Friday, 16 October 2020

Harrington Dock Killing

In 1955 a fight between two dock labourers ended in one of them dead, but the jury accepted the plea that the accused acted in self defence and acquitted him of manslaughter.

At 4.10pm on Wednesday 20th July an unconscious man was found amongst stacks of timber that had been unloaded from a freighter at East Harrington Dock. The man was 41 year old William Clegg Dean, a dock night watchman who lived in a lodging house at 6 Great George Square. 

Dean was a 41 year old labourer who lived in Great George Square. He was taken to the Royal Southern Hospital where he died the following day from a fractured skull, having never regained consciousness. A murder investigation begun when police received a phone call that evening saying "If you think you are smart, investigate the murder of William Clegg Dean". At that time, few people could have been aware of the cause of death.

Hundreds of dockers were interviewed as police pieced together Dean's movements in the 24 hours previous to him being found. It was established that he had not spent the night at his lodgings, but did call in at 9.30am to collect his army pension book. Police believed he may have been attacked somewhere on Sefton Street or the Dock Road and then walked to where he was found, or been dumped there by his attacker. 

There was a breakthrough on the morning of 22nd July when Gerard Digney, a 24 year old labourer, handed himself in at Essex Street police station. He told officers he had only pushed Dean and meant no serious harm. However he was charged with murder due to the gravity of the injuries, with Digney responding "I do not understand it".  The following morning he appeared before magistrates who remanded into custody at Walton gaol. In the public benches at the court was his girlfriend, who he was due to marry the following Saturday.

On 29th July, the day before he should have been getting married, Digney was remanded in custody again. Prosecutors told he court that the fractured skull could not have been caused by the impact of Dean falling to the ground and that Digney's statement could not have been correct. 

Digney was back at the Magistrates' Court on 4th August for a committal hearing. It was heard that Dean, Digney and a third man, Thomas McDonnell, had all been working at Harrington Dock unloading timber, drinking whilst they did so. McDonnell said that Digney had made some derogatory remarks about Dean's decision to drink cheap wine, described by prosecutors as "plonk". A scuffle broke out during which Digney pushed Dean away and punched him on the jaw, causing him to fall. Digney then went to the canteen while McDonnell kept an eye on Dean, who appeared to simply be too drunk to get back up. After an hour he was moved to where he was eventually found and an ambulance called. 

After hearing all the evidence, the examining magistrate Mr Gordon ruled that there was insufficient evidence to charge with murder and reduced it to manslaughter. Digney indicated that he would plead not guilty to manslaughter but was allowed bail on two sureties of £25 each. On 3rd November Digney appeared before the Liverpool Assizes. McDonnell again testified, stating that Digney was under threat and had nowhere to turn, so throwing a punch was his only way out. This was accepted by the jury who found him not guilty. 



Monday, 12 October 2020

Daughter Killer Insane

In the mid 1800s a woman who murdered her daughter then tried to commit suicide was declared insane. 

At 8pm on 17th July 1851 a woman was seen hurrying down Queen Street with a half naked young girl. She was urged to cover her up and she did so, before throwing the poor girl down some steps and running away. A police officer was called and the girl taken to the North Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Two minutes later the same female was seen walking excitedly back and forth along the landing stage before plunging into the River Mersey. She was picked up by a boat and taken to the receiving house, where remedies were given to bring her round. She then started talking incoherently asking why she hadn't been allowed to drown and to be given some arsenic instead. 

The woman was repeatedly questioned and eventually said her name was Mary Powell, that she had murdered her daughter Mary Ann Powell by tying a pinafore around her neck. An examination of her clothing found a pawn ticket bearing the same name and she was kept under close observation until the following morning. 

Mary was resident at the workhouse and had been discharged from the asylum there two months earlier. She was the wife of a clerk who was said to have abused her. 

At the inquest a nurse from the workhouse, Catherine Powell, described Mary as being violent in manner for the first week of her admission, but that this behaviour related to family affairs. After six more weeks she was well and spent some time in the infant nursery due to her youngest child being ill. She was considered sane at the time of her discharge, having previously refused to go when her husband tried to take her out as she said he illtreated her. At this stage her husband interrupted the proceedings and was removed from the room.

The Deputy Coroner told the jury they were not there to try Mary's state of mind and they returned a verdict of wilful murder. It was also added that there should be no charges against anybody in the workhouse, who had acted in accordance with the laws laid down by the Poor Law commissioners. 

On 3rd September Mary appeared before Mr Baron Platt at the South Lancashire Assizes. The jury found not guilty on the grounds of insanity and she was ordered to be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

A Fatal Brick Throwing

In 1888 a man was caught up in a neighbour dispute died from his injuries after he was struck by a brick. 

On 22nd July that year George Proctor, a forty year old labourer, spent the afternoon drinking with his wife at the home of a Mrs Douglas in a court off Bevington Street, Vauxhall. Whilst there Douglas had a quarrel with Mary Winston, a 23 year old fish hawker who lived on the opposite side of the court. 

At 10.30pm George and his wife were leaving when he was struck by a brick, thrown from Winston's window. George fell down while Winston, who was married with three young children, danced and sang "I have not missed my aim".

George was carried back into the house and remained unconscious until the next morning. He went to the Northern Hospital where his wound was dressed and remained there three days before returning home to Gordon Street. 

At the beginning of August, George was still complaining of pains of his head and was admitted to Mill Road hospital. As his condition deteriorated he gave a deposition stating he had seen Winston throw the brick. He died on Sunday 5th August and was buried in Everton Cemetery. At an inquest, the doctor who had treated him prior to death said it was as a direct result of the injury. A verdict of manslaughter was returned and Wilson was committed for trial.

At the assizes court on 20th December the defence argued that Winston's windows had been broken earlier in the day by Douglas. It was also suggested that he may have been hit by a brick being thrown by one of his own friends aimed at Winston. This failed to convince the jury however and she was found guilty of manslaughter. 

In light of Whinston having already served two months in gaol on remand, she was sentenced to a further two months imprisonment with hard labour. On her release, she returned to Bevington Street where she and her husband, a dock labourer, remained together and had eight more children.






Sunday, 27 September 2020

Family Killing After a Wedding

A man who stabbed his brother in law to death after having too much drink at a wedding received  a light sentence due the provocation received. 

On the afternoon of 21st November 1892 eighteen year old Thomas King attended a wedding along with his brother-in-law, Thomas McDermott. Afterwards they spent the afternoon drinking at the house of the bridegroom, who had been loaned a suit to get married in by McDermott. 

King and McDermott then went to a pub in Boundary Street. When 29 year old McDermott commented that he was the better man  an argument broke out and they were both asked to leave by the landlord.

Both men returned to the house in Luton Street where they lived with Catherine, who was McDermott's wife and King' sister, as well as Catherine and King's father and grandmother. King entered the house first but was quickly followed by McDermott who was aggressive and took off his belt and coat. He said he would beat King and his brother Peter in retaliation for Peter hitting Catherine while McDermott, a ships donkeyman, had been away at sea. 

McDermott managed to restrain her husband and told him to stay locked in the parlour while she made him some tea. King then left the house, but was followed by McDermott who escaped through a window. Catherine caught up with McDermott in Boundary Street but he refused to return home with her.

About 7.30pm a boy knocked at Catherine's door and told her that her husband was on the floor in Boundary Street. She ran there and a crowd had gathered around. One woman was trying to stop the bleeding from a wound with an apron and although still alive, he was not responding to any questions. Catherine was told he had been stabbed but her brother was nowhere to be seen. A police constable and horse ambulance arrived and McDermott was taken unconscious to the Northern Hospital, but Catherine was not allowed to go with him.

As the constable was leaving the Northern Hospital an hour later he was approached by King, who admitted being responsible for the death. He stated that he had been cutting some tobacco with a knife and McDermott ran at him as if to carry out a headbutt, only to hit the knife. King was taken into the hospital where he was allowed to hold McDermott's hand and apologise. He was then taken to the bridewell.  

McDermott later that evening, having suffered two puncture wounds to the abdomen. Catherine was only advised of her husbands death when she attended the hospital to enquire about his condition. King was remanded in custody and an inquest was opened on the Thursday morning where Catherine tearfully described what had happened in the house. 

It emerged from six other witnesses present that King had gone back to the same public house, followed by McDermott who began to threaten him again before both men went outside into the street. Nobody seemed able to say who threw the first punches, but one female with two black eyes said she had been punched twice by King as he made his escape. However Catherine Furling, a servant at the pub, said she was not working that night but had seen what happened outside from her bedroom window. She describe how McDermott had twice punched King and once headbutted him, and corroborated King's claim that McDermott ran at him as he held a knife in his hand.

In summing up, the Coroner stated that all six witnesses from the pub were friends of McDermott but that Miss Furlong was not interested in either party. He said the jury should return a verdict of manslaughter at most, and it was certainly not wilful murder. They did so and King was committed for asssize trial.

King, a ships trimmer, appeared before Mr Justice Grantham on 14th December. He was found guilty of manslaughter but with a recommendation for mercy on the grounds of the great provocation that occurred. In sentencing King to four months imprisonment with hard labour, the judge condemned the 'use of the knife and free indulgence in drink'

Thursday, 13 August 2020

Husband's Attempted Suicide After Death of Wife

When a man was arrested after the death of his wife following an argument, he tried to hang himself while in custody. He was charged with manslaughter, but acquitted at the Assizes.

On 22nd July 1851 a Eileen Anderton, living in Soho Street, heard arguing coming from the room of her lodgers, Thomas Hogarth and his wife. Initially she didn't intervene as it was a regular occurrence but when she heard her say '"Oh Tom that's enough for me" followed by silence, she called to her husband and they both went to investigate.

Mrs Hogarth was on the bed unconscious. Thomas said that she had been throwing potatoes at him and she would be fine if Mrs Anderton could fetch her some water. Their fourteen year old son then returned home after going out to watch fireworks and soon afterwards his mother passed away. 

Police were called and Thomas taken to the Rose Hill bridewell. During the night he attempted suicide by suspending himself with his tying a handkerchief from one of the window bars. He was cut down in a distressed state but needed no hospital treatment and remanded pending an inquest. 

Mrs Anderton gave evidence at the inquest that Thomas was of drunken habits and been out of work, having once been a stableman. Mrs Hogarth supported the family by doing laundry. On the night of her death, Thomas had been complaining about the quality of his supper, having not had meat for a week. Their son said that his parents often quarrelled and that his mother was very headstrong. 

The surgeon who carried out the post mortem said that her stomach was full, mainly of potatoes and that there were no mark of violence on the body. He did say that it was possible she could have been hit in the stomach and there would be now marks. Unusually, Thomas made a statement himself, in which he claimed that his wife had fallen over whilst running at him after throwing the potatoes. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, believing that she had fallen as a result of a blow. 

At the Assizes the following month, the prosecutors offered no evidence against Thomas, leading to his acquittal and discharge.


Thursday, 2 July 2020

Killed by Boiling Coffee

A woman who threw boiling coffee over her lodger, causing his death, avoided transportation due to her not realising the action could prove fatal.

At about 8pm on Saturday 8th November 1845 a 33 year old miller named Robert Fitten returned to his lodgings in Eldon Street in a drunken state and went to bed. When his landlady Mary Phythian returned with some bread, she was told by another lodger Margaret Wilson about Robert and she went to check on him, only to be called a "drunken faggot".

Phythian threatened Robert with a poker but he called her a faggot again. She then responded by taking a pan of coffee from the hob and throwing it at him. Margaret wiped the scalds to his head, chest and hands then went to a druggist for some dressing which she applied. Phythian went and visited a neighbour, telling her that she had given Robert a 'faggots mark.'

The following morning Robert was taken to the Northern Hospital with scalds to his head, face, chest and hands. He lingered until the following Friday when he passed away.

An inquest heard evidence from Margaret who said that she had never known Robert and Phythian to argue. A house surgeon from the hospital confirmed that death was as a direct result of the scalds. When a manslaughter verdict was returned, Phythian burst into tears and begged to be able to see the body. This request was granted and she was taken to the hospital on the way to Kirkdale gaol.

On 11th December, Phythian appeared before Mr Justice Williams and she pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He accepted that she may not have realised her actions could have caused death and this was a factor in sentence. The judge told her that as a result of this, she has avoided transportation and was instead sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. 


Monday, 29 June 2020

Death of a Grocer

When a widow died days after being beaten by a man she cohabited with, there was no conviction as a postmortem had not taken place.

One May evening in May 1845, fourteen year old Margaret Johnson was in bed in a room above the grocers shop that was run by her mother Elizabeth, a widow. Her two younger half brothers, aged eleven and seven, were asleep beside her. Their father was Thomas Davis, with whom Elizabeth now cohabited.

The children's sleep was interrupted by the sound of Elizabeth and Thomas arguing. Elizabeth ran upstairs and tried to seek solace with her children, but Thomas came after her and the quarrel recommenced. When Elizabeth tried to leave, Thomas stopped her and when she threw a drawer on the floor, he struck her upper body and kicked her leg.

A passing policeman was alerted by the screaming of the younger children and Thomas invited him in. Elizabeth pleaded to be allowed to leave but the policeman persuaded her to remain, in return for a promise from Thomas to cease any arguing and violence.

For the next three days Elizabeth remained in bed and spent most of the time retching. A surgeon attended but she expired. She was buried in St Mary's Cemetery.

The family had only been in Liverpool for a month or two and they returned to Ledbury in Herefordshire, where Elizabeth had Thomas and the three children had resided until the previous year. Elizabeth's sister Hannah Meadows, wife of a carpenter, agreed to take Margaret in as her own. The two boys were placed in lodgings by Thomas who then left the town, leading to them being taken into the care of the workhouse when rent became due.

All three children had told those looking after them that their mother had come to her death by foul means and rumours began to spread around the town. Of particular interest was that Thomas had refused to write to inform any of Elizabeth's relatives of her death until after her burial.  Thomas was a former excise inspector and on 3rd November the Hereford Times published a paragraph urging him to return to Ledbury and clear his name. He did so on 10th November, handing a letter to Superintendent Shead, before absconding.

The following day magistrates sent for the two young brothers from the workhouse. They and Margaret were examined separately, leading to a warrant being issued against Thomas for 'felonously, wilfully and with malice aforethought, killed Elizabeth Johnson at Liverpool in the county of Lancaster by striking and beating her on the head, back and other parts of her body, of which several mortal bruises and wounds the said Elizabeth Johnson did die.'

On 13th November Thomas was apprehended by Superintendent Shead at Ross-on-Wye and appeared before magistrates the following morning where arrangements were made for him to be taken back to Liverpool. Reporting on his appearance at the Police Court in Dale Street, the Liverpool Mail described Thomas as 'tall, elderly and of decent exterior.' 

Margaret recalled the violence that ad been carried out by Thomas to her mother. This was corroborated by the two boys. All three said that there were black marks on the breasts and legs, where Elizabeth had been struck. However the surgeon who attended said that he was of the opinion that Elizabeth was dying of congested fever brought on by a low mood. He said that he had not been told of any injuries although they could produce the symptoms he had seen. Two neighbours who had laid out and washed down the body deposed that they had seen the bruising, and Thomas was remanded in custody.

At the South Lancashire Assizes on 9th December, the charge was reduced to manslaughter. However with no postmortem having taken place, and no medical professionals having observed any injuries, a not guilty verdict was returned and Thomas was freed.