The Callous Murder of Elizabeth Walsh (1904)


On the morning of Friday, 2nd December 1904, the people of Burnley, would be shocked to their very core when police finally forced their way into number 20 Stock-street and the bodies of a man and a women would be discovered lying in pools of blood, both with their throats cut.

But whilst news of this shocking discovery was quickly circulating throughout the town, some residents of Stock-street had already witnessed a brief and horrific scene as a man by the name of Michael Walsh had appeared at the front of his house, brandishing a blood-soaked razor, before returning inside.

Hearing screams emanating from inside the house, one of the  neighbours went off in search of help and it didn’t take long before Police Constable Heap arrived at the scene.

After being told of the events prior to his arrival, P.C. Heap made his way into number 20.

Making his way into a small room, he was presented with a ghastly sight. Pots and pans had been smashed and furniture was scattered all over. A dresser and chairs were wrecked, scattered to pieces near to a staircase leading to a bedroom.  Numerous ornaments had been wiped from the top of the dresser and broken on the bare floor.

On the floor lay Elizabeth Alice Walsh, 46 years of age and the mother of six children.  She was lying in a heavy pool of blood.  And on top of her was her husband, Michael Walsh, aged 46, also covered with blood.

It seems the fears of the neighbours had been acted out and whilst shocked at the awful nature of the tragedy, the discovery of the two bodies was exactly what they had expected to find.

P.C. Heap, horrified by the discovery, knelt down and was taken aback when Michael Walsh raised one of his hands, albeit in a terribly weak state.  Michael then began to try and talk to his wife and then tried to place a kiss on her head.  Noticing the wounds inflicted on both bodies, Doctor Hodgson was quickly called for, but after arriving and after attending to his wounds, Michael would pass away shortly after 9.30am.  As for Elizabeth, she was barely alive when P.C. Heap entered the house but sadly passed away within minutes of his arrival.

Michael and Elizabeth Walsh had been married for around 25 years and had a family of six children, with the youngest being Elizabeth, aged just six, and the oldest being Mary, aged 19.

It appears that both Michael and Elizabeth had led an unhappily married life, with Michael being worse for drink more often than not, often taking out his frustrations and temper on poor Elizabeth, leaving her battered and bruised on many occasions.

For a long period, he was out of work, just putting in the occasional day and spending the rest of the time drinking.

As for Elizabeth, she was a sober, industrious woman, well-liked by her friends and her work colleagues over at Keighley Green Mill were she had worked as a cardroom hand.

She had worked extremely hard to keep the home going and she would do almost anything to keep her husband happy, to humour him, in the hope he would change his ways.

Two of their daughters had left home due to Michaels drunkenness and violent outbursts and sometimes, after they had bought new clothes for the summer, he would put them onto a fire.

It appears that only a few months prior to her death, Elizabeth had obtained a maintenance order against Michael but he somehow managed to persuade her to return back home to him.  Sadly, the beatings would soon commence and during one row, he turned Elizabeth out of their home, telling her he would “murder her.”

A little over a week before her death, Michael returned home after serving 14 days in prison for yet another assault on Elizabeth.  He spent the week drinking heavily, which now brings us to Thursday, 1st December.

During yet another violent episode, Michael attacked Elizabeth after the pair had been quarrelling into the late hours of the night.  Just before six o’clock the following morning, Elizabeth had got herself ready for work.  Michael stopped her from leaving, telling her she mustn’t go in.  Together, the both left their home to fetch another cardroom hand, by the name of Jane Watson, to take her place.  However, when all three arrived at Keighley Green Mill, they were told that her ‘substitute’ would not be taken on and Elizabeth was told to attend work herself on Saturday morning.

Making their way back home, both Michael and Elizabeth, along with Mrs. Watson, visited the Well Hall hotel and then the Rum and Coffee, drinking spirits in each of them and it appeared that Michael had won fourteen shillings by placing some bets the previous day.

It was whilst drinking in the Rum and Coffee public house that Elizabeth would ask Michael ‘what he was trying on?’, with him having so much drink.

Michael replied, saying; “I’m just scheming which way to give you another black eye to-day.”

Several drinks later, all three took a tramcar up to the Whittlefield district where they all lived.  During the ride, Michael asked Elizabeth if she had enough money to pay the tram fare, but when Elizabeth replied saying she had, Michael began to accuse her of robbing him during the night, telling her he would “reckon it up for her when they got home.”

Stock-street, Burnley

At twenty-past eight, they all vacated the tram car after having arrived in Stock-street.  Elizabeth, realising that her husband Michael would follow up on his threats, asked Mrs. Watson if she would go with her into her home, but Michael stopped her, telling her she couldn’t as he had to “reckon with his wife.”  Chillingly, he then said to Mrs. Watson, “Goodbye forever.”

As Michael and Elizabeth disappeared into their house, it would only be a matter of minutes before the noise of quarrelling would be heard.

No sooner had they disappeared from view, Michael immediately set upon Elizabeth.

As he laid blow after blow onto Elizabeth, she tried to defend herself, picking up anything close by which she could throw at Michael.  Pots, pans, saucers – anything!

But so ferocious was Michael, nothing would prevent him from teaching Elizabeth a lesson.

Meanwhile, young Annie Walsh, who was aged just twelve years old, was witnessing the attack on her mother, at first hand.

Michael noticed Annie and demanded her to go and fetch a hatchet, which she did so. 

On returning, Michael compelled Elizabeth to kneel on the floor and then asked; “Would you like to die?”

Would you like to die?

Michael Walsh, 2nd December 1904

Elizabeth replied, “No!” but Michael sneered, “You’ve got to.”

He then ordered Annie upstairs, but before she went, she saw her father striker her mother on the head with the hatchet.  The axe-head broke off with the force of the blow, leaving poor Annie in an extremely scared state of mind.  Running upstairs, screaming loudly in fear, her father shouted at her to come back downstairs.

Michael followed Annie, striking her on her head with the axe handle.

Leaving Annie at the bottom of the stairs, Michael proceeded to take a razor out from his pocket.

“Don’t do it, Mick!” a weary Elizabeth pleaded as Michael crouched over her.

“It’s too late.” he replied as he began to cut into her throat.

What happened next is one of a mystery, and something we will never get to understand, but Michael, after ‘finishing’ his attack on Elizabeth, took to his feet and went to the front door, opened it, and began to wave his now blood-soaked razor in front of a neighbour who was stood across the street.  He then stepped back inside and then placed the razor to his own throat.

Annie, after witnessing the crime, rushed past her father and out into the street.  In a fainting condition, she was carried to a house in an adjoining street where she would eventually recover to some extent from her ordeal.

Meanwhile, news had quickly spread to the surrounding areas and it wouldn’t take long for bystanders to arrive to witness the gory scenes for themselves.  All they could see however, was a blood-smeared doorstep and an imprint of blood from Michael’s hand on the outside of the front door.  Two ambulance litters soon arrived and were brought into the house by the police, and the bodies of both Michael and Elizabeth were covered and taken to the mortuary at the Town Hall by Police Constables Thompson, Baxter, Wilson and Cranmer.

A coroner’s jury, conducted by Mr. Haslewood, the Deputy-Coroner, would take place at Burnley Town Hall, on Monday, 5th December and would look into the terrible events that had occurred on Friday, 2nd December.

Doctor Hodgson detailed the injuries to both Elizabeth and Michael, saying the injuries to Elizabeth were “the worse I have seen.”  Her throat had been cut, with both jugular veins being severed.  She had a wound 7¼ inches in length.  On the back of the skull was a large scalp wound, which had been inflicted by the hatchet.

As for Michael, he had cut his own throat, with the wound being 5½ inches long.

The jury would hear the testimony of P.C. Heap, the police constable who forced his way into number 20.  He would tell them that he had found the head of the axe under Elizabeth’s head.  He had also found two small pocket-knives, with one being under Elizabeth’s left leg and another on a dresser nearby.  He would also confirm that he had found a poker used in the attack by the side of Elizabeth’s head.  All were stained in blood.

Joseph Pickthall, an elderly man, who lived next door to Michael and Elizabeth would tell one journalist that Michael kept carrying on and beating the children.  He also spoke of how, during one evening, he could not sleep on account of a disturbance, and after knocking at the wall for quietness, he heard Michael remark, “Let them flit, and tek th’ old feyther with them!”

Michael Walsh was well known to the police, having been placed on record no fewer than on seven occasions.  Three times on charges of drunkenness and disorderly, twice for assault, once for persistent cruelty and finally, one for disorderly behaviour.  On the 6th April 1904, he was summoned by his wife, who then resided in Cranmer-street, for persistent cruelty.

On November 2nd, he was sentenced to 14 days imprisonment for misbehaviour and had only been out of prison a fortnight prior to his attack on Elizabeth.

The coroner, after hearing all the evidence, would say that the jury would have no difficulty in finding a verdict to the effect that Michael Walsh wilfully murdered his wife, Elizabeth Walsh.  He would tell the jury that the facts were very plain and spoke for themselves.

In the case of Michael Walsh, he recommended them to return a verdict that he had killed himself.  He then pointed out that they had no evidence as to any unsound state of mind.  This being the case, the should return a verdict of felo-de-se.

Headstone of Michael and Elizabeth Walsh, both buried together on the 8th December 1904

The interment of Elizabeth and Michael took place on Thursday, 8th December.  Their bodies were removed from the mortuary at the Town Hall, where they had been taken for the purpose of the inquest, and returned to their home at Stock-street, and at a quarter to two, the funeral procession would leave the Whittlefield district and head towards Burnley Cemetery where their bodies would be laid to rest in a family grave.

Their grave is numbered A16610.

Refuge National Domestic Abuse Helpline

The freephone, 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247

Sources used in this story;

Manchester Evening News – Friday 02 December 1904

Lancashire Evening Post – Friday 02 December 190

Illustrated Police News – Saturday 10 December 1904

+ many more courtesy of the British Newspaper and

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