An Interesting Trial

This is the story of an extraordinary trial that took place in Ireland just before the turn of the 20th Century and was revealed to me through the records of a provincial newspaper, printed in 1899. I think for many of my readers this will be their first introduction to the story.

The case in question began in the northern province of Ireland and is being reported here for the first time since its original publication, over one hundred and eighteen years ago. It was at a time of political upheaval and much talk about ‘Home Rule’, supporters and opponents of which marched regularly through the streets. It is my intention that the story of this trial is told exactly the way it happened and the manner it was reported. The report of the trial states the evidence that was given at the time, and I am writing it down exactly according to what was deposed at the trial.

In the criminal court it was said that Joan O’Rourke, wife of Andy O’Rourke, had been murdered, but the only question left to answer was, “How did Joan come by her death?” From the evidence of the coroner’s inquest on the body, and from the depositions made by Mary O’Rourke, John Croke and his wife, Agnes, it appeared that Joan O’Rourke had committed suicide. Witnesses stated that they had found the unfortunate woman lying dead in her bed, with the knife sticking in the floor, and her throat cut from ear to ear. They also stated that the night before they found her body Joan had went to bed with her child, and her husband was not in the house. They swore that no other person came into the house at any time after Joan had gone to bed. The witnesses said that the truth of their statements lay in the fact that they had been lying in the outer room, and they would have undoubtedly seen or heard any strangers who might have tried to enter the house.

With this evidence established in the court, the jury finally submitted their verdict that in their opinion Joan O’Rourke had indeed committed suicide. This verdict, however, came under some pressure afterwards, when rumour arose within the neighbourhood that suicide was not the cause of Joan’s death. Further investigation and discovery of some diverse circumstances began to suggest that Joan did not, nor, according to those circumstances, could she possibly have murdered herself. The jury, whose verdict had not yet been made official by the coroner’s office, was summoned again and requested that the coroner’s office exhume the body. The request to remove the body from the grave, in which she had already been buried, was granted. Thus, almost thirty days after she had died, Joan’s corpse was taken up in the presence of the jury members, and a substantial number of other witnesses, and the sight that greeted them caused the jury to change their verdict.

Those persons who had been brought before the court to be tried were all acquitted. But, there was now so much the evidence, against the previous verdict, that the trial Judge was of the opinion that an appeal should be made, rather than allow such a gruesome murder to go unpunished by the law.  As a result, the four most likely suspects were brought to trial on an appeal, which was brought by the young child, against his father, grandmother, and aunt, and her husband John Croke. The evidence that was now brought against them was so strange, that one would need to read through it very carefully to ensure a good understanding of it. The paper recorded the evidence as follows –

At the subsequent trial the prosecution called forward a person of unimpeachable character to give evidence. The Parish Priest of the town where the act was committed was deposed and began to speak. He confirmed that the body, which had been taken up out of the grave, had lain there for thirty days after the woman’s death. The priest stated that the corpse was laid out on the grass in her cheap pine coffin, and the four defendants in the dock were also present at the exhumation. Each of the defendants where then requested to place a hand upon the Joan’s long dead body. Agnes Croke, the priest said, immediately fell upon her knees, and she prayed aloud to God that he would do something to show that she was innocent of doing any harm to Joan. She mumbled out some other words in her grief, but the priest was unsure about what she said.

None of those who were standing trial refused to touch Joan’s dead body. But, after they had done this, the dead woman’s brow which, beforehand had been a dark bluish grey in colour, like that of carrion, began to have a dew or gentle sweat come out upon it. This perspiration now began to increase so much that the sweat began to run down in droplets over the face. Almost like magic the brow began to turn, and it quickly changed to a more lively and fresh colour. Unbelievably, as we watched, the dead woman opened one of her eyes and shut it again. This action of opening the eye and then closing it was carried out by the corpse three times. In addition to this, the dead woman thrust out her marriage finger three times, and swiftly pulled it in again, and, as she did so, drops of blood dripped from the finger down onto the grass,” explained the priest.

The Judge who was hearing the case, not surprisingly, had some doubts about the evidence that was being given and he asked the Parish Priest, “Who else saw these things besides yourself?”

The priest felt that his veracity was being questioned and was quite annoyed by the question that had been posed. But, he chose not to react angrily and simply answered, “Your Honour, I could not swear to what others may have seen or not. But, your Honour, I firmly believe that the entire company saw these things for themselves. In fact, if any of my testimony had been considered to be in doubt, some proof of that doubt would have been presented and many would have spoke out against this statement.

As he stood in the witness stand, the priest was able to observe that many of those listening to him were showing some admiration for him, and he was encouraged to speak further. “Your Honour,” he began, “I am Priest of the parish, and I have known all the parties involved for a very long time. I have never had any occasion to be displeased with any of them, nor have I ever had much to do with any of them, or they with me, outside of my pastoral duties as a minister of the Church. The things that happened amazed me and filled my mind with wonder. However, the only interest that I have in these matters is to do what I have been asked to do and that is to testify to the truth. This, I assure you, I have done.”

This witness was aged about seventy years and highly respected in the district. When he spoke his testimony, he did so in a clear voice, slowly and elegantly, which won the admiration of all who heard him. Clearing his throat, he again began to speak to the Judge in the case, saying, “May I point out, at this time, your Honour, that my brother priest, who is present in the court, is the minister of the parish adjacent to my own, and I am assured that he saw everything to which I have testified.”

This other priest, who was just a little younger than the first, was invited into the witness box, where he was sworn in and invited to give his evidence. His testimony supported every point that had been previously made. He confirmed the sweating of the brow, the changing of its colour, the mystical opening of the eye, and the three times that the corpse’s finger thrust itself out and drew in again. The only area in which he differed from the first witness was in declaring that he had, himself, dipped his finger into the blood which had exuded from the dead body. He said that he had examined it and was certain in his own mind that it was blood.

I can understand the difficulty of believing such testimony. Modern ideas on the paranormal often leave us doubting our own eyes and senses. But, there were others who had observed these things and agreed with the testimony given by the priests. There is no reason to doubt the testimony of the clerics, for why would they be persuaded to lie about such things. At the same time, allow me to assure you that the reports from the trial have been recorded here accurately. Evidence was also given against the prisoners in the dock, namely, the grandmother of the plaintiff, and against Croke and his wife, Agnes. It was stated that all four confessed that they had lain in the next room to the dead person that entire night, and that no other person had entered the house until they found her dead the next morning. The only conclusion to be drawn, therefore, was that if this woman did not murder herself, then they must be the murderers.

To prove such a charge, however, further evidence was needed and to this end the medical examiner was called forward. Looking at his notes on the examination he had made of the crime scene and the body of the dead woman. Then, point by point he explained his findings to the court. Firstly, he described the scene that he had found when he arrived at the house, and told the jury, “I found the dead woman lying in her bed, in a quite composed way. The bed clothes and other things in the room had not been disturbed in any way, and her child lay by her side in the bed. Immediately, I could see that the deceased woman’s throat was cut from ear to ear, and her neck was broken. It is completely impossible for the deceased person to first cut her throat, and then break her own neck in the bed; or vice-versa.

The examiner continued to explain that he had found no blood in the bed, except for a small spot of blood on the pillow where she had laid her head. “But, there was no evidence of major blood loss on the bed, which there should have been if the death had occurred in the place that she was found. On further investigation, however, we found a stream of blood on the floor of the bedroom, which ran along the wooden floorboards until it found obstructions that caused it to spread in pools. There was, at the same time, another stream of blood found on the floor at the bed’s feet. This stream had caused small ponds of blood to form, but there was no sign of both blood streams being connected. This suggests that the woman bled severely in two places. Furthermore, when I turned up the mattress of the bed, I found clots of congealed blood in the underneath of the straw-filled mattress.

The court was informed that the blood-stained knife was found that morning after the murder, sticking in the wooden floor a good distance from the bed. “The point of the knife, as it stuck in the floor was pointing towards the bed, while the handle pointed away from the bed,” he explained. “On the knife itself I discovered the print of the thumb and four fingers of the left hand.

At this point the judge interrupted the testimony of the Examiner and asked him, “But, how can you know the print of a left hand from the print of a right hand in such a case as this?

Your Honour,” he began to reply, “it is hard to describe, but easier to demonstrate. If it would please your Honour, could you put your clerk’s left hand upon your left hand. You will see that it is impossible to place your right hand in the same posture.

The Judge did as he was asked and was satisfied by the demonstration. The defendants, however, were given an opportunity to put forward a defence against all these claims. But, they decided to maintain their silence and gave no evidence at any stage of the trial. The Jury, therefore, was directed to retire and deliberate their verdict. It took them only an hour to return to the court and announce their findings. John Croke was acquitted of all charges, but the other three defendants were found guilty as charged. The judge turned to the three guilty persons and asked if they had anything to say about why judgement should not be produced. Their reply was simply, “I have nothing to say except that I am not guilty. I did not do this.

Judgement was passed upon all three. The grandmother and the husband were executed by hanging, while the aunt was spared execution because she was pregnant. None of them confessed anything before their execution and the aunt never spoke as to any possible motivation for the murder. In fact, the aunt never spoke about the incident ever again. She moved away from the district with her husband, where she died some fifteen years after her niece had been brutally killed.

Rat Poison

An Odd Case

He had arrived at the spot where the narrow country lane forked, with one lane taking the traveller over by the edge of the old granite quarry and the other lane taking you past the ‘Fairy Tree’. ‘Banjo’ decided that he should rest for a moment, for the late summer sun was shedding its burnt-gold light over the land. The coming of the evening made the shadows lengthen, and a cold breeze had begun to get stronger, causing the blanket wrapped around the load on his shoulders to flap noisily. He lifted this load down from his shoulders and placed it rather gently in the middle of the lane before he reached into the pocket of his jacket to retrieve his cigarettes and ‘Zippo’ lighter. Using his jacket to protect the lighter from the breeze, he lit one of the cigarettes and began to smoke it as he started to consider what he going to do now.

His wife, Bernie, had devised the plan and she had told ‘Banjo’ to take the lane that led to the edge of the old quarry. At the bottom of this quarry, there was a lake of water that had accumulated and was estimated to be at least forty-feet in depth. But as his cigarette burned closer to the filter-tip he had come to a decision about what he should do. ‘Banjo’ flicked the butt away and replaced the load back over his shoulder and took the lane leading past the‘Fairy Tree’. At its beginning, this old country track wound its way uphill and the rain of recent days had caused it to be slippery under-foot. With the weight on his shoulders, he struggled along this pathway, muttering all sorts of curses under his breath, until the track became level again as it passed the old chapel and churchyard of St. Joseph. At this point, he stopped and again took his load from his shoulders.

The final light of evening was beginning to die and small ‘Pipistrelle Bats’ flittered in the air above him and close to the lichen-covered stones of the chapel’s aged walls. He took a moment to himself to scan the hillside, but he could see no person approaching, or hear anything other than the breeze and the flittering of bat-wings. Opening the rusting, iron gate ‘Banjo’ walked slowly into the churchyard and up to a tomb that stood on the east side of the chapel. The stone covering the tomb was itself covered in dark green moss, and the carvings that had once been such an attractive feature had almost vanished through the erosion by wind and rain. Retrieving the blanket-wrapped load that he had been carrying, ‘Banjo’ gently set it on the covering stone and quickly left the churchyard.

When he arrived back home, he found Bernie was waiting there for him. Walking through the front door of the house, ‘Banjo’ went straight into the kitchen and sat down at the table where his wife was already seated. “Is it done?” she asked quietly. “Have you done what I asked you?”

Not exactly,” he replied as he took off his jacket and hung it on the back of a chair. “I decided it would be better to leave him at St. Joseph’s churchyard and he will be found there in the morning when the priest comes to open the place for early Mass. Sure, that gives you plenty of time to make your escape.

Dear God!” she exclaimed in shock and thumped the table heavily with her fists. “Are you really this stupid, or were you born an eejit without a drop of sense in your brain.

Watch your mouth, Bernie. It is not me who has done the stupid thing!

But, what have you done to me? I hate you!” she screamed at ‘Banjo’ and ran into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her loudly. It was only a few moments later when Bernie came out of the bedroom again and she was hurriedly putting on her overcoat. Still making herself ready, Bernie rushed out of the front door of the house and began to make her way toward the nearby village.

‘Banjo’ fed the pig, which was grunting outside the rear door of the cottage, and then he went to gather some turf for the fire. As he disturbed a reek of turf a large black rat jumped out from its shelter among the blocks and scampered away. At the kitchen sink, he washed his hands and began to look around to ensure the kitchen was clean. He need not have worried, for Bernie was a house-proud woman who liked to leave everything clean and tidy. The fire in the stove, however, had almost gone out and his wife had prepared nothing for him to eat. So, stoking up the stove’s fire, ‘Banjo’ found all the food he needed in the cupboards and he began to make himself a decent supper.

After eating his meal, ‘Banjo’ continued to sit at the table and wait for whatever would happen next. One hour went by slowly, followed by another, and then he heard a car speeding up the lane and pulling up outside the front door of the cottage. ‘Banjo’ looked out the side window and saw that a police car had parked and in the back seat was his wife with her head in her hands. He opened the door and gave access to a stoutly built police sergeant and a quite youthful looking constable. They walked into the cottage and made their way to the kitchen table, where ‘Banjo’ was already seated, smoking a cigarette. “Well, sergeant, is my wife going to join us anytime soon? I have made her some food, but it’s gotten cold by now.”

On a white porcelain dinner plate lay a cold fried egg, a small pile of cold chips, and a portion of garden peas. “Bernie has told us everything ‘Banjo’,” the sergeant told him quietly and in a very matter-of-fact way. The sergeant sat down on a chair opposite the one occupied by ‘Banjo’. The young constable then moved toward the kitchen door to block any attempt that ‘Banjo’ might make to escape justice.

Bernie says that you killed Jimmy Shevlin because you were jealous of him. She told us that you bashed him over the head with a turf spade, splitting the poor man’s skull.”

‘Banjo’ took a deep drag of his cigarette and exhaled a large bluish cloud of smoke at the sergeant. “Well, so she has told you a story and I suppose there is no point in trying to tell you what really happened?” asked ‘Banjo’. “Will my word be any good against a good-looking woman like her? I could tell you that she and Jimmy were having an affair, but he had had enough and was ready to leave her. Bernie, however, was not ready to call it a day and lost her mind. When I arrived home, poor Jimmy was lying on the floor, just over there.”‘Banjo’ pointed directly at the spot, which was close to the feet of the young constable, who, somewhat surprised by this, he chose to take a hurried step back from the crime scene.

Ah, sure, don’t be afraid son,”‘Banjo’ smiled at the constable, “Bernie always cleans up well after her.

But it was you who took the corpse,” said the police sergeant.

Yes, I did take away the corpse. She wanted me to dump it into the old quarry, where it would never be found. But that was not the right thing to do, because I thought his family would need to have closure and the body of a beloved son to bury. When Bernie realised that the body would be found, however, she ran like a scalded cat to your police station in the village. She wanted to get her story on the record first and I, her fool of a husband, is seen by everyone as the guilty person.”

Bernie says that she was going to leave you for Jimmy, and you completely lost your head,” the sergeant told him. “In my experience, it is not in the nature of a woman to take such violent action against a man. So, I think it’s time you got your jacket on and we will all go back to the police station.

In the clothes of a remand prisoner and handcuffed to a prison guard, Banjo’s appearance to hear the charges against him was televised on the national news. Meanwhile, Bernie sat at home and watched her husband being led into the courthouse. But, as she watched her television, she felt something trickle from her nose, and a drop of blood splashed upon the vinyl table-cloth. Taking a tissue, she went to the nearest mirror and proceeded to clean the blood from her nose. She could, however, taste the blood in her mouth by this time and she spat out a deep-red coloured saliva into the tissue.

Bernie’s body began to weaken further as the day passed until she eventually had to take to her bed. Her mother rang for the doctor to come and when he arrived, sometime later, he found Bernie pale and virtually unconscious. The doctor knew immediately that nothing could be done for the woman and arrangements were quickly made.

The next morning the sergeant was called to the cottage, but word of Bernie’s sudden death had already spread through the parish. The doctor and the sergeant sat in the kitchen and began to discuss what might have caused Bernie’s death. “I think this was poison,” the doctor revealed quietly.

Self-administered or not?

The doctor simply shrugged his shoulders and explained, “Well, it wasn’t taken recently, for Rat poison takes a long time to kill someone. A week, even two weeks would be required. If ‘Banjo’ did kill Jimmy Shevlin, then he might have thought to himself that he should get both at the same time.”

The sergeant shook his head, “If he had tried to shove that stuff down her throat, she would certainly have told me.

But he wouldn’t have needed to force her to take it,” the doctor pointed out. “That stuff is easily dissolved in tea and it is sweet to the taste. I tell you, sergeant, my money is on ‘Banjo’ doing the job, but you will have the devil of a job proving it. Bernie was a very house-proud woman and has probably cleaned this kitchen every day since ‘Banjo’ has been gone.

’Banjo’ was smiling that first time we interviewed him, and, by God, he could be smiling again, very soon,” sighed the sergeant.

Black and Tans

Churchill’s Devils

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Posing for his portrait, to be sent home to show his family their ‘Hero’ Son…..

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What Irishman, woman or child shall we shoot dead, maim, or injure this day whether innocent of guilty?

What town, village or farm shall we loot and bun to the ground? What fun shall we have….

We are British and work for the British government and we have been told to do whatever we must to put down Irishmen crying out for Liberty…

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Protector ?

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On the move and no one is safe….

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No Home and no person is safe from us….

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We have killed your friend ‘Paddy’, maybe we will kill you too.

We are the law and you have no rights.

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They burned Cork City without mercy

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They destroyed Balbriggan