British Executions

Michael Dowdle

Age: 40

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 6 Dec 1899

Crime Location: 20 Coupland Street, Whitworth, Rochdale

Execution Place: Strangeways

Method: hanging

Executioner: unknown


Michael Dowdle was convicted for the murder of his 35-year-old wife Ellen Dowdle and sentenced to death.

He cut her throat on the night of Saturday, 19 August 1899 at their home at 20 Coupland Street, Whitworth.

Ellen Dowdle had left Michael Dowdle due to his quarrelsome and brutal behaviour and Michael Dowdle had later gone to plead with her to come back. However, she refused and they had a quarrel during which he cut her throat.

Before killing her he sent their five children out and then threw her down and cut her throat with a newly sharpened carving knife.

She had called out 'Murder' and neighbours that heard her screams rushed to her house and saw Michael Dowdle killing her through the kitchen window but had been too afraid to interfere.

After killing her, Michael Dowdle kicked her in the head and then walked out of the house and kissed one of his children and then gave himself up to the police.

Michael Dowdle was an Irishman and when younger had enlisted in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment and upon the outbreak of the Zulu war, he joined the 21st Scottish Fusiliers and went through the campaign in South Africa with great credit, fighting in several battles. He was wounded in the thigh in the battle of Isandula and retired from service on a pension of 1s a day, and returned to Ireland where he married Ellen Dowdle.

Ellen Dowdle had been the daughter of a carter in the service of a cotton manufacturer in County Waterford in Ireland.

They came to Whitworth in 1897, their eldest child being 12 years old.

Ellen Dowdle had worked in the stone quarries at Whitworth, and bore the character of being hard working, upright and abstemious.

However, Michael Dowdle was known to drink heavily and being of a jealous disposition, treated Ellen Dowdle so brutally that she had often to fly to neighbours for safety.

It was heard that their frequent quarrelling culminated a week before the murder, Saturday 12 August 1899, with Ellen Dowdle leaving Michael Dowdle and seeking shelter with a friend in Grove Terrace, Whitworth, and it was from the friend's house that Michael Dowdle induced her to return home at 20 Coupland Street before murdering her.

Ellen Dowdle had told her friend that she had been afraid to live in the same house as Michael Dowdle.

Whilst at her friend's house in Grove Terrace she had spent three days working at a mill, covering for a sick weaver.

On Sunday 13 August 1899 Michael Dowdle sent his youngest child to the woman's house and Ellen Dowdle looked after it.

At about 4.15pm on Saturday 19 August 1899 Michael Dowdle went to the woman's house and said to Ellen Dowdle, 'Are you not coming home to look after your poor children?', to which she replied, 'If I go home you'll beat me'. Michael Dowdle then said, 'Why did you not come home on Sunday morning last, when the temper was off me?' to which Ellen Dowdle replied, 'I was afraid'.

Michael Dowdle then sat down and remarked, 'If you'll come home I'll do naught to you'.

Soon after they left the woman's house together, Ellen Dowdle taking her baby in her arms.

They were only at 20 Coupland Street a few minutes when a neighbour heard them quarrelling and then directly after that screams of, 'Murder'.

A little boy that heard Ellen Dowdle said that he went to the door, which was ajar, and looked in and saw Michael Dowdle kneeling over Ellen Dowdle, who was lying on the floor, and stabbing her in the neck with something in his hand.

A woman also heard Ellen Dowdle screaming. She said that she went as far as Ellen Dowdle's house and saw Michael Dowdle and Ellen Dowdle on the floor, with Michael Dowdle kneeling over her and cutting her throat with something. She said that she couldn't see what it was, but that it was something gleaming.

She said that she said to Michael Dowdle, 'You bad man, you are killing your wife', but that he made no reply.

She said that he left the house about a minute later and went off in the direction of the police station.

A man that lived in Church Street said that he went to 20 Coupland Street and saw Michael Dowdle kick Ellen Dowdle. He said that he then shouted, 'Come out, you brute', to which Michael Dowdle replied, 'I'm not a brute'. He said that someone then cried out, 'Fetch the police', but that Michael Dowdle replied, 'I'll go to the police', and he then went off.

He said that when he then went into the house he saw Ellen Dowdle lying in blood.

The wound in her throat was four inches long and was said to have been more likely caused by a stab than a clear cut. Over her left eye there was another wound that was also as if from a stab.

The doctor that examined her body said that the wound to her throat alone was sufficient to have caused her death.

It was noted that a desperate struggle seemed to have taken place between Michael Dowdle and Ellen Dowdle, for the tops of two of her fingers of her left hand and thumb were nearly severed.

A police sergeant said that he saw Michael Dowdle coming towards Whitworth Police Station on the Saturday evening about 5pm to give himself up. He said that when Michael Dowdle approached him he said, 'Don't hold me tight, sergeant, I am coming'.

He said that he then went to 20 Coupland Street where he saw the body of Ellen Dowdle, who was just alive, on the floor at full length, her feet towards the centre of the floor and her head against the cupboard which was close to the fireplace. He said that she was partly on her right side with her back against the fender, which was smeared all over with blood. He added that there was also a large pool of blood on the floor and that the walls and scanty furniture were bespattered with blood.

He said that he then found a bread knife stained with blood lying on the slop-stone.

He said that when he charged Michael Dowdle with killing his wife, Michael Dowdle said, 'I did not. I took the knife from her and 'cobbed' it on the slop-stone'.

The police sergeant noted that Michael Dowdle's right hand was covered with blood and that there was blood also on one of his boots.

It was reported that one witness that was interviewed, gave his statement in a dialect:

Immediately after Dowdle left his house there wur a lot of the neighbours about, but noan on 'em dar go near him. They wur freetent o' th' felley, and weel they met. He wur so smeared w'i' blood on his honds an' his shoon. At th' bottom o' th' street there wur a lot of women strikin' of a rook, and his little lass wur crying. Hoo wur carryin' a littlechilt in her arm, an' it were cryin' too. As soon as Dowdle seed his little lass he clipt her round th' neck and kissed her. Then somebody said to Dowdle, 'You murderer! you villain!' an' he answered, 'Aw'm going now'. Directly after this 'e turn't corner at th' end o' th' street, and went through th' entry, where t'policeman took him.

Michael Dowdle was tried at the Manchester Assizes on 16 November 1899 and later executed at Strangeways on 6 December 1899.

It was reported that there was no motive for the murder and when the jury found him guilty they recommended him to mercy, however, there was no reprieve.

A report of the execution appeared in the newspapers:

The morning was dull and grey, with a cold damp wind blowing. At a quarter to eight there were a few people assembled in Southall Street, which bounds the southern side of the gaol, and these were principally workingmen and girls who were either employed in the neighbourhood or were just about to depart for their daily labour. Just before the striking of the hour the crowd was considerably swelled, and most of the people were collected at a point opposite the flagstaff, to which the black banner is hoisted as a signal that the highest penalty of the law has been carried into force. Just when the whistles at various works and factories could be heard indicating that it was eight o'clock, the halyards hanging from the flagstaff on the roof of one of the wings of the buildings inside the gaol could be seen moving as though someone was pulling at them, and a minute later the black flag appeared through a trap door in the roof. The wind opened its gloomy folds and it fluttered straight out at right angles to the pole. The curious crowd then dispersed in a drizzling rain, which had commenced to fall a few minutes previously.

see National Archives - ASSI 52/42, HO 144/279/A61461

see Stamford Mercury - Friday 08 December 1899

see Illustrated Police Budget - Saturday 26 August 1899

see Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper - Sunday 27 August 1899

see Penrith Observer - Tuesday 21 November 1899

see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 26 August 1899