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Louie CALVERT

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

   
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: 1922 / 1926
Date of arrest: April 2, 1926
Date of birth: 1893
Victim profile: John Frobisher (her employer) / Lily Waterhouse (her landlady)
Method of murder: Beating / Strangulation
Location: Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, on June 24, 1926
 
 

 
 

Thirty-three year old Louie Calvert battered and strangled her landlady Mrs Lily Waterhouse to death after she had confronted her with the theft of articles from her boarding house and had reported her to the police. In the condemned cell she also admitted to the murder of a previous employer, John Frobisher, in 1922. Louie Calvert was hanged by Thomas Pierrepoint at Strangeways on the 24th June 1926.


Calvert, Louie

Louie Calvert, also known to local police as Louie Gomersal, was a 33-year-old bad-tempered petty thief and prostitute with two illegitimate children who, in 1925, worked as a housekeeper for Albert Calvert at his home in Railway Place, Leeds. After she had worked for him for a few months she informed him that she was pregnant. The unsuspecting Calvert promptly married the woman.

Time passed and Albert was starting to wonder about the arrival of his off-spring. When he asked his wife about the impending happy event she told him that she was going to stay with her sister, who lived in Dewsbury, for the delivery. When she arrived in Dewsbury she sent her, still, unsuspecting husband a telegram. She then promptly went back to Leeds. She lodged with an eccentric widow named Mrs Lily Waterhouse. Louie had agreed to act as maid to pay for her board but she refused to do any work and started to pawn Mrs Waterhouse's silverware. On discovering this Lily went to the police and lodged a complaint against her boarder.

A teenage girl with an unwanted baby daughter agreed to let Louie adopt the child. The day after Mrs Waterhouse had been to the police, neighbours heard a loud banging from the Waterhouse premises.

Within minutes Louie left the house with the baby and explained to the alarmed neighbours that the noises had come from the baby's bed collapsing while she was folding it up. One of the neighbours, Mrs Clayton, said to Louie that she thought she had heard Mrs Waterhouse making strange noises. 'Yes,' replied Louie, 'I have left her in bed crying because I am leaving her.'

When a policeman turned up to find out why Mrs Waterhouse hadn't returned to the police station to sign the complaint against Louie he heard about the noises earlier in the day. He obtained a key and, upon entering, found Mrs Waterhouse battered and strangled to death on the bed.

It didn't take police long to track Louie to her home. On examining her past they found that she had been implicated four years earlier in the death of a man named John Frobisher. She had been involved with Frobisher and he had later been found floating in a local canal. His death had been attributed to a drowning accident. One of the police officers remembered that Frobisher had been discovered minus his boots. The officer asked Louie to remove her boots and it was soon established that they had belonged to Mrs Waterhouse.

She came for trial at Leeds Assizes and was quickly found guilty. She was executed on 26 June 1926 at Strangeways Prison, Manchester, the first woman to be executed at the prison since 1886. While awaiting execution she confessed to the murder of John Frobisher.


Louie Calvert

At a minute to nine on the summer morning of Thursday June 24th 1926 a small group of men silently formed up outside the condemned cell, at the end of 'B' wing in the central area of Manchester's Strangeways prison.

Upon a signal from the governor, Thomas Pierrepoint, Britain's "No. 1" hangman at that time, entered the cell at precisely 8.00 a.m. accompanied by two male warders. The two women warders who had been looking after the prisoner told her to stand up and Pierrepoint took her arms and quickly strapped her wrists behind her with a leather strap before leading the way out of the cell through a second door which had been uncovered by sliding away the wardrobe.

The prisoner was led forward into the execution chamber by the two male warders and stopped by Pierrepoint on a chalked "T" precisely over the divide of the trap doors. The two warders, standing on boards set across the trap, supported her, one on either side while Pierrepoint's assistant put leather straps round her ankles and thighs.

Pierrepoint withdrew what appeared to her to be a white pocket handkerchief from his top pocket and deftly placed it over her head following quickly with the leather covered noose, positioning the eyelet just under the angle of her lower left jaw and sliding down the claw cut rubber washer to hold it in place. His eyes darted from side to side to check that all was ready before he lent forward, withdrew the safety pin and pushed the metal lever away from him. The hooded form disappeared through the trap and dangled in the cell below.

The medical officer went down to listen to the weakening heartbeat coming from the small broken body, now hanging motionless, its head drooping to one side.

It had taken no more than 20 seconds to carry out the sentence of the court upon Mrs. Louie Calvert. Her body was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down and prepared for autopsy. The autopsy found that her death had been "instantaneous" and confirmed that she was not pregnant.

These facts were made public at the subsequent inquest, held later in the day before the Leeds Coroner, Mr. Stuart Rodgers. Her body was then buried in an unmarked grave within the prison grounds in accordance with her sentence. She was the first woman to be hanged at Strangeways since Mary Ann Britland in 1886.

Louie was calm at the end and was reported to have accepted her fate with considerable courage. It is unclear why her execution took place at 9.00 a.m. rather than at the customary time of 8.00 a.m. It drew a crowd outside the prison gates estimated at some five hundred people, many of them women, who waited around until the death notice was displayed on the prison gates.

It has been said that Louie was somewhat disappointed to find the press were not going to be allowed to witness her hanging. (This practice had been discontinued some years earlier). Apparently she wanted to be in the limelight for once in her life. In fact she didn't arouse much media interest at all which was probably another disappointment for her, this being partly due to the General Strike that was going on at the time of her trial.

There are no photos of Louie Calvert, probably because she and her relatives were too poor to be able to afford a camera or to go to a photographer and because newspaper photographers were either on strike or did not get an opportunity to get a picture of her during the trial.

Louie Calvert was unusual amongst the women executed in the 20th century in that she was a known criminal who had convictions for petty theft and prostitution, although up to the murder of Mrs. Waterhouse, nobody had suspected of her of being a killer.

She was a small, unattractive 33 year old who had used several aliases, as a prostitute she worked under the name of Louie Gomersal and was known as Louise Jackson to the Salvation Army, who's meetings she attended. She was known to have an unpleasant and violent temper. She had a six year old son, Kenneth, whom she was particularly fond of and asked to have visit her in the condemned cell. He was taken into care after the execution.

Under the name of Louise Jackson, Louie took a live in job as house keeper to one Arthur Calvert who was a night watchman living at 7 Railway Place in the Pottery Fields area of Leeds. Louie's son also went to live with them. She and Arthur had an affair and after a while Louie claimed that she was pregnant by him and persuaded Arthur to marry her. She was able to deceive Arthur for some time and eventually told him she was leaving him to go to her sister's home in Dewsbury to give birth. She sent Arthur a telegram to let him know she had arrived safely. There was of course no baby and the pregnancy had been feigned purely to force Arthur into marriage.

Louie had in fact returned to Leeds immediately and on the 8th of March 1926 took up lodgings with a 40 year old, rather eccentric widow, called Mrs. Lily Waterhouse in Amberley Road, Leeds.

The arrangement between the two women was that Louie would act as maid and housekeeper in return for her board and lodging. While with Lily, Louie had on March 16th seen an advert for a child to be adopted. She agreed to adopt the baby girl from an unmarried teenage mum and she was due to collect the baby on the 31st of March.

Presumably Louie intended to take the baby home to Arthur and pass it off as her own. (There was great stigma attached to girls who had a baby out of wedlock in the 1920's. Whether Louie and the girl went through a formal adoption process is doubtful as she would probably have been only too pleased to have been rid of the baby.)

The domestic situation was not at all satisfactory to Mrs. Waterhouse because Louie refused to work as agreed and they argued constantly over this and other matters. Also Lily had noticed that her personal items and silverware were going missing and found pawn shop tickets from which she concluded that it was Louie who was stealing them. Lily reported her suspicions to the police on the 30th of March and was told to return the next day to lodge a formal complaint against Louie.

Sadly for Lily when she got home she made the mistake of telling Louie what she had done. The police had arranged for Lily to appear before magistrates on the 1st of April to apply for a "process" (presumably an injunction).

On 31st March 1926 Lily was seen by her neighbours entering her house around 6.15 p.m. About 7.30 p.m. her neighbours, in the row of terraced houses, heard loud banging sounds coming from Lily's house and a few minutes later saw Louie leaving with the baby.

One of the neighbours, Mrs. Clayton, asked Louie what the noise was all about. Louie told her "I put up the baby's bed, and it fell when I was folding it." Mrs. Clayton told Louie that she thought she heard Mrs. Waterhouse make some strange sounds. "Yes," replied Louie, I have left her in bed crying because I am leaving her."

As Lily didn’t show up in court two detectives were sent round to Lily's home the following day to find out why she had not turned up. After hearing about the commotion earlier from her neighbours they opened the windows shutters and saw that the main bed had not been slept in. They got a key and went into the house finding Lily lying dead in a small bedroom at the top of the stairs. She had been hit over the head and strangled to death. There were no signs of a struggle as might have occurred in a break in, but one of the officers noticed that Lily was barefoot. There was a mark round her neck consistent with a ligature and marks on her wrists and legs.

Louie was the prime, and in fact only obvious, suspect and she was soon tracked down to her marital home in Railway Place. When the police arrived she opened the door to them. The officers found she was wearing Lily's boots even though they were several sizes too large and some of the missing property was also discovered.

She was arrested and taken to the police station and there charged with Lily's murder. As detectives questioned her a pack of lies unfolded. She insisted that the items of Lily's property had been given to her by Lily to pawn and that Lily was confused and probably forgotten that she had given them to her.

On Wednesday the 7th of April Louie came before Leeds City magistrates charged with Lily's murder and was remanded in custody to stand trial at Leeds Assizes. Her case was heard at the Assizes before Mr. Justice Wright on the 5th & 6th of May and she was, unsurprisingly, found guilty. She accepted her death sentence without apparent shock but later she claimed that she was pregnant and could not, therefore, be hanged until after she had given birth. (In practice pregnant women were always reprieved by this time)

She was taken to Strangeways prison in Manchester to await execution (this was unusual as it was normal to send the condemned prisoner to the county prison in which the trial had taken place - it was probably because the condemned cell at Armley Prison in Leeds was already in use.) Here she was examined and it was thought that it was just possible, although very unlikely, that she might be in the early stages of pregnancy but that it would not cause a problem to execute her.

This caused public concern and a petition for a reprieve containing two to three thousand signatures, many from her home town of Ossett in Yorkshire, was got up. This was, as usual, rejected - her execution being scheduled for the 24th June. There was even a question in parliament relating to her pregnancy.

However on Tuesday 22nd of June the Home Secretary informed her solicitor, Mr. E. Ould, that she there would be no reprieve and that the story of her pregnancy was not believed to be true. As stated above, the autopsy confirmed that it was just another of Louie's lies.

Whilst in the condemned cell, Louie confessed to the murder of John Frobisher in 1922. At the time she was calling herself Mrs. Louise Jackson and worked as John Frobisher's housekeeper at Mercy Street, Wellington Lane, Leeds. His body had been found by a policeman floating in a canal on the 12th of July 1922, he had a wound on the back of his head and a fractured skull.

A degree of suspicion had fallen on Louie initially but the Coroner's Court returned a verdict of misadventure and ruled that his death was a simple drowning. Once again the body was discovered fully dressed but without any boots on. One of the police officers in the Waterhouse case had also been involved in the Frobisher case and remembered that John had been discovered without his boots and that they were nowhere to be found on the bank, facts which seemed unusual in a case of accidental drowning.

Strangely, in two completely unrelated cases of murder she had stolen, in addition to the their "valuables", her victim's boots even though they didn't fit her. Her motive for this is unclear - unless she really did have a boot fetish. It seems the motive certainly for Mrs. Waterhouse's murder was gain and it was probably the same in John Frobisher's case. It seems hard to believe she killed for the boots but rather took them as an after thought.

Louie was poor and lived in difficult times, as did so many other men and women in Britain at the time. She was also a pathological liar and had a bad temper, but what made her turn to murder? Was it simply the easy way, in her uneducated mind, of covering up her thefts or was it something deeper within her personality? Sadly we will never know the answer to this, as having been examined and found to be sane for legal purposes, nobody was very interested in getting to the bottom of her as a person. Her life and death would have passed virtually un-remembered had it not been for her predilection for her victim's boots.

A sad life and a sad death with at least two other victims along the way.

CapitalPunishmentUK.org


CALVERT, Louise (England)

Mrs Lily Waterhouse lived in Leeds and in March 1925 her husband died. Although so desirous of making contact with the spirit of her dear departed that she attended seances, she did not neglect her physical desires, the police being aware that a large number of men frequently visited her house, to the detriment of the neighbourhood.

A year following her husband’s death she took in a lodger, Louise Calvert, but no doubt regretted it, for within weeks she went to the police to complain that her lodger had stolen some of her belongings. She was told to come back the next day and make a formal statement, but when she did not reappear there an officer was sent round, only to find her dead. Her hands had been bound and she had been strangled.

A witness, another lodger, testified that she had seen Louise leave the house and when she questioned her and mentioned noises she had heard, Louise told her that Mrs Waterhouse was upset because Louise had announced that she was not staying any longer.

Upon being later arrested, Louise explained that she had not stolen anything but that Mrs Waterhouse had asked her to pawn some of her property, but a search of her own house situated some distance away from that of Mrs Waterhouse’s revealed not only some items belonging to the murdered woman, but she was even wearing Mrs Waterhouse’s boots! Such incriminating evidence disposed of the alternative theory that Mrs Waterhouse had been murdered by one of her many male visitors, and Louise Calvert was put on trial.

Little could be said in her defence, and the judge did not hesitate to sentence her to death. However, a complication then arose, for Louise claimed a stay of execution on the grounds that she was pregnant. Such factors had of course been taken into consideration by those responsible for drafting laws governing executions, and so the judge selected a jury of mature women, accompanied by the prison doctor, to adjourn to an anteroom and carry out the necessary examination.

On their return the doctor stated that although the prisoner was not pregnant, she could well be in the very early stages of that condition, and this was confirmed by the spokeswoman, adding that in the opinion of the matrons, the execution of the prisoner would not involve the death of any person other than Louise herself (at the time the law stipulated that a condemned woman could not be classified as pregnant unless such condition had existed for a length of 140 days or more).

Understandably the trial was given a great deal of attention in the local newspapers, one investigative journalist discovering an earlier murder tenuously linked with Louise Calvert, the victim being a John Frobisher for whom Louise had acted as housekeeper. He mysteriously disappeared in 1922 and when his body was retrieved from the Liverpool–Leeds Canal he was found fully dressed – except for his boots!

Her final plea not having been upheld, Louise Calvert was taken to Strangeways Gaol, Manchester, and despite many pleas by the public on her behalf, she was hanged within the prison walls.

Condemned women occasionally ‘pleaded their belly’ (claimed to be pregnant in order to avoid being hanged), but in 1848 Charlotte Harris, guilty of murdering her husband, actually was pregnant and so she was informed that she would be allowed to have the baby – and then be hanged.

At that, petitions for clemency were raised, signatures obtained across the country, public protest meetings held, and eventually, after no fewer than 40,000 women from all walks of life had appealed to Queen Victoria, a reprieve was granted.

Amazing True Stories of Female Executions by Geoffrey Abbott

 

 

 
 
 
 
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