Liverpool Journal Feb, 3rd 1877


Suspected wholesale child murder and arrest of the mother

Abnormal excitement has been created at Tuebrook, and has rapidly spread through Liverpool, owing to the apprehension of a widow who resided at Sutton St, Tuebrook, and the shocking disclosures which have followed upon the woman’s arrest.

Briefly these disclosures point to the very grave suspicion that the prisoner has for various periods over the past 10yrs, foully dealt with 5 of her illegitimate children immediately after their birth, whilst rumour points not to 5 but 8, having been thus ruthlessly disposed of.

The woman Elizabeth KIRKBRIDE about 12 or 14 yrs ago with her husband lived in Litherland. At that time she was in well-to-do circumstances and after her husband’s death went to a place called Lonworthby, a village in the neighbourhood of Penrith, where she was a school mistress for some years.

She became considerably reduced in circumstances and in June last, decided to come to Liverpool, whether in the view to improve her position remains to be seen.

Since that time, until Sunday last, she has lodged at, 10 Sutton St, leading an apparently quiet life, her eldest son, who, with his brother, lived in the same house, contributing to her support, whilst she carried a small income by employing herself in fancy-needlework.

This week however she has suddenly sprung into inenviable notoriety the cause of excitement and talk, not only among her neighbours in Tuebrook, but throughout the town.

Last week the body of an infant was found in a box in an inn in Penrith. The box, was left at the inn in June last by Mrs KIRKBRIDE, as she never returned to claim it, it was stored away in a lumber-room. After many months, a peculiar odour was emanating from it and the box was opened. In the box the remains of a child was found, in a very decomposed state, wrapped in several coverings.

An inquest was held, and as the cause of death could not be proved to be as a result of violence, an open verdict of “Found dead,” was returned.

The inquest was held only last week and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Mrs KIRKBRIDE. After the warrant was issued a further examination was made of the box and the remains of another child was found, those having been in the box a much longer time.

The Penrith police ascertained Mrs KIRKBRIDE to be in Liverpool and forwarded a warrant to Supt MARTIN of the County police, who gave it to Sgt ROBINSON to execute.

The officer accordingly went to KIRKBRIDE’S lodgings on Sunday evening and arrested her on a charge of on the 9th June, concealed the birth of a child at Penrith.

The next day an officer came from Penrith to take the prisoner back to Cumberland, she wasn’t taken due to circumstances occurring at her lodgings which resulted in her being brought before the County Magistrates at Barnett St, on Wednesday morning, on further charges of concealing the births of 3 other children, making 5 in all.

Before leaving the house on Sunday evening KIRKBRIDE received permission to leave a note for her eldest son who was upstairs in bed. In the note she told him she had been taken to Penrith on warrant, but did not expect to be long away.

In the forenoon she was missed by her landlady, who when her son came home for dinner, asked where his mother was, and was told she had gone to Penrith. In the meantime the landlady discovered a coat belonging to her husband [who was at sea], a blanket and a table-cloth were missing, and, suspected Mrs KIRKBRIDE of taking them, she told the lad they had gone and his mother must have taken them.

The lad anxious to give his landlady some security for the missing articles, went upstairs and forced open his mother’s box. Doing so, he perceived a strong smell, but thought it was down to some damp clothing being left in the box. The box was afterwards brought down into the back-yard, some of its contents were taken out, when it was apparent there was something wrong. A Police constable was sent for, who found the remains of at least two children in the box.

He took the remains and box to the mortuary, where on the following day they were examined by Dr PITTS who found they were the remains of 3 newly born children in different stages of decay.

The 1st examined appeared to have been 4 or 5 yrs in the box, the 2nd minus the head, 2 or 3 yrs more, on searching at the bottom of the box for the missing head he found the bones of a 3rd child, all in detached pieces, apparently put in the box 9 or 10 yrs ago.

The box was brought by KIRKBRIDE from her home in Cumberland to Aintree and lay at the Railway station there for 3 mths, she had it brought to her lodgings in Tuebrook at the end of August.

After Dr PITTS’S examination, Sgt WALSH returned to Old Swan station and informed the prisoner that she would be charged with the concealment of a further 3 other children besides those at Penrith, when she admitted the children were hers, and that she had concealed and neglected them, but had not murdered them.

It is suspected the prisoner had an accomplice in the matter, in consequence of some letters found in the prisoner’s lodgings, suspicion is directed to a well-to-do tradesman, a married man, as the father of the children.

Prisoner before the Magistrates.

Weds, County Police Courts, Basnett St.

Before Mr Richard WITHERS and Mr Albert FENTON

Catherine KIRKBRIDE [ name, as in newspaper changes further on], a widow, brought up charged with concealment of the birth of her children.

Prisoner, slightly built, about 45yrs old, very dark with a sharply cut figure, when she stood before the magistrates she held her head down, now and again glancing with a nervous look at the bench. She was very respectfully dressed and evidently a woman of some education.

Insp WALSH, stating the case said :-

Prisoner is charged with concealing the birth of at least 3 children at Tuebrook, West Derby. She has lived for many years in Penrith, Cumberland, and has been a widow for 13yrs. She left Penrith on the 9th June and when she left Penrith she left a box in a hotel there. That box was opened 10 days ago and contained the bodies of 2 children, one having its throat cut, the other with string around its neck.

An inquest was held on the bodies and an open verdict returned. In consequence a warrant was granted for the apprehension of the prisoner, Sgt ROBINSON, entrusted with the warrant went to the house of the prisoner, 21 Sutton St, Tuebrook.

The prisoner opened the door and was told by Sgt ROBINSON why he had come to the house, she was taken into custody, quietly, informing no one else in the house, at the prisoner’s request.

When she did not return the landlady searched the house and found some articles missing, which led to the prisoner’s box being opened, the box, had stood at the top of the stairs since it arrived at the house.

Owing to the smell proceeding from it, the people thought it desirable to communicate with the police, who took it away to the dead-house at Green Lane.

On examination by Dr PITTS it was found to contain the bodies of three children, 2 in an advanced stage of decomposition, the other not so much so.

The prisoner was informed that she would be charged with the concealment of the birth of these 3 children, besides the two for which she was in custody.

She admitted they were hers and had concealed and neglected them but had not murdered them.

Insp WALSH, asked for a remand till Saturday.

Mr SWIFT, asked the prisoner if she had any questions.

The prisoner speaking nervously said he had spoken truly to what she had said.

Mr WITHERS remanded her till Saturday in order to hear the results of the Coroner’s inquest.

The prisoner asked to make a statement but was advised to reserve the statement till Saturday, by that time she will have been advised. At this time she had no one to represent her.

Inquest on the children’s remains

Wednesday, St George’s Hotel, Green Lane, Tuebrook, by Mr C. E. DRIFFIELD, coroner and a jury, the foreman of which was Mr WOODS.

Supt MARTIN appeared for the police.

Mrs KIRKBRIDE who was in the room during the proceedings, in the charge of the police, never raised her head, nor asked any questions and had no one to represent her.

In brief

Sgt ROBINSON deposed – I first moved in the matter at 6pm on Sunday evening, when I received a warrant for the arrest of Elizabeth KIRKBRIDE and instructions. I proceeded to 21 Sutton St that evening, the house occupied by Mrs Augustus OBERTI, whose husband is away at sea. The prisoner answered the door and I read her the warrant, she said there must be a mistake with regard to the date, and made no attempt to get ready.

I asked her to put on her bonnet and shawl and she asked could she write a note to her son who she did not want to be disturbed. He was upstairs in bed at the time. She asked for the affair to be kept secret and we left quietly. She expected when she got to Penrith the matter would be hushed up.

Emma ORBETI deposed – Her husband’s name was Augustus, he was a ship’s steward, away at sea and they lived at 21 Sutton St. KIRKBRIDE had lodged with them since June last, taking one room, sometime after she took the front parlour, her two son taking the other room. KIRKBRIDE was the only one who slept downstairs.

On the Monday morning her two sons came down without saying anything to her, Mr FYSON a friend of the sons who had been occupying the same bed as them for about 2mths, was with them.

I missed Mrs KIRKBRIDE and thought I would ask her son when he came home for dinner, he was late and I got ready to go to his place of business. I met him on the way home and he said his mother had left a note saying she had gone to Penrith and would be back in a few days.

He came back to the house and I asked him if his mother had left rent, he said no and then said he would settle it. I told him of the items that I had missed and he said he knew nothing of them but went to the parlour and brought some ornaments as security.

He then took the box from the landing and opened it, saying there was nothing particular in it, another box underneath it was locked, he did not open this box and went to his business.

I later opened the locked box, with difficulty as the lid fitted very tight. When I opened it the stench was fearful, I could see wrappings and sheets and suspected something was wrong. I closed the box and took it in the yard. I sent for my son Sidney to open the box and see what was in it. Only wrappings could be seen, and on getting to the bottom of the box, I saw some horrid stuff, “like corruption.”

I went to the police station at Tuebrook and two officers came to examine the box. They unfastened the wrappings, they looked like rotten rags, in one appeared to be a doll with rags around it. In another was a child in a frightful state of decomposition. What was in another parcel was falling to pieces, one piece was a skull. The officers closed the box and took it away.

Mrs KIRKBRIDE told me her eldest son assisted her, Mr FYSON had been lodging in the house a couple of months, he is more Sidney’s friend than any of the KIRKBRIDE’S and works in town in business.

I did not know Mrs KIRKBRIDE before she came to me, I could judge she had been greatly reduced, her husband being dead 12yrs, he lived in Penrith.

I never knew her to take a drink, or suspected her of irregular habits.

When I missed my husband’s coat I thought she had pawned it, but did not mention it at the time as she said she was waiting for £20 from her friend Mrs SCOTT. I supposed she would release the coat when she received the money.

The boxes were brought from Tuebrook station by a porter about the end of August, she appeared restless till the luggage came, when it arrived she settled down.

To a Juryman – Before the boxes came she only on one occasion remained out all night. She told me the boxes came from Penrith.

John Sydney KIRKBRIDE, the prisoners eldest son deposed – I am a grocer’s assistant, Mrs KIRKBRIDE is my mother, her name is Elizabeth Mary Louise, my father died in 1864 or 1865, at that time we lived in Penrith. I took lodgings with my mother in Sutton St.

I heard noises on Sunday night but did not go downstairs. When my brother and I went down in the morning we found a note and a few shillings, the note saying, there had been a warrant and my mother had been taken to Penrith. I did not mention this to Mrs OBERTI and went straight to business, on reaching home that night for dinner I told Mr OBERTI of the note.

She informed me of the missing articles and I rummaged around for something for security. She would not take the ornaments so I went upstairs and searched the boxes.

I kicked one open and it smelt disagreeable, I thought it was due to damp clothes being left in it. Later when I opened the box I found a shelly substance, Mrs OBERTI said it was a child, when examining it I thought so myself. Mrs OBERTI sent for the police.

I never had the slightest suspicion the was anything wrong in the box, nor that my mother was ever in the family way since my father’s death.

The Coroner – you cannot tell whether the children are hers or who the mother is?

No Sir, I have not the slightest idea.

To a Juryman – I never knew of my mother taking a child to nurse. When I heard of the warrant I thought it was for debt. I never knew my mother to drink, only occasionally at my request.

To Supt MARTIN – She had the boxes with her when she came from Carlisle station to Aintree in June last, they were left at the latter station till August. Our object in going to Aintree was to stay with friends there, with whom we stayed for 2 to 3 days, the boxes remained at the station, at that time my mother had not the money to pay the charges. We then came to Liverpool for a day, after which we stayed at Aughton with some friends. My mother’s maiden name was HAYTON. I have not been at home except for short periods since I was 8 or 9yrs old.

Supt SHEPPARD deposed – In consequence of information received, I went on Monday to Sutton St and examined the box which contained the remains of 2 children. I took the box to the mortuary.

Insp WALSH deposed – On examining the box at the mortuary with Dr PITTS, I found portions of sheets, old carpets and rags and amongst these portions, 2 bodies, at the bottom the skeleton of a 3rd child.

Attached to the handle of the box was a brass plate engraved, “Mrs HAYTON.”

On top of the box was a gummed paper label, on it was written, “Stockport, Mrs HAYTON, Miss LAWS, Hazel Grove.”

I then saw the prisoner at Old Swan and informed her that in addition to the charge of concealment of the birth of the 2 infants at Penrith she was also now charged with the concealment of the birth of another 3 infants. In reply she admitted to their concealment of birth and neglect but that she did not murder them.

To Supt MARTIN – I made no mention of murder to her.

Mr Henry Yates PITTS, Physician and Surgeon, Tuebrook, deposed – I examined the remains of 3 children on Tuesday afternoon. I found a new born child tolerably perfect, I cannot tell whether it was male or female it was in a state of dry-decay.

I next drew out the trunk of a child with no head, this was new born and fully grown in a more advanced state of decay than the other. Whilst seeking the child’s head I found more bones sufficient for the trunk and limbs of a 3rd infant which may have been in the box for 9 to 10 yrs. The other two at distant periods, the last one about 4 to 5 yrs ago.

There was a rag tied around the neck of the child with the head, comparing the size of the rag to that of a new born child, it must have been tightly tied, the shrinking of the neck had caused it to come loose. I can give no idea of the cause of death or whether they were born alive owing to the condition of the bodies.

There being no further evidence the Coroner addressed the prisoner, asking if she wished to say anything. She replied by saying, perhaps, she had better not say anything now.

The Coroner addressed the jury, saying, the question before them was not to the concealment of the births, but how the children had come by their deaths, the medical evidence failed to show whether they had lived. Consequently their duty to show how they came to their death was at an end as they could not get to the fact that they had ever lived.

However, the case was one of the gravest suspicion, as the most recently born child had a ligature around its neck. If they could prove it was tied with the view to compression, they had to have proof of the child being born alive. Due to the condition of the remains they did not have that proof. All they could say was that the remains were found in a box belonging to the prisoner in very suspicious circumstances, and would have to leave the matter to another tribunal for further inquires to be made.

Jury’s verdict was that the children were founds dead, in an advanced state of decomposition in a box belonging to Mrs KIRKBRIDE. Whether the children were born alive, or how they came to their deaths the evidence failed to show.

With reference to the prisoner’s son, who was only 19yrs old and gave his evidence openly and frankly, they found him in no way implicated in the very unhappy occurrence. His employer was a Juryman and produced a certificate of character, he had, from his last employer in Penrith, who spoke most highly of him in all respects.

At close, Mr William GRACIE, 9 Osborne Rd, summoned as a juror, who did not attend was fined 40s by the coroner for not appearing.

KIRKBRIDE before the magistrates at the County Court's Liverpool and Penrith

Mrs KIRKBRIDE sentenced at Appleby Assizes


Copyright 2002 / To date