18th Sept. Louisa Merrifield, The Blackpool Poisoner, executed (1953)
By the age of 46, Louisa had been married three times, her third husband being the 74 year old Alfred. She found it difficult to hold down a job and had already served a prison sentence for ration book fraud.
Somewhat fortuitously (or so it seemed) in the March of 1953, the couple were able to gain the position of companions cum housekeepers to the octogenarian Miss Sarah Ricketts who resided in a bungalow in the sunny seaside town of Blackpool.
Growing tired of providing the care their employer required, the nefarious couple proceeded to employ a range of equally nasty methods, including instigating terrible arguments and withholding food, to persuade Miss Ricketts to change her will in their favour and bequeath her bungalow and substantial savings to the dastardly pair.
At one point Louisa was even overheard bragging to friends that she was heading home to ‘lay out’ her employer, & when one acquaintance, Veronica King, asked when the old lady had died the wicked Mrs Merifield replied ‘not yet, but she soon will be’! In fact, , Merrifield regularly boasted about her impending inheritance, while the deceased was alive and in relatively good health.
Keen to get her hands on the bequest, Louisa Merrifield set about planning the death of Sarah Ricketts – a plan which seemed to present very little difficulty.
Miss Ricketts was very partial to eating jam, in fact she ate little else. She enjoyed it straight from the jar with a spoon, which, on occasion, Louisa would have to administer.
This led the cunning Mrs Merrifield to come up with the plan to add an extra ingredient . . . Rodine rat poison.
A Post Mortem revealed Miss Ricketts had ingested Rodine and a dirty spoon later found in Louisa’s handbag was discovered coated in phosphorus ( an ingredient of the rat poison).
Once poor Sarah was dead and buried, the Merrifields wasted no time in claiming their inheritance from the Ricketts will.
On the 30th of April, Louisa Merrifield was arrested and charged with the murder of Sarah Ricketts. As she was taken to Strangeways Prison in the back of a police car she showed no remorse, feeling cheerful enough to wave through the window at the assembled press photographers.
Alfred Merrifield continued to live at the bungalow and seemed quite content until, when attending a prison visit with his wife, he too found himself under arrest!
After a trial lasting eleven days the jury could not be certain that Alfred had played a part in the murder, and he was released, free to pick up his share of the bungalow and half of Sarah Ricketts wealth.
However, Louisa May Merrifield was found guilty and was sentenced to death.
She was hanged at Strangeways Prison on the 18th September 1953, at 8am, by the most prolific executioner of the twentieth century, Albert Pierrepoint.
By lunchtime that day she was buried in an unmarked grave beside the prison walls.
After her death Merrifield was still said to be lingering within the prison. The apparition of a short woman dressed in black walking on the landing of B wing near to the former condemned cell was reportedly seen by many people, including a prisoner and a hospital officer. The spectre was always accompanied by a sudden drop in temperature.
Following the Strangeways riots of 1990 her body was exhumed (along with others) and taken to Blackley Cemetery for cremation.
But what became of the seemingly innocent man once described as a ‘tragic simpleton’ Alfred Merrifield? That’s a whole new post for another time. . .