The killing of a Bootle woman who was found drowned in a bath in 1951 remains unsolved after her friend was tried for her murder but acquitted. It was a case which the defence barrister described as 'the most harrowing she had ever dealt with.'
Emma Grace was just 22 years old when she separated from her husband in the mid 1930s, going on to bring three children up on her own whilst working as a clerk for a pools firm. She lived in Irlam Road in Bootle in a house that was also occupied by Martin and Anna Neary and their three children. Each family had a floor in the house and they shared a bathroom.
On 25th May 1951 Emma's nineteen year old daughter Mary, a student nurse, returned home at around 5pm to find Anna sobbing hysterically. She described how she had heard Emma go to the bathroom and then raised voices, so when she went up to see what was happening a man had threatened her with a revolver then lifted Emma into the bath and drowned her before making off. When 39 year old Emma's fully clothed body was removed from the bath it was badly bruised and there had clearly been signs of a struggle.
Anna was questioned by the police who were sceptical about her story, as they simply did not believe that the bathroom was big enough for one person to face great difficulty in drowning another while another escaped unscathed. As some of Emma's wages were found hidden within the fireplace in Anna's room, they concluded that she had committed the murder with robbery as a motive, refusing to believe her statement that a large man with hairy hands had committed the deed.
At lunchtime the following day Anna was charged and replied 'Why should I kill her, she has been awfully good to me.' A special court in Bootle was convened and Anna was formally remanded, leading to her shouting out 'This is not justice, God help me.' She was led away to the cells on what was her 27th birthday leaving her husband in the public gallery holding a young baby
Anna was 26 years old and had been born in France to Polish parents. After growing up near Lille, she had come to Britain after the war, during which she met her husband who was a serviceman with the RAF.
Martin's sister Margaret took the couple's children into her care, telling them that their mother was in hospital.
The trial opened at the Manchester Assizes on 11th July, with the the prosecutors outlining the case that the man with hairy hands had not been traced and as nobody else was in the house or could have gained access, then Anna was guilty.
When Anna gave her evidence on the second day she stood by what she had told the police on the fateful night, that she had gone to the bathroom where she was locked in by a man with 'big ugly hairy hands' who then threatened her with a gun before drowning Emma. Anna then went on to to describe how there were a number of unknown male visitors to Emma and her daughter, one of whom she had expressed a wish never to see again as he had a nice wife. When asked by her defence counsel Rose Heilbron if she had killed Emma she replied 'No, never' and broke down crying, leading to a five minute adjournment to allow her to regain her composure.
In her closing speech, Miss Heilbron said there was no evidence of ill feeling between the two women and that Anna was not short of money so robbery could not have been a motive.
After retiring for two and a half hours the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. There was a round of applause from the public gallery but this came to an abrupt halt as Anna fainted in the dock and it took two minutes to revive her. She was still sobbing as Justice Barry said 'You may be discharged'. Anna then turned to the jury and said 'Thank you, I swear I did not do it.'
Outside the court, Anna buried her head into the arms of her husband as she was rushed to a waiting car. Miss Heilbron said that it was the most harrowing case she had ever been involved in and family members said that Martin and Anna planned to take a holiday in France. Although Martin's four sisters and two brothers had been of great help, Anna's mother was too poor to visit England during her daughter's imprisonment and trial.
The killing of Emma Grace remains unsolved.