Sunday, 25 January 2015

Robbed Sailor Kills Prostitute

In 1863 an Irish sailor was hanged after he killed a prostitute who he believed had taken money from him whilst he slept.

On Saturday 20th June at about 4am O’Brien met a prostitute named Mary Mathers in Lime Street and after having some ale with her they both went to the brothel where she stayed in Spitalfields (near Whitechapel). Whilst O’Brien slept, Mathers later admitted that she took two shillings out of his pocket to purchase ale which she drank with Elizabeth Callaghan. When O’Brien awoke, he awoke he accused Callaghan of the theft but she denied it. O’Brien told the others in the house that he had been robbed of £5, but if he could have £3 back he would forget about it.

Mathers accompanied O’Brien to the police station but he was not satisfied with their response and when they refused to arrest all the women at the brothel, he said he would sort the situation out himself. He then bought a knife for 9d from a cutlery shop in Dale Street, asking for a stone on which to sharpen it then he and Mathers took a cab driven by John Hargreaves to Spitalfields. Once there, he was greeted by Callaghan who threw her arms around him and playfully took off his neckerchief and smacked him with it. O’Brien sent for some ale and invited the cabman in to share it, a request that was declined.

The three sat drinking and there seemed no cause for alarm and Mathers motioned to O’Brien to join her upstairs. As she was going up to the bedroom O’Brien got up and stabbed Callaghan, who was sat by the fire holding a small dog, in the stomach. He then walked out and got inside the same cab that had dropped him off there. Mathers had screamed ‘murder’ from a window leading to the cabman stopping the first policeman on Manchester Street he saw to alert him to his suspicions. O’Brien was taken to the Bridewell and Hargreaves then returned to Spitalfields and took Callaghan to the Infirmary, where she died a few hours later.  

At the Bridewell, the police officer who had earlier not been willing to arrest all the women asked O’Brien why he had done what he did, to which he replied that it had been justified as he was robbed. He apologised for his actions and surrendered his blood stained knife. A post mortem revealed that Callaghan’s liver had almost been severed and when he was committed for trial O’Brien said that his actions had taken place because of how drunk he was. He said to the court ‘No man would do the likes of that if he was right in the head.’

O’Brien was tried on 20th August, with Mathers and other prostitutes who had been there on the day giving evidence. Hargreaves also testified as did the owner of the cutlery shop, while all those who saw him including police officers said he was quite sober. His defence counsel Mr Pope said that there had been no premeditation but that he had been driven by intense passion and a sense of wrongdoing. As such, he urged the jury to find him guilty instead of manslaughter, which he admitted was of an aggravated character. The judge did not give him much hope though when summing up, pointing out the evidence which suggested O’Brien had a clear intent in his mind to kill. 

The jury returned a verdict of guilty after just a few minutes and O’Brien wept as the sentence of death was passed. O'Brien was hanged at Kirkdale on 12th September in a quadruple execution before a crowd of 100,000.




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