Norman Goldthorpe - a botched hanging.


40 year old Norman Goldthorpe was a married man whose wife, Lily, had left him for another man and they divorced in 1947 when he found out that she had been having an affair while he was serving abroad in the army.
His mistress, Mrs. Myers, had left him three days before the murder to return to her husband.  On the evening of Friday the 11th of August 1950 he had been drinking before he sought out a prostitute he knew, 66 year old Emma Elizabeth Howe.  Emma was often in The Great Eastern pub in Yarmouth so
Goldthorpe went there to find her.  She had been in earlier but had gone home to her one bedroom residence at No. 2 Owls Court.  Goldthorpe went to Owls Court but initially knocked on the wrong door.  The occupant directed him to Emma’s door.


As he left her flat he was spotted by another neighbour.  Emma’s body was discovered the following day.  She had been strangled, had a wound to the throat, caused by a broach that she had been wearing and her clothes had been pulled up, exposing her lower body.  There were feces on the bed and on her body as a result of the sphincter muscle of the anus relaxing in strangulation.  Goldthorpe was immediately the prime suspect and he was arrested on Sunday the 13th, and interviewed by Detective Sergeant Walter Painter.  After an initial interview Goldthorpe was allowed to rest and Painter returned to Owls Court where he found a hair comb with the name Norman Goldthorpe on it.  He was then charged with the murder.


He was remanded to Norwich prison on the 14th of August and later transferred to the hospital wing of Brixton prison in London where he was observed and interviewed by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Matheson.  Whilst Goldthorpe was at Brixton an electro-encephalograph examination was made at the Maudsley Hospital which produced normal results.  He was returned to Norwich prison on the 2nd of November, seven days before the trial commenced.


In an alleged statement Goldthorpe said: “I was full of jealousy because the woman I was staying with had gone away for a short time. I was in love with this woman, and rather than take her life I took the other woman's.”  It seems that he had urges to injure women from time to time and had admitted as much in interviews with the Chief Medical Officer while on remand. In respect of the murder he claimed to have been repulsed by the thought of intercourse with an old woman and the impulse came over him to kill her.  It is not clear from the surviving records whether sex actually took place.


Goldthorpe came to trial before Mr. Justice Hilberry in Norwich on the 11th of October 1950.  For an hour the court heard evidence on a plea of insanity but this was rejected by the jury.  Both the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Matheson and Dr. Tracey the Medical Officer of Norwich prison gave evidence that Goldthorpe was sane at the time of the murder and fit to stand trial.  The jury retired at 5.20 p.m. At 6.10 they were called back by Mr. Justice Hilbery. He said: “I understand you have been asking for cups of tea. In the old days it was the formula that a jury was left without food, fire, or drink until they agreed on their verdict. I have no intention of applying the full rigour of the law, but there are no facilities in this building for making tea.” Eight minutes later, at 6.18 the jury returned with a verdict of guilty.  Perhaps this refusal of refreshment speeded up their deliberations.  Goldthorpe, asked if he had anything to say before he was sentenced to death, replied: “Only that I thank my counsel and respect the prosecution. They had a rotten job.”


Goldthorpe appealed, this being dismissed on the 6th of November 1950.  An execution date of the 24th of November was then set with the hanging to take place at 8.00 am.


On the 13th of November 1950 the Home Office ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Goldthorpe to be carried out by Sir Norwood East, Dr. Hopwood and Dr. Young on the 16th and 17th. This concluded that he was sane and not a psychopathic personality. On the 21st of November it was announced that there would be no reprieve.


As Albert Pierrepoint and Steve Wade were not available Harry Kirk was appointed as hangman with Syd Dernley as assistant.  Harry Kirk had worked as an assistant to Stanley Cross, Tom and Albert Pierrepoint on 40 occasions, but had never acted as No. 1 before.  He was a long serving constable in the Port of London police force.

They arrived at Norwich prison on Thursday the 23rd of November as required by law and were escorted to a room, which unbeknown to them was immediately above the condemned cell.  Dernley had, according to his memoirs, brought a book of dirty jokes with him and he, Kirk and a warder were soon laughing loudly at the jokes.  So much so that there was banging on the ceiling below.

Kirk had set a drop of 7’ 8” for Prisoner 7481, Goldthorpe, who weighed 145 lbs and stood 5’ 0 1/2” tall.  The trap door had been lubricated and tested satisfactorily.

At 8 am on the morning of Friday the 24th of November 1950, Kirk entered the condemned cell and pinioned Goldthorpe who was then led to the gallows.  There Kirk hooded him and placed the noose around his neck but did not apparently slide the rubber washer all the way down the rope till it was against the brass eyelet.  He operated the drop and Goldthorpe disappeared from view.

He and Dernley were horrified to hear three deep and noisy breaths coming from the prisoner over a period of 30 seconds or so.  Looking down into the drop room revealed that Goldthorpe was hanging still.

The section of the LPC4 form completed by the prison surgeon, Basil M. Tracey, noted that there had been fracture/dislocation of the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae, but this was antero-posterior (front to back) rather than transverse and was not as complete as usual.  He also recorded that death had been by asphyxia and noted that there was a 2 1/2 long cut beneath Goldthorpe’s chin where the eyelet had ended up.  Neither Dr. Tracey or the governor were entirely satisfied with the execution and wrote a report to the Prison Commissioners about it.

When the body was taken down it was found that the noose had not drawn tight and that at least four inches of the hood had become jammed in the eyelet.  This had prevented the noose constricting the airway in the normal fashion.  Typically the noose causes some 4 - 6 inches of constriction.  It was noted that the rubber washer was very stiff and considerable effort was required to slide it along the leather covered portion of the noose.
The governor and the doctor expressed the opinion that Kirk was nervous and lacked the calmness and self assurance necessary for the job.  It has been suggested that he was also in too much of a hurry.  They also said that
“We should both be apprehensive if he were required to carry out this duty again.”

A second report was made to the Prison Commissioners.  One of its findings was that death had not been by asphyxia and that it had been in effect instantaneous.  It also states that "After the execution Mr. Kirk asked if the way in which he had carried it out would prevent his being employed as executioner again."  I have copies of all the relevant documents, from which I extracted this information.

Syd Dernley in his memoirs quoted Kirk as saying, when they said goodbye to each other, “it was a bad job”.  This was Harry Kirk's first and last hanging as principal.


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