A man who killed his wife in 1862 thought he had escaped the law when he sailed to New York but four years later he was apprehended and returned to Liverpool to face justice.
30 year old Robert Reid and his wife Ann lived an unhappy life in a cellar in Lower Myrtle Street, while their children were in the workhouse in Brownlow Hill. On the evening of 4th December 1862 Reid took his 13 year old son John from the workhouse back to the cellar, where they sat around a fire singing songs with Ann and her friend Mary Rogers. There was then a dispute over which song to sing and Ann struck her husband with a jug, which smashed. Reid then dragged Ann by the hair to the corner of the room and stabbed her in the arm, causing her to fall instantly. He then took hold of John and ran off into the street, where he was seen to throw a knife into the gulley and disappeared down an alleyway.
Ann didn't say anything after the stabbing and was dead when a policeman went down to the cellar, having been called in by Rogers. On seeing Ann's condition he called a surgeon, who found that there were two stab wounds and a main artery to the arm had been severed and recovery would only have been possible if she could have been attended to immediately after the stabbing. Another police officer searched the area and recovered the knife but there was no sign of Reid.
It later transpired that that night Reid and his son slept at his brother's house in Richmond Row, but when John awoke in the morning he found his father had disappeared, leading to him finding accommodation with another uncle in Greenland Street.
A reward of £100 was put up for Reid's capture but no information was forthcoming, although it was believed America was his destination as he had lived there before and had relatives. A description was sent to police there but he couldn't be traced. Reid managed to eke out a living as a tinsmith but his decision to stay in New York was his undoing, as the police force regularly exchanged information with their colleagues in Liverpool. On 4th August 1866 Detective Farley from the New York police arrested a man in Brooklyn for being drunk and disorderly whose description matched that of Reid. He then communicated the information to Detective Inspector Carlisle, who arranged for Detective Marsden to sail across the Atlantic with Mary Rogers.
On 18th August Reid was taken into custody after being recognised by Rogers. He didn't deny his identity and made a statement to the effect that Ann had been spitting blood for four days and he used no weapon on her. He then said that he had spent many a night wandering the streets looking for her as he knew she would be drunk somewhere. Applications were then made to have Reid returned to England and on 13th September he appeared before Thomas Stamford Raffles at the Magistrates Court, where he was committed for trial at the next Assizes on a charge of murder.
On 19th December Reid's son John was then in the terrible position of being called to give evidence in a case against his father, but the prosecution kindly agreed to ask no questions of him. He told the court that his mother hit Reid with a jug and he then slapped her, leading to her falling over. Surgeon who saw the body though said that the wound could not have been caused in this way. His defence counsel Mr Pope told the broken jug could have caused the wound and irrespective of whether or not Reid used a weapon, there had been sufficient provocation to reduce the charge to manslaughter.
In summing up the judge told the jury that they first had to consider how Ann came to be wounded, and if it was as a result of a knife, then was there enough provocation to justify using it. The jury took twenty minutes to find Reid guilty and he showed no emotion as he was sentenced to death, walking firmly from the dock.
There was a great deal of sympathy for Reid given his wife's intemperance, the fact the murder did not appear premeditated and he had been struck first. The appeals for clemency were successful and on 1st January 1867, little over a week before his execution date, Reid's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.