British Executions

Elizabeth Berry


Sex: female

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 14 Mar 1887

Crime Location:

Execution Place: Liverpool

Method: unknown

Executioner: unknown


WAS an Oldham nurse, who was hanged for poisoning her 11-year-old daughter, a serial killer who murdered her entire family?

That is the premise outlined in a new book about the grisly topic of prison executions.

In 1887 Elizabeth Berry was convicted of killing her 11-year-old daughter for insurance money.

While awaiting her execution she was also convicted of killing her elderly mother and is also suspected of killing her husband and son.

The 31-year-old was the first person to be executed at Walton Prison in Liverpool, and, in a bizarre twist, knew her hangman, having danced with him at a party years previously.

Her macabre story appears in The Register of Death, a History of Executions at Walton Prison, Liverpool, written by John Smith.

A detective for almost 30 years, John, 59, from Crosby, Merseyside, became interested in the executions while working at the prison.

Using court and prison records, newspaper cuttings and death certificates, John uncovered the story behind each of the 62 executions which took place at the prison from 1887 to 1964, detailing the crime to the murderer’s last moment at the gallows.

John said: "Elizabeth Berry’s is a dark tale. I believe Oldham could have its own serial killer in Berry, but the truth is something she took to her grave. It’s suspected she murdered her family for the insurance money."

Berry’s life was steeped in death and misery.

Mr Welsh, her first husband and father to her daughter Edith, was in the armed services and died during battle in Afghanistan.

She then married a Mr Berry and had a son. Her husband died suddenly in 1882. Then 14 months later after a three-day illness caused by sleeping in a damp bed in Blackpool, her son died.

Berry got a job as a nurse at Oldham Workhouse and sent Edith to live with an aunt in Manchester.

She took her daughter away to live with her at the workhouse in November 1886. By January 4, Edith was dead.

Berry was convicted of murder after a four day trial in Liverpool and sentenced to death.

The court had heard that a month after taking her daughter back Berry attempted to increase mutual insurance for her and her daughter from £10 to £100, which would be given to one if the other died, but was unaware her application had been turned down.

Witnesses at the work house later claimed Berry had been seen forcing Edith to drink a white milky fluid from a glass.

An autopsy concluded Edith had died from poisoning.

The murder aroused suspicisons that Berry had also murdered her mother, Mary Finley, the previous year. Mary’s body was subsequently exhumed and a post-mortem examination discovered that she had also been poisoned. Berry was also convicted of this murder but never questioned over her husband and son’s deaths.

Berry was executed on March 14, 1887. The hangman who visited Berry in her cell was James Berry, who had met her at the policemen’s ball years earlier.

John’s book also features Thomas Marshland, a cotton mill worker from Oldham, executed in 1903.

He admitted cutting the throat of his wife Elizabeth with a razor during a drunken argument while living at Horsedge Fold.

Meanwhile, William Waddington, from Oldham, was executed at the prison in 1920 for murder, the details of which will appear in the second volume of The Register of Death planned for later this year.

- John hopes to have the book on sale in the Oldham area shortly, but in the meantime to order a copy call him on 0151 286 2192.

see Bodmin Jail