British Executions

James Phipps

Age: 21

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 12 Nov 1908

Crime Location: Wharton, Winsford

Execution Place: Knutsford

Method: hanging

Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint


James Phipps was convicted of the murder of Elizabeth Warburton 10 and sentenced to death.

He strangled her at Wharton, near Winsford on 12 October 1908.

At about 7.30pm on 12 October 1908 James Phipps asked a group of children if one of them could fetch him some cigarettes and show him the way to a certain person’s house. Elizabeth Warburton said she would and went off to get the cigarettes from a shop close by. James Phipps had promised her 2d but no money was found on her when she was found or on James Phipps.

After fetching the cigarettes James Phipps and Elizabeth Warburton walked off to find the house.

As they went off a neighbour said that she didn't like the look of James Phipps and called out after Elizabeth Warburton but said that she just replied 'What' and continued along with James Phipps.

They were last seen at about 7.45pm some distance past the house where they were said to be going, heading off towards a path leading across some fields. The man that saw them said that he heard James Phipps say, 'Is that it?' and said that he asked them if they were looking for someone but got no reply.

Soon after, when Elizabeth Warburton's father heard that she had gone off with someone, he went out in search of her with others.

At around 9pm they saw James Phipps returning alone across the field where he had been with Elizabeth Warburton an hour earlier. the people looking for Elizabeth Warburton asked James Phipps if he knew where Elizabeth Warburton was but he was evasive and said, 'I don't know' and 'It's down here but I'll find it'. He was said to have then walked about 100 yards with Elizabeth Warburton's father saying, 'I will find her', before he bolted down the road towards Winsford Bridge. However, he was soon stopped by a policeman.

When the policeman stopped him, James Phipps said 'Some little girls have been throwing stones at me. I caught one and wrung her neck and thrown her into the ditch up the footpath leading from Crook Lane to the L & NW Railway'. However, it was later determined that his account of having had stones thrown at him was entirely untrue.

Elizabeth Warburton was found in the ditch at the place indicated by James Phipps with her head pressed down into the mud and about eight inches of water. Her legs and feet were up the bank.

Death was stated as being due to suffocation by drowning although Elizabeth Warburton had been rendered unconscious before her head was put in the water.

There were no signs of a struggle on the bank. There was also a piece of string knotted loosely round her neck but it was not stated as being the apparent cause of death.

She had much bruising on her left temple and eye from a heavy blow from a fist and scratches on her neck as from attempts at strangling her.

She also had slight bruises on parts of her groin, a small notch in the hymen and a trickle of blood from her vagina showing attempted rape. There were no signs of semen on either Elizabeth Warburton's or James Phipps's clothes.

It was noted that on 14 October 1908 James Phipps was asked to allow his privates to be examined but had refused, even when pressed by his Solicitor, saying 'I don't think I will, it will not make it any better', and no examination was made. The police report stated that it could be fairly inferred that from his answer that he had sustained some scratch or abrasion which he did not wish to show.

When James Phipps was seven years old he lost an eye when a lad threw a stone. In January 1908, he had also fallen off of his bike and suffered slight concussion and was in hospital for three days.

It was also noted that in the previous twelve months or so he had made three half-hearted attempts at suicide, one over twelve months before, and the other two in July and August of 1908. It was said that if they were genuine attempts then they appeared to be due partly to his drunken temper and partly to depression due to him being unable to find work which was in turn said to be due in part to him only having one eye, but also due to his drunkenness and also his disreputable belongings.

It was said that in court that his defence had relied on his story of having caught some girls throwing stones at him, which was stated as being a sign that he was suffering from delusions begotten from brooding over the loss of his eye and that he had killed her in a fit of madness. However, the police report states that his conduct was utterly inconsistent with that theory because he had waited for her to return from the shop, smoked a cigarette, and when passing the man that had asked them if they were looking for someone had kept up the pretence of looking for a house by which he had enticed Elizabeth Warburton away. It stated that there could be no doubt that James Phipps's object was to outrage Elizabeth Warburton and that having attempted to do so, being in a fit of sexual frenzy, which alone was stated could account for such a brutal and wanton crime, he struck and half strangled Elizabeth Warburton and then thrust her head downwards in the water.

A 10-year-old boy said that on the Monday at about 7.30pm he saw James Phipps who he said he knew. He said that he had a white bandage on. He said that James Phipps shouted to a little girl to go and fetch him some cigarettes and that he saw him give her something and then run off up Station Road towards the shops. He said that while she was going to the shops James Phipps was walking slowly up and down Station Road. He said that he didn't see the little girl come back but he did hear the woman call out after Elizabeth Warburton and he then saw James Phipps and Elizabeth Warburton walking off along Coronation Road. He said that he didn't see any other boys or girls talk to James Phipps or see anyone throw any stones at him.

Another 10-year-old girl said that she had been out playing on Station road in Wharton with Elizabeth Warburton and some other children and said that James Phipps came up to them at about 7pm and asked which of them would bring him back a packet of Woodbine Cigarettes adding that he would give them twopence. She said that he also asked which of them would show him to a person’s house in Gilbert Street and said that Elizabeth Warburton said 'Yes'. She said that James Phipps then gave her a piece of silver and that Elizabeth Warburton then ran off to get the cigarettes. She said that when Elizabeth Warburton came back with the cigarettes he lighted one and then asked Elizabeth Warburton if she could show him the house. She said that Elizabeth Warburton asked, 'Do you mean him who lights lamps?' and said that James Phipps replied, 'I don't know'. The girl said then that Elizabeth Warburton went off with James Phipps. She said that she heard the woman call Elizabeth Warburton back but said that Elizabeth Warburton went on. She said that whilst Elizabeth Warburton went for the cigarettes James Phipps watched her and about six of her other friends play and said that none of them threw any stones at him or interfered with him at all.

see National Archives - HO 144/889/171031