The stories behind Lancashire’s most notorious murders

The north west may seem like an idyllic place to live.

With its rolling hills, open moors and stunning countryside, we really do live in god’s country.

But Lancashire and Cumbria have a dark past, full of grisly murders that would make even the brave shiver in their boots.

Here are 13 Lancashire and Cumbria murderers from the past, from the wife killing Lancaster surgeon who chopped up his spouse, to the Chinese holidaymaker who strangled his beloved in Borrowoford.

We would encourage you not to read this before you go to bed…

1. William Fish, Blackburn’s Sweeney Todd

We kick off our list with a murder that sent ripples through Victorian Blackburn, making headlines across England and shocking the authorities.

Barber William Fish killed a seven-year-old girl in 1876 before cutting her up and spreading the remains throughout Blackburn.

Due to the heinous nature of his crime, and his profession, he became known as Blackburn’s Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Lancashire.

Fish was only caught when a bloodhound was let loose in his house and alerted police to several body parts that were stuffed up his chimmney. it was the first crime ever solved by a dog.

Before he was hanged, Fish wrote a statement in which urged others not to follow the same path as he had.

It read: “If I had served God instead of Satan I should not have been here.”

Read the full story here.

The murder of Emily Holland was the first murder in the UK to be solved by a dog.

2. Dr Buck Ruxton, the horror surgeon

This devil doctor was convicted of killing his wife and maid in 1935.

Dr Ruxton not only killed the pair after growing increasingly jealous of his wife and her supposed affair, but set out about dismembering them.

The Lancaster doctor cut the pair up into 70 pieces, sure that he could avoid detection by dumping the pieces in a Scottish river which would carry the remains out to sea.

Buck’s house still stands today, in two Dalton Square Lancaster and the bathtub he used to slice the two women up is now being used as a horse trough by Lancashire Constabulary.

Read the full story here.

Buck Ruxton who killed his wife and maid before cutting them up into 70 pieces.
(Image: Lancs Live)

3. Miao Chung-yi, The honeymoon killer

Chinese lawyer Miao Chung-Yi broke boundaries in the US by becoming the first Asian man to get a law degree at Loyola University in Chicago.

But his legacy is marred after he savagely murdered his new wife Sui Ying-chau while on holiday in the Lake District.

Sui was the daughter of a wealthy businessman who had recently passed, leaving her with more than a million US dollars (about $15m today or £12m) which he had got through exhibiting rare artifacts across the world.

Miao was hanged for the murder in 1928 but the crime still fascinated the public.

It was later suggested by the Liverpool Echo that Miao had not killed his wife for monetary gain but as part of a gangland hit which had gone out on Miao by a rival Chinese gang or secret society.

You can read the full story here.

Miao Chung-yi with his wife Sui Wai Shueng in 1928.

4. Margaret Allen, Rawtenstall’s first murderer

Transgender politics isn’t something we expect to see in 1948 but it transpired that Margaret Allen, who committed Rawtenstall’s first murder, was known as Bill and lived as a man.

Bill worked as a man, sat in pubs drinking and swearing before telling people that he had gone to have special procedure performed at a hospital to change gender.

It is unlikely that this ever happened but Bill was convicted of killing 68-year-old Nancy Ellen Chadwick, an eccentric in Rawtenstall who was known to have inherited large sums of money.

In huge debt, Bill murdered the woman for her money. He was executed by Albert Pierrepoint in January 1949.

Read the full story here.

Margaret ‘Bill’ Allen, the transexual who committed Rawtenstall’s first recorded murder.

5. Cross Duckworth, the Blackburn child killer

The mangled corpse of a nine-year-old girl was found near Witton Park on Tuesday, November 8, 1892.

Impressions and marks from hobnail boots were stamped across her body and a red handkerchief was found stuffed in her throat. It looked as though she had been partly conscious when her attacker left her bleeding in a pasturage.

Alice Barnes’ death shocked Lancashire and much of England when her body was first discovered but it didn’t take the authorities long to find her killer.

The key piece of evidence in the trial was a red handkerchief which was found at the scene of the crime and linked right back to Duckworth.

It took a jury just two days to convict him for murder and he was sentenced to death.

Read the full story here.

Cross Duckworth (left) killed nine-year-old Alice Barnes (right) in November 1892.

6. Terry Clark, Mr Asia and Mr Big

The handless corpse that was found bloated and decaying in the Delph Quarry in Chorley presented Lancashire Police with a mystery.

They were only able to identify the man three weeks after he was fished out of the water when his former beauty queen girlfriend Julie Hue walked into Leyland police station to inform them.

Marty Johnstone (known as Mr Asia) was the name of the man and he was part of a massive international drugs rings based in New Zealand. It transpired that his partner Terry Clark (Mr Big) had killed his former business partner in a power struggle.

The trial at Lancaster Castle cost the crown more than £100,000 in security fees. Clark was found guilty.

Read the full story here.

7. Peter Griffiths, the murderer who changed forensics

This 1948 case changed forensics and criminal investigations in the UK forever. It was the first time that fingerprinting had been the biggest factor in finding the killer and it saw police take the clinical records of 40,000 people in Blackburn.

It transpired that 22-year-old Peter Griffiths, a former Welsh Guard, had raped and battered a three-year-old girl to death after taking her from a hospital room.

It took Lancashire Constabulary officers months to find a suspect in Griffiths and they did so after taking thousands of fingerprints from Blackburn men and matching them to a print left on a medicine bottle.

Griffiths confessed to the murder almost immediately upon arrest.

Read the full story here.

8. Paul Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans, the last men hanged for murder in Britain

This abhorrent Preston pair were the last people in Britain to be hung for the crime of wilful murder.

Paul Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans were both put to death in 1964 after they drove up to Workington to visit the home of John West before battering the bachelor to death.

Rumours abound that Evans had some relationship with John West that went beyond friendship and that the pressure or shame of hiding a homosexual relationship in a society which deemed it wrong had led to the killing.

At their appeal hearing, Lord Parker, who was part of proceedings, remarked: “a more brutal murder it would be hard to imagine.”

Read the full story here.

Paul Anthony Allen (left) and Gwynne Owen Evans (right) the Preston man were the last to be hanged in Britain.

9. Dr Robert George Clements, the Bluebeard killer

Those who continue to kill their wives are known as Bluebeards, after the 15th Century French fairytale.

Mysteriously three of Dr Clements’ spouses died relatively young but through botched post-mortems, signing death certificates, lies and inquests he was able to escape the authorities.

His fourth wife, Amy Victoria Burnett, died in May 1947.

This time, despite his best efforts and usual tricks of signing the death certificate himself, the authorities found that Victoria had been poisoned using morphine.

The doctor committed suicide before he could be brought in by the police, forever escaping justice for what he did.

Read the full story here.

10. Max Mayer Haslem, the dwarf who battered a woman to death and hung her dog

The death of a secret millionaire by the name of Ruth Clarkson in 1936 came as a shock to the whole of Nelson.

The 74-year-old spinster had been battered by a dwarf who also took the liberty of hanging her pet terrier from the bed post.

Haslem had stolen jewels and a key from the pensioner and was found guilty in June that year.

Due to his height Haslem’s faced a record breaking execution. Being so short, Max required one of the longest recorded drops in British history for him to be killed instantly using the humane long-drop method.

Read the full story here.

(Image: who-did-we-think-we-were.webnode.com)

11. Henry Bertram Starr, the Blackpool ripper

Henry Starr stabbed his wife Mary so much and so ferociously that the surgeon’s examining her mangled corpse could fit his fist through one of the wounds.

The Blackpool killer had stabbed his wife to death after she had called for a separation order in 1903.

What made it all the more interesting was that Starr had been accused of murdering another woman years earlier after a body was found floating in the Ribble.

He never admitted to the first murder. Read the full story here.

12. Louisa May Merrifield, the Blackpool poisoner

Poison is seen as a woman’s weapon, subtle, hard to detect and deadly in its beauty.

It was Louisa May Merrifield’s choice of weapon when it came to murdering her employer in April 1953 when she was in Blackpool.

Merrifiled, who was known for being a serial drunk and a thief, mixed rodine and jam before giving her employer Mr Ricketts the deadly concoction.

She was found guilty but her elderly second husband, Alfred Merrifield, who seemed to be completely complicit in the crime, escaped without punishment.

Read the full story here.

13. Joseph Wren, the naval stoker who killed a child

Joseph Wren shocked Burnley when he killed a three-year-old boy in cold blood and left his corpse on a slag pile.

He would hand himself in to Burnley police station admitting to the crime and telling officers: “I don’t know what made me do it.”

His lawyer pleaded insanity on the part of Wren but, like so many cases at the time, this was ignored.

Wren’s death warrant was the first that, then Home Secretary, Winston Churchill signed in his new role.

Read the full story here.

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