Friday, 18 November 2016

Murder at Knowsley by a Madman

A former soldier who killed a maid at the Knowsley Hall estate was detained in a lunatic asylum for life.

On the night of Sunday 13th June 1847 a man attended a lodge at the Knowsley Hall estate and knocked an old servant called Mrs Highcock to the ground. A sixteen year old female named Ann Leyland, who lived with her, ran off fearing for her safety but was caught up by the man.

The man, described by grooms who witnessed the attack as 'having a demoniac grin, tore away at Ann's hair with such force that he pulled the scalp from her head. Police were sent for and an unconscious Ann was taken into the hall by the Earl of Derby and a surgeon, Mr Alty, was sent for. On the front lawn her attacker danced about holding the scalp above his head.

Ann was attended to throughout the night but she never came round and died at 8am the following morning. Police were able to restrain the man, who identified himself as James Dwerryhouse, a former soldier with the 67th Regiment of Foot. He had been discharged from the army about ten years earlier and since earned a living as a signalman with the London and North Western Railway Company. 

A police constable sat up with Dwerryhouse all night in a room at the hall. He spent most of it talking about religion and wanting to argue about passages in the bible. When morning broke he said now Ann was a demon and he had to get rid of her. Then when a groom looked into the room to confirm it was Dwerryhouse who attacked Ann, he was told to 'be gone' as he was another of the enemy.

The inquest took place that afternoon at Knowsley Hall before the county coroner John Heyes, where two stable workers confirmed that they had seen Dwerryhouse pull the scalp from Ann. Dwerryhouse's mother said that he was thirty four years old and she had last seen him at 8pm on the night before the murder. He had refused to take some tea and then disappeared, leading to her and his brother reporting this to the police as they feared for his safety. 

The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder and Dweryhouse was conveyed to Kirkdale gaol to await trial at the assizes. The Liverpool Mercury reported a few days later that there was no doubt as to his state f mind and predicted that he would be confined in a lunatic asylum for life.

Concerns were raised about Dwerryhouse having worked on the railways, but his employers were quick to confirm that he had always been of good temperament until an incident at 3pm the day before the murder. Mr Huish from the company wrote a letter to the Mercury which stated 'he has always been temperate, steady and attentive' and that he was always under the surveillance of superiors. However after he was perceived to be of strange appearance by an assistant engineer on that afternoon he was immediately relieved from his duties.  Mr Huish concluded that Dwerryhouse has endured 'the most sudden attack of insanity.'

Dwerrhouse's trial was due to take place in August of that year, but postponed until the next assizes as he was not in a fit state of mind and he remained in custody at Lancaster asylum. At the following assizes in December an affidavit was read out signed by a surgeon, which stated that he was in a state of insanity and that it was likely he could never take trial. This frustrated the judge, Baron Alderson, who was not happy that the Home Secretary could authorise the detention in an asylum without the prisoner having to appear before a jury. He then reluctantly agreed to allow the prosecution to be paid for their costs and commented that 'we are too gingerly in acting about insane people.'

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