Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Music Hall Murderer Hanged Twice

In 1873 a Good Samaritan came to the aid of a woman who was being attacked but was stabbed to death. His killer then had to be hanged twice when the rope snapped at the first attempt.

On Monday 11th August 1873 Mary Shears, the wife of a ship's steward, attended the Cambridge Music Hall in Mill Street, Toxteth, where she was spotted by James Connor who asked her to join him for a  drink. When she refused he followed her out of the hall and accused her of stealing money before punching her twice and causing her to fall to the floor.

The incident was witnessed by a man named James Gaffney and he and a friend crossed the road to assist. Gaffney asked why Connor had done what he did, leading to Connor taking a knife from his pocket and stabbing Gaffney in the neck. He then stabbed Gaffney's friend Metcalf but the knife failed to penetrate his clothing.

Connor calmly walked away but two other passers by managed to apprehend him and hand him over to police. Gaffney was taken to the Southern Hospital where he died the following morning, the knife having penetrated the spine.

The trial took place just a week later, with the jury debating for a considerable time over whether Connor should be found guilty of murder or manslaughter. After querying the aspect of provocation Justice Brett directed that a manslaughter verdict could only be returned if the jury could be satisfied that Gaffney had touched Connor. If they believed Gaffney had only threatened to touch him, then a murder verdict had to be returned. After initially telling the judge they could not reach a verdict he refused to discharge them, leading to a further hour of deliberations after which Connor was found guilty of murder.

Connor had shown a total indifference during his trial and scowled 'you make me laugh' as Justice Brett passed the death sentence. Connor was a local prizefighter who spent most of his days drinking, but life could have been so different. Born in Ireland and raised in London, he arrived in Liverpool via Birmingham and Sheffield, working as a boilermaker where wages were lucrative, sometimes as much as £1 a day. The Liverpool Mercury described the family who had attended the trial as 'most respectable people', but although he found work when he first arrived in Liverpool he soon got in with the wrong crowd and began to spend his days drinking, making money from boxing and wrestling instead.

The execution was fixed for 8th September at Kirkdale Gaol, with Calcraft, who it was believed had retired, turning up late the night before. Connor walked calmly to the scaffold, even helping with those pinioning him and smiling as the white cap was placed over his head. Then after the lever was pulled the rope snapped and he fell to the floor. Connor was helped back up, blood visible from the rope marks on his neck but eight minutes later they were ready to try again. This time the rope didn't snap but Connor didn't die easily, writhing around for several seconds after he had dropped.

Calcraft, who was 73 years old, could not account for the rope snapping but the prison authorities believed he had miscalculated Connor's weight. He was not used by Kirkdale Gaol again.

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