British Executions

William Kirwan

Age: 39

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 31 May 1904

Crime Location: Great Newton Street, Pembroke Place, Liverpool

Execution Place: Liverpool

Method: hanging

Executioner: William Billington


William Kirwan was convicted of the murder of his sister-in-law Mary Pike and sentenced to death.

He shot her and his wife in Great Newton Street, Liverpool on 26 February 1904.

It was said that the motive had been jealousy.

William Kirwan had been a sailor and lived with his wife in Richmond Row, Liverpool. Mary Pike was his wife's sister and had lived in Great Newton Street. They had all been friendly and on good terms on the day before the murder when William Kirwan had invited Mary Pike round to his house and after Mary Pike's visit they had all parted on friendly terms.

However, the next day William Kirwan's wife went to see Mary Pike at Great Newton Street and William Kirwan followed soon after and whilst there William Kirwan claimed that his wife had been there for immoral purposes which she denied and he then pulled out a revolver and shot at both his wife and Mary Pike in the front room firing four shots but missing.

They managed to lock William Kirwan out of the house and a policeman took hold of him and whilst he appeared to be in the policeman's charge Mary Pike went out to have William Kirwan charged, but  seeing her, William Kirwan managed to free himself and pulled out the revolver and shot Mary Pike in her side breaking her rib. She died a few days later from the wound.

William Kirwan then gave himself up and said, 'I meant it right well. I intended to kill both of them'.

It was heard that William Kirwan had suspected that his wife had been having immoral relations with a man that had once lodged at their house. It was heard that about nine months earlier William Kirwan had accused his wife of having slept with the man at Mary Pike's house in Great Newton Street, however, both his wife and Mary Pike denied it, stating that the truth was that William Kirwan's wife had left her home on account of William Kirwan's violence and had stayed the night with Mary Pike, sleeping in the same bed.

It was stated that it was not clear whether William Kirwan had had any grounds for jealousy, but that it was quite clear that William Kirwan fully believed that he had. It was further noted that William Kirwan was said to have had letters that he thought were his wife's and considered them evidence of her guilt. However, it was noted that the letters, whilst referred to in the evidence, were apparently not produced.

It was said that what happened on the day was that William Kirwan's wife had gone to Great Newton Street to ask Mary Pike for the loan of her rent-book as they had been given 24 hours’ notice to quit. William Kirwan was said to have then followed in a few minutes.

However, Mary Pike refused to allow them to have her rent book and a discussion followed in which William Kirwan said that they were being turned out on account of his wife's misconduct, and then brought up the subject of the other man, and charged Mary Pike with having allowed his wife to sleep with the man at her house.

It was said that when they denied it that he then pulled out the revolver and fired two shots at his wife and two shots at Mary Pike, all of which missed.

William Kirwan then went out into the lobby and a lodger from upstairs came down and tried to get the women and children out of William Kirwan's way, and when William Kirwan went to the doorstep and proceeded to reload his revolver, he shut and bolted the door.

The lodger then went upstairs and shouted for someone to fetch a policeman.

William Kirwan then walked down the street some way, fired a shot in the air, and then returned and stood at the opposite side of the street, facing the house.

A young policeman then arrived and took hold of William Kirwan and asked him to give up his revolver.

At that point, seeing that William Kirwan was in the hands of the policeman, the lodger asked Mary Pike to go over and charge him. However, as she crossed the street, William Kirwan, who was facing her, freed his right hand from the policeman and drew his revolver out of his pocket and fired two shots at her, one of which wounded her in the side.

Mary Pike was carried to hospital, but blood poisoning set in and she died on 4 March 1904.

In the meantime William Kirwan had been charged with attempted murder. When the charge was made he said, 'I intended to kill the pair of them. I am sorry I didn't, I meant it well enough'.

When he was charged with murder on 8 March 1904 he said, 'I have nothing to say, only I have been driven to it with great provocation'.

He also pleaded guilty before the Coroner, stating, 'I had great provocation'.

In his evidence at the trial he gave details of his reasons for thinking that his wife had misconducted herself, and the defence put forward was that although William Kirwan was not certifiably insane, that his wrongs, real or fancied, had so upset the balance of his mind, that he had been unable to control his actions.

However, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

After he was convicted of her murder, and whilst in the dock, he said, 'As I stand in this dock, about to be condemned to death, I repeat my statement in the witness box. I swear that my wife has been unfaithful to me many a time, and that Pike shared the proceeds of her infidelity.' A woman in the back of the court then cried out, 'Oh, no! no! no!'.

When the judge sentenced him he said, 'For as surely as you took that woman's life, so will the law take your life'. William Kirwan then shouted, 'Goodbye! goodbye all!'.

see National Archives - ASSI 52/97

see Tamworth Herald - Saturday 14 May 1904