Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Cranborne Road Murder

Widowed recluse Beatrice Rimmer was battered to death in her Wavertree home, leading to the execution of two youths in what may be a miscarriage of justice.

On 19th August 1951 Beatrice was seen returning to her house at 7 Cranborne Road after visiting her son in Madryn Street, Dingle. The next day, when her milk remained on her doorstep and the morning paper was left stuck in the letterbox, neighbours became worried. When her son visited that night he saw his mothers body lying in a pool of blood, still clutching the flowers he had given her the previous day.

Detectives arriving on the scene found that entry had been made through a kitchen window. Local gossip suggested that there was a large sum of money in the house and it was summised that having been unable to find the money, the killer(s) opted to force Beatrice to disclose where it was.

A post mortem revealed that 2 weapons had been used and that individually none of the 15 blows would have been fatal. Beatrice appeared to have suffered a slow agonising death by killers trying to extract information, rather than by a homicidal maniac.

A month after the murders an army deserter, George McLaughlin, claimed to have known the murderers from his cell in Walton Gaol. He told how he had met a Manchester man in an all night cafe and agreed to rob a house in Wavertree with him. He was later introduced to another man who would also take part in the robbery. The idea was that Jane Bury, a local waitress would knock on the door to distract Beatrice, allowing the others to enter through the back, ransack the property and run off with what they could. McLaughlin was arrested two days before for his desertion and the robbery went ahead without him. As McLaughlin's aunt lived at 109 Cranborne Road, it may be that he knew that Mrs Rimmer lived alone and supposedly had money and valuables in the house.

When June Bury was questioned, she named the robbers as Alfred Burns and Edward Devlin, aged 21 and 22 and both from Manchester. Head of the investigation, Chief Superintendent Bert Balmer spoke to Burns' girlfriend, Marie Milne ('Chinese Marie'), who claimed that she had initially been asked to act as lookout but later told she wasn't needed. She had When she met the men later, Devlin was agitated and frightened that they may have killed Beatrice. Another man interviewed said that he was asked to take part after McLaughlins arrest, but dropped out after initially agreeing.

With enough evidence to question the suspects, both were arrested in Manchester and brought to Liverpool. Devlin claimed to have been breaking into a warehouse in Manchester with Burns at the time of the murder. Burns did not offer an alibi. They were picked out of an identification parade by McLaughlin, but not by the man they had asked to assist them in the robbery. Forensic tests on bloodstains found on the defendants clothing proved inconclusive, nor were any fingerprints or murder weapons found, meaning only eyewitness evidence was available. The defence case was simple -that nobody had seen the accused enter the house or commit the murder, therefore any prosecution evidence was purely circumstantial.

Burns and Devlin claimed to have been committing a robbery at Sun Blinds Ltd in Manchester at the time and a man convicted of that crime swore on oath that he had been accompanied by them. Both defendants accounts of the robbery were unconvincing and told in no more detail than they could have learned from the newspapers. The Prosecution then told that the Manchester robbery actually happened 24 hours before the Cranborne Road murder, rendering both alibis useless.

After a 10 day trial, the jury took 75 minutes to find the pair guilty of murder, with appeals immediately being launched. A friend of June Bury, Elizabeth Rooke, claimed that her testimony was only made as she was covering up the real killer, her lover Austin O'Toole. However, the Prosecution told how he had been in jail at the time of the killing. June Bury swore that her original statement was true, knowing that she faced a lengthy spell of imprisonment for perjury otherwise.

The appeal was dismissed but the Home Secretary Sir David Maxwell Fyfe ordered an inquiry into the investigation, postponing the execution for one week. The report concluded there were 'no reasonable grounds to suggest that a miscarriage of justice had taken place'.  Pleas to Queen Elizabeth II failed and both were hanged on 25th April 1952. Relatives continued to insist the men were innocent, but two days later a Sunday newspaper claimed that one of them had made a confession shortly before the execution.

However, extensive research over a ten year period by George Skelly has placed considerable doubt on the convictions, especially in light of the quashing of the verdicts of the two men found guilty of the Cameo cinema killings, a case which bore a remarkable similarity to this in the way the convictions were obtained. In February 2013 he published Murderers or Martyrs but the Criminal Cases Review Commission has so far refused to look at it again.


  1. Everbody present at the executions, including thje governor, medical officer and prison officers, signed statements to the effect that neither Devlin or Burns spoke a word before being hanged

  2. Steve, her name was of course was June, not Jane, Bury.
    Devlin and Burns were Not housebreakers. They had never been convicted of such.
    It was her ex-husband who was in prison, not her boyfriend, Austin O'Toole.
    She was threatened by the police that she would be imprisoned for perjury if she told the truth at the Inquiry.

  3. This case was the subject of the BBC series 'Murder, Mystery and My Family' - aired on 27th Feb 2018 - in which a Crown Court Judge, having been presented with new evidence by prosecution and defence barristers, concurred "that there are proper grounds here for re-referring this case to the commission, to evaluate whether a Court of Appeal should be asked to consider the case again".