Louie Calvert - a boot fetishist?

At a minute to nine on the summer morning of Thursday, June 24th, 1926, a small group of men silently formed up outside the condemned cell at the end of 'B' wing in the central area of Manchester's Strangeways prison. Upon a signal from the governor, Thomas Pierrepoint, Britain's "No. 1" hangman at that time, entered the cell at precisely 9.00 a.m. accompanied by two male warders. The two women warders, who had been looking after the prisoner, told her to stand up and Pierrepoint took her arms and quickly strapped her wrists behind her with a leather strap before leading the way out of the cell through a second door which had been uncovered by sliding away the wardrobe. The prisoner was led forward into the execution chamber by the two male warders and stopped by Pierrepoint on a chalked "T" precisely over the divide of the trapdoors. The two warders, standing on boards set across the trap, supported her, one on either side while William Willis, Pierrepoint's assistant, put leather straps round her ankles and thighs. Pierrepoint withdrew what would have appeared to her to be a white pocket handkerchief from his top pocket and deftly placed it over her head following quickly with the leather covered noose, positioning the eyelet just under the angle of her lower left jaw and sliding down the claw cut rubber washer to hold it in place. His eyes darted from side to side to check that all was ready before he lent forward, withdrew the safety pin and pushed the metal lever away from him. The hooded form disappeared through the trap and dangled in the cell below.
The medical officer went down to listen to the weakening heartbeat coming from the small broken body, now hanging motionless, its head drooping to one side.
It had taken no more than 20 seconds to carry out the sentence of the court upon Mrs. Louie Calvert. Her body was left on the rope for the customary hour before being taken down and prepared for autopsy. This found that her death had been "instantaneous" and confirmed that she was not pregnant. These facts were made public at the subsequent inquest, held later in the day before the Leeds Coroner, Mr. Stuart Rodgers. Her body was then buried in an unmarked grave within the prison grounds in accordance with her sentence. She was the first woman to be hanged at Strangeways since Mary Ann Britland in 1886. Louie was calm at the end and was reported to have accepted her fate with considerable courage. It is unclear why her execution took place at
9.00 a.m. rather than at the customary time of 8.00 a.m. It drew a crowd outside the prison estimated at some 500 people, many of them women, who waited around until the death notice was displayed on the prison gates.

It has been said that Louie was somewhat disappointed to find the press were not going to be allowed to witness her hanging. (This practice had been discontinued some years earlier.)Apparently, she wanted to be in the limelight for once in her life. In fact, she didn't arouse much media interest at all which was probably another disappointment for her, this being partly due to the General Strike that was going on at the time of her trial. There are no photos of Louie Calvert, typically because she and her relatives were too poor to be able to afford a camera or to go to a photographer, and because newspaper photographers were either on strike or did not get an opportunity to get a picture of her during the trial.

Louie Calvert was unusual amongst the women executed in the 20th century in that she was a known criminal who had convictions for petty theft and prostitution, although up to the murder of Mrs. Waterhouse, nobody had suspected her of being a killer. She was a small, unattractive 33 year old who had used several aliases, as a prostitute she worked under the name of Louie Gomersal and was known as Louise Jackson to the Salvation Army, whose meetings she attended. She was known to have an unpleasant and violent temper. She had a six year old son, Kenneth, whom she was particularly fond of and asked to have visit her in the condemned cell. He was taken into care after the execution.

Under the name of Louise Jackson, Louie took a live in job as housekeeper to one Arthur Calvert who was a night watchman living at 7 Railway Place in the Pottery Fields area of Leeds. Louie's son also went to live with them. She and Arthur had an affair and after a while, Louie claimed that she was pregnant by him and persuaded Arthur to marry her. She was able to deceive Arthur for some time and eventually told him she was leaving him to go to her sister's home in Dewsbury to give birth. She sent Arthur a telegram to let him know she had arrived safely. There was of course no baby and the pregnancy had been feigned purely to force Arthur into marriage.

Louie had in fact returned to Leeds immediately and on the 8th of March 1926, took up lodgings with a 40 year old rather eccentric widow, called Mrs. Lily Waterhouse, in Amberley Road, Leeds. The arrangement between the two women was that Louie would act as maid and housekeeper in return for her board and lodging. While with Lily, Louie had on March 16th seen an advert for a child to be adopted. She agreed to adopt the baby girl from an unmarried teenage mum and she was due to collect the baby on the 31st of March. Presumably, Louie intended to take the baby home to Arthur and pass it off as her own. (There was great stigma attached to girls who had a baby out of wedlock in the 1920's. Whether Louie and the girl went through a formal adoption process is doubtful as she would probably have been only too pleased to have been rid of the baby.)

The domestic situation was not at all satisfactory to Mrs. Waterhouse because Louie refused to work as agreed and they argued constantly over this and other matters. Also Lily had noticed that her personal items and silverware were going missing and found pawn shop tickets from which she concluded that it was Louie who was stealing them. Lily reported her suspicions to the police on the 30th of March and was told to return the next day to lodge a formal complaint against Louie.
Sadly for Lily, when she got home, she made the mistake of telling Louie what she had done. The police had arranged for Lily to appear before magistrates on the 1st of April to apply for a "process" (presumably an injunction).

On the 31st of March 1926, Lily was seen by her neighbours entering her house around 6.15 p.m. About 7.30 p.m., her neighbours in the row of terraced houses, heard loud banging sounds coming from Lily's house and a few minutes later saw Louie leaving with the baby. One of the neighbours, Mrs. Clayton, asked Louie what the noise was all about. Louie told her, "I put up the baby's bed, and it fell when I was folding it." Mrs. Clayton told Louie that she thought she heard Mrs. Waterhouse make some strange sounds. "Yes," replied Louie, I have left her in bed crying because I am leaving her."

As Lily didnít show up in court, two detectives were sent round to Lily's home the following day to find out why she had not turned up. After hearing about the commotion earlier from her neighbours, they opened the window shutters and saw that the main bed had not been slept in. They got a key and went into the house finding Lily lying dead in a small bedroom at the top of the stairs. She had been hit over the head and strangled to death. There were no signs of a struggle as might have occurred in a break in, but one of the officers noticed that Lily was barefoot. There was a mark round her neck consistent with a ligature and marks on her wrists and legs.
Louie was the prime, and in fact only obvious suspect, and she was soon tracked down to her marital home in Railway Place. When the police arrived, she opened the door to them. The officers found she was wearing Lily's boots even though they were several sizes too large and some of the missing property was also discovered. She was arrested and taken to the police station and there charged with Lily's murder. As detectives questioned her, a pack of lies unfolded. She insisted that the items of Lily's property had been given to her by Lily to pawn and that Lily was confused and probably forgotten that she had given them to her.

On Wednesday, the 7th of April, Louie came before Leeds City magistrates charged with Lily's murder and was remanded in custody to stand trial at Leeds Assizes. Her case was heard at the Assizes before Mr. Justice Wright on the 5th and 6th of May and she was, unsurprisingly, found guilty. She accepted her death sentence without apparent shock but claimed that she was pregnant and could not, therefore, be hanged until after she had given birth.In practice, pregnant women were always reprieved by this time.

She was taken to Strangeways prison in Manchester to await execution. (This was unusual as it was normal to send the condemned prisoner to the county prison in which the trial had taken place.) Here she was examined and it was thought that it was just possible, although very unlikely, that she might be in the early stages of pregnancy but that it would not cause a problem to execute her. This caused public concern and a petition for a reprieve containing 2 to 3,000 signatures, many from her home town of Ossett in Yorkshire, was got up. This was, as usual, rejected - her execution being scheduled for the 24th of June. There was even a question in parliament relating to her pregnancy. However, on Tuesday, the 22nd of June, the Home Secretary informed her solicitor, Mr. E. Ould, that there would be no reprieve and that the story of her pregnancy was not believed to be true. As stated above, the autopsy confirmed that it was just another of Louie's lies.

Whilst in the condemned cell, Louie confessed to the murder of John Frobisher in 1922. At the time, she was calling herself Mrs. Louise Gomersall and worked as John Frobisher's housekeeper at Mercy Street, Wellington Lane, Leeds. His body had been found by a policeman floating in a canal on the 12th of July 1922, he had a wound on the back of his head and a fractured skull. A degree of suspicion had fallen on Louie initially but the Coroner's Court returned a verdict of misadventure and ruled that his death was a simple drowning. Once again, the body was discovered fully dressed but without any boots on. One of the police officers in the Waterhouse case had also been involved in the Frobisher case and remembered that John had been discovered without his boots, and that they were nowhere to be found on the bank, facts which seemed unusual in a case of accidental drowning.

Strangely, in two completely unrelated cases of murder, she had stolen in addition to the their "valuables", her victim's boots even though they didn't fit her. Her motive for this is unclear - unless she really did have a boot fetish. It seems the motive certainly for Mrs. Waterhouse's murder was gain and it was probably the same in John Frobisher's case. It seems hard to believe she killed for the boots but rather took them as an afterthought.
Louie was poor and lived in difficult times, as did so many other men and women in Britain at the time. She was also a pathological liar and had a bad temper, but what made her turn to murder? Was it simply the easy way, in her uneducated mind, of covering up her thefts or was it something deeper within her personality? Sadly, we will never know the answer to this, as having been examined and found to be sane for legal purposes, nobody was very interested in getting to the bottom of her as a person. Her life and death would have passed virtually un-remembered had it not been for her predilection for her victim's boots.
A sad life and a sad death with at least two other victims along the way.

Acknowledgement : My special thanks to The Yorkshire Post newspaper for allowing me access to their archive material on the case.

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