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.

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