On the 28th March 1876, Emily Holland, a seven year old girl attending St. Alban’s School in Blackburn, set off for home when the school finished at 4.30pm. She lived with her parents at 110 Moss Street, approximately 400 yards from the school.
She did not return home and was never seen alive again. Her parents reported her missing to the police that day.
Example of The Preston Herald
A week later, a dismembered body was found wrapped in copies of The Preston Herald newspaper on waste land off Whalley Road in the town. It was a child’s torso, minus the head, arms and legs. The body was identified as Emily by a birthmark on her back.
The next day her legs where found in Lower Cunliffe, and these were also wrapped in copies of The Preston Herald.
It was established Emily had been raped and her throat cut prior to dismemberment.
A huge manhunt followed to find the murderer and two rewards were offered, one for £100 and £200.
One of the police surgeons examining Emily’s body, Dr. Martland, discovered hairs of different lengths and colours, including men’s whiskers sticking to the body. He informed the police that Emily’s body must have been dismembered on the floor of a barbers shop.
The Net Closes.
Every barber’s shop in Blackburn was searched extensively by the police and suspicion fell on William Fish, who had a barber’s shop at number 4 Moss Street, near to where Emily lived. He kept a pile of The Preston Herald newspapers in date order in his shop, and when checked by the police, four issues, corresponding to those used to wrap the torso and legs were missing. Fish explained he had used them to light a fire.
He was arrested, but there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
A Dog Called ‘Morgan’.
Peter Taylor, from Nelson Street, Preston, saw the reward posters and offered Chief Constable Joseph Potts the use of his two dogs to track down the killer. He had a springer spaniel and a mongrel bloodhound.
It was April 16th, Easter Sunday when the police chief, with several officers accompanied Taylor and his dogs to where the body parts had been dumped, but no scent was found by the two dogs. They then went to Fish’s barber shop, officers taking Fish and his wife with them. The part bloodhound called ‘Morgan’ soon picked up a scent on entering the shop and rushed upstairs, barking at the chimney in the front bedroom. Taylor reached up inside and from a recess pulled out the skull and other parts of Emily’s body, wrapped in more newspapers.
The skull was charred and had obviously been recently burnt.
Fish was immediately arrested for the murder of Emily Holland, and a few days later made a full written confession to the chief constable.
Mr. Chief-Constable Potts then read to the court the following confession made by the prisoner Fish:-
Police Office, Town Hall, Blackburn,
17th April, 1876, 4.40p.m.
Statement made by William Fish, who has been this day brought before the magistrates on the charge of the wilful murder of Emily Holland, on the 28th March, 1876.
I told Constable William Parkinson that I had burnt part of the clothes, and put the other part under the coals in my shed; and I now wish to say that I am guilty of the murder. I further wish to say that I do not want the innocent to suffer. At a few minutes after five o’clock in the evening, I was standing at my shop door in Moss-street, when the deceased child came past. She was going up Moss-street. I asked her to bring me one half-ounce of tobacco from Cox’s shop. She went and brought it to me. I asked her to go upstairs and she did. I went up with her. I tried to abuse her, and she was nearly dead. I then cut her throat with a razor. This was in the front room near the fire. I then carried the body downstairs into the shop; cut off her head, arms and legs; wrapped up the body in newspapers on the floor; wrapped up the legs also in newspapers, and put those parcels into a box in the back kitchen. The arms and head I put in the fire. On the Wednesday afternoon, I took the parcel containing the legs to lower Cunliffe; and at nine o’clock that night, I took the parcel containing the body to a field at Bastwell, and threw it over the wall. On Friday afternoon, I burnt part of the clothing.
On the Wednesday morning, I took a part of the head which was unburnt, and put it up the chimney in the front bedroom.
I further wish to say that I did all myself, no other person had anything to do with it.
The foregoing statement has been read over to me, and is correct. It is my voluntary statement, and before I made it, I was told that it would be taken down in writing, and given in evidence against me,
(Signed) WILLIAM FISH
(Witnesses) ROBERT EASTWOOD, Superintendent.
JOSEPH POTTS, Chief Constable.
Trial and Execution.
Fish was unanimously found guilty of Emily’s murder at Liverpool Assizes, the jury coming to their decision in less than a minute. On 14th August 1876 Fish was hanged at Kirkdale Gaol, Liverpool.
It was one of the most infamous crimes of the 19th century.
William Fish became the first Lancastrian to be featured in Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks, London, displayed as the ‘Blackburn Butcher’ and situated in the Hall of Horrors.
This was the first recorded case of a tracker dog being used in a murder investigation. Due to the dogs success, bloodhounds were next used during the Jack the Ripper hunt.
The dog owner received £200 reward.
The terraced houses and William Fish’s barber’s shop on Moss Street were demolished in the 1960’s. Even though Moss Street still exists, there has been a complete redevelopment of the area.
Local’s have recounted stories of a child sobbing, coming from within the barber’s shop before it was demolished and the many sightings of a spectral young girl moving along Moss Street and entering Emily’s house. There is a report of police attending the barber’s shop in the 1950’s to investigate the sound of a female screaming in the empty premises.
There seems to have been paranormal activity on Moss Street after the tragic death of Emily for decades to follow, but once the Victorian housing and murder scene were demolished, the hauntings stopped and maybe Emily found peace at last.
Emily’s grave survives to this day and can be found in Blackburn Cemetery.
Reference sources: Chilling True Tales of Old Preston by Keith Johnson; Ghostly Tales of the Unexpected by Simon Entwistle: http://www.cottontown.org; crimemagazine.com; lancashiretelegraph.com
All photographs courtesy of Google Images.