The St Helens mystery death of Miss M'Levey, 1897

Liverpool Mercury, April 29, 1897

Terrible tragedy at St Helens

A café manageress found dead.

Arrest of her sweetheart

A shocking discovery was made yesterday morning at the Market Café, St Helens, of the Café and Recreation Company, in the Market Place, St Helens. The dead body of Miss Margaret M’Levey, aged 25, the manageress of the two central cafes of the company, was found lying in the corner by the window, under circumstances of a peculiarly mysterious character, which has given rise to considerable excitement in the town. The deceased resided with her mother and a younger sister at 6 Hatton St, off Prescot Rd, and had been employed for about 3 years by the Café Company. For the last three months she had acted as manageress and was personally in charge of the Central Café, Bridge St, while her younger sister Ethel was employed at the Market Café.

It has hitherto been the custom for the market place to be first closed, and after being locked up the keys of the front door, safe, etc, were handed to Miss M’Levey at the Bridge St establishment. Miss M’Levey after locking up the premises of which she was personally in charge afterwards visited the Market Café and left on a shelf near the counter the key of the outer door of the other shop, so that her sister, who came down earlier in the morning, could hand it to a girl who cleaned out the place early every day. On Tuesday about 11pm the keys of the Market Café were handed to Miss M’Levey as usual, at the Bridge St shop, but as she had not returned home at midnight considerable uneasiness was felt. Her mother and sister went in search of her and on visiting the Market Café about 1.30am found the place in darkness, but the front door was partially open. Being afraid to enter Mrs M’Levey blew a whistle and subsequently gave information to the police, who, on entering the premises, found the missing young lady lying dead in the corner of the shop near the window Inspector Steel, Sergeant Moffatt and other officers, were soon afterwards on the spot and the body was conveyed to the new mortuary behind the Town Hall. Dr Rose was summoned and examined the body, but declined to give any opinion as to the cause of death. The opinion of the police was that the young woman had, had a fit, or been suddenly frightened, which caused her to fall against one of the forms or tables in the room, but a mysterious fact about the matter is the disappearance of the keys, four in number, which Miss M’Levey had in her possession and with which she must have gained admission to the premises. A close inspection of the place was made but no keys were found.

Early in the morning as daylight broke, Inspector Steel and other officers made a close search of the premises and also the roads from the Market Café to the Central Café in Bridge St, the road generally taken by Miss M’Levey, along what is known as the Victoria Passage, but no trace of the missing keys was obtained.

The keys were recovered late that night under very remarkable circumstances, a Mrs Bohan residing in Brynn St visited the police office and stated that about 9.30am she was passing along the Victoria Passage and picked up a bunch of four keys, she was then unacquainted with the death of Miss M’Levey and the fact of the café keys being missing and was on her way to catch a tram from Peasley Cross. She journey to Peasley Cross and it was only on her return in the afternoon she heard of the occurrence at the café, and brought the keys to the police office, where they were at once identified as the missing keys.

A post mortem of the body was carried out by Dr Rose and Dr Fred Knowles at the mortuary behind the Town Hall, during the afternoon and the coroner fixed a late hour in the evening for opening the inquiry into the cause of death.

Sensational developments arrest of the deceased’s sweetheart

The recovery of the keys, increased the excitement in the town, as it was held to prove they had been forcibly taken from Miss M’Levey by some designing individual for a still unexplained reason.

Later at night the excitement in the town intensified when it became known that the police had arrested a young man, Albert James Heath of Windle St, an assistant at the grocer’s establishment of Messers Heath and Leedham, Church St, St Helens, on the charge of having caused her death. It appears the prisoner and the deceased woman had kept company for a considerable time and after Miss M’Levey had closed the shop, it had been customary for the couple to walk to Miss M’Levey’s home together. The prisoner was a frequent visitor to the café in charge of Miss M’Levey and it was understood that the directors of the company had recently had their attention drawn to the fact. This caused some friction between the couple.

The prisoner will be brought up at the local police court today and be remanded pending further inquiries.

A inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of Miss M’Levey was opened before Mr S. Brighouse county coroner, at St Helens Town Hall last night. A jury of 15 gentlemen were sworn of which Mr T. Sherlock, chemist was the foreman. After the jury had been taken to view the body the Coroner addressing them, briefly stated the circumstances under which Miss M’Levey had been found dead at the Market Café, and laid stress upon the circumstance that the bunch of keys which Miss M’Levey must have used to obtain admission had been carried away, and said there were indications she had met her death either by strangulation or that the mark on her neck had been caused by the collar of her dress. He ordered a post mortem by Dr Rose and left it to the police to call in another doctor if they considered the circumstances sufficiently grave to warrant it. The police accordingly called in Dr Fred Knowles who was present at the post mortem.

In the meantime the police had received possession of the keys which were found some 40 yards away from the café, at a spot that the police had carefully examined earlier in the day. As a result of further inquiries by the police, a young man called Albert James Heath, of 15 Windle St was arrested, and charged with having caused the death of Miss M’Levey. He was represented by Mr R. W. H. Thomas, solicitor. It would be impossible for the to conclude the inquiry that that night and would have to resume the hearing

Mrs Margaret M’Levey, widow, 6 Hatton St, St Helens, said her daughter was in the employ of the St Helens Café Company and was in charge of the two cafes in Bridge St and Market Place. She was in good health and had never been under the care of a medical man since birth. Witness last saw her alive at 10.15 pm on Tuesday at the Bridge St, Café, when her daughter said she would be home between 12 and 12.20, as she did not return, her and her daughter Ethel went in search of the deceased. On reaching the café they found it in darkness, but the door was slightly open, she was about to enter but her daughter prevented her. She said, “Let me get to my child, Maggie is murdered inside” Her daughter pushed her back and dragged her to the door, which closed with a spring. They then raised the alarm and police officers came, the police found her daughter dead on the floor. She knew Albert James Heath, he was well acquainted with her daughter. She had frequently seen them together and believed he was her lover. He always brought her home after she had closed the cafes. She did not see them together on Monday night.

Dr Andrew Rose gave evidence that he was called to the Market Café about 2am where he saw the body of the deceased. He described her appearance and said he and Dr Knowles made a post mortem, they were both unanimous that she had died from suffocation.

Police Inspector Steel said that a 4am he visited Heath’s house and found him in bed. In a conversation with him Heath said he had not seen Miss M’Levey since Saturday night. He denied having seen her on Monday, on that night he was out walking with a friend at Windle, and got home about 11pm. He did not know the name of the young man who he was walking with or where he lived. That night he arrested Heath for causing the death of Miss M’Levey.

Heath replied, “I know nothing about it, I told you when you came to the house this morning where I had been. It was quite a mistake when I told you that I had a young man with me going round Windle Cop, I was alone. When Beecham’s clock struck eleven, I was passing the park gates in Cowley Hill Lane, opposite Mr Boydell’s and I arrived home at eight minutes past eleven, and was in bed before it struck half past, because my brother woke up and said, “Is that you Bert?” and I said, “Yes Charley” I slept as usual and was fast asleep when you came and knocked on the door. My mother heard it first and came to my room door gave two knocks and asked me what Inspector Steele wanted with me. I replied, “Nothing that I am aware of” My mother said, “Open the window and tell him that you are Albert” which I did. You then asked me to come down stairs. I came down and let you in. You then asked me when I last saw Miss M’Levey and I told you Saturday last. All day Sunday I was in the house ill, and on Monday after leaving business at 8.15pm, I went home and got home at 8.30pm. I wrote a letter to my relations in Birmingham and started out to post the letter at the General Postoffice and then came straight home at 10pm. It is all I have to say, I have said it voluntarily.” Inquiry adjourned until Tuesday

Liverpool Mercury, May 1st, 1897

Another post mortem examination

Mr R. W. H. Thomas, solicitor who has been entrusted with the defence of Albert James Heath, has instructed Dr Challenor and Dr Jackson to make another post mortem examination, this was carried out yesterday afternoon at the mortuary behind the Town Hall, where the body of Miss M’Levey had remained since Wednesday morning. It is understood that their investigations have confirmed the theory that the girl died from suffocation, and that there are no marks of violence on the body which could in any way suggest that she had been forcibly done to death.

The prisoner since his formal remand is being detained in the police cells at the St Helens Police Office, and will be present in custody at the resumed inquiry before the Coroner next Tuesday. In the meantime he is being supplied with meals by his relatives and has full liberty to read and take exercise. He is 19 years of age and second son of the late Frank Heath, grocer, who was for some years in partnership with Thomas Leedham under the title of Messers Heath and Leedham. The firm have two shops one in Church St and the other in Naylor St, North, the accused has been engaged in the first named premises for some years. His many friends in the town absolutely discard the suggestion that he has committed the crime with which he has been charged

The interment of the remains of the unfortunate young woman will take place at St Helens Cemetery on Sunday morning. The relatives are desirous of removing the body from the mortuary to her late home on Thursday night, but in consequence of the expressed desire on the part of the prisoner’s advocate for a second examination, this was not permitted.

Rumoured confession of the killer

The mysterious tragedy at St Helens entered upon another sensational stage last night when a rumour spread through the town that the prisoner Heath had made a confession regarding his movements and actions on Tuesday nigh last, when Miss M’Levey came by her death. Heath had stated to the police at the opening of the inquest on Wednesday and at the proceedings before the magistrates on Thursday that he had not see the deceased since Saturday night last. It was admitted by the prisoner that he had made an untrue statement to Inspector Steel and there was considerable anxiety manifested to learn the facts as to his rumoured confession last night. The police and Mr Thomas the solicitor instructed for the defence were both extremely reticent as to what had actually transpired, though it was stated in each case that further light would be thrown upon the case at the resumed inquest, when important additional evidence would be given.

In reply to specific questions the Chief Constable said the prisoner’s new statement was contradictory in some respects to his former accounts of his movements on the night Miss M’Levey met with her death and the prisoner had admitted that he was at the café on the night in question, but, denies his responsibility for the death of the unfortunate young woman.

Liverpool Mercury, May 5th, 1897

The inquest into the death of Miss M’Levey was resumed before Mr Brighouse and a jury at the St Helens Town Hall yesterday, among those present were Alderman T. Cook and Mr C. Sharples [directors of the Café Company], and Mr J. Cotton occupied seats on the bench.

The prisoner Albert James Heath, was present in custody and did not appear to be much affected by the proceedings. He was represented by Mr T. Swift barrister, instructed by Mr R. W. H. Thomas solicitor. Chief Constable Wood and Inspector Steel watched the proceedings on behalf of the police.

The first witness called was Mrs M’Levey mother of the deceased she repeated her evidence as given at the opening of the inquiry.

The next witness was Ethel M’Levey, sister of the deceased, she described the routine taken when locking up the café, and corroborated the evidence her mother gave on finding the body of her sister. She stated that the prisoner had been keeping company with her sister, he was frequently at the Bridge St Café on both sides of the bar and was in the habit of walking her sister home after she had closed the café, almost nightly. Her mother did not recognise the courtship, but objected to it, she had never seen the prisoner in their house. She knew that the directors of the company had complained about the frequent attendance of the prisoner at the café. When asked by Mr Swift did this young man appear to love your sister a great deal, she replied, “Yes”

Elizabeth Catherine Leather of 8 Grafton St, an assistant at the Market Café deposed that she handed the keys to Miss M’Levey at the Bridge St Café about 11pm on Tuesday, the deceased was then preparing to lock up and go home. She did not see the prisoner there.

Amelia Corns, a waitress at the Bridge St Café said she left for home shortly before 11pm, the deceased was at the café and appeared all right.

Walter Stanley, a hawker of Brook St, said he saw a young man who he took to be the prisoner standing at Market Place near the café shortly after 11pm, he had known the prisoner for about 18 months.

William B. Bamford of 10 Naylor St, North, café proprietor said he saw a young man running across Market St from the direction of the café and towards East St, about 11.30pm on the night in question. The man was running quickly and he had identified the prisoner from about a dozen other men as the one he saw.

Police Sergeant Moffatt deposed to being called to the café and finding the body of the deceased. He and other officers searched for the keys in the café and the Victoria Passage but found nothing. He now knows the spot where they were found but they were no there when the passage was searched.

Mrs Buchan of Brynn St gave evidence on finding the keys produced.

Police Inspector Steel repeated his former evidence as to visiting the prisoner’s house on Wednesday when he denied all knowledge of the affair. However on Friday the prisoner intimated that he desired to see the Chief Constable and witness, he was cautioned that anything he said would be given in evidence. The prisoner then said, “In the first place this is a true confession as to what I am charged with. After being before the magistrates on Thursday, Mr Mundin the police court missionary, came to me and persuaded me to tell the truth whatever it might cost me, which I said I would do.. That evening I had two friends who came to visit me in company of Inspector Steel. Their chief conversation with me was the same as Mr Mundin, persuading me to tell the truth. My mind was fully made up to tell the truth which I do now. My former statements were not correct through being so upset. On the night she was found dead at 7.45pm I had finished business went straight home and stayed in the house till 9pm. Then I came out and went to the Gamble Institute until 10pm. Then came out and went down Corporation St, up Hall St, down Church St and Bridge St as far as the Central Café. My reason for going as far as the café, but not going inside was to make arrangements about seeing her home, but on seeing her mother inside it prevented me from going in, knowing what unpleasantness it would cause at finding me there to take her home, which has been the case before. I then determined to wait for her to ask about the further arrangements. I went under the market cover, came out by the Victoria Tap Hotel and went across the Market Square to Naylor St, down Church St again as far as the White Hart Hotel. I came back again and went to the café by way of Church St. Finding she was not quite ready I took a walk round market place. When I came round Collin’s end I found the Market Café door open, before I entered I saw a man I knew who has a bit of a limp in one foot. He looked at me and passed on. I then went into the Market Café knowing that Miss M’Levey was there putting the key in, but as soon as I got in and she heard footsteps coming in after her, she turned around all of a sudden and when she saw me she managed to say, “Oh, how-----” then she dropped to the floor, seeming very much frightened at my appearance. Then when I saw she had either fainted or was in a fit, I did not know what to do, I fetched some water in a glass when I raised her head I could not get the water down her throat, her teeth being clenched together. I put my fingers into the glass and sprinkled her face with the water, thinking it would rouse her. When I raised her head again I was terrified to find water running from her mouth but her teeth were still clenched. I laid her down again and took the fur from round her neck, thinking it would enable her to breath more freely. I raised her head again and called out to her, “Maggie speak to me” I did this three times to no effect. I laid her down again and put my hand over her heart to feel if it was beating, but failing to feel it I put my ear to her mouth to listen if she was breathing, failing to hear anything I took her wrists to feel if her pulse was beating, finding neither beating, it told me that she must be dead, I was more horrified than ever. Not knowing what to do or act, I left her in the same position as she fell at the beginning and left her in the café.

I went home by way of East St, Tontine St, Liverpool Rd, Arthur St, Lowe St, Duke St, turned into Crab St, up Oxford St and home.

My reason for leaving her after I had done what I could to restore her, was, knowing if a police officer came in he would likely charge me with her death, also her mother would do the same, if she knew I was with her. She would at once say it was me because of her not caring for me to see her daughter home. I went to bed in usual spirits saying to myself if anybody should find her there I would tell them the whole truth, as she must have died from natural causes. The whole of the foregoing statement is correct and I have nothing further to say. I have made this statement without any interrogation and of my own free will.”

The statement was signed, “Albert James Heath” by the prisoner.

Dr Andrew Rose repeated his evidence to the effect that death was due to suffocation brought on by a fit and asphyxia.

Coroner, “Was there anything to show that suffocation was the result of violence?”

Witness, “None whatever”

Coroner, “Could this suffocation be brought on in a natural way?”

Dr Rose replied in his opinion the suffocation was due to natural causes.

Dr Fred Knowles, said he agreed with the findings of Dr Rose that death was due to suffocation

Coroner, “How do you say the suffocation was brought about?”

Witness, “It might have been by natural means or other means”

Coroner, “Do the probabilities lean in your opinion to suffocation by natural causes or to other means?”

Witness, “They are about equal”

Coroner, “Then you are not prepared to say that death was due to natural causes?”

Witness, “Not distinctly, there is no evidence that it was”

Coroner, “What are the evidences that death was due to natural causes?”

Witness, “The absence of evidence that it was not”

In reply to further questioning witness said it was unlikely that a strong healthy girl would be seized with an epileptic fit, and epilepsy did not generally kill.

Mr Swift, “You said that suffocation might have been caused by other natural causes, what evidence is there of that?”

Witness, “None whatever”

Coroner, “Could other causes have come into operation without leaving any evidence behind?”

Witness, “Yes”

Mr Swift, “But you would have expected some evidence to be left?”

Witness, “I would have expected evidence of a struggle”

Mr Swift, “But there was no such evidence?”

Witness, “None that I am aware of”

Mr Swift, “Would you not regard it as a physical impossibility for the prisoner to struggle with the young woman to any successful extent?”

Witness, “I should think it was unlikely”

Mr Swift asked if syncopal asphyxia was not a combination of faint caused by fright and suffocation ensuing owing to the breathing muscles being paralysed?

Witness replied that it was something of the kind caused by fright or other means.

Dr Jackson said he had made a post mortem examination of the body in company of Dr Challenor and had come to the conclusion that death was due to asphyxia as the result of natural causes. He found no evidence of violence on the body. Dr Challenor gave corroborative testimony adding he was prepared to pledge himself that death was not the result of violence.

The Coroner then informed Heath that he was at liberty to give evidence if he so desired, but he would subject himself to cross-examination by doing so. Mr Swift after consulting Heath said he desired to giving evidence on his own behalf.

Heath entered the witness box and after being sworn repeated the statement he had made to Chief Constable Wood and Inspector Steel. He added that he had been paying his addresses to Miss M’Levey out of friendship, he certainly had not been courting her.

Mr Swift, “From first to last did you offer any violence to her in any way or for whatever?”

Heath, “None whatever”

Coroner, “Did you see the keys at the café?”, Heath, “No Sir”

Coroner, “Did you see the keys anywhere?”, Heath, “No Sir”

Coroner, “Do you mean to say you never saw the keys of the Market place Café that night?”, Heath, “No Sir”

The Coroner pointed out that the keys were found in the passage about 20 yards away, and asked if they were placed there by him, Heath, “No Sir”

Coroner, “At your lustigation?” Heath, “No Sir”

Coroner, “Or with your knowledge?” Heath, “No Sir”

Coroner, “And you swear that?” Heath, “Yes Sir”

Coroner, “And you mean to say that the keys are a mystery to you ?” Heath, “Yes Sir I know nothing whatever about them”

Coroner, “You have made three different statements to the police?” Heath, “Yes Sir through being upset”

Coroner, “Whatever the result may be you have only yourself to blame for the position in which you stand”

The Coroner then summed up and said it was for the jury to say on the evidence how the girl had come by her death. There was no doubt she died from suffocation and it was for them to say how it had been brought about. Unless they were perfectly satisfied that death had resulted from other than natural causes they had no right to return an open verdict. If there was strong doubt in their minds how the suffocation had been caused then it was their duty to say death was due to suffocation but under what circumstances they could not say.

After ten minutes absence the jury returned a verdict of “Death from suffocation produced by natural causes” a decision which was received with some applause from the court.

The Coroner then informed Heath that he was at liberty so far as the court was concerned.

After some conversation the prisoner was admitted to bail pending his appearance before the magistrates today, in one surety of £100, the bail was allowed by Alderman T. Cook and Mr C. Sharples.

Liverpool Mercury, May 6th, 1897

Albert James Heath was again brought up before the St Helens magistrates yesterday in connection with the café mystery and discharged.


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