Monday, 29 February 2016

Road Killer Denies Drink to Blame

A man who was charged with manslaughter after knocking down a pedestrian denied that the crash had anything to do with drink.

At around 10.15pm on 5th June 1944 Agnes Brown was returning to her Oakhill Park home after visiting her daughter. At the junction of Queens Drive and Edge Lane Drive the sixty one year old was struck by a car being driven by Edward Formby, who was driving to his home at 46 Childwall Priory Road. Agnes was thrown in the air and landed on the tramlines, from where she was picked up and taken to hospital with serious injuries.


A man named Timothy Sullivan had seen Formby's car zig-zagging in the road and confronted him, only to be told that he had swerved to avoid a dog. Other witnesses gathered around only to be told by Formby, a thirty four year old butcher, that he was only doing twenty miles per hour. 

When Formby was arrested he was so unsteady on his feet that he had to be assisted to the police station. When examined by a force doctor at midnight, he was showing signs of having been drinking but not necessarily drunk. Agnes died from shock at around 3am but initially Formby was charged with driving a motor car whilst under the influence of drink and granted bail. 


A committal hearing took place at the Magistrates' Court on 17th July, by which time the charge had increased to manslaughter. A police officer said he had seen Formby being held up by two men earlier in the evening, but didn't realise he had a car. The officer who arrested him described him as unsteady on his feet, but the defence solicitor put this down to the shock of the accident.


On 30th October Formby appeared at the assizes, where he was defended by Mr Edward Hemmerde, the prosecutor in the infamous Wallace case thirteen years earlier. The police doctor stated that although not drunk at midnight, Formby would certainly have been incapable of driving at the time of the accident. In giving his own evidence, Formby claimed that he had only drank two and a half pints of beer and that he was swerving as he was trying to fix a mat and then saw dog. Nobody else was able to say they had seen a dog, even though the incident happened in clear daylight.

Formby's friends denied helping him to his car on the night of the crash and he was given an exemplary character reference by a colonel for the Home Guard, with whom he served as a caterer for three years. After the jury returned a verdict of guilty Mr Justice Stable sentenced him to nine months imprisonment.




Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Peacemaker Killed By Fighting Woman's Son

A man who intervened in a fight between two women was kicked to death by the teenage son of one of them.

On Monday 19th September 1864 John O'Neill, a thirty seven year old cattle driver returned to his home in a court at Bull Entry, off Scotland Road. Witnesses said he was in an intoxicated state but he was able enough to try and calm down two women who were fighting outside his home.

One of the women lived in the court but the other, Mrs Nolan lived in nearby Ennerdale Street and O'Neill told her to go home, putting his arm on her shoulder to escort her there. A scuffle broke out between the two and they fell to the ground. Mrs Nolan's fourteen year old son saw what was going on and kicked O'Neill in the neck, close to the ear. He then picked his mother up and took her home.

A few moments later O'Neill was sat up but then fell down immediately, sighed a few times and died. A postmortem revealed that there was a contusion under the skin by the ear, at the same place where he had been kicked. There was also extravasated blood at the base of the brain, which was considered to have been caused by external violence.


When the youth was told that O'Neill had died he replied 'How could I kill him with these', pointing to his laced up boots. He then disappeared and an inquest was held two days later in his absence before the Deputy Coroner Mr John Wybergh. Mrs Nolan was present and Wybergh showed some sympathy in his summing up, saying 'No doubt seeing his mother on the ground and not knowing the cause he felt bound to assist her.'

The coroner's jury found Nolan guilty of manslaughter but added there were extenuating circumstances. The Deputy Coroner then said that he hoped the boy could be found and that he could offer bail. He did not have the same sympathy for Mrs Nolan though, telling her that her conduct had been reprehensible and that if it had not been for her drunkenness O'Neill would be alive and her son wouldn't be facing trial at the next assizes.

Nolan remained at large for a week, having made his way to Ormskirk where he stayed with relatives. he surrendered himself to Wybergh on 27th September and was granted bail at £20. The following March he appeared at the assizes,where Mr Justice Mellor sentenced him to four months imprisonment with hard labour.





Monday, 22 February 2016

Two Days Jail For Baby Boot Killer

A man who threw a boot at his wife but instead killed a baby was sentenced to just forty eight hours behind bars.

On 10th October 1864 at around 5pm Joseph Whittle finished work as a baker and went to his Duncan Street home, expecting his wife to have his tea ready for him. She wasn't home and when she did return drunk, she refused his request for food and shouted what the Liverpool Mail described as 'filthy and abusive language' back. 

In anger Whittle took off his boot and threw it at his wife, who ducked out of the way. At exactly the same time Mrs Hanson, who also lived in the house, came into the room carrying her six week old son John. The boot struck the baby on the head and he was taken to the South Dispensary where some medicine was given.

Two days later John died, a postmortem revealing that there was compression on the brain as a result of external violence. The inquest on 14th October returned a verdict of manslaughter and Whittle was committed for trial, but the Coroner allowed bail on sureties of £40.

Whittle surrendered himself at St George's Hall on 24th October he was found guilty but with a strong recommendation for mercy by the jury. Mr Justice Mellor then sentenced him to imprisonment without hard labour for a period of just two days, allowing him to return to work on the Monday.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Death of an Unknown Hawker

The identity of a man who was robbed and later found dead in a ditch with head injuries was never discovered, while a man charged in relation to his death was acquitted.

On the evening of 24th September 1864 a man carrying a bundle under his arm entered the Eagle & Child public house on the turnpike road in Huyton. A number of carters were presented and he offered combs for sale, three of which were bought. He stayed for three glasses of ale then left and took the road in the direction of Liverpool.

Nobody can be sure what happened as the man walked along the road, but at 630pm he called at the home of Catherine Ashton and asked if she had seen any boys wearing white smocks, as he had been robbed of twelve shillings. A passing girl named Jane Bulfield said she knew they were two brothers, but refused to give him their names even when offered half a guinea, a handsome sum back then.

Half an hour the man was seen being chased by a man named Thomas Roughsedge  near the Farmers Arms. When Roughsedge caught him he struck him and the man fell down, staying on the ground as his attacker made off. At 8pm police arrived and found that the man was dead, but Roughsedge, a farm labourer, was not apprehended until the Monday night at Horn Smithies off Stockbridge Lane.

At the inquest at the Knotty Ash hotel a lady named Ellen Woods said she saw Roughsedge quarreling with a man who had a bundle under his arm and both then separately made off towards Liverpool. She didn't see any blows traded, but did see the unknown man make offensive gestures. Ralph Elsby, who had seen Roughsedge strike the man near the Farmers Arms, deposed as to what he had seen. 


In summing up the coroner Mr Driffield said provocation hadn't been proven but neither could it be certain that Roughsedge intended to cause serious harm. As such, he suggested that the jury should instead consider a manslaughter verdict, which they did. Roughsedge was formally charged and appeared at the magistrates for committal, where he was granted bail.

The following March Roughsedge, described by the Liverpool Mail as 'a respectable looking aged man' appeared at the Liverpool assizes. He acknowledged that he 'slapped' the deceased, whose identity still hadn't been established, but that it was down to insulting remarks being made. 

Dr Glazebrook of West Derby, who had carried out the post mortem, described the dead man's brain as in a diseased state though intemperance and said that excitement other than the blow may have caused death. Given this evidence, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty and Roughsedge was freed.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Spurned Man Cleared of Killer Punch

A man taunted by a navy cadet who was dating his ex girlfriend killed him with a single punch but was acquitted at his trial.

In March 1940 Phyllis Pape broke off a four year courtship with George Vincent, a twenty four year old painter. They both lived in Gladstone Road in Seaforth and soon afterwards Phyllis began seeing Thomas Griffiths, a naval cadet from Great Crosby.

On the evening of 25th May that year Thomas and Phyllis went to the pictures and afterwards they were both talking outside of Phyllis's home when Vincent walked past. When Thomas followed Vincent and taunted him, it was a step too far and he was punched in the face and fell backwards, hitting his head on the kerb. His skull was fractured and the following evening he died in Bootle Hospital of a brain hemorrhage.

Vincent was arrested and charged with manslaughter and was tried at the Manchester Assizes on 8th July. In opening the case the prosecution acknowledged that Vincent had lost his temper and struck a sudden blow on impulse, and had no intention to kill. All that Phyllis was able to say was she saw Thomas go after Vincent and then heard a thud and when she ran down the road her new boyfriend was lying on the ground. 

Vincent then went in the witness box to give his version of events, expressing great remorse for what had happened. He told the court that he had been told by a friend that Thomas had been boasting about taking Phyllis from him. When Thomas refused to admit what had been going on, Vincent struck him. He then said 'when he fell backwards to the road and stayed there I was flabbergasted and called his name.'

The defence counsel said that his client had put himself in the dock to describe what happened as there was no direct witness and he was being truthful. The judge agreed in his summing up and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty without leaving their box. The judge then commented 'I agree with you and am very glad' before praising Vincent for his honesty and saying he was free to leave.   

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Dead Woman's Improper Husband Set Free

Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him, an unfaithful husband accused of killing his wife in Victorian Liverpool did not even have to stand trial.

On Saturday 30th March 1861 two women who lodged in Portland Place off Christian Street went out to the market and returned home in an intoxicated state at around 11pm. One of them, Ann Sheridan, went to bed leaving her husband John sat up drinking with the other, Mary Redman.


At around midnight Ann was woken by another resident, who told her that her husband and Redman were in an 'improper position' in a yard. Ann ran screaming into the street and confronted Sheridan, calling him what the Liverpool Mercury described as 'some of the most disgusting epithets' and tearing his waistcoat open.

Sheridan dragged his wife inside and there were no witnesses as to what happened immediately after this. A few minutes later Redman tried to sneak back in, but was struck by Ann, who then threw mugs at her. Redman ran into the street chased by Ann, who fell over and cut her head, leading to Sheridan lifting her up and laying her down on a sofa in the parlour. The couple were heard arguing throughout the night and on the Sunday afternoon Ann complained of soreness in the head. At around 7pm she became insensible and died the following morning at 9am.

A post mortem revealed that Ann had been a fine and healthy woman, but that death was caused by congestion in the brain as a result of violence. Although the only visible mark was a cut eye, there were twelve bruises on the scalp hidden by her hair.

An inquest was held on 4th April, at which Redman said she had not seen Sheridan hit Ann but did witness him hold her down on a chair to keep her quiet. Mary Southwell, another lodger told how she had heard a thud followed by Ann screaming. A policeman who was passing at 2am heard a thumping sound and a male voice from inside the property shout 'I will kill you before morning'. However as so often happened in those times, he did not intervene in a domestic incident between man and wife.

Sheridan's solicitor had argued that Ann's death was caused either as a result of the fall or by violence from someone else. After the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter the Coroner issued a warrant committing Sheridan to the assizes for trial. Despite the seriousness of the charge though Sheridan was granted bail as he held a respectable position as a bailiff for the county court. 

Whether it be the fact that there was no eye witness evidence to who caused the violence, or down to Sheridan's job as a bailiff, he had an amazing let off when he presented himself to the South Lancashire Assizes in St George's Hall on 12th August. The Grand Jury, which consisted of local landed gentry and decided whether cases should be proceeded with, decided that he had no case to answer and threw out the charge without it even going to trial.  




Bus Driver Jailed After Death Crash

A horrific crash between a bus and a van in Bootle left two people dead and both drivers being arrested, with one of them being sent to prison for three months. 

On 13th August 1942 at 730pm a Ribble bus and white can collided at the junction of Stanley Road and Merton Road. The impact was so great that the coach of the van was detached from the chassis and flung nearly a hundred feet down the road. 

Two people who worked for the Ministry of Labour and were passengers in the van were killed, one having been thrown from it and another crushed by the impact of hitting the ground. They were nineteen year old James Gray from Wallasey and James Cullen from Bidston.

A third passenger from the van only had minor injuries and was discharged from hospital that evening but the driver, Raymond Whalley, remained in hospital. The traffic lights had been taken out of service due to a request from the government to economise on electrical consumption. However eye witnesses said that both vehicles had been travelling at speed and neither appeared to be ready to slow down, the bus having gone straight past a bus stop. 

Both drivers were initially charged with manslaughter, with Whalley, being arrested on discharge from hospital. He claimed that he was driving slowly at the crossing and only accelerated to twenty five miles an hour in an attempt to avoid a collision. 

At a committal hearing on 19th October the case against Whalley was dismissed by the magistrates. Thomas O'Loughlin, the thirty five year old driver of the bus, was committed for trial and he was allowed bail. 

At the Manchester assizes on 9th December O'Loughlin, of Thomson Road in Seaforth, was found not guilty of manslaughter but convicted instead of dangerous driving. Mr Justice Stable jailed him for three months and told him that on account of his previous good record he would not take away his driving licence. He then commented that 'Neither the number of road casualties nor warnings have created that sense of responsibility that should be present in the mind of drivers and especially those of public vehicles.'

Friday, 12 February 2016

Killing of a War Reserve Constable

A war reserve police constable who was punched by a man he confronted over causing a bus to brake sharply died from his injuries.

On the morning of 31st January 1942 Joseph Pickering boarded a bus on Linacre Road to take him to Seaforth railway station where he was to report for duty. Just after he boarded the bus pulled up sharply and passengers were stunned to see a man stood in the middle of the road with his hands in his pockets, staring straight ahead.

Linacre Road in the 1940s (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
Pickering got off to see what the man was doing and when he said it was a foolish thing to do was punched in the face. Another passing constable named Johnson saw what was happening and apprehended the man, who turned out to be a twenty seven year old soldier named Edwin Coleby, who was on leave.

The two constables were escorting Coleby to Seaforth police station when Pickering suddenly collapsed. Coleby was initially shocked by this and took off his coat to lay under the injured man's head. However when Johnson began to carry out artificial resuscitation, Coleby realised the seriousness of the situation and took his coat back and ran off.

Pickering was dead on arrival at hospital but it was forty eight hours before Coleby was located at his home in Siddon Street. Initially he denied all knowledge and then admitted throwing a punch, but claimed the fall was a result of Pickering being hit by a bottle.

After being remanded by the magistrates, medical inquiries established that fifty four year old Pickering had a heart condition that accelerated his death. It led to Coleby being committed for trial only on the charge of manslaughter and he appeared at Manchester Assizes on 27th February. It was not the first time he had been in trouble with the law, having a previous conviction for assaulting the police and been court martialed for hitting an army sergeant.  

After being found guilty Coleby mitigated that he had thought Pickering was a ticket inspector not a constable. He was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, Mr Justice Stable saying that his violence had denied somebody leading a 'useful life.'

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Baby Boy Drowned in Park Pond

A tragic case in Bootle in 1944 saw a happily married wife and mother drown her baby boy in a Bootle park.

On Tuesday 7th November that year 42 year old mother of five Catherine McCrave walked into an undertakers in Marsh Lane and stunned staff with her request. She asked the man on reception if someone could get her baby from the pond in North Park and put it in a little coffin to bury.


Catherine, who was said to be wild eyed and glaring, was sent to a clergyman while the police were called. They drained the pond and found the body of her ten week old son James. When interviewed by detectives, Catherine said that on the previous Saturday evening she had a row with her husband and taken a tram from her home at 56 Wilbraham Street, Everton to Bootle. She then claimed that she had given a boy ten shillings and sixpence to throw the baby into the pond and walked away, hearing a splash. Despite extensive police enquiries, they were unable to find any trace of this boy's existence.

At the committal hearing on 23rd November a doctor who had treated for Catherine around the time of the birth when she was suffering from thrombosis phlebitis said that this would not have effected the state of mind. The doctor from Strangeways gaol though said that when he examined Catherine she was garulous, agitated and depressed. Under cross examination this doctor stated that her mind was disturbed and she had never recovered from the effects of the birth.

Catherine's nineteen year old daughter Kathleen told the court that her mother had been poorly when she first came home from hospital and had wanted to have the baby adopted. This was the explanation given when Kathleen noticed the baby was missing from his cot on 4th November, with her mother responding that he was now in safe hands. Kathleen described the family, whose eldest son was abroad with the forces, as very happy but that Catherine had been changed by the birth, becoming more irritable and 'acting queer'.

After hearing the evidence the examining magistrate reduced the charge to infanticide and Catherine was committed to the Liverpool assizes for trial. On 30th January 1945 Catherine pleaded guilty to infanticide. A report from the prison doctor was then read out, which stated that Catherine had been suffering from hallucinations and heard imaginary voices and seen imaginary people. Taking this into account the Lord Chief Justice sentenced her to a nominal three months imprisonment. Saying to her 'You must not think I am punishing you' he then expressed a wish that Catherine could return home and resume the happy family life she had enjoyed before the birth. This however, could only take place after she had received a period of institutionalised treatment. 

Monday, 8 February 2016

Wife Hammered to Death

A man who battered his wife to death the morning after enjoying a game of snooker was found to be insane and the time of the killing.

At 715am on the morning of Friday 26th May Harold Wood, a 39 year old foreman painter, walked into Speke police station and calmly told the officer at the front desk that he had just killed his wife with a hammer. Asked if he was sure of what he had just said Wood replied 'Yes I waited until she was dead before I came to you.'

An officer accompanied Wood to his home in Bray Road where the battered body of 35 year old Elsie lay in the bedroom. Wood then picked up a hammer and handed it to the officer, who placed him under arrest. When asked why he had done it Wood said 'I dont know, something came over me, we had no quarrel, she was a good wife.'

Wood appeared at the police court that morning where he was remanded in custody for a week. The following day the inquest was opened and adjourned, the only evidence being heard from a doctor who carried out the post mortem, who said that the injuries could not have been self inflicted.

On 5th June, the day before the Normandy Landings, Wood was committed for trial at the next Liverpool assizes. One of his friends, George Norwood, told the court that prior to going to the police station that fateful morning Wood had called to his Ramsbrook Close home and said to him 'I have killed the missus, I am going to the police station. I don't suppose I will see you anymore, you have been a pal.' Just the previous evening the two men had enjoyed a game of snooker together and Wood appeared normal. However Norwood told the court that he had been worried about his work of late.

Wood appeared before Mr Justice Croom-Johnson just nine days later, where he was found to be unfit to plead. James Murdoch, the senior medical officer from Walton gaol told the court that Wood was unfit to instruct counsel, make a defence or follow trial proceedings. Investigations had shown that there was a history of insanity in his family and that he had been depressed for some time and contemplating suicide. The judge then ordered that Wood be detained at His Majesty's pleasure.



Sunday, 7 February 2016

A Tugboat Mystery

During the Second World War a man was found battered to death on a tugboat in the River Mersey and his killer was never caught.

On the morning of 22nd April 1944 crew members boarded a tug that was docked and were horrified to find the body of the firewatcher, George Parker. The 65 year old from Melville Place in Edge Hill was still in his bunk and his face had been battered beyond recognition. There was no sign of any murder weapon.

Police struggled to find a motive for the crime and there seemed to be no signs of a struggle. His landlady though was able to state that he was in possession of a torn one pound note when he went out to work on the Friday night and this was unaccounted for. This led to police appealing to anybody who may have received this in payment to contact them as a matter of urgency.

Although many people who had come across a torn pound note, worth about £40 today, came forward to give statements, none of them led to the killer. At the inquest on 10th May Parker's landlady described him as 'a man of violent temper and addicted to drink.' A detective inspector said that police inquiries had been extensive but not provided a solution and the jury returned a verdict of 'murder against some person or persons unknown.' Police failed to find either a motive or the killer.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Liverpool Soldier Kills Officer With Shovel

A Liverpool soldier who took a dislike to one of his officers killed him with a shovel, leading to him being sentenced to death but later reprieved.

On 5th September 1941 Thomas Leatherbarrow, a 29 year old trooper based at Kirbymoorside in North Yorkshire, was in the mess which was under the charge of Corporal Cyril Johnson. When Leatherbarrow replied that he was not on duty when asked Johnson was ordered out of the mess, leading to him going for a drink with three other soldiers at a nearby hotel.

Kirkbymoorside by Benjamin WW Hughes
All four spoke badly about Johnson, leading to Leatherbarrow asking one to accompany him to the mess and beat him up, a request that was declined. When they returned to the camp at 1030pm Leatherbarrow then began loading his rifle but it was taken off him by one of the others. Having already drank four pints of beer and three shots of rum, Leatherbarrow then started drinking sherry and offered it around, but the other soldiers opted to go to bed.

About midnight a sergeant was woken by the sound of bangs and running water from Johnson's room. This turned out to be Leatherbarrow washing his clothes to get rid of  the blood. He then quickly roused one of his friends pleading for help, saying that he had hit Johnson with a shovel and that the corporal was dead. Johnson was in fact just unconscious and after being taken to hospital where x-rays showed a fractured skull, he made some progress to recovery and came round 48 hours later.

A few weeks later after being taken to another hospital Johnson developed meningitis and died on 5th October. Leatherbarrow, a married father of three whose home was at Longfield Road in Litherland, claimed to have no recollection of the night and had no idea why he was in the guard room when he woke up the morning after.

On 11th December Leatherbarrow appeared at the Leeds assizes, where his defence counsel suggested he was too drunk to form an opinion and that manslaughter would be a more appropriate charge. The judge appeared to back this in summing up, but the jury found him guilty of murder with a strong recommendation for mercy. Leatherbarrow was sentenced to death in the usual fashion, but without even having to appeal the Home Secretary acted upon the recommendation and commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.