

Working backwards, I found Elizabeth in 1910, living with a “James” Appleton, who was a cook.  I think this may have been the enumerator’s mistake, or perhaps something a little more deliberate.  I found a number of records about Elizabeth, most interestingly her naturalisation record, in which she stated that she was from Antrim, Northern Ireland, and married George in Buffalo, NY in 1907.  Annoyingly, there are no marriage indexes for Buffalo, and Elizabeth did not state her maiden name, though I have found a baptism for an Elizabeth Conway in Antrim who was born on the exact same day.

None of this, of course, gave me any clue as to why George was in jail.

I plugged George’s name into the British Newspaper Archive website to see if I could find out anything about his misdeeds, and straight away I had a screen full of hits.  The first was quite unpleasant.  In 1890, George, then aged 17, had been accused of indecently assaulting thirteen-year-old Florence Miller.  Young Florence had apparently been taking shelter from the rain under a tree in Leigh when the assault happened.  The paper did not specify what form the assault took.  Florence apparently screamed, and George told her that he would give her a penny if she remained quiet.  Florence was too scared to tell her mother for three weeks.  She thought her mother would beat her.

The case was later thrown out of court.

In 1896 George enlisted in the Royal Engineers – but a year later, he was thrown out for misconduct.  I wish his record said what the misconduct was!

George’s name cropped up again and again in the local papers, and fortunately, his later crimes were not quite so distasteful.  In 1895, he and a friends broke into a church in Canvey Island, helped themselves to a quantity of fruit that had been used for harvest decorations (and, I suspect, some altar wine) and then “decamped with various sundry church altar ornaments”, leaving a “terrible mess”.  In 1896, he was fined for being drunk and incapable and refusing to quit the Wagon and Horses Inn in Hadleigh.  In 1902 he was charged with stealing fowls belonging to a man named Talbot Hart.  According to the newspaper, George had been invalided home from the Yeomanry at the time of the incident, and his nickname was “Drummer”.  In 1904, he robbed a house in Hadleigh, taking a considerable amount of jewellery.  He was sentenced to six months hard labour, and the newspaper report said that he had pleaded for leniency due to his wife and child being sick.  This interested me, because I wasn’t aware that George had a wife or child, and Elizabeth’s naturalisation certificate clearly stated they married after this date in the USA.  I searched the marriage records, but could find no George Appleton marrying in the right parts of Essex, or in Aldershot.  I wonder if he invented them to gain sympathy?

hadleigh_waggonhorses2 stuartsmith closed pubs
The Wagon and Horses, Hadleigh (Stuart Smith/

The only thing I could find about George’s US incarceration was that in 1931 he was fighting (successfully, it seems) a deportation order back to the UK.  The article says that he was in jail because of an “attack charge” and mentions that he had been convicted of several minor crimes before coming to America.  I found another article that stated that in 1922, he had been caught stealing a sofa from a store while it was closed due to it’s owner’s illness, but nothing about the “attack”.  Apparently he was serving a “1 to 20 year sentence” which seems rather vague.  I wish I could find out more about this, but the records of the jail are on microfilm in Ohio, and it’s rather a long way to go!

George’s death certificate is online at – one advantage of having America relations is that you can sometimes get their death certificates for free, instead of paying £9 like you do in England.  It shows that he died, aged 60, from bronchopneumonia and cholecystitis, which is a rather boring thing to die from.

George, Elizabeth and Minnie’s grave, East Cleveland Township Cemetery.  arabianvoice/FindAGrave

I have also found a photo of George’s grave on  This is rather interesting as although Elizabeth appears to have been buried with him, her date of death does not appear to have been filled in – the stone just reads “19__”, perhaps as if Elizabeth had this inscribed on the stone in preparation and no one ever completed it.  Then, underneath, it looks like George’s sister Minnie (or Minna as she also called herself) had been buried with them and her name squeezed into the stone.

There seem to be rather a lot of petty criminals in my family, particularly the Essex lot, but I think George might win the prize for the most prolific.  I’m quite surprised I haven’t come across a murderer, but there is still time.

4 thoughts on “George Appleton: A Bad Apple

  1. What a character! Every family has its troublemaker. It is strange that Elizabeth has no death date on the stone. Is it possible the stone was inscribed with her name but in the end she wasn’t buried there?


    1. Yes, could well be! I imagined that she was the last to die and that maybe no one was left to pay to have the date added to the stone, but she could be somewhere else entirely…

      Liked by 1 person

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