British Executions

Abel Atherton

Age: 29

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 8 Dec 1909

Crime Location: 20 Thames Street, Chopwell, Gateshead

Execution Place: Bagthorpre Gaol, Durham

Method: hanging

Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint


Abel Atherton was convicted of the murder of Elizabeth Ann Patrick 33 and sentenced to death.

He shot her at 20 Thames Street, Chopwell, near Gateshead on 11 August 1909.

Abel Atherton was a miner and had lodged with Elizabeth Patrick and her family including four children.

For some time Abel Atherton had been paying attention to Elizabeth Patrick's 15-year-old daughter and had on several occasions, beginning on Easter Monday, asked her to have connections with him but she had steadfastly refused. Her refusal annoyed him and he constantly accused her of having intercourse with her father and after he left the house on 24 July 1909 he also accused Elizabeth Patrick of encouraging it.

The police report said that Elizabeth Patrick's husband was quite ignorant of the accusations made against him and that there appeared to be not the slightest foundation for them.

On 24 July 1909 Abel Atherton took hold of Elizabeth Patrick's 15-year-old daughter and asked her to let him have connection but she refused. Shortly after her father came home and the daughter said that if Abel Atherton didn't leave, she would, and so her father told Abel Atherton to leave.

Abel Atherton then left the lodging, taking his gun with him and took lodgings with a woman close by. Whilst there he told the landlady whilst drunk that it was a bloody good job he had left Elizabeth Patrick's house before he did a mischief and then showed the landlady three cartridges, saying that one was for the daughter, another for Elizabeth Patrick and the third for himself. He then told his new landlady that Elizabeth Patrick didn't know half the carry on that there was in the house. The landlady then asked that he lock up the cartridges upstairs, which he did.

After he left 20 Thames Street, Abel Atherton continued to visit almost every day and appeared to be a good deal under the influence of drink at that time but still continued to work up until 8 August 1909.

When he went to 20 Thames Street on 8 August 1909 he said to the 15-year-old daughter, 'You have done your worst for me and I will do my worst for you'.

Later, that same night Elizabeth Patrick told Abel Atherton that he was not welcome there. As he came out a neighbour said that Abel Atherton said to him that he would 'finish the bloody lot next door'.

The police report states that on 9 August 1909 he asked the 15-year-old daughter, 'Do you still kiss your father? You are too big to kiss him', and that the daughter had replied that there was no harm in it and Abel Atherton replied that the judge wouldn't think there was no harm in it.

On 10 August 1909 Abel Atherton told a clerk at the mine that he was wanting to sell his gun and that later that day he attempted to borrow a revolver and six cartridges from two different people saying that he wanted to kill two pet dogs for stuffing purposes.

The next day at 5.30pm, 11 August 1909 Abel Atherton met a friend that had once lodged with him at 20 Thames Street and told him that he no longer lodged there and that they had differed and that he was going to go there that night to smash up the furniture.

Earlier that day he had taken a note to 20 Thames Street for Elizabeth Patrick which repeated his accusations, which he had gave to the daughter but the daughter destroyed it.

Soon after at 5.45pm the daughter found Abel Atherton talking to Elizabeth Patrick at 20 Thames Street and Abel Atherton again started to talk to her about carrying on with her father. Elizabeth Patrick then said that she was sick of the mischief and threatened to send for her husband who had just gone off to work at 4pm. Abel Atherton then said that he would wait and when he was told that he had to go he said that he would bring a policeman with her husband. Elizabeth Patrick then told Abel Atherton that the policeman meant trouble for him and Abel Atherton replied, 'It will be trouble for someone else', and then said 'I will do for her (the 15-year-old daughter) and when I do I will do for you at the same time'. Abel Atherton then left and went back to his lodgings.

When he got back to his lodgings he was somewhat drunk and his landlady got his gun down from the wall for him as he couldn't reach it. Abel Atherton then went upstairs and got his cartridges from his tin box. When he left his lodgings, he was crying and shook hands with his landlady but wouldn't tell her what the problem was. It was noted that Abel Atherton had previously written a farewell note that was dated 18 July 1909, to a friend.

When Abel Atherton got to 20 Thames Street, Elizabeth Patrick, her 15-year-old daughter, a son and a neighbour were all in the kitchen. He went in through the back door with his gun which was thought to have been probably loaded, under his arm. When Elizabeth Patrick saw Abel Atherton with a gun she went towards him saying, 'You are not going to use that here' and took hold of the gun barrels. There was then a scuffle and a shot was fired that seemed to go through the open door and into the street. Then, immediately after there was a second shot which hit Elizabeth Patrick in the leg on the inside of the thigh which severed her femoral artery and vein. Elizabeth Patrick then fell backwards or sideways into the street and died shortly after.

Abel Atherton, who was still in the house then flung the gun out into the street over her body. He then made some scratches on his throat with a pocket knife and then bent down to kiss Elizabeth Patrick on the cheek.

Soon after a police constable came up and Abel Atherton said, 'I am the man you want she is quite dead, it's a pity I did not finish myself as well, it's a bad job for me'.

When he was charged with murder and attempted suicide he said, 'The knife wasn't sharp enough but the other was a pure accident she fired one shot in the air and the other she shot herself.'.

When Abel Atherton was told that Elizabeth Patrick was dead he said 'There is one thing that consoles me. I did not shoot her. She shot herself. The clerk at the mine in the offices told me about a man who wanted a gun and I was going to try and sell it to him and on my way I called at the house to frighten them. She took the gun from me and shot herself. She went to the door and the gun went off. She shot herself with the second shot. I would have stopped her, but the daughter held me and a woman stood in front of me and stopped me.'.

When he was committed he said 'I say the same as I told the Sergeant that I never had any intention of hurting anybody. It occurred during the struggle and was a pure accident'.

At his trial he was convicted of murder with no recommendation to mercy. However, the judge noted that whilst he could not disapprove of the verdict, he said that he thought that there was the possibility that the shots were fired accidently and doubted that Abel Atherton had any real intention to shoot Elizabeth Patrick. However, another judge said that he thought that Abel Atherton did intend to shoot Elizabeth Patrick noting that Abel Atherton had undoubtedly threatened 'To do for her' during the high words just before he went off to fetch the gun and that a few days before he had said that he would 'Finish the bloody lot'.

It was also heard that the theory of the shooting being an accident as propounded by the Head of the Technical College in a letter to the judge was contrary to the ascertained facts and that the writer of the police report said that in his opinion Abel Atherton had actually pulled the triggers. The report stated that if he was holding the gun about the level of his own hip with the right (trigger) hand slightly depressed (an inch or so) that would bring the barrel in position to inflict at a distance of 27 inches the wound as it was described, 3.5 inches below the fold of the groin, backwards and outwards and slightly upwards. It stated that if the charge had entered the skirt at a point about level with the knee, that was to say when the skirt was hanging naturally. But it was certain that the skirt must have been hitched up in the struggle. It stated that if the muzzle of the gun had actually been on a level with her knee the charge entering the thigh where it did, some 9 inches higher up, must have made a wound almost perpendicularly upwards. It went on to say that the fact that the skirt was hitched up was borne out by the fold in the under garment which showed two holes.

The police report for the Home Secretaries use in consideration of commuting the sentence stated, 'Whether he actually pulled the triggers or they caught accidently on a button and whether he intended to shoot deceased or only the girl seems to me to make no material difference to his case either in law or as regards his punishment. It is beyond doubt on the evidence that he went to the house meaning mischief, his jealousy, his threats, his attempted borrowings of a revolver, his loading and cocking the gun, clearly establish this. If therefore, he went intending to shoot the girl and killed the mother, even by accidental discharge of the gun, while she was struggling to disarm him and protect her child he would be guilty of murder in law, and it would certainly not, in my opinion, be a case for interference with the sentence.'.

When Abel Atherton was convicted and sentenced to death he said, 'I am innocent. Can I have a fresh trial?'.

He appealed his case but his appeal was refused.

He was executed on 8 December 1909 at Bagthorpre Gaol by Henry Pierrepoint.

see National Archives - HO 144/552/185620

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Friday 26 November 1909

see Nottingham Evening Post - Tuesday 14 December 1909