Wednesday, 18 May 2011

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.

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