Date: 19 Jun 1954
Place: Lisbon Street, Higher Ince
Wilfred Schofield was found stabbed to death in a tunnel on some waste ground about 200 yards from his home on the morning of Saturday 19 June 1954.
He had a stab wound to his heart. It was later said that he had been stabbed with a penknife with a blade 3/8 of an inch wide.
His inquest returned a verdict of misadventure against a 9-year-old boy who was said to have confessed to having stabbed him in fun whilst playing cowboys and indians but who later retracted his statement. However, it was later thought that he could have been an earlier victim of Norman William Green who was later executed for stabbing other children to death. Norman Green murdered William Harmer 11 in a field off Miry Lane, Wigan on 27 August 1954, having stabbed him to death, and the following year on 11 April 1955 he stabbed Norman Yates 10 to death in Back Hope Street, Ince, near Wigan.
Wilfred Schofield was reported missing the night before at 12pm. Wilfred Schofield had lived at 16 Lisbon Street in Higher Ince near Wigan. He had a brother and a sister.
He was last seen by his parents when he left his house at about 10.30pm on the Friday night, 18 June 1954. The last person to see Wilfred Schofield alive was his neighbour who said that she saw him at about 10.30pm. She said, 'I had just come out of a hotel near Lisbon Street at about 10.30pm when I saw Wilfred coming along the road. He seemed to be just playing about and dilly-dallying'.
It was later heard that Wilfred Schofield had also been seen at a chip shop in Belle Green Lane with the 9-year-old boy who was said to have stabbed him. The 9-year-old boy had lived in York Street, Higher Ince.
It was heard that his mother and father later became worried when Wilfred Schofield had not returned by midnight and informed the police.
A search for Wilfred Schofield was organised shortly after his parents reported him missing and his body was found at about 4am.
He was found by his uncle after police and civilians had been searching for him for six hours. the uncle said, 'I was looking on the field at the back of the boy's home and got near an old dump. I went forward through the long grass and came to what seemed to be a little tunnel. I crawled into it and at first could see nothing. I struck match after match, but in the gloom, there was no sign of anything or anyone. Then, suddenly I noticed a few yards away what appeared to be a leg. I groped still further along and found by the light of another match that it was the body of my young nephew. I examined him swiftly, shook him. Then I realised that he was dead'.
Soon after the uncle found Wilfred Schofield, Wilfred Schofield's father came by. Wilfred Schofield's father was 45-years-old and a bargee. The uncle said, 'I don't know just what made him go on the derelict land at that time of the night. When I saw his body I was so confused and it was so dark that I could not see any wounds. But in the light of the matches I did notice that he seemed blue with cold. Then the police arrived, and he was taken away'.
Following the discovery of Wilfred Schofield's body, about 50 policemen, many of them with metal detectors, fanned out in a 100-yard line combing every inch of the rough ground which was knee-high in grass and littered with waste cotton scrap and old tyres. It was noted that later on a section of the Leeds-Liverpool canal near to Wilfred Schofield's home was drained. The waste ground was later mown and powerful magnets were used to find evidence.
After a Home Office pathologist carried out a post mortem on Wilfred Schofield's body he stated that his death was due to stab wounds to the chest.
The police later appealed for information from any person that had been in the vicinity of Top Place Ince between 10.30pm on Friday 18 June and 1am Saturday 19 June 1954.
Wilfred Schofield had been a pupil at Belle Green Mission School and was described as a fair-haired cheery youngster and well liked locally.
It was heard that he had gone to watch Ince Parish Churches' 'Walking Day' event earlier on in the afternoon of Friday 18 June 1954 and had been bought a new suit for the event. It was noted that whilst the search for Wilfred Schofield continued, distant music from the processions could still be heard.
The inquest into Wilfred Schofield's death was held on Friday 1 October 1954 and returned a verdict of death by misadventure, noting that his wounds had been inflicted by the 9-year-old boy during a game of cowboys and indians.
After hearing the evidence, the Coroner told the jury that they could return a verdict of misadventure or murder against some person or persons unknown.
It was heard that the 9-year-old boy had admitted to the police that he had stabbed Wilfred Schofield but had later retracted his statement. When the Coroner addressed the jury he said that if they found that the 9-year-old boy had killed Wilfred Schofield, that in view of the boy's age, they could not return a verdict of murder unless it was proved that the 9-year-old had knowingly, wickedly and deliberately killed him, adding that there was no evidence of that.
The inquest heard that the 9-year-old boy had made a statement to the police on 20 June 1954 in which he had said that he and Wilfred Schofield had been playing cowboys. He had said, 'Wilfred got hurt with a knife I was holding. I didn't intend to hurt him. It was done in fun'.
The Coroner noted that the 9-year-old's original statement was corroborated by another boy and that the 9-year-old had also pointed out the spot where he had thrown away the knife with which he had said he had caused the wounds. However, the other boy's mother whose son had corroborated the 9-year-old boy's statement said that her son had been in bed at the time that he had said he had been out playing with the 9-year-old boy and Wilfred Schofield and had seen the stabbing.
However, at an earlier hearing on 19 July 1954 the 9-year old boy denied having played with Wilfred Schofield and the other boy's mother emphatically denied that her son had been out on the waste land, and said that he had been in bed at the time, a claim that was supported by the statement of another 10-year-old boy who said that he had seen the other boy go to bed at 10pm.
When the Coroner addressed the jury, he said, 'Do you believe that when the two boys made their statements to the police they were telling the truth, or do you think that all that was said was childish imagination, and that they were never at the scene of the tragedy?'.
When a police detective gave evidence, he said that the other boy had made his statement on the day after Wilfred's body was found, noting that the boy had said that he had been playing with Wilfred Schofield and the other boy on 18 June 1954. The other boy had then said in his statement, 'Wilfred got hurt with a green knife which the 9-year-old boy had. He was hurt in the chest and did not shout. Red came on his chest. Afterwards the 9-year-old boy threw the knife in the grass. I ran home'.
However, the 9-year-old boys mother said that she had been sitting with a neighbour between 10.40pm and 11.15pm and that during that time her son had been in bed and had been in bed since 10.10pm. She added that whilst she had been with her neighbour that her husband had been in their own home. She added that she had partially undressed her son and took him to bed herself, saying, 'I actually saw him get into bed'.
A woman that had lived in Lisbon Street said that she had seen Wilfred Schofield at about 10.20pm at the corner of York Street playing alone and holding a small object in his hand. She said that at 11.30pm she heard that he was missing.
Wilfred Schofield's father said that he was a canal boatman and that he had taken Wilfred Schofield on trips to Blackburn twice on his barge. He said that there was a a knife in a drawer on the barge and that his son had played with it and that on the second trip he had let him keep it.
When the other boy's brother was called at the inquest, he said that half an hour after he went to bed on 18 June 1954 that his brother, who was said to have been out playing with Wilfred Schofield and the 9-year-old boy on the night came upstairs and and said to him, 'You know the 9-year-old boy throwed a knife in Hesketh's field?'.
However, the other boy's mother said that all of her children had gone to bed together at about 10.50pm and she agreed with the Coroner that the evidence that her son had just given at the inquest about his brother saying that the other boy had thrown a knife in the field was not true. She added that she didn't know why he had given that evidence.
When Wilfred Schofield's inquest was resumed on 1 October 1954 William Harmer, the 11-year-old boy had been murdered in a field off Miry Lane in Wigan, but no connection between the two deaths was made. William Harmer was murdered on 27 August 1954. It was reported on 31 August 1954 that the murder of William Harmer had spotlighted the Higher Ince inquiries after the similarity in the boys ages was noted and it was determined that they had both been stabbed with blades that were 3/8 of an inch wide. However, it appeared that the verdict into Wilfred Schofield's death remained unchanged.
see The Encyclopedia Of Executions, John J eddleston - page 873.
see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 01 October 1954
see Liverpool Echo - Friday 01 October 1954
see Lancashire Evening Post - Saturday 19 June 1954