Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Murder on a Canal Boat

A man who brutally battered his wife on a boat, causing her to die of her injuries a week later was hanged in a triple execution at Kirkdale Gaol.

Originally from Scarisbrick, William Worthington was a 33 year old 'flatman', employed on a flat bottomed horse drawn canal boat that carried coal between Liverpool and Wigan. He lived on board along with his wife Ann, their two young children and her daughter from a previous marriage that had left her widowed.

On 29th August 1874 a woman in Vauxhall Road heard screams going on for a quarter of an hour and when she looked out of her window she saw Ann crouched down in a yard where flatmen tethered their horses. William was standing over her, kicking away at her body. The woman and a male passer by both told him to stop, but were told to mind their own business, leading to the male whistling for a policeman.

Even though Ann's face was covered with mud and blood and she was in a distressed state, the policeman who arrived on the scene took no action on establishing they were man and wife. Instead he told the couple to go home and make it up, even when Ann asked the officer to take her husband away. The brutality had taken place due to him being unhappy that she gave him only a shilling when he asked for some money.

On getting back on board the boat, which was moored under the bridge at Boundary Street, William continued his assault in front of Ann's daughter, administering one kick into her abdomen that was so hard it broke the stay-bone of her corset. He then went asleep but continued his assault the next morning, hitting Ann with a poker. Ann managed to get away and stayed for a week with a wellwisher called Mrs Duffy in Hopwood Street before being taken to her sisters address in Wigan. Whilst there her condition deteriorated and she died on 10th September, having suffered a broken collarbone, ribs and severe internal injuries.

The terrible deed was unprovoked and no doubt fuelled by drink, which turned William from being a kind man devoted to his family to someone in a complete rage. William was arrested on 10th September and transferred to Liverpool a few days later. he told the police officer who transferred him that it was a 'bad job' and that he wouldn't have done it for a thousand pounds now.

William was tried on 16th December, the medical evidence showing that Ann had died from pluro-pneumonia aggravated by violence. The only defence that could be offered was that William did not intend to cause death but he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by Judge Mellor, who informed him that he would pass the jury's recommendation for mercy to the Home Secretary.

Whilst in Kirkdale awaiting his fate William seemed confident of a reprieve but no appeal was forthcoming and his execution was fixed for 4th January 1875. John McCrave and Michael Mullen, who had been involved in the Tithebarn Street Outrage, joined him on the scaffold. Worthington, clutching a white handkerchief, was the first to be pinioned in what was an extremely efficient operation, all three dying instantly when the bolt was drawn.                                                        

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