Monday, 20 May 2013

Condemned Man Warns of Drink Danger

In 1891 John Conway was hanged for the killing of 10 year old Nicholas Martin, whose body he had dumped in Sandon Dock.

The last time Nicholas was seen by any of his family was at a quarter to nine on the evening of Saturday 16th May, when he was playing ball outside his house in Bridgewater Street. His mother went to some shops and returned half an hour later and he was nowhere to be seen. However as Nicholas had a habit of going to an uncle's house in Great Howard Street he wasn't reported as missing to the police until the Monday.

On the Tuesday morning two gatemen at the Sandon Dock Basin pulled a black bag out of the water and found that it contained the badly mutilated body of Nicholas, whose feet had been cut off. Word soon got around the city of the find and Nicholas's father, also called    Nicholas, identified the body at a mortuary that evening. 

Enquiries focused on the black canvass bag that Nicholas's body had been placed in and it was soon found that it had been sold from a shop in Park Lane on the Monday afternoon. A vital clue left in the bag was some brown paper with the stamp of the Sailor's Union, who had an office in Stanhope Street. This allowed police to act swiftly and a search of the premises found a large quantity of blood. The following day the union's representative in South Liverpool, former marine fireman John Conway, was arrested at a lodging house in Bridgewater Street.

At the inquest Nicholas's mother was so distressed at the description of his body that she had to go and sit in the coroner's room. A verdict of wilful murder was returned and his funeral was held at the Church of St Vincent de Paul  and he was buried in Ford Cemetery.

Conway's trial took place on the 31st July and 1st August. The circumstantial evidence against him was overwhelming. Fellow boarding house lodgers identified the razor which was believed to be the murder weapon as his, boys said they saw Conway talking to Nicholas shortly before he disappeared and the shop owner confirmed that Conway had bought the bag. A cab driver also said that he had picked Conway up from Stanhope Street on the Monday night and dropped him off at the Pier Head carrying the bag which he was struggling with but refused help. 

Conway's defence was that the murder had been committed by an unknown foreign sailor and pointed out that he was of previous good character, had no motive and had been drinking and acting normally with friends on the Sunday. It took the jury half an hour to reach a verdict of guilty and Conway was sentenced to death.

Conway was executed at Kirkdale Gaol on 20th August, having finally made a written confession to the murder the day before in which he said that he had developed a morbid mania to see someone dying. As he was led to the scaffold he said to the executioner James Berry 'beware of drink.' Berry had miscalculated the drop and Conway was almost decapitated as he was hanged, leading to him returning straight home to Bradford and refusing to talk to reporters.

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