Sack Murder 1891

From the Evening Express

19 May 1891

Murder and Mutilation at Liverpool.


A shocking discovery was made in Liverpool today pointing to a case of murder and mutilation. A dock gateman observed a bag floating in the water, and on taking it out was horrified to find the body of a youth of fifteen, with his throat cut from ear to ear and both legs sawn off at the knee. The knife and saw with which the deed had been done were in the bag. The police are investigating the case. The police have little doubt that the body found in the Sandon Dock points to a case of murder and mutilation. They are sending a description of the body to all the coast towns. It is thought possible that the bag may have floated into the dock from the river, but little reliance is placed on this theory. Deceased was four feet three inches high, had dark brown hair and grey eyes, and wore a dark brown corduroy jacket and knickerbockers, and. a black tweed vest and trousers. In the pockets were sixpence in silver, a penny, and two brass buttons.

21 May 1891


The body of a boy found in a mutilated condition in a sack in the Liverpool Dock yesterday has been identified as that of Nicholas Martin, aged ten, son of a foreman at a soap manufactory, who had been missing from his home since Saturday. He then had onlv twopence halfpenny, and sixpence being found on the body, the supposition is that he was decoyed by an offer of money.

26 May 1891

Liverpool Murder.


The Liverpool detectives who are preparing the case regarding the murder of the boy Martin for investigation before the coroner and stipendiary have come upon an important piece of evidence. They subjected the house in Stanley Street, where it is supposed the murder was committed, to another thorough search. The lower room was used by the accused as an office in connection with the Seamen and Firemen's Union. In searching the apartment the officers found concealed in a cupboard a scrubbing brush such as is used by housemaids, which was covered with what was believed to be blood. The detectives believe this brush was used for cleaning tile blood stains from the floor. It has been sent to an analyst for examination. The police are now searching for the boy's shoes and cap.

28 May 1891

Liverpool Murder.


The inquest into the circumstances of the death of the boy Nicholas Martin, whose mutilated body was found in a sack in the Sandon Basin, Liverpool, on Tuesday last, was resumed to-day. The court was crowded, much interest being displayed in the proceedings in consequence, of the expectation that doctors would be called to give evidence as to the result of the post mortem examination. Prisoner was represented by a solicitor The prosecuting solicitor for the corporation was present on behalf of the police. Mr. Nicholson, district secretary of the Sailors and Firemen's Union, was also present. Nicholas Martin, father of the murdered boy, said the prisoner lodged in his house fourteen years ago for seven months, but he had not been in the habit of

visiting them since. The day after the boy was missing he met the prisoner and said "Good day to him in Bridgwater Street, near to where witness lives. Prisoner lodged fifty yards from his house.

Liverpool Murder.


The inquest into the circumstances of the death of the boy Nicholas Martin, whose mutilated body was found in a sack in the Sandon Basin, Liverpool, on Tuesday last, was resumed to-day. The court was crowded, much interest being displayed in the proceedings in consequence of the expectation that doctors would be called to give evidence as to the result of the post mortem examination. Prisoner was represented by a solicitor The prosecuting solicitor for the corporation was present on behalf of the police. Mr Nicholson, district secretary of the Sailors and Firemen's Union, was also present. Nicholas Martin, father of the murdered boy, said the prisoner lodged in his house fourteen years ago for seven months, but he had not been in the habit, of visiting them since. The day after the boy was missing he met prisoner and said Good- day to him in Bridgwater-street., near to where witness lives. Prisoner lodged fifty yards from his house. The father added that, so far as he knew, prisoner did not know his children. He never had un angry word with prisoner. Mrs. Martin, the boy's mother, said she first missed him on Saturday night week, between ten and eleven o'clock. She had seen him opposite their house playing with a ball at a quarter to nine the same night. She did not give information to the police till the Monday following, because the deceased was in the habit of going to an uncle in Great Howard-street. She thought they might have kept him. The boy had 2d. on Saturday in his possession. Witness identified the boots found as her boy's.

Hugh M'Donald dock-gateman, deposed that at one o'clock on Sunday morning week he heard a splash at the Sandon Bason, but saw no one. An hour later he found a bag floating in the water, containing the boy's body, a knife, saw, two small blankets, and some brown paper.

The police officer who received the remains from the dock gatemen and took them to the deadhouse, said that as he was washing his hands there he thoughtlessly took up the saw and knife and washed them. The saw had something on it such as is usual after sawing bones. Another officer. deposed to stopping the last witness as he was washing the implements.

The court then adjourned for luncheon.

On re-assembling, Mary Patterson, second-hand clothes dealer, spoke to having identified prisoner as the man who purchased the two blankets found with the body on Whit-Monday.

John Wilson, shopman to the above, deposed to having sold a sailor's bag the same day, but, as his sight was bad, he could not identify the prisoner. Mr, Moss pointed out that the prisoner had admitted purchasing the bag.

Joseph Johnson, tool dealer, proved having sold the knife found in the bag to the prisoner.

Conway's landlady said he complained of being sick on Sunday and again on Monday, when he could not eat his dinner. He was to have gone on an excursion, but did not do so, as he felt unwell. At night he was in the kitchen and sang some verses of a Scotch song. The next moaning he went out early, but returned, saying he was not well.

29 May 1891


John Conway, charged with the murder of the boy Nicholas Martin was to-day identified by four witnesses—two tradesmen, from whom he bought a bucket and soda, and two publicans who also saw him on the night of the murder. Conway, who seemed very feeble, was afterwards taken before the stipendiary, and remanded for a week pending the result of the inquest.

Resumption of the Inquest

The inquest on the body of the boy Nicholas Martin was resumed to day. Evidence was given of the purchase by Conway of a bucket found in Stanhope Street.—An office boy named Dolan deposed to seeing the man talking to Martin on the night he disappeared, but he could not identify him. Mrs. Brown, the prisoner's landlady, was re-called, but could not identify the scrubbing brush found in the office in Stanhope Street

A publican in the neighbourhood deposed to Conway calling at his house on Saturday night, Sunday, and Monday. On the last named day he called twice, and on the second occasion had a paper parcel with him, and went to the water closet. The manager at another public-house also deposed to visits from Conway on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Assistant Head-constable Abbott and other officers deposed to the discoveries at the office in Stanhope-street and the arrest of the prisoner. Dr Paul Stated that he had examined the top room of the house in Stanhope Street

and found bloodstains on the floor, door, and walls. He also found bloodstains on some clothing which he examined. He believed the boy's throat was cut with a very sharp instrument, the windpipe being severed with one cut. Dr Lowndes gave corroborative evidence, and the court adjourned. The Coroner summed up and the jury returned a verdict of Wilful murder" against the prisoner

4 June 1891


Extraordinary Conduct of the Prisoner.

To-day, before the Liverpool stipendiary, the trial of John Conway, aged 60, a delegate of the Sailors' and Firemen's Union, for the wilful murder of Nicholas Martin, aged ten, on the 16th of May, was continued. The union solicitor, who previously represented the prisoner, to-day withdrew from the case. Evidence similar to that given before the Coroner last week, when a verdict of. Wilful murder" against, the prisoner was returned, was called. After witnesses had been called, including the murdered boy's parents, who repeated the circumstances of his disappearance, prisoner Con-way seemed to rouse himself up from the dejected attitude in which he had listened to the evidence of the first few witnesses. He closely cross- examined a witness who swore to having seen him with a boy on the night of the murder, and at last, losing his temper, he shouted, "1 have nothing to say about this white livered man, but that my curse and the curse of God may rest. upon him." Then turning to witness, he said, "You white livered scoundrel." The magistrates had several times to warn him not to make insulting remarks to the witness, and prisoner said they wished his soul away, and they should not before Heaven say the things they did. The case was adjourned till to-morrow.

8 August 1891


Conway Sentenced to Death.

At Liverpool Assizes on Friday, John Conway 60) was indicted for the murder of the boy Nicholas Martin on the 16th May last. The court was crowded before the arrival of the judge, and considerable interest was manifested in the case. When the prisoner was arraigned, he pleaded Not guilty in a firm voice. He looked much better than when he appeared in the police- court, and closely listened to the opening of the case. Mr Hopwood, in opening the case, said the first intimation of the tragedy was the discovery of the mutilated body of the boy in a sailor's bag floating in a Liverpool dock. The bag also contained a knife, a saw and some brown paper and part of a newspaper. The prisoner was proved to have purchased the bag and knife, and the saw, the brown paper, and the newspaper were also traced to his possession. It was also deposed by a witness that the lad when last seen was in prisoner's company. Traces of blood were found in the office occupied by the prisoner as secretary of the Firemen's Union; and a cabman also deposed to driving the prisoner, who carried a bag similar to that found, from the office to the docks on the night before the body was found in the river. The boy's boots, which were missing, were found in the neighbourhood, having been thrown over a wall into the yard. The razor, also proved to have belonged to the prisoner, was found in a stable-yard in the neighbourhood. Sixpence was found in the boy's pocket, and a witness would state that he saw the prisoner give 6d to the boy on the Saturday night on which he disappeared. Coming to the question of motive, counsel said be must confess that he could assign no adequate motive. Evidence similar to that already given in the police-court was repeated, the prisoner following it very intently. Mrs Martin, the mother of the deceased boy. when giving evidence broke down and cried bitterly. Another witness saw the prisoner and deceased together on Saturday night when asked if he could recognise the man pointed to the dock and said, That is the man." Some laughter followed, and the Judge threatened to clear the court. Evidence was given as to the prisoner's movements about the time of the murder as to his been with the lad on the night he disappeared and as to the removal of the bag from the house in a hansom cab to the pierhead, where the prisoner, who would not allow anybody but himself to handle it, took it on his shoulder and went in the direction of the river. The medical evidence advanced showed that there were no traces of outrage on the body, and the question of motive is thus still unsolved. At the close of the Crown case the court adjourned until Saturday. Mr Hopwood having summed up the case for the prosecution, Mr Segar addressed the jury for the prisoner. He contended that there was absolutely no motive assigned, and there was no motive conceivable for the terrible act which was laid to the charge of this poor man, although circumstantial evidence might be most cogent. When there was no motive, and when the act on the face of it was improbable, circumstantial evidence was invariably dangerous. Now an enemy might have committed this crime, an enemy of the parents or an enemy of the boy, or an enemy of the prisoner, but surely not a man who was always perfectly friendly with the family, who had never seen them much for years who had no feeling against any of them, and no feeling against the boy. It was simply inexplicable to imagine that the prisoner was guilty of the atrocious, horrible, and ghastly deed which was laid to his charge, and that, almost immediately after performing it, he should have gone about among his friends apparently perfectly well and as if nothing had happened. Those were striking facts, and should compel the prosecution to prove something like direct evidence against the prisoner. The jury found the prisoner guilty, and he was sentenced to death in the usual form.

22 August 1891


Execution of Conway.

John Conway, the Liverpool murderer, was on Thursday morning executed at Kirkdale Gaol for the murder of the boy Nicholas Martin, in the house which the house which the murderer occupied as an office of the Sailors' and Firemen's Union, of which he was. a branch secretary. The-culprit was condemned under the name of Conway, though he had since declared that his real name was Owen Giblinth, that he was 61 years old, and that be was born in Galway. The executioner was Berry, of Bradford. As Conway was brought to the scaffold and Berry was drawing the white cap on Conway, who was staring wildly about, said, "Hold on. hold on. I want to say something." Berry: You can't say anything now." Father Bonte stepped forward and held Berry's hand, whereupon the executioner said, Then say what you have got to say quickly." Conway then (when the white cap had been slightly raised by Berry) said, I want to speak of the officials of this prison. They have been very kind to me, likewise my father confessor, who has been very kind to me, and I wish all my prosecutors to be forgiven by me and by my God. Lord have mercy upon my soul, oh, my God, my God."

The Confession.

Immediately after the drop had fallen, Father Bonte, addressing those present, said :—" Gentle- men, before we leave I want to read you a declaration which he has made this morning. It is as follows :—

I accept the sentence that has been pronounced against me as just, and I now offer my life in satisfaction to all whom I have offended- to God, to my religion, to my country, to the parents of the victim, to the victim, himself and to society. In confessing my guilt I protest that my motive was not outrage, such a thought I never in all my life entertained drink has been my ruin, not lust. I was impelled to the crime while under the influence of drink by a fit of murderous mania. and a morbid curiosity to observe the process of dying. A moment after the commission of the crime I experienced the deepest sorrow for it, and would have done anything in the world to undo it. May God in his mercy forgive me.

JOHN CONWAY, 20th August, 1891."

The signature and date were in the condemned man's own handwriting. Father Bonte, continuing, said It was only on Wednesday I tried to impress upon him the necessity of this. He resisted considerably to make this public declaration, but be eventually consented to express this sentiment through me.

A Sickening Spectacle.

During the whole of the time Father Bonte was speaking the blood from the dead body was heard streaming on to the floor. It was then found that the condemned man's head had been almost torn from his body and was hanging merely by the muscles of the neck. As the Press representative stepped forward to observe what had happened more closely, Berry shouted out to the warders, Take them out take them out and they were at once hurried out of the scaffold-room, although at previous executions they have been allowed to remain until the doctor had descended the pit and pronounced life to be extinct.

The Executioner's Explanation.

On Thursday Dr Barr, seeing what had occurred, did not even go into the pit while the Press remained. Berry afterwards said to the reporters, whom he followed into the warders apartments, "They would have given him another eight inches drop but for me. If I had had my way I would not have given him above four feet six inches, he weighed l1st. 21b., and stood 5ft. 7in. without his boots. He is only hanging now by the muscles of his neck. 1 would, I tell you, have only given him 4ft. 6in, but they have given him a six-foot drop, and would have made it 6ft. 9in. It was Dr Barr who allowed this drop; he believes in a long drop."

A Reporter, But Dr Barr is only acting under instructions is not this drop fixed in the new Government regulations ?

Berry Yes, that is right enough, but this is the fruits of interfering with my decision but for me they would have decapitated him altogether.

The immense who crowd assembled outside the gaol to witness the hoisting of the flag little imagined the intensely horrible nature of the ordinarily horrible tragedy enacted within.


At the inquest held in the gaol at 9.30, after Major Knox, the governor, had given formal evidence, a juryman asked why Berry was not present, saying he had been at inquests there previously, and that Binns was once carpeted before the jury. The coroner replied that the governor had said that everything had gone off as usual, so there was no necessity for Berry to be present. Dr Barr said that the execution was carried out in the usual way.

The Coroner Was there no hitch at all Dr Barr?

Not so far as the execution was concerned. The jury returned the formal verdict That judgment of death had been carried into effect."

The reporters expressed a desire to see the body of the deceased man with the jurymen, but they were informed that the governor had directed that they could not do so.

An Inquiry Demanded.

The publication of the painful details connected with the execution of Conway has caused a feeling of horror in the City of Liverpool. On all hands expressions are heard that the cause of the bungling ought to be fully inquired into. When the drop fell, and the reporters heard the sound as of a sudden rush of water, they instinctively stepped forward and looked into the pit, where. they saw the sickening sight of the culprit's head almost wrenched from his body, the two members being attached only by a few of the muscles. The blood continued to pour down into the bottom of the pit until the floor of it had the appearance of a shambles. Seeing what had occurred, the reporters were ordered by Major Knox, governor of the gaol, in a peremptory manner to leave the place. This they were only too willing to do, as they had witnessed a scene which they will never forget. Speaking to Berry: a few minutes afterwards in the warders room on the subject, one of them said, "You have made a mess of it this time, Mr Berry."

Not I," replied the hangman; I am not to blame for anything that has occurred all is left to the doctor now, and this comes of not taking my advice. They would have given him another eight inches' drop but for me. If I had had my way I would not have given him above four feet six inches, but they have given him a six-foot drop, and would have made it 6 feet 9 inches, but for me. Dr Barr believes in a long drop."

The reporter then asked whether Dr Barr was not acting under instructions, and whether the drop was not fixed by the new Government regulations.

Berry replied, Yes, it is right enough, but this is the fruit of interfering with my decision but for me they would have decapitated him altogether."

Berry seemed anxious that the reporters would say nothing about the matter, and from what transpired at the inquest there is no doubt the bungle would not have been made public except for the presence of the reporters. Dr Barr did not go down into the pit as usual. Death must have been instantaneous owing not only to the fracture of the neck but to the bursting of the blood vessels. Looked at from the brink of the scaffold the rope was hidden deep in Conway's neck, and his flesh seemed to have given way like a rotten garment under the sudden strain. Berry left the gaol as soon as he could. It was observed by the reporters present that Berry was less collected than usual, and he seemed anxious to have the matter over. It has transpired that before Conway left the pinioning-room Berry placed the cap on his face, contrary to what has ever been done before. Father Bonte protested against this, and was so indignant that he removed the cap himself. While the procession was going towards the scaffold Berry seized an opportunity to replace the cap. It is also alleged that the convict was too tightly pinioned, causing not only inconvenience, but physical pain. After the execution Berry went to Father Bonte and expressed a hope that he would not communicate anything to the Press about what had occurred. If anything out of the way had happened be was sorry for it. It is further alleged that Berry behaved rudely to several of the officials.

The Murdered Boy's Parents.

In consequence of the excitement she underwent during the trial of the man since condemned for the murder of her boy, Mrs Martin has since been lying very seriously ill In her house, in Bridgewater-street. Happily, however, she has now been pronounced out of danger. As she expresses it, she now feels much more contented since the doomed man, seems to have got into a frame of mind better suited than formerly to the solemnity of passing into eternity. She can also now more heartily forgive him for the bereavement and the grief he has caused her and her household, and to which she ascribes the illness of an elder son. The last named, who has been following a seafaring life, has been laid up for some weeks through shock to the system, and is still an inmate of the Southern Hospital.


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