Monday, 30 November 2015

Two Months Jail For Wife killing

A man who habitually abused his wife and eventually caused her death after elbowing her in the face was sentenced to just two months imprisonment.

On the evening of Saturday 1st October 1864 John Robinson, a forty year old tinplate layer asked his wife Catherine for money for ale, but she refused his request. John then struck her with his elbow in the face and stomach, leading to her screaming for help from the landlady of the house where they lodged in Cavendish Street, which was situated where the St Johns Ambulance offices off Scotland Road are now.  

The landlady Mrs Winter tried to stop the bleeding but was unable to do so, but John would not get out of bed to assist in taking his wife to the dispensary. When heavily pregnant Catherine threw some blood at her husbands he threatened to knock her downstairs if she asked him again.

In the early hours John eventually agreed to go to the dispensary, from where they were referred to the Northern Hospital. As she was being helped there, Catherine said to her husband 'Take more time for I am dropping, this is the last walk I will have.'

On the Monday Catherine was visited in hospital  by a detective. She said the bleeding had started when she fell over after carrying some tins on her head, then it had occurred again after being punched in the face by John. He was then arrested and taken to the police office where he admitted assaulting his wife, but said he had only slapped her with the back of his hand.

Catherine gave birth to a stillborn male child on 6th October, doctors estimating that she was eight months into her pregnancy. Heavily effected by the loss of blood, her condition deteriorated and she died on 18th October. A post mortem revealed that both bones in the nose were broken as a result of considerable violence. 

At the inquest two days later the couple's fourteen year old son said that his parents had quarreled for as long as he can remember and that his father had often said whilst drunk that he would kill her one day. Mrs Winter said that another lodger had drawn her attention to the attack and that she feared Catherine was being killed. The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter and the Deputy Coroner Mr Wybergh remanded John pending his trial at the assizes.

At the Liverpool Assizes on 14th December the defence pleaded that Catherine had contributed to her own death by carrying the tins on her head. John was found guilty but with a recommendation for mercy. The judge, Mr Justice Mellor, said there were mitigating factors on the case and James was sentenced to a period of imprisonment of just two more months.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Justified Killing of a Father

A man who killed his father as he believed he was about to do harm to family members was set free after a trial found that his actions were justified. 

On the afternoon of 31st May 1909 William Haughton, a 57 year old father of five, went on one of his regular drinking sprees and returned to his home in Chesterton Street, Garston, demanding his tea. When his wife gave him some cold meat he threw it back at her then filled a basin with water and poured it over her as she sat motionless in a chair. 

Haughton went back out and returned at 10pm, by which time his wife and two teenage daughters were in bed. He stayed downstairs for a while playing a piano but at 11.30pm went upstairs and demanded some work trousers. His eldest son, also William, was woken by the commotion and remonstrated with his father, leading to the two men exchanging punches.

A few hours later Haughton died in hospital, having given a statement saying he had been hit four or five times on the head with a poker as he lay defenceless on the floor. A post mortem revealed that his skull had been fractured in two places. However when he was arrested  the son William said the two men had fallen down together and fearing for his safety, he had struck out with the poker in self defence.

William was charged with murder and appeared before Lord Chief Coleridge on 20th July. A statement that he had made on arrest was read out, in which he said 'I am sorry for what I have done, I hit him over the head five times with a poker to prevent him ill using my mother who is an invalid. I heard him beating my mother , I rushed and done my best to stop him.' William's sixteen year old sister Emily told the court that her brother was the one who put most money into the house and that her father had him pinned to the ground when he got hold of the poker.

The Reverend T P Howe gave William a character reference, saying he had been attending church twice a day for three years and that he was a 'quiet, inoffensive and respectable member of the community.' In the final submission, William's defence counsel suggested that his intervention was justified and that if he hadn't done so, his father may well have been there on trial instead. 

Without leaving their box the jury returned a verdict of not guilty of both manslaughter and murder. There was loud applause from the public gallery which was quickly suppressed. After the judge said 'Simple justice has been done, there is no occasion for applause' William was released.


Benefit of Doubt For 'Poor Friendless Woman'

A woman whose baby was found strangled in a basket was sentenced to just twelve months in prison after being found guilty only of infanticide.

In the summer of 1908 Alice Spelman, who was originally from Derby, worked at a hotel in the North Wales coastal resort of Llandudno, In the October she went to Liverpool and took lodgings in Vine Street, where she discovered she was pregnant two months later.

Alice took on a job as a general servant in Mill Street in February 1909 and was immediately asked by her mistress if she was pregnant, which she denied. On 6th March Alice was taken ill and taken in a cab to the Workhouse Hospital in Smithdown Road carrying a basket. When this was searched it was found to contain the body of a newborn child, which had a handkerchief tied around its neck with the ends stuffed in the mouth.

A post mortem showed that the baby had lived and died from strangulation and when she was arrested Alice said her mind was blank, all she could remember was that the child was born. When she appeared at the assizes Alice's defence counsel described her as a 'poor friendless woman' and said she had been orphaned at the age of five, with the evidence of strangulation being inconclusive. This was enough to sew the seeds of doubt in the jury and Alice was found guilty only of infanticide, leading to a sentence of just twelve months imprisonment.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Killed Over Uncooked Fish

A man who was convicted of manslaughter in 1909 after stabbing his wife when they rowed over his uncooked supper was sentenced to just seven years imprisonment. 

Denis Smith was a  an auctioneers porter who lived in Oakes Street with his wife Sarah, twelve year old son Joseph and eight year old nephew Owen.On Tuesday 9th February that year he returned home at around 330pm having already had a lot to drink. He then sent his wife out for more beer which they drank together with a neighbour. 

At suppertime told Sarah to go and get some fish but she was out for some time, leading to him berating her on her return. Sarah refused to cook the fish and was soon running out of the house screaming murder, with Smith chasing her. When he returned to the house and went asleep though, Sarah then decided to cook the fish and wake him, only for him to refuse to eat it as he believed it hadn't been done enough.

After more arguing Smith got out of bed and picked up a knife, swiping it at Sarah's face, catching her just under her left ear. After he was unable to stop the bleeding, Smith and his son took Sarah the short distance to the Royal Infirmary, both telling doctors that the wound was self inflicted. With suspicion not yet aroused, Smith left saying he was going to change his bloodstained shirt. However he didn't return and when Sarah died soon after admission, the police soon caught up with him at his sister's house in Islington.


On 11th March Smith appeared at the Liverpool Assizes before Lord Alverstone. Joseph repeatedly broke down crying as he gave evidence that his father had picked up the knife and brandished it at her. Smith too wept in the dock, as the defence counsel's submission that Sarah had fallen on the knife was rejected.

In summing up the judge said it would be unsafe to convict on the murder charge as there was no prior motive and Smith had shown obvious remorse. This led to him being found guilty of manslaughter and after evidence was called as to his previous good character and of his wife's drunken habits, Lord Alverstone imposed a sentence of just seven years imprisonment.



Monday, 23 November 2015

Son's Letter Triggers Killing

A woman who received a scathing letter from her son in the navy condemning her lifestyle cut the throat of one of her other children, leading to her being detained in an asylum. 


In 1907 Louisa Cameron was a 47 year old mother of six who lived at Vaughan Street in Toxteth (situated between Grafton and Tamworth Streets). Her husband George was a labourer who spent much of his time working away in Rhyl. The youngest child, nine year old Charles, had learning difficulties and had spent some time at an orphanage in Beacon Lane in Everton.

Louisa had been getting medical help for a nervous disability for some time and was seen by a doctor on 7th April that year, complaining of pains in the head. Two days later she received a letter from her nineteen year old son George who was in the navy. The letter was scathing about his home life, describing his parents as 'encouraging laziness' and asking them not to write to him before he was due back on leave in August.

On the same afternoon that his mother had received the letter, Charles returned home from school and asked her for some food, only to have his throat cut with a kitchen knife. Louisa then stood at her doorstep holding out her blood covered hands, pleading to passers by to let her die. When a neighbour called Elizabeth Tull asked Louisa why she had done what she had, she told her about the letter, how her husband was away and that a thirteen year old daughter had been accused of stealing a sovereign.

When a police sergeant arrived to arrest Louisa she cried 'Oh my child what have I done, I have been low spirited lately.' Explaining that he had asked for food when there was none in the house, a search by the officer found that there was bread, butter and fish. There was also money in Louisa's pockets.

When she was assessed by the doctor at Walton gaol, Louisa said that she was worried she might die and if that happened what would become of her son. As such, she had determined that he had to die before he did. The doctor was of the opinion that Louisa was melancholial, suicidal and homicidal and that if left alone, would have killed herself. This meant that when Louisa appeared before Mr Justice Pickford on 9th May she was found guilty but insane and detained in an asylum for an indefinite period.

Shakespeare Quoting Husband Kills Wife

A man who used to quote Shakespeare to himself was found guilty but insane after he stabbed and smothered his wife at their Vauxhall home.

At the beginning of the twentieth century Thomas Nolan and his wife lived a drab existence in a cellar in Portland Street, off Vauxhall Road. Thomas was a dock labourer who rarely bothered finding work, instead living off his wife's meagre earnings as a charwoman. 

Portland Street (www.liverpoolpicturebook.co.uk)
Sunday 24th March 1907 was just like any other for the couple, who spent much of the day drinking and were last seen together at 10pm. The following morning at 530am a 'knocker upper' banged on their door as usual and Thomas responded that they were up.

At 11.15pm that night Thomas went to the Main Bridewell and told the desk sergeant that he had murdered his wife with a hammer. He explained that he had been persecuted by a group of men from Gerard Street and did not want to be killed and leave his wife to face life alone. A constable was dispatched to Portland Street and the body of Mrs Nolan was found with her throat cut and smothered by a pillow. There were no signs of a struggle and she seemed to have been killed in her sleep. A bloodstained knife was found along with a hammer and handwritten notes in which Thomas suggested he had been shadowed by certain men and his home was being watched night and day. 

Enquiries with neighbours established that Thomas would often run up and down the stairs quoting Shakespeare, with descriptions of him including 'crack pot' and 'madman'. A prison doctor examined him and concluded that he was suffering from hallucinations brought on by chronic alcoholism. Another agreed that the attack had taken place during a bout of temporary insanity and at St George's Hall on 6th May Thomas was found 'guilty but insane' and detained 'until His Majesty's pleasure be known. The judge commented that the jury had taken 'a merciful view of the case.'

Mother Who Cut Son's Throat Detained

A Toxteth mother who cut her son's throat was found guilty of murder but insane, leading to her being detained as a criminal lunatic.

In 1906 Hannah Powell lived with her husband Thomas, a journeyman boilermaker, eleven year old son Johnny and fourteen year old daughter Christine in Sussex Street. This was situated in Toxteth off Upper Hill Street, on the site of what is now St Patrick's School. Also living there was an elder daughter named Emily and her husband Bill Brodie.

On the night of Saturday 12th May that year Hannah was found drunk in the street by Emily, who helped her to bed alongside Thomas who was already asleep. Around 730 the following morning Christine was woken by screams and saw John on the bed next to her with blood spurting out of his throat. She ran upstairs to fetch Emily, who found a bloodstained razor outside the room.

Hannah had by now left the house, shouting to neighbours that she had cut Johnny's throat as her husband had been nagging her all night. Emily's husband Bill went in search of Hannah and found her in Northumberland Street drinking ginger beer. A policeman who had been called arrived at the scene and Hannah gave herself up. Johnny was taken to the Southern Hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival, his jugular vein having been severed.

At the Bridewell 52 year old Hannah again admitted what she had done and after appearing before magistrates on the Monday morning she was remanded to Walton gaol. When the trial opened on 3rd August Hannah had to be helped up the stairs from the cells to the dock by two warders. She then spent a minute sobbing before she was able to compose herself to hear the indictment. 

As the prosecuting counsel opened the case, Hannah sat rocking back and forth. There was no doubt that she had killed her son, the only question was to her state of mind at the time. Dr Price from Walton gaol said that he had been examining her since she was taken there, and although she gave coherent answers to questions he could not rule out her being in temporary derangement of mind due to waking suddenly from a drunken sleep. 

In his summing up Mr Justice Kennedy remarked that 'she must have known what she was doing' but also that 'she was subject to slight attacks of melancholia' and had been since another child had burnt to death four years earlier. Without leaving the box, the jury found Hannah guilty of murder but insane at the time of the act. The judge then ordered that she 'be kept in custody as a criminal lunatic until His Majesty's Pleasure be known. Hannah then wept as she was taken back to the cells.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Child Killer Gives Birth in Broadmoor

A woman who killed her daughter by cutting her throat went on to become the first person to give birth in the notorious  Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

On the morning of 27th October 1864 two male occupants of a house in Lavrock Bank heard shrieks and quickly went to the room were they came from, which was occupied by the Dawson family. There they found  22 month old Matilda dead on the table, her throat having been cut. The girl's mother, 30 year old Catherine, was stood over another child, four year old Mary, with a kitchen knife in her hand. 

Lavrock Bank in 2016
The two children who remained alive were quickly snatched and taken to another room and while this was taking place, Catherine cut her own throat. The police and a doctor were sent for and Matilda's life was pronounced extinct. Henry Dawson, who worked down on the docks, was sent for and returned home to be told by his wife that the Devil was standing next to her and told her to do what she did.

Catherine's wounds were able to be dressed and she was then conveyed to the Bridewell. Once there she turned violent and began ripping her bandages off, leading to her removal to the Toxteth Park Workhouse, the one on Brownlow Hill refusing to take her as she was not a local resident. 

At the inquest on 29th October Henry told the Coroner Mr P.F. Curry that the family had been in Liverpool about six months, but that the previous year Catherine had spent two weeks in an asylum in Ashton Under Lyne. Her behaviour had been normal in recent months, but he had noticed a wild eyed look in his wife's eyes when he breakfasted on that fateful morning. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder but stated that Catherine was not responsible for her actions at the time. The Coroner however told them that they could not determine the mental health aspect and they could only return a verdict of wilful murder, leading to Catherine's committal to the assizes for trial.

As expected Catherine was found guilty but insane and detained at Her majesty's pleasure. Catherine remained at the Rainhill Asylum, where she had been on remand but managed to escape from there in March 1866. After being at large for a month she was captured at her husband's home and transferred from Rainhill to Broadmoor in Berkshire, which had opened two years previously. 

In her first few days at Broadmoor doctors attributed her sickness to the morphine that had been administered to her on the train to keep her calm. However when it didn't subside after a few days they discovered the true cause, that she was pregnant. On Boxing Day she gave birth to a boy, who was given the name Stephen. With Henry telling the officials that he was struggling to bring up the two other children and being unable to take another, baby Stephen was accepted by the Chorley workhouse. 

Catherine continued to keep in touch with Henry by letter but her mood was often low and she was unable to do her sewing work. Her wrists were covered in scars from her attempts to escape by breaking windows. In 1872 Henry died and the two surviving children were adopted by his landlady in Birkenhead. Catherine's health deteriorated further and she died in 1876 of tuberculosis. 




Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Killing of a Timekeeper

A man who was refused permission to take up his duties after returning to work drunk pushed his timekeeper into the River Mersey. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death but later reprieved.


At 6pm on Monday 9th October 1905 William Hitchen, began a nightshift at Toxteth Dock, where the 28 year old worked as a stoker on an engine. At 10pm he was given half an hours break and went with engine driver Thomas Moore to a nearby pub where they both drank one and a half pints of beer. 

Moore returned to his duties but Hitchen stayed away for another forty minutes. When he returned and the timekeeper Thomas Williams refused to book him back on. Williams then left the engine house and walked towards the river, followed by Hitchen. Some words were exchanged and Hitchen pushed Williams over the wall into the Mersey. 

Hitchen then went to rejoin Moore at the engine and casually told him that he had pushed Williams into the Mersey. The driver didnt believe this but a few moments later a labourer went up to him and said that the incident had really happened. Moore ran to the river wall and threw a rope down to Williams who was struggling, but before he could reach it he sank below the water. 

A boat was lowered but the body was not recovered until 2am, by which time Hitchen had fled across the Mersey to his Tranmere home. He was arrested an hour later saying to police 'I am very sorry' when being told that Williams was dead.

An inquest heard that Hitchen's actions had also been witnessed by a labourer named James Murray, who had been told by him 'I will do for that fellow tonight.' Another worker had seen Hitchen in the engine house was was told 'The timekeeper wouldn't book me on but he's alright now, where he ought to be in the river.'

Williams was a 24 year old widower whose wife had died thirteen months earlier. He lodged at 351 Park Road and his funeral was held at St Gabriel's Church followed by an internment at Toxteth Park Cemetery. 

At the Liverpool Assizes on 1st December Hitchen pleaded that he had been drunk at the time, but in summing up Mr Justice Ridley said that this could only be a factor if there had been provocation, which in this case there wasn't. 

The jury took 45 minutes to find Hitchen guilty of murder but with a recommendation for mercy on the grounds of the premeditation period being very short. He had held his head in his hands for much of the trial and fainted on hearing the sentence of death, leading to him being carried from the dock. 

More than 25,000 people signed a petition calling for a reprieve. This was then presented to the Home Secretary by his solicitor John Bateman of 115a Dale Street. Two weeks after the trial, it was confirmed that the sentence would be commuted to penal servitude for life.

Killed Over Coal

A dispute between two trimmers on board a Liverpool registered vessel led to one of them being gaoled for sixteen years.

At 4pm on On 8th January 1905 German Emil Baumann finished his four hour shift on board the Booth Line's Caereuse, which was sailing from Barbados to New York. He was challenged by his relief William Maguire, who felt he had not left sufficient coal to last the half hour it would take him to clean out the furnace.

About twenty minutes later Baumann appeared at the stoke hole and taunted Maguire, refusing to send any more coal down to him. He then challenged Maguire to a fight and the two men went onto the forecastle. Another seaman named James Mackay then saw Maguire fall down clutching his chest which had blood pouring out of it. The ship's doctor was called but Maguire was dead within minutes, with wounds in his chest and abdomen.

An inquiry in New York ruled that there was sufficient grounds to extradite Baumann to the United Kingdom and on 20th February he appeared before Mr Justice Wills at the Liverpool Assizes. Baumann claimed that Maguire had first come at him with a knife, but the witness Mackay said that only the German had a weapon. 

When the jury deliberated, Baumann was saved by the fact Maguire had willingly left his post to fight him. This led to him being found guilty only of manslaughter but the judge said it was very near to murder. He was then sentenced to sixteen years penal servitude.




Suicide Pact in a Hotel

When two lovers made a suicide pact at a Liverpool hotel, one survived leading to him being sentenced to death.


On Sunday 11th September 1904 a maid at the Waverley Hotel in Lord Nelson Street grew concerned about not being able to enter a room despite making several attempts during the day. At around 7pm the proprietor decided to force entry into the room, which had been booked in the name of Mr and Mrs Muir. On going in they found the female dead and the male alive but unconscious.



When the police arrived the male, 29 year old Allan Muir from Bootle came to but was in a delirious state. He was taken to the Royal Infirmary and then the Workhouse Hospital, where opium poisoning was diagnosed. A search of the hotel room found letters that appeared to indicate a suicide pact between the couple, who were not man and wife but instead two lovers. The female was Isabella Mackenzie, a mother of two from Glasgow who was separated from her husband.



On discharge from hospital Muir was arrested and charged with murder, as the law of the time decreed that if two people attempted suicide and one survived, the other was to be charged with murder. Muir replied to the detective on being told of this charge;  'I did not kill her, we both agreed to die together. She went out and bought the stuff and we both took equal amounts.'


Investigations into the couple's background established that they had met and began a relationship when they were crew members on board the Pretorian, which sailed between Glasgow and Canada. Three days before they were found in the room, they had gone to Muir's home in Bootle where there was a disturbance that led to the police attending. Their last day together had been spent having breakfast in the hotel before buying drugs from chemists in the Lime Street area.


At St George's Hall on 5th December a letter was read out from Muir to his wife, which said 'You have ruined my life with your tongue, you have driven me to this, may god forgive me. I sincerely hope the dear little children will not take after you.' Muir's defence suggested that his lover was a regular taker of opium and that it would have killed her one day, whether or not he was in the vicinity.



The judge's summing up was not favourable to Muir, as he pointed out that Mackenzie had wrote a letter to her husband begging forgiveness, indicating that she was planning to die. The jury returned a guilty verdict but with a recommendation for mercy. The judge passed the death sentence was was the norm but a week later the Home Secretary commuted this to penal servitude for life.



Sunday, 8 November 2015

Crockery in the Witness Box

When a Chinese crew member of a British vessel was killed in the 1920s, many of the witnesses at the subsequent trial took the oath by smashing crockery.

On 28th July 1925 an argument broke out amongst Chinese crew on the Sunderland registered steamer Palm Branch, which was sailing from St Thomas in Jamaica to Liverpool. The result of this was that one of them, Sing Looh ended up overboard. A boat was lowered but the search for him was abandoned after two hours.

On arrival in Liverpool on 11th August police boarded and after speaking to the Captain detained six of the crew. They then charged firemen Cheong Fook and Cheong Mo Fook, who were unrelated, with murder on the high seas. Cheong Mo Fook claimed that he had been hit over the head with a basin by Sing Looh and he had subsequently slipped into the water. Other witnesses though  said that the chief engineer had separated them and Cheong had then assaulted Sing Looh and threw him overboard with the help of his accomplice.

At the trial on 5th November two interpreters were required, one to interpret the evidence from Shanghainese to Cantonese, then another to translate into English. The Chinese witnesses took the oath by smashing crockery, the broken pieces of which littered the witness box. Cheong Mo Fook was found not guilty and discharged.