Sunday, 17 May 2015

Man Returns From Football to Find Son Dead

A man returned home from a football match and found his son dead, having been gassed to death by his wife whose own suicide attempt had failed. She was then convicted of murder but was reprieved from the death sentence by the Home Secretary.

On the afternoon of 11th February 1939 John McAuley, went to watch an Everton reserve game at Goodison Park, a short walk from Ismay Street where he and his wife ran a fish and chip shop. He had gone there after a row with his wife, who was worried about the recent downturn in business. 


On returning at 5pm he found his wife's brother getting no answer at the door. After gaining entry John found the body of his three year old son Eric in the kitchen. Next to him was his wife Margaret, aged 37, who was still alive and between the two of them was a tube attached to the gas stove, which was turned on.

Margaret was taken to hospital where she remained until the following Thursday. On discharge she was arrested and charged with murder and attempted suicide. She told the police in a statement: 'It was desperation that drove me to do it, I am not insane. The baby was asleep in the kitchen so I thought it would be better to do away with myself and take him with me. I am desperately sorry for what I have done.' 

At the Manchester Assizes on 2nd March evidence was given about the unhappy state of the marriage, with Margaret regularly being knocked about by her husband. Margaret was found guilty of murder but with a strong recommendation for mercy. As Mr Justice Stable passed the death sentence he did his best to reassure her as she sat with her head buried in her hands, saying 'You need not be in the least alarmed. The recommendation will be endorsed by myself and you may take it as a matter of absolute and complete certainty you will be reprieved and your case will receive the most sympathetic attention.' 

The judge then asked the warders, whom he had ordered to make Margaret a cup of tea while the jury deliberated, to make sure she was as comfortable as possible. When it was time to leave the dock though she collapsed and had to be carried to the cells. Less than 24 hours later the Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare acted upon the recommendation and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

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