Wednesday, 18 May 2011

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.

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