Wednesday, 18 May 2011

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.

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