Wednesday, 12 February 2020

A Badly Burnt and Mutilated Childs Body

An open verdict as returned at an inquest in 1904 after the discovery of a newborn baby's body in Toxteth.

On Tuesday 6th September 1904 the charred remains of a baby girl were found in an entry behind Fernhill Street. The body was wrapped in a copy of the Liverpool Echo newspaper, dated 29th August.

Detective Inspector Holmes made extensive enquiries but could find no information about the identity of the mother or child. Dr Nathan Raw said that the body was black from extensive burning making the features unrecognisable. The left arm was detached from the shoulder and left leg almost severed.

Dr Raw also stated that the head had been severely battered, however he was unable to say whether the violence had taken place before or after death. 

With there being no evidence as to the identity of the baby girl or whether she had been alive when the horrific injuries were sustained, the inquest jury had no option but to return an open verdict and the case was never solved. 



Monday, 20 January 2020

Bootle Paraffin Lamp Tragedy

A Bootle woman was charged with manslaughter after it was alleged that her daughter died as a a result of her throwing a paraffin lamp that exploded. However due to conflicting evidence she was cleared when the case came to court.

Sixty year old Alice Leonard sent the afternoon and evening of Saturday 19th November 1910 drinking with her landlady at her lodgings in Aber Street, Bootle, which was situated off Irlam Road. At around 11pm she went up to the room that she rented where her 21 year old son William was sleeping. 

The pair started quarrelling and when Alice slapped him, causing his nose to bleed, they were broken up by Alice's married daughter Annie Walsh. William attempted to hit his mother with a mug and it resulted in a paraffin oil lamp coming off the mantelpiece. William moved out the way and it hit the floor and exploded, setting fire to Annie's clothing. 

Annie rolled around in agony and although a neighbour extinguished the flames, she died in Bootle Hospital soon afterwards but not before she was able to make a disposition. She stated that her husband was a patient at Rainhill Hospital and her mother did not touch the lamp.

File:Bootle hospital 1.jpg
Bootle Hospital (Sunwukong 88 shared under
Creative Commons sharealike license)
An inquest before the coroner Samuel Brighouse at Bootle Police Court heard conflicting evidence. William said that his mother had accidentally swept the lamp in his direction whilst rushing at him as he threw a pint mug at her. The landlady Mrs Books said she saw and heard nothing, while a female warder from Pacific Road police station said Alice had admitted throwing the lamp. A verdict of manslaughter was returned.

When Alice appeared at the assizes the following February, the Daily Post headlined the case A DISGRACEFUL STORY OF A DRUNKEN WOMANHOOD. Alice's landlady Mrs Brooks said she had been drinking with Alice on the night in question and admitted being locked up for drunkenness many times. After telling the judge she had one child, he responded "you ought to be ashamed of yourself, go away". 

Just as he did at the inquest, William Leonard told the court that his mother had not picked up the lamp, but knocked it accidentally. Annie's dying deposition was read out, in which she had stated that she herself he picked up the lamp and dropped it.

After hearing the evidence the judge directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty, as the only two witnesses to the incident had both said Alice did not  pick up the lamp  and it was an accident.

Prior to discharging Alice, the judge told her that it was a discreditable and disgraceful case and that it was sufficient punishment knowing her daughter's death was a result of her drunken habits. Describing her and Mrs Brooks as a "disgrace to the city" he remarked that he hoped she would abstain from drink for the remainder of her life.

Sunday, 19 January 2020

An Irritating Victim

When two workmen clashed leading to one hitting the other with a pitch fork causing death, the irritating conduct of the victim led to leniency in court.

On 28th April 1863 a group of night soil men were emptying middens in the Islington area. One of them, Thomas Wignall, had been drinking and was obstructing the others as they went about their duties. 

When William Bibby told Wignall to go and sit down if he wasn't willing to work. Wignall responded by telling Bibby to put his pitchfork down and have a fight. Bibby instead simply struck Wignall on the head with the fork, which he had been using to load manure into a cart. 

Wignall died from a fractured skull on 2nd May. The coroners inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter and Bibby was committed for trial at the next assizes the following August.

Appearing before Mr Justice Blackburn evidence was heard that Wignall was "in liquor, irritating and obstructive to his fellow workmen" and had struck them with both his fist and fork. Bibby's defence was that he had been "provoked beyond endurance".

The jury found Bibby guilty but with a recommendation for mercy. He was then sentenced to just one month in prison.

Wife Killed by a Chisel

A man whose wife died after he stabbed her with a chisel was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter but still given the maximum possible sentence.

In 1863 blacksmith George Gibson and his wife Margaret lived unhappily in a house in Circus Street, which is long gone and was situated north of Islington.

On 20th June that year, following another drunken quarrel, the couple's landlady Mrs Quirk gave them notice to leave the house where they had been residing for just three months. Gibson then picked up an ash pan and threatened his wife with it, who responded by slapping him in the face. 

Later that night at around 11.45pm, Gibson returned home in a drunken state and complained to Margaret of noise in an adjoining room. Picking up a chisel, he said he would go and see what was going on but when Margaret asked if he was going mad, Gibson stabbed her in the side.

Margaret ran out into the street for assistance and was taken to the  Dispensary. The wound was dressed and she returned home to bed. By then Gibson had been taken into custody and charged with attempted murder. A police officer found him wiping blood off the chisel and stating it had been a "family row".  

Six days later, with doctors giving Margaret little hope of recovery, depositions were taken by the magistrates clerk. She made her statement with some reluctance, saying he was a good man when sober and she hoped he could be shown leniency so he could look after their children. 

Margaret passed away 24 hours later. An inquest heard evidence from Mrs Quirk that Gibson had once showed her a sharp pointed article saying that it was to murder Margaret with. A verdict of wilful murder was returned and Gibson was committed for trial on a coroners warrant. 

At the assizes court on 20th August prosecuting counsel described Gibson as "scarcely ever sober, quarrelsome and of violent disposition". The Daily Post reported that he was a "powerfully built man", despite having been on a prison diet for two months.

Other residents of the house testified that they had heard Gibson say to her that he would have her life and swing at Kirkdale for it. His wife's own deposition was read out and this probably saved him from being found guilty of murder and the jury instead went for the lesser charge of manslaughter. 

Prior to sentencing, Gibson said "I am heartily sorry for what I have done, I remember nothing of it. Please have mercy on me". Mr Justice Blackburn was in no mood for leniency however, saying that wives needed protecting from violence and brutality of their husbands. Gibson was then sentenced to transportation for life.

Monday, 13 January 2020

An Argentine Tragedy in Cleveland Square




A fight between two Argentine sailors in 1889 ended in tragedy when one of them produced a knife and stabbed the other in the abdomen.

AlmBrownAcorazado.jpgOn 19th July that year some crew members of the Almirante Brown, an Argentine naval vessel undergoing repairs in Birkenhead,  went on a drinking session near the Sailors Home in Liverpool's Canning Place. 

When a dispute arose over what pub to visit two of the men, Louis Ramirez and Ramon Gonzalez began fighting in Cleveland Square. Gonzalez had the upper hand, twice knocking Ramirez down. This led to Ramirez drawing a knife from his sheath and plunging it into Gonzalez's abdomen.

Gonzalez was rushed to the Southern Hospital in Caryl Street where he died a few hours later. Ramirez had initially managed to escape and discard the knife but he was soon caught on his room at the Sailors Home.


Twenty year old Ramirez was up before the assizes court just ten days later where he was found guilty of manslaughter. The vessels captain addressed the judge and described Ramirez as peaceable and good tempered as a rule. 

Addressing Ramirez through a translator the judge said to him "I do not think by any means that yours is one of the worst cases, but it is a serious case. You have killed this man as a result of your violent temper after receiving considerable insult. I take into account the fact that you are not an Englishman and it may be that in your country less is thought of using the knife than we think of it here". He then imposed a sentence of six months imprisonment with hard labour.


Pub Kettle Killing

A pub customer unhappy at being asked to leave threw a kettle at the landlord, causing scalding which led to his death. 

On the evening of Sunday 14th October 1860 George Simpson, his wife, brother and sister in law were in Roberts' Spirit Vaults, Copperas Hill. When they were refused service for being drunk, the manager William Evans told them to leave. 

George rushed behind the bar and picked up a kettle from a stove, throwing it at William. The kettle hit him on the head and as William fell down, his face was heavily splashed with boiling water. 


William died five days later from delirium tremens, the onset of which had been brought about by shock due to scalding. An inquest returned a verdict of manslaughter against George Simpson and a warrant was made out for his arrest by the coroner. 

At the assizes on 14th December, George did not dispute the facts of the case. His employer, a furniture dealer in Church Street, was a witness to his good character, referring to him as "strictly honest, peaceable and well conducted". Mr Justice Blackburn then sentenced him to nine months imprisonment with hard labour.

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

A Fatal Quarrel Over change

When a row erupted in a Yate's Wine Lodge over some change, one man was left dead but following a trial, the other was acquitted.

On the afternoon of Thursday 15th October 1925 James Shevlin, a 42 year old engineer, was drinking in Yate's Wine Lodge in Great Charlotte Street. He paid for a drink with half a crown and when his change of a shilling and eleven pence was placed on the bar, it was quickly picked up by 29 year old hawker James Varley. 

Shevlin demanded the money back and Varley gave it to him, saying they should meet up outside. Varley went out of the Great Charlotte Street exit but Shevlin, keen to avoid confrontation, left by the door that led to Deane Street. Sensing this, Varley went round to Deane Street and struck Shevlin, who didn't respond and ran off towards Ranelagh Street. Varley gave chase and struck Shevlin again opposite Lewis's, but this time Shevlin fought back. He was seen by an excited crowd to take something small and shiny out of his pocket and hold it out to Varley, who fell down bleeding.

Varley was rushed to the Royal Infirmary but died soon after admission. Shevlin, who had been detained by a passer was at Warren Street bridewell, where he was told he would be charged with wilful murder. A small penknife and pair of tweezers were found in his overcoat pocket.

A post mortem established that there were three stab wounds around Varley's groin. One of these had severed he femoral artery and vein, causing a hemorrhage that led to death. The cuts were consistent with having been caused by a penknife. 

At the inquest the following Monday Shevlin cross examined Dr Brown who had treated Varley at the hospital. When asked if the injuries could have been caused by tweezers rather than a penknife Dr Brown replied that it was "possible but not probable". Shevlin then gave a frank explanation of what happened. He said "I have only one eye and was frightened of having that hurt. I wanted no quarrel with Varley so as he continued to hit me took a pair of tweezers out of my pocket to defend myself and held them out towards him hoping that the crowd would separate us." Shevlin denied that he had been running away and stated that he was just trying to find a policeman. 

After a period of deliberation, the jury found that Shevlin had stabbed Varley with the penknife. However they acknowledged it was under a great deal of provocation and there was no intent to kill. He was then committed to the assizes on a coroner's warrant for trial on a charge of manslaughter.
On 2nd November prosecutors acknowledged that Varley had struck Shevlin first but the use of a knife was a disproportionate form of self defence. Shevlin gave evidence himself, denying thrusting any weapon. He maintained that he carried small instruments to fix watches, and did not even know what he had in his hand. All he was concerned about, he testified, was saving his remaining eye. Summing up, his defence counsel said the wound would not have proved fatal if it was half an inch either way.

In summing up, Mr Justice McKinnon said that all parties had agreed on the fact that Varley was the aggressor up until the final few seconds. If it was to be accepted as self defence, then the force needed to have been adequate. He also drew attention to the fact that implement caught Varley in a very unlucky spot hence causing death. Finally, the judge said that if they were satisfied Shevlin held out the instruments as a deterrent, but Varley threw himself upon them, then it should be an acquittal.

Without leaving their box, the jury found Shevlin not guilty and he was free to return to his home in Chesterfield Street.