In 1885 a Norwegian lodging house keeper was beaten to death by in an attack by three men in Toxteth.
Sever Olaf Janssen was the forty year old keeper of a lodging house in Langley Street, which he ran with his wife. In the early hours of 2nd January that year a female resident returned with a male named John Taggart but Janssen refused to let him in, leading to the two men scuffling in the street.
Taggart left but soon returned with two other males and punched Janssen to the ground. One of his companions, Arthur Kavanagh, then began to beat Janssen about the head and body with a belt, while the other James McNamara threw a bottle. Some of Janssen's lodgers tried to help him but were injured themselves and their screams drew the attention of two policemen in Mill Street. They quickly ran to the scene, where an insensible Janssen was being carried back into the house.
An ambulance took Janssen to the Southern Hospital but despite the best efforts of Dr Dixon he died soon after admission. The two police officers then went to Prince William Street and arrested twenty three year old Taggart, forty year old Kavanagh and twenty three year old McNamara, who was Kavanagh's stepson. Taggart claimed that he had been assaulted by Janssen, while the other two denied any knowledge of the matter whatsoever.
On 3rd January the three men appeared at the police court in Dale Street where Ruth Clarke, who had taken Taggart back to the house in the first place, said that Kavanagh and McNamara were the main aggressors in the case. Mary Jones, another lodger of the house which was described by the Liverpool Mercury as 'one of ill repute', claimed that in the assault Kavanagh used a belt and Taggart a bottle, while McNamara did nothing. The stipendiary magistrate Mr Raffles then remanded all three prisoners for a week pending the outcome of the inquest.
The inquest took place on 6th January before Mr Aspinall at the police buildings in Dale Street. The first witness was Janssen's wife Amelia. She explained that he was previously a seaman but they had opened the lodging house together after getting married early in 1884. She acknowledged that it was of 'ill repute' and stated that they had four lodgers. In her opinion, the disagreement was as a result of an incident earlier in the day when her husband refused to loan some beer to Kavanagh, himself a lodging house keeper.
Ruth Clarke and Mary Jones told the coroner that Janssen did nothing to provoke the attack and said that he was sober. Clarke described how in the previous fortnight Janssen had only drank on Christmas Day and how he begged for mercy during the attack given he was outnumbered. Two other lodgers of the house, Margaret Brown and Elizabeth Ward, said they saw an assault on Janssen but could not identify the assailants.
Dr Knight, who carried out the postmortem, said that the cause of death was concussion of the brain. He stated that the internal organs were healthy and that there was no trace of alcohol in the body. However solicitor Mr Madden, representing the three accused, then called another medical expert, Dr Whitford. He was of the opinion that Janssen's main blood vessel from the heart was diseased due to seven or eight years of heavy drinking and that death was a result of shock rather than the assault itself. Questioned by the coroner, Dr Whitford admitted that he would not know what to put on the death certificate if he had been required to write it.
After a deliberation lasting ninety minutes, the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against all three prisoners. They were committed for trial at the next assizes and Janssen was interred in a public grave at Toxteth Park cemetery three days later.
On 9th February the three men appeared before Mr Justice Day charged with murder. Medical opinion was again divided, with Dr Whitford believing none of the wounds could have resulted in death, but Dr Dixon and Dr Knight saying that the blows to the head were the direct cause. For Kavanagh, Father Goethals from St Patrick's Church said he had known him for twenty years and that he was of good character.
The jury found the prisoners guilty of manslaughter leading to Justice Day describing the attack as a 'brutal and cowardly outrage.' However, he acknowledged that the defendants could not have foreseen that death would result and as such sentenced them to twenty one months imprisonment with hard labour.