Back, from left: Bill Ferguson, Gerry Gomez, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Leslie Hylton, Tyrell Johnson, Bertie Clarke, Peter Bayley, Foffie Williams.  Middle, from left: George Headley, Ivan Barrow, Rolph Grant (c), Jack Kidney (manager), John Cameron, Learie Constantine, Manny Martindale.  Front, from left: Bam Bam Weekes, Derek Sealy, Vic Stollmeyer © Getty Images
West Indies in England, 1939. Back, from left: Bill Ferguson, Gerry Gomez, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Leslie Hylton, Tyrell Johnson, Bertie Clarke, Peter Bayley, Foffie Williams. Middle, from left: George Headley, Ivan Barrow, Rolph Grant (c), Jack Kidney (manager), John Cameron, Learie Constantine, Manny Martindale. Front, from left: Bam Bam Weekes, Derek Sealy, Vic Stollmeyer © Getty Images

May 17, 1955. Leslie Hylton, West Indian pace bowler of the 1930s, was hanged in Jamaica on charges of murdering his wife. Arunabha Sengupta recounts the gruesome details of the crime and punishment.

The charges of spot-fixing and throwing matches in modern day cricket may continue to shock and astound many, but cricket and cricketers have had a long association with more heinous crimes.

On this day in 1955, Leslie Hylton, West Indian fast bowler of the 1930s, was hanged in Jamaica after being found guilty of murdering his wife.

The weirdest Test match

Hylton, a long-serving paceman of Jamaica, took 13 wickets in his first Test series against Bob Wyatt’s Englishmen in 1934-35. He made his debut in the first Test at Kensington Oval, one of the weirdest ever played.

On a pitch severely affected by rain, West Indies were sent in to bat and managed a score of 102. In reply, Manny Martindale and Hylton picked up three wickets apiece and reduced England to 81 for 7 by the end of the first day. With overnight rain making a pudding of the wicket, Wyatt declared at that score. West Indies captain Jackie Grant countered the poor conditions by reversing the batting order and sent Hylton to open the innings. He batted solidly to notch his highest Test score of 19, and eventually top-scored for the side.

Amidst more rain, followed by strong sunshine and wind which made batting almost impossible, Grant declared at 51 for 6. He closed the innings immediately after George Headley fell for a duck — a bold and bizarre move, to make England bat when the conditions were at their worst, although three front-line batsmen — George Carew, Derek Sealy and Charles Jones were yet to bat. In England’s second innings, Martindale picked up five wickets. But, although Hylton made the ball rise awkwardly, his inexperience showed and he was taken for runs by the experienced England batsmen. Wally Hammond sealed the issue with a six over extra cover and England reached the 73-run target with four wickets in hand.

However, West Indies won two of the three remaining Tests to clinch the series and Hylton bowled impressively in the second and third Tests.

Hylton travelled to England in 1939, but by then he was past his prime. He played in the first two Tests and was dropped for the Oval match — which turned out to be the last before the Second World War. He ended his career with 19 wickets from 6 Tests at 26.12. He retired from First-Class cricket the same year and settled into a life of civil service as a foreman.

Sex, lies and murder

The next year Hylton fell in love with Lurline Rose, the daughter of the Inspector of Police in Jamaica. The relationship did not get off to the ideal start with plenty of objections arising from the great disparity in the status of the two families, with the Hyltons being at a distinct disadvantage. At one point, the disconcerted father even sifted through police files to find records of Hylton. However, love won through and the couple got married in late 1942. Five years later a son was born.

Things took a disastrous turn in 1954. Lurline made frequent trips to New York City to cater to her dressmaking business. That April, Hylton received an anonymous letter with explicit details about his wife’s supposed illicit relationship with Roy Francis of Brooklyn Avenue.

A perturbed Hylton dispatched an immediate telegram summoning Lurline back. He also made no secret of the received communication, and showed it to his mother-in-law and other members of the family. Lurline’s father, the old Inspector of Police, had passed away some years earlier.

After some initial stalling, Lurline did return and denied any infidelity. Francis was dismissed as a casual acquaintance. Daily Gleaner reported that “the matter was settled in true matrimonial form.”

However, Hylton soon got wind of letters his wife was sending to Francis. Although the post office did not agree to share the missives with him, Hylton was certain of the affair. He woke his wife at night and charged her with infidelity. Lurline confessed and launched into an outburst, saying that Hylton did not belong to the same class as she, he had never made her happy and the very sight of him made her sick. She proceeded to swear allegiance to Roy and, by some accounts, even disrobed to show him what he would be missing.

Hylton, blinded by fury, reached for his gun on the window sill. In the trial that followed, he tried to defend himself by saying that he had tried to shoot himself and missed, in the process shooting his wife. However, it rang thin since there were seven bullets lodged in Lurline’s body.

Hylton was defended by reputed lawyers — Vivian Blake and Noel Nethersole, the latter his former captain for Jamaica. However, the jury unanimously found him guilty and the decision was reached on October 20, 1954.

The date of the hanging was scheduled as May 17, 1955. It coincided with the fourth Test match between Australia and West Indies at the Kensington Oval, Barbados. The West Indian opener John Holt was going through a poor run with the bat and dropped a couple of sitters in the slips. Some banners on the ground urged — “Hang Holt, Save Hylton.”

Hylton remains the only Test cricketer to have been executed.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)