Louisa May Merrifield - The
Louisa Merrifield was born in 1906 making her 46 at the time
of her execution at Strangeways prison in
She had been married three times, her final marriage taking place in February 1953 when she wed 71 year old Alfred Edward Merrifield. She had given birth to four children by her first husband, Joseph Ellison, but had lost custody of all of them. Ellison died in 1949 and she married 78 year old Richard Watson who died ten weeks later. She had also served time in prison during 1946 for ration book fraud. She typically took employment as a domestic and had had some 20 jobs in the three years leading up to the murder.
On the 12th of March 1953, Louisa and Alfred took up the
position of house keeper and live in companion to 79 year old Sarah Ann
Ricketts at her bungalow at
By the end of March 1953 Louisa persuaded Mrs. Ricketts to make a new will, leaving the £3000 bungalow to her. Alfred complained that he was not mentioned in the will and it was agreed that he would get half.
Mrs. Ricketts had some rather strange dietary habits. Apparently, she was very fond of very sweet jams which she ate directly from the jar by the spoonful, washed down with rum or a bottle of stout. Louisa, having got the will made in her favour, capitalised on these peculiar habits by adding Rodine, a phosphorus based rat poison, to the jam.
On the 12th of April, Louisa told her friend, Mrs. Brewer, that she had to go home to lay out an elderly woman. The friend naturally enquired who had died and Louisa replied “She’s not dead yet, but she soon will be.” Sarah Ricketts died two days later on Tuesday the 14th of April. Louisa didn’t call a doctor until the next morning. She said that, as the old woman was clearly beyond help, she didn’t want to drag him out of bed in the middle of the night. When Mrs. Brewer read about the death in the paper a couple of days later she reported the suspicious conversation to the police. They ordered a post mortem and it was found that Sarah Ricketts had died of phosphorus poisoning thought to have come from Rodine. The police search of the bungalow didn’t turn up any Rodine, but checking local pharmacies revealed that Louisa had recently purchased Rodine and had signed the poison register.
Two weeks later Louisa was arrested and sometime afterwards so was Alfred and both were charged with murder and committed to Manchester Assizes for trial. This duly took place before the Mr. Justice Glynn-Jones between the 20th and the 31st of July 1953. Sir Lionel Heal led for the prosecution and Mr. Nahum for the defence. Professor J. N. Webster appeared as an expert witness for the Merrifields and told the court that in his opinion, Mrs. Ricketts had not died from poisoning but from the necrosis of the liver. The jury didn’t accept this and convicted Louisa after six hours of deliberation. The judge called her crime “as wicked and cruel a murder as I ever heard tell of.” However the jury couldn’t reach a verdict on Alfred and he was acquitted. On the 6th of August the Attorney General announced that he would not move for a retrial and Alfred was released from Strangeways. He duly inherited half of Mrs. Rickett’s house and would live another nine years.
Louisa’s appeal was dismissed and she was duly hanged by Albert Pierrepoint, assisted by Robert Stewart, at 8 am on the morning of Friday, the 18th of September 1953. Several hundred people gathered outside the prison gates that morning to see the official notices displayed. Albert Pierrepoint recalled that the hanging “went very well.” She said goodbye to the death cell officers - much better than I imagined.” It is said that there was an unwritten rule in the Home Office that poisoners should always hang.
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