Margaret Walber.


We can find plenty of cases of abusive men killing their wives, but very few of abusive women killing their husbands.

At the age of 48 year Margaret Murray had married 50 year old John Walber in 1889 and they kept a grocery shop at 6 Gildart Street in Liverpool.  This was quite a large building and the rooms on the upper floors were occupied by John Murray, Margaret’s son by her first husband, and their lodgers James Pearson and his girlfriend Mary Vouse.


Both the Walbers were heavy drinkers but John was not violent or abusive when drunk, according to John Murray.  At the time of his death on the 16th of November 1893, John was 55 and Margaret was 53.  The marriage was not a happy one and would soon take a major turn for the worse.  Seventeen years earlier, in the summer of 1876, John Walber had had a relationship with Annie Connolly which had ended but which he had not forgotten.  In the Spring of 1893 Annie took lodgings at a house in Oakes Street, not far from the Walber’s shop and John rediscovered her and visited her several times.  Unfortunately for him a very jealous Margaret followed him on what was to be his last visit and demanded to know from Annie if he was in her rooms.  She told Margaret that he was and that “You can take him.  I don’t want him”.  Margaret attacked John at Annie’s, hitting him and kicking him as well as subjecting him to a torrent of verbal abuse.  John got drunk and finally went home later in the day.  The quarrel continued until John fell into a drunken stupor.  Margaret enlisted the help of her son to carry John upstairs to the attic bedroom.  Here she stripped him to his underclothes, hiding his outer clothes in the basement and locked and chained the door shut.  John would remain Margaret’s prisoner for the next four months.  This situation went unreported to the authorities although it is clear that the other occupants of the house knew about it and so did at least one of the visitors to the home.  Margaret told a friend of Mary Vouse that she had John locked up to prevent him from visiting “a bad house” (a brothel, presumably).  She also told the women she would give him a fly paper.  At this time fly papers contained arsenic and were not infrequently used as a source of poison.

In early November, John’s sister visited him and Margaret reluctantly let her see him.  Apparently he was lying on the bed and looking “bewildered”.  John told his sister that he couldn’t work and she offered to fetch a doctor or a priest but Margaret told her they were not required.


On the 15th of November 1893, Margaret and Mary Vouse went to a local pub.  Here they were joined by Ellen Mottram to whom Margaret offered money to smash Annie’s windows and to whom she also threatened to kill John.  Margaret and Mary returned to the house but Mary soon went out again.  Sometime afterwards Margaret attacked John with the heavy chain she used to secure the attic door and with a chamber pot.  It was a very vicious assault and there was blood everywhere.  When Mary Vouse returned she found John Murray not at his post in the shop and called up to Margaret to let her know.  Margaret came down and told her that John had gone and taken his money and his musical instruments.  The next day Margaret asked Mary to open the shop and told her that John had killed her husband.  The police were called and found the grisly scene.  They took Margaret, James Pearson and Mary to the police station for questioning.  Here Margaret admitted that she was the one who had attacked John and that her son had nothing to do with it.  He had fled to Ireland after the murder.

Margaret came to trial on the 14th of March 1894, before Mr. Justice Day in the imposing courtroom of St. George’s Hall in Liverpool.  Mary Vouse and James Pearson testified against Margaret and there was also early forensic evidence of blood spatter on Margaret’s clothes.  After just one day the jury returned a guilty verdict and the judge sentenced her to hang.  She was returned to Walton prison and there hanged by James Billington on Monday the 2nd of April 1894.  No reporters were permitted to witness the execution.  The governor told the coroner’s jury that she had walked to the gallows unaided and that she had been given a drop of 6ft 7ins, causing instantaneous death.  This would be the first female hanging carried out by Billington and he was assisted by a man named Thompson.


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