Murder of a Blackburn Babe

Sweet little June Anne Devaney was just one month short of her fourth birthday. The child had been hospitalised at Queens Park Hospital, Blackburn, due to a bout of pneumonia, but after ten days confinement was on the mend and due to head home the following morning. Heartbreakingly, she was never to return.

In the early hours of May 15th, 1948, a nurse investigating the cries of another child, noticed June’s bed was empty. As the safety sides were still up and faint footprints were in evidence, leading toward and away from where June had been sleeping, the authorities were immediately informed and a search begun.

The lifeless remains of the tiny lass were discovered in the grounds of the hospital, she had suffered extensive blunt force trauma to her skull (caused by her head being repeatedly swung into a sandstone wall) leading to multiple cranial fractures. The poor child had also suffered extensive internal injuries after being cruelly violated and she bore the marks of excessive bitting. Her tiny body had then succumbed to a fatal state of shock.

A manhunt for the vile murderer began and police fingerprinted over 2,000 people who had access to the hospital. Yet, a match could not be found.

Detective Inspector John Capstick then extended the manhunt and insisted every male in the town of Blackburn aged 16+ (a city with over 25,000 homes) would be fingerprinted.

The investigation into the murder of June Anne was a milestone in the history of forensic science as it was the first time a mass fingerprinting exercise had been employed to solve a murder in the UK.

The murderer, 22-year-old Peter Griffiths (of Birley St. Blackburn) was eventually arrested three months after the crime. Fingerprint set 46,253, belonging to Griffiths, matched those found on a Winchester bottle found beside June Anne’s bed.

Griffiths had been demobed in the February of 1948 after serving in Germany and Palestine, but had returned to his hometown and taken work as a packer at a flour mill.

After admitting killing the child in a manic frenzy (due to drinking an excessive amount of alcohol) Griffiths refused to discuss his crime, he showed no remorse, and refused to cooperate further. He was subsequently tried and convicted of June Anne’s murder in a trial lasting only 23 minutes and was hanged on 19 November 1948 at Walton Gaol by Albert Pierrepoint.

Eternally resting

June Anne now rests forevermore in Blackburn Old Cemetery, where she is remembered to this day. Her grave is always a riot of colour, bedecked with flowers, trinkets and toys.

My visit to June Anne

Layton’s Links to the Bloodiest Battle

The Battle of the Somme, where more than a million soldiers were killed in four months of machine gun warfare.

Layton Cemetery’s Cross of Sacrifice

Numerous British battalions were entering battle for the first time, and General Sir Henry Rawlinson issued an order that infantry troops were to advance at a walking pace in evenly spaced lines. Although many experienced officers ignored the order, thousands of the British who went over the tops of the trenches indeed walked steadily behind their officers, many of whom carried only revolvers or swagger sticks.

In Layton Cemetery Blackpool the names of 33 men who lost their lives in this battle are recorded on gravestones for posterity.

James Gaffney was one of the 20,000 British soldiers killed on the first day, the 1st July 1916.

Douglas Ashforth was killed on the last day of the Battle – the 18th of November 1916 and aged just 20.

One of the oldest men to be killed was Alfred Hildebrandt aged 36 and the youngest was George Moses aged just 18. Most men killed were in their 20s.

Alfred Hildebrandt

The Cross of Sacrifice in Layton Cemetery commemorates all members of H.M. Armed Services who lost their lives while serving their country.

F.O.L.C. at the Cross

The 18th November Douglas Ashforth

The Battle of the Somme was one of the largest battles of The Great War and among the bloodiest in all of human history. Conflict took place between 1st July and 18th November, it began at the sound of a whistle at 7:30 am on the 1st of July 1916.

By the end of that day, over 15,000 British soldiers lay dead. After 141 days had passed over a million men on all sides had been killed.

One of those brave men was Douglas Ashforth from Blackpool, killed on the very last day of the Battle.

DOUGLAS ASHFORTH, Service Number: G/4209, is commemorated by this cenotaph in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool – his body (like many others) was never repatriated.

Douglas Ashforth

James Wilfred Gaffney

d: 1st July 1916

Remembered as one of the most infamous battles of the First World War, The Battle of the Somme was one of the most costly, bitterly contested and painful.

There were many casualties on both sides and during the very first day (1st July 1916) British forces reported 57,470 casualties, 19,240 of them were killed, becoming the largest loss suffered by the British Army in a single Day.

It was widely believed the German defenses had been destroyed, but this turned out not to be the case.

Many of the infantry who went over the top that day were volunteers.

James Wilfred Gaffney, one of our own, tragically lost his life that day, may he be at eternal rest.

James Gaffney

Maurice Comor was born in Blackpool in 1894.

His parents were Henry and Anna Comor and the family lived on Brighton Parade, close to the Metropole Hotel.

Both were well-known members of the United Hebrew Congregation where Henry Comor was Treasurer.

It’s believed the family were Refugees who had fled the horrific persecution of Jewish communities in Russia and Eastern Europe during the latter years of the 19th Century.

Henry and Anna Comor were contented enough to remain in Blackpool where the Jewish community was settled and flourishing.

But their son Maurice – in common with many other Refugees – was keen to join other members of the Comor family who were already happily settled in Canada and the USA.

Shortly after arriving in Newfoundland, Maurice Comor joined the Newfoundland Regiment which was on the point of being sent to join the Gallipoli Campaign and assist Anzac and British Forces.

The fighting there was intense and massive numbers of Anzac and allied troops were killed or seriously injured.

But somehow Maurice Comor managed to survive – however even worse was to follow.

The Newfoundlanders were sent on to the Battle of the Somme where Maurice Comor was seriously injured during the Campaign to retake Guedecourt.

Repatriated to the U.K. in October 1917, L.Cpl. Maurice Comor died on the 5th of December 1917 in the Stockport Military Hospital.

On the day of his funeral, a Military Procession accompanied the hearse to the Jewish Cemetery along Westcliffe Drive Layton.

Prior to the inhumation, Rev. Daniel Caplan, whose grave is also in the Cemetery, read a eulogy following which L. Cpl. Comor was buried with Full Military Honours.

Maurice Comor, in our Jewish Cemetery

Ernest Addison d: 9/8/1916

Private 5901, 1st/10th (Scottish) Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment). Killed in action 9 August 1916. Aged 23. Born Bradford,Yorkshire, enlisted and resident Blackpool.

Son of Harry and Hannah Maria Addison, of 4, Durley Rd., Blackpool.

Attested 5 December 1915 at Blackpool Town Hall, aged 21 years 11 months, resident 4 Durley Road, Blackpool, Commercial Traveller by trade, served in United Kingdom from 5 December 1915 to 9 April 1916 then with B.E.F. France 10 April 1916 until his death,. ‘Embarked Southampton 10 April 1916, disembarked Rouen 11 April 1918, joined his unit 16 April 1916.

At the grave of Ernest Addison

Commemorated on THIEPVAL MEMORIAL, Somme,

France. Pier and Face 1 D 8 B and 8 C.

“When you go Home, tell them of us and say,
For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today”

John Maxwell Edmunds

Lest We Forget

Return to Churchtown, Lancashire

Probably my favorite churchyard, situated around the north and south sides of St. Helen)s church, containing several sandstone headstones that have received a Grade II designation from English Heritage. They date mostly from the 18th century.
There is a sundial that dates from 1757 & within the church there is the chamfered shaft of a sandstone cross, probably dating from the Middle Ages.
The church itself is Grade l listed.

St Ann’s Churchyard

The Church of St Ann, Manchester, once had its own graveyard encircling the rear of the building.
The site was used for interments between 1712-1854, which were stopped due to the Burial Act, putting a halt to burials being carried out in already overcrowded church yards.
The burial ground was partially cleared in 1842 and the majority of the gravestones were removed in 1892, although a few are still visible. The former church yard was paved over and landscaped and today is part of the St. Ann’s Square development.

Click below for a short video tour . . .

Video Tour
Graveyard Remains

Next Tour Sunday 15th May

Layton Cemetery is Blackpool’s Victorian burial ground. It was opened in 1873 and is situated on what was once known as New Rd. It contains approx 17,300 graves.

May Tour

Blackpool trams used to terminate at the main gate & the terminus became affectionately known as ‘The Dead Stop.’

It is divided into NC/C of E/Catholic sections with separate Jewish & Muslim parts.

Deborah Contessa

We could once boast 3 mortuary chapels, but only the High Gothic, Church of England, grade ll listed build is now in existence.

The Lodge, beside the main gate was once the home of the cemetery registrar, John Wray, his wife & 11 children!

Meet by the main gate at 1:45 for a 2pm Start.

Our tours are free, but as a charity we rely on your donations

An Ominous Oracle

Join me for a trip down memory lane, to the bygone days of early summer, 1984. . . York Minster’s south roof was set ablaze by lightning, the miners were on strike and the largest onshore earthquake recorded in the UK hit the Llŷn Peninsula in Wales.

But for those of us about to sit our O levels life was good. Maturing into young adults we felt invincible and were craving excitement.

Our school, St George’s, Blackpool

“What we should do, is go to my house,” suggested Debbie thoughtfully.

The rest of us took little convincing to take that fateful Friday afternoon off from school. We were all around sixteen years old that summer and were ready for an adventure, so when the bell rang signalling the end of lunch break we headed out of the gate to freedom.

As is usually the case in these sorts of situations we quickly became bored, we could watch the television anytime, no one fancied a snack and we’d decided against raiding the drinks cabinet as that wasn’t the kind of fun we were after, but we dared not venture outside for fear of being spotted during what should have been a school day.

Somebody, I don’t recall who, suggested playing ‘Ouija’ most of the group were unfamiliar with the practice so after giving a brief explanation I took it upon myself to gather the necessary apparatus. I repositioned the coffee table whilst Debbie searched for pen and paper and found us a glass tumbler to use.

Home made Ouija

With varying degrees of anticipation, we each placed a finger on the glass, furtively glancing around the circle. As no one seemed keen on taking the lead I myself asked the infamous question . . . ‘is there anybody there?’

The room erupted into stifled giggles, some girls were hiding behind cushions or had covered their faces with their palms, others looked ready to cry – although the two boys present put on a good show of false bravado.

Undeterred, I continued my questioning of the spirits and those who wanted to re joined the circle. After a short while the glass began to slowly orbit the letters, you could have cut the tension with a knife as we watched it travel past the alphabet, searching for the characters it required to convey its unearthly message.

A lot of the communication was such utter gibberish, the lads in our midst began to act the fool . . .asking ridiculous questions; which girls might grant them sexual favours? Who in the room was still a virgin? Displaying the kind of rashness adolescent boys so often do.

But some one, or something was in the room with us that day, the beaker picked up speed and quickly spelled out SILLY – BOY – ACCIDENT and although the boys brushed off the comment it was evident their courage was waning.

Subsequently, we received further garbled messages, but the only other which had any significance was the final communication of the day, for just as we were thinking of packing up and returning to our own homes the glass was off again. We all stared in trepidation as the phrase NANNA BURN PAN was revealed!

Not unduly upset by this latest proclamation we all parted the ways, leaving Debbie to tidy up before her parents returned from work, but not before arranging to meet up at the local recreation ground later that evening.

Our local haunt

Once safely back at home all thoughts of the Ouija session were gone from my mind, I ate with my family before changing out of my school uniform and heading to the park. Upon arrival I noticed Susan, one of the girls who’d been present that afternoon, appeared to be genuinely distressed. It transpired that earlier in the day her grandma (nanna] had scalded (burn) her arm quite badly on the kettle (pan?) and was currently in the local accident and emergency department awaiting treatment.

Understandably we all became a little hysterical upon hearing such news, we were terrified to think one of the Ouija predictions had come to fruition.

Crossland Road Park, where we regrouped

By eight o’clock almost all of the kids who had been at Debbie’s that day had regrouped, we were just awaiting the arrival of Kevin and Jason. Just when we thought they weren’t coming a figure on a bicycle became apparent in the distance, pedalling so fast it seemed the devil was chasing him. As he skidded to a halt we realised it was Jason, he was as white as a sheet and his face appeared snot streaked and tearstained. As we had all secretly feared, further misfortune had transpired. Kevin had also become a casualty of our ill-considered dalliance with spirit.

His words punctuated by gasps and sobs Jason explained what had happened; as they travelled to the park together, Kevin who was on his skateboard, began riding recklessly, there were some girls on the opposite side of the street and he was showing off trying to impress them, suddenly he lost his footing and his board slipped from beneath him, then as though propelled by unseen hands Kevin was thrown into the path of an oncoming car!

Although he sustained a fractured femur and a broken wrist you’ll be pleased to know Kevin made a full recovery. The rest of us vowed never to use a Ouija board again . . . but some of us didn’t keep that promise!

Seaside Suicide

As dawn broke on the bitterly cold morning of Tuesday 16th December, 1930, two drowned bodies were discovered washed up on the beach, at South Shore, Blackpool, Lancashire. The couple were later to be identified as James Smith (aged 68) and Lily Lavinia Francis Ferris (52 years old.)

The bodies were washed ashore nearby

James Smith was known locally as a widower, but it later came to light that when he first met Lily he was married with daughters and living quite comfortably in Bristol, where he had worked as train driver for many years.

Lily’s story on the other hand is more complex. It is believed she hailed from an affluent family as her baptism was conducted at St Paul’s Cathedral, yet her father was a bigamist who having married Lily’s mother also wed another woman some four years later. Both of his wives bore him a daughter and both of these baby girls were to be named Lily.

In 1899 Lily Lavinia married Tom Ferris, but when Tom went to serve in WWI she sought solace in the arms of of an Australian soldier.

After this relationship had run its course Lily was to meet James Smith, who had been advised to move to the coast for health reasons. James, having become besotted with Lily, decided to leave his family behind and make a fresh start at the seaside with her.

Lily too had recently discovered her heath was in decline after receiving a diagnosis of epilepsy, so the couple made plans to settle in Lytham, Lancashire.

Not long after arriving on the Fylde Coast the couple found their finances to be in dire straits, forcing them to live in abject poverty.

Home became a makeshift shelter on the Sandhills at Blackpool, a small wooden hut James built himself. They scraped by, living hand to mouth, financing their meager existence by selling pieces driftwood they found washed up on the shoreline as fuel to local people.

The Sandhills became home

Sometime later Lily received the news her mother had died, leaving her a not insubstantial windfall of around £400, a huge amount of money during the depression of 1930. This sudden advantage enabled the pair to relocate to ‘Ivanhoe’ a property on Common Edge Lane with a small kiosk attached, from which they sold souvenirs and cigarettes alongside serving refreshments. Astonishingly, ( and perhaps because the business saw little in passing trade) the couple still struggled to make ends meet, existing on a diet of only bread and margarine.


This strange yet steadfast couple took in lodgers, William Denton and his wife, to help eke out their existence (there was still a small mortgage to be paid on Ivanhoe).

It became obvious to James and The Denton’s that something was seriously amiss with Lily, not only were her seizures becoming more frequent, she was also slowly starving to death. Her weakened state and erratic behaviour caused James great distress. Then, after receiving a summons for knowingly selling stolen wood (of which he was later cleared) his mind must have been in absolute turmoil.

James was a man on the edge, his beloved partner was fading before his very eyes, he was without the funds to keep a roof over their heads and he was being hounded for unpaid rates.

For this now impoverished couple there seemed to be only one solution, they made the heartbreaking decision to walk into the sea together, ending their own lives, thus unburdening themselves from the fear and failure circumstances had cruelly dealt them.

As reported in the newspaper

The funeral of James and Lily, at Layton Cemetery, Blackpool, was to be a quite affair, attended only by Mr & Mrs Denton and the Reverend W Lang who conducted the service in the pouring rain. They were laid to rest separately from each other, poor Lily taking up the last place in a paupers grave, marked only by a small bunch of wilting chrysanthemums.

Lily lies in an unmarked, paupers grave

As suicide was against common law until 1961 this benevolent couple were considered criminals in death.

Upon James’ burial plot was placed a small wreath with a note reading;

‘Man’s inhumanity to man make countless thousands mourn.’

( a quote from *Man was Made to Mourn* by Burns.)

James Smith’s plot

It has often troubled me how the couple became so destitute after Lily’s ample inheritance, I find myself pondering where all the money went. It really is a mystery.

But getting answers won’t change the dreadful outcome of this tragedy.

Layton Cemetety

Unsolved Murder of an Undergraduate

A quarter of a century has passed since twenty year old student Janet Murgatroyd, from Penwortham, Lancs, was barbarically killed and her battered, naked body was discovered floating along the River Ribble.

Janet had taken a part time position as a clerk with Lancashire Police to supplement her income as she studied at The University of Central Lancashire. Blonde, bubbly and beautiful, Miss Murgatroyd seemingly had the world at her feet, her future prospects were looking good and along with her friends she had plans to engage in interesting and exhilarating adventures.

Miss Murgatroyd

On the afternoon of 15th of June 1996, the city of Preston was buzzing with excitement. The Euro ‘96 football tournament was well underway and at 3pm that day England were due to face Scotland in a match which would determine who would gain a coveted place in the quarter finals.

Rather than watch the event Janet and her friend decided to hit the shops before later heading to the student bars to spend the evening drinking and partying with fellow undergraduates.

The last establishment they visited was The Adelphi, where towards the end of the night Janet was seen leaving in the company of an unknown male. She appeared to be having some trouble walking, which was most probably due to intoxication, rather than anything more sinister. She and her companion parted company close to Boltons Court and she was later picked up on CCTV close to the Fishergate Shopping Center.

CCTV Footage

A short time afterwards Police spotted a woman asleep by the entrance of Preston Railway Station: this is believed to have been Janet.

By the early hours of Sunday the 16th she is thought to have been on her way again, reported sightings include a couple who exchanged pleasantries with a girl dressed in a white T-shirt and a pair of wrangler jeans, and a cab driver who described a similar female being pursued by a man along Penwortham Bridge, heading away from the town center.

Penwortham Bridge

Witnesses later came forward to testify having observed a man looming over the prone body of a female in the Priory Road car park, close by the River Ribble. This is the spot where Janet’s clothing (apart from her jeans) were subsequently discovered.

A man taking his dog for their lunchtime constitutional spotted a what he presumed to be a person with long blonde hair afloat in the Ribble.

From the bank he alerted the driver of a passing speedboat who dragged the naked corpse aboard his craft. The body was taken ashore at the slipway used by the local Sea Cadets.

Scouring the area where the body was retrieved

It is believed that as Janet crossed over Penwortham Bridge she was brutally attacked, being kicked about the head with such force her nose and jaw were broken. The backs of her legs were covered in lacerations consistent with having been dragged through dense brambles. She endured 59 separate injuries, there was evidence the killer had clasped his hand roughly over her mouth to stop her from screaming.

When Janet was cast into the river she was unconscious but still alive, it has been estimated she would have taken around four hours to die.

This poor young woman, under the influence of alcohol, walking home alone on a dark night was completely vulnerable.

Her murder was said to have been sexually motivated, the police believing she had also been victim to a serious forcible violation.

The cause of death recorded at post mortem was drowning and head injuries.

It was to be over three years before police investigations resulted in a 22 year old man being charged with Janet’s murder. But the jury at Liverpool Crown Court failed to deliver a unanimous verdict and the case went to retrial.

At the subsequent trial, after 15 hours of deliberation, Andrew Greenwood was eventually found to be guilty of manslaughter.

However, in spite of an apparent confession (that he later retracted) Greenwood’s guilty sentence was later nullified at the Court of Appeal.

The investigation into this tragic unsolved murder remains open, Janet’s killer is thought to be still at large.

Death of a Demimondaine

On the Eve of All Hallows’, 1951 a young Blackpool woman became the victim of a treacherously cruel act.

Blackpool in the 1950’s

Blackpool has had its fair share of notorious women and by the early 50s sisters ‘Madge & Mary’ were well known to the local constabulary. They were working girls, demimondaines paid for their services.

Of Mary Holland I’m sure there are many tales to tell, but today we are interested in the fate of her sister Madge Leadbetter (aka Higginbottom).

After an albeit brief marriage to an American soldier Madge found herself once more walking the streets of Blackpool to make a living.

It was here she was befriended by Norman Mitchell, a miner working in Barnsley who was in the seaside town visiting his parents – it’s seems he was an unwelcome guest as his parents gave him his bus fare home and promptly went off to visit friends of their own!

Norman procured a client for Madge and as he had a key to his parents house on York Street (some reports say Oddfellows St.) he offered her the use of it to entertain the chap.

York Street, Blackpool

Upon hearing noises and noticing a light on, later that same evening, the neighbours alerted a patrolling police constable who tentatively entered the property only to discover Madge’s near naked body lying prone in the attic. She had been stabbed several times and had been strangled. Aged just 27 her life had been snuffed out.

Blackpool Victoria Hodpital

In the early hours of the next morning Norman was spotted drunk and disorderly, wandering around the grounds of the local hospital in a distressed state. Upon his arrest he insisted he had returned to his family home only to discover Madge already dead.

Newspaper photograph

At his trial Norman, who was also known as Tarzan in reference to his strong physique, admitted to arguing and struggling with Madge but claimed he only lashed out at her in self defence. He was by no means a smart man and was thought to have had the mental age of a nine year old.

The jury at his trial considered the self defence argument and found him guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. He received a jail sentence of ten years.

Madge was laid to rest in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool, Lancashire. Her grave is unmarked.

Rest In Peace