Unsolved Murders

Helena Burns

Age: 28

Sex: female

Date: 6 Jul 1909

Place: 172 Moorside Road, Swinton

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Helena Burns died from an illegal operation.

She died from blood poisoning on 6 July 1909.

A woman from Eccles was tried for her murder but was acquitted. The woman was also charged with administering poison but similarly acquitted.

Her husband, who was a clogger, said that he knew that Helena Burns was pregnant, but that he had no idea how far gone she was. He added that she was a healthy woman.

He said that on Thursday 1 July 1909, at about 11.20am, Helena Burns left the house saying that she was going to see a woman in Eccles but didn't say what she was going for.

However, he said that when Helena Burns returned later at about 5.30pm, she told him why she had gone to Eccles and said that the woman from Eccles was coming to see her on the Saturday, 3 July 1909 at about 6.30pm.

When the woman from Eccles arrived, Helena Burns's husband said that they had a conversation in the kitchen, the subject of which was the operation that the woman from Eccles was going to perform on Helena Burns to bring about her miscarriage. It was agreed that the woman from Eccles would carry out the operation there at the house and that she told them that Helena Burns would be alright. He added that nothing was mentioned then about the fee.

He said that directly after the conversation, the woman from Eccles and Helena Burns went upstairs and remained there for about a quarter of an hour.

Helena Burns's husband said that he was then called up and said that he saw Helena Burns in a kneeling posture at the side of the bed and that the woman from Eccles was there with her in the room. He said that he asked the woman from Eccles how Helena Burns was, and said that the woman from Eccles replied, 'She is all right'.

He said that he didn't see any instrument in the room, but said that there was a dish on the floor that contained a pale liquid at the foot of the bed.

Helena Burns's husband said that he and the woman from Eccles then lifted Helena Burns on to the bed and said that shortly afterwards Helena Burns started to vomit.

Helena Burns's husband said that he then asked the woman from Eccles how much she wanted and said that she asked for a sovereign. The husband said that he told her that he had not got so much and gave her ten shillings on account.

Helena Burns's husband said that the woman from Eccles stayed for about ten minutes, and said that he then saw her to the door. He noted that the woman from Eccles had not had any parcel or handbag with her when she had come to their house.

Helena Burns's husband said that when he went back to see Helena Burns, she was ill and in pain. He said that she was in bed, partly undressed, as she was when he had first gone up to find her in the kneeling position on the floor. He said that she had no dress on her, but that she had on her underskirt, drawers, chemise and a blouse. He said that he then put her to bed and took off some more of her clothes. He noted that there was a fair quantity of blood on the bed and Helena Burns's clothing.

He said that she continued to vomit and appeared to go worse and so he called in a neighbour.

Then, at 8pm he sent for the doctor and said that the doctor then attended to Helena Burns from then on until she died at about 2.45pm on Tuesday 6 July 1909.

At her inquest, Helena Burns's husband said that the woman from Eccles made no secret over the purpose of her visit to his house on 3 July 1909.

The doctor said that Helena Burns had consulted him on 22 May 1909 and that he found out that she was pregnant. He said that he next saw her on 3 July 1909 at her house at about 8.30pm, saying that he found her upstairs in her bedroom out of bed.

He said that he examined her and found that there was a threatened miscarriage and that she had already lost a quantity of blood. He said that he then examined her parts but found no injury to them. He said that Helena Burns was very ill and that she told him that she had been ill and that she complained to him about a pain in her abdomen.

The doctor said that he then asked Helena Burns whether she had taken anything or whether she knew how the thing had come about but said that she denied taking anything and said that she had had a fall that day from a chair.

The doctor said that he then treated Helena Burns for her condition and then saw her again on the Sunday morning, 4 July 1909 when the haemorrhage had abated a little but noted that the miscarriage had not yet occurred. However, he said that when he saw her that evening, the foetus had come away, and noted that it was about a month from gestation.

The doctor said that he saw Helena Burns again on the Monday morning, 5 July 1909, when she appeared a little better, but said that her temperature was a little high. He said that when he saw her later that night, she was much worse.

The doctor said that on the Tuesday morning, 6 July 1909, Helena Burns's husband came for him at about 7.30am and said that when he went to 172 Moorside Road he found Helena Burns very much worse. He said that when he then saw her again at about 1pm she was rapidly sinking and added that he didn't see her again after that before she died.

The doctor said that he carried out a post-mortem on 7 July 1909 and found no external marks of violence or any injuries to the external parts of her private parts.

The doctor said that when he opened up Helena Burns's chest and abdomen he found distinct signs of early peritonitis, noting that her liver, kidney, spleen and intestines were all normal, except for some softening which he said was normal in cases of septic poisoning.

He said that her uterus was large, soft and flabby and that when he removed it and examined it carefully, he could find nothing that could have been a perforation before birth. He said that he also examined her vagina and found no perforations.

The doctor then concluded that in his opinion, Helena Burns's cause of death was acute septic poisoning brought about by a miscarriage but added that there was nothing to indicate that an operation to procure a miscarriage had been performed. However, he added that fom the fact that there was septic poisoning, he was of the opinion that septic matter had been introduced by some means.

He also noted that an operation to procure a miscarriage by instrumental means might be performed without leaving any trace.

The doctor also noted that the foetus was dead when it had come away and that he thought that it had been dead for about two days, but added that it was quite impossible to say, noting that it was not decomposed. He added that he was not prepared to say whether the foetus had any signs of violence on it noting that when it had come away he had not been suspicious and had not made any close examination of it.

Three items were presented in evidence:

  • Rubber enema with vaginal nozzle or syringe in wood box.
  • Small syringe in cardboard box.
  • Small paper parcel containing a powder stated to be Pearl Ash.

When the police went to see the woman from Eccles at Evelyn Street, they went upstairs to search her room. As the police started making their search, the woman from Eccles said, 'It is no use him looking up there, he will find nothing, I only used the syringe and a solution of warm water, soap and Pearl Ash'.

When the police didn't find any instrument, they asked the woman from Eccles to tell her where it was and she said, 'No, I only used the syringe. I can't find you something I haven’t got'. It was denied that one of the policemen had said, 'If you will turn up the steel instrument it will be better for you and save us a lot of trouble'.

The woman from Eccles denied carrying out any illegal operation.


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


see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 23 July 1909

see Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Wednesday 14 July 1909

see Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 24 July 1909

see Liverpool Echo - Thursday 22 July 1909

see Northern Daily Telegraph - Friday 23 July 1909

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Thursday 08 July 1909

see National Archives - ASSI 52/144

see Sheffield Evening Telegraph - Saturday 24 July 1909