trial at Sheffield Assizes on 25th February 1969, Ismail was found
insane and unfit to plead. Ismail was a 30-year-old unemployed labourer
and a native of British Somaliland.
He was thoroughly depressed with his
situation that he wanted to commit suicide. This was contrary to his
religion and if he carried through with the deed he would go to Hell. He
would be all right, though, if he killed someone else first and was then
evening he wandered into a public house, pulled out a revolver and
started shooting. When the smoke cleared from his five shots, three men
lay dead, 21-year-old Michael McFarlane, 29-years-old Thomas Owen and
32-year-old George Frederick Morris. Two others were wounded.
opinion was that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and totally insane. He
was sentenced to be detained in strict custody during Her Majesty's
The East House Murders Sheffield - New Years Day 1960
The Times in its edition dated 2nd
January 1960 reported the following:
Three die in public house shooting
Three men were killed and two injured
last night when a man armed with a revolver began shooting in the
crowded concert room of a Sheffield public house. Michael McFarlane died
instantly. George Frederick Morris and a Royal Navy man, Thomas Owen,
died later in hospital.
Early to-day Donald McFarlane.. who was injured and
is believed to be Michaels brother was undergoing a major brain
operation. The fifth man. Kenneth Ellis aged 21, was detained
with a wrist injury.
A man was taken into custody in connexion with
Two days later the same paper gave
Charge of triple murder
Mohamed Ismail aged 30,
a native of British
Somaliland, unemployed labourer of Spital Hill, Sheffield. was at
Sheffield on Saturday remanded in custody until January 11, charged with
triple capital murder.
He was alleged to have shot Michael McFarlane, Thomas Michael Owen. and
George Frederick Morris. Detective Chief Superintendent G. A. Carnill,
said that Ismail was also alleged to have shot Donald McFarlane brother
of one of the dead men - who was said to be in a critical condition and Kenneth Ellis
And finally on 26th
February 1960 The Times on its inside pages gave the following report of
Somali on charges of triple murder
Mohamed Ismail, aged 30, a Somali
labourer. of Spital Hill. Sheffield. was found at Sheffield Assizes yesterday to plead to charges of triple capital
murder. He was ordered to be detained until the Queen's pleasure be made
Ismail, was charged with the murder by
shooting of three men. When the committal proceedings were heard before
Sheffield magistrates. the prosecution stated the
men were singing in a public house during an extension of licensed hours
on New Year's Day shortly after 10.30 p.m. Ismail,
took a revolver from his pocket and fired at the men one after another.
When I first saw these reports I was amazed at the
dearth of information that they contained. There was no reference to the
name of the public house where the murders occurred or even the district
where the pub was located. No information was given about the victims of
the attack or about the aftermath of the incident. Given that three men
were killed and two others injured and the assailant faced the death
penalty for triple murder, I would have thought that the case would have
featured prominently in the national press.
The public house where the massacre
occurred was the East House on Spital Hill, Sheffield. The photograph
below was taken twenty years later in 1980
I did know of the incident and did a internet search
but the details were meagre to say the least. A right-wing website
furnished further details of the victims. Michael McFarlane was aged 22
and a local steelworker whilst George Morris was eight years older and a
furnace pitman. (see note 1) The last victim Thomas Owen was 27 and a
regular soldier (The Times stated he was a naval rating). From the
information I have it appears that Thomas was stood watching the pianist
play on the piano and a man walked in and shot him dead.
The first book I checked was "Sheffield Public Houses
by Michael Liversage" . He relates the following information:
'A Somalian named Mohamed Ishmail, calmly walked into
the 'House' drew a revolver and discharged all six rounds into the
customers as they sat around enjoying New Years Day 1960.
Three died almost instantly and two more were
seriously injured, one, Donald McFarland was crippled for life. The
Somali was caught hiding in the toilets and upon his arrest , stated
that he wanted to kill himself but his religious beliefs forbade him
from doing so. He thought being that we, the British, would hang him for
the crime of murder, therefore fulfilling his desire to die.
Unfortunately, we the British, deported him back to
Somalia after six months. A pub talk by local historian Douglas Lamb
stated that Ishmail, had ran amok when he returned home and was gunned
down. Hopefully true, but no definite evidence of this incident has come
Douglas Lamb in his book " A Pub On Every Corner"
puts the murders at just before 11.00pm when Ishmail, began shooting at
a group of seven young men who were singing around the piano. Michael
McFarlane instantaneously whilst the two friends George Morris and
Thomas Owen died soon afterwards.
Donald McFarlane, Michael's brother received
serious head injuries that required many months of hospitalisation and
left him with permanent disabilities.
As for Ishmail, once he had emptied the revolver he
headed straight for the pub toilet where he was arrested minutes later.
The author then relates the aftermath of the case. The jury at his trial
at Sheffield Assizes took only fifteen minutes to declare him "unfit to
plead" and he was "detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure." It appears that
Ishmail, was released after only twenty two months and deported back to
Somalia where he supposedly met his fate.
J.P. Bean in his excellent book "Crime in Sheffield"
adds to the account by disclosing that it was the Medical Officer at
Armley Jail in Leeds where he was being held on remand that declared
that there was unmistakable evidence that he was insane. He believed
that evil voices spoke to him through the electrical system and that he
had smashed the light bulbs to stop the voices reaching him. However
Bean reveals that it was The Sheffield Star that was the source of the
material about Ishmail's, release.
A feature article by Ian Macgill, in January 1984
stated that that Ishmail, was released from Broadmoor, in April 1962,
just 22 months after being sentenced, and deported back to his home
country of Somalia. The survivors of the shooting were reported to be
have been stunned by this revelation. Donald McFarland who had been
severely injured in the attack had received no compensation whatsoever
in the interim. Because the attack happened before the introduction of
the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme he did not receive a penny. I
have been unable to find the reason why Ishmail, was released from
Broadmoor but can only assume that he was deemed to be no longer a
danger to the public once he had received proper treatment and care for
It was a former acquaintance of Ishmail who had known
him in both Somalia and Sheffield who contacted The Sheffield Star a day
after the article appeared. This is the source of the information about
Ishmail's death. This aquaintance states that in the late 1960's he ran
amok in a village in Somalia, murdering several villagers before he was
himself killed. It appears that the doctors at Broadmoor had made an
Thankfully, murders on this
scale are very rare indeed. As far as I can ascertain, the worst
case of multiple murder in Sheffield was that of the Laycock Family
in 1884 when five people were killed by Joseph Laycock. The only
other case that springs to mind in Sheffield since the East House
murders is that of three members of the Laitner family at their
daughter's wedding reception in Dore (1983)
Sheffield Public Houses by Michael Liversage
The Sheffield Telegraph
The Times 2 - 4th January 1960 and 26th February
Douglas Lamb - A Pub On Every Corner
J.P. Bean - Crime in Sheffield
1. George worked at Firth Brown's in Sheffield where
he was known as Mick Morris. He lived with his sister on Writtle Street
in the Burngreave area of Sheffield and on the day of the murder he had
been working until 6 pm. One of his colleagues had promised to go have a
drink with him and Tommy Musgrave that night. He recounts that the
gunman held the gun at Tommy Musgrave's head and pulled the trigger.
Fortunately there was no more bullets left in the gun. Mick Morris's
funeral at Burngreave, Cemetery was one of the largest the area had seen
for many years.
2. J.P. Bean in his book "Crime in Sheffield"
identifies the weapon as a Smith and Wesson revolver
3. At the time the murders took place in the East
House, a local Sheffield journalist was passing the scene but due to his
inebriated state he ignored the incident. In his autobiography he
"On my way home one evening, after a long session in
the pub, I saw four police cars parked outside a little pub called the
Vine (it was the East House). I decided that I'd better go nowhere near
it in my inebriated state and drifted home to covert my sofa into a bed.
In the morning the headline in the Daily Express was "FOUR SHOT DEAD in
SHEFFIELD HARLEM". I would have been the first journalist on the scene.
I kept very silent about that..."
The journalist went on to become one of Britain's top
television writers. He recounted this episode in his autobiography "I
Didn't Get Where I am Today". His name is David Nobbs, and he was the
creator amongst other things, of Reggie Perrin.
4. In January 2007 I received further information
about Kenneth Ellis who along with
Donald McFarlane was wounded in the assault
"Just to let you know that Ken Ellis---who was shot
through the wrist and survived the East House shootings (1960)---died
shortly before Christmas, this year (2207). Ken was 2 years into his
railway career in 1960.He carried on installing signalling equipment
with British Rail until privatisation-when he took an early retirement
package. He was very popular with his railway colleagues (myself
included). He makes a brief appearance in Ken Loach's film The
Navigators (2000 )....... local artist, Joe Scarborough painted a
depiction of the East House shootings. I saw it about 16 years, or so,
ago; it was then owned by a private collector, with whom I have since
lost touch. Joe Scarborough may have a catalogue which reproduces the
Ken was amazingly lacking in bitterness, generally--as
well as specifically about the shooting. I recall him telling us that
he was in the pub, that night, when the killer entered. Ken saw the gun
in the man's hand and assumed it was a toy. Ken said that he lifted his
hands towards his shoulders--in western movie fashion--and that's when
the first bullet was fired."