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.

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