Monday, 25 January 2016

West Indian Seaman Reprieved

A West Indian seaman who was convicted of murder after stabbing his lover in wartime Liverpool was sentenced to death but reprieved. 

Towards the end of 1940 Willoughby Banks moved into a lodging house in Upper Stanhope Street with Mary Norman, a local woman of mixed race who was separated from her husband. Things were going reasonably well for a year but on 22nd November 1941 Banks and Mary returned home arguing whilst some friends were playing cards in the basement. 

The argument continued and after Banks threw a torch at Mary she responded by pouring beer over him. He then shouted 'I'm going to kill Mollie' and leaped over a table, stabbing her seven or eight times. One of the sailors went for the police whilst others restrained Banks, who was only twenty years old. He appeared in a state of shock, saying 'I don't know what made me do it, will they hang me? She tried to poison me last night, and another she slept with me and another man.'

Banks stood in the dock before Mr Justice Oliver at St George's Hall on 2nd February the following year. Those present gave evidence that Mary had been taunting him but he struck the first blow with the torch. When Banks gave evidence, he had been drinking beer, spirits and wine and remembered nothing about returning home, having to be told what happened when he woke in a cell the next morning, causing him to faint.

The jury found Banks guilty but gave a strong recommendation for mercy. After passing the death sentence the judge said he would pass this recommendation on to the relevant quarters. An appeal against the sentence on the grounds a manslaughter verdict was more appropriate was dismissed and the execution was proviosionally scheduled for 25th March. However nine days beforehand the Home Secretary confirmed that a reprieve had been granted and the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.


Sunday, 24 January 2016

Killer Bound Over

An off duty soldier who struck a man with one punch which proved fatal avoided a custodial sentence. 

On the 6th September 1941 Private Charles Jenkins was enjoying 48 hours home leave from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He went to a pub near his Eastlake Street home with his father and brother, who began arguing with the 23 year old about the amount he was drinking. 

The argument spilled out onto the street and an old family friend, Frederick Couzens, came to intervene. Jenkins objected to the interference and punched Couzens, who fell straight to the pavement. Couzens, a 51 year old warehouseman, died in hospital the following night and Jenkins was arrested at his unit and charged with murder. When told of the death by a detective sergeant Jenkins replied 'I did not mean to do him serious harm at all.' A post mortem revealed that the cause of death was a fractured skull.


On 3rd October Jenkins was brought up before the examining magistrate, where medical evidence was heard that Couzens would not have died if he had fallen onto soft ground. In light of this the charge was reduced to manslaughter and Jenkins was granted bail.

When Jenkins appeared before Mr Justice Croom-Johnson the following month his solicitor described the death as a 'tragedy of drink.' Couzens, it was said, had made a remark that had been resented and fell heavily due to him weighing fifteen stone. 

The judge then showed remarkable leniency by simply binding Jenkins over. He said no condition about abstaining from alcohol would be imposed as Jenkins was incapable of sticking to it. Justice Croom Johnson then commented that he didn't know what it was about modern beer that upset people so much.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Life For American Soldier

An American serviceman who stabbed a man in Prescot shortly after the end of World War 2 was court martialed and jailed for life.

On the night of 26th August 1945 James Canavan was heading to his home in Mines Avenue with his brother in law Martin Mannion. Whilst in Manchester Road they were passed by a couple only for the man to turn around and stab Canavan, who died about two hours later in Whiston hospital.


The attacker was described as six foot tall, of powerful build and coloured, while his companion was just over five foot and blond. An appeal by police led to the female coming forward, identifying herself as Annie Harmon. This led to a search of American military camps taking place and a man named John Scales was arrested.


At the court martial on 12th October, Annie said that she had known Scales for two years and he definitely did not have a knife that night. If he was responsible for the death, she said, it was in self defence and not intentional. Describing the crucial moment, she told the court that either Canavan or Mannion had made a racial slur leading to a struggle and that she had pleaded for Scales to let it go.

A statement was read out that had been made by Scales on the night of the killing, in which he claimed to have had a bayonet held at him, which he tried to seize and stabbed Canavan by accident. However, another serviceman said that he had seen Scales wiping blood off a knife at the camp.

Fellow soldiers told how locals resented American servicemen, especially those who were not white, dating local women. One described how it was absurd to suppose that this had been an unprovoked attack. The prosecution however maintained that even if there was some provocation the reaction was not justified and pressed for the death penalty. After being found guilty Scales, a former art student, was then sentenced to life imprisonment.


Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Booted to Death

Three gang members from Dingle were given stiff sentences after an attack on a trio of naval seamen that led to one being kicked to death.

At around 11.30pm on 13th July 1945, little more than two months after war in Europe had ended, a group of males were sat on top of an air raid shelter in Hill Street when three naval comrades walked past. Some words were exchanged leading to 21 year old Leonard Dixon jumping down and punching one of them, after which a brief fight broke out.

Hill St in the 1930s (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
When one of the naval men saw his cap being picked up he said 'You've had your fight now give me back my cap' but his request was ignored. They continued their way towards the depot but the gang members then followed, a fight breaking out again. Two of the naval men got away but 29 year old signaller James March, who hailed from Essex, was repeatedly kicked and left in the gutter. A resident of Hill Street who heard the commotion went out to help but he was already dead. He told the police that as many as five males had been involved in the kicking.

Police soon established that members of the Park Lane Gang were responsible and quickly made three arrests; 19 year old Moses Birch from Caryl Street, 21 year old Henry Johnson of Tillotson Street and main aggressor Dixon, who was from Stanhope Street. All three admitted being in a fight and were committed for trial at the Liverpool assizes.

On 5th November the males pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the prosecution did not proceed with the murder charge. Police told the court that Birch and Dixon were part of the eleven strong Park Lane Gang, who terrorised shops in the south of the city and would not hesitate to use violence. It was acknowledged however that Johnson had a good sea going record and never been convicted of violence. 

The judge, Mr Justice Croom-Johnson, had little room for leniency when it came to Johnson. Despite the please of his counsel Rose Heilbron, he said that Johnson had known that the other two were members of the gang and made no attempt to walk away that night. He then imposed a sentence of four years penal servitude on Johnson, and six years each for Dixon and Birch, commenting that 'it was high time terrorist gangs in Liverpool were made to understand that the law was strong enough to stretch out and reach them and punish them severely.'

Monday, 18 January 2016

Killed Over Jinx

Two movie watchers got into a dispute when one objected to the other using the word 'jinx', leading to a fight in which one was stabbed to death.

On 6th March 1945 at a hostel in Upper Stanhope Street that was frequented by West Indian seamen, a film was shown during which there were a number of interruptions. One of them involved Charles Reddock calling a woman a jinx, which was objected to by 29 year old George Murray. He confronted Reddock over the words and punched him, but the other man responded by drawing a knife.

After being stabbed in the stomach Murray was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. Reddock surrendered himself to police saying 'Yes I used the knife he hit me first, I didn't mean to kill him'.

At the Liverpool assizes on 23rd April 29 year old Reddock's counsel called the act 'a tragedy arising out of lost tempers.' He offered to plead guilty to manslaughter and under direction of Mr Justice Lewis, the jury returned a not guilty verdict in relation to the murder charge. After saying that Murray was undoubtedly the aggressor, the judge then sentenced Reddock to five years penal servitude.  


Saturday, 16 January 2016

Hit With an Iron and Gassed

A man who knocked his wife unconscious with an iron then put her head in an oven and gassed her to death was found guilty but insane.

Early in 1942 Walter Bentick was discharged from the RAF due to his nerves and returned to his family at 61 Greenwich Road, Fazakerley. The 31 year old lived there with his 26 year old wife Pauline and two young children, aged two and three. The couple had their occasional quarrels, resulting frorm his medical condition, but were generally very happy.

On 25th April 1943 at around 10pm two of Pauline's sisters called round and were told by Walter that she had left him. An hour later, another sister called and demanded more answers, leading to Walter pointing to the kitchen and saying that she was in there. Her sister then found Pauline dead, her head resting on an open oven door. Walter said that they had been happy all afternoon but she had made him do it and he had been trying to die all afternoon but couldn't.

When Walter was questioned by police he told them that he had hit his wife with an iron and that he hadn't intended it. When his clothing was searched, what appeared to be a suicide note was found which read 'Please Pauline always look after the children, never forget that I always loved you and them. I will always be near you but do not forget me, I love you all, Wallie.' A post mortem was carried out which established that Pauline was pregnant and that the blow to the head had caused a fracture of the skull but carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of death. 

Walter was committed for trial at the Liverpool assizes, where he was defended by Rose Heilbron on 9th June. Pauline's sisters stated that she had told them Walter had been acting oddly in the preceding weeks, and that he was always fidgety on trams and often walked in circles around the bedroom at night. Miss Heilbron produced evidence that showed both Walter's father and brother had died in mental homes and two doctors who had examined him since the killing felt that he had suffered serious brain damage as a result of epilepsy. 

Without leaving the box the jury returned a verdict of guilty but insane, leading to Walter being detained at His majesty's pleasure. He died in an asylum in Macclesfield in 1985.


Thursday, 14 January 2016

Mother and Baby in Lake

A woman who drowned her baby in the lake of a Liverpool park was charged with murder but found to be insane.

On the afternoon of Saturday 16th January 1943 two boys were playing in Greenbank Park and saw a woman wade out of the boating lake. She then said 'Where is my baby, we are mental.' A member of the Women's Land Army, Betty Critchley, was passing and swam into the lake, retrieving the body of her two year old daughter Freda.


The woman in question was 31 year old Robina Rackham, whose husband was away in the merchant navy. She was taken to hospital where a note was found in her clothing which said 'mother and baby in lake, we are losing our minds - Rackham 106 Salisbury Road, Liverpool 15.' When the police questioned her, she said that both she and Freda were incurably ill and she felt that her daughter would be better off dead. A post mortem however showed that the little girl had been in good health and when charged Robina said 'I don't know whats the matter with me.'

At the Manchester assizes Robina the court heard that Robina had been a very loving mother to her daughter. She was found guilty but insane and ordered to be detained at His Majesty's Pleasure. The judge thanked Miss Critchley, saying what she had done was 'plucky and creditable on a cold winter's afternoon'.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

A Chinese Vendetta

A Chinese man whose father was poisoned caught up with his killer in Liverpool and was sentenced to death after stabbing him.

At around 5pm on 31st January 1943 cries were heard coming from the library of the Chinese Seaman's Welfare Centre in Bedford Street North. A man named Wing Kee Foong who went to investigate saw two men clawing at each others throats, covered in blood. 

One of those fighting was Foong's fellow ship's steward, 24 year old Hung Leung, who appeared to be gaining the upper hand. Foong asked what was going on and Leung explained that four years earlier in China his father had been poisoned by the man he was fighting with, Chang Ling Fok. Foong tried to persuade Leung to let go, but knowing that it was custom the death should be avenged, he had little hope of doing so. Even when warned he could hang, Leung said he was prepared for that.

When Fok 33 year old arrived at hospital he was already dead, a broken knife being found embedded in his neck. Leung was committed for trial at the Manchester assizes where he was asked by the judge how he was sure that Fok had killed his father. He replied that he had been told by his mother, the police and other members of the household. He then resigned his job and joined a shipping company, eventually tracking Fok down in Liverpool after taking lodgings in Aigburth Road. Leung explained that Folk had stolen $59,000 from his father and begged forgiveness when found, saying he had been destitute and starving at the time.

Leung was found guilty but with a strong recommendation for mercy by the jury. He was sentenced to death but later reprieved by the Home Secretary and the the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Detained Man's Protests From Dock

A man who was considered unfit to plead and detained at His Majesty's Pleasure objected to the decision and shouted abuse at the prison doctor from the dock.

On the afternoon of 14th May 1940 Joyce Moss, a 22 year old telephonist with the fire service, visited a man she had recently become friendly with named Leonard Staples, who lived with his mother at 312 Kensington. This property was known locally as the Kensington Foot Hospital and Leonard, a shoe salesman, had his own quarters in the basement.

Kensington in 1906 (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
After having some tea in the garden, Leonard and Joyce went to his room but after hearing some arguing, his mother came to see if everything was alright. Leonard told her to go away but Joyce said that she was worried by his behaviour. Soon afterwards screams were heard and Mrs Staples ran to investigate, banging on the door which was locked and pleading for Leonard to open it. He didn't do so and she then heard the sound of two gunshots.

Mrs Staples went to the garden and looked into Leonard's room through the window, from where she saw Joyce lying in the bath, blood pouring out of her neck. Leonard came out and told his mum not to worry, then sat on the garden wall until two passing policemen who had been alerted arrived. When they did so he threatened to shoot but the officers bravely approached him and snatched the gun before taking him to the Prescot Street bridewell.

The following day Leonard appeared at the police court where it was heard that he had purchased a double barrelled shotgun two weeks earlier. This was shortly after he had been discharged from Smithdown Road hospital, where he had been having his mental state assessed, into the care of his father who agreed to take responsibility for him. As he was remanded in custody he said that the court first needed to ask his father about this, as he was meant to be taking care of him.

On 28th May Leonard was back at the police court for his committal to the assizes. Mrs Staples told the court that he had spoken of feeling under a hypnotic spell from Joyce's mother, and he believed he had seen her floating across the room towards him. Asked if he wished to say anything, Leonard replied that he didn't and would reserve his defence until the trial.

When Leonard appeared before Justice Wrottesley on 10th June the only witness called was Dr Harvey Snell from Walton gaol. He said that having observed Leonard since 15th May, he was of the opinion that he was 'insane and suffering from delusions, and unable to give proper directions to legal advisers for his defence.' This led to an angry reaction from Leonard, who shouted across the courtroom 'That is not true at all because if anybody knows this case I know it, I am the only person who understands thoroughly this case and what has happened and everything that led to this trouble.'

The judge then directed the jury to find that Leonard was unfit to plead to the indictment and he received this verdict in silence. Justice Wrottesley then ordered that he be detained until His majesty's pleasure be known.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Reprieve For Throat Cutting Mother

A young mother who cut her son's throat after being left on her own with him was sentenced to death but then reprieved.

In 1940 Ruth Jones lived with her eighteen month old son Peter at 78 Barlow Street in Kirkdale. A man was living with them who was not Peter's father and when that relationship ran into difficulty and he left, she began to worry how things would turn out. 


On the morning of 25th April Ruth, who was 24 years old, went into Peter's bedroom where he was still asleep in his cot and cut his throat with a razor. She then tried to do the same to herself before going to a relatives house nearby, telling them what had happened. When the police arrived, Ruth told detectives that she intended to do away with herself as well. She appeared at the police court that afternoon and was remanded in custody for two weeks, when she was committed for trial at the assizes.

When Ruth appeared at the Liverpool assizes on 10th June her hearing lasted only a minute. In barely audible tones she pleaded guilty and after Justice Wrottesley checked with her counsel that she understood the implications of this plea, he passed the death sentence. 

Ruth stood motionless in the dock and walked firmly towards the cells flanked by two warders. just four days later, the Home Secretary recommended a reprieve and her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. She was released after serving just two years of this.



Thursday, 7 January 2016

Indian Seaman Acquitted of Fatal Stabbing

When a serviceman was killed whilst on home leave during Word War 2, the man charged with murder was cleared after the judge expressed dissatisfaction with the evidence.

On the evening of Saturday 8th June 1940 Patrick McCoy, a 26 year old serviceman who was home on leave, was enjoying a dance at the Mayfair Hotel on the corner of Park Lane and Sparling Street. 

After McCoy appeared to accidentally bumped into a table at which an Indian seaman named Abdul Rahman and three friends were sitting, spilling a drink. A fight broke out and everyone involved was turned outside by the landlord and McCoy was found bleeding in a gutter. He was taken to the Royal Infirmary but pronounced dead on arrival. A member of the British Expeditionary Force, he had only been back home in Lydia Ann Street for two days after being evacuated from Dunkirk earlier that month.

After making some inquiries 29 year old Rahman was arrested on board the City of Cardiff, where he was a marine fireman. A knife was found on his bunk with blood on it that matched McCoy's group, and he was picked out from an identity parade by three men. On being charged with murder he said 'I never stabbed him, the fight was inside and I was out, I never did anything wrong.' Rahman, who lived in Bombay, appeared at the police court on the Monday morning where he was remanded in custody.

Rahman was committed to trial at the next Manchester Assizes where he appeared before Mr Justice Oliver on 10th July. The judge ordered that because of Rahman's limited knowledge of the English language, the trial would need to take two days as every word would need to be translated into Hindustani. 

Opening the case for the prosecution, Mr Sandbach said that Rahman's beer was knocked over and a fight broke out, in which stool legs were used as weapons.After McCoy collapsed outside Rahman was alleged to have returned to the pub and handed a knife to another Indian sailor. 

Evidence was given against Rahman by his fellow countryman Baney Ram, but the judge ruled this was inadmissable as he had sworn on the Koran as opposed to the Bhagwat Gita. When a translated copy of the sacred Hindu book was found, an Indian official told the judge he could not be sure if this oath was binding as it was not in the original language. When a search of Manchester's central library failed to locate a Hindu copy, Justice Oliver ruled that his evidence should be set aside given he had knowingly gave it having sworn on the Koran.

In giving his evidence, Rahman denied being part of a fight or having a knife and said that he did not know two of the other Indian witnesses. The defence barrister pointed out to the inconsistencies in the prosecution evidence, with witnesses seeming unable to agree as to who was and wasn't inside the bar at the time. It was also pointed out that the three men who McCoy was with ended up being arrested themselves on the night for being drunk and incapable.

Justice Oliver's summing up was favourable, as he told then jury 'The tragedy arose from the drunken aggression of three drunken white men against a group of inoffensive Indian sailors who sat peacefully on their own in the public house.' He characterised the evidence as unsatisfactory and said that all the witnesses contradicted one another.

The jury only retired for a short time to find Rahman not guilty and the judge said he cordially agreed with the verdict. Rahman's interpreter was then thanked for his skills and assistance and he was discharged from the dock.





Saturday, 2 January 2016

Worried Mother Drowns Baby in Canal

In 1939 there was a domestic tragedy when a mother jumped into the Leeds & Liverpool Canal drowning her four month old baby.

At 925pm on Sunday 13th August that year Police Sergeant Clowes was walking along the towpath next to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Vauxhall when he saw a hand come out of the water. He dived in fully clothed but was unable to find anything however two men on the opposite side had also seen the hand and gone in to recover an unconscious woman.

Sefton General Hospital (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
The woman was 43 year old mother of five Annie Slater who lived in nearby New Hedley Street. She was resuscitated and taken to the Northern Hospital. From there she was transferred to Sefton General Hospital in Smithdown Road, where she would tell detectives that she wanted to end it all and had dived into the canal holding her four month old baby son James in her arms.

A search of the canal recovered James's body and on discharge from hospital nine days later Annie was arrested and charged with murder and attempted suicide. She appeared at the Magistrates Court that day and was remanded in custody pending a committal hearing three days later. At that hearing, her husband  Matthew, a causal dock labourer said she had been worried about something but hadn't told him what, while a pathologist said that there was no sign of the baby being mistreated prior to the drowning.

On 19th October Annie appeared at the Liverpool assizes where the jury heard how she had been worried about James's health, her husband had lost his job and that they had fallen into rent arrears. Neighbours said that she was a devoted mother to her nine children, only four of whom were now living. The doctor from Walton gaol said that whilst on remand her physical and mental health had improved.

Annie was acquitted of murder but found guilty of infanticide. Mr Justice Stable then sentenced her to two months in prison, saying to her that he hoped she could regain her health and strength whilst there.