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Unsolved Murders

Ellen Agnes Armstrong

Age: 32

Sex: female

Date: 1 Dec 1914

Place: 4 Lench Street, Birmingham

Source: discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Ellen Agnes Armstrong died from an illegal operation.

A woman was tried for her murder but no evidence was offered and she was acquitted. When questioned by the police she had said 'Yes, I have nothing to say only that I do not know the person' although she subsequently said that she did remember a woman named Armstrong of Stirchley coming to see her at her home. The woman had lived on Avondale Road in Sparkhill.

Ellen Armstrong was a single woman and was employed by Edwin Showellet and Sons, bass founders on Charlotte Road, Stirchley.

In August 1914 she told her father that she was pregnant. Her father said that she had been living at 22 Regent Street but that 7 weeks before her death she had gone to stay with a relation at 4 Lench Street in Birmingham with a relation. She had gone to Lench Street at the beginning of September 1914 on the first Saturday of the month. The following week the father went to see her and she told fallen down a step and hurt her ankle and her side. He said that the next time that he called she complained of being in pain and he called for the doctor. When he saw her next she was in the women's Hospital in Birmingham.

When the father had seen his daughter at Lench Street he saw a card that the nurse had left that had the word 'Abortion' on it and asked his daughter what it meant and she told him that she had had an abortion. When he asked her who had carried out the operation Ellen Armstrong replied that she had gone to an address in Sparkhill but could not remember the woman's name.

When her father told Ellen Armstrong of the danger of having an abortion Ellen Armstrong replied 'I would rather die than have the disgrace'.

She told her father the name of the father and said that when he saw her he would pass her by and would not speak to her.

The aunt that she had gone to stay with in Lench Street said that Ellen Armstrong had come to stay with her on a Saturday and had said 'Auntie I am coming to stay with you for a few days owing to my work being short.' The aunt said that she got her some tea and noticed that she was worried and asked her what the matter was. She said that Ellen Armstrong told her that she was pregnant and that she had been to see a woman but did not say who the woman was or where she had lived but did say that the woman had done something to her.

The aunt said she asked Ellen Armstrong why she didn't let the pregnancy go on and stay with her until her trouble was over adding that she didn't know about such things and would have to fetch a doctor and Ellen Armstrong told her that she had seen a doctor who had wanted her to allow her pregnancy and had said he would fill in some paperwork for her for her employers stating that she would be unable to follow her work for 6 months. Ellen Armstrong then said that she would sooner die than go on with the pregnancy.

The aunt said that Ellen Armstrong gave birth to a child on the Friday and was then taken to the hospital.

When the aunt went to see Ellen Armstrong one day after work in the hospital Ellen Armstrong told her that there was a piece of India rubber tube in the fire grate and that she wanted her to burn it adding that she didn't want the sister to see it. the sister she was referring to was the district nurse. Ellen Armstrong told her that rubber tube had been used inwardly and that a woman had put it there. She said that the tube was introduced to keep the womb open and that without it the womb kept closing. Ellen Armstrong said that the woman that did it told her that she need have no fear and that she had never known it to fail and that she had practiced it for 20 years.

The aunt said that she found the tube in the grate and said it was about a foot long and had a rubber end on. When the sister saw it and asked Ellen Armstrong about it Ellen Armstrong denied all knowledge of it.

Ellen Armstrong told the aunt that the woman had gone out on purpose to buy the tube.

The aunt said that Ellen Armstrong had come to her the day that she had seen the woman and didn't take to bed before the child was born.

A doctor said that he went to Lench Street on 19 September and found Ellen Armstrong sitting on a commode. He said that a still born child was born into the commode and that it was about 5 months advanced. he said that he attended her 25 September 1914 when she had signs of a temperature and he asked her if anything had been done to her to bring on the miscarriage. He said that Ellen Armstrong first denied it but afterwards admitted something had been done, and she was soon after removed to the hospital on another doctors advice.

A doctor at the hospital said that the first signs of septicemia were a week after the birth. He said that if a catheter was passed into the womb it would cause a miscarriage and that the use of an unclean instrument would cause septicemia, especially if it punctured some part and did not go into the cavity of the womb. He said that septicemia took some days to develop.

When she was examined by a surgeon he found acute inflammation of the womb and when he operated the next day he found a small puncture wound leading from the top of the passage to the abscess. He said that he did what was necessary but the inflammation proved to be a general infection by which he meant blood poisoning.

The autopsy stated that the puncture could not have been caused by a catheter and that a sharp or pointed instrument must have been used.

Ellen Armstrong later died from the effects on 16 October 1914.


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


see National Archives - ASSI 13/44

see Evening Despatch - Tuesday 01 December 1914

see Birmingham Mail - Wednesday 21 October 1914