Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Getting Away With Murder in Rodney Street

A horrific murder and attempted suicide occurred in Rodney Street in 1836, the alleged killer never standing trial after the principal witness, who was also his daughter, disappeared from the face of the earth.

In the latter part of 1835 Sarah Diffin, a 17 year old from Nottingham, left there to go into service in Manchester, working alongside 36 year old Grace Avery, who had once been a servant to her family when they lived in London. Early the following year Grace went to Liverpool where she took up a position as a cook for Mr William Jones at 5 Rodney Street, with Sarah remaining in Manchester.

Grace's departure to Liverpool had coincided with Sarah's father William arriving in Manchester where he took a position in a druggists store. Grace had told Sarah her father had 'improper intentions' towards her, but she had no intention of reciprocating them. In the April Sarah joined Grace at 5 Rodney Street, being followed by her father who begged Grace to go away with him but she refused. There was no sign though of the horrors to follow as William appeared calm at the news.

On the morning of Saturday 7th May William visited the house and was let in by Grace, who allowed him into the kitchen while she was working. Sarah came downstairs and saw him telling Grace that he would not take no for an answer and was staying there until she agreed to his demands. Grace went into the scullery to clean some candles and William went after her, remaining silent when questioned by Sarah. He paced around but was not drunk or angry, but after an hour he took out a pistol and fired it at Grace, who dropped dead instantly.

Sarah ran out and found a policeman within seconds but when they went back into the house William had managed to escape. However a search of the area beyond the back yard found the man in a near fainting condition, having taken prussic acid in an attempt to commit suicide. He was taken to the Infirmary where antidotes were administered and by 4pm he was fit to be discharged to the Bridewell.

During the inquest, which took place the following Monday morning, a communication was received that William had tried to hang himself at the Bridewell, but had been cut down before he expired. Sarah was the only witness and after hearing her deposition the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder, leading to the Coroner Philip Finch Curry committing him to trial at the assizes.

On 12th August William's case was adjourned due to Sarah not attending. The court was informed that Sarah had last been seen in Manchester on 12th July, where she told her employer that she had to return to Nottingham to sort out some financial affairs but would be back the following day. A subpoena had been issued but so far she had not been located, meaning William faced a further spell on remand at Kirkdale gaol.

With Sarah's whereabouts remaining unknown, the case was also adjourned the following April and again in August 1837, when William was granted bail at £200, to appear before the court when called upon. As enquiries continued into Sarah's disappearance, it transpired that when she left Manchester, it was with her uncle Thomas Calderaft, who was married to William's sister. He had been a frequent visitor to William at Kirkdale and the investigation then turned to Nottingham. It was established that Calderaft had told family members in July 1836 that it would not be pleasant for Sarah to give evidence against her father and he would take her away, and the pair disappeared around that time.

An indictment was made against William for 'having obstructed the course of justice by having spirited away or having removed from her place of residence a witness in a case of murder, in consequence of which the person charged could not be brought to justice or even trial.' This was heard at Liverpool assizes in April 1838, where Calderaft was found guilty in his absence. Neither him or Sarah were ever knowingly heard of again and William was never brought to justice.

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