Unsolved Murders

Ada Richards

Age: 4

Sex: female

Date: 1 Aug 1900

Place: Abbotsford Place, Thorn Street, Motherwell

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Ada Richards was found dead in a trunk.

Her half-sister was tried for her murder but the charge was found not proven.

Ada Richards was born on 20 April 1896.

It was thought that Ada Richards had been strangled between 1 March 1900 and 28 May 1900 at either a dwelling house at Abbotsford Place, Thorn Street in Motherwell, or elsewhere. It was thought that she had been strangled with a piece of cotton cloth that was tied tightly round her neck and over her nose and mouth and then put in a bag in a chest. However, her cause of death could not be determined.

Ada Richards's mother died in February 1900. She had given birth to Ada Richards whilst residing in Cleekhimin. After giving birth to Ada Richards, Ada Richards's mother gave birth to another boy but he died soon after. After he died Ada Richards's mother and her four children moved to Motherwell to a house on Thorn Street. However, shortly after moving there she became ill in the winter of 1899 and was removed to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary where she died in February 1900.

Whilst Ada Richards's mother was ill at Thorn Street, the woman tried for Ada Richards murder moved in to help the mother and when she was removed to the infirmary the woman that was tried stayed on to look after Ada Richards's mother's four children, two boys aged 15 and 13 and two girls aged 6 and 3. Ada Richards was 3 at the time.

A woman that had known Ada Richards's mother said that she last saw Ada Richards at Thorn Street about two weeks after Ada Richards's mother died. She said that Ada Richards was in bed and that she had asked the woman who was charged what was wrong with her and said that the woman told her that Ada Richards always took a sleep in the afternoon. She said that the woman that was tried didn't say what the matter with her was and said that she thought that Ada Richards had always appeared to be a healthy and strong child.

Later in May 1900 the woman that was tried for murder asked the friend of Ada Richards's mother and her husband to help her move from Thorn Street to Coursington Road in Motherwell. The friend said that she helped the woman that was tried move her furniture out of Thorn Street but said that they couldn't get into the new house and so they took the furniture to her house at Barrack Row in Carfin. She said that when the woman tried moved out of Thorn Street to her house Ada Richards was not with her. She said that the other three children were, but not Ada Richards.

Ada Richards's mothers friend said that she asked the woman who was tried where Ada Richards was and said that she told her that Ada Richards was with a woman in Glasgow. Ada Richards's mothers friend said she didn’t know the woman she referred to in Glasgow and said that the woman that was tried told her that she was a friend of her mother.

Ada Richards's mothers friend said that when the woman that was tried was at her house she had two trunks with her amongst the furniture. She said that one of the trunks was a large wooden trunk and the other a small American trunk and that they were both roped. She said that she never saw either of them opened.

The mother's friend said that the woman that was tried stayed with her for two days before moving on. She said that she later heard about a child's body being found on 24 August 1900 and that she went to identify it but said that she was unable to because the body she saw was too decayed.

Ada Richards's mothers second husband denied that he was Ada Richards's father. However, he said that he had married Ada Richards's mother and later Ada Richards was born. He said that there was then another child born and that he then fell out with Ada Richards's mother, about a year or two after Ada Richards was born and that Ada Richards's mother left him and brought an action against him for herself and the two children, Ada Richards and the younger boy. He said that he was to pay 2s 6d a week, 5s a week for the children. However, he said that after the boy died the payment was reduced to 2s 6d. He said that he paid the money regularly up until the mother died after which he continued to pay the woman that was tried up until 24 August 1900 when he heard of the body of Ada Richards being found in the trunk. He said that the money was paid through an agent in Motherwell.

A headmaster at the Merry Street Public School who lived in Orchard Street in Motherwell said that the woman that was tried had been in his service and that after she left he had heard that she was taking charge of her brothers and sisters in Motherwell. He said that she called at his house in April 1900 and told him that her mother had died. He said that he assumed that she had called on him to ask for assistance and that in the course of their conversation he had enquired about each family member and said that the woman tried told him about three children and that when he had asked about the little girl, referring to Ada Richards, although not by name, the woman had told him that she had died and he had told her that he was sorry.

Ada Richards's older brother, who was a collier, said that when his mother became ill, the woman that was tried, his half-sister, came to live at their house and then his mother went into the infirmary where she later died. He said then, the woman that was tried, began to look after them. He said that Ada Richards was not a strong child and she became sick about a fortnight after his mother died and stayed in bed. He said that he never saw her given any medicine and said that she was constantly in bed. He also said that he never saw her changed or saw her face, saying that it was always covered by her bed-clothes. He said that he saw Ada Richards put the bed clothes off her face once but said that the woman that was tried just put them over her face again. He said that he never asked that Ada Richards should be put out of the bed. He said that Ada Richards was very dirty lying in the bed and in consequence there was a bad smell in the house. He said that Ada Richards was making messes in the bed. He said that about two or three weeks after his mother died he went out to work and when he came back Ada Richards was gone and he never saw her again. He said that he asked the woman that was tried where Ada Richards was but said that she told him that she was staying with a woman in Flemington which was quite near Motherwell.

He later identified the brown bag that Ada Richards had been found in and said that it had belonged to the woman that was tried and said that he remembered often seeing it in the house at Thorn Street and noted that he remembered when the bag had disappeared. He said that he also remembered seeing the large wooden trunk in the house and was there at one time later when the police opened it and identified Ada Richards's bonnet and her gaiters and said that it was the only bonnet that Ada Richards had had.

A woman that lived in Russel Place, Park Street said that the woman that was tried took possession of the empty house next to hers on 4 August 1900 and put her furniture in, however, she said that she was ordered by the factor on the following Thursday, 9 August 1900, and that the woman that was tried then asked her to take in two large wooden trunks. She said that one was a large wooden trunk and the other a small American trunk. The woman then said that on 23 August 1900, in consequence of the smell coming from the trunks, her husband opened them and found a dead body. She said that the body was inside a bag that was in the trunk. She said that they then called the police who came along and took the bag but left the trunk until the following Monday. She said that the trunk had not been locked but had been tied with a piece of rope.

A superintendent of police said that he went along to see the trunk on 23 August and took the bag back with him with the body of Ada Richards in it. He said that when he examined the bag he found it unlocked and that when he opened it he found the body of a child which he said was very much decomposed. He said that its head was resting on its breast with its feet drawn up and that it had been crushed in the bag. He said that there was a small piece of cotton cloth tied round its neck and round the mouth and nostrils, which was knotted on the right side in a double knot. He said that there was a piece of worsted shawl around her head and that she was dressed in a chemise that was very much decayed.

The superintendent of police said that he then caused the woman that was tried to be apprehended. He said that when he questioned her she said 'I know nothing about it. It may be the body of a child which a man went out with one morning at three o'clock, which his wife had been delivered of some days previously'. The superintendent of police said that after he made enquiries he found out that the woman tried had a half-sister called Ada Richards and that when he asked the woman that was tried about Ada Richards she had told him that she was with a woman at Commercial Road in Larkhall but then afterwards said 'I am wrong, she is with a woman at 439 Aitkenhead Road, Glasgow'. The superintendent of police said that after he made some enquiries he arrested the woman for causing Ada Richards's death and that the woman said 'O well, I will take the blame. I did it myself'. When she was arrested she had said that she didn't remember anything about it and said that the reason she didn't bury her was because she had no money.

A professor and a doctor examined Ada Richards's body and said that she was in a very advanced state of decomposition and was practically a skeleton. They said that Ada Richards had a cotton cloth tied around her neck and face in such a way to cover the face. They made the following statements:

  • That the body was of a female child of about four years of age.
  • That her body had been crammed into the leather bag with considerable violence.
  • That her body had lain in the bag for a period of four to five months.
  • That by reason of the absence through putrefaction of the flesh and of the internal organs they were unable to state the cause of death.
  • That they were unable for the same reason to state whether the cloth had been tightly tied over the face and round the neck or applied during life or after death, or whether the ligature round the neck had been applied tightly or not, by reason of the entire absence of the fleshy parts of the neck.

The defence called several witnesses including the woman who was tried's brother who said that Ada Richards had become ill about three weeks after her mother died and that she had stayed in bed until she had vanished. He said that she had appeared ill and had looked to be getting worse. He said that she appeared to be getting thinner and whiter every day.

When asked what motive the woman could have had for killing Ada Richards it was noted that she had been getting 2s 6d a week for her and that by killing her she had closed the mouth that she had to feed and had then continued to claim the money.

The jury were told that they were entitled to conclude that Ada Richards had died from neglect, and it was noted that that was not the charge that the woman was on and so they would have to find her not guilty.

It was also noted that the medical men had been unable to determine the cause of death.

The jury retired for about five minutes before returning a verdict of not proven.


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


see Motherwell Times - Friday 09 November 1900

see National Records Of Scotland - JC26/1900/50