Saturday, 26 December 2015

Dead Baby Found in Bundle of Rags

Despite the incredibly suspicious circumstances surrounding the discovery of the body of a newborn baby in 1842, the mother was convicted only of concealment of birth.

On Tuesday 7th June a servant named Mary Bruce failed to show for work in Sandon Street, the message being sent by her parents that she was being asked to perform duties that she wasn't fit for. When further enquiries were made by the Mary Cole, the mistress of the house, she established that a live in servant named Elizabeth Russell had undergone 'something different to the usual course of nature.'

Two days later Agnes Harding, a nurse to Miss Cole's family, was sent for to examine Elizabeth, who admitted she had been in the family way for seven months and had put the body of  a baby boy in the privy. A police constable recovered the body and a doctor who carried out a post mortem asked for two other surgeons to be present. They concluded that the pregnancy had gone its full term and that the baby had been born alive due to the lungs having absorbed air. The only abnormalities were injuries to the head, which appeared to have been caused by a sharp instrument.

Elizabeth was taken to the Bridewell where she shared a cell with a woman called Ann Smith who had been arrested for a breach of the peace. When asked by Ann why she was there, Elizabeth replied that it was in relation to a child and she had panicked when the baby didn't cry, tying a handkerchief around the neck. Her intention, she said, was to remove the baby from the privy and go to Wales.

At the inquest which was held before Mr P F Curry on 13th June the doctors, Ann and Agnes gave their evidence along with young Mary Bruce, who was only eleven years old. She said that on the day in question, she saw an infant sized bundle of rags being placed in the privy by Elizabeth, who said they had been left by some workmen. Mary went on to say she asked Elizabeth if she could have the rags, but this request was refused on the grounds they were dirty.

In summing up, Mr Curry praised the advances in anatomical science and stated that this was one of the clearest cases that had ever come before him, leading to the jury returning a verdict of wilful murder and Elizabeth being committed for trial and remanded at Kirkdale gaol.

At the assizes on 8th August Elizabeth's counsel suggested that due to Mary Bruce's young age and Ann Smith's bad character they were not reliable witnesses. They then called into question the medical evidence, saying it was possible any head injuries could have been caused when the child was laid down, Elizabeth believing it to be already dead. 

The trial judge told the jury that they had to take into account the state of mind the parties were in at the time of the events. After an hours deliberation, Elizabeth was acquitted of murder but found guilty of concealment of birth. She was then sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

The Thirteen Year Old Prostitute Killer

A teenager who retaliated against a prostitute who had hit him by stabbing her in the neck was found guilty of manslaughter and given an extremely lenient sentence by the judge.

On the evening of Thursday 28th April 1842 Elizabeth Smith, who was said to run a 'house of ill fame' in a court off Preston Street, went out to purchase a candle. She was abused on the street by one of the local ladies of the night, 25 year old Eliza May.

Mrs Smith's thirteen year old son William was in the street making a toy boat and persuaded his mother to return inside and said that he would go for the candle. However May blocked his way and began beating him about the head. This led to him retaliating by stabbing her in the neck with a small knife that he had been using.

The incident was seen by a passing surgeon, Dr Williams and he took May to the druggists in Whitechapel. Due to the severity of the bleeding, a car was called to take her to the Infirmary but she was dead on arrival. A post mortem found that the jugular vein had been severed. Smith had initially absconded but was caught by police the following day.

On Saturday 30th April an inquest took place before the Borough Coroner Mr P F Curry and returned a verdict of manslaughter. Smith was committed to the assizes for a trial which took place on 6th August. The jury found him guilty but recommended mercy on account of his 'extreme youth' and the judge, saying that their had been provocation, imposed a sentence of just one weeks imprisonment.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Stool Killing

A man who battered his wife to death with a stool narrowly avoided a murder convicttion and was instead found guilty of manslaughter and transported for life.

On 15th June 1846 a labourer called Charles Lear was sat on the steps of his home in Gore Street, Toxteth Park, when he saw a mug thrown onto the street from a house nearby. Kate Wignall who lived there came to the door but was pulled back in by her husband Richard who then shut it.

Five minutes later Kate opened the door again but this time she was on her knees and Richard was beating her about the head with a stool. She then fell down and Richard kicked her in the ribs before raising his cap above his head and shouting 'That is the way to do business.' He then went to his father's house nearby while other neighbours, disturbed by the commotion, rushed to the aid of Kate who was bleeding heavily from facial wounds.

A police inspector named Samuel Maddox arrived shortly afterwards, only to find that Kate had died from her injuries after being taken down into the cellar. Richard Wignall had tried to escape but was restrained by a joiner named William Ellis, who had heard the cries of 'murder' but at first taken no notice as he felt it was a generally disturbed neighbourhood. Ellis handed Wignall over to Inspector Maddox, who also seized the stool which had been used as a weapon.

Wignall was taken to the Bridewell where he said an argument broke out over him forgetting to repair some panes of glass. A post mortem was carried out on Kate's body and found that all the organs were healthy. There was bruising in various places, while the cause of death was put down to effusion on the brain.

A coroner's inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder and Wignall was remanded in Kirkdale gaol pending his committal to the assizes. All he had to say was that he was drunk at the time and his wife was not a sober woman.

Wignall appeared before Mr Justice Wightman on 28th August. Due to the fact an argument had occurred the jury found him guilty of manslaughter although added that it was 'one of the most aggravated cases on record.' In addressing Wignall before sentence the judge told him it was an awful crime that had deprived a mother of her son and a child of both parents. He then ordered that Wignall be transported for life and he landed at Tasmania early the following year.