The Wallasey Hatchet Murders
Eleanor Llewellyn, 14 Mellor Road, Prenton, was a waitress at Evans Cafe in Grange Road, Birkenhead and during one busy lunchtime in April, 1916, she met (William) Thomas Hodgson, a 33-year-old assistant in a draper's shop called Robb Brothers, 232-246 Grange Road. Hodgson waited for Eleanor after work and offered to walk her home. Eleanor agreed, and the next evening he was again waiting for her, having arranged to take her to the pictures. Later they had some supper and again Hodgson offered to walk Eleanor home. As they walked together he asked her to meet the following evening but suggested a hotel which he knew that did not ask questions and rented rooms by the hour. Eleanor readily agreed as she felt infatuated with Hodgson. For the following year this was their routine. After work Eleanor and Hodgson would meet, they would go to the pictures or go for a walk in Birkenhead Park, then go to the hotel for an hour. After their secret romantic rendezvous Hodgson would board the train to Wallasey, where he lived at 16 Central Park Avenue with his 36-year-old wife and their two small children, Margaret, aged 4, and Cyril, aged 12 months old.
Hodgson had first met Margaret in Manchester when he worked at a draper's in St. Ann's Square, and lodged with her family in Moston. Despite Margaret's father disliking Hodgson they married on 14th September, 1910, at Harpurhey, near Manchester, and at that time he was 28 years of age and she was 30. After working for two years in Harrogate and a year in Huddersfield Hodgson moved to Wallasey in 1915.
It wasn't before long that Margaret started to suspect that her husband was having an affair. The neighbours would often hear them quarrelling. especially after he came home from being out late to the pub.
On 21st March, 1917, Eleanor announced that she was pregnant which angered her formidable mother. When Hodgson was told he said he would stand by her, but could do nothing until after Easter. During March he wrote six letters to Eleanor. One of the letters contained these significant words : "If you have the patience to wait until after Easter we will make some arrangements, so don't worry, it will be all right. We will meet before long, and I think we shall both be satisfied, and your mother too." To Eleanor and her mother this was interpreted as marriage.
On Monday 16th April, 1917, at about 7.40 am, Mrs. Eleanor Yates Law, 14 Central Park Avenue, had just risen from bed and was making herself a cup of tea when she heard raised voices coming from the Hodgsons' home next door. As the Hodgsons' had many arguments before it wasn't unusual but Mrs Law then heard the four-year-old child cry "Don't do that." Then she heard the exclamation "Oh!" in a voice that sounded like Mrs. Hodgson's. Mrs. Law did not hear any more until 8.35 am when she heard footsteps in the Hodgsons' yard and their kitchen door slam. Though Mrs. Law did not see Mr. Hodgson, she assumed it was him as he usually left for work at that time.
During the day Mrs. Law saw nothing of Margaret Hodgson or the children. At 6 pm that night, whilst she was letting a visitor out she leaned over from her own doorstep and knocked on the panel of the front door of No.16. Receiving no answer she went into Hodgsons' garden and knocked again but with the same result. Hearing the Hodgsons' baby crying Mrs. Law opened the unlocked kitchen door and entered. On opening the scullery door she saw the sprawling lifeless bodies of Margaret Hodgson and her daughter, 'Metty', in a pool of blood with their heads crushed. In fact Margaret received such shocking injuries to the head that her brain was protruding on the right side. The child had received a vicious blow on the right temple which had evidently killed her instantly. A hatchet, covered with blood and hair, lay between them.
The ambulance was promptly sent for and the bodies removed to the mortuary at Seacombe Ferry. Chief Inspector Morris arrived shortly afterwards. On examining the scullery he found the bodies of the two victims in a pool of blood. There were splashes of blood on the walls, cupboard, and on the gas stove. There were also splashes of blood on some jugs which were hanging on a shelf nearly 7 feet from the floor. There were no signs of a forced entry, but robbery appeared to be the killer's motive because an empty purse and a money box lay open on the kitchen table, and in the front-room the police found a large suitcase full of various valuables. At first the police believed it to be the work of a serial sex-offender who was known to be plaguing the district. He would pose as a workman to gain access to houses and then threaten the women inside with a hatchet before sexually assaulting and robbing them. The police discounted this theory because no thief would of left the suitcase full of valuables behind. It was, however, Tom Hodgson that the police wanted to interview.
Whilst the police were at the murder scene Hodgson had finished work and had gone for a drink at the Charing Cross Hotel with a colleague, William Marshall Wilson. On arriving home at 7.30 pm Hodgson appeared alarmed to find an ambulance and police outside his house. He pushed past Police Constable Marsh, who stood guarding the door, and demanded to know what had happened. Before anyone could tell him, he rushed into the the front-room and saw the suitcase. "It looks as if there is something wrong here. That isn't mine," he said.
Hodgson then noticed the hatchet, which had been placed on he mantelpiece. That did not belong to him either, he told PC Marsh. Then he buried his head in his hands and began to sob. Once Hodgson had calmed down he was told of the murders of his wife and daughter, who he never asked about. It appeared he was not as shocked as the police thought he be, then they noticed a spot of blood on the lapel of his coat.
After he had identified the bodies Hodgson was taken to the police station, where he made a statement. In it he said he left the house at 8.30 am, and at that time his wife and daughter were both well.
On returning home, he again emphasised that the hatchet found near the bodies was not his. He even produced his own axe from the cupboard under the blood-spattered sink, but by this time the police had decided to charge him with the murders of his wife, Margaret Alderson Hodgson, and his daughter, Margaret Hodgson.
William Thomas Hodgson
On 11th July, 1917, the trial began at Chester Assizes of the double murders. Hodgson pleaded "Not guilty" in a firm and clear voice. A newspaper noted that the courtroom was crowded "with those more interested in hearing the salacious details of Hodgson's extra-marital affair than about the murders themselves."
Dr. Napier, the police surgeon who had conducted the post-mortem's, testified in court that Margaret Hodgson and her daughter had been battered to death with the hatchet found at the scene, and further blows had been delivered after death. As Dr. Napier described how their heads had been smashed and their brains and blood splashed around, several women in the courtroom became faint and two had to be escorted outside.
There was no signs of a struggle or sexual assault, the doctor said, and the probable time of death was just before breakfast at 8'o'clock. Mrs. Hodgson had been cutting a loaf of bread by the sink when she was struck from behind with the hatchet.
The Home Office pathologist Dr. Bernard Spilsbury told the court that on examining the clothes Hodgson wore that morning he had found a small amount of blood which he estimated to be less than a week old. For such particularly gruesome murders why was there such little blood on Hodgson clothing? Spilsbury explained that the blood could have spurted around the hatchet, which shielded the killer from it even though blood covered objects on either side of him. No fingerprints were found on the hatchet after it was examined in London.
Next to take the witness stand was Eleanor Llewellyn. She explained to the court that it was not until Christmas 1916 that she found out Hodgson was a married man. She went on to explain "In March 1917 I went with my mother (Mrs. Sarah Llewellyn) to see a doctor in Liverpool. Tom came to my house on my return and I told him what the doctor had said. 'I will stand by you, and will not leave you', he promised". She had asked Hodgson what he was going to do and he told her he could do nothing until after Easter. On 24th March he wrote to Eleanor : "My dearest Lena, Darling, I am worried to death about you because I think your mother distrusts me. I shall not leave you in the cold, and if you have the patience to wait until after Easter I think some arrangements could be made. Don't worry. You will live with me before long, and then I think we shall both be satisfied, and your mother too. From your ever-loving boy, Tom."
Hodgson again wrote to Eleanor on Saturday, 14th April. Again he told her he was sorry he hadn't been able to see her, but he felt unwell and ne might not go into work (the day of the murders). He ended the letter promising, "I will be with you before very long."
Eleanor began to cry in the witness box and said she had given birth prematurely on 15th June 1917, but the baby was now not expected to live.
The defence counsel, Mr. Lindon Riley, asked the witness if she knew where Hodgson lived. She replied that she did not know and thought he was single and lived above the drapers shop where he worked.
Sarah Llewellyn, Eleanor's mother, testified that she confronted Hodgson at his workplace on the morning of the murders. She wanted to know if he was going to do the right thing by her daughter, and he told her he would, but not until after Easter. Mrs. Llewellyn asked Hodgson why wait until after Easter but he would only say that he had his "own reasons."
William Smith, Margaret's father, was the next witness, and he said that when Hodgson was under the influence of drink he had "an ungovernable temper." Mr. Riley quickly pointed out that Hodgson was not drunk on the day of the murders. Mr. Smith added that he was opposed to the marriage because of Hodgson's drunkenness.
Mrs. Ellen Smith, Margaret's mother, dressed in black and weeping continuously, described a holiday home in Liscard just a week before the murders. She said she had soon realised the couple were extremely unhappy together. They slept in separate rooms, and when Hodgson got up to go to work he prepared his own breakfast. Mrs. Smith also recalled how bad-tempered he was in the evenings.
George Robb, Hodgson's employer, testified that the defendant had not registered his time of arrival on the morning of the murders but he was often late. Mr. Robb added that the defendant was popular with both staff and customers.
Florence Sparkes. a work colleague of Hodgson, remembered that he was thirty minutes late on the morning of the murders. She hadn't noticed anything peculiar about his behaviour, but he had appeared extremely flustered and upset after Mrs. Llewellyn called to see him.
Tom Hodgson then stepped up into the witness-box. He began by telling the court that he had told Eleanor that he was married after they first met. Two months later, after going to New Brighton, they passed through Liscard and he pointed out his house in Central Park Avenue.
Hodgson went on to recall Mrs. Llewellyn's visit to the shop on the morning of the murders when she asked what he was going to do. "I could not tell what she was getting at", he told the court. "I suppose she thought I was going to marry the girl. I could not quite give her a definite answer. She did not know then what I was married".
He said the letters he wrote to Eleanor had been composed by them in order to mislead her mother into thinking they were going to marry. But as well as keeping her mother in the dark, he admitted he was also trying to put Eleanor off, as he had no wish to see her again.
Mr. Riley asked Hodgson, "what was your idea in promising to make arrangements for Miss Llewellyn after Easter?" "I wanted to give the girl a little money to help her on the way." Hodgson replied. "It was money I had coming to me from the firm after Easter as commission. The amount due was eight pounds, thirteen shillings.""Were your quarrels with your wife about Eleanor?"
"The quarrels between us" said the defendant, "always arose from my liking a glass of beer, though not from having a glass more that I ought to have."
"How did she know you had had it, if you hadn't had too much?" asked Mr. Justice Avory
"She smelt it," replied Hodgson.
He denied ever hitting his wife, insisting he had loved her very much and always kissed her tenderly when he left the house. They slept in separate rooms, he said, because Metty was afraid of the dark and wouldn't sleep alone.
Hodgson then gave his account of the morning of the murders.
He had risen at 7 o'clock as usual, lit the fire, and washed and shaved - cutting himself in the process. Then he prepared his own breakfast, ate it, and he took a cup of tea to his wife, who came down at 7.30 with Metty. They chatted for a while and then parted on "terms of perfect affection." Hodgson added that Margaret had told him a man had called at the house the previous day asking if the wanted any gardening doing. Mr. Riley then asked if he had ever thought of getting rid of his wife for Eleanor? Hodgson denied this and said he did not love Eleanor and had never loved her. He wasn't the father of her illegitimate child, nor did he ever wish to marry her.
At the conclusion of the three-day trial, the prosecutor Mr. Ellis Griffith KC, MP, told the jury that Hodgson had planned to murder his wife. He had read about the hatchet-carrying sex-attacker the police were hunting, and hoped to pin the murders on him. But the police had recognised him for what he was - a cold-blooded killer.
Mr. Riley described the prosecution's case as purely circumstantial. He pointed out that the murder weapon had not been connected to Hodgson in any way; and little blood had been found on his clothes, despite its presence everywhere else at the crime scene. The defence counsel suggested that a "mysterious stranger" had committed the murders. "Violent men," he said, "are wandering around the streets and anyone of them could have slipped into the house unseen and carried out the crime after Hodgson left."
In conclusion Mr. Riley asked the jury if it was possible that a man could murder his wife and child and then go to work and behave completely normally.
The jury deliberated for 14 minutes before returning a "Guilty" verdict. The Clerk asked Hodgson if he had anything to say why the judgment of death should not be pronounced upon him. The prisoner did not raise his eyes, and remained silent. Having assumed the black cap, the Judge pronounced the death penalty.
From the 'Wallasey News', 18th August, 1917
The execution took place at Walton Gaol on Thursday morning last of William Thomas Hodgson, who murdered his wife and daughter at 16, Central Park Avenue on April 16. The murder was of a particularly revolting character, and sent a thrill of horror through the district. Hodgson was a draper's salesman and buyer, and was employed at Robb Bros., Birkenhead. He and his family had only been in resident in this district for ten months. The condemned man met his fate promptly at 9 a.m. He walked firmly to the scaffold, and the execution had taken place within a minute from the time that he left the cell. Death was stated to be instantaneous. There was a small gathering outside the prison, the majority of whom were women, including many munitions girls, who waited for the tolling of the bell indicating that the sentence of the law had been carried out. The Under-Sheriff (Mr. Todd) was present deputising on behalf of the Sheriff, who was away. Ellis was the executioner.
When Hodgson was sentenced at the Chester Assizes there was no recommendation to mercy, but no effort was left undone to secure a remission of the capital penalty. An appeal was made in the Central Court of Criminal Appeal but it was dismissed, and a petition on his behalf, which received a disappointing measure of support, also failed. Since Tuesday afternoon, when Hodgson was interviewed by his solicitor, Mr. Behn, and informed that the petition had failed, he had appeared quite resigned to his fate and when the executioner entered the cell on Thursday morning he appeared almost relieved that the period of dread suspense had come to an end. His demeanour was quite resigned, and he submitted quietly to preliminaries and placed his arms in the desired position to be pinioned. The execution was carried out so expeditiously and humanely that it was stated that death had taken place within thirty seconds after he had left the condemned cell.
The condemned man's expiation of his crime on the scaffold forms the closing scene of a tragedy which will not easily pass out of the public memory on account of its brutal character and the close relation of the murderer to his victims. Behind the crime there was a sordid love affair, and the story of Hodgson's relations with the girl whom he had betrayed and his callous statement in court that he never really loved her threw a very discreditable light on his previous conduct and destroyed any feeling of sympathy that might have been felt for him.
The crime was committed on the morning of April 16, but it was not discovered until six o'clock in the evening, when a neighbour found the bodies of Mrs. Hodgson and her daughter with their heads battered in lying on the floor of the scullery at their house in Central Park Avenue. A blood-stained hatchet was lying by the bodies. and it was evidently the weapon with which the crime had been committed. When the police arrived they found that a number of electro-plated articles had been moved and placed in a portmanteau to suggest that a thief had broken into the house and committed the murder for the purpose of carrying out a robbery.
Hodgson's behaviour when he arrived later was not of the character that would have been expected from an innocent man who did not know anything about the crime. Instead of asking what had become of his wife and daughter, he remarked, although his attention had not been called to it, that the blood-stained hatchet did not belong to him, and his other observations had reference to electroplate and other articles that had been moved. The clothing he was wearing at the time was taken possession of by the police, and on being submitted to an examination by the Home Office specialist it was found that there were many stains of blood on the outer garments. The evidence at the trial established the fact that the murder had been committed early in the morning, and the next door neighbour stated that she had heard Mrs. Hodgson and the little girl utter cries before Hodgson left the house. Another neighbour stated that she saw Hodgson stop and brush something off his clothes as he was leaving the house. Tradesmen called at the house during the day and got no answer, and there were no traces that the house had been broken into for the purpose of robbery.
It has been remarked upon as coincidence that Hodgson lived at No.16, he committed the crime on the 16th, and was hanged on the 16th.
At the appeal hearing, Hodgson's counsel submitted that the learned judge at the trial had overlooked the importance of the fact that footsteps were heard in the yard at the back of the house after the crime had been committed, and that the summing-up had left in doubt the question whether the waitress with whom the prisoner had relations at Birkenhead knew of the prisoner's marriage.
Without calling on counsel for the Crown, however, the Lord Chief Justice, giving the judgment of the court, said there was ample evidence on which the jury could come to the conclusion that the prisoner was guilty of the crime. There had been no misdirection by the learned judge, and the appeal must be dismissed.
The inquest was held before the city coroner, Mr. A. G. Inglis, in the gaol, and the governor, Mr. John Dillon, said the deceased, who was thirty-four years of age and a draper by occupation, resided at 16, Central Park Avenue, Liscard. He was tried at the last Chester Assizes for the murder of Margaret Alderson Hodgson. found guilty, and sentenced to death by Mr, Justice Avory.
That sentence was carried out this morning according to law, and the witness was present. He was satisfied with all the arrangements, everything being carried out in a skilful, humane, decorous and expeditious manner.
Others present at the execution included the Under-Sheriff of Chester, Mr. Hadden Todd; the chairman of the visiting justices. Mr. R. J. Ward, the prison doctor, chaplain, chief warder, and forman of works.
The surgeon, Dr. George B. Griffiths, said there was no trouble with the arrangements, everything being done skillfully. Death was due to hanging, and was instantaneous.