Saturday 5 August 2023

A Terrible Tragedy In Everton

In 1898 an Everton man killed two of his children, attempted to kill another child and his wife then tried to commit suicide. He was found guilty but insane.

On the morning of 10th June that year in Village Grove, 33 year old refuse destructor Francis Murphy breakfasted with his wife Gertrude, telling her that he felt very low due to a bout of bronchitis. He refused to see a doctor and as she was preparing breakfast for their two daughters who were still in bed, he tied a cord around their two month old baby Bernard's neck. 

When challenged over what he was doing, Francis replied "That is finished, now for you". He then ran at Gertrude and cut her throat. Gertrude managed to grab the baby and run out of the house to a neighbouring property, where the cord was untied. The neighbour then came into the house and found the two daughters, six-year-old Annie and three-year-old Ellen, dead in their beds. Francis was sat in the water closet with a wound to his throat. 

Francis's domestic arrangements were complicated by Victorian standards. He had married in 1884 but his wife committed bigamy while he was away in America. He then had two daughters with another woman, who subsequently died. He married Gertrude in January 1898 when she was already pregnant with Bernard. 

At his trial on 1st August, it was acknowledged that Francis had been a loving husband and father, but for three weeks before the tragedy he had been in bad health. He had said to Gertrude that if he were to die they must die with him. Consideration was given to the suddenness of the violence, the fact as an eighteen year old Francis had suffered a skull fracture in an accident and that for a few weeks, he had been complaining of dizziness. There was also a history of insanity in his family and after hearing evidence from doctors at Walton gaol and the Rainhill asylum, a verdict of guilty but insane was returned. Mr Justice Ridley then ordered that Francis be detained as a criminal lunatic. 

Tuesday 27 December 2022

Blades Knifed to Death

A man with the surname of Blades was stabbed to death in a fight in 1917. His killer was guilty of manslaughter and gaoled for just four months.

On the evening of  3rd September that year Richard Griffiths, a West Indian seaman and Alfred Blades, a second engineer on a dock dredger, began quarrelling over game of dice in a pub in Stanhope Street. They went outside to fight and as Blades got the upper hand, Griffiths pulled out a knife with the aim of fending him off. 

Instead of stabbing Blades in the hand as intended, the knife punctured the stomach and he died soon afterwards at the Southern Hospital in Caryl Street (pictured). Griffiths, who lodged in Park Lane, immediately confessed to the killing when he was arrested. 

Blades, whose brother also lived in Liverpool and worked as a dock labourer, was buried in a public grave in Allerton Cemetery. An inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder and Griffiths was remanded to await his trial.

At the Liverpool Assizes on 2nd November Griffiths, who was aged twenty, appeared before Justice Sankey. His offer to plead guilty to manslaughter was accepted by Crown prosecutors. In his sentencing remarks the judge said it was not one of the more serious cases of manslaughter, but passed comment on Griffiths's origin by saying "Coloured men must realise they are not at liberty to use knives in this country".

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Homicide Charge in Venezuela

In 1927 a ship's captain from Liverpool spent a horrifying two months in a Venezuelan prison. He had been charged with homicide after his vessel collided with another, leading to the death of a crew member.  

On 7th April that year Percy Brining was in command of the Leyland liner Ninian, which was being escorted by a pilot into the port of Puerta Cabella. The Ninian collided with a smaller mooring boat, injuring three men. Brining was taken into custody with the matter initially expected to be settled by way of compensation. At first Brining was under house arrest at the residence of the British consul, however he was sent to a common prison five days later when one of the men, who had been struck by a propeller, died.  Although he was provided with furniture by the consulate, the stench was overwhelming and he regularly saw prisoners whipped or dragged along by chains attached to their feet. 

Fifty year old Brining had been with the Leyland Line for twenty four years, thirteen of them as a captain. Working with the Navigators and General Insurance Company, steps were taken to ensure he had the best possible defence. However it was feared he may be on remand for up to five years awaiting trial. Pressure to secure his release on bail was put on the Foreign Office by Liverpool's Lord Mayor Sir Frederick Charles Bowring, while the matter was also raised in the House of Commons. Six weeks after his arrest, his wife was worried sick at her home 14 Harlech Road, Blundellsands, having still not heard any direct news from him.

By the middle of June the Leyland Line's insurers had paid compensation of £240 to the widow of the deceased man. Brining was released back to the British consul's house to remain there until a decision had been made on any charges. Although prosecutors pressed ahead with the homicide case, at the beginning of July a judge did not take long to acquit Brining, allowing him to leave the country. His ordeal was finally over on 2nd August when he left for Europe on a French steamer. Much of the fifteen day voyage was spent receiving treatment for sores which had developed due to lack of clean air or exercise. Two weeks later he had a tearful reunion with his wife in St Nazaire. He told a Liverpool Echo reporter that he daren't use the exercise due to the number of 'cut throats' who walked there. 

On Saturday 20th August Brining finally arrived in Liverpool. His sense of duty meant he reported for work at his employer's James Street offices on the following Monday, where he was promptly given three months holiday to get over his ordeal. The Foreign Office continued to fight on his behalf, believing his ordeal was a dangerous precedent to other mercantile seamen. Two years later he was given £500 in compensation, after funds were received from the Venezuelan government 

Sunday 17 July 2022

Mothers Tears in Dock

A mother who suffered a bout of insanity in 1932 killed her baby daughter by gas poisoning. She was charged with murder but found guilty but insane.

At 10pm on 17th February that year flour mill worker John William Adams, returned to his home in Rectory Street, Toxteth, which was off Beresford Road where Stonegate Drive is now. The house was in darkness but he was not initially concerned, assuming his wife Eliza had taken their seven month old daughter to see relatives.

John waited but after midnight passed he was so worried he forced entry to the house. On doing so he saw his wife's outdoor coat over a chair and the baby's milk bottle on a table. He rushed upstairs and found them both unconscious on the bed. A doctor was called who certified that Dorothy was dead after unsuccessfully trying artificial respiration. 

Eliza had begun to come around and was in a dazed condition, holding her head in her hands and moaning incoherently when police officers from the Essex Street bridewell arrived. A constable searching the bedroom smelt gas on the bedclothes and found a note that said "Dear Bill, please forgive me but this is the only way, Goodbye, Eliza." There was a gas tube in the room connected to a bracket, but no smell of gas in the room itself. Eliza was taken to Smithdown Road hospital for further observation. 

It was nearly a week before 25 year old Eliza was able to be discharged. When interviewed by the police and when told that Dorothy was dead she replied "No, no is my baby dead?" On being charged with murder and attempted suicide she admitted that she had tried to kill herself with coal gas. When Eliza appeared in the police court the Liverpool Echo reported that she was "a pitiful figure who sat with her head bowed and frequently wept silently." She had to be supported by two officers and after being remanded into custody, John was allowed to see her briefly. 

On 7th April Eliza appeared at the assizes. Smartly dressed in green, she was barely audible as she entered a not guilty plea. An aunt who lived next door testified that Eliza had always been a loving mother and that there was a history of insanity in the family. Dr W.A. Davies, assistant medical officer at the hospital said that her confused state on admission was not down to gas poisoning and commented "I believe that at the time she was not responsible for her actions and did not understand their nature." The medical superintendent, Dr Steele, confirmed he had certified her under the Lunacy Act.

After being found guilty but insane the judge ordered that Eliza be confined in  criminal lunatic asylum at His Majesty's pleasure. She had to be assisted to stand up, kept her hands over her eyes and was helped to the cells by two wardresses. Eliza was released from her institution by the end of the decade and was living with John at 5 Beresford Road. 

Friday 22 April 2022

Backside Kick Means Lenient Sentence

When a man was convicted of manslaughter following a fight at Aintree, he was gaoled for just one month as he had only kicked the other party in the backside. 

On 14th November that year two boatmen, James Watkinson and James Aspinall, were engaged in carrying coals between Burscough and Liverpool along the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. At the Anchor Lock in Aintree, they got into a quarrel, which was a result of an old grudge. 

Thirty year old Watkinson punched Aspinall several times in the face and kicked him, causing him to fall own. Aspinall was taken to his home in Burscough on his son's boat, but died the following evening.  

Watkinson appeared at the Liverpool Assizes on 15th December. Medical evidence was heard that Aspinall had died from inflammation of the bowels, however this only 'might' have been caused as a result of the external injuries. 

After the jury found Watkinson guilty of manslaughter, witnesses were allowed to tell the court of him generally having a good tempered disposition.  The judge, Baron Bramwell, sentenced Watkinson to imprisonment with hard labour for just one month. However he warned nobody should be misled by this sentence. The reason for it, he said, was that he was satisfied Watkinson did not intend to kick Aspinall in any 'tender part' but instead give 'a kick of contempt on the buttock'. 

Thursday 21 April 2022

New Born Baby in an Ashpit

A woman was charged with murder after the body of her new born son was found in an ashpit behind the public house where she worked. However she was convicted only of concealment of birth after the prosecution failed to prove the baby had been born alive. 

In the summer of 1858 Maria Smith became a servant for Charles Davies at the Jamaica Vaults, which now stands derelict at 330 Vauxhall Road. She provided a good character reference from her last employer and Charles had no idea that she was in what newspapers described as "the family way".

On the morning of 23rd November, Charles came downstairs and found Maria in a room next to the bar on her hands and knees, wiping away blood. Maria denied she had been abused by anybody and Charles ordered her to fetch Mrs Davies, then go to bed and rest. 

When Charles checked on Maria at 3pm she was no better and Dr Lambier was sent for. After carrying out an examination of her, Maria admitted she had given birth and directed the doctor to an ashpit, where the body of a male baby was found. It was brought into the parlour and laid out, with the doctor noticing there was bruising on the head.

An inquest heard evidence from Dr Lambier, who described the injuries and said  that they were in a location where there had been extravasation from brain. He believed the baby had been born alive. This led to a verdict of wilful murder and Maria's committal to the Assizes for trial. For the time being, she remained under police supervision in the Jamaica, as she was too ill to be removed. 

On 15th December, Maria appeared at St George's Hall before Mr Baron Bramwell. Despite the coroner's verdict, the prosecution could offer no evidence that the baby had been born alive. This meant that 23 year old Maria was relieved to have her plea of guilty to concealment of birth accepted. After what news reports described as "a suitable admonition", she was sentenced to one year's imprisonment. 

Wednesday 20 April 2022

Doctor Guilty of Manslaughter

In 1901 a doctor living in Farnworth Street fought with a man he employed who later died from is injuries. He was found guilty of manslaughter but sentenced leniently.

On Tuesday 3rd December that year, 38 year old John Fleetwood Baines was dismissed from his role as a porter for Dr James William Ayres. The following Friday, he had two pints of beer in a Farnworth Street public house then went to see Ayres demanding money he said he was still owed. The sound of scuffling was heard and Ayres was then seen to put Baines out into the street before punching him, causing him to fall and hit his head on the kerb. Ayres then went back into his house and came back out with a bucket of water, throwing it over Baines and saying "Take that Jack".

Baines was helped up and taken to his sister's house by Richard Kelly, a painter who had been in the pub at the same time, asking for any stale beer that he could mix with varnish. His sister Agnes however didn't seek medical help, thinking his drowsiness over the next couple of days was the result of drink or medication. She did go and see Ayres, who told her he had only thrown water over her brother and he would do the same to her if she didn't go away. It was only when he coughed up blood on the Monday that she called for the parish doctor who immediately sent him to Mill Road Infirmary. Baines died on 15th December, leading to Ayres being charged with manslaughter.

At the Assizes trial the following February, Ayres pleaded not guilty. However Kelly, as well as three others, said they saw the blow being struck. One of these was Annie Nelson, who was on her way to her home in Exley Street, who said the sound of Baines's head hitting the ground made her feel faint. There was laughter when Ann Leghorne, who had been looking out of her window, was challenged by the defence over her angle of sight. She replied that she didn't see what a mangle had to do with it. 

In the closing statements, Ayres's defence counsel suggested that he was being convicted "principally on the evidence of a lot of women who differed in their statements." Baines was dismissed as a habitual drunkard that was barred from some local pubs, who had gone to see Ayres solely to start a row. Any blow, it was contested, was merely struck in self defence. Attention was also drawn to his sister not calling a doctor for four days and it was suggested that the fractured skull could have been a result of Baines falling from the couch on which he had been sleeping.

Summing up, Mr Justice Bucknill said that the key point was whether Ayres struck a blow with the intention of causing harm, or in self defence. He told the jury to disregard the character and drunken habits of Baines and focus solely on the actions and motivation of Ayres. Referring to Baines's sister as neglectful, he also advised the jury that she was not on trial and this had to be taken out of their considerations. 

The jury deliberated for 45 minutes and returned a verdict of 'guilty under great provocation'. In passing a sentence of four months, the judge said he was 'pained beyond expression' to do so to a man of his profession, but there was only one law of the land and it affected all persons alike. Ayres, who had already spent ten weeks in custody, was allowed to see his wife before being taken down to the cells.