Monday, 13 July 2015

Ten Years to Establish Husbands Insanity

A man who killed his wife was held in jail for ten years before it was decided he was insane at the time of the murder.

On the morning of 30th September 1840 Mrs Philburn was in her home in Stockdale Street in Vauxhall when she heard a major commotion upstairs. When she went to investigate she was confronted by the sight of her lodger Ann Kehoe coming out of her room covered in blood and screaming.

Soon afterwards she was met by Ann's husband Owen who was holding a ship's scraper and said 'I have done a nice job, I a not sorry for it, if I had not done it now I would do it again, this is what I have done it with.' As Mrs Philburn tried to come to terms with Owen's words, Ann ran out into the court and begged for help from a labourer named Anthony Griffin, telling him 'For God's sake carry me to a doctors or I shall fall dead.

Griffin took Ann to a druggists where she begged for her children to be brought to her before she died. She said that Owen had just had his breakfast and things seemed normal but without warning he got up and took hold of the scraper, saying 'This instrument is very sharp and three blows from this would take a man's life.' He then stabbed her twice in the head and when then had her hands slashed when she put them up to stop a third blow.

Dock labourer Owen remained calm as he was taken into custody, telling officers that he had murdered her at last. Whilst in the Northern Hospital Ann was visited by Bridget Collins, her daughter in law from an earlier marriage. Ann told her that Owen had considerably more difficulty in removing the ships scraper than embedding it in her head. She described how he had been perfectly sober as he did it, laughing that he would only get twelve months for it.

Ann lingered until 7th October, when she died. A post mortem by Dr Woodward revealed two fractures to the skull, with pieces of bone having embedded into the brain. Death, he believed, was due to abscesses on the brain caused by violence.

A post mortem before the coroner Mr P F Curry returned a verdict of wilful murder, but Owen's trials were repeatedly postponed due to his mental state. On one appearance he stood at the bar whistling and biting his thumb.

Eventually, on 12th August 1850 he appeared before Mr Justice Wightman at the South Lancashire assizes at St Geroge's Hall.  Mrs Philburn gave evidence as to what she had witnessed while Dr Chalmer from Walton gaol stated that he had observed Owen for a long time in prison and felt he was insane at the time of the killing, but now better. The jury found him guilty but insane, and with him still being deemed a danger was held at Her Majesty's pleasure.

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