Date Of Execution: 16 Aug 1917
Crime Location: 16 Central Park Avenue, Wallasey, Liverpool
Execution Place: Liverpool
Executioner: John Ellis
William Thomas Hodgson was convicted of the murder of his wife Margaret Alderson Hodgson 37 and daughter Margaret Hodgson 3 and was sentenced to death.
He battered them to death at 16 Central Park Avenue, Wallasey, Liverpool on 16 April 1917.
He had killed them and made it look like they had been murdered by a burglar that had filled a Gladstone bag with things before fleeing without it and then gone off to work and when he returned at 7.30pm he played the part of a shocked husband. The evidence at the trial was described as circumstantial but he was convicted.
William Hodgson had been a silk buyer and salesman at Robb Bros in Birkenhead and had married Margaret Hodgson in 1910 and they had two children, Margaret Hodgson and a baby boy.
William Hodgson had previously been employed in Huddersfield where he and his wife had lived but when he took employment with Robbs from April to August 1916 he lived at their premises whilst Margaret Hodgson stayed in Huddersfield until the house was given up after which she went to live with her parents in Manchester until August 1916 when she and William Hodgson moved into a small semi-detached house at 16 Central Park Avenue in Liscard.
It was said that William Hodgson and Margaret Hodgson seemed to have lived on fairly good terms, with occasional quarrels owing to his wife objecting to his taking rather too much drink on occasions. The house was semi-detached, with a parlour, a back parlour, which was disused, and a kitchen and small scullery that opened off it giving access to the back yard. On the top storey there were three bedrooms, in one of which William Hodgson and the baby slept whilst in another Margaret Hodgson and their 3-year-old daughter slept with the third room being spare.
William Hodgson later said that he and Margaret Hodgson had occupied separate rooms for only a fortnight and that it was not on account of any breach in their marital relations.
In July 1916, whilst William Hodgson had been living as a bachelor, he made the acquaintance of a girl who worked as a waitress at a cafe close to Robb's premises and he soon became intimate with her with the result that she became pregnant and in June 1917, two months after the murder, she gave birth to a child.
The waitresses mother had become aware of her daughter's condition for certain on 21 March and they immediately tackled William Hodgson and asked him what he intended to do for the girl.
It was noted that after the trial it appeared probable that the waitress had really known all along that William Hodgson had been married, but it was said that her mother had been ignorant of the fact and that William Hodgson had hinted vaguely in conversation and in writing that he was going to make some arrangement that would satisfy them, but that he could not do anything until 'after Easter'.
It was heard that a series of letters that had been written had been written with the connivance of the waitress to the extent that they suggested marriage in order to mislead the waitresses’ mother.
However, it was also noted that there was no doubt also that they had been intended to put the girl off going to see him and to excuse him from going to see her.
On the morning of Monday 16 June 1917 a woman that lived at 14 Central Park Avenue, which was attached to number 16, said that shortly before 8pm she heard William Hodgson moving about in his house and that at about the same time she also heard his daughter, Margaret Hodgson, say, 'Don't do that' as well as hearing his wife, Margaret Hodgson, say, 'Oh'. She said that both expressions had been in quite ordinary tones that had not caused her any anxiety whatsoever.
The police report stated that they thought that it was hardly safe to assume that they had been said in the course of William Hodgson's attack on his wife and daughter, adding that William Hodgson himself denied having heard them, noting that he would have of course denied them if they had been made in consequence of his attack and it was considered that he might well have been in the yard or out of hearing at the time they were said.
William Hodgson said that he had left the house at 8.30pm whilst his neighbour said that it had been 8.35pm and a woman that lived across the street said that it had been about 8.50pm. He was said to have slammed the vestibule door but to have left the front door open.
The woman from across the street said that she also saw him flick something off his trousers twice, it being suggested that it had been blood but William Hodgson denied doing so and the police report stated that they didn't think that much importance could be attached to such a trivial incident which, even if it did occur, might have had a perfectly innocent explanation.
He arrived at work at Robb Bros by 9.30am when he was seen, and although it was noted that he had neglected to register his time of arrival as he ought to have done, it was thought that there was nothing unusual in that.
During the day he appeared to those that saw him to be just as usual, except that he showed a little annoyance at hearing that the waitresses’ mother had called to see him whilst he was out at lunch which was also stated as having been quite natural as he had in any case been doing his best to avoid interviews with her and the waitress and to keep them away from Robbs.
The woman from 14 Central Park Avenue said that she didn't hear anything of Margaret Hodgson during the day and noted that a baker called at 11am but got no answer.
However, in her evidence she said that she had heard footsteps in the backyard of 16 Central Park Avenue when she had come downstairs at 7.40am just after she had heard the sounds of Margaret Hodgson and her daughter exclaiming and it was later noted at the appeal that the judge had failed to put any stress on the evidence relating to the sound of footsteps heard in the yard.
She said that when she knocked at 6pm she not no answer, but could hear the baby crying upstairs and so went in and saw from the kitchen Margaret Hodgson's feet lying on the floor of the scullery and she then raised the alarm and the police came.
Margaret Hodgson and her daughter were then found lying on the scullery floor, both their heads having been battered in with an axe which was found lying on the floor covered with blood and hair. There were also pools of blood on the floor and blood was splashed all over the walls of the scullery, in one place to a height of 5ft 9in.
It was noted that there had been another axe standing under the sink, but that that had not been used in the murder although the handle had a splash of blood on it.
In the front parlour a Gladstone bag was found laying the floor into which had been packed several articles, a biscuit barrel, small clock, cases containing spoons, etc, a cake basket, toast rack, sardine dish and a sugar bowl. There was also an empty purse and bag, a child's money box that had been broken open and its contents taken.
The case for the prosecution was that William Hodgson had arranged the articles in the way that they were found so as to suggest that the murder was the work of a thief whom had been interrupted before he could escape with the booty, and it was noted that of course William Hodgson had in fact suggested that that had happened.
However, it was noted that in connection with that theory that it was observed that the child's body had lain on the scullery floor in such a position that the door into the yard could only be opened four inches and that as such it was submitted that any thief could not have escaped into the yard and then got off through the side gate into the passage leading to the front and that therefore he would have had to have left via the front door, it being noted that neither the next door neighbour nor the woman from across the street saw any person leave the house, other than William Hodgson, all day. However, it was also noted on the other hand that there was nothing particular in the morning to attract their attention to the front door and that they had been no doubt otherwise engaged about their own business and would not have necessarily noticed a man leave the house even if one did so.
The doctor that arrived at 6.45pm said that after examining the bodies that he had been of the opinion that they had been dead from 8 to 10 hours, which would have put the times of death from about 8.45am to 10.45am. Both of their stomachs were empty and it was certain that they had not had their breakfast.
The remains of William Hodgson's breakfast was found on the kitchen but there was nothing laid out for Margaret Hodgson or her daughter's breakfast.
A slice had been half-cut off a loaf of bread and the bread knife was found on the scullery floor and Margaret Hodgson’s glass eye, which she always wore, lay on the bread-board beside the loaf which all suggested that she had been attacked as she had been cutting the slice of bread in preparation to having her breakfast.
William Hodgson arrived at the house at about 7.30pm at which time several policemen were there and William Hodgson said to them, 'What's up here? What's wrong?', to which the chief inspector said to him, 'There is certainly something wrong. Come this way', and took William Hodgson into the back sitting room. William Hodgson then broke down in a kind of sob and buried his face in his hands. It was noted that the bodies were at that time lying covered on a stretcher in the kitchen and that William Hodgson might have seen them.
William Hodgson was then allowed to go to the next door neighbours house at 14 Central Park Avenue where he remained until 8.45pm when he was then again seen by the chief inspector.
It was noted that at the magistrates hearing that the neighbour said that she had given William Hodgson an account of the events of the day, however, at the trial she denied having told him what had happened to his wife and child but admitted having told him that his baby boy had been taken away to a friend. As such, the police stated that they thought that it should be taken for granted that when he was seen later by the chief inspector that he would have known quite well that his wife and child had been murdered, whether he had murdered them himself or not.
The chief inspector then went away and William Hodgson went to 22 Central Park Avenue where his baby boy was. He was later called for there by the chief inspector and then taken to the police station and then back to his house where he was asked several questions by the police as to what he noticed as having been disturbed since he had left that morning. Among other things, he pointed out that the child’s money-box had been taken from the mantelpiece in the kitchen and when he saw the axe with which the murder had been committed on the mantelpiece, he remarked, 'That hatchet is not mine'.
It was noted that a good deal was made of that point at the trial on the grounds that apparently, up to that time, nobody had suggested that the hatchet had been his. It was stated that assuming he was innocent that his remark in the circumstances seemed natural enough, but that on the other hand a box and a basket of tools were found in the house and that the axe was not the sort of weapon that a thief would carry with him.
However, it was further noted that the police swore that William Hodgson did not on that occasion, or at any time earlier, enter the scullery. It was said that that had been of importance as a blood stain was later found on the upper of his left boot by an analyst,
William Hodgson was then taken back to the police station where he was told by the chief inspector that his wife and child were dead and he was then detained in custody.
His clothes were then taken and examined by the analyst who found no less than 21 small blood stains on his trousers, waistcoat, jacket and overcoat along with the stain on his left boot.
The analyst received all the clothes other than the overcoat on 18 April 1917 and the overcoat on 29 April 1917, and concluded that the stains were probably not more than a week old and almost certainly not more than three weeks old.
At the trial William Hodgson attempted to explain away the stains on his clothes by saying that he had cut himself shaving and had had difficulty in stopping the bleeding and that his cut had broken out again after he had got to work and that in that way the blood had got on his clothes. However, it was noted that the date on which that incident was said to have occurred must have been some five weeks or so before the murder.
It was further noted that the disposition of the spots, eg, on the inner side of the left leg a short distance below the fork, and also their character, eg, some being stains of fresh blood and others being made by clots, was all certainly inconclusive with the sort of stains that one might expect a man to get on his clothes from a shaving cut, even if it were possible to suppose that such a cut could account for the stains.
Further, it was heard that William Hodgson also tried to account for the stain on his boot by saying that it had got there when he had entered the scullery.
The police report stated that the strength of the case against William Hodgson appeared to them to depend mainly on the evidence of the blood stains, which were in their opinion conclusive, noting that there were many other suspicious circumstances to which varying weight could be attached which were all consistent with the theory that it had been a carefully planned crime.
It was noted that the motive suggested by the prosecution was that of William Hodgson's entanglement with the waitress and that he had sought in the murder of Margaret Hodgson and his daughter, a way out of his difficulty. However, it was noted that as often happened, the motive was inadequate, but that it could not for that reason be rejected.
It was further noted that at the trial a good deal of emphasis was laid out in the evidence as well as in the judge's summing up, upon William Hodgson's conduct when he came into the house. The judge said that it was of course impossible to predict what would be the conduct of an innocent man in such circumstances, but commented unfavourably upon that of William Hodgson.
The police report however stated that they would rather say that it was impossible to predicate what would be the conduct of an innocent man, who when coming into the house and at once perceiving from the reticence of the police that they suspected him and who knew only too well that his relations with the waitress afforded a very substantial foundation for any case that might be made against him.
As such, the police report noted that they did not think that much stress should be laid upon William Hodgson's conduct in that connection, although noted that it was impossible to say that his conduct was such as one would expect from a man place in the circumstances that he was.
It was further noted that with regards to the suggestion put forward by the defence that the murder was the work of a thief, the thief, if a thief it was, had taken a small clock off the dressing table in the spare room upstairs and put it in the Gladstone bag, but had omitted to open a drawer in the same dressing table where he would have found several small articles of jewellery. It was further noted that the supposed thief had also left a diamond ring and a shilling on the mantlepiece in the kitchen, and that as such they thought that the theory of the defence could safely be dismissed.
After William Hodgson's conviction he appealed but his appeal was dismissed and it was further noted that a letter written by William Hodgson to his mother four days after his conviction did not read like that of an innocent man.
At his appeal it was submitted that the judge had overlooked the evidence relating to footsteps having been heard in the backyard following the murder, or whether the waitress had known that William Hodgson had been married.
It was noted that as a coincidence William Hodgson had lived at 16 Central Park Avenue, that the crime had been carried out on 16 April 1917 and that he was executed on 16 August 1917.
see National Archives - ASSI 65/22/4, HO 144/1480/344006
see Illustrated Police News - Thursday 26 April 1917