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Margaret ALLEN





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Cross-dressing who considered herself to be a man
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 28, 1948
Date of arrest: 3 days after
Date of birth: 1906
Victim profile: Nancy Ellen Chadwick, 68
Method of murder: Beating with a hammer
Location: Rawtenstall, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Strangeways Prison on January 12, 1949

Margaret Allen of Rawtenstall was a lesbian who dressed in men's clothes and preferred to be called 'Bill' - she worked as local bus conductor. On the 28th August 1948 she battered Nancy Ellen Chadwick to death with a hammer. Mrs Chadwick was an elderly neighbour who had come to borrow a cup of sugar. The neighbours had apparently never enjoyed the best of relationships and Allen found her irritating in the extreme. Allen confessed to the police that she was " in one of my funny moods."

She was convicted after a short trial held on the 8th December 1948 and was hanged on the 12th January 1949 by public executioner Albert Pierrepoint, the first female execution in Britain for 12 years and only the third at Strangeways Prison.


Margaret Allen (1906 January 12, 1949) was a cross-dressing murderer who considered herself to be a man. She brutally attacked a local eccentric who was widely considered to be a miser. No clear motive for this crime has been determined.

Allen was the 20th of 22 children and from an early age preferred the stereotypical exploits and activities of men. She dressed as a male and performed tasked that were generally reserved for men due to the strength and stamina required to perform them.

Her case continues to attract interest due to the psychology of Margaret Allen. She claimed to have checked herself into hospital to have a "delicate" procedure performed on her in order to make her biologically a male. This claim has been disputed due to the fact that in 1935 it is considered highly unlikely that a surgeon could be found who would perform such a procedure.


Margaret Allen

On 29th August 1948 Nancy Chadwick, an elderly, cantankerous widow, was found dead in the street outside Margaret Allen's house in Manchester. The old woman had been battered with the pointed end of a coal hammer. Bloodstains led back to Margaret Allen's house and the police suspected her from the start. She was very talkative with reporters and customers in her local pub whenever the subject of the murder was raised. She was also the first to point out Mrs Chadwick's shopping bag floating in the River Irwell that ran behind the house. The police, however, were playing a waiting game.

'Bill' Allen, as the 42-year-old lesbian preferred to be known, did not know when to keep her mouth closed and, after several pints in her local, she was boasting that she was the last person to see the victim alive. She also let it be known that Mrs Chadwick had been wearing an underskirt with a hidden pocket sewn into it. She was visited by police on 1st September and quickly confessed saying that "I was in a funny mood."

Allen's trial, in which she appeared dressed in men's clothing, only lasted five hours with the jury taking just fifteen minutes to find her guilty. A petition was raised to try and save her but there were only 162 signatures on it and she was hanged at Strangeways Prison on 12th January 1949 by Albert Pierrepoint.


Margaret Allen

The murder of Nancy Chadwick in 1948 interests many criminologists. What led her killer to brutally end her life? Was it greed?, uncontrollable anger? or a mental disorder? Perhaps all of these factors contributed to the crime? Some authors have described the slaying as 'mindless' and 'motiveless'; others suggest that Mrs Chadwick was 'killed on a whim' and see it as a baffling enigma - the work of an unstable and erratic person who is beyond rational evaluation.

Margaret Allen, her killer, was a troubled and gender-confused individual. In more modern times, she would have been seen as a transexual and could have sought appropriate help for her problems; but Allen was born in 1906 (she was part of an immense working class family - the twentieth child of twenty-two offspring) and lived in an age when people like herself were not understood.

From an early age, she denied her own femininity and strove to act in a masculine manner. Allen preferred the company of burly male workers in her home town Rawtenstall (in Lancashire, England) and took on jobs usually given to men. She loaded coal, repaired houses and became a bus conductor. Unfortunately, her desire to adopt 'male traits' led her to swear, act aggresively and resort to physical violence. The bus company fired her for abusing passengers; customers who didn't take their seats quickly enough were likely to be verbally assaulted, shoved and cuffed.

In 1935, Allen claimed that she'd checked into a hospital for what she described as a "delicate" operation. Later, she suggested that the purpose of this procedure had been to change her "from a woman to a man." It seems likely that Allen was being untruthful about (or at least exaggerating) the nature of any treatment she received. Perhaps she so desperately wanted to change her gender (and be accepted as a man) that she sought to convince herself and/or others that she had been physically altered.

Whatever the real facts of the matter were, after asserting that she'd had the operation, Allen made no pretence about her turnabout sexual role; she called herself "Bill", cut her hair short, donned male clothes and drank in public houses (bars) and working men's clubs. She had no female friends except for Mrs. Annie Cook. Allen apparently saw this lady as a potential 'girlfriend' - but their relationship stalled when Allen took Mrs. Cook on vacation and asked to have sex with her. The offended Mrs. Cook refused and made it clear that she had no interest in Allen as a lover.

In 1943, when her mother died, Allen was badly affected and she became even more withdrawn from 'normal' social activities. Her smoking became excessive, she didn't eat properly, allowed herself to become unkempt and went through bouts of bleak depression.

Allen invested her savings in the purchase of a dilapidated building that once served as Rawtenstall's Police Headquarters, situated on the town's main street, Bacup Road. She lived alone and (according to Mrs Cook) tried to kill herself on at least one occasion with gas -  in the United Kingdom, as many British readers will recall, natural gas didn't generally replace coal gas (which is highly toxic) as a cooking /heating fuel until the 1970's.

On August 28th, 1948, 68 years old widow Mrs. Nancy Ellen Chadwick, a disagreeable local eccentric, knocked on Allen's door. Although evidently not poor, Chadwick (who was known to carry large sums of money around in a bag), was a miser who would rather scrounge off others than spend her own cash. 

The next day Chadwick's body was found on the road outside Allen's house. Her head had been battered. At first it was suspected that she was a 'hit and run' victim. But the Police later determined that her wounds had been caused by the pointed end of a coal hammer; the implement had evidently been coated with ashes. Detectives from Scotland Yard were called in. Their task was made relatively easy by a trail of blood which could be followed from the place where the corpse was found to Allen's residence. 

Allen blatantly dogged the investigators' footsteps; staring at them for long periods as they inspected the area. At one point, she rushed up to a detective, pulled at his sleeve and pointed to the nearby River Irwell, declaring: "Look, there's something there!". The object floating in the water was Mrs. Chadwick's bag (minus the money it had contained).

As the Police delved with calm deliberation, Margaret Allen, perhaps made over-confident by their methodical approach and intent on being the centre of attention, barged into the local pub and declared: "I was the last person to see the old woman!". For two days she returned to the bar to drink stout and share her opinions about the crime with other drinkers and increasingly curious journalists. "She was an old fool to sit on a roadside bench counting her money" Allen stated revealingly to her listeners. She also let it be known that the victim had been wearing an underskirt with a hidden pocket.

When the Police called at her home on September 1st, 1948, they noticed bloodstains on an inside wall close to the doorway. A short search of the building yielded enough evidence to convict Allen of the Chadwick murder; more blood marks were in the cellar, the investigators matched hairs from the head of the victim to Allen's clothing and discovered several effects belonging to Chadwick. It only remained for Allen to confess. When formally charged, Margaret Allen admitted to killing the old woman:

"I was in a funny mood...she seemed to insist on coming in (to the house). I just happened to look around and saw a hammer in the kitchen...on the spur of the moment I hit her...she gave me a shout and that seemed to start me off more and I hit her a few times - I don't know how many..."

She gave no other explanation. At her trial (which barely lasted five hours), she wore male clothing; despite attempts by her counsel to prove her insane, Allen was found guilty and sentenced to death. Her friend Mrs. Cook created a petition to ask for a commutation - but only 162 people (out of the town's population of almost 30,000) signed it.

In the condemned cell, Margaret Allan was belligerent and argumentative to the end. She complained about the lack of creature comforts afforded by the prison and when brought her last meal (she had requested a plate of scrambled eggs), she kicked the tray, scattering the food and remarking: "At least no one else will enjoy that meal!".

British hangings were usually incredibly speedy affairs. It was considered an act of mercy to be as swift as possible - though, for many years, executions in Scotland took rather longer because the regulations 'north of the border' required the sentence to be read to the condemned individual beforehand. Even so, there was usually time for the prisoner to utter a few words. On the morning of January 12th, 1949, Margaret Allen expressed no remorse and went to the scaffold in the execution chamber without making any final statement.

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Margaret Allen


Margaret Allen



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