Unsolved Murders

Emily Pye

Age: 80

Sex: female

Date: 8 Jun 1957

Place: 23 Gibbet Street, Halifax, West Yorkshire

Emily Pye was beaten to death in a robbery on her shop on 8 June 1957.

She was found dead in a living room behind her grocery shop lying on her back and covered with rugs, cushions, a small hand towel and a scarf, by her niece and her husband.

The police said that it was quite plain that the motive was theft, adding that the attack on her had been very brutal. It was also stated that the police were satisfied that the attack on Emily Pye had been to prevent her being able to recognise her attacker. They said that they thought that her murderer had first rained blows about her with his fists and then struck her with a blunt instrument.

They said that they had not ruled out the possibility that she had been murdered by a casual customer. They said that they thought that the murderer might well have been someone local that knew the system that Emily Pye followed in her shop, in particular the positioning of her cash and her technique in dealing with it.

Emily Pye was described as 'a pleasant old lady' who lived alone at her shop and was rarely seen except in and around her shop. She was also described as chubby faced and small and to have had no known enemies and was well liked by other shop-keepers and residents in the neighbourhood. She was said to have lived at the shop for the previous 30 years. Her niece said that Emily Pye was at times afraid of living alone in the shop but said that she would not hear of leaving as she felt that her customers needed her.

It was noted that her shop, which was in one of the busiest streets in Halifax, was only a little over 200 yards from where Mary Hackett was murdered four years earlier, although a man was convicted of Mary Hackett's murder and sentenced to death at the time.

The police additionally said that they were satisfied that Emily Pye was 'an honourable, extremely methodical, nice quiet old lady'.

However, the police said that when they searched her premises that they found a cash drawer in the room containing a £1 note and two 10s notes and in another part of the house more than £100 in cash.

It was said that immediately after her body was found that the police had brought in tracker dogs to trace the murderer but it was said that the dogs were of no practical assistance due to the thunderstorms and rain shortly before her body was found which washed away any scents.

The pathologist that carried out her post mortem said that her death was due to shock and haemorrhage from a compound fracture of the skull and noted that considerable violence had been used. He said that he thought that Emily Pye had been hit in the face whilst she was in the shop and had then been dragged to where she was found and then beaten about the head, causing her head injuries, in particular the one that killed her, whilst she was lying there on the floor. The pathologist noted that Emily Pye had marks and bruising on her hands that suggested that she had been trying to protect her face and that bruising on her wrist suggested that a hand had grabbed her.

It was noted that near to her body a broken companion set smeared with blood was found.

It was thought that she had been killed between noon and 3pm on the Saturday afternoon, 8 June 1957. The police later appealed to the 97,000 people of Halifax to come forward with any information about anyone that had not been at home during those same hours, noon to 3pm, however, it was noted that only four or five people had come forward.

They also included an appeal for anyone that had handled any bloodstained clothing for clothing.

The police appealed for everyone that had been to Emily Pye's shop that year to come forward and give their fingerprints for purposes of elimination. The police said that the fingerprints would be destroyed after the person was eliminated from their inquiries.

Appeals were also translated into several foreign languages and circulated amongst the foreign communities of Halifax.

The appeal read: 'On Saturday, June 8, 1957 a brutal crime occurred in this shop sometime between 12 noon and 3.30pm. We need your help!! Will anyone who entered this shop at ANYTIME on 8th June 1957 or who can give any information which may assist please speak to the Police immediately'.

The police later said that they had identified eight men that they were trying to trace as part of their investigation and that they had carried out a series of midnight swoops on lodging houses in an effort to find them but without luck. They said that the eight men had not been found during the swoops the week earlier but noted that they were all known to have been lodging near to Emily Pye's shop in the past and to have made purchases there. The midnight swoops had taken place in some of the big cities and towns including London, Manchester and Liverpool and it was said that they had all been arranged a day or two in advance directly through Scotland Yard. The police said, 'All the eight men are believed to have called at Miss Pye's shop occasionally to make trifling purchases but it is not known whether any of the eight actually called there on the day of the murder'. It was reported that the police had a list of the men that they were trying to trace along with their descriptions with it being noted that some of them were known to occasionally change their names for no very clear reason.

It was noted that none of the men had had fixed addresses for some years and had preferred to live in lodgings in one town and then later move on to another town.

It was noted that several other visits were made by the police to the Salvation Army Hostel in Carlton Place and a house in Rhodes Street, both in Halifax, as well as to other places. It was reported that the proprietor of the boarding house in Rhodes Street told a Courier and Guardian reporter that 'Three detectives, a sergeant and two other men came here, arriving around midnight or just after. There are about a dozen men here and all were asleep. The detectives checked the boarders' list I keep and questioned me about anybody I had had staying here. However, my boarders are 'regulars' and the detectives soon left'.

It was similarly reported that a CID team had arrived at the Salvation Army hostel in Carlton Place at about 11pm to find most of the 84 men asleep. They were said to have roused them and to have asked for proof of identification. An official said, 'The police were here for about an hour and a half and spoke to everyone in the place. They went away apparently satisfied'.

It was said that in Liverpool there had been about 40 detectives in the CID teams and that they had called at 11 lodging houses in the city and had also questioned several men at roadside coffee stalls near the docks and visited an all-night cafe. However, it a reported that no one was detained for further questioning.

It was reported that across Newcastle-upon-Tyne that detectives in radio patrol cars called at four buildings that housed three lodging houses and a casual ward and that lists of lodgers were inspected. It was said that most of the occupants had been in bed and asleep and that they had all been roused for questioning. It was also reported that Flying Squad men had spent more than an hour at one building in Newcastle where men were allowed to sleep on the floor if they were unable to get a bed for the night and it was said that questioning there had been more vigorous, but that again, the men had all been able to satisfy the police about their identities.

Following the police operation, a police official said, 'The night's work was all part of the process of elimination in this murder inquiry, work which has been going on ever since the investigation began. There is no suspect. But there are various people, these eight men for instance, who might be able to help us press the inquiry forward'.

It was noted that there had been a terrific thunderclap that had reverberated over the town between 3pm and 3.05pm and the police said that they thought that that might help people fix a time limit within which people could recall any unusual incidents they might have witnessed near the shop.

Following their initial inquiries, a police superintendent said that the results of their inquiries were not what they had hoped for and said that they thought that there must be an enormous number of people who still knew something about the shop. He added that he also thought that there were many more customers of her shop that themselves had not come forward.

During their investigation the police went to every house within a half-mile radius of her shop with questionnaires, a task that was described as being slow, there being about 9,500 people within the catchment. The police noted that they had found that many people had been away on holiday for Whitsuntide and that they had had to make arrangements to interview the returning holidaymakers.

The police also appealed to employers to come forward if they noted any employees missing, saying, 'It might be of very great assistance if firms became aware of employees who have not returned to work after the holidays'

It was stated at the inquest that the police had interviewed about 14,000 people across the United Kingdom in their search.

It was also reported that bus drivers and conductors as well as railway staff and taximen had been asked whether they had noticed anyone that had appeared to be agitated or in a great hurry on the Saturday afternoon.

It was reported that on 14 June 1957 that a special kit inspection at Wellesley Barracks, the dept of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment in Halifax, was carried out. It had been arranged at the request of the police, but nothing unusual was found. It was described as a matter of routine elimination and noted that about 200 officers and men, most of them National Service recruits, had been stationed there.

Emily Pye's inquest, which concluded on Thursday 26 September 1957, returned a verdict of murder by a person or persons unknown.

On 26 October 1957 it was noted that there were some similarities between Emily Pye's death and that of Alice Moran, whose murder is also still unsolved.  Alice Moran was found murdered in her shop in Collyhurst Road, Collyhurst, Manchester on the evening of Wednesday 28 August 1957. The similarities detailed were:

  1. Both victims were elderly women, Emily Pye being 80 and Alice Moran being 65.
  2. Both of them lived alone.
  3. They both kept shops, Emily Pye in Gibbet Street, Halifax and Alice Moran in Collyhurst Road, Manchester.

On a similar line, the police said that they did not think that there was a link between Emily Pye's murder and similar other shop murders in Leeds and Bradford, but said that one could never leave out the other crimes.

Emily Pye was buried on Friday 24 June 1957. When the vicar spoke from his pulpit at the service he described Halifax as being now a town of frightened old ladies. He said 'There are many old people in the town who are not as brave as they were last week. They are afraid they may share the fate of the murdered woman. Those who a week ago would not have been troubled at being alone are now apprehensive. If the person who committed this outrage is not arrested quickly he may do the same again. I beseech everyone who has any information to tell the police'.

When the detective from Scotland Yard later spoke to the vicar after hearing his words, he said, 'I am glad he made the appeal. I'm hoping it will help us'. when the vicar later spoke to the detective after the sermon he said, 'I felt it was my duty. Several old ladies living alone have told me they are terrified'. He also said that he was 'up against that Yorkshire trait, see all, hear all, say nowt', adding 'I am certain someone with information has forgotten all about it'.

Emily Pye's will was published on Saturday 20 July 1957 in which it was found that she had left £2,951 14s 8d gross, £2,808 14s 11d net value. Probate was granted to her nephew who had lived at Pot House Farm in Mately Lane, Hyde, Cheshire.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk

see "'Brutal' Murder Of Woman Aged 80." Times [London, England] 27 Sept. 1957: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2016.

see Halifax Evening Courier - Saturday 26 October 1957

see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 11 June 1957

see Daily Herald - Saturday 15 June 1957

see Halifax Evening Courier - Wednesday 12 June 1957

see Halifax Evening Courier - Saturday 20 July 1957

see Halifax Evening Courier - Friday 02 August 1957

see Halifax Evening Courier - Tuesday 18 June 1957

see Belfast Telegraph - Monday 17 June 1957

see Northants Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 12 June 1957

see Lancashire Evening Post - Monday 10 June 1957

see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 12 June 1957

see Lancashire Evening Post - Thursday 01 August 1957

see Shields Daily News - Monday 10 June 1957

see Lancashire Evening Post - Thursday 13 June 1957

see Northern Whig - Friday 14 June 1957

see Belfast Telegraph - Monday 10 June 1957

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Thursday 26 September 1957

see Belfast Telegraph - Monday 05 August 1957