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. 





Sunday, 6 March 2022

Friday 13th Boarding House Drama

It was a bad Friday 13th for two Scandinavian sailors in 1929 when they fought, leading to the death of one and the other being charged with manslaughter.  

On Friday 13th September that year, fifty year old Norwegian Alfred Nyberg, a fireman on board an Elder Dempster liner, arrived in Liverpool and took lodgings in Upper Pitt Street. That night there was a party in the house, at which gramophone records were played along with singing. 

Most of those present went to bed at 2am but Nyberg then got into an argument with thirty year old Swedish fireman Perly Petersen, who had been in Liverpool for a week. Petersen struck Nyberg who fell, cutting his head. Other boarders rushed Nyberg to the Southern Hospital but he was pronounced dead on arrival. Petersen found a policeman in Great George Square and told the office he had acted in self defence.

When he appeared before magistrates the following morning charged with manslaughter, Petersen was granted bail on sureties of £25. A week later, Petersen was back before the court for a committal hearing. He said that he had objected to Nyberg removing food from the pantry without permission and a quarrel ensued, during which the Norwegian had scratched his face. With no witnesses to the incident, and it being acknowledged Nyberg was in poor health anyway, it was determined there was no case to answer. Petersen sobbed bitterly as he was released from the dock to waiting friends.  



Saturday, 26 February 2022

A Warning to Drunkards

When a man killed his brother with an iron scraper following a drunken argument, he was found guilty of manslaugther. Despite his remorse the judge showed no leniency and sentenced him to fifteen years in gaol. 

On 9th September that year two brothers who worked as ship scrapers, John and William Birmingham, argued over money at the court where they both lived in Chadwick Street, Vauxhall. They had both been drinking and William claimed that John owed him a small sum, but he denied all knowledge of it. 

They exchanged blows but 36 year old John then went inside and came back out with an iron scraper. A neighbour wrestled it from him John as he tried to strike William but he went back in and found another one. This time John laid a violent blow just above William's right eye and he fell down immediately. He was rushed to hospital and John was arrested and charge with assault.

The following morning at the police court John was remanded for a week. He said to the bench "I am sorry it was all over half a crown". William's skull had been fractured and he lingered in the Northern Hospital until 17th September when he passed away, aged 26. He was buried in a paupers grave at Ford Cemetery.

John was further remanded pending the inquest, responding with "I'd as soon see myself dead as my brother." Before the coroner Clarke Aspinall, medical evidence was heard that death was directly as a result of he injury inflicted and a verdict of wilful murder was returned. 

When John was brought back to court for  committal hearing, he cried throughout the proceedings. William's widow Sarah refused to testify against John, saying they had always been the best of friends and this was the first time they had ever fought. In committing John to the Assizes, the Stipendiary Magistrate Mr Raffles said "This is a very lamentable affair that would have never occurred but for that cursed drink which brought ruin and misery to thousands."

At the assizes on 21st December prosecutors described it as a painful case. It was accepted that John expressed immediate regret for what happened and that he had accompanied his brother to hospital, making no attempt to escape. The jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter. 

In being asked if he had anything to say before sentencing, John cried bitterly and replied that he was very sorry it happened. The judge was having no sympathy however. Describing it as a most aggravated case, Sir George Hayes said he had to send a warning to drunkards and imposed a sentence of fifteen years imprisonment. John was in total shock as he was removed from the dock.

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Killing Over a Shilling

In 1868 a man borrowed 4d to make a part payment of a shilling debt he owed to a friend. When challenged over the reason he borrowed the money, he stabbed his friend to death and was gaoled for twelve years after being found guilty of manslaughter. 

At 5.45pm on Tuesday 27th October that year three friends - Edward Donovan, Richard Corbitt and  William Braithwaite, were walking down London Road when a complete stranger brushed against Braithwaite, much to his annoyance. Donovan was amused by this and some words were exchanged between them, but they soon made up and all three went to Corbitt's house in Thurlow Street, off Richmond Row. 

On arrival, Braithwaite asked to borrow 4d from Corbitt. Donovan immediately asked for that money as part payment of a shilling debt he was owed by Braithwaite, who complied. An argument then broke out in the back yard between Corbitt and Braithwaite, who was now quite drunk. This led to Donovan fetching Corbitt's wife to call her husband away. He then went inside to her, but as Braithwaite left the house he stabbed Donovan just below the breast. 

Donovan ran a few yards before falling down. Two police officers who were in Christian Street were summonsed to the scene and they found him in a dying state. The 22 year old was pronounced dead by a doctor who arrived shortly afterwards. On being told that Braithwaite lived in Portland Street, two officers went there and took him into custody. Braithwaite had by then sobered up a little but replied that he knew nothing about any death.

At the inquest Corbitt was in the unenviable position of giving evidence that would incriminate one of his friends in the death of another. He said that they had spent the afternoon drinking and Brathwaite was in a far worse state than Donovan. Describing the incident when a man brushed against Braithwaite, he told the coroner that his friend had shouted after the man and Donovan was amused at this calling him a 'drunken tailor'. Corbitt had told Braithwaite it was wrong to borrow money from him to pay back Donovan, leading to him becoming more agitated. 

Of the fatal blow, Corbitt admitted seeing Braithwaite strike Donovan but did not know he used a weapon. He did recall however that whilst they were out drinking, Brathwaite had used a small knife to cut some cheese. Corbitt's wife Martha gave more damning evidence, saying she had seen Braithwaite open a knife just before Donovan was struck. A youth named John Davies, who was walking past and knew none of the men, said he saw Brathwaite rush at Donovan without provocation. The doctor who carried out the post mortem reported that Donovan's organs were healthy and the blow was made with such violent force that the knife had passed through an eighth inch of bone before cutting the vein.

Braithwaite, a 24 year old tailor, appeared at the Liverpool Assizes on 21st December. The only decision for the jury to make was whether it was a case of murder or manslaughter. Due to the killing having taken place in a moment of passion, he was found guilty of the lesser charge. However Justice Hayes referred to it as a most aggravated case, especially in respect of Braithwaite opening the knife. Commenting that drunkenness was no excuse, he imposed a sentence of twelve years penal servitude.