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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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