Thursday, 19 May 2011

Man Cuts Daughter's Throat

Joseph Spooner was hanged in 1914 for killing his daughter by cutting her throat in a rare incidence of a defendant pleading guilty to murder despite knowing what awaited him.

On the afternoon of 26th February 1914 three year old Elizabeth Ann Spooner was found by a girl on her way home from school in the rear yard of her family home in Oliver Street, Edge Hill, the site of which is now occupied by Renshaw Napier foods. Her throat was cut and she was bleeding heavily, but still alive. Elizabeth's father Joseph Spooner, who was estranged from his wife Catherine, was arrested whilst still wearing blood stained clothes at a lodging house in nearby Upper Parliament Street. He was taken to Great George Street police station where he was charged with attempted murder.

In the early hours of the following morning Elizabeth died at the Royal Infirmary and Spooner, a dock labourer, had his charge increased to murder and he made his first appearance before the stipendiary magistrate at Liverpool City Police Court, showing no emotion during the brief proceedings.


The following week at the Coroner's Court Catherine Spooner's sister Jane Horton, who lived at 71 Oliver Street, told how Joseph had been estranged from his wife since the previous December and had not complied with a maintenance order to pay for the upkeep of his six children. Describing Spooner as of drunken habits, she still said he was fond of his children and visited to buy sweets for them. She told how on the day in question, Spooner had taken Elizabeth to buy sweets at about 11.30am but an hour and  half later she was advised that that the girl had been found with her throat cut.

Several other witnesses told how they had seen Spooner with Elizabeth and a shopkeeper said that they had been in her shop together to buy sweets. Detective Sergeant Arthur Jones told the court that on  being charged Spooner had replied 'I don't know what made me do it. I threw the knife into the midden.' The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Spooner and he was committed to the assizes on a capital charge.

On 21st April Spooner appeared before Mr Justice Bray at the assizes in St George's Hall. Despite the gravity of his situation, Spooner pleaded 'guilty', leading to some discussion between his counsel and the court clerk as this was a highly unusual occurrence, one that had only occurred once or twice in the last ten years. With his counsel being unable to persuade Spooner to change his plea it was accepted and Bray donned the black cap and sentenced him to death, being interrupted at one point by Spooner asking him to speak a little louder.

Spooner's guilty plea meant no motive was ever established for the killing, although the prosecution had suggested in preliminary hearings that by hurting his daughter it was a way of getting back at his wife. Spooner showed no emotion as he was led from the dock and on 14th May he was hanged at Walton by William Willis.






Drink Fuelled Attack on Wife


On 2nd September 1911 labourer Joseph Fletcher battered his wife to death leading him to the gallows.

41 year old Joseph, a dock labourer, lived at 17 Bostock Street in Everton with his 38 year old wife Caroline and seven children, whose ages range from one to seventeen.

On Saturday 2nd September 1911 Joseph came home from work and had lunch of cheese and beer with Caroline, before going out to the pub where he stayed for several hours. At around 10.30pm he finally returned home after his eldest daughter had been sent out to find him, but after arguing with Caroline he decided to go back out again.

Due to Joseph's drunken state Caroline bolted the door behind him but after he kicked at it she relented and allowed him back in. He then flew into a rage and attacked Caroline, before battering her with a chair until she was dead. He then went out and fetched a policeman, saying that she had fallen down the stairs. It was quite apparent however that the injuries were not consistent with a fall and Catherine and her fifteen year old brother told the policeman what had really happened, and that their father had regularly beaten their mother before.

Joseph stood trial before Justice Avory at the Liverpool Assizes on 7th November, his children giving evidence against him. His defence was that he was drunk, but the prosecution used the fact that he had told the police Caroline had fallen down the stairs as proof that he was aware that his actions had been wrong. He was sentenced to death and after an appeal failed, an unsuccessful suicide attempt was made while he was in the condemned cell. He was hanged at Walton Gaol on 15th December.



Man Hanged For Beating Toddler to Death

On 9th September 1911 two year old Lucy Kennedy was beaten so badly with a belt by Michael Fagan that she died of her injuries two days later and Fagan was hanged for the crime.

27 year old dock labourer Fagan lived at 128 Arlington Street, Kirkdale (now occupied by houses in Lapworth Street). Lodging with them were Mary Kennedy and her daughter Lucy.

Stanley Hospital (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
On the afternoon of 9th September Mary and Annie went shopping leaving Fagan in charge of the two young children. Around 6pm Annie returned home to find that Fagan was nowhere to be seen, but Lucy was lying on the bed with severe injuries, including black eyes and cuts on her buttocks. She was taken to the Stanley Hospital but died later that evening.

When Fagan returned drunk he was arrested, telling police 'I used the belt but not with the intention of doing any harm, it was not used violently.' However it took the jury just half an hour to return a guilty verdict when he appeared before the Liverpool Assizes on 7th November, although they recommended mercy on the grounds Fagan had been drunk.

The jury's surprising recommendation was not upheld by the Home Secretary and Fagan was hanged at Walton Gaol on 6th December.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Sefton Tragedy

In 1896 a Sefton Village woman slashed her two young children to death but was spared the gallows due to her mental state.


Ida Baxter was 24 years old and lived in Sefton with her husband William, a former hay and straw dealer whose business failed, causing him to take up employment as a miller and move his family to cheaper accommodation in Gorsey Lane.

Ida seemed an outgoing an jolly person and even though she had bouts of what would now be called post natal depression after the birth of her third child in October1895 nobody in the neighbourhood saw any great cause for concern.

Ida's sister would often come to stay for a few days but the terrible tragedy occurred the day after she returned to her home in Wallasey after one brief stay on Sunday 16th February. There was no indication of what was to come when Ida's husband William had breakfast with his family and then went out to work that morning. However when he returned that afternoon his wife was in a frenzied state and two of the children, boys aged two and three had had their throats cut with a razor.

When the police arrived Ida returned to a pensive state and was arrested and taken to Seaforth police station. Two days later the inquest took place at the Taylor's Arms in Ford, which Ida attended and frequently cried out 'I did not do it' and Please God have mercy on me.' Her husband told the coroner that she was genuinely fond of the children

At the assizes court the following month, medical witnesses gave evidence to the effect that Baxter was not aware of her actions at the time of the killings. She was found guilty but insane and detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure.





Sailor's Wife's Throat Cut

In 1879 the body of a sailor's wife was found in an entry off Bath Street but the killer was never caught.

Ann Henry lived in lodgings at 57 Sawneypope Street and had been earning money from needlework whilst her husband had been away at sea for the best part of a year. On 6th October 1879 she left her lodgings between 6 and 7pm and was later seen by a neighbour at about midnight in a drunken state in Hatton Garden.She said she did not want to return home yet and headed off in the direction of the docks.

The following morning Ann's body was found in the entry, her throat having been cut. A knife covered in blood was found about 70 yards away on the window ledge of an eating house in Denilson Street by the owner's son.

Despite a reward of £100 being offered by the Home Secretary, Ann's murderer was never brought to justice.

Tuebrook Baby Deaths

In 1877 a Tuebrook widow was arrested on suspicion of infanticide after it was feared she had killed up to six newborn babies.

Elizabeth Kilbride, a former Penrith school mistress, came to live in Sutton Street in June 1876 and took lodgings there with her two sons. The following February a box that she had left in an inn in Penrith was opened due to a foul smell coming from it, and the decomposed remains of two babies were found inside.

Kilbride was arrested and taken to Old Swan police station to await being taken to Cumbria, only for her son to force open a box in her room and find the remains of three other babies, one of which had been there for up to ten years. Letters found by police seemed to indicate that Kilbride had an accomplice in the matter, the child's father who appeared to be a married businessman. Police in Cumbria then found the body of a sixth baby buried in the garden of a house where Kilbride had once lived. The three babies found in Sutton Street were buried in the same coffin in Anfield cemetery.


Medical examinations failed to show that any of the babies had been alive when they were born, meaning Kilbride was not charged with murder. She pleaded guilty to three counts of Concealment of Birth and was sentenced to 27 months hard labour.

Public Execution of a Spanish Sailor

In 1863 in Old Hall Street a brutal murder took place that led to Spaniard Jose Maria Alvarez being hanged at Kirkdale.

Jose Maria Alvarez was a 22 year old cook from Cadiz serving on the Spanish ship Pepita, which berthed in Victoria Dock in May 1863. Alvarez would often have meals at a boarding house in Lancelots Hey run by a Spanish couple, Mr and Mrs Burgas, but he found his compatriots would not offer him any help on the night he committed his murder.

On 12th May at about 915pm Alavarez was walking down Old Hall Street when a man named Henry Cohen accidentally brushed against him. Cohen turned around to apologise only for Alvarez to take out a dagger and stab him twice, once in the breast and once in the backside before running to the other side of the road. As Cohen’s friend John Howell helped him another man who was with them, James Harrison, crossed the road to try and restrain Alvarez. When he managed to catch him and get hold of the Spaniard’s collar, Alvarez stabbed him in the belly. Alvarez made off into Fazakerley Street, wiping his dagger on a shocked female’s apron. He was followed into Lancelots Hey but disappeared from view, it later transpiring that he had gone into the boarding house. Meanwhile, Harrison was treated in a bakers shop and then taken with Cohen to the Northern Hospital. Harrison was alive but unable to speak and he died a short time afterwards, his liver having been pierced.

Alvarez told the boarding house keepers that he had been fighting with three Englishman in the street but didn’t say he had used a knife. Mr Burgas told him he did not want any trouble there and he should leave, so ten minutes later he did so after changing, saying he would spend the night with a woman. He then went to the house of Ann Robinson in Pennington Street, where he was arrested by Constable McAuley the following morning. After being arrested Alvarez claimed he had been in a coffee house for six hours, but Mr and Mrs Burgas confirmed that he had ate supper at their boarding house and he had only gone out about 630pm. They also handed over to police the clothes Alvarez had been wearing before changing and the blood stained apron.

At the trial the lady whose apron was used to wipe the knife confirmed it was Alvarez who had done it and that she had seen the stabbing. Another female said she had been knocked into by Alvarez about fifteen minutes before it took place and he appeared in an agitated state then. Others stated that they saw arguments take place, but no fighting and it was only Alvarez who had a weapon. Cohen, who had now recovered, swore that he was sober when the incident took place and there was plenty of room on the pavement for six men to pass, let alone four. In cross examination he admitted he had been arrested about a month earlier for fighting in a pub in Chester. He said this was over a payment that had not been made to him for his work as a photographer.

Alvarez was defended by Charles Russell, who drew the jury’s attentions to some contradictions in the witnesses descriptions of the offender, in that some said he had a blue shirt on, others saying it was blue and white striped. He said there were also issues over a scar on Alvarez’s cheek and that Cohen and Howell had not told the full story about what was said after the initial jostling. With respect to the evidence of Mr Burgas, he explained this away by saying he could be recalling another incident involving Alvarez, not this particular one. Russell opted not to say anything about the bloodstained apron that Burgas had handed to the police.

In summing up, Justice Blackburn told the jury that a manslaughter verdict could only be reached if they were satisfied that Alvarez felt under sufficient danger. If they believed that he was not provoked, and carried out they act with an implement knowing it could cause grievous bodily harm, then they would have to return a verdict of murder. The jury took 35 minutes to find Alvarez guilty of murder, with a strong recommendation for mercy on the grounds of his lack of knowledge of the English language. The death sentence was passed and translated to Alvarez by the Spanish consul. He replied that he had nothing to say except that it was not him who had carried out the killing.

The recommendation was not upheld and Alvarez was one of four men hanged in public at Kirkdale on 14th September, with a crowd estimated at 100,000 in attendance. the Spaniard bowed to the crowd before shaking hands with the executioner Calcraft (left). A fifth death then occurred when a platelayer who was trying to keep crowds off the railway line at Sandhills was run over and killed by a passing engine.


Roasted To Death On The High Seas

In 1859 a ship's fireman who was accused of being too slack by his supervisor met a terrible death after a cruel punishment was meted against him.

Thomas Landor, a 44 year old miner from Cornwall had been mining in Chile before deciding to return home due to homesickness. He took a job on the Pacific Steam Navigation Company's ship Bogota, which sailed from Valparaiso to Liverpool via Rio, working as a fireman. However in Rio he began to complain of the intense heat and tried to pay other crew members to swap with him, but was unable to do so.

When the ship left Rio on 25th January, Landor came up on deck to try and cool down but was ordered to go back down the stokehole by John Buchanan and Archibald Mitchell, the first and second engineers respectively. When he pleaded with them Mitchell, on the orders of Landor, dragged him down and tied him to a ladder to make him continue his work, despite the desperate fireman's pleas for God to have mercy on him.

About half an hour later Landor was brought up but was not concious and died on deck of apoplexy and heatstroke. His body, fully clothed, was thrown overboard. The captain of the vessel had not interfered in the matter and the ship's surgeon was present as he was tied up and showed amazing indifference to the plight.

When the Bogota arrived in Liverpool in March Mitchell and Buchanan were arrested and charged with murder, but after a hearing before the magistrates this was reduced to manslaughter. Despite the seriousness of the charge both were granted bail, which led to Buchanan absconding and he was never heard of again.

On 1st April Mitchell was tried and after the evidence of several crew members was heard he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years penal servitude.


Ex Soldier Dumps Lover's Body in Country Lane

An ex soldier killed his lover and dumped her body in Croxteth Park after she refused to leave her husband for him.

During the summer of 1909 22 year old Benjamin Scholey was discharged from the army and renewed his acquaintance with ex girlfriend Minnie Heard, who was now married with two children and known as Minnie Gascoigne, living in Upper Baker Street with her husband who was a tea packer.

Scholey begged her to go to Ireland with him, but she refused to leave her children and on 4th October he avenged this by taking her life. On that day the couple met on Butler Street and spent the afternoon drinking before going to West Derby where Scholey strangled Minnie with his belt and left the body in a brook off Croxteth Hall Lane. He then returned home and told his mother what he had done before burning all Minnie’s letters and going to another pub, where he told the barman what he had done.

Later that evening Scholey was arrested for being drunk and disorderly but told the police officer he should be charged with murder. He then accompanied officers to West Derby where a search was conducted and Minnie’s body was found in a brook with Scholey’s belt lying next to it. The corpse was taken to the Dog and Gun Inn 

At his trial Scholey admitted drinking a large amount of whisky on the morning of the murder but that he remembered nothing else about the day until he found himself under arrest. He was found guilty but the jury’s recommendation of mercy on account of his age and previous good character meant that the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Home Secretary.

Mother Starves Children To Death

In a horrific case in the 1850s a Vauxhall mother malnourished her children so much that two of them died from starvation leading to her being convicted of manslaughter.


The situation came to light on the morning of Friday 24th August 1855 when 35 year old Mary Aspinall called police to her home in Eldon Place, claiming that two days earlier her husband, 42 year old William had killed their 22 month old daughter Emma, who was found dead in bed.



The scene at the property was horrendous, with the dead child in a skeletal state and six other children black from dirt and suffering malnutrition. Both parents were arrested and that night a second child, a  four month old baby, died. The following day hundreds of people descended on the property to look at the conditions in which the children had been living.


The following week an inquest was held, with the Liverpool Mercury reporting that the parents had showed 'inhumanity unparalleled in the history of crime.' The jury of the coroner's court returned a verdict of wilful murder due to starvation arising out of gross negligence and both parents were committed for trial.


Of the six children that were placed in the care of the workhouse, two of them died before the trial took place in December, when the prosecution reduced the charge to manslaughter. A neighbour told how they had often seen the children neglected while the mother was drunk and the couple's oldest son John, who worked with his father for the London & North Western Railway Company, said that they both handed their wages over to his mother. 

Twelve year old William Aspinall told the court that his mother was often drunk and that he would be sent to get his own food, while the youngest children often had their food taken from them by  the older ones. Both said though that when their father was around, he would ensure that all his family had something to eat.



The jury acquitted the father William but found mother Mary guilty of manslaughter and she was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Man Kills Lover After Religion Gets Between Them

In October 1900 James Bergin shot his girlfriend as she refused to continue their relationship due to their different religions.

28 year old Bergin was from Ireland and working in Liverpool as a grocer's assistant in 1898 when he began seeing local girl Margaret Morrison. They got engaged and the banns were read but Margaret then broke off the engagement under pressure from her Protestant family.

Bergin remained friendly with Margaret but in March 1900 after an argument he tried to shoot her but missed. Margaret escaped and after Bergin came to check she was ok, she managed to get the revolver from him and disposed of it in a sewer. Four months later in July Bergin went to 24 year old Margaret's house in Brasenose Road and tried to slash her with a razor blade which she wrestled from him. As he left, he told her mother that he would do 20 years for Margaret and no other man would have her.

Despite previous incidents, Margaret's parents allowed Bergin to take their daughter to the theatre on the evening of 27th October.  At about 11pm the couple were in Bank Hall Street quarelling and Bergin shot Margaret before running off. Two police officers tended to the victim, who had two gunshot wounds to the head and she was taken to the Stanley Hospital accompanied by her mother who was sent for.

The following day Bergin was arrested at his lodgings in Howe Street and initially charged with wounding, although by now Margaret was not expected to recover. She died on 29th October after suffering convulsions and Bergin was committed for trial at the next Liverpool Assizes on 4th December.

At his trial, Bergin pleaded insanity but the judge told the jury that he had told Mrs Morrison of his intentions to kill Margaret, which implied premeditation and that he was aware of the consequences of his actions. Bergin was found guilty with a recommendation for mercy, but this was not acted upon by the Home Secretary. On 27th December, exactly two months after the murder he met his fate at Walton Gaol, the first execution in Liverpool of the 20th century.

Mutiny Leads To Hanging Of Two Sailors

Gustav Rau
When a British freighter picked up five men off the coast of Brazil in December 1902 who claimed to have been shipwrecked after a fire, the rescuing crew soon became suspicious leading to two of them being hanged for murder.

The story began in October when the MV Veronica set sail from from Mississippi to Montevideo. It was to be a voyage of several months and tensions soon rose when Germans Gustav Rau, Otto Monsson and Henry Flohr, along with Dutchman William Schmidt, took exception to the disciplinarian style of the two ship's mates, carried out under the authority of Captain Alexander Shaw.

At the beginning of December the mutiny, led by Rau, began when the chief mate and two sympathetic crew members were battered to death. The next day Captain Shaw was shot dead by Rau and his second mate thrown overboard. Rau and his accomplices, along with others who hadn't taken either side, then set fire to the ship and set off in a lifeboat, agreeing to say to any rescuers that two lifeboats set off and the other was lost sight of because of the smoke. However two crew members failed to remember all the details and were shot by Flohr and Smith and thrown overboard. This just left Moses Thomas the cook, as the only non rebellious crew member to survive.


Willem Schmidt
On Christmas Day the lifeboat arrived at Cajueira, an island off the coast of Brazil and were accommodated by locals for a few days, Rau getting involved in a brief fling with a local girl. On 29th December the Brunswick, a steamer from Liverpool arrived and they were granted passage on that to England, their story being believed by the captain George Browne. However, Thomas insisted on being accommodated away from the other shipwrecked sailors and shortly before arriving at Madeira, he told Captain Browne what had happened on board the Veronica. The British consul at Lisbon instructed Captain Browne not to allow the Veronica crew off the ship, although Rau was taken ashore at Oporto by a fellow German on board the Brunswick and made no attempt to escape.

Otto Monsson
In Liverpool all four mutineers were arrested, where they told police that it was Moses Thomas who led the mutiny, and they felt that had no choice but to join in because he had a gun. Flohr though soon changed his statement saying what had really happened and he was given immunity from prosecution to give evidence against Ray, Schmidt and Monsson.

The following May Rau, Schmidt and Monsson were found guilty after a three day trial and sentenced to hang, but Monsson had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment due to his age (18). Rau and Schmidt were hanged together on 2nd June 1903 in the first double execution at Walton. Rau maintained his innocence on the scaffold, his last words being "I am not guilty of the murder of those men".


More information about the Veronica Mutiny can be found here

Hanged Over A Bucket of Water

A dispute over the cleanliness of a bucket of water led to the execution of a sailor in 1915. 

28 year old Young Hill was from Wilson, Louisiana who worked as a muleteer - somebody who looks after mules - on the SS Antillian which sailed from New Orleans on 6th July 1915. On 25th July the ship unloaded some cargo at Avonmouth before sailing on to Liverpool and while the ship was on the River Mersey waiting to dock the next evening that the tragedy occurred.


At around 7.30pm while the ship was lying off Canada Dock Hill was asked to take some water to a fellow crew member who was sick. He poured some water from a bucket into a kettle but was told by Crawford that this was dirty as he had washed hid feet in it. Crawford went to get some clean water but when he returned Hill grabbed him from behind and pulled his head back before cutting his throat with a razor. Crawford managed to get away but Hill caught up with him and slashed him again, this time causing instant death. Hill was later described as looking 'wild' and threatened to cut the head off anybody who approached him. It was only when Captain Gittins produced a revolver that Hill, who like his victim was described as 'coloured' by the press, gave himself up.

When the ship berthed in Huskisson Dock at 10pm the bloodstained razor was handed to detectives by the Captain and on his arrest, Hill claimed he acted in self defence after Crawford threw a punch at him, which he ducked to avoid. Hill stood trial at the Liverpool Assizes in October where witnesses said there was no initial assault on Hill and he was found guilty. Hill was sentenced to death although the jury did recommend mercy due to his nationality but this was not upheld by the Home Secretary.

On 1st December, after being attended to by Father St John, Hill was hanged at Walton along with John Thornley, a Cheshire man who had killed his girlfriend. There were just five people outside the prison gates, far less than normal, when the death notices were posted.

Justifiable Homicide On The High Seas

In 1844 a ship's cook killed his captain in the Bay of Biscay but was acquitted of murder after claiming to have acted in self defence.

Elisha Halsey was a father of four who lived in Charleston, South Carolina. He was Captain of the Thomas Bennett, which sailed from Liverpool for Charleston on 3rd August 1844.

On the afternoon of 8th August First Mate William Gibbons heard a commotion on deck and rushed up to see Captain Halsey lying on his back with a wound to his neck. Within a minute he was dead, having not been able to say anything. Cook John Kent was stood nearby and said that if he had not have stabbed Halsey, he would have been killed himself.

Kent was overpowered by Gibbons and other crew members and put in irons, the vessel turning back for Liverpool where it arrived on the 14th. At the Coroner's inquest in Lord Street, crew members told how Halsey has regularly been drunk on board the ship and finding fault in many things, especially in respect of how food was prepared and served. Steward George Houghton Monro told how he had seen Halsey drink almost a pint of brandy then  go into the galley and demand his dinner instantly and brandishing a carving knife before dragging Kent away by his collar. This knife was shown to the jury, in addition to the sailor's knife that Kent had stabbed Halsey with.

Both Halsey and Kent were described by crew members as good men, but it was admitted that Halsey had been drinking liquor far more on the return voyage than the one from Charleston to Liverpool. Other American seamen gave evidence in respect of Halsey's good character and the surgeon who conducted the post mortem stated that the liver was in a healthy condition. With the killing having taken place on an American vessel and the victim an American citizen, the US consul was keen to have Kent (who lived in Great Howard Street) extradited there for trial. However, the jury returned a verdict of 'Justifiable Homicide', which under English law meant he could be released without any further charges and on 21st August Home Secretary Sir James Graham ordered Kent's release.

Halsey was interred in St James Cemetery in a service that was attended by many American seamen who were in Liverpool at the time. 44 of them signed a testimonial that he was nothing other than a sober man.

Chinese Laundryman Strangled

A local Chinese man was found brutally murdered in his flat in Vauxhall on the same day that the city was rocked by another death.

Jaw Kay was a laundryman who lived above his business premises at 44 Scotland Road. When his shop was found to be closed on the afternoon of Saturday 2nd February 1946 the alarm was raised.

Police forced entry and found the body on the bed with multiple stab wounds, having believed to have been dead for two days. The flat had been ransacked and the motive was believed to have been robbery, as Kay was known to have carried a large wad of notes on his person.

The find was made on the same day that Liverpool was shocked by the mystery of the Hanging Boy. Police launched a manhunt but the crime remains unsolved, with a man who was seen leaving the back door with a package under his arm never having been traced. 

Girl Killed On Way To Butchers

A ten year old girl was killed whilst on an errand for her mother in 1905 and her murderer was never caught.

At midnight on Saturday 28th October 1905 Elizabeth Peers of Wendell Street was given 6d by her mother to go to the butchers on Lodge Lane to buy some cooked pork. Her mother Elizabeth remained at home with her three brothers while her brick setter father William was out visiting his brother, having earlier had an argument with his wife.

Elizabeth never returned but the area was a lively neighbourhood and her mother assumed that she had just met some friends or gone to a relations. The following morning at 835am her body was found in an entry at the back of Cullen Street by William Wilson, a carter on his way to work in Edge Hill. However Mrs Peers at first wasn't concerned, instead saying how terrible it was that somebody had lost their daughter. It was only when her father enquired with relatives as to Elizabeth's whereabouts did they realise it could be their daughter who was dead.

Elizabeth's clothes were completely drenched by rain and her eyes and mouth were wide open. A post mortem revealed she died from the shock of being raped and gagged.  At the inquest, which was adjourned, the Coroner heard she was last seen in Longfellow Street and expressed his shock that plenty of children were allowed out at such a late hour. Her mother was in such a state of shock at her daughter's death that on 31st October, the day of the inquest, she knocked over a paraffin lamp which set fire to some of the furniture. Neighbours managed to drag her out of the house and extinguish the flames.

Elizabeth's funeral took place at St Clement's Church on 3rd November, and an estimated 30,000 people lined the streets to watch the procession to her burial place at Smithdown Road with many blinds remaining drawn. A wreath was sent by her Tiber Street school.

Several witnesses reported to police seeing a man in his late thirties with a dark moustache running from the entry at 1.30am but the killer of Elizabeth Peers was never found. On 22nd November the inquest was concluded with a verdict of wilful murder by persons unknown. The Coroner censured Elizabeth's parents for their 'unnatural conduct' on the night of the killing. 

Chinese Sailor Shoots Friend Over Woman

Chinese sailor See Lee Wai was hanged in 1909 after he shot his friend in an apparent rage of jealousy over an English woman.

See Lee Wai and Yang Yap were good friends who used to regularly visit Amy Yap Sing, the English widow of a Chinese sailor who ran a boarding house in at 13 Dickenson Street (situated off Upper Frederick Street, near St Vincent de Paul school).

Mrs Sing was in bed with peritonitis when both men visited her on 3rd December 1908, before enjoying drinks in her kitchen and leaving on apparently good terms. The following evening however, See Lee Wai saw Amy then left as Yun Yap arrived, only to return with a revolver to shoot his friend in the stomach.


Southern Hospital (from www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
Yun Yap was taken to the Southern Hospital hospital in Caryl Street, where he was able to make a statement naming See Lee Wai as the gunman. The following night (a Saturday) at 10pm, a Chinese man was seen by a railway guard acting suspiciously at Lime Street station, claiming that he was waiting for a train to Glasgow. When the guard saw the name on the sailor's book in the ticket office, he recognised it as that of a man wanted in connection with a shooting and See Lee Wai was arrested by police.


When questioned See Lee said that the gun had gone off during a quarrel and he had been trying to wrestle it from Yun Yap. Three days later Yun Yap died of an infection to the wound and See Lee Wai was charged with murder, appearing before the Liverpool Assizes on 12th March 1909 before Lord Chief Justice Alverstone. Amy Yap Sing told the court that she had not see Yun Yap with a gun and a doctor said that the he could not have shot himself.


See Lee Wai, who ironically had been a prosecution witness at the trial of Pong Lun five years previously, was found guilty after the jury retired for only ten minutes. He was sentenced to the same fate as his compatriot and when a petition to the Home Secretary failed to reprieve him he treated the news with total indifference, He was hanged at Walton on 30th March 1909.



Chinatown Shooting

A game of dominoes got out of hand at a Chinese lodging house in Frederick Street, leading to the execution of Pong Lun.

On 20th March 1904 four men were playing Mah Jong, a form of dominoes, at the lodging house at 22a Frederick Street (situated where Maritime Way now is) when 43 year old docks storekeeper Pong Lun appeared and asked the banker John Go Hing to take a bet, but this was refused as it was too late. Pong Lun then left the room and returned with a gun with which he shot twice at Go Hing, who was a laundryman in Rock Ferry.  One of the bullets went over his head but the other struck him in the stomach.

Pong Lun then left and fired some more shots in the street to deter any of the other players from following him. That night he returned to the lodging house where he was arrested by police on suspicion of attempted murder, telling them that he shot Go Hing because he had not paid back some money that was owed to him. Police then searched his room and found a box containing some ammunition.

Go Hing died three days later and on 10th May Pong Lun stood in the dock at the trial which saw a number of witnesses from the city's Chinese commnity give evidence as well as some Malay seamen. Some of the witnesses gave evidence on the Koran while others swore by smashing a saucer. Much of the evidence was given via an interpreter with so many witnesses having been in the room, there was little doubt as to what the outcome of the trial would be. The jury did not leave their box and after returning the guilty verdict made no recommendation of mercy.

Prior to passing sentence of death Justice Bucknill told Pong Lun that he had sent Go Hing 'defenceless and harmless, to his long rest.' At this point Go Hing's widow Martha screamed 'My fatherless child' and fainted, but he retained a stoic composure. There was hardly a dry eye in the court as Pong Lun remained impassive while he was told he would be taken to a place of execution and hanged by the neck until he was dead.

An appeal by a Chinese missionary was made to the Home Secretary, on the basis that Pong Lun had been drinking and that the Chinese community viewed life differently, but this was dismissed. Pong Lun was hanged at Walton on 31st May in a double execution along with wife murderer William Kirwan.

Desperate Father Slashes Son To Death

A father who was driven by poverty to kill youngest son in 1909 was detained as a criminal lunatic.

William McCormick was a marine fireman but an injury sustained to his leg in 1907 meant he struggled to find work. On 26th January 1909 he returned to his Burlington Street home after another frustrating day in which the doctor at the port had refused to pass him fit. After an argument with his mother in law he instructed his five year old son to go upstairs and then carried his 19 month old after him.

Shortly afterwards the five year old run downstairs with his throat cut, leading to the alarm being raised by McCormick's mother in law. When the police arrived he was sat at the kitchen table with a razor blade, and calmly said that he didn't want his children to have such a terrible life as he had had and they would be better off dead. The baby was found lifeless upstairs and McCormick was arrested and charged with murder.

At his trial on 11th March McCormick's counsel provided evidence that he had suffered depression and fits of explosive insanity brought on by melancholia, as well as attempting suicide. However Walton gaol's doctor testified that he had appeared perfectly sane whilst awaiting trial, and although feeling morbid could well have planned the crime.

On deliberation by the jury McCormick was found guilty but insane and detained indefinitely.


Spanish Sailor Stabbed to Death

In 1884 a foreign sailor was stabbed and kicked to death in a horrific gang attack in Kirkdale. The main culprit, 18 year old Michael McLean was hanged for murder in an execution noted for the incompetence and drunkenness of the hangman.

At 10pm on 5th January 1884 Exequiel Nunez and Jose Jiminez, whose ships were berthed in Canada Dock, were walking along Regent Road when they encountered a gang of five youths on the corner with Blackstone Street. Along with five foot four inches tall gang leader McLean were Patrick Duggan, Alexander Campbell, Murdoch Ballantyne and William Dempsey, who were aged between 18 and 20. Ballantyne punched Jiminez without warning but he managed to escape and went to seek help as his friend remained at the mercy of the gang.


After being punched and kicked Nunez managed to get away as well only to be caught up with the gang by Fulton Street where he was beaten and kicked. Again he escaped but only as far as the bridge on Blackstone Street, where he was stabbed in the neck. Watched by quite a crowd the killers dispersed and after a horse ambulance was sent for Nunez died on the way to hospital. It took six days for Nunez’s identity to be confirmed, as Jiminez was fearful of approaching police in case he was detained and missed his ship or was wrongly charged with murder.

Due to their notoriety in the neighbourhood all five youths were arrested within days. McLean, who was from Steel Street, was apprehended at a house in Fulton Street with his girlfriend and found in possession of two blades, one of which was bloodstained. The trial, which took place on 18th February, saw conflicting evidence as all five tried to minimise their own involvement. As such Ballantyne, Dempsey and Campbell were all acquitted as the evidence against them was inconclusive, but McLean and Duggan were found guilty with a recommendation for mercy. Before the sentence of death was passed, both said that Dempsey was the real murderer.

Eventually Duggan was granted a reprieve on the grounds that he had not carried out the stabbing but despite his youth McLean’s execution was fixed for 10th March. The hangman Bartholomew Binns arrived two days beforehand drunk and fell asleep straight away, before shouting abuse at prison officers who tried to wake him, leading to the Governor calling the police to calm him down. Binns also expressed disapproval at the presence of Samuel Heath as reserve executioner, as he felt that the prison officials wanted to use him instead. Heath was meant to assist Binns but the latter refused to allow him to do so.



As he climbed onto the gallows, McLean maintained his and Duggans innocence, telling the three reporters who were present: 'Gentlemen, I consider it is a disgrace to the police force of Liverpool and to the law of the country that I am going to suffer death and another boy is going to suffer imprisonment for life for a crime of which we are both innocent, as God is my judge.' He then recited prayers with Father Bonte, but a nervous Binns then made a mess of placing the noose and hood over McLean's head and miscalculated the drop, meaning that although he lost consciousness immediately he continued to have a pulse for 8 minutes. Dempsey, who McLean had blamed for the murder, had sailed for a new life in San Francisco the previous week.

After the execution Binns attended the inquest where he was censured by the Coroner and claimed to have fallen asleep on the Saturday as he had been up all night tending to his sick wife. He then took a cab to Lime Street, via some public houses where he showed interested customers his rope. He was so drunk that he was nearly denied boarding onto his train back to Yorkshire. It was the last execution that he was invited by the Home Office to perform.

Anfield Cemetery Murder

In 1906 A 12 year old boy was strangled to death in Anfield cemetery but the killer saw his sentence commuted to life imprisonment due to his low level of intelligence.



On Saturday 10th March of that year William Armitage of 91 West Derby Road was sent on an errand to Walton by his father, who ran a hairdressers. However William never returned and his still warm body was found by a cemetery labourer at 1.15pm with a handkerchief tied round its neck, which also had a deep wound. 

Police at first struggled to find a motive for the murder, as there was no evidence of any robbery having taken place, only signs of a struggle. It was only after a wide appeal for information that a local shoe-shiner, 34 year old John Rawsthorne was apprehended on 20th March.  Rawsthorne was known as 'soft Johnny' by local youths and was described in newspapers as being a 'half wit' and of 'weak intellect'. Various witnesses came forward to say they had seen him acting suspiciously in the area on the day of the murder, while he also watched William's funeral from a distance, telling one of the ladies who attended that if he had been ten minutes earlier he could have saved him.


Rawsthorne told police that he was living in the Liverpool workhouse at the time of the murder and couldn't have been in the vicinity, but this was proved to be untrue. Witnesses said they had seen him in a farmer's field near the cemetery and also outside Breck Road station on the day of the murder, whilst his landlady said he claimed to have been watching Everton play Sheffield Wednesday at Goodison Park.


At his trial Walton Gaol’s medical officer described Rawsthorne as a ‘mental degenerate’ who wouldn't be able to understand evidence. His defence submitted that he was not capable of distinguishing the quantity of his actions but the jury decided he knew the difference between right and wrong as he carried out his crime. Rawsthorne was found guilty of murder but with a recommendation for mercy and his death sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment by the Home Secretary.

Knowsley Hall Shootings

Two stately home employees were shot dead by a work colleague in a tragic incident in one autumn evening in 1952

Knowsley Hall, on the eastern fringe of Liverpool and home to the earls of Derby for many centuries, cannot have witnessed more horrific events than those of 9th October 1952.

At 8.15pm that evening 19 year old Harold Winstanley, a trainee footman who had been discharged from the army due to tuberculosis, entered the smoke room and shot Lady Derby in the neck. While she 'played dead' Winstanley turned the gun on butler Walter Stallard and under-butler Douglas Stuart, who had been attracted by the commotion. 

After moving to the inner hallway, a frenzied Winstanley then shot and wounded valet William Sullivan and housekeeper Mrs Turley in the hand and leg respectively. Miss Doxford, Lady Derby's maid managed to slip away from the scene and call the police, after Winstanley had casually told her that he had shot Lady Derby but hadn't meant to hurt her. 



Winstanley then left the hall, drank a pint of beer in the Coppul House pub and then realised his plight was useless. He took a bus to Liverpool city centre and dialled 999 at 11.42pm to give himself up, expressing surprise when he was told that Lady Derby had survived.

On 14th October the two victims were buried in adjoining graves at the Church of St Mary in Knowsley Village. Three days later Winstanley appeared at Prescot Magistrates Court where he was defended by a young Rex Makin, who urged the press to 'stifle their wrong conclusions and suppositions until the facts are known.'


There was little doubt that Winstanley had carried out the shootings and the task of the defence counsel Rose Heilbron at his trial in Manchester on  16th December was to prove that he was insane at the time of the killings. Evidence was heard that his mother had a history of psychiatric problems and fellow staff members told how he had always been pleasant to work with. they said that on the fatal night he was acting normally and in a good mood when he enjoyed a meal with them at 5pm, but by he time of he shootings was white and wild eyed. 


Dr. Francis Brisby, Senior Medical Officer at Walton Prison described how Winstanley spoke of the shootings as if he'd witnessed them, rather than carried them out. It was Dr. Brisby's opinion that he was suffering schizophrenia and gross hysteria at the time, not being able to tell right from wrong. The jury returned a verdict of 'guilty but insane' and Winstanley was detained indefinitely at Broadmoor.




Mother Drowns Newborn Twins

After falling pregnant to her lodger in 1878, a woman drowned the newborn twins but managed to avoid the death penalty on appeal in a case that had a profound effect on the judge.

Ellen Lanigan was a mother of four but in 1873 her husband was committed to the asylum at Rainhill, leaving her to run a small sweet shop in Richmond Row. She took in a lodger, Mr McLoughlin, for extra money but he took advantage of Ellen's loneliness and she became pregnant. However when Ellen was forced to give up her business McLoughlin disappeared and in desperation she sent her two children to live with relatives in Manchester then went to the Liverpool Workhouse. 

On 30th April Ellen gave birth to twin girls and two weeks later moved out of the workhouse to lodge with a Mrs Fletcher in Morley Street. On 17th May Ellen went out of the house with the twins and returned the following afternoon, saying that she had paid to have them put in the care of a nurse. She then said she was going to Manchester to see her other two children. 

On 19th May the bodies of the two babies were found in separate ash pits off Stanley Road and their identities were established by the workhouse clothing and the recollection of the doctor who vaccinated them. Ellen was eventually arrested on 31st May in Denton and she made an immediate full confession, saying that poverty had driven her to do what she did, and that she had sat up in the field crying all night after drowning them. The reason, she said, that they were found in two different places was because she had taken one child out thinking she was still alive, so then left her body elsewhere.


Ellen was charged with murder and at her trial on 29th July, throughout which she wept bitterly, the only defence offered was that she had carried out the crime due to her unfortunate circumstances. In a case described by the prosecuting counsel as 'one of the saddest and most melancholy' that he had ever some across, she was found guilty with a strong recommendation for mercy. 

Lord Justice Cockburn said he had no option but to pass the death sentence but that he would forward the recommendation and add his own, and that he hoped it would take effect. He then left the courtroom in an indisposed manner, leaving another judge to finish off the remaining cases that day. On 16th August, Ellen received the news in the condemned cell that the death sentence had been commuted to life imprisonment.





Tin Bath Battering

A man battered his girlfriend's brother in law to death in Kirkdale following a seizure but was unable to recall the killing.

On the morning of 19th June 1956, 22 year old William Apter had spent the night at the home of Matilda Garner, sister of his girlfriend, Teresa Jones, in Harebell Street, Kirkdale. 15 year old Teresa was woken by Matilda's husband Norman, advising her that William, who had slept on the sofa was suffering a fit. Teresa went down and comforted him and he apparently recovered and fell back asleep. Moments later however, Apter sat upright with his eyes bulging, before jumping up and following Norman Garner who had gone outside to use the toilet Apter then knocked him to the ground and repeatedly punching him. He then continued the onslaught using a tin bath.

When confronted by a neighbour, Apter took a bicycle and later in the day was observed riding unsteadily on the floating roadway which connected the Pier Head to an overhead railway station. Apter was possibly on his way to his mothers house in Bebington, Wirral, but on falling from the bike was taken to hospital suffering from concussion.

On waking up in hospital, Apter was met by CID officers who wanted to question about the attack on Norman Garner, who was now critically ill in hospital. Apter was stunned by this, saying he could remember nothing since seeing Norman getting ready for work that morning.

Garner died six days later and Apter was tried for murder. His girlfriend Teresa told the court she had never seen Apter in a temper before. Dr Brisby from Walton gaol believed that he was suffering from a 'defect of reason' as a result of the fit. He was found 'guilty but insane' and ordered by Mr Justice Oliver to be detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

Stadium Steps Murder


A quarrel on the steps of the old Liverpool Stadium (a boxing venue) in 1961 led to the death of a 19 year old girl and her lover narrowly escaping the gallows.

Valerie Sellers, a waitress from Flintshire and her boyfriend, 23 year old John McMenemy who lived in Lorne Street in Fairfield, had been together nearly a year. Wedding plans had been postponed however and Sellers father confronted McMenemy on 30 July 1961 to ask his intentions. Despite replying in the affirmative, he later told Valerie he would never marry her.

Liverpool Stadium (courtesy www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
Two weeks later McMenemy returned to Flintshire to repay some money he owed to Mr Sellers and was told not to return again. During the night, Valerie sneaked out and would not be seen alive by her father again. In the early hours of 20th August, McMenemy telephoned the operator and advised that there was a body on the top of the stadium steps. Officers arriving at the scene found the body of Valerie, who had died from stab wounds, with a tie next to it. 

The telephone call was traced to the Pier Head and McMenemy was there when police arrived. Noticing that McMenemy wasn't wearing a tie and had a bloodstain on his cuff, he was questioned and admitted the stabbing. When he was taken into custody a cigarette lighter, purse and bracelet of Valerie's were found on him. McMenemy made a full confession, stating that her refusal to give him some money had cost him her life. Initially intending to run, he realised it was hopeless and he went to the Pier Head. 

At McMenemy's trial, no witnesses were produced for his defence, with his counsel arguing that as he was in love with Valerie he regarded his property as his own. Although the death penalty had been abolished for plain murder, killing in furtherance of theft remained a capital charge. McMenemy was sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life imprisonment on the recommendation of the Home Secretary. An earlier appeal to reduce the verdict to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility had failed.

Vauxhall Poisoners

In 1884 two sisters made their way to the gallows after taking four lives by administering arsenic and then claiming insurance payouts, with more recent research having discovered that they may well have been part of a syndicate that took many more lives. 

In 1880 Catherine Flannagan and Margaret Higgins, both Irish widows, lived in Skirving Street. The others in the house were Catherine's 22 year old son John Flannagan, lodger Patrick Jennings and his 16 year old daughter Margaret, as well as another lodger Thomas Higgins and his 8 year old daughter Mary. In December of that year John Flannagan died, apparently of consumption and his mother collected over £71 insurance money.



A year after John's death, Margaret had married Thomas Higgins and by November 1882 young Mary had died, having been insured for £22. Within two months Margaret Jennings was dead and again insurance money was collected. On each occasion the sisters had waited until the victim was already ill before administering the fatal dose, making it easier to get a doctor to issue a death certificate. 

After these three deaths the sisters moved, so as not to arouse any further suspicion, to 105 Latimer Street. No deaths occurred there and in September 1883 they moved to 27 Ascot Street, where Thomas Higgins was selected as the next victim. He was insured for nearly £100, but an attempt to take out a policy for an extra £50 failed when a drunken Thomas refused to undergo a medical examination, a fact he probably told to his brother Patrick.

After Thomas' death on 2nd October 1883, Patrick visited a number of insurance societies and found that the money had already been drawn. He approached the doctor, and they went to the coroner with their suspicions. The funeral was stopped so a post mortem could take place and Higgins was arrested. Flannagan fled the house but was taken into custody a few days later. 

Both were charged on 16th October after arsenic was found in Thomas Higgins' corpse. The three other victims were exhumed and traces of arsenic found in each. After a three day trial, the sisters were found guilty in 40 minutes and sentenced to death. They were hanged at Kirkdale Gaol on 3rd March 1884.

In 2003 Angela Brabin published a book called The Black Widows of Liverpool, which carried out further investigation into the killings. She uncovered evidence that suggested many more may have met the same fate and that although Flannagan and Higgins may have administered the poison, many more stood to profit from their deeds.