Saturday, 15 March 2014

Double Booking Postpones Execution

A sixty year old man that killed his lover who was only half his age was hanged at Kirkdale, but faced the agony of his execution being postponed at the last minute due to the Hangman's services being required elsewhere.

Richard Spencer was born in 1812 and from the age of five was brought up by his grandparents, his mother and father having emigrated to Australia. They wished for him to join them and sent funds over to England, but he chose not to go there. At the age of sixteen he married in Manchester, and remained with his wife for nearly 25 years before separating, both accusing the other of too much drunkenness.

Whilst in his mid forties Spencer got involved with Elizabeth Wharton, who lived in Liscard but travelled to Liverpool every day to hawk fish and poultry. Spencer ran his own fishmonger business and was quite well off, and he persuaded Wharton, who he described as 'a fine buxom Cheshire lass' to live with him, despite her still being in her teens. For fifteen years they lived happily together in Breck Road, where Spencer's business was a success, but towards the end of the 1860s things weren't so successful. This, coupled with Wharton turning to drink led to Spencer becoming depressed and in ill health, leading to him going to see his sister in Yorkshire in the summer of 1872.

To raise funds when Spencer was away Wharton sold much of the furniture and also some valuable pictures, which was particularly upsetting for him. When he returned they lived in Coniston Street for a brief period and then moved to Gregson Street, where he intended to start up in business again. Spencer was jealous of Wharton's friendships with other men, although there was no hint of what horror would take place early in the morning of 9th August when Spencer shot Wharton before attempting suicide.

The couple went to bed on the previous evening without having had a drink, but about 7am Wharton was awoken by a blow to the head, with Spencer saying he wanted them to die together. She managed to get away to a neighbour, who went to the property and found him with a wound to the forehead and bleeding from the ear. The police were called and on their arrival, he handed the officer a revolver and begged him to put him out of his misery.

Both were taken to the Royal Infirmary, where Wharton was able to give a deposition stating that Spencer was a heavy drinker who had often threatened to kill her, leading to her sleeping with a knife under her pillow. She denied ever being unfaithful and died three days later. Spencer recovered and was handed to the police on 26th September, telling the court as he was committed for trial that Wharton's drunken habits had led to his furniture being sold. At his trial Spencer claimed that he was trying to shoot himself but missed, causing a bullet to hit Wharton instead. However this didn't convince the jury and he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The execution at Kirkdale was fixed for 6th January but two days beforehand it became apparent that William Calcraft was also required for an execution at Durham on the same day so it was put off for two days. When Spencer was told of this, he was distraught, having thought he was being given news of a reprieve and also claiming that he didn't even know it was meant to be taking place on the 6th. On the morning of 8th January Spencer, who was said to have aged twenty years whilst in the condemned cell, had to be helped to the scaffold, with the Liverpool Mercury describing  that 'the unhappy wretch was launched into eternity with scarcely a struggle.'

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