The Bootle Cellar Horror.
The killing of a six year old boy in Bootle in 1908 remains unsolved after the main suspect was found not guilty.
At around 9pm on Saturday 24th October that year Tommy Lyons was playing with friends outside his Lyons Street home. His father Peter came out and took him to some shops on Derby Road, giving him a penny. Peter then went to a pub leaving Tommy playing a few doors away from his home with his older brother Peter and another boy Thomas O'Shaughnessy.
Tommy became separated from his brother, going to a butchers with another resident of the street, John Trench. He bought Tommy a pork pie and they were seen outside the shop together at 10pm, but he was never seen alive again. About an hour and a half later, Peter and O'Shaughnessy heard groans from an empty cellar and heavy breathing, so they went around the back entry to investigate, but had a bottle thrown at them. At that time they didn't know that Tommy was missing so they continued playing, but did see Trench in the street alone about fifteen minutes later.
The following morning Tommy's mother went to the police to report him missing. Whilst she was out, Trench ran into their home and woke his father, telling him that his son was dead in a cellar with half his head cut off. He then left, bumping into Mrs Foy on the way out, telling her that he had received this information from another neighbour called Monteith and that people should start searching cellars.
At 730pm on the Monday night Tommy's brother Peter and O'Shaughnessy found the body of the little boy in the cellar from where they had heard groans two nights before. His face and the upper part of his body was covered in cuts and bruises, and his trousers had been removed. It seemed clear the killing had taken place there, as there was blood on the walls.
The following day the coroner Mr Brighouse adjourned the inquest for two weeks, but not before Peter told him of Trench's comments on the Sunday. This led to police acting swiftly to arrest the 21 year old scaler, who strongly protested his innocence when he was charged.
At the resumed inquest on 10th November there were angry scenes when Trench said he could prove where he was on the night of the murder and some women present shouted that he was a liar. Both he and another neighbour said they had seen Tommy with two foreigners, but Trench couldn't explain how he knew on the Sunday morning that Tommy was dead even though the body wasn't found until the next day. However the murder weapon hadn't been recovered and nobody had seen Trench enter or leave the cellar. In his summing up the coroner said that the evidence against Trench was circumstantial and scanty but despite this direction the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against him, leading to his committal for trial at the next assizes.
On 14th December Trench appeared before Mr Justice Channell at the assizes in St George's Hall. Mrs Monteith denied having said anything to Trench about the killing and he was unable to explain how he knew about the death before his details were circulated as missing. The evidence against Trench though was entirely circumstantial and after two hours deliberation the jury found him not guilty.
Suspicions still abound, Trench and his family moved to Aber Street, off Irlam Road. Nobody was prosecuted for Tommy's murder and the streets notoriety due to this and other killings means it was later renamed Beresford Street.