Challenged to write a letter to someone gone, my first thought was to write to my daughters father. I like to be different and to look for different angles on things so when I noticed other bloggers had already covered things I would have written to him about, I took some time to consider who else was gone who I would like to have spoken to now. Then it came to me. I decided to write to someone who left this world in 1950 ……
Dear Mary Longhurst (nee McVelia) Whatever you call yourself, you will know who you are and perhaps even, who I am. In case you don’t, let me give you a quick background on why I am writing this letter to you. A number of years ago I decided to document my family history, not necessarily a tree, but stories, events, celebrations and tragedies. You know, the type of things that happen in familys that may clarify matters to future generations. When I was giving my father his spanish inquisition he mentioned that his mother had a family member who was one of the 55 people hung at Durham Prison during the 20th century, something scandalous for me to investigate. All he could really tell me though was that a man named George Brown was hung for murdering a prostitute who he had been in a relationship with. Although he was vague on the actual facts of the case, he distinctly remembers the day that my gran (his mother) and his sister went to court and how my gran cried after the sentencing. You know who I am talking about but at th at time I didn’t and didn’t really think too much more of it. Then this year, in a year of recluse, I got all of the files out again and started to read through them. When I searched for my Great Grandmo ther in the National Census documents I came across the record of her family, specifically with reference to her brother, George Brown. Remembering the story my dad had told me, I looked it up again but the dates didn’t correspond then when I looked further, George Brown had a son named George Finlay Brown – this is the person I was looking for. Researching George Finlay Brown was not too difficult as there are many newspaper articles written about his hanging and the ‘facts’ of this case – the case of your murder. I would have just accepted that we had a murderer in the family had I not come across a forum where one of your family members was trying to find out what had happened to you. In the forum a genealogist briefly provided the circumstances of your death. Your family member was not happy that this was actually you though as news l married to a member of his (the forum writers) family.papers stated that you were living with George, that he was your boyfriend. He didn’t understand it, and you know why don’t you, because you were married. So this sparked my interest – lies and deceipt are a pet hate of mine, I like to uncover the truth. After trawling the internet and traipsing to all the local libraries, I ended up buying the book which gives the story of your death. ’Murderous Tyneside” gives well documented accounts of about 23 people who were executed by hanging at Durham prison. Nine whole pages – a whole chapter of this book is dedicated to the events surrounding your death. Here is the exerpt from the book that you can read:
BENJAMIN Valentine Hedley lived in one of the rooms on the ground floor of 26 King Street, North Shields. The entire house was divided up into six or seven single-roomed bedsits and over the time he had lived there with his wife, Elizabeth, Benjamin Hedley had seen many tenants come and go. It was on January 17th, 1950, that someone new moved into the room directly above the Hedleys, who came to know the new occupants as 23-year-old Mary Victoria Longhurst and her four-year-old daughter, Patricia. In fact, Mary Longhurst did not live alone with her daughter for very long. In fairly quick succession, two men came to stay with her but each of them remained there for only a few days. In February, however, a third man arrived. This was George Finlay Brown and he stayed there for weeks rather than days. Even this relationship did not last too long, however, and during the first week in March, Brown, too, moved out of Mary Longhurst’s flat. Brown had not wanted the relationship to end but Mary had moved on and was now seeing another man, Frank Dougal Boucher. Brown, though, was not one to allow another man to usurp him and so he began to pester Mary to return to him until finally, at 12.10pm on Friday, March 10th, she walked into the Central police station where she told policewoman Mabel Ashley that she wished to make a complaint about the way Brown was behaving towards her. It was this complaint which led Constable Gordon Cowie to call at Brown’s lodgings, in his mother’s house at 52 Princes Street, at 3.30pm that same day. Constable Cowie told Brown that Mary Longhurst had claimed that he had been following her aroun
d, accosting her in the street and generally making a nuisance of himself. He warned Brown that if this behaviour continued, Mary could take out a summons against him and he would probably be bound over to keep the peace. Brown replied that he understood and was sorry if he had caused any trouble. Cowie ended by saying that it might be better if Brown stayed away from Mary altogether, and Brown had said that in future he would. There, for the time being, the matter was allowed to rest. At 9.30pm that same evening, Benjamin Hedley left 26 King Street. His wife had earlier gone to visit a friend who lived in Norfolk Street, and Hedley had arranged to call for her. By the time they got back to their flat, it was about 9.45pm. The hallways and stairs in number 26 were not carpeted and so footsteps and conversations could easily be heard, especially since Benjamin was also in the habit of leaving his window open to let in some fresh air. It was not unusual then that, when at 10.00pm, someone came into the house, Benjamin was not only able to hear them, but could also distinguish that there were two people and both were women. The women went up into Mary’s room where they stayed until 10.30pm. Benjamin also caught snatches of conversation and this confirmed that one of the people he had heard was Mary, the other he presumed was a friend of hers. Some 20 minutes after Mary and her friend had left, the front door opened again and Benjamin heard heavy footsteps moving rapidly up the stairs. The door to Mary’s room opened and the Hedleys heard those same heavy steps walking across their ceiling, Mary’s floor. Not only that,
but it seemed to be a tread that Benjamin recognised. It was 10.55pm, only five minutes after the last visitor arrived, when Benjamin heard lighter steps going up the bare boards of the stairway. These steps stopped outside Mary’s room, the door opened and Benjamin heard Mary’s voice cry, “Oh!” This was followed immediately by a man’s voice shouting, “Come here, I want to see you.” The voice was one Benjamin knew well and confirmed what he had already suspected. Mary’s visitor was none other than George Brown. The visit was most certainly unwelcome for now Mary shouted, “There’s the door. Get out of here and leave me alone.” A loud conversation followed during which Mary said that she had been to see a Mr Ridley at the NationalAssistance Board and he had told her that her money would be stopped if Brown lived there again. Brown said that he did not believe her, whereupon Mary challenged him to go with her to see Ridley the next morning and discover the truth for himself. The argument increased in volume until Brown was heard to shout, “No, I’d rather swing for you.” This was followed by a cry of, “Don’t George,” and then came the sounds of a scuffle, with furniture being thrown about and Mary screaming, “Murder! Will somebody come here?” Finally, the unmistakable sound of an hysterical Patricia crying, “Leave my Mammy alone.” filtered down through the rest of the cacophony. Benjamin Hedley had heard enough. It was time to call the police. As he pulled on his coat, all went quiet upstairs but this was perhaps even more ominous after what had just passed. By midnight, Hedley was telling his story at the police station and by 12.06am he and Constable John William Dowey Atkinson were heading back to King Street. Hedley returned to his own room to ensure that his wife was alright, while Constable Atkinson went upstairs and knocked on the door of Mary’s room. All was still quiet and no one answered. This, of course, was long before the days of police officers having their own radios and Atkinson, realising that he might need assistance to get into the room, had no alternative but to telephone his station from the nearest public call box. Calling briefly on the Hedleys to tell them what he was doing, Constable Atkinson walked to the box at the corner of King Street and Tynemouth Road. Meanwhile, only a minute or so after the police officer had left, someone had opened the door of Mary’s room. Heavy footsteps now ran down the stairs and out into the street. Hedley ventured out of his room at this point but by the time he reached the front door, there was no one to be seen in the street. It was 12.12am on March 11th when Detective Constable Thomas Edward Baikie received the report from Constable Atkinson. Baikie went by car to the scene of the disturbance and within minutes, he and Atkinson were back outside the door to Mary’s room. “Is there anyone in the
re?” shouted Baikie. A child’s voice shouted something, although neither policeman could distinguish exactly what was said. It was enough, however, to confirm that someone inside the room might need assistance so Baikie shoulder-charged the door and smashed it open. The room was in total darkness but Baikie soon found the light switch and snapped it on. Little Patricia Longhurst was hiding underneath the bedclothes. At the other end of the bed lay her mother. Mary’s legs were apart, her knickers around the ankle of one foot. She had her head pressed close against the wooden board which formed the bottom of the bed and when the police officers took a closer look they could see that string had been tied tightly around her throat and had then been used to tie her to the bed board. Though medical assistance was summoned, Mary Longhurst was quite obviously dead. Constable Baikie also contacted his superior, Detective Inspector Anthony Graham, who was at home at the time. He was soon on the scene and having made a quick examination of the damaged furniture, the rucked back carpets and the smashed ornaments in the room, and having spoken to the Hedleys, Inspector Graham took Constable Baikie with him to call on George Finlay Brown. It was 1.05am when Brown’s mother opened the door to the two plain clothes officers. Inspector Graham told Brown that they were investigating the death of Mary Longhurst, and wished to interview him at the station. Brown, who had been asleep in bed, alongside his brother Norman, when the police arrived, made no objection. Brown said that he was more than happy to make a statement and was now given paper so that he could write it out himself. He wrote, “At 6.10pm, I left home and went to the Hope Inn, and stayed there till 7.45pm and left with a mate named Bob Elrick. From here we went to the Alnwick Castle. Left here 9.05pm, then to the Uncle Tom’s. Came out 9.20pm and back to the Hope Inn. Bob left me at 9.45pm. At closing time I went along the street. I saw James Mason. Left him at 10.25pm to go and talk to a girl I knew, Mary. Then we went to the New Quay. I left about 11.10pm came back up the street. Left Boro corner about 11.25pm and came along home which I reckon took ten minutes so that’s all I know till the police came for me in the morning.”
At 7.30am that same morning, while Brown was writing his statement, Inspector Graham noticed a light coloured thread on Brown’s trousers, close to the right turn-up. Graham took this, sealed it in an evidence envelope and gave it to Detective Sergeant William Darling. He, in turn, would forward it to Dr Lewis Charles Nickolls at the Forensic Science Laboratory at Wakefield. Meanwhile, at 11.20am, Brown was charged with the murder of Mary Longhurst. He made no reply. The trial of George Brown opened at Newcastle on May 30th, 1950, before Mr Justice Morris, the prosecution case being led by Mr E.G. Robey, who was assisted by Mr F.B.H. Hylton-Foster, while Brown was defended by Mr H.R.B. Shepherd. The proceedings lasted for two days. Frank Boucher, who lived at 51 Church Street, North Shields, testified that he had known Mary all his life, although they had been keeping company together for only about a week before her death. On March 3rd, she had called at his house for a cup of tea, leaving Brown, who was still living with her at the time, to take care of Patricia. She had been there for no more than 15 minutes when Brown had appeared and asked Mary if she would return home as the child was crying. Mary returned but told Boucher she would see him the next day. The next incident of significance took place on March 6th. Boucher was standing at the corner of Camden Street with Mary and two friends of theirs, Dorothy Waugh and Eddie Saunders. They all started walking towards West End together when they noticed Brown on the other side of the street but walking in the opposite direction. Brown crossed the street, grabbed Mary by the arm and pulled her back, saying that he wanted a word with her. The other three had walked on a few steps and although Boucher did not hear the entire conversation between Brown and Mary, he did hear Brown say that he would ‘get her’ if she was seen with anyone else. By then, of course, Mary had thrown Brown out of 26 King Street, and he was now living at his mother’s house. Elizabeth Evelyn Crammen had been to the Plaza Dance Hall on the night of March 9th, leaving there at about 11.00pm. On her way home, she walked along King Street, by which time it was close to 11.15pm. She knew Mary by her maiden name of Mary McVelia, and had seen her talking to Brown in King Street. Elizabeth said, “Goodnight” but Mary did not reply. At the time she seemed to be rather heavily involved in a fairly heated argument with Brown.
Although Mary and Brown had split up, it seems that Brown did spend that night of March 9th in her room. Benjamin Hedley had heard them returning and also the sounds of raised voices. At one stage Brown had shouted something about Mary seeing a man named Dougal. This was the name by which most people knew Frank Boucher. The argument had continued until 1.00am and the following morning, Hedley had heard Mary and Brown coming downstairs. Benjamin Hedley and his wife, Elizabeth, also gave evidence of having picked out Brown at an identification parade at the police station on March 11th. The defence objected strongly to this, saying that such evidence was of no value whatsoever since both the Hedleys were identifying a man they knew well. After all, Brown had lived above them for some six weeks.
Margaret Jean Ritchie lived at 5 George Street, North Shields, and she was one of Mary’s closest friends. Margaret detailed what she knew of Mary’s movements on the evening of March 10th. At 8.30pm Mary had called at Margaret’s house and after enjoying a cup of tea, they had returned to Mary’s flat at 9.15pm where they stayed together until 10.00pm. Mary had gone out for no more than ten minutes but she was soon back. They finally left together at 10.30pm, which, of course, fitted in with the evidence of Benjamin Hedley, who heard two women leaving at about that time. When Margaret and Mary left her flat, Patricia was asleep in the bed. Mary had called in on a neighbour, Mrs Bryson, telling her that Patricia was alone in the room, left her key in the lock on the outside of the door and gone out with Margaret to find Frank Boucher. The two women found that Boucher was not at home, so they now visited Dolly Waugh’s house in Limehill Street, where more tea was consumed. They stayed there until 11.10pm when Mary and Margaret again called on Boucher to find that he was still out. Mary saw Margaret to her house at George Street, said her goodnights and returned home. These later times did not quite agree with what Benjamin Hedley had said but the prosecution were claiming that in the intervening period, Brown had arrived at Mary’s room, found the key in the lock, let himself in and waited for Mary to return. Florence May Okhegwai had spent the night of March 10th with her friend, Marion Bruce, in a public house in Saville Street West, where they stayed until closing time at 10.00pm. As they were standing outside the pub, a man passed and looked intently at her. Later, as Florence walked home down Borough Bank, this same man, who she subsequently identified as Brown, approached her and asked her for sex. She refused, but this at least indicated what was on Brown’s mind. Florence put the time of this last encounter somewhere between 10.30pm and 10.45pm. A pathologist, George Edward Stephenson, testified that Mary Longhurst had been a healthy woman, 5ft 13⁄4ins in height and weighing 8st 7lbs. The cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation by a double ligature around the neck. He also produced photographs showing that when the ligature had been cut off, a deep track remained around Mary’s throat so considerable force had been used to hold her down and tie the knots. Dr Nickolls of the Forensic Science Laboratory gave evidence that the fibre sent to him by Sergeant Darling and found on Brown’s trousers matched the fibres of the quilt in the murder room. Dr Nickolls had also examined the clothing Brown had been wearing at the time of his arrest. On the right leg of the trousers, he found another fibre which was dyed a yellowish-green, the same colour as the tablecloth found in Mary’s room. Finally, he had found a small tuft of fibres which again were similar threads to the quilt. The only witness for the defence was Brown himself. He claimed that after leaving the Hope Inn at closing time and talking to James Mason he had then met a girl named Mary who said she came from Coventry. He denied seeing Mary Longhurst at any time on the night she died and said that he had not mentioned this other Mary before because he attached no special consequence to it. The police, of course, had tried to trace this mysterious Mary, but she had never come forward. The prosecution claimed that there was a very simple reason for this: the other Mary did not exist and the evidence of the witnesses, the fibres found on Brown which linked him directly to the murder scene and the history of his relationship with Mary, meant that he was the man who had been in her room on that fateful night. The jury were out considering their verdict for just over half an hour. Having adjudged Brown guilty they saw Mr Justice Morris don the black cap and tell him, “You have been convicted of a dreadful crime for which the law knows only one penalty.” He then sentenced Brown to death, the prisoner hearing those dread words without showing any emotion. At the back of the public gallery, though, Brown’s mother started to sob loudly and had to be assisted out of the court. A woman juror was also seen to be in tears. Brown’s appeal was heard in June, and dismissed. On July 10th, the Home Secretary announced that a 21-year-old labourer, Francis McClean, who had been sentenced to hang at the Old Bailey for the murder of his landlady, was to be reprieved. On that same day, though, he announced that the sentence on Brown would stand. The next morning, Tuesday, July 11th, 1950, George Finlay Brown was hanged at Durham jail. He was still only 23 years old.
Eddleston, John J (2011-01-20). Murderous Tyneside (Kindle Locations 2837-2843). JMD Media Ltd. Kindle Edition.
So George was hung but there were too many unanswered questions in the story. What baffles me is:
Your landlord testifying that he heard Georges footsteps on the stairway was used as incriminating evidence. How did the landlord know for sure that they were actually Georges footsteps?
How could he be sure that someone else hadnt been there too considering he had been out . He even went out to call the police after he heard you and George argue.
How can it be sure that someone hadn’t arrived during this time? The landlord did not check on you, didnt even know if you were dead or alive when he had left to call the police.
The forensic evidence offered by the police is ludicrous. Threads of fabrics in your flat found on Georges clothing in my opinion is not evidence. He would obviously have thread if he had lived with you. Even though it was a week later, one has to bear in mind that in the 1950′s clothes were not washed every time they were worn.
I have tried to find the people who testified in the court case about your death but some of the women do not even have names of British origin. Two of them lived in none residential accommodation.
Apart from the Landlord, all of the other witnesses were women. None of them had even witnessed George entering your flat that day.
Then there is the elusive Mr Frank Dougal Boucher – I am trying to find out what happened to him but I did notice that he didn’t even get called to testify. This is strange since you had spent most of the night you were killed on running backwards and forwards to his house looking for him. The fact that you were a single mother and lived near the North Shields quayside and the living arrangements mentioned in the story lead me to think of my gran calling you a prostitute. The quayside was well known for prostitution during those years. Hearing the story and seeing the ‘evidence’ I must say that I would have suspected Frank Boucher – I would have at least called him in for questioning. I don’t want to taint the memory of you but I also would hate to think that George was innocently hung. The fact that your daughter had to witness your murder is horrendous and she would have been too young to be able to be a witness. I wish I could know the truth but I think the truth died with you. All I can hope is that you met up again….. but if he was truly guilty you can rest knowing justice was done. Best Wishes from the 21st century This letter was inspired by a blog challenge on Swift Expression’s site: http://tfaswift.wordpress.com/