Friday, 26 April 2013

Man Kills Wife In Fit Of Temporary Madness

In 1865 an Everton man killed his wife in what was an apparent temporary bout of insanity.

At about 10pm on Saturday 15th July 1865 Police Inspector Bold was patrolling Prince Edwin Street when he was stopped by a woman and told that a man had stabbed his wife in Number 16 Court. When he got to the property he found that a police constable and doctor were already at the scene, with Eliza Burns was already lying dead on the floor. Her husband, 51 year old painter Harriman Burns who was originally from Workington in Cumbria, then excitedly told the Inspector that he had done it and he was placed under arrest and taken to Rose Hill Bridewell.

When the case was heard before the Liverpool Assizes the following month the couple's son 17 year old Robert Burns gave evidence. He stated that his father had been known to undergo bouts of drinking which were followed by the suffering of delirium tremens - shaking triggered by alcohol withdrawal. On the day of the killing the father and son had gone to Birkenhead Park but on returning Harriman, who hadn't drank for a week, started to talk to himself, saying there were people upstairs and he was up and down trying to find them.

After settling down by the fire Harriman jumped out of his chair without warning and attacked his wife with a knife. His son ran out of the house to get help but his mother was dead by the time a policeman and doctor arrived. Robert told the jury how his parents had enjoyed good relations, but his father was suffering and was convinced people were hiding in the house as they wanted to steal £175 worth of dock bonds that he had. On the day before the murder, Harriman had been talking to the Wellington Monument at the top of William Brown Street, claiming he could move it as he was a magician.

The family doctor confirmed that Harriman suffered from delirium tremens and that he had observed him restlessly searching through cupboards and talking to teapots whilst on visits to the house. His employer told how he had been working for him for 5 years and never been forced to take time off due to drink problems, while  colleague said he would often be silent for long periods or demand water as there was a fire when it was clear that there wasn't.

The jury took no time at all to acquit Harriman of murder on the grounds of insanity and he was ordered by Judge McAubrey to be detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure for an indefinite period. He was kept at Broadmoor where he died in 1878.

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