Sunday, 6 August 2017

Prison Killer Reprieved

A prisoner who killed a fellow inmate with an iron bar at Walton gaol in 1948 was sentenced to death but reprieved by the Home Secretary.

On Saturday 17th April 1948, John Bretherton, a thirty nine year old prisoner in Walton gaol died of a fractured skull. He had been hit over the head that day with an iron bar by another prisoner Frank Bond, who was twenty years old and a lorry driver from Blackpool. 

Bond was charged with the murder of Bretherton and for the committal hearing on 5th May, a special court was set up inside the prison with the press refused admittance. They were however allowed admittance to the assizes trial on 18th June.  Wearing a sports jacket and flannel trousers, Bond pleaded not guilty in a loud clear voice. 

The prosecutor Mr Gorman stood up and told the jury to disregard the fact that Bond was in prison. He outlined the background to the killing, stating that on 16th April Bond believed 1 shilling and 6d, his payment for prison work had been stolen from his coat pocket by Bretherton. After Bretherton denied it, a prison officer intervened and split the pair for the rest of the day.

Mr Gorman then said that the following day Bretherton was working in an engineers workshop when Bond approached him from behind and hit him with an iron bar, which he was holding with both hands. On being charged with murder, Bond was said to have replied 'He had it coming to him.' Mr Gorman submitted that it had been a cold premediated act with the intention of killing or grievously injuring Bretherton, who lived in Briardale Road in the Liverpool suburb of Mossley Hill.

Prison officer Robert Beattie described Bond as quiet and inoffensive, and acknowledged that although Bretherton had never caused any problems, he did have something of an attitude. He also said that he had seen Bretherton give Bond cigarettes.

Giving evidence himself, Bond admitted hitting Bretherton, who he described as a bully and thief, with an iron bar but insisted he did not intend to kill him. However the admission of intentionally hitting his victim on the head with a weapon that weighed five pounds was enough for him to be found guilty of murder by the jury. 

Bond was then sentenced to death by Mr Justice Byrne. His execution was just days away when the the Home Secretary James Chuter Ede intervened on 12th July and gave him a reprieve, the sentence being commuted to life imprisonment. 

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A Shocking Tragedy in Wavertree

In 1850 a terrible event occurred in Wavertree when a domestic servant suspected of killing her infant child committed suicide by drinking poison.

Catherine Carnall was employed by Francis Hollins, a cotton broker who lived in Cow Lane (now Prince Alfred Road). She was the daughter of a Leicestershire farmer and described as of amiable disposition.

Prince Alfred Road (formerly Cow Lane) in 2017
In October that year Carnall gave Hollins notice that she would be leaving his service. However on the 17th of the month he received a badly handwritten letter indicating that she had given birth to a child three weeks earlier. When Hollins challenged her she mad a full confession, saying she had wrapped the child up in her apron and let it in the privy.

Hollins ordered a search of the privy and the body of an infant was recovered. This led to Carnall running out and trying to jump into a pond to drown herself. Hollins managed to stop her and took her back to the house and confined her in the parlour. When she asked for permission to go the the water closet, she was allowed to do so but only under the supervision of three other servants. On getting there, she tried to open an adjoining closet instead and was stopped, but then given permission to get an apple.

When Carnall got the apple she immediately threw it on the floor and grabbed a bottle of vitriol, swallowing some of the contents. The bottle was knocked away from her mouth but she collapsed immediately. On being told what had happened Hollins sent for Dr Kenyon of the High Street, but the remedies he had available were not able to save her.

An inquest was held on the body of the baby two days later at Mr Hollins' house. Dr Kenyon gave his opinion that the child had breathed once or twice, but the coroner's jury did not believe that was sufficient evidence to conclude that it had been born alive. In respect of Carnall, they returned a verdict of suicide through temporary insanity. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Woman's Murder Solved 39 Years Later

The murder of a young mother in 1970 remained unsolved until 2009. It was only when a written confession detailing the killing was found amongst the belongings of a man who died that the police could finally close the case.

The alleyway where Lorraines body was found in 2017
At 8am on Wednesday 2nd September that year binmen found the body of nineteen year old Lorraine Jacobs in an alley off Rodney Street. Lorraine's knickers had been removed and by her side were three rain sodden bags of chips. As her back was dry, police concluded she had died prior to the rain starting at 3am. A pathologist later put the time of death as around midnight.

Lorraine had been on her way to her home in Russell Street where she lived with her mum, fourteen month old daughter and baby son. Enquiries established she had last been seen alive in Pilgrim Street at 11pm and bought the chips in Great George Street. Earlier in the evening she had been drinking in Yates' Wine Lodge in Great Charlotte Street.

Detectives interviewed 900 people who lived, worked or had been in the area on the night of the killing and handed out 3,500 questionnaires. However the trail went cold and the murder remained unsolved until a dramatic discovery by decorators in 2008. Whilst cleaning out the house of 78 year old Harvey Richardson, who had recently died of bowel cancer, they found an envelope marked 'private and confidential'. Inside was a nine page confession to the murder, written on yellowing paper, as well as a pair of blue knickers.

The discovery led to Merseyside Police being called in and tests dated the paper to around the time of the murder. The confession contained information never previously in the public domain, detailing how Richardson, who had never been a suspect, had rowed with Lorraine over a camera she had taken from his Huskisson Street flat a couple of months earlier. This had happened as she was unhappy about him taking photographs of her children with it, although there was no reason to believe there was anything sinister about that. The letter said Richardson had been drinking all day after finding out he had failed his exams to become a librarian, then gone to Upper Duke Street looking for prostitutes. After coming across Lorraine, he strangled her then headed to Greenheys Gardens, where he had recently moved after being evicted from Huskisson Street.

Despite the length of time since the murder, detectives were able to corroborate 90% of the letters contents and there were DNA matches to both Lorraine and Richardson on the knickers. The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that if Richardson were still alive, then he would be charged with the killing. This led to the police closing the case and Detective Superintendent Ian Kemble stating 'It means a lot to me to close this case for the Jacob family, I can not appreciate the suffering they have been through all these years and hope this outcome will bring them some comfort.'







Friday, 10 March 2017

Scandinavian Shooting

A Norwegian sailor who shot his friend dead was sentenced to just a year's imprisonment. 

For three weeks over the Christmas period at the end of 1911 two Norwegian sailors, Alfred Martinsen and Alfred Karlsen, slept in a dormitory at the Scandinavian Hotel in Great George Street. The pair got on well but things took a turn for the worse at on Saturday 6th January 1912 when drink got the better of them.

Scandinavian Hotel in 2013
 At around 11pm they returned to their lodgings with Karlsen being in a merry mood. He put on cap then pretended to be an officer, walking up and down the aisles giving orders to men who were asleep. Without warning, Martinsen appeared and produced a revolver, firing it straight at Karlsen. A bullet entered Karlsen's eye and he collapsed and died instantly. 

Martinsen, realising what he had done, desperately tried to revive his friend but could not do so and after surrendering the gun went to his bed where he laid down to await his inevitable arrest. He offered no resistance when taken into custody by Constable Jennings, saying he could not bear the thought of what he had done. On being told he would be charged with murder he said simply 'Go ahead.' He appeared before magistrates on the Monday morning and was remanded in custody.

On 25th January Martinsen was brought before the police court, where the prosecutor Mr Duder asked for the case to be sent to the assizes before the inquest had taken place. This was an unusual step, but Mr Duder stated that they were imminent and the cost of bringing witnesses from Norway later in the year would be expensive. Mr Duder admitted he could find no motive for the attack and suggested that Martinsen was in a state of semi drunkenness and mistakenly thought he had quarrelled with his friend. 

Alfred Martinsen
Another Norwegian seaman named Segrid Wille said that shortly before the incident he had been in a public house with the two men and Martinsen had shown them the gun. The licensee asked them to leave and they did so, being best of friends at that time. A lady called Mathilde Odegaard recalled seeing Martinsen and Karlsen together on the night of the tragedy and they had been on good terms. One of the men who had been asleep in the dormitory, Hilding Olsson, recalled that Karlsen was parading up and down shouting to people 'Get up and work'. Olsson went on to say that on hearing a gunshot, he got up and saw Martinsen leaning over the body of his friend, who had blood coming from his eye. 

The shooting had been witnessed by Sedberg Hermansson, who described both men as being sober but having had some drink. He said that they were only ten feet apart when the shot was fired and Martinsen immediately went forward and said 'What is the matter Karlsen are you dead.'  Martinsen, who was rubbing Karlsen's head, immediately handed the revolver to a Danish seaman when asked to do so.

Dr Naughton Dunn from the Southern Hospital revealed the results of the postmortem which took place after Karlsen had been pronounced dead at 11.45pm. The bullet had passed through the eye and passed right through the brain and bounded off the skull, causing instant death. After Constable Jennings gave evidence as to the arrest, Martinsen was committed for trial at the forthcoming assizes which were just two weeks away.

When Martinsen appeared at the assizes on 12th February, it was accepted by the jury that he had not had any malice aforethought and not intended to kill. He was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. 

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Abnormally Thin Skull Saves Defendant

A man who was charged with murder after killing a man with one punch avoided trial due to medical evidence finding abnormalities with the victim's skull.

Royal Infirmary in 1908 (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
At 3pm on 25th October 1938 a stonemason named Albert Shaw noticed three young males loitering around the back of an empty house in Jervis Street (which was situated off Russell Street). 

Shaw reported the suspicious behaviour to the police in nearby Warren Street and the males were moved on. Shaw returned to work ten minutes later but soon afterwards they returned and an argument broke out. One of the males, eighteen year old William Nicholls, punched 53 year old Shaw leading to him falling back and striking his head on some steps.

Nicholls tried to escape by climbing a wall into Back Gill Street, but he was followed by a police officer who apprehended him. An unconscious Shaw was taken to the Royal Infirmary where he died later that evening, his skull having been fractured. On being charged with murder Nicholls replied 'He struck me and I hit him in self defence.'

On 10th November Nicholls appeared at the Magistrates' Court for a committal hearing. Medical evidence was heard that Shaw had an abnormally thin skull. Given this the magistrate decided there was not enough evidence to justify any charges. Nicholls was released from the dock and was free to return to his home in Leander Street, off Brownlow Hill.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Painter Killed by Foreman's Punch

A labourer who was told there was no work available for him died after the foreman punched him for refusing to to leave.

On the morning of 18th September 1887 a labourer named Joseph Peach turned up for work at the Black Bull Bridge in Walton which crossed the Cheshire Lines railway. However he was told by the foreman Thomas Cook that he was late and there was no room for him on the scaffold.

The scene of the killing in 1933 (www.liverpoolpicturebook.com)
When 54 year old Peach refused to go he was punched by Cook and fell four feet between some railings. When a workman shouted that a doctor was needed Cook said 'Let the bast*rd die.' A doctor arrived on the scene and Peach was taken into the Black Bull Inn, with strict instructions being given that he should into be moved. 

Despite the doctor's order, Peach was then taken back to his Townsend Lane lodgings in an unconscious state by two painters who were staying nearby in Vicar Road. He died the following day at 6.10pm and Cook was taken into custody.

On 28th September a committal hearing took place at the magistrates court. James Clarke and James Head, who had taken Peach back to his lodgings, admitted that they had not seen any punch thrown but just saw him lying on the floor. However they could both state that Cook did not want to send for a doctor. Another painter, William Drury from Warrington, did say though that he had seen Cook strike Peach with a clenched fist. Dr Fleetwood, who had carried out a postmortem, said that death was down to effusion of blood on the brain and this could have been as the result of falling on a hard substance. 

Cook was committed to the Assizes for trial and appeared before Mr Justice Day on 16th November. In his defence, Cook said he had just pushed Peach away as there was no room and he fell backwards. This led to him being found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six months imprisonment. 

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Sister in Law Killer Reprieved

A man who cut his sister in law's throat was reprieved from the death sentence.

At around midnight on Saturday 2nd August 1913 Police Constable Monk found a woman lying with her throat cut in Celia Street in Kirkdale. She was 26 year old Jane Wiseman and although she was in a semi conscious state, she was able to say to the officer 'It was my sisters bloke, Griff.'

An ambulance was summoned to take Jane to the Stanley Hospital, where she expired soon after arrival. A police cycle squad was deployed and about two hours later 23 year old William Griffiths was arrested and taken to the Westminster Road Bridewell. On being charged Griffiths, replied 'All I have to say is that it was an accident, I had a row with my father.' 

At a committal hearing on 19th August, Jane's father said that Griffiths had been drinking heavily since drawing some bonus money. He was unable to give any motive for the attack, saying that they had always got on.

At the assizes on 6th November, evidence was presented that showed Griffiths had been outside his home in Braemar Street two days before the attack and shouted 'I will do one of her family.' He had been on shore leave for about three weeks and drinking heavily for most of the time.


In submissions for the defence, Mr Madden said that Griffiths could remember nothing about the crime and that there was no ill feeling between him and Jane. Describing the killing as the result of a 'drunken orgy'. In summing up however, the judge said that by running away and disposing of the razor blade, Griffiths was demonstrating behaviour that indicated he was in control of his actions.


The jury deliberated for half an hour and returned a verdict of guilty but with a recommendation for mercy. Griffiths was sentenced to death, the judge saying that the recommendation would be forwarded.

On 21st November leave to appeal was refused, the judges ruling that the jury had heard all the evidence necessary. Griffiths had worked as a stoker on board the SS Megantic, but his sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life just days before he was due to hang.