Local historian Keith Johnson digs out a disturbing murder case from the turn of the last century that is gruesome as it is tragic...
At the beginning of August 1901, William Daley, 45, of 19 Water Street, Preston, appeared at Liverpool Assizes charged with the wilful murder of his wife Elizabeth on the third Saturday of July.
The deceased woman, a mother of five children, had that Saturday afternoon been found lying in a dying condition on the bedroom floor of their home which had a retail grocery shop frontage. Her skull had been battered in by a sledge-hammer which was later found in the backyard. Later that afternoon William Daley had been discovered wandering the streets with bloodstained boots and hands. When taken into custody and charged with the slaying of his wife, he simply replied, “I know nothing about it.”
As the trial got under way, various witnesses testified as to the accused’s strange behaviour over the three weeks prior to the tragic incident. His eldest son stated that on the afternoon of the killing, his father had “seemed strange and appeared very white and frightening”.
One of his sisters then told the court how she had discovered her mother lying on the bedroom floor in the back room with her head smashed in. She stated that earlier she had seen her father coming downstairs looking very pale. When he had gone out she had heard the baby crying and going upstairs found her mother prostrate. Despite the immediate arrival of Dr. Rayner she died within minutes.
The court heard that William Daley had a long history of mental disorder and had twice been in Lancaster Asylum, in 1880 and 1899, and that in between, he had spent three periods in Whittingham Asylum. On his last stay in Lancaster Asylum he was diagnosed as suffering from ‘homicidal mania’.
A local doctor testified that both the prisoner and his wife had, in years gone by, been to see him as to the state of Mr. Daley’s mind, and he had recommended steps being taken by Mrs. Daley to have him put away.
There was no doubting the culprit of the brutal killing, but what the jury had to decide was whether or not Daley was responsible for his actions. With this in mind great interest was placed on the prisoner’s behaviour after his arrest. He was said to have been perfectly cool, calm and collected when questioned at the police station that evening. All his replies having been made in a rational manner.
Dr. Moore, medical officer of Preston prison, stated that during the time the prisoner had been under his observation he had shown no sign of insanity. Under cross-examination, however, he added that there was nothing in his behaviour that had been inconsistent with the fact of his having been suffering from ‘homicidal mania’ when he committed the deed.
The trial judge Mr. Justice Ridley commented that he was reluctant for a verdict to be returned against the prisoner, but the prosecution felt that a verdict could be returned in order for a declaration to be made as to the accused man’s sanity or insanity.
Addressing the jury, the judge directed them to return a verdict that the prisoner was guilty, but that he was insane at the time of the act. The foreman of the jury asked how the prisoner would be detained and His Lordship stated that he would be detained under the orders of the Home Secretary, being classed as a criminal lunatic.
The foreman then consulted with the rest of the jury and they returned a decision was that the accused was unaccountable for his act.
The verdict was then formally taken that the prisoner was ‘Guilty’, but not responsible for his act and the order of the court was that he be detained as a criminal lunatic, until His Majesty’s pleasure be shown.