Monday, 31 August 2015

Domestic Tragedy at Crosby

In 1876 a terrible tragedy occurred in Crosby when a widow who was unable to get over the death of her husband killed two of her children before attempting suicide.

The background to the sad affair came about in November 1875 when James Morris, a 51 year old teller with the North Western Bank, died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Fairholme Road. The respected churchwarden of nearby St Luke's Church left a widow, Agnes, and five children aged between five and twelve. 

Agnes was well provided for and needn't worry about money, still  being able to employ a governess for her children. But she was so overcome with grief that she began to have delusions and talked about letting her children starve. Friends expressed concern at this and the fact she always had a vacant look about her and strange eyes.

When 44 year old Agnes took her eldest daughter Ada to a concert in St Luke's schoolroom on the evening of 25th September 1876, there was no indication of what was about to unfold. She was cheerful in her demeanour and on returning home bade goodnight to the governess Sarah Ilbery and retired to bed, sleeping in the same room as Ada and nine year old Anne. Two boys, James and Henry who were aged eight and seven slept in anther room and the other daughter Ellen, aged twelve, slept with Mrs Ilbery.

At 6.30 the following morning Agnes got up and retrieved a revolver she had bought some weeks earlier. She returned to her room and shot Ada and Anne, with Ada dying instantly. Agnes then went into the boys room and fired at them both, severely wounding Henry, before entering the governess's room and shooting Ellen, missing her. This last gunshot woke Mrs Ilbery who quickly got up and followed Agnes, who went back into the boys room and turned the revolver on herself. 

The shots that Agnes fired on herself weren't fatal and Mrs Ilbery managed to prise the gun from her, but when she went into the room where the two girls had been sleeping she found a dreadful scene with Ada dead and Anne barely alive. She carried Anne to her own bedroom and locked her in there along with Ellen and the boys  then sought assistance from the next door neighbour, a shipowner named Mr Tunnicliffe, who immediately sent for two doctors. By the time they arrive Anne had died and Henry was in a dangerous condition so he was immediately removed to hospital. 

With great difficulty, the doctors managed to remove a bullet from Agnes's scalp and she was kept at the house and attended to by a nurse under the supervision of police. Her sister Sarah Salmon arrived from Manchester to look after the uninjured children. When asked why she had done what she did, Agnes replied that she would rather see her children shot dead than starve and that the intention was to kill them all and then herself.

Agnes made reasonable progress over the next few days but she refused to eat. At the inquest on 28th September, held at the George Hotel, Mrs Ilbery told how her erratic and delusional behaviour had been going on for at least six weeks. She said that Agnes had removed Henry from school as the lessons were too hard and she had stopped going to church as she believed she had nothing suitable to wear. Agnes had expressed fears that everybody in Crosby was out to injure her children and began stockpiling poisons. 

A druggist from Dale Street confirmed that Agnes had been buying poisons claiming it was for rats, while Mr Tunnicliffe's daughter said she tried to dress Agnes in the immediate aftermath and all her clothes were beautiful, but she refused not wear any of them. Her sister recalled how she had received a letter from Agnes the previous month stating she must come to Crosby at once otherwise something awful would happen. On arrival, she observed how Agnes was criticising everyone in the village and arranged medical help, but her sister responded by saying that Sarah was undermining her and robbing her money.

The Coroner Mr Driffied advised the jury that they could only return a verdict of wilful murder and could make no decision regarding insanity. He advised that they could if they wished express an opinion over Agnes's sanity but it would be for the assizes court to make a final verdict. The jury then returned a verdict of wilful murder, but gave the opinion that the killings took place as a result of her being insane at the time. The following day Ada and Anne were buried alongside their father at Toxteth Park cemetery.

By 6th October Agnes was well enough to appear before the magistrates for a committal hearing. At the Kirkdale sessions house she sat motionless throughout, her face covered by a black veil. She was charged with the murder of Ada and Anne, the attempted murder of Henry who remained in a dangerous condition with a bullet lodged in his temple, and attempted suicide. Mrs Ilbery, Mr Tunnicliffe and his daughter, and medical men gave evidence and after being committed to the assizes, Agnes was remanded at Kirkdale gaol where the magistrates asked for every attention to be given to her mental state.

Agnes appeared before Justice Lindley at the Liverpool Assizes in St George's Hall on 11th December. She was again wearing a black veil and replied 'not guilty' firmly but quietly when the charge was put to her. The general opinion was that she had been a loving mother when well, but letters produced by her sister proved that she had been having disturbing thoughts. Evidence was heard from Dr Banks from Kirkdale gaol who believed she was in a state of mania at the time, although she was now quite calm. It took the jury just a few minutes to acquit Agnes on the grounds of insanity and she was detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. She was removed to Broadmoor and remained there until 1901 when she died of stomach cancer.



Thursday, 27 August 2015

Murder of a Spanish Sailor

A Spanish sailor was killed in a random attack by a man who was later acquitted on the grounds of insanity.

At 7.45am on the morning of 14th October 1876 Ramon Fernandez Y Grana, a seventeen year old Spanish cook on a vessel that was in the docks, went to a shop in Seddon Street for provisions. He was followed in there by 21 year old William Kelly, who had been wandering the streets all night and without warning stabbed Ramon in the neck. The Spaniard was then pursued by Kelly as he ran across the road and towards a butchers shop, from where he ran into Cleveland Square.


A market constable went to the aid of Ramon, who was bleeding heavily. But after laying him on the pavement he died very soon afterwards whilst help was being sought from the chemist. Kelly stood nearby still holding the knife and surrendered himself to custody, passing the knife to a publican. He was taken to the Argyle Street Bridewell where he said he had stabbed Ramon because he believed that he was a Protestant. He said that the pair didn't even know each other but then tried to say they had been shipmates. This was impossible as Kelly had only been released from gaol a week or two earlier after serving three months for grievous bodily harm. 

Ramon was taken to the Southern Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. A post mortem determined that death was caused by a haemorrhage from a deep wound to the neck. Kelly had used such force that the knife had gone through the spinal column and come out of the other side of the neck. 

After an inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder Kelly was committed to the assizes for trial. On 12th December he pleaded guilty when the charge was put to him by the clerk, but after the intervention of the judge and advice from his counsel he changed this and case proceeded.

Mary McMahon, who was working in the shop at the time, told how she had seen the stabbing take place and that Ramon had been going there daily for the past six weeks. A passer by named Catherine Langan said that she too had seen the stabbing and then the chase, but had lost sight of the two men when they went into Cleveland Square.

In defence, Kelly's counsel Dr Cummins said that there had been no motive and that he had not known his victim. As such, the prisoner was either the most criminal murderer or unfortunate to be in a state of insanity. Father Bonte from Kirkdale Gaol said that although Kelly first said he was a Catholic he then maintained he wasn't and at first came across as 'strange inexplicable and stupid.' As the days went by though Father Bonte concluded that Kelly had no understanding due to irrational and incoherent answers, such as saying he had killed Ramon as the Italians were chasing him. Another Church of England chaplain who had tended to Kelly during his earlier spell in gaol said he was perfectly rational and sane during that time.  

Dr Banks from the Royal Infirmary told of his assessments of Kelly whilst he was on remand. He felt that Kelly was an idiot rather than insane, but a 'dangerous idiot.' He was of the opinion that Kelly had developed a sudden homicidal tendency due to the depressing circumstances of walking the streets, and what little mind he had did not realise what he had done was so wrong. A warder said that he seemed incapable of following any instruction and had to be barred from chapel as he was constantly laughing uncontrollably.

Kelly's two sisters told a sorry tale of a boy who regularly skipped school and who ran away to sea when he was fourteen. His father had died whilst abroad and his mother had been declared insane for twelve months and confined to the house. After an hours deliberation the jury cleared Kelly on the grounds of insanity and justice Lindley ordered that he be detained at Her Majesty's pleasure.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Guilty of Starving a Child to Death

In 1876 a mother who malnourished her child so badly that she died of starvation was found guilty of manslaughter but jailed for only one year.

On 5th April that year concerned neighbours broke into a house in Charters Street off Vauxhall Road and found two young girls, a three year old and a fourteen month old, alone and almost naked. There was no furniture at all and they appeared to have been sleeping on some straw. Their mother Ellen Carson was nowhere to be seen.

A police officer was called and the youngest child, Abigail Carson, was taken to the North Dispensary where she was joined by Ellen who had returned home in an intoxicated state. As nurses treated Abigail, who was described as 'filthy and emaciated' her mother danced wildly around the surgery.

Abigail was then admitted to the workhouse hospital where she ate greedily, but then deteriorated and died on 13th April. A post mortem revealed that the internal organs were healthy and put the death entirely down to want of food.

When Ellen appeared at the Liverpool Assizes  on 25th July she denied being of dissipated habits and said she fed Abigail regularly from the breast. However neighbours told how she was often seen wandering about in a drunken state accompanied by her scantily clad children. The court also heard that her husband, a dock labourer, earned 30 shillings a week and handed it all over
but the money was not spent on food or clothing.

After being found guilty of manslaughter Justice Lindley sentenced Ellen to twelve months imprisonment with hard labour, telling her that she must lead a different life on release. Ellen promised to do this, and in 1881 she was listed in the census as living with her husband and the surviving child in Lightbody Street.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Man Gives Fatal Blows in Front of Son

A man whose violent conduct towards his partner in front of his son led to her death was convicted of manslaughter and jailed for twelve years.

Moses Phillips, a baker in his early forties, began co-habiting with Mary Whitehead in Combermere Street, Toxteth early in 1875. The relationship was a not a peaceful one, with Phillips often using violence towards Mary when either he or her were drunk.

On 29th April 1876 Mrs Charnock, who lived in Laxey Street,was passing their home when she heard screams and saw Phillips punch Mary. She confronted Phillips, who threatened to do the same to her if she didn't go away. Later his ten year old son Richard arrived at the house and saw his father kick Mary in the abdomen whilst he was wearing his boots and she was on the floor

Two days later Mrs Charnock went to see how 34 year old Mary was and was shown two badly blackened arms. On 8th May she was admitted to the Southern Hospital suffering from gangrene in the thigh and erysipelas. With her health now in a fragile state depositions were taken from her and Phillips was arrested and remanded charged with violent assault.

Phillips admitted 'chastising her with his hand' but after Mary died on 10th May a post mortem revealed that gangrene was the cause of death. It was conducted by Dr Caddy who told the inquest he believed this had been brought on by the violence, with the bruises being consistent with being kicked.

When Phillips appeared at the Liverpool Assizes on 25th July Mrs Charnock told the court what she had seen. His son Richard was in the awful position of testifying against his father but did so honestly, saying he had seen him kick Mary and that he was wearing boots at the time. After the jury found him guilty of manslaughter, Phillips was sentenced to twelve years penal servitude by Mr Justice Lindley.



Thursday, 20 August 2015

Missing Log Spares Ship's Officer From Death


An officer on board a vessel bound for South America was lucky to be found guilty of manslaughter when not all the evidence was made available at the trial.

On 29th July 1875 Second Mate James Collins was in charge of the watch on board the Princess Alexandra which was sailing from Liverpool to the Peruvian port of Callao via Le Havre in France. At 8am boatswain John Christian asked for orders but was sworn at by 29 year old Collins and began to retreat. Collins then picked up a handspike and struck Christian on the back of the head and he died about four hours later.

On arrival back at Liverpool Collins was taken into custody by the river police, telling them ' I am guilty but only in my own defence, until this happened I had always been a harmless and inoffensive man.'

Collins was charged with murder and tried in March 1876 at the Liverpool Assizes, where the evidence given was quite sketchy.One Swedish crew member stated that Collins asked Christian why he was doing nothing and he replied that he was awaiting orders, leading to the attack. It was admitted by both him and an American seaman named Frank Smith that Collins wasn't popular amongst the crew, most of whom were foreign and had been taken on board in France.

In his defence Collins said that he had only intended to strike Christian on the hand and that he needed to maintain order in the absence of the First Mate and Captain as he felt threatened by the other crew members. His defence counsel pleased that there had been no malice aforethought and in an ill-founded moment of passion picked up the nearest thing to hand which turned out to be something that caused death.

In summing up Justice Brett said there was no evidence of provocation that would justify reducing the crime to manslaughter. The question was whether the weapon was used in such a way that death could reasonably be expected to result. Although it was a formidable weapon, the judge said that if it was used to strike the side of the head or body then death could not have been expected. Justice Brett also questioned why senior officers had not given evidence and commented that part of the log was missing and crucially that which should have documented what happened on the watch.

The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter and the judge said prior to sentence; 'I am of the opinion that officers of merchant ships are to be supported in maintaining the discipline. But I am also of the opinion that the crew of the merchant ship are entitled to ample protection against the tyranny of their officers. When an officer shows an act of violent passion as you have done it must be shown that the crew are to be protected.

After telling Collins that he was lucky to have been found guilty only of manslaughter Justice Brett sentenced him to fifteen years imprisonment. Collins thanked the jury for sparing his life as he left the dock, also saying that the crew would have killed him if they could.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Farm Labourers Fatal Fight

A Saturday drinking session by colleagues ended in tragedy when one died following a fight between two of them, with the killer being sentenced to just six months in gaol.

On the evening of Saturday 11th October 1873 a group of Irish farm labourers were drinking at the Hightown Hotel (photo by Adam Bruderer) when a dispute arose and two of them started fighting. The two men, 24 year old Michael Cruse and 35 year old Martin Brennan were ordered out by landlady Emma Thomas but agreed to continue their fight at a nearby farmyard.

One of the group tried to stop the fight but was unable to do so and ran for help, but on hearing a scream he turned back and saw his Martin on the floor and bleeding from the head. Martin was taken a considerable distance to Rose Vale in Everton where his brother James resided.  He was suffering from pains in the chest and head, saying that Cruse had kicked him whilst he lay on the ground.

Dr Cormack from the East Dispensary attended and was of the opinion that Martin's condition was critical and it was too dangerous to move him. The following day he entered an insensible state and remained that way until the Thursday when he died. Cruse was picked up that day in Woolton and told the arresting officer 'I was standing in my own defence. It was a bad job, we were fighting and I knocked him down and kicked him.

A post mortem revealed that Martin had a dislocated eyeball, broken nose and skull fractures. The cause of death was inflammation of the brain and the injuries were too severe to have been caused by a fall. At the inquest Dr Cormack described his chances as 'hopeless from the first.' A verdict of manslaughter was returned and Cruse, who had once lived next door to Martin in Ireland, was committed to the assizes for trial.

At the Liverpool Assizes on 12th December Mrs Thomas gave evidence but was unable to say who had struck the first blow. Cruise was found guilty, but was sentenced to just six months imprisonment with hard labour by Justice Quain.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Killing of a Dragoon

A night out in Liverpool by two soldiers turned into tragedy when one of them was killed by a punch thrown at him outside a pub.


On 21st August 1873 Edward Burn, a private with the 7th Dragoon Guards stationed in Everton barracks, went into Liverpool with a corporal from the same regiment. They were drinking in the Ring O' Bells pub in Peters Lane, where a Dr Patterson was visiting a patient. The soldiers asked Patterson the way to Williamson Square and he offered to show them.



When they got there the two soldiers went into the Rainbow pub but were refused drink even though they were more merry than intoxicated. On coming outside they then got into a row with a local 25 year old fish dealer named William Wilson, who punched Burn, knocking him clean out and his fall was broken by his comrade.



Burn was put into a cab and taken back to the barracks and checked over by a medic. Then on the 23rd he entered a state of delirium and an examination found that he had bruising behind the ear and blood seeping from it. He lingered until the 30th November when he died, a post mortem concluding that it was from effusion of the brain, caused by the blow.



Wilson had been apprehended soon after Burn went into his delirious state and told the police he had ejected the two soldiers from the Rainbow at the request of the landlord, then was assaulted by one of them outside. When he was tried for manslaughter on 13th December, Dr Patterson was a key witness, stating that Burn had not struck Wilson. He also described the punch thrown as 'a scientific prize fighting blow, given straight from the shoulder.' 



After the jury found Wilson guilty of manslaughter he was sentenced by Justice Quain to a term of eighteen months imprisonment.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Killing of an Unknown Seaman

In 1873 a man was convicted of manslaughter after causing the death of a seaman whose identity was never established.

On the 23rd November that year the schooner Emma was lying in Garston Docks when William Sargent, a 32 year old ship's mate, got into a row with a fellow crew member over a flannel shirt. The other seaman, an Irishman who had joined that day and whose name wasn't even known, struck a blow on Sargent and mentioned that he had a knife.

Sargent, who was scrubbing the deck at the time, then hit back with his brush and inflicted a wound over the right eye. This was not thought to be serious and was dressed by a chemist, with the man then going to bed but he died in the night. 

The following month Sargent found himself up before Justice Quain at the Liverpool assizes, charged with manslaughter. Witnesses agreed in cross examination that the deceased was drunk at the time and had said on shore that it was his fault he was attacked. However in summing up the judge said that there was no evidence a knife was produced and Sargent had time to escape the situation.

After the jury returned a guilty verdict, his defence counsel passed a reference from Sargent's officer at the Royal Navy reserve, saying he had been a member since 1867 and always attentive at drill. Justice Quain then said that due to the previous good character and the rashness of the act which he acknowledged did not intend to cause serious harm, he would be lenient. He then sentenced Sargent to three months hard labour.

Grandson Killed by Flying Poker

A man who threw a poker at his wife when she hit him was found guilty of manslaughter and gaoled for five years after his grandson got in the way and died from the injuries. 

On the night of 29th June 1880 John Grant Murray returned to his home in Talbot Street (off Islington) somewhat worse for drink and was hit with a crutch by his wife, who was also drunk. Talbot then threw a poker at her, which instead hit his nineteen month old grandson Samuel Wright on the head as he was running across the room.

Samuel was taken to the Infirmary where he was found to have a compound fracture of the skull. He died on 13th July and an inquest before the Coroner Clarke Aspinall saw evidence given by Murray's daughter in law of what had occurred. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, but magistrates then committed him for trial on a charge of murder.

At the Liverpool assizes on 26th July the murder charge was withdrawn and Murray tried only for manslaughter. His defence counsel Mr Shand submitted that both he and his wife were drunk at the time and the occurrence was purely accidental. The judge, Mr Justice Bramwell, interjected and said that the only accident was that Murray's grandchild rather than his wife had been killed, to which Mr Shand replied that no harm had been intended.

After Murray was found guilty the judge ordered that he be stood down for a while, telling him: 'It is a most abominable offence even if no mischievous result had been occasioned. I am not sure I shall not send you to penal servitude to teach you and others not to fling pokers at their wives.'  

Murray waited on the cells whilst another prisoner James Kelly was tried for grievous bodily harm on his wife. Justice Bramwell then brought them both up to be sentenced together, saying that their conduct was 'cruel, unmanly and ruffianly.' He then sentenced both to a term of penal servitude, which in Murray's case was five years. 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Stepdaughter Killed By Poker

A woman whose stepdaughter died after she had hit her over the head with a poker following a row was sentenced to just eighteen months imprisonment.

On the evening of 24th January 1880 David Edwards and his wife Margaret returned to their home at 29 Major Street, Kirkdale, after a visit to the market. Soon after Margaret's stepmother Catherine Clements, with whom they lodged, came in and began arguing with them. David pushed Clements into her room but she came back out and resumed the argument. 

Margaret went out to try and find a policeman but wasn't able to and when she returned, Clements was stood on the step with a poker. She struck Margaret three times with it before David managed to get it from her. The injured woman went to the Stanley Hospital for treatment and arrived back home after midnight, when she was punched twice in the face by Clements, who then threatened to smash a jug over her head.

About a month later erysipelas set in and Margaret was taken to the Stanley Hospital and then the Walton Workhouse. Whilst there she entered a state of delirium, leading to her transfer to the Rainhill asylum. On 4th April Margaret died and Clements was arrested and held on remand for a week whilst medical opinions were sought. It was determined that Margaret's death was as a result of blood poisoning and Clements was committed for trial at the next assizes on a charge of manslaughter.

On 21st April Clements, who was 44 years old, appeared before Mr Justice Denman. After she was found guilty he sentenced her to eighteen months imprisonment with hard labour.



Friday, 7 August 2015

Christmas Killing of a Cousin

A man who killed his teenage cousin at a Christmas party by stabbing her was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for twenty years.

On Christmas night 1879 a family gathering was held at the Gibbons household in Midghall Street. After too much to drink by younger members, Patrick Gibbons said it was time for them to make their way home. A row broke out, leading to his eighteen year old nephew Patrick Kelly lashing out at him with a knife, cutting the face.

Kelly ran off but was chased by Gibbons's sixteen year old daughter Bridget. More words were exchanged and Kelly then stabbed her in the neck. Bridget was taken to the dispensary but died soon after admission. Early on Boxing Day morning, Kelly was apprehended whilst hiding under a bed at his own home which was also in Midghall Street.

After the inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder Kelly appeared before Lord Chief Justice Coleridge on 10th February 1880. With different sides of the family lined up against each other, it was difficult for the jury to reach a clear conclusion. There was no doubt Kelly had stabbed Bridget, but some witnesses said that she had been shouting aggressively at him and that Gibbons had tried to choke him in the house. Kelly himself said he had a pipes talk in his hand which must have caused the cut.

Kelly was found guilty of manslaughter but the judge said it was 'just short of murder'. Referring to the pipe stalk defence, he said it was clear from the medical evidence that a knife had caused the wound and it was no accident.  Tellin him that he had 'taken human life under the severest of circumstances', the judge sentenced Kelly to twenty years penal servitude.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Tragic Killing of a Granddaughter

A man who took his granddaughter for a walk and killed her was detained in a lunatic asylum after he was found to be not responsible for his actions.

In 1880 retired Irish born seaman Richard Maguire lived at Howe Street in Bootle with his daughter, her husband and granddaughter Catherine, who was two months short of her second birthday. He was very fond of Catherine and used to love taking her out on walks, but it was on one of these where he had an episode that led to him causing her death.

When 62 year old Maguire got up on the morning of Saturday 3rd January that year he told his daughter and Thomas that they had better look after Catherine, as he had dreamt he was going to kill her. They took no notice of this and at midday he took her out and didn't return until the next morning.

When he got to Howe Street the next morning  he was wet and wild looking and Catherine's parents were frantic with worry. When his daughter asked where she was, Maguire replied 'IN HEAVEN I HOPE' and said that a fair haired woman had taken her off him but he would go back to try and find her. After a sleep Maguire was again challenged over Catherine's whereabouts and said he was sat on a step and his deceased wife had taken her off him, with the girl saying 'TA GRAN.'

Maguire was taken into custody and told the police they would never find her. However she was found lying face down in a ditch on the morning of 6th January. A post mortem found that she had been suffocated. When Maguire was charged with murder he tried to put his head in a water closet as he was returning to his cell.

At the inquest at the Crosby Hotel on 8th January Maguire's son in law Thomas Kiernan explained that they had always had good relations and he was trusting of Maguire with Catherine. This was despite him having spent three months at the Haydock asylum before Christmas, with Kiernan believing Maguire was a bit weak minded but nothing else. When Maguire was asked if he had questions, he could only reply that he loved Catherine as if she was his daughter.

Other witnesses gave accounts of Maguire's movements on the fateful day, which had been quite extensive. One man had seen him in Sefton and Catherine was crying, Maguire replying that her mother's head was burnt. A man who had seen them in Crosby Village at 6pm asked how Catherine was so wet and Maguire replied that she had fallen into the canal. By 8pm Maguire seemed to be heading in the direction of Bootle but was alone and acting very erratically, telling a coachman that he had been conducting a christening but an unknown female had taken the child away.

A verdict of wilful murder was returned and Maguire was committed for trial at the next Liverpool assizes,
appearing before Lord Chief Justice Coleridge on 10th February. Dr Barr of Kirkdale gaol said he was of the opinion that Maguire was of unsound mind and when further historical details were given the judge stopped the case. The jury was ordered to find Maguire of unsound mind and he was sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Brave Passer By Stops Killers Escape

A man who stabbed another drinker who had made inappropriate remarks about his friend's wife tried to flee the scene but hadn't bargained for a woman who refused to let him get away.

On Friday 19th December 1879 Hugh Knight, a forty year old journeyman saddler who lived in Langsdale Street in Everton, spent the evening drinking in the Great Eastern pub in nearby Canterbury Street. Whilst there he made some offensive marks about the wife of James Page, who was also in the pub, but further no words were exchanged between the two.

The following night at around 10pm Page went in the pub with two other men, William Martin and Edward Ashcroft. All three were too intoxicated for the barman to serve them and as a peace offering, Knight attempted to shake hands with Page and apologise for his words of the previous evening. Page though raised a clenched fist and replied 'I have got this for you tonight.'


A few moments later Knight left the pub and was jumped on by Ashcroft, who throttled him around the neck and threw him onto the floor. he followed this up with two kicks in the side as Knight lay on his back and Martin then kicked him in the legs but Page did nothing. A passer by named Mrs Grimes shouted to Ashcroft that he had killed a man but he shouted back 'You cow I will kill you too.' He then lifted Knight's head up and knocked it back down onto the pavement.

All three men walked away but Mrs Grimes followed them, leading to Ashcroft kicking her. This was a bad move as she then struck him three or four times with her basket and the commotion allowed police to arrive and apprehend them. Knight was taken by two policemen to the house of Dr Rutherford at 155 Islington but he was pronounced dead on arrival. A post mortem revealed that he had died of effusion of blood at the base of the brain. 

After an inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder against all three men they stood trial at the Liverpool assizes on 10th February 1880. Charges against page were immediately dropped, then after hearing the evidence the defence said Martin could only be proved to have kicked Knight in the thigh. Accepting that Ashcroft was the main instigator, his counsel said it was a brawl and as no weapon was used then it should be a case of manslaughter not murder.

After the jury acquitted Martin but convicted Ashcroft of manslaughter Lord Chief Justice Coleridge was damning with his sentencing remarks. He told the 38 year old caster that his extreme brutality and deadly spirit might have justified a murder verdict. Saying that he needed to show others what he thought of such brutality in a civilised country, a sentence of twenty years penal servitude was then imposed. The judge also directed that Mrs Grimes should be paid a £5 reward for her courage and bravery.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Wronged Cook's Death Sentence Commuted


A man who killed his wife and her lover after he found out that they were living together was sentenced to death but had the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Frank Smart came to Liverpool from the West Indies in 1947 and married his wife Cassie in 1951. They took lodgings in Berkeley Street in Toxteth in April 1956 but two months later somebody else at the house told Smart that every time he worked late as a cook, another West Indian named Fitzy Rattan would be in their room.

Berkley Street in the 1960s (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
When Smart confronted his wife and Rattan about this they replied that all they were doing was listening to records. But on 1st July without warning Rattan told Smart that if he ever laid a finger on his wife he would kill him then the following day she went missing. When this was reported to the police, all her clothes were found in a suitcase in Rattan's room. They were traced to a lodging house in Bootle and Cassie agreed to return to her husband.

After Cassie admitted sleeping with Rattan Smart, was so demoralised that he bought rat poison and iodine, mixed it together then drank it in an attempt to take his own life. This suicide attempt failed but after being discharged from hospital he returned to Berkeley Street to find his wife had again left. 

On the 8th of October Smart headed to Preston, where he took a bus to St George's Road and found Cassie and Rattan in a bedsit along with a friend called Mr Beddoe, who had lunched with them. Taking a knife out of a suitcase, Smart told Cassie to get up and that wherever she went in England he would track her down. Rattan left the room and Cassie got dressed, but he then came back in and said that Smart had no right to talk to her like that. Smart then stabbed Rattan in the chest and when Cassie told him to put the knife down, he waved it up and down, slashing her five times in the chest and neck. 

Cassie ran out and over the road to a grocery shop and an ambulance was called, but she died soon after arriving at hospital from a haemorrhage. Rattan had died instantly and when police arrived at the bedsit, Smart handed himself in saying 'I am the man you want, I shall not give you any trouble.'

When Smart appeared in court the following February wearing a dark suit and white shirt, cutting an imposing figure at six feet tall. As was custom at the time, he was charged only with the murder of his wife. Beatrice Carson, with whom Cassie had lodged in Bootle, said that Smart had grabbed her by the throat and held up a knife saying he would kill her if she didn't return. Mr Nahum, the landlord of the property in Preston, said that Rattan had left the room to get a knife but changed his mind and put it back away. Mr Beddoe told how he had sat there for the whole incident.

When he gave his evidence on the second day Smart said that Rattan had a 'bulldog attitude' and sensing danger, he took the knife out of his suitcase. Rattan then ran into the knife and his wife screamed and believing she was about to hit him with a bottle he held the knife out to stop her. He claimed his mind went blind and he was in a tremor, that all he was trying to do was ward off the blow. When asked why he took the knife from Liverpool to Preston, he said it was because he feared what Rattan may do to him. In cross examination from the prosecution he denied that he had gone to Preston with murder in mind and also that his wife had left him as she was scared of his temper.

On the third day Dr Brisby, the senior medical officer at Walton gaol, gave his opinion that Smart was not undergoing a 'hysterical blackout' as the defence claimed. At the end of the trial the prosecution said that all the evidence pointed to Smart being guilty of murder and that he had confessed to the emergency services that he had done it, something he would not have done if his mind was blank. For the defence, Mr Crichton suggested that Smart would not have intended to kill anybody with a witness present and then made no attempt to cover up the crime. He told the jury that the proper verdict in this case should be manslaughter rather than murder.

In summing up Mr Justice Streatfield said this was a love triangle and somebody had been wronged, but that should not interfere with their judgement as to whether Smart was guilty of murder. After the jury found him guilty of murder, he was sentenced to death. However this was later commuted to life imprisonment.