Monday 25 March 2024

Portuguese Honeymoon Tragedy

In 1914 a newly married Portuguese couple's marriage ended in tragedy when the husband shot his wife dead on an ocean liner.  He was convicted of murder at Liverpool Assizes, but his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. 

At the end of 1913 Alberto Coelho, a 32 year old confectioner Alberto Coelho married his wife Josephine in Oporto. The couple then boarded the Deseado, a Royal Mail steamer sailing from Liverpool to Rio, where Alberto had business interests. At first, they seemed as happy as any other newlyweds would be, but on 7th February, two days into the voyage, Alberto shot Josephine twice while she was sitting in the vessel's social hall. She slipped under the table and died instantly.

Coelho pictured in the Liverpool
 Evening Express 31/3/1914

Coelho, showed no resistance as he was placed in irons. As the killing had taken place in international waters on board a British-owned vessel, he was subject to the law of its home country. On arrival in Rio, he was handed to the British consul before being placed in a local prison to await the return journey. His wife was buried at a service attended by most of the crew. 

On 31st March the Deseado arrived back at Liverpool and Coelho, who spoke no English, was charged with murder. He replied through an interpreter that he had intended to take his own life. He was removed straight to the Police Court in Dale Street, where he was remanded in custody. He was described as a swarthy well-built man with dark hair, a heavy dark moustache and wearing respectable clothing. 

On 9th April Coelho was back at the police court for a committal hearing. It emerged that the ship's surgeon Dr Segar had refused to attend, and give evidence. This led to summons being issued. A cello player in the ship's band described how Coelho had been talking to his wife amicably, then left briefly and came back with the pistol before shooting her dead. When Dr Segar arrived at court five days later, he said death was instant and a bullet had struck Josephine in the heart. Coelho was committed to the Assizes, reserving his defence.

Just ten days after the committal, Coelho was brought up before Justice Bray at St George's Hall. When the charge was read to him by the Clerk of the Court, Sir Herbert Stephens, Coelho replied firmly in English "Not Guilty". The defence did not dispute the facts of the case, but argued that Coelho was insane at the time of the killing. They pointed to there being no apparent motive or any signs of a disagreement. Coelho's brother described that he had acted irrationally the previous year, often wandering aimlessly through the streets of Rio, saying that he was being followed by a large dog. 

Doctors from Walton Gaol told the court that Coelho had appeared rational during interviews and showed no signs of insanity. Although Coelho's counsel pleaded that he had delusions and was not responsible for his actions at the time of the killing, the jury took half an hour to find him guilty of murder.

After Justice Bray had passed the death sentence it was interpreted to Coelho. He replied that he was not guilty and that Josephne had planned on committing him to an asylum on arrival in Rio. He then held his head in his hands before being taken down to the cells.

The verdict was quickly seized upon by the Portuguese media, who appealed to the British Government to show magnanimity and grant a pardon as it had been a crime committed in a fit of passion. Prime Minister Bernardino Machado was petitioned by the League for the Defence of the Rights of Man to pursue this. Demands were also made for the recall of Portugal's consul in Rio, who had handed Coelho to his British counterpart. 

On 11th May an appeal was heard at the Court of Criminal Appeal. Coelho's lawyers argued that the verdict was unreasonable and that Justice Bray had misdirected the jury. They also submitted that Coelho had never been to England and had no knowledge of English laws. These arguments were dismissed and the appeal judges concluded that the defence had failed to prove insanity, therefore the conviction could not be quashed. 

Coelho's execution was scheduled for 14th May. He was due to be hanged alongside Joseph Spooner, who had killed his daughter and admitted his guilt from the beginning. However, due to the petitions still being considered by the Home Secretary, it was deferred. Spooner'sexecution went ahead as planned and later that day, Coelho was notified that his sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment. By the end of that decade, he had been released and deported to Portugal.   

Saturday 5 August 2023

A Terrible Tragedy In Everton

In 1898 an Everton man killed two of his children, attempted to kill another child and his wife then tried to commit suicide. He was found guilty but insane.

On the morning of 10th June that year in Village Grove, 33 year old refuse destructor Francis Murphy breakfasted with his wife Gertrude, telling her that he felt very low due to a bout of bronchitis. He refused to see a doctor and as she was preparing breakfast for their two daughters who were still in bed, he tied a cord around their two month old baby Bernard's neck. 

When challenged over what he was doing, Francis replied "That is finished, now for you". He then ran at Gertrude and cut her throat. Gertrude managed to grab the baby and run out of the house to a neighbouring property, where the cord was untied. The neighbour then came into the house and found the two daughters, six-year-old Annie and three-year-old Ellen, dead in their beds. Francis was sat in the water closet with a wound to his throat. 

Francis's domestic arrangements were complicated by Victorian standards. He had married in 1884 but his wife committed bigamy while he was away in America. He then had two daughters with another woman, who subsequently died. He married Gertrude in January 1898 when she was already pregnant with Bernard. 

At his trial on 1st August, it was acknowledged that Francis had been a loving husband and father, but for three weeks before the tragedy he had been in bad health. He had said to Gertrude that if he were to die they must die with him. Consideration was given to the suddenness of the violence, the fact as an eighteen year old Francis had suffered a skull fracture in an accident and that for a few weeks, he had been complaining of dizziness. There was also a history of insanity in his family and after hearing evidence from doctors at Walton gaol and the Rainhill asylum, a verdict of guilty but insane was returned. Mr Justice Ridley then ordered that Francis be detained as a criminal lunatic. 

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Blades Knifed to Death

A man with the surname of Blades was stabbed to death in a fight in 1917. His killer was guilty of manslaughter and gaoled for just four months.

On the evening of  3rd September that year Richard Griffiths, a West Indian seaman and Alfred Blades, a second engineer on a dock dredger, began quarrelling over game of dice in a pub in Stanhope Street. They went outside to fight and as Blades got the upper hand, Griffiths pulled out a knife with the aim of fending him off. 

Instead of stabbing Blades in the hand as intended, the knife punctured the stomach and he died soon afterwards at the Southern Hospital in Caryl Street (pictured). Griffiths, who lodged in Park Lane, immediately confessed to the killing when he was arrested. 

Blades, whose brother also lived in Liverpool and worked as a dock labourer, was buried in a public grave in Allerton Cemetery. An inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder and Griffiths was remanded to await his trial.

At the Liverpool Assizes on 2nd November Griffiths, who was aged twenty, appeared before Justice Sankey. His offer to plead guilty to manslaughter was accepted by Crown prosecutors. In his sentencing remarks the judge said it was not one of the more serious cases of manslaughter, but passed comment on Griffiths's origin by saying "Coloured men must realise they are not at liberty to use knives in this country".

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Homicide Charge in Venezuela

In 1927 a ship's captain from Liverpool spent a horrifying two months in a Venezuelan prison. He had been charged with homicide after his vessel collided with another, leading to the death of a crew member.  

On 7th April that year Percy Brining was in command of the Leyland liner Ninian, which was being escorted by a pilot into the port of Puerta Cabella. The Ninian collided with a smaller mooring boat, injuring three men. Brining was taken into custody with the matter initially expected to be settled by way of compensation. At first Brining was under house arrest at the residence of the British consul, however he was sent to a common prison five days later when one of the men, who had been struck by a propeller, died.  Although he was provided with furniture by the consulate, the stench was overwhelming and he regularly saw prisoners whipped or dragged along by chains attached to their feet. 

Fifty year old Brining had been with the Leyland Line for twenty four years, thirteen of them as a captain. Working with the Navigators and General Insurance Company, steps were taken to ensure he had the best possible defence. However it was feared he may be on remand for up to five years awaiting trial. Pressure to secure his release on bail was put on the Foreign Office by Liverpool's Lord Mayor Sir Frederick Charles Bowring, while the matter was also raised in the House of Commons. Six weeks after his arrest, his wife was worried sick at her home 14 Harlech Road, Blundellsands, having still not heard any direct news from him.

By the middle of June the Leyland Line's insurers had paid compensation of £240 to the widow of the deceased man. Brining was released back to the British consul's house to remain there until a decision had been made on any charges. Although prosecutors pressed ahead with the homicide case, at the beginning of July a judge did not take long to acquit Brining, allowing him to leave the country. His ordeal was finally over on 2nd August when he left for Europe on a French steamer. Much of the fifteen day voyage was spent receiving treatment for sores which had developed due to lack of clean air or exercise. Two weeks later he had a tearful reunion with his wife in St Nazaire. He told a Liverpool Echo reporter that he daren't use the exercise due to the number of 'cut throats' who walked there. 

On Saturday 20th August Brining finally arrived in Liverpool. His sense of duty meant he reported for work at his employer's James Street offices on the following Monday, where he was promptly given three months holiday to get over his ordeal. The Foreign Office continued to fight on his behalf, believing his ordeal was a dangerous precedent to other mercantile seamen. Two years later he was given £500 in compensation, after funds were received from the Venezuelan government 

Sunday 17 July 2022

Mothers Tears in Dock

A mother who suffered a bout of insanity in 1932 killed her baby daughter by gas poisoning. She was charged with murder but found guilty but insane.

At 10pm on 17th February that year flour mill worker John William Adams, returned to his home in Rectory Street, Toxteth, which was off Beresford Road where Stonegate Drive is now. The house was in darkness but he was not initially concerned, assuming his wife Eliza had taken their seven month old daughter to see relatives.

John waited but after midnight passed he was so worried he forced entry to the house. On doing so he saw his wife's outdoor coat over a chair and the baby's milk bottle on a table. He rushed upstairs and found them both unconscious on the bed. A doctor was called who certified that Dorothy was dead after unsuccessfully trying artificial respiration. 

Eliza had begun to come around and was in a dazed condition, holding her head in her hands and moaning incoherently when police officers from the Essex Street bridewell arrived. A constable searching the bedroom smelt gas on the bedclothes and found a note that said "Dear Bill, please forgive me but this is the only way, Goodbye, Eliza." There was a gas tube in the room connected to a bracket, but no smell of gas in the room itself. Eliza was taken to Smithdown Road hospital for further observation. 

It was nearly a week before 25 year old Eliza was able to be discharged. When interviewed by the police and when told that Dorothy was dead she replied "No, no is my baby dead?" On being charged with murder and attempted suicide she admitted that she had tried to kill herself with coal gas. When Eliza appeared in the police court the Liverpool Echo reported that she was "a pitiful figure who sat with her head bowed and frequently wept silently." She had to be supported by two officers and after being remanded into custody, John was allowed to see her briefly. 

On 7th April Eliza appeared at the assizes. Smartly dressed in green, she was barely audible as she entered a not guilty plea. An aunt who lived next door testified that Eliza had always been a loving mother and that there was a history of insanity in the family. Dr W.A. Davies, assistant medical officer at the hospital said that her confused state on admission was not down to gas poisoning and commented "I believe that at the time she was not responsible for her actions and did not understand their nature." The medical superintendent, Dr Steele, confirmed he had certified her under the Lunacy Act.

After being found guilty but insane the judge ordered that Eliza be confined in  criminal lunatic asylum at His Majesty's pleasure. She had to be assisted to stand up, kept her hands over her eyes and was helped to the cells by two wardresses. Eliza was released from her institution by the end of the decade and was living with John at 5 Beresford Road. 

Friday 22 April 2022

Backside Kick Means Lenient Sentence

When a man was convicted of manslaughter following a fight at Aintree, he was gaoled for just one month as he had only kicked the other party in the backside. 

On 14th November that year two boatmen, James Watkinson and James Aspinall, were engaged in carrying coals between Burscough and Liverpool along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. At the Anchor Lock in Aintree, they got into a quarrel, which was a result of an old grudge. 

Thirty year old Watkinson punched Aspinall several times in the face and kicked him, causing him to fall own. Aspinall was taken to his home in Burscough on his son's boat, but died the following evening.  

Watkinson appeared at the Liverpool Assizes on 15th December. Medical evidence was heard that Aspinall had died from inflammation of the bowels, however this only 'might' have been caused as a result of the external injuries. 

After the jury found Watkinson guilty of manslaughter, witnesses were allowed to tell the court of him generally having a good tempered disposition.  The judge, Baron Bramwell, sentenced Watkinson to imprisonment with hard labour for just one month. However he warned nobody should be misled by this sentence. The reason for it, he said, was that he was satisfied Watkinson did not intend to kick Aspinall in any 'tender part' but instead give 'a kick of contempt on the buttock'. 

Thursday 21 April 2022

New Born Baby in an Ashpit

A woman was charged with murder after the body of her new born son was found in an ashpit behind the public house where she worked. However she was convicted only of concealment of birth after the prosecution failed to prove the baby had been born alive. 

In the summer of 1858 Maria Smith became a servant for Charles Davies at the Jamaica Vaults, which now stands derelict at 330 Vauxhall Road. She provided a good character reference from her last employer and Charles had no idea that she was in what newspapers described as "the family way".

On the morning of 23rd November, Charles came downstairs and found Maria in a room next to the bar on her hands and knees, wiping away blood. Maria denied she had been abused by anybody and Charles ordered her to fetch Mrs Davies, then go to bed and rest. 

When Charles checked on Maria at 3pm she was no better and Dr Lambier was sent for. After carrying out an examination of her, Maria admitted she had given birth and directed the doctor to an ashpit, where the body of a male baby was found. It was brought into the parlour and laid out, with the doctor noticing there was bruising on the head.

An inquest heard evidence from Dr Lambier, who described the injuries and said  that they were in a location where there had been extravasation from brain. He believed the baby had been born alive. This led to a verdict of wilful murder and Maria's committal to the Assizes for trial. For the time being, she remained under police supervision in the Jamaica, as she was too ill to be removed. 

On 15th December, Maria appeared at St George's Hall before Mr Baron Bramwell. Despite the coroner's verdict, the prosecution could offer no evidence that the baby had been born alive. This meant that 23 year old Maria was relieved to have her plea of guilty to concealment of birth accepted. After what news reports described as "a suitable admonition", she was sentenced to one year's imprisonment.