The Sunday Leader

The Hanging Cricketer

By Richard Browne

Leslie Hylton

The release of Mohammed Amir last week from prison in the UK, was no doubt a huge relief to his family and friends. One imprisoned Test cricketer, though, would never smell the fresh air of his home village again upon release, because Leslie Hylton of Jamaica and the West Indies was the only Test cricketer to ever be executed- hanged for the murder of his wife in May 1955.
Hylton was born in 1905 and had a troubled childhood: his mother died when he was very young, then her sister who took on maternal duties also died young. Hylton left school when barely into his teens and entered the garment trade, with little success as a tailor’s assistant, before becoming a docker in 1933.
Luckily or perhaps unluckily Hylton showed great promise as a cricketer for Jamaica which eventually saw him picked for the full West Indian team to take on the visiting English in the Test series of 1934/35.
The West Indian’s lead by the heroics of the ‘Black Bradman’ George Headley managed to win the series 2-1. The opening Test which was won by the English was also Hylton’s debut and was an extraordinary match on a wet wicket, where the Jamaican debutant took a very creditable 3-8 in the first innings, then had to open the batting on a dangerously wet wicket, furiously chewing on a tooth pick, before going around the park in England’s second innings.
In the series though he took 13 wickets at 19 in what was a huge and pioneering victory for the West Indian’s over their colonial masters.
Hylton played little first class cricket after his debut series and was not picked for the 1939 tour of England. This caused uproar in Jamaica and his tour fee was paid for by various wealthy Jamaican benefactors. He did little on that sad tour that ended with Hitler’s Germany invading Poland and the onset of six years of war.
Hylton returned home and changed jobs for the final time, this time joining the Jamaican Civil Service in the Rehabilitation Department, eventually becoming a Grade One Foreman.
What his cricketing fame allowed was access to the higher realms of Jamaican society, which by all accounts was a rigid thing at the time. In 1942 he married Lurlene Rose. Her father was the inspector of police in Jamaica and did not approve of the rough looking Hylton, even insisting that police records were checked before giving his consent to the marriage.
Consent was finally given and the first few years of the marriage appear to have been happy with a son, Gary being born in 1947. It was only when his wife went to New York to further her dress making career that things started to go drastically wrong.
Word reached Hylton via a letter from an ‘anonymous friend’ that Mrs Hylton was involved in a passionate affair with a renowned ladies man, Roy Francis and the affair had reached the point where the two had moved  in together on Brooklyn Avenue.
Hylton who was famed for his fiery temper was not amused and after showing the letter to his mother in law, who was by now widowed, sent a furious telegram to the States demanding his wife’s return. After trying to fob him off with various excuses Lurlene returned chastened, angry and very much in love, but not with her cricketing hero of a husband.
She denied having an affair with the much admired Francis and referred to him as a ‘casual acquaintance”. A local paper the Daily Gleaner described events as “, “the matter was settled in true matrimonial form.”
It appears that Hylton was not entirely convinced though and when he asked to see the letters a servant was delivering to the post office was enraged to see one addresses to Francis.
Hylton allowed the servant to deliver the letters then stormed down to the post office to take a look. He was informed that the post was now the property of the Crown and even for local legends rules are rules and he couldn’t see it.
That night unable to sleep Hylton confronted his wife, in argument that would see her dead before sun rise.
Hylton told his wife that he knew of the letter and was going to intercept it the following morning. Not knowing that this was impossible she confessed saying:
“You are out of my class. What have you done to make me happy? You are a hindrance to me. Look at the likes of you. Roy is a better man than you. I love him. Just the sight of you makes me feel sick … I am Roy’s, Roy’s, Roy’s.”  Before pulling up her night dress to show Hylton exactly what he was missing.
According to Hylton having received the totality of his wife’s confession he informed her that, he being her lawful husband, she would never be rid of him at which point, according to Hylton, she grabbed his revolver, pointed it at him and declared ‘If you stand in my way I will shoot you’.
Hylton went on to say that the trigger was pulled, that he heard a click, and that there followed a scuffle while he attempted to get control of the revolver. Hylton’s account was that the next thing he knew was that there was blood all over Lurline and the room.
At the trial Hylton was defended by his former Jamaican captain Noel Nehtersole. There was no question that he had killed her, the question was simply manslaughter or murder.
A gaping hole in his defence was that there were seven bullet wounds in his wife’s body and the gun used for the crime only had room for six, meaning that he had reloaded his pistol and making a mockery of his story. He had also when initially being interviewed said ‘I am sorry.. I guess I just lost control’.
Then as now provocation in killing someone can see the punishment reduced to manslaughter, but so damning was the evidence that even after the case was taking to the appeal’s court of the British Privy Council, the judge donned his black hat and sentenced the man who was briefly a national hero to death.
Hylton was received into the Roman Catholic Church after sentencing and is said to have been philosophical about his fate. There was very little written about the whole affair.
CLR James the most likely suspect, a renowned West Indian cricket and political author never penned words on the subject. Wisden didn’t even mention the hanging in Hylton’s obituary. The only contemporary player to publish an autobiography Sir Learie Constantine didn’t feel the event worthy of mention.
We are therefore left with the observation made by Jeffrey Stollmeyer, who played alongside Hylton in 1939, and was subsequently West Indies Captain, who stated in his autobiography that was published in 1983 that ‘It seemed a great shame that one so powerful and vital should have to pay the full penalty, but his temper had let him down for the last time’.
The next man of note to take the new ball for Jamaica and West Indies, Roy Gilchrist would end up in an English prison for brandishing his wife with an iron, but that is a story for another day.

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