Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Liverpool Cab Murder

Shortly before Christmas in 1890 a shocking murder took place when a man stabbed his mistress whilst they were both in the back of a cab.

Margaret Stewart, who also went by the name of Isabella Cowie, lived in what was described by the Liverpool Mercury as a 'house of ill fame' in Lambert Street (situated between London Road and Islington). Around the 11th December she got involved in a liaison with porter Arthur Penfold, who had previously served in the army.

On the afternoon of 17th December Ellen Ash, the landlady of he house, saw the couple leave at about 3pm. Both were sober and it was never established what they did for the rest of he afternoon but at 730pm they took a cab in Ranelagh Place, asking the driver to go to Lambert Street. On arrival, Penfold casually told the driver that he had stabbed his companion because she asked him to and that he should call for a policeman.

When an officer arrived, Penfold was arrested and walked towards the Central Police Station in Dale Street, during which he twice asked to go into a pub and kept putting his hand over his left pocket. On being searched , he was found to have a knife in his pocket which was covered in blood. Margaret was rushed to the Royal Infirmary where she died, having received six stab wounds which punctuated her heart and liver.

Although it was beyond doubt that Penfold had killed Margaret, proving he was responsible was going to be somewhat difficult for the prosecution. There was no apparent motive and he handed himself in immediately afterwards. At the trial Dr Wigglesworth from the Rainhill asylum said that it was possible the act had been due to a temporary bout of insanity caused by an epileptic fit, but although there was a history of epilepsy in Penfold's family and he had once attempted suicide, no diagnosis had ever been made.

In summing up Mr Justice Day, known for his hard line stance, told the jury that it was up to the defence counsel to prove insanity and that no evidence had presented to say that Penfold had ever received treatment for mania or insanity.The jury quickly returned a verdict of murder and Penfold was sentenced to death, but after a campaign and petition by members of his family the Home Secretary intervened and this was commuted to life imprisonment.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Toxteth Mother Kills Her Baby

A tragedy occurred in the Granby area of Toxteth in 1891 when a mother killed her 5 month baby during a temporary bout of insanity.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 4th February Sergeant Calten was on duty in Kingsley Road when he was approached by a screaming woman named Catherine Groarke. She had blood covered hands and told him she had killed her baby because the devil had taken it.

After taking Catherine into Kingsley Road police station he went to her home address of 67 Cairns Street where he made the gruesome discovery of 5 month old Ada Groarke lying dead in a bathtub. Her throat had been cut severing the windpipe and a bloodstained carving knife was on the floor. Two other children, aged 5 and 18 months were in the house and they were left in the care of a constable while a doctor was sent for to certify death.

Sergeant Calten formally charged Catherine with murder and she responded by saying that her children wouldn't stop crying and she had intended to then take her own life by drinking a solution of water and lit matches. At 9pm Catherine's husband Thomas, a draper in Bon Marche, returned home to the tragic scene.

Catherine appeared before Mr Justice Day at the next Liverpool Assizes on Friday 13th March. She wept bitterly throughout the proceedings, during which Dr Wigglesworth from the Rainhill asylum told how there had been a history of insanity in her family and that she had always treated her children kindly. He concluded that she was 'undoubtedly insane' at the time of the killing and did not know that what she was doing was wrong.

After the jury returned a verdict of 'guilty but not responsible' Justice Day detained Catherine at Her Majesty's Pleasure.





Thursday, 21 November 2013

Tenant Kills Landlord

An attempt by a couple who tried to evict their lodgers in 1891 ended in tragedy when the husband was killed during a fight with the main tenant.

Robert Hinchcliffe, a labourer at Coburg Dock, lived with his wife Alice in a court in Upper Mann Street in Dingle. They were in their twenties and rented the top room of their house to 21 year old labourer William Griffin, who lived there with his 12 year old sister Mary.

For reasons that were never made clear, Mr & Mrs Hinchcliffe wanted Joseph and his sister out of their house but despite serving notice to quit  they still didn't leave.  On Friday 11th September 1891 the Hinchcliffes went to a funeral then drank with other mourners, before returning home around midnight.

Alice went to the top floor and asked Griffin when he would be leaving, leading to a scuffle taking place in which a lamp was knocked out of Alice's hand. Robert then challenged Griffin to a fight and both men went into the courtyard and began swapping punches, with Joseph falling to the ground at one point. Seeing her brother in trouble, Mary got a kitchen knife and gave it to Griffin.

Within seconds of Griffin being given the knife Robert cried out 'Oh Alice I am stabbed' and fell to the ground. He was dead by the time police arrived and officers then found Griffin and his sister in the cellar. Griffin made no attempt to escape and told them that he was wholly responsible and they would find the knife in the top floor room. After questioning Mary, she was taken to the workhouse and Griffin to the Main Bridewell in Cheapside.


Griffin was charged with manslaughter and at his trial Mary had to give evidence confirming she had passed him the knife. However another witness, Catherine Jones, who lived in the court alone, said that she saw both men fighting and that Griffin had been in trouble. He admitted having the knife in his hand, but didn't deliberately use it and maintained that Robert had rushed at him, leading to the knife piercing the heart.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty but with a strong recommendation for mercy. In light of this and Griffin's previous good character, Mr Justice Lawrence sentenced him to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour. Two months later there was further tragedy for the Hinchcliffe family when Robert's sister Mary was battered to death by her husband, who was convicted of manslaughter at the same Assizes.



Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Children Find Mother Kicked To Death


A terrible tragedy that occurred amidst squalor and deprivation took place in 1891 when a mother was kicked to death by her husband who was later convicted of her manslaughter.

Mary Jane Miller lived in a court in Harding Street, which was situated off Falkner Street, along with her husband John and five children, whose ages ranged from three to sixteen. Times were especially hard for the family and John was put out of work in August 1891, leading to a temporary break up of the marriage in early November when  Mary and the children moved out for a few days. During this time John sold most of the furniture, squandering what he had managed to get for it on drink.

Falkner Street in 2016
On Friday 13th November John and Mary drank in a neighbour's house, where an argument broke out about the furniture, leading to John rising up to strike Mary, only for the neighbour to intervene. At 2pm the couple were seen walking arm in arm across the court and this was the last time Mary was seen alive. The couple's children returned home from school at 4pm, and John gave them 2d to get him some ale, then asked that they chop some wood so the chips could be sold for a further 2d which  was also spent on drink. He did this whilst the body of Mary lay by his side, but the children did not notice that she was dead.

That night the children were put to bed by John on a bed of straw in the upstairs room. They were so tired by their work they fell asleep quickly, but the following morning the eldest son (12 year old John) awoke at 7am to see that his father wasn't there and that his mother was cold and clearly dead, her face covered in blood. John and his 10 year old brother James raised the alarm with neighbours and police officers and a doctor arrived, but it was confirmed that Mary had been dead for several hours and a hatchet was found underneath a sack.

John was quickly located at his brother-in-law's house in Mann Street, where he begged to be able to kiss his children one last time before being taken into custody. He was taken to the police headquarters at Dale Street and appeared before the Stipendiary Magistrate Mr Stewart two days later charged with murder.

Back in Harding Street, crowds gathered outside the house when news spread of the killing. Mary's body was removed to the Prince's Dock mortuary, with the two oldest children (John and 16 year old Sarah) remaining at the house being looked after by a neighbour. The younger ones were placed in the care of a children's home in Islington, and all were allowed to see the body of their mother.

John's trial took place at the next Liverpool Assizes on 10th December, with his two eldest children in tears as they gave evidence. John told how he had found his mother dead on the Saturday morning, having known she had failed to answer any questions the night before. Sarah told how she was at her aunts in Mann Street when her father came round in an agitated state, saying that her mother was dead and he didn't know how. Dr Wigglesworth from the Rainhill Asylum told the court that there was a history of insanity in John's family and that he was of 'low mental organisation'.

In summing up, Mr Justice Lawrence told the jury that there was no evidence to say that John was mentally ill, but if he had drunk himself into such a stupor that he had no control over himself, then a verdict of manslaughter could be returned. It took the jury half an hour to find Miller guilty of manslaughter and Justice Lawrence didn't mince his words during sentencing, telling him that he had committed a crime 'under circumstances of greater horror it was impossible to conceive.' Telling Miller that if there was something wrong with his mind it would be taken care of, he imposed term of 25 years penal servitude.



Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Victorian Child Killing Tragedy

In 1891 the level of deprivation and lawlessness amongst children in parts Liverpool was demonstrated when a 10 year old boy drowned and two younger boys were charged with his murder.

On Tuesday 8th September 1891 the naked body of a boy was recovered from a pool of rainwater in a pit at a building site on he corner of Stanley and Victoria Street in the city centre. At first it was assumed he had got into difficulty whilst bathing and his clothes had then been taken by somebody else who was in need of them.

The body was taken to the Prince's Dock mortuary and identified by his mother that evening as David Dawson Eccles, who lived in Richmond Row. Elizabeth Dawson Eccles told detectives that she had last seen her son at 1pm on the Monday afternoon, when he went to Bevington Bush school, and that he had gone wayward of late and taken to sleeping out.

Elsewhere in the city, in Baptist Street (which was situated where John Moores University's Byrom Street building is now), the Mary O'Brien was shocked to read about the discovery in the newspapers, as on 7th September her 8 year old son Robert Shearon had come home wearing clothes that weren't his. Earlier that day, she had hidden all his clothes to stop him going out as he had slept out for two nights, but Shearon escaped his home wearing a sack with holes that he cut in it for his arms.

Mary had refused to believe his explanation that he had 'found them' in Victoria Street and after reading of the discovery of the body she took the clothes to the Central Police offices in Dale Street. They were soon identified as David's clothes and a detective was sent to Baptist Street to speak with Shearon, who immediately confessed that he had pushed him into the pit, but 'Crawford' had done it as well.

The other boy involved was 9 year old Samuel Crawford, who also lived in Baptist Street. He was arrested on Friday 11th September and told police that on the Monday he and Shearon had met David near St George's Hall and asked him to go to Victoria Street. After climbing into the building site from Cumberland Street, David refused to climb onto a plank, so they pushed him into the pit. When David climbed back out, they stripped him and pushed him in again, then ran away.


Both boys were charged with murder, and appeared before the Crown Court on 9th December where they could barely see above the dock rails. The jury heard how Baptist Street was one of the 'lowest streets' of Liverpool and that both boys had grown up without a father and had no sense of religious or moral values. Both admitted pushing David into the pit, but there was doubt about whether they could have known this would cause his death. As such, the jury returned a verdict that they were guilty of murder but 'not responsible' due to their age.

Mr Justice Lawrence however was reluctant to release the boys back to their mothers and with their consent instead placed them into the care of Father James Nugent, who ran schools for a number of deprived children in the city.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Murder at the Asylum

In 1900 there was a terrible tragedy at the Rainhill Hospital when one inmate killed another with a knife that they had managed to obtain from one of the kitchens.

The Lancashire County Asylum, to give the hospital its official title, was first opened in 1851 and by 1900 had extended to have a capacity of 2,000, making it the largest psychiatric facility in Europe. One of the patients was 29 year old Mary Grainger, who had been transferred there from London on 28th March, having first been admitted to an asylum following bouts of depression and delusions that people were out to poison her.

Grainger had been stable for 6 weeks and was being considered for discharge when the incident that led to her being detained indefinitely occurred. On the morning of Wednesday 1st August Medical Superintendent Joseph Wigglesworth was eating his breakfast when he heard screams coming from an upstairs room. On going to investigate he found Grainger, who had been employed in his quarters for just two days after being transferred from the matron's kitchen, sawing away at the neck of Hannah Hancox with a kitchen knife.

Wigglesworth managed to restrain Grainger but the blood loss to Hancox was so great that she died two hours later. Two days later at the inquest Grainger had to be removed from the courtroom by nurses on the order of the coroner after repeatedly interrupting he proceedings to ask what they were all about.  Wigglesworth explained to the Coroner that the Grainger had not caused any prior concern and had probably got the knife out of the matron's kitchen cupboard. He also explained that in the immediate aftermath she had told him she had a urge to kill somebody, not minding whom, indicating a sudden homicidal impulse.

The coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder and Grainger then appeared before St Helens magistrates' court where she was committed for trial. She was then transferred to Walton Gaol but at the end of the month the Home Secretary, having been made aware of he full facts of the case, intervened and ordered her removal without trial to the Broadmoor Asylum for Criminal Lunatics. Rainhill Hospital closed in 1992 and has now been demolished.

Liverpool Mercury 27th August 1900