When a man was murdered in Vauxhall Road there was further terror for his friends and family when a floor collapsed at his wake leading to all those present falling into a cellar below.
At 7pm on 30th December 1876 William Grimes and his brother John, both sailors aged 22 and 19 respectively, were walking along Vauxhall Road near the corner with Green Street. A labourer named Simon Finnegan called out to them 'Hey Larrie' and when William replied that they must be mistaken as neither were of that name he said 'It would be different if this were Lightbody Street.'
The brothers' friend Patrick Lynch squared up to Finnegan and said 'Why can't you let us pass without a quarrel', leading to him being punched in the face. Finnegan's companion 21 year old James Young went to kick Lynch who was now on the floor but William pushed him off. Young then drew a knife out of his pocket and plunged it into William's stomach several times. He fell down and said 'Oh God I am gone into the next world.'
William was taken to a druggists shop and then to the Northern Hospital, where he died at 7am the next morning, at a time when he was meant to be sailing out of Liverpool aboard the Iberian.
Young and Finnegan then ran to the house of Elizabeth Rush in Tatlock Street where Finnegan's mother was visiting. Young was in an agitated state, covered in blood and threw the knife on the fire grate pleading Mrs Finnegan to get rid of it, then said to his friend 'If you are taken first don't snitch upon me.' and 'I'll be hung for this.' Finnegan handed himself in and Young, one of the cornermen who terrorised the streets locally, was apprehended on 2nd January.
On 4th January Finnegan was released from custody when prosecutors opted not to proceed with any charges against him. At the inquest the following day Mrs Finnegan described what had happened in Mrs Rush's house and John Grimes told of the circumstances surrounding the stabbing. A verdict of wilful murder was returned and Young was committed for trial at the next assizes.
On Saturday 6th January 1877 William's body was removed from the Northern Hospital to his mother's home at a court in Gascoyne Street where a wake was held well into the night. The coffin was in a table in the middle of the room with guests drinking and dancing around it but at 2am on the Sunday morning the wooden floor gave way, causing all the guests to fall seven feet into the cellar below, to the horror of those living there.
The coffin smashed to pieces and William's body rolled onto the floor. The occupants of the cellar called the police who arranged the removal of the body to another house in the court. All those present at the wake, with the exception of William's mother and brother, were then ordered to return to their homes.
On 16th March Young's trial took place, the defence counsel suggesting that William and John Grimes were violent men and pointed them both having been in gaol for assaults. Patrick Lynch testified that he struck nobody and all three men were just walking along the street minding their own business, having had just one glass of ale each. A 12 year old girl named Matilda Hughes gave evidence that she had been sent out on an errand and saw the three men walk past Young, who then produced the knife. She was certain that nobody had struck Young or Finnegan before then.
Mrs Finnegan and Mrs Rush recalled Young's admissions in the immediate aftermath and a surgeon from the Northern hospital stated that William had been perfectly sober when giving his dying deposition. After 35 minutes deliberation the jury returned a verdict of murder but asked for mercy on the grounds of William's previous bad character and that there could have been verbal provocation. Young said to the judge 'Oh Lord spare me have mercy' and then interrupted the judge again with the same words as sentence of death was being passed. He cried for three hours in the cells afterwards but he was later spared by the Home Secretary, his sentence being commuted to life imprisonment on 28th March.