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. 

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