Date: 5 May 1956
Margaret Ormesher and Mary Ormesher were murdered at their ten-roomed home in Church Street, Ormskirk on 6 May 1956.
Mary Ormesher was known for running a small lockup sweetshop and tobacconist's shop in Ivy Dene, Asmall Lane, Ormskirk known locally as Aunt Polly's shop. The sweetshop itself was demolished around Thursday 10 January 1957. It was thought that the business had been inherited through their parents. Margaret Ormesher had kept the house in Church Street that they had both lived in. They were spinsters. The shop was about a mile away from the house.
It was thought that it was the sweet shop that had led the killer to the two sisters. Mary Ormesher was known locally as Aunt Polly and it was said that she would often display her takings on the counter, such was her faith in the goodness of human nature. It was also said that it was common knowledge that she carried her takings home with her at night.
Whilst it was generally thought that there had been one murderer, the police said that they had not been able to establish how many people had been involved in the attack.
It was suggested that Mary Ormesher had been followed home from the sweetshop and that shortly after the murderer had gone to the back door and knocked whereupon the man had attacked one of the sisters and then attacked the other as she went to the defence of the other sister.
Their inquest which concluded on Thursday 13 September 1956 returned a verdict of murder by some person or persons unknown.
The police said that they thought that the motive for the murder was robbery. The attache case, or handbag, that Mary Ormesher used to bring the shop takings back to her house in was found at the scene of the murder. The attache case still had about £5 (or £50) in silver in it, but takings that were thought to have amounted to between £50 and £100 were believed to have been missing.
It was noted that after the murders the police found hundreds of mouldy threepenny silver pieces and half-crowns in bags in the shop.
A special search of the house was made for a valuable engagement ring and a wristlet-watch that were thought to have gone missing in the robbery.
The ring was of a heavy pattern with a large blue sapphire set in a claw in the centre and a small sapphire at each side surrounded by diamond chippings.
The watch was in a platinum case, was oblong, with a very small face. It was surrounded by diamond chippings and emeralds.
The pathologist said that both women died from shock and haemorrhage at about the same time whilst another forensic specialist from the North West Forensic Science Laboratory in Preston said that a great deal of violence must have been used in the attack. It was also reported that the police thought that a number of weapons had been used in the attack against them.
Items that the police took away included fragments of a broken bottle, metal candlesticks, pokers and other household articles to be examined at the forensic science laboratory in Preston. It was thought that weapons used in their murders included the pokers and the candlesticks which were both found bent.
They were found by neighbours lying in pools of blood near the back door of their kitchen. The sweetshop was usually open seven days a week and a friend that lived behind the sweetshop and who used to bring her a cup of tea each day had down the shop locked up after she went there with the tea on the morning of 6 May 1956. After that she went to Church Street but got no answer at the back door and so called on a neighbour. When they went back to the house they found that the back door was not properly locked and when they pushed it open they found Margaret Ormesher and Mary Ormesher dead on the floor in a pool of blood and with severe head injuries.
Their black spaniel dog, called Trixie, was still in the house unharmed.
It was reported that the police found a finger print in the blood at the scene of the murder and the police said that they had visited the house of every male over the age of sixteen in the Ormskirk district and taken their fingerprints, taking in total fingerprints from over 10,000 men, but that no matches were found and that no one had been arrested during the investigation. The finger print in the blood was later described as the only real clue in the case.
Police dogs were also used to search for the murderer.
It was noted that the two sisters had 22 relatives, all of whom were traced in the investigation.
A general outline of the witnesses that saw things leading up to the murder were:
A friend of the sisters who lived in Oriel Drive in Aintree said that she had first become acquainted with the sisters family 40 years earlier and would visit them every Saturday until their mother died in 1951 after which she would meet them in the sweet shop. She noted that the last time that she was at the house in 1954 that their dog, Trixie, would bark whenever she turned the latch of the gate. She said that she last visited the shop on 5 May 1956 with £1 in copper which Mary Ormesher changed for her, giving her a £1 note from a well-worn black leather handbag, the fastener of which she noted was broken. She said, 'I saw a lot of £1 notes and 10s notes in it. I often told her she should be more careful with money because I had known her to carry notes down her stockings or her blouse and silver in the shopping basket which she put her dinner in'.
Margaret Ormesher was seen by a labourer entering the garden gate to her house in Church Street at about 6.45pm.
Mary Ormesher was seen later that night between 10.10pm and 10.25pm by a neighbour carrying her briefcase in her right hand by a woman that lived in Ansell Lane as she passed by her window.
A man was seen about the same time in the dark in Asmall Lane by the lorry driver outside Ivydene at about 10.18pm on 5 May 1956 as he was going home. He said that when he looked back at the man he saw that he was standing against the hedge between numbers 19 and 21. The lorry driver, who lived close by said that after he went to bed he heard a commotion and a woman's voice but could not make out what was said and that when his wife asked him if he knew what was going on in the yard he had replied that it was probably the people next door.
A Miner that lived in Brickmakers' Arms Yard said that when he was leaving 6 Asmal Lane which was next door to the house at 11.05pm that he heard the sound of a milk bottle being broken and a woman's voice call out. He said that he then turned around and he saw a light burning in the house but could not see whether the curtains were drawn and then went home.
Two neighbours later said that they had heard the sound of breaking glass and a woman's voice on the night of the murder.
One of the neighbours, the 47-year-old excavator-driver said that he had gone to bed at 10.45pm on the Saturday. He then said, 'I had been in bed for a time when my wife said, 'Get up. There is someone in the yard. We heard something like the rattle of a dustbin lid. I jumped out of bed and went downstairs. Our outbuildings were secure and the bin was intact. I thought I heard a moaning sound, but thought it was the dog at number 6. I then heard a breaking of glass and thought it was someone having a bit of bother down the road. Later I heard someone shouting for the man who lives on the other side of the Ormesher house. The voice said 'Come here' or something like that'. He also later said, 'I stood listening for some time and heard a murmuring. I thought it was a dog. I then heard glass breaking and thought it was somebody having a bit of bother down the road. Then I heard a bin being moved but thought it was someone tipping rubbish'.
Newspaper reports raised two questions on the evidence:
During the investigation police detectives visited service personnel at army camps in Merseyside to speak to troops that had been on leave over the weekend of the murder as well as dance halls and public houses across Merseyside where Teddy Boys were known to frequent on Saturday nights. The police investigation also extended to Southport and a watch was also kept on Liverpool docks, about twelve miles away, and inquiries were made at hotels and boarding-houses in the city and suburbs.
During a late night conference shortly after the murder the police said that they were not necessarily confining their search to the immediate locality of the crime.
The police said, 'These two women had been subjected to a most brutal and violent attack. It is believed that a number of weapons may have been used. In both cases there were very serious injuries and every sign of a struggle. It is believed that robbery was the motive. The clothing of the assailant or assailants may be bloodstained, and it is possible that he or she may have received injuries themselves. It may even be that they have had to have some attention from a doctor'. The police also added that both women had been found fully dressed and that there were indications that part of the attack had taken place in the backyard'.
The police said that a special watch was kept on dry-cleaning establishments, laundries and doctors' surgeries and hospitals in the event that the murderer might have attempted to have bloodstained clothing cleaned or have facial injuries treated.
They emphasised the fact they thought that the killer would have had blood on their clothing that someone must have noticed. They said, 'I am still perturbed that no one has come forward to give information about the bloodstained clothing. I feel there is somebody who has knowledge of this in addition to the culprit himself'.
Following a search of the house after the murder the police said that they found several hundred pounds in silver about the place. They said, 'A large amount of silver was found secreted in dressers upstairs, wrapped in parcels of paper'. They added at the time that it had not been counted. They said, 'It was removed in a suitcase by the police and locked in a cell to be handed over to a solicitor acting for the 22 relatives of the two sisters'.
The police also said, 'There is no ransacking of the house. Some empty boxes were found in a grandfather clock in the kitchen, with a few odd shillings, but no notes'.
The 11-year-old boy that lived opposite Ivydene in Asmall Lane had come forward to say that he had seen a man leaning on a blue bicycle with white mudguards near the house for the previous three nights, saying that he had been looking about him. He said that the man had been wearing a light-coloured mackintosh and had been leaning on the blue bicycle in Asmall Lane near to the house. However, the police were reported as having said, 'We do not attach particular importance to this, but we are checking on everyone who owns a blue bicycle'.
However, it was reported that it was known that one of the sister's cousins, who was missing at the time of the investigation, matched the description of the boy and was known to have cycled about, but on 11 May 1956 he was traced to Oxford where he was seen by detectives and eliminated from their enquiries.
It was reported on 11 May 1956 that Margaret Ormesher and Mary Ormesher had a small side-line in money lending and that there were also known to have done a bit of buying and selling from their home. It was then submitted that their murderer might have been someone linked to either of those activities. As such, the police appealed for anyone that the sisters had lent money to to come forward, noting that they had found a number of loan slips , one for £100, but most of them for £20. They also appealed for anyone who had bought things from the sisters at their house to come forward.
It was also reported that about 18 months before the murders that the police had warned Mary Ormesher of a planned raid on her shop.
It was also said that Mary Ormesher had been previously attacked about three years earlier in Coronation Park, which was a short-cut from her shop to her home and it was heard that she had been repeatedly warned about using the park.
Mary Ormesher and Margaret Ormesher were buried in the same grave in the 11th century parish church in Ormskirk on 11 May 1956. It was noted that the Ormeshers had a family vault at the Parish Church, but that there was not enough room in it for both of the sisters. The church was only 100 yards from the sweet shop. When the vicar conducted the service before 600 mourners, he said, 'We have been greatly shocked by the awful fate that has befallen our friends, Mary and Margaret Ormesher. Nothing so dreadful has happened in our peaceful country town before and I am sure that all who can will assist the police in every way in their difficult and complicated task of bringing the culprits to justice'.
When their sweetshop was demolished in January 1957 the police were reported as having attended and having paid particular attention to events and during the demolition it was said that a number of letters were unearthed, but it was said that they had had no bearing on the murder and many of them were of a personal nature and over 30 years old. It was noted that a friend of Margaret Ormesher and Mary Ormesher had been living above the sweetshop at the time of their murders but that the building had been put under a demolition order by Ormskirk Council in July 1956, before the murders. The demolition was carried out by a demolition contractor from Kerfoot Street in Wigan with a gang of workmen. The demolition gang were expected to take two weeks to pull the shop down.
A headstone was later erected on their grave with the following inscription:
'Here lie the bodies of Margaret Jane, aged 69, and Mary, aged 67, daughters of the late Edward and Emma Ormesher, who lost their lives on the night of May 5th-6th 1956 at Ivydene, Asmall Lane, Ormskirk. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away'.
In December 1956 a 15-year-old butcher's assistant was found dead in a loft behind the butcher's shop where he worked on Church Street, Ormskirk. He died from exposure assisted by a coma that was induced by barbiturates. Whilst there was no reported connection between his death, for which an open verdict was returned, and the murders, the fact that they were so close, their house also being in Church Street, and in the same year makes it note worthy.
It was reported on 4 May 1957 that the sisters ten room house in Church Street had since been tenanted by a couple from Southport and a friend who hoped to open a ballet-dancing studio in an upstairs room. The house had formerly been The Brickmaker's Arms public house which had been run by Mary Ormesher and Margaret Ormesher's parents but they lost their licence in the early 1910s and the public house was converted into a house.
It was reported in February 1983 that the police received an anonymous telephone call claiming to know the identity of the murderer but nothing was known to have come of it.
see Liverpool Echo
see TW News
see Belfast News-Letter - Thursday 13 September 1956
see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 11 May 1956
see Lancashire Evening Post - Monday 07 May 1956
see Bradford Observer - Monday 14 May 1956
see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 12 September 1956
see Liverpool Echo - Monday 07 May 1956
see Belfast Telegraph - Monday 07 May 1956
see Lancashire Evening Post - Saturday 04 May 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 11 May 1956
see Belfast News-Letter - Saturday 12 May 1956
see Lancashire Evening Post - Saturday 12 May 1956
see Northern Whig - Monday 07 May 1956
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Thursday 24 May 1956
see Lancashire Evening Post - Thursday 10 January 1957