Sefton Tragedy 1896

Liverpool Mercury, Feb 18th 1896



Shortly after noon yesterday, Ida Mary Maloney BAXTER, aged 24, wife of William BAXTER, a miller of Sefton Village, near Liverpool, was arrested by the police on a charge of causing the death of her two children aged 2 and 3yrs. It seems in the course of the morning the woman made her appearance in the house of a neighbour with a razor in her hand, and said she had done some injury. The neighbour whose name is WHARTON, went into the house and found the two children lying dead on a hearthrug in a lower room. Their throats had been cut with a sharp instrument, Detective HOYLE who was sent for, at once communicated with Supt CROSS, and the bodies were conveyed to the mortuary at Seaforth. It is said that the unfortunate mother of the children had lately shown signs of mental aberration and that a careful guard had been kept upon her by friends. An impression is that Mrs BAXTER set upon the children in a frenzied fit. A younger child was sleeping in a cradle at the time the others met their death. Now in Seaforth Police Station, Mrs BAXTER will be brought before the magistrates at the Islington Courthouse tomorrow morning.


Liverpool Mercury, Feb 19th 1896



The horrible nature of the tragedy which was enacted by a young mother at Sefton on Monday afternoon has created a widespread sensation amongst the residents of that generally quiet an uneventful locality. Mrs BAXTER, the unfortunate woman, who will shortly take her trial for the wilful murder of her two little children is but 23yrs old. Her husband William BAXTER , some years ago was in business as a hay and straw dealer at Seaforth, but reverses in trade affairs caused him to forsake that business and remove to the less expensive neighbourhood of Gorsey Lane, Sefton. Since his retirement from his business he has worked as a miller for Messers James and Walter BIRCH at their mill in Sefton, where he had the reputation of a steady and reliable workman. Mrs BAXTER also has a similar reputation, a near neighbour yesterday described her as a, jolly, kind hearted woman, who was intensely devoted to her children. From careful inquiries with friends and neighbours it appears there is a total absence of any motive, or any friction which might have led to a quarrel between husband and wife. Indeed, from all accounts, it seems the family was a most domesticated and loving one. About 4mths ago Mrs BAXTER had another child, and after that time it was occasionally noticed that she had fits of melancholy, which, however did not cause great uneasiness. Her sister came to stay with her about a fortnight ago, and remained at the house until Sunday, when Mrs BAXTER seemed much better and she returned to her home in Wallasey. On the following day the terrible tragedy was enacted, although the husband leaving for work in the morning noticed nothing, particularly wrong with his wife. She, as usual dressed the children and the little family had breakfast together. 5hrs later the unfortunate man received the terrible tidings and hastened home to find his wife a temporary maniac and the best part of his family murdered. In appearance Mrs BAXTER is a prepossessing young woman of dark complexion, and her demeanour normally always kind and gentle. The two children who fell victim are boys aged two and three and a half years old, the baby which was in the cradle at the time the others were killed escaped without a hurt.

The Seaforth Police under the direction of Supt CROSS, did all that was necessary in the way of collecting evidence, and yesterday previous to the inquest Mrs BAXTER who had lapsed into a pensive, dreamy state was formally charged before Mr Richard WEBSTER at the Seaforth Police Station, and remanded. In the evening Mr Samuel BRIGHOUSE, county coroner opened an inquest on the bodies of the children at the Taylors Arms, Ford.

Half an hour before the time appointed the jury of 12 men, the foreman being Mr Christopher C. CAIN, proceeded to view the bodies of the little victims. In the meantime a cab drew up in which where the prisoner and a female attendant, Mr BAXTER and a Police Constable. With every care the poor woman, who seemed overpowered with weakness, and a vague returning consciousness of having done something terrible, was ushered into one of the apartments, and there attended by her mother and sister, who had come over from Wallasey to support her through the ordeal. Presently the jury came back, most bearing facial signs of the awful sight they had just witnessed, and the inquiry was then commenced. The Coroner first directed that Mrs BAXTER should be brought in, the poor woman was half carried into the room and placed in a chair. She wore a terrified and frenzied appearance for a brief moment, her brows knit as though endeavouring to understand the meaning of it all. This was borne out by her frequent queries.

"What are you bringing me here for?

Coroner, "Do you know what we are going to do? We are going to inquire into the deaths of your two children.

To this the prisoner, who seemed to have somewhat gained her self-possession, answered

"Yes they told me today"

Coroner, "You are entitled by law to be present and hear all that is to be said, either yourself or through a solicitor."

Mrs BAXTER [excitedly], I do not want to. I do not remember doing it. Oh, I did not do it. I did not do it. At this stage she broke down completely, and gave way to a torrent of tears.

Coroner, addressing the jury, said he did not think it would help them for the woman to remain, in her present condition. Neither would it benefit herself. He would take the responsibility of allowing her to sit in another room.

Mrs BAXTER was conducted out in a fainting condition as she departed she frequently said in a voice full of pathetic agony, "God have mercy upon me"

The Coroner addressed the jury telling them they simply had to inquire into the deaths of William Frederick BAXTER and Alexander BAXTER, whose bodies they had just viewed. They had to consider if the mother was the person who had brought about their deaths, and, if so was she guilty of the crime., he pointed out that the sanity or insanity of the mother did not come under their jurisdiction in any shape or form. Their duty was simply to find out how the children came by their deaths and when they considered the criminal case of the mother they had to deal with her as if she was sane. It was for the judge at the trial to consider the question of sanity or insanity.

William BAXTER, the husband was the first witness called, he said he was a miller residing at Gorsey Lane, Sefton, and gave the names and ages of his children. He last saw his children alive a few minutes to eight yesterday morning, when he left to go to work. They were downstairs in the kitchen, dressed and had their breakfast along with him. About ten minutes past one information was conveyed to him and he returned home finding both children dead.

In answer to the Coroner, witness said that the full name of his wife was Ida Mary Maloney BAXTER, when he left the house his wife was downstairs, she did not eat what would be called a breakfast, but he persuaded her to have something.

The Coroner, Suppose it is proved to the satisfaction of the jury that these children have come to their death by their mother, do you know any reason why she should have done this ?

Witness [with feeling], I do not know any reason, she was passionately fond of them.

Coroner, Has she had any trouble or sorrow ?

Witness, she has been ill since the last baby, which is four months old. Continuing, she is 23 and at her last confinement she had first been attended by a midwife, and afterwards Dr FITZPATRICK.

Coroner, had you any suspicion about her being unsound ?

Witness, Certainly, I thought that her mind was upset, but I did not think it was upset to the extent of endangering the lives of her children.

Coroner, Had you any suspicion that she might take away her own life or the lives of her children ?

Witness, Not the slightest.

Elizabeth HARDING said she resided in Gorsey Lane and about quarter to eleven on Monday morning she went into BAXTER'S garden to draw some water from the well. She saw the two children playing at the time in the garden.

Margaret WHARTON said she lived next door to Mr BAXTER, and about ten minutes past one Mrs BAXTER came to her back door with a razor in her hand. She came into the kitchen and witness noticed blood was on her hand, and she cried out, "It will not cut." Witness took hold of her arm, as she was afraid Mrs BAXTER would attack her and her sister, and they both ran out into the lane.

James HARDING, deposed to seeing Mrs BAXTER leave her own house, go into the house of Margaret WHARTON next door, and afterwards he heard the WHARTON girls screaming, and Mrs BAXTER ran out of the house. Afterwards he was sent to telephone the doctor and Birch's.

Supt CROSS, from the time he saw Mrs BAXTER leave her house until the WHARTON girls entered he saw nobody else go into the house.

Henry HARDING, weighing machine keeper said, a little after one he saw Mrs BAXTER in the WHARTON'S garden she was running up and down and slashing the razor across her throat, shouting out "It will not cut". His wife said to him, "Harry, run there and see what is the matter". He ran out and at the same time shouted to some men who were working in a field near at hand, but they took no notice. Mrs BAXTER then ran up to the witness still shouting, "It will not cut" and slashing at her throat. She had the razor in her hand open, there was a little blood on her throat. Witness seized hold of her hands, and said to her, "Drop the razor, and then it won't cut" as soon as he said this she dropped the razor, and it fell on to the wall and then rebounded into the brook below.

Coroner, "It was a very happy thought of yours to say that"

Witness, "I thought she might have made a slash at me" Proceeding, he said that when she dropped the razor he grasped both her arms and led her back to the house and shouted for assistance, but nobody came. Witness afterwards with the assistance of two other men, got her into the house and she was eventually given in to the charge of the police, who had been sent for.

Joseph SWIFT, a farm servant, living at Sefton, deposed to going with Annie WHARTON into the house to look for the children, and finding them lying side by side in front of the fire. They were laid there with care, with their feet to the fire, and in their day clothes. They were covered with blood, and apparently dead. Witness raised the alarm and eventually Dr FITZPATRICK and the police came on the scene.

Det Cons HOYLE of Seaforth, said he received the razor [produced] from Henry HARDING, afterwards he went into the house and took Mrs BAXTER into custody. He saw the children, who had at that time not been touched, but simply covered up. The youngest child was on its back, and the other boy lying on his side. Their throats were cut and they were both dead. Witness took possession of the clothing [produced]. At the police station witness charged Mrs BAXTER with causing the death of her two children. She replied, "Yes I do not remember it, I must have been mad."

Coroner, "Judging by the scratches on her throat, I should think she had attempted to cut her own throat. There was congealed blood on her hand and on her shirt"

Dr FITZPATRICK said, he practised at Litherland. He was sent to see the children at 2pm on the 17th. The injuries to William Frederick consisted of two possibly three incised wounds to the neck sufficient to cause death, wounds as might easily have been inflicted by a razor, Alexander had received two similar wounds, which might also have been produced by a razor.

The Coroner, "That is all the evidence" He addressed the jury saying the facts were plain in that case, he need not waste any more words on it. The question was whether it was not quite clear that the children came to their deaths at the hands of their mother. All the circumstances of the case were painful and very sorrowful, but they had a duty to find whether Mrs BAXTER was guilty or not guilty, and treat her as a sane person, if they came to the conclusion she had taken the lives of her children, their duty was to send her on a charge of "Wilful murder" to a court and there her sanity of insanity would be considered.

The jury, after a brief consultation gave their verdict as follows, "We find Mrs BAXTER guilty of the wilful murder of her two sons".

The prisoner was brought in, she appeared in a very depressed and nervous condition, and on being seated, the Coroner sitting close by her side, told her in a kindly and gentle manner, that the jury had considered the circumstances attending the deaths of her two children, and had come to the conclusion she had taken away their lives. It was his painful duty to commit her for trial for the wilful murder of those two children

The unfortunate woman collapsed, and was with difficulty removed from the apartment. Subsequently in the presence of her mother and sister, she regained more composure, and was afterwards removed in a cab to Seaforth Police Station, where she remains at present.


Liverpool Mercury Feb 27th 1896



Ida Mary Maloney BAXTER aged 24, was charged on remand, at the County Magistrate's Court Liverpool, yesterday, before Messers Thomas SNAPE, J. SHAW, and E. J. GRIMSHAW, with having caused the death of her two children, William Frederick aged three and a half and Alexander aged two years, at Sefton on the 17th inst, Supt CROSS prosecuted, Mr John SEFTON defended. The inquiry was held in a private room, prisoner, whose condition had greatly improved since the coroner's inquest being present, in charge of Sgt ELLIOTT and a constable from Seaforth.

The facts stated by Supt CROSS, the prisoner and her husband had resided together for three years at a semi-detached house in Gorsey Lane, Sefton, they had three children, the two deceased and a 4mth old baby, and all the details referred to at the inquest which occurred on the 17th.

Witnesses called giving the evidence they gave at the inquest, Elizabeth HARDING, Gorsey Lane, in reply to Mr SEFTON, she said the prisoner always seemed kind to her children, her health, however had been impaired since her last baby was born. Margaret WHARTON, single woman and next door neighbour, who also stated in reply to Mr SEFTON, that the prisoner had been in ill-health since her confinement in October last and appeared in low spirits, about a fortnight prior to the 17th she was "very bad in her head".

Henry HARDING, Gorsey Lane, who witnessed her trying to cut her own throat and exclaiming, "It will not cut" also witnessed the prisoner carried into her own house on cross examined by Mr SEFTON, said that when they were taking the prisoner to her own house she said, "I want my baby, it is crying for me"

Joseph SWIFT, carter, of Sefton, who was in Gorsey Lane on the day in question.

Plans of the house of the prisoner and that adjoining having been put in by Mr James DOD, architect of Liverpool, Det HOYLE gave evidence as to his going to the house of the prisoner, and finding the children with their throats cut. He stated the prisoner was apparently mentally deranged and was in a terrible state. Although she had known him for years on that occasion she did not recognise him, the following day when she seemed recovered somewhat he charged her with causing the death of her two children, she replied, "Yes, I do not remember it, I must have been mad"

Dr D. M. FITZPATRICK of Litherland deposed to being called on the 17th inst and his findings on examining the children, in reply to Mr SEFTON, he said he had seen Mrs BAXTER twice since her last confinement, on the second occasion she appeared to have "fallen off" very much in health and was despondent. She spoke to him of their financial position, and referred to the difficulty she might consequently have in bringing up her children, he knew the prisoner and her husband had been in better circumstances. From the evidence and his own personal observations, he was sure that the prisoner was insane at the time she committed the act

Prisoner, who had not apparently taken any interest in the proceedings was then committed to the assizes for trial


Liverpool Mercury March 24th 1896




At the Liverpool Winter Assizes, yesterday, before Mr Justice KENNEDY, Ida Maloney BAXTER, aged 23, was indicted for the murder of her two children, William Frederick and Alexander, at Sefton on the 17th of last month. Mr COTTINGHAM and Mr STEEL were counsel for the prosecution, and the accused was defended by Mr McCONNELL. The court was crowded, the painful circumstances of the case having been made widely known. On entering the dock accompanied by two female wardens the prisoner looked around the court in a somewhat vacant manner, and although she listened to the evidence, she did not betray any emotion, or seem fully to realise the gravity of the position in which she was placed. The trial was of short duration, and practically one of a matter of form, the result being accepted as a foregone conclusion. Both counsel and witnesses for the prosecution admitted at the outset that the unfortunate woman had a disorder of the brain, and confirmatory testimony having been given by two expert medical witnesses for the defence, the jury at once concluded that the plea of insanity had been fully proved. The trial was an exceedingly painful one, and before its conclusion a considerable number of those present were affected to tears.

Before the prisoner was formally charged, his Lordship asked did any question arise as to whether the prisoner was in a fit condition to plead. He did not want the question raised afterwards. His Lordship asked the prisoner did she understand the nature of the charge made against her. After some hesitation she replied in the affirmative, and when asked to plead said she was guilty. At the suggestion of his Lordship, and on advice of counsel that plea was withdrawn, and one of not guilty submitted.

Mr COTTINGHAM, addressed the jury saying it rested upon the defence to prove insanity and on that point witnesses of the highest possible character would be called by Mr CONNELL, he sincerely trusted that his friend would be able to convince the jury that the woman was insane, and asked them to consider most gravely the evidence that would be given

Witnesses James DODD, surveyor, Liverpool, James and Henry HARDING, who lived in Gorsey Lane, Harriet WHARTON, next door neighbour, Joseph SWIFT, carter of Sefton, Det HOYLE, stationed at Seaforth, who all gave the evidence as given at the inquest. Dr FITZPATRICK, who had known the prisoner for six years, was of the opinion she was insane at the time she killed her children

Mr McCONNELL, addressed the jury for the defence, he did not propose to appeal to them, the facts spoke more strongly than any words of his could. The officer who proved the arrest had told them the condition in which he found the unfortunate woman, this was corroborated by the still more valuable evidence of Dr FITZPATRICK who said he had found her insane.

He had present Dr WIGGLESWORTH and Dr BEAMISH, gentlemen of wide experience in mental ailments who would be called to give evidence. He submitted that then this case would be complete and he would be entitled to ask them to say that the prisoner was insane when she committed the crime.

Dr WIGGLESWORTH, of Rainhill Asylum, stated, that he examined the prisoner in Walton Jail on the 3rd of March, he had read the depositions and had heard the evidence and was undoubtedly of the opinion that when the woman committed the act she was not responsible for her actions. Corroborative evidence was given by Dr BEAMISH of Walton Jail

His Lordship in summing up said, that there was no question that the child met its death at the hands of its mother. The law presumed a person sane until the contrary was proved to a jury, and in this case there seemed to be very strong evidence indeed that this poor creature was not accountable for her actions.

The jury at once returned a verdict to the effect that the prisoner committed the act, but, that she was insane at the time.

His Lordship then ordered that the prisoner should be detained as a criminal lunatic until the pleasure of her Majesty is known.

The indictment as regards the second child was not proceeded with and the prisoner was immediately conducted from the dock, his Lordship having gained an application that her husband should be allowed to see her.


copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved