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.

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