Crumpsall-born Myra Hindley, in her day described by the British press as ‘the most hated woman in Britain’, along with her partner and lover, Ian Brady, were found guilty of several murders at Chester Assizes after a two week trial and were both given life sentences for their crimes on the 6th May 1966. They were convicted of the murders by strangulation in 1964 of 10 year old Lesley Ann Downey and of 17 year old Edward Evans in 1965. Ian Brady, who had been born in Glasgow on the 2 January 1938, was also convicted of the murder of 12 year old John Kilbride, and Hindley was found guilty of being an accessory. The victim’s bodies had been buried on the remote Saddleworth Moors above Manchester and soon became known as the ‘Moors Murders’. Much later, in 1987, Brady and Hindley also confessed to the murders of 16 year old Pauline Reade and 12 year old Keith Bennett. But, while intensive police searches carried out on Saddleworth Moor led to the discovery of Pauline Reade’s body, the remains of Keith Bennett were never found. Hindley had left school at the age of 15 and began work at a local chemical company, where she met Ian Brady, who was working as a stock clerk. Brady already had a criminal record and had served time in Borstal and in Strangeways Prison. Until then, Hindley had been, by all accounts, a perfectly normal girl, with a strong religious leaning. She soon became infatuated with Brady and they became lovers. Completely under Brady’s influence, Hindley was persuaded in July 1963 to lure Pauline Reade up to the moors where the couple subsequently killed and buried her body. Next, in October 1963, they gave a lift to John Kirkbride in Ashton-under-Lyne – he was never seen alive again. Their trail of murder was brought to an end eventually by Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith, who called the police after he witnessed the murder of Edward Evans. In prison Hindley eventually showed signs of contrition for her crimes and turned to religion for comfort during her latter days; she also pursued a long campaign for parole, supported by the late Lord Longford, who visited her frequently in prison. Despite her reputation, Hindley had supporters, who argued that she had shown remorse and had become a devout Roman Catholic. In 1994, Hindley had admitted that she was “wicked and evil” and had behaved “monstrously”, going on to say that “ without me, those crimes could probably not have been committed”. By that time she had obtained an Open University degree in humanities. Brady, on the other hand, admitted that he had no desire to be freed, and will never seek parole. In 1998, Home Secretary Jack Straw concluded that Hindley should stay in prison for the rest of her natural life, which she did. She died in prison hospital following a chest infection, at the age of 60 on Friday 15 November 2002. The body of Myra Hindley was cremated on 20th November 2002 in a small private funeral attended by just 12 friends. Later, and chillingly, a banner was found at the entrance to the crematorium which read “Burn in Hell”!
Dr Harold Shipman
(1946-2004) Born in Nottingham on the 14th January 1946, Harold Frederick Shipman, who for many years ran an apparently normal and respectable general medical practice in Hyde, Tameside, was found guilty of unlawfully killing 15 of his patients, with a possibility of some 215 others having also been murdered by him. He had studied Medicine at Leeds University. Shipman became the focus of Europe’s biggest ever murder investigation when it came to light that he was suspected of systematically killing many of his older patients over a period of 14 years. ‘Dr Death’ , as he became known in the press, was arrested on 7th September 1998, initially charged with a single murder, that of 81 year old Mrs Kathleen Grundy. Subsequently, a further nine bodies were exhumed by police and found to contain lethal dosages of drugs. The controversial exhumations were carried out at night, witnessed by a priest, and the remains of female patients ranging in age from 49 to 81 were unearthed. In some cases where patients had been cremated investigators had to search deeply into medical records and take what evidence they could from the families of the deceased. Shipman was addicted to Pethidine, a Morphine-type drug and it was revealed that he had been writing prescriptions for himself for these potentially lethal drugs for many years. Fired from his first job as a GP and heavily fined, Shipman spent time at a drug rehabilitation centre, but was never struck off the medical register. In 1977 he moved to Hyde where he joined a local medical practice, before setting up on his own in 1993. The original investigation had been set in motion after it was discovered that Mrs Grundy, a former Mayoress and well known charity worker in Hyde, had inexplicably left nothing in her will to her two sons and her daughter, and that her will had been changed only 2 weeks prior her death – the sum of £386,000 had been bequeathed to Dr Shipman. Further investigation revealed other inconsistencies and Shipman subsequently with appeared in court charged with three murders. He had provided death certificates for all of his alleged victims, most of whom were elderly and police went on to investigate around 3 000 prescriptions that he wrote during more than 20 years as a general practitioner in Hyde. Greater Manchester Police admitted that Shipman was probably one of Britain’s most prolific killers of modern times. A jury found Shipman guilty of 15 murders, though 150 further cases are being investigated. He was sentenced on 31st January 2000 and condemned to 15 life sentences. After a year long public inquiry, a 2000 page report by Judge Dame Janet Smith showed that the number of Shipman victims was probably as high as 236 people. On Tuesday 13th January 2004 the body of Harold Shipman was discovered hanging from bed sheets tied to the window bars in his cell at Wakefield prison. It was concluded that he had died by suicide around 6.30am that morning.
The Manchester Martyrs
William O’Mera Allen, Michael Larkin & William O’Brien
(All Hanged 1867) The affair of the so-called ‘Manchester Martyrs’ came about in 1867, when in the early hours of the 11th September, Colonel Thomas Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy were arrested in Manchester. Colonel Kelly was a most prominent Fenian, having only recently been confirmed as Chief Executive of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. The Fenians were an anti-British Irish-American republican secret society, founded in the USA in 1858 to campaign for Irish-American support for armed rebellion following the death of the Irish nationalist leader Daniel O’Connell. On the Eighteenth of September, they were being taken from the Court House in Manchester to the County Jail on Hyde Road, West Gorton. The two prisoners were handcuffed and locked in separate compartments inside a police van, with an accompanying escort of twelve mounted policemen. As the van passed under a railway arch, a man jumped out and pointed a pistol at the driver, ordering him to stop. At the same time about thirty men also leapt out, surrounded the van and seized the horses. The would-be rescuers tried vainly to force open the van door with sledge hammers and crowbars, as the Police Sergeant inside the van, refused to open the door to them. Then, one of the rescuers fired a revolver through the keyhole of the door as Sergeant Brett put his eye to the keyhole to see what was going on outside, The bullet pierced his eye, entered the brain and killed him outright. Eventually, the door was opened from the inside and Colonel Kelly and Captain Deasy escaped, never to be recaptured. Others were not so lucky. After a chase, police arrested and charged five men with taking part in the rescue: William O’Mera Allen, Michael Larkin, William O’Brien, Thomas Maguire and Edward Stone. Four were found guilty and sentenced to death, while Maguire was pardoned and discharged, Stone’s sentence was eventually commuted to life imprisonment. However, Allen, Larkin and O’Brien were hanged on the 23rd November 1867. A Memorial was erected to their memory in Moston Cemetery. In St Ann’s Church in Manchester there is a plaque to the memory of the unfortunate Sergeant Brett.
(1848-1886) Habitual murderer by poisoning, Mary Ann Britland of Ashton-under-Lyne was hanged by James Berry on the 9th of August 1886, the first woman to be executed at Strangeways Prison in Manchester. It began when Mary and her husband Thomas Britland had rented a house in Ashton-under-Lyne, which was infested with mice and s he had bought rat poison ostensibly to deal with the problem. The poison contained strychnine and arsenic and she had therefore signed the poison register. Britland’s first victim by poisoning in March 1886 was her daughter Elizabeth, whom the attending physician diagnosed as having died of natural causes. Shortly afterwards, Britland claimed her daughter’s £10 life insurance. Next, she poisoned her husband Thomas. His death was diagnosed as epilepsy – Britland also claimed on his life insurance. During this time she is thought to have had an affair with her neighbour Thomas Dixon. Dixon’s wife, also named Mary, was to become the next and her final victim. This third death raised suspicion in the neighbourhood.
Britland was subsequently interrogated by the local police about Mary Dixon’s death and the body was examined by the district pathologist. It was found to contain a lethal quantity of the two poisons and Mary was immediately arrested. She was tried for murder at Manchester Assizes on Thursday 22nd July 1886. She was inevitably found guilty, sentenced to death by hanging, as was the rule of the day, but declared to the court “I am quite innocent, I am not guilty at all”. She had to be assisted to the gallows in a state of virtual collapse and physically supported by two male warders on the trap doors during the execution.
(Hanged 1888) John Jackson, a plumber by trade, after a heavy drinking session in the public houses of Leeds had signed up to join the army. While in the army he had been found guilty and convicted of horse stealing and was sentenced to serve six months in Wakefield Prison. Sometime during his sentence, he had managed to escape, but was recaptured and sent to Armley prison in Leeds from which he was released in the summer of 1885. Old habits die hard and by 1888 Jackson was breaking into houses in Manchester, where he was soon caught in the act of burglary again, and was sentenced to a further 6 months in Strangeways Prison. His skill as a plumber, however, came in useful when the prison matron had a gas leak in her home. Jackson, accompanied by Webb, a warder, was taken to the house. After completing the repair, Jackson went on to attack Webb with a hammer, fracturing his skull. He stole the warder’s boots and then fled via the attic from where he removed slates, (using the murder weapon) and made his escape down into the street. He survived on the run for several weeks, supporting himself by housebreaking before being finally caught in Bradford on the 2nd June 1888. After a struggle he gave up and confessed to the killing. He was taken back to Manchester for trial where he was convicted of Webb’s murder and hanged by James Berry on Tuesday 7th August.
Lieutenant Frederick Rothwell Holt
(Hanged 1920) On Christmas Eve, 24th December 1919 the body of 26 year old Kathleen Breaks was found dead lying among the sand dunes on the beach at Lytham St Annes near Blackpool. She had been shot three times with a revolver. Footprints, a Webley service revolver and blood stained gloves were found nearby in the dunes. Soon afterwards, Lieutenant Frederick Holt, who had been Kathleen’s lover, was arrested, charged with her murder and tried at Manchester Assizes between the 23rd and 27th February 1920 before Mr. Justice Greer. His defence of insanity was rejected. The prosecution’s case was that Holt had murdered Kathleen Breaks (also known as Kitty) for her considerable life insurance, after he had persuaded her to make him her sole beneficiary. Holt appealed his death sentence claiming that having earlier contracted syphilis in 1920 in Malaya it had unbalanced his mind. He was examined by Home Office psychiatrists who rejected the appeal. Frederick Holt was hanged by public hangman John Ellis on the 13th April
(1893-1926) Thirty-three year old Louie Calvert battered and strangled her landlady Mrs Lily Waterhouse to death after she had confronted her with the theft of articles from her boarding house and had reported her to the police. In the condemned cell she also admitted to the murder of a previous employer, John Frobisher, in 1922. Louie Calvert was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint at Strangeways on the 24th June 1926.
Dr Buck Ruxton
(Hanged 1936) Doctor Buck Ruxton murdered Isabella, his common law wife, and his housemaid, Mary Jane Rogerson at their home in Lancaster on the 15th September 1935. He then dismembered their bodies and removed any distinguishing features which might identify them and determine the cause of death. It was alleged at his trial that Mary Rogerson had been smothered and Mrs Ruxton manually strangled. He wrapped the body parts in sheets of a local newspaper sold only in the Lancaster area and then drove to Scotland and threw them into a river near Moffat, in Dumfriesshire. As a result of the location the case became known as ‘the bodies under the bridge murder’. It was the local nature of the newspaper that enabled police to trace the body’s origin back to Lancaster. Ruxton had also done several things that were to incriminate him. Whilst disposing of the bodies, he had cut his hand, and he told several people about this incident, and there were bloodstains all over the house and on his clothes. It was revealed that Ruxton had been somewhat of a control freak, jealous of Isabella’s evident good looks. He had killed Mary Rogerson in order to cover his tracks, because she had witnessed Isabella’s murder. Ruxton was tried at Manchester Assizes in March 1936 before Mr Justice Singleton, the jury taking just over an hour to convict him. Later, his written confession was published. It stated: “ I killed Mrs Ruxton in a fit of temper because I thought she had been with a man. I was mad at the time. Mary Rogerson was present at the time. I had to kill her”. Buck Ruxton was hanged at Strangeways Prison on the 12th May 1936.
(1907-1949) Margaret Allen of Rawtenstall was a lesbian who dressed in men’s clothes and preferred to be called ‘Bill’ – she worked as local bus conductor. On the 28th August 1948 she battered Nancy Ellen Chadwick to death with a hammer. Mrs Chadwick was an elderly neighbour who had come to borrow a cup of sugar. The neighbours had apparently never enjoyed the best of relationships and Allen found her irritating in the extreme. Allen confessed to the police that she was “ in one of my funny moods.” She was convicted after a short trial held on the 8th December 1948 and was hanged on the 12th January 1949 by public executioner Albert Pierrepoint, the first female execution in Britain for 12 years and only the third at Strangeways Prison.
(Hanged 1951) On the 8th May 1951, public hangman Albert Pierrepoint was assisted by Sid Dernly in the hanging of James Inglis. Inglis had been convicted of the murder of 50 year old prostitute Alice Morgan, whom he had battered and strangled to death. Alice Morgan and Inglis had quarrelled over her payment, after she had taken him to her home for drink and sex. He pleaded a defence of insanity which was summarily rejected by the jury. He was given the death sentence by Mr Justice Ormerod on the 20th April and hanged three weeks later.
Louisa May Merrifield
(Hanged 1953) The last woman to be executed at Strangeways Prison was 46 year old Louisa May Merrifield who had been convicted of poisoning Mrs Sarah Ricketts. Mrs Ricketts was a 79 year old, bedridden widow who lived in Blackpool and she had hired Merrifield and her husband Alfred to look after her in March 1953. Shortly thereafter, she made a new will leaving her bungalow to Merrifield.
Mrs Ricketts was very fond of very sweet jams which she ate directly from the jar by the spoonful. Merrifield added the rat poison, Rodine, to the jam which Mrs Rickets subsequently ate. Her death was considered suspicious and an autopsy was performed which revealed the presence of poison. A record of the sale of the Rodine to Merrifield was discovered at the local chemists and the police arrested her and her husband, Alfred. Unfortunately for her, Merrifield had openly boasted of inheriting the bungalow which threw suspicion on her. The Merrifields were tried at Manchester Assizes on the 20th July of 1953. Alfred was later acquitted for lack of evidence but his wife was found guilty. Louisa May Merrifield was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint on Friday 18th September 1953.
Walter Graham Rowland
(Hanged 1947) Walter Graham Rowland was hanged on 27 February 1947 for the murder of Olive Balchin, whose body was found at a bomb site battered to death with a hammer. The bloodstained murder weapon, a hammer used by leather beaters, was found nearby. After a lengthy investigation, a description of the perpetrator was given to the police from a local shopkeeper who had sold the weapon. One account had Olive Balchin as being Rowland’s lover, and others that she was a local prostitute. Rowland’s alibi was for a time substantiated by three police officers who were patronising the same pub as Rowland at the same time as the murder was alleged to have taken place. His landlord also verified the time when he arrived back at his lodgings as placing him some way from the bomb site. However, eyewitness accounts of a man last seen in the company of Balchin on the night of her murder pointed towards Rowland as the probable murderer. Therefore, when police further questioned Rowland and carried out forensic examination of his clothes, bloodstains matching the blood type of Balchin were found, as well as dust particles identified as coming from the murder scene. Rowland was arrested for the murder of Olive Balchin, later convicted and was hanged at Strangeways Prison. He had been convicted despite his apparent water-tight alibi. An interesting footnote to the affair came about while Rowland was awaiting execution, when one David Ware, in Strangeways on a charge of robbery, confessed to the murder. But he was found to be lying and later withdrew the confession. Rowland, it was determined, had indeed committed the crime for which he was later hanged. Several years later, in 1951, David Ware attacked another woman and was found guilty but insane.