Unsolved Murders

Charles Greeney

Age: 11

Sex: male

Date: 2 Feb 1945

Place: 62 Edge Lane, Liverpool

Source: discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Charles Greeney was found hanging in his home in Edge Lane, Liverpool, on the night of 2 February 1945.

Six men were initially charged with his murder but only four of them were tried and they were acquitted. Two of the men were discharged at the beginning of the trial after it was heard that although they had been involved in the robbery, there was no evidence that they had gone into Charles Greeney's house, with one of them saying that they were outside with the car and the other saying that he had gone there but then left.

They were also charged with having broken into his home and stealing seven carpets and three clocks worth £550.

Charles Greeney's death was stated as being due to rapid asphyxia but there was no evidence of any violent struggle.

He was found hanging from the clothes rack in the kitchen by a 14-year-old boy who was a relative of Charles Greeney. The boy said that he had gone to 62 Edge Lane at about 10.20pm on 2 February 1945 and found the front door open and the lights on in various rooms.  He said that he went in by the front door and then walked past the dining room which he noticed was in disorder and that the gramophone there had been moved into the middle of the room. He said that he then went into the kitchen and saw Charles Greeney who was hanging by the neck on a rope suspended from a clothes rack. The boy said that he then ran off for help and found Charles Greeney's parents who then went to the house and took Charles Greeney down from the clothes rack.

Charles Greeney's fathers statement read:

'I am a plasterer by trade, and I live at 62 Edge Lane, Liverpool, with my wife. My wife is a moneylender. We have a safe in the house. It is upstairs. In the course of my wife's business she does, from time to time, have a certain amount of money in the house. The deceased boy Charles Greeney was my son. He was 11 years of age on 19th December last. There was nothing wrong with his hearing. On Saturdays I generally do all the collecting for my wife's business. On 2nd February last I arrived home at 4.45pm. After I had had a meal, I went to the office and worked there until 6.45pm. Then I went into Dorothy Street and locked the office door. I came in through our back door and put two bolts, one horizontal and one vertical, on the back doors leading from the yard to Dorothy Street. Then I went through the yard to the scullery and put the centre bolt on the door leading from the scullery to the yard and cleated the window on to a socket. When I came in the wireless was on. The wireless set is in the dining room and there is an extension loudspeaker in the kitchen. Just at 7.15pm I put the 'Babes in the Wood' programme on in the kitchen. My boy was in the kitchen with me. That programme lasted until 7.45pm. I changed the programme over at about twelve or thirteen minutes to eight for Variety. I noticed the clock on the top of the radio-gramophone at that time. I should say the clock was seven or eight minutes fast according to the 'pips' on the wireless. I went into the dining room. I turned the machine from the Light Programme to the Home Programme. I glanced at the window and saw that the catches were in the fastened position. I then switched the light off and closed the dining room door behind me and went into the kitchen. I then went upstairs. I came down again about a minute or two minutes to eight. I turned the wireless loudspeaker in the kitchen up again, and got the Home Programme, which was variety. The boy and I listened to the programme until 20 to 25 minutes past eight. Two or three minutes later the wife and I left the house. It was then just on half past eight. I locked the door of our bedroom and I was in possession of the key. When I left the house, the boy was in the kitchen. He had just been having a drop of medicine and he was sitting in the chair listening to the wireless. When I left him in the kitchen and went out there was nobody else in the house. He had on the pair of overalls JW5, the lumber jacket JW6 and underneath he was wearing the pullover JW7 and the pair of grey flannel trousers JW8. He had on the boots JW9. We left the house by the front door into Edge Lane. There is a Yale lock on the front door and I made sure that the lock shut properly. My wife and I went to the corner od Woodside Street and Wavertree Road, where we met my wife's cousin and his wife. From there we went to the Royal Hotel, Wavertree Road. We arrived there about 9.15pm. We stayed there until about 10.15pm. At that time my wife shouted to me. I immediately ran home as fast as I could, arriving I should think at about 10.25pm. I immediately ran up the stairs when entering the house. I went to the boy's bedroom. I saw he was not there. I came downstairs, opened the kitchen door, and to my horror I saw my boy hanging. He was hanging by the clothesline. His face was towards the wall with his head slightly bent back. The rope that he was hanging by was fastened back to the cleat on the wall. His feet were not touching anything, there was a clearance of about three or four inches from the seat of the chair. I immediately took him down and he was still wearing the overalls and lumber jacket produced JW5 and 6. I could not see his grey shorts, or his pullover, except the front of the pullover at the neck. The rest of the pullover was not visible. To get the boy down I jumped on to the chair, which was exactly underneath his feet. I lifted him up with my left hand to take the weight, and with my right hand I slipped the rope off his neck. I then jumped off the chair with him and laid him in the hall. Everybody did what they could, and the police arrived and he was taken away in an ambulance. After the boy was taken away, I made an examination of the house and I have gone through my property as far as I can. I produce marked JW10 a list of the property missing from my house after the incident. I identify the carpet produced JW11 which came from the bedroom on the first landing, the rug JW12 which came from the passage between the two bedroom on the first floor, the rug JW13 which came from the lounge on the ground floor, the carpet JW14 which also came from the lounge on the ground floor. I also identify the three suits and overcoat JW15 as my property. They were in my house before the incident. I identify the toy pistol JW16. I did not see it before I went out on the 2nd February, but I did see it after I came back. It was pointed out to me and it was then on a chair by the sewing machine in the kitchen. It was not on the chair which was underneath the boy. The glove JW17 belongs to me. I identify the wooden clock JW18 and the alarm clock JW19, which came from my bedroom, and the marble clock JW20 which came from the lounge. I identify the rope with pulleys JW21 and the wooden clothes airer JW22 as those which were in my kitchen. The most common position for that rope and drier to be in when it was not lowered to put clothes on is for the drier to be drawn up to the ceiling and the rope cleated back to the wall, and slipped under the hook and not wound round. It usually goes on the highest knot'

When Charles Greeney was brought into the casualty department at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary on the night of 2 February 1945 and first examined at 10.55pm he was confirmed dead. A doctor said that the temperature in his rectum at 11.35pm was 96 degrees Fahrenheit and noted that the normal temperature of the rectum was 98.4 degrees and concluded that Charles Greeney had been dead for somewhere in the region of an hour from when he was seen at 10.55pm.

The doctor that examined Charles Greeney said that he found a small mark in front of his right ear and a bruise approximately three inches above his right ankle joint. He said that the marks could have been caused in a number of ways, stating that the mark in front of his ear could have been caused by a knock against a hard object like a mantlepiece and that in his opinion, the mark on his face was consistent with a fall. He said that the mark on his face and a mark on his leg were of recent origin and apparently caused at the same time as the mark round his neck and added that either or both of the marks might have contributed to his death. He said that he thought that the mark in front of his ear had been caused shortly before his death and that it was possible that Charles Greeney had been knocked out or had fallen and knocked himself against something and rendered unconscious before he died.

The doctor that carried out Charles Greeney's post-mortem said that after carrying out the post-mortem that he went to 62 Edge Lane on two occasions and made a very full and careful examination of the kitchen as far as it bore on the views that he had formed as to the death of Charles Greeney, paying particular attention to the position of the drier, the rope, the mantlepiece and the cleat. He said that the marks on Charles Greeney's neck corresponded with the weave of the rope, JW21 and the knot with the mark on the right of his thyroid cartilage, and said that if Charles Greeney had been suspended in the way that he thought that it would have caused death by asphyxia. He added that he did not find anything at the post-mortem or at the seat of the crime that would, in his opinion, support a suicidal or accidental hanging. He added that having regard to the higher knot of the two and the weight of Charles Greeney, that in his view, one man could not have put him in the rope at the height that he was hanging as starting from the point that Charles Greeney had apparently been knocked out, the degree of incapacity would have been such that Charles Greeney would not have been able to do anything for himself. He then said that the structure of the rope was such that if the rope was not in position under the cleat that it hung down and cleared the chair by several inches and that it could only be kept from the chair by either knot being attached to the cleat.

The doctor added that it so happened that the top limb of the cleat was gone and that the only way that the knot could be fastened to the cleat was by it being placed under it and noted that the suspension of Charles Greeney when found was such that the lower knot was placed under the cleat and that it was only kept in that position by the pull of his body on the rope. He said that assuming it was a homicidal hanging, that he thought that the knot would have had to have been brought into such a position to where Charles Greeney's head could have been put through it such that the higher knot was place just under his chin and that his body would have then been brought back to the wall which would have then caused the rope to slip from the higher position where it was only for a short time to the lower position towards the ear where it was placed for a longer time. , adding that in being pushed forward, his head had gone back so that the piece of rope between the first and second knot was stretched from its starting point to the position under the cleat where Charles Greeney's father said that he saw it, and said that through his head being back that that bit of rope completely cleared his chin and as such there was no mark of abrasion on the under surface of his chin where the rope might have come into contact with it.

The doctor added that he did not think that one man could have done that and said that he would not have been able to do that.

The doctor said that he came to the conclusion that Charles Greeney could not have done anything for himself, because first of all the type of asphyxia was quick and had caused very little struggling on the part of Charles Greeney, noting that when children are threatened with death, if they have not been incapacitated beforehand, they would struggle and struggle hard. He further added that if it had been solely an asphyxial death with no degree of incapacity beforehand, that he would have found all the signs of asphyxia resulting from asphyxia combined with a severe struggle.

The doctor also added that if Charles Greeney had been able to use his senses that he would have thought that it would have been perfectly easy for him to free himself before death.

The doctor also added that it might have been possible that if Charles Greeney had set out to have a game and to swing on the rope when standing on a chair and swinging his feet in the lower part of the rope that it was possible that he might have knocked his head on the corner of the mantlepiece and noted that on the facts that that could not be excluded.

He noted that he also didn't find anything more likely to have caused the bruise other than the corner of the mantelpiece but noted that one could not take that fact by itself. He said that the bruise was caused very shortly before his death and that his death was quick and that the signs of asphyxial death were very slight.

He added that the rope had not been tied around Charles Greeney's neck, adding that it it had been possible to tie a knot that he would have thought that it would have been a very desirable thing to do if the intention had been to kill him. However, he said that the rope was such that a knot could not be tied and said that a loose rope round his neck would have effected the purpose of hanging.

The doctor added that when he examined 62 Edge Lane, he took into account the chairs and the height of the mantlepiece and said that if, for example, Charles Greeney had been standing on the back of the chair, his head would have been slightly over the top of the mantelpiece and said that if, at the same time, he had been playing with the rope and had happened to have fallen sideways and had caught his head on the mantelpiece that that might have accounted for the mark on his forehead plus the position of the rope, but said that he would have had to have got his neck through the rope with the first knot under his chin and the second knot fastened to the cleat where his father saw it. He also said that the bruise could have been caused by any blow against a hard surface and said that if he had received the blow and had then become entangled in the rope immediately afterwards that he would not have been able to have assisted himself.

When the doctor was questioned about the possibility of Charles Greeney having accidently hung himself by standing on the back of the chair and knocking his head on the mantlepiece and putting his head through the rope, he said that in his opinion, that Charles Greeney could not have then attached the lower knot of the rope to the cleat.

Earlier at the coroner’s inquest, the coroner had asked Charles Greeney's father how exactly Charles Greeney had been suspended by the rope and Charles Greeney's father said, 'He was suspended with a loop of the cord. The rope was not tight round his neck. There was a knot just under his chin. He was very close to the wall. He was wedged between the tightness of the rope and the wall'. Charles Greeney's father also added that the rope was not a full turn round his neck.

During the police investigation, the car that had been used by the men that were tried was forensically examined and it was found that sweepings from the car matched fibres from the rug JW13, and that there were seven different coloured fibres. Te police added that there were also a few white dog hairs in the sweepings from the car that matched other white dog hairs that had been found on the carpet.

The boy that found Charles Greeney said that he had first gone to 62 Edge Lane on 2 February 1945 at about 7pm and talked to Charles Greeney and then left to go to the cinema at about 7.35pm and later returned to 62 Edge Lane at about 10.15pm. He said that there was no purpose in going to 62 Edge Lane the second time, but said that when he left the first time he had made arrangements with Charles Greeney to call the second time, saying that it was because he didn't want to go home that early. He said that he knew that Charles Greeney might have been in bed at that time as his bedtime was 8pm or 9pm, but said that it was not always so on a Saturday. He said that he arranged to shout through the letter box so that Charles Greeney would know that it was him as he would not know it was him if he just knocked at the door. He said that he knew that Charles Greeney might have been in bed, but also noted that he knew that sometimes if the water was cold that he would wait up for it to get hot before he had his bath.

The boy said that he had gone to the Capital Cinema in Overton Street, leaving 62 Edge Lane at about 7.35pm. He said that he first went to the Tunnel Cinema but that there was a queue there and so he went on to the Capital, arriving at about 8pm alone and saw the film 'Bell Bottom George'. He said that he left the cinema at about 10pm, which was the end of the show, and walked back. He said that he could not mention anybody he saw on his way to the cinema, at the cinema, or on his way back. He said that he knew that his grandfather, Charles Greeney's father, regularly went to the Royal Hotel on a Saturday night and didn't know why he went to Gladstone Road first or use the telephone to call for help, saying that he just went there as he didn't know what he was doing. He added that the reason that he didn't tell his grandfather what he had seen was because he didn't want to upset him.

The police said that when they examined the kitchen they found that it was not disturbed and said that the kitchen and the back kitchen were about the oly rooms in the house that were not disturbed, noting that he found plenty of signs in the other rooms that someone had been there. The police added that they found no signs in the kitchen that anyone other than Charles Greeney had been in there.

The police noted that they found a toy revolver in the kitchen but said that when they examined it for finger prints they found none.

They noted also that when they got there that the wireless was still playing in the kitchen.

The car that had been used in the burglary had been stolen in Bridge Street Car Park, Manchester on 2 February 1945. The man that owned it said that he had left it there just before 3pm and that when he came back to the car park at 8.45pm the same day he found that it was missing. He said that the value of the car was £300.

On 4 February 1945, the police spoke to a woman and in consequence of what she told them they went to a house in Bute Street where the found the carpets, JW11, 12, 13 and 14 and the clocks JW18, 19 and 20.  They then kept watch on the house and at 6pm one of the men tried came along and entered the house and when the police identified themselves and asked him about Charles Greeney and the carpets he said, 'I don't know why you want to see me about it'. He was then cautioned and detained and taken to Prescot Street Detective Office where he said, 'I will tell you what happened, but I never touched the kid'. He then made a statement.

The police later arrested another one of the men that was tried at 7.30pm, the same day, 4 February 1945, and when he was questioned, he said, 'We did the house, but as regards the boy, we know nothing about it'.

Another one of the men that was not tried was later arrested that same day at 8.30pm and when told why they were making enquiries by the police, he said, 'I have heard about it'. When he was charged with breaking and entering the dwelling house 62 Edge Lane and stealing seven carpets, three clocks and other articles of the value of £550', he said, 'No, I did not break in'.

When the second man that was tried was arrested and charged with the murder of Charles Greeney, he said, 'I didn't murder him'. When he was then charged with breaking in and stealing the carpets and clocks, he said, 'I entered the house, but I didn't break into it'.

The third man that was tried was arrested the same day and when he was charged with the murder of Charles Greeney he said, 'Not guilty, sir'.

On 5 February 1945 at 2.50pm, two of the men that were tried and a third man that had waited outside, said. 'Let's get this straight. We have talked this over. A man from Lancaster Street was with us. There were six of us. He went to the house with us and upstairs. He's just sailed on the Empire Mace, get him quick'.

The police later went to Gibraltar where on 12 March 1945 they arrested the fourth man and brought him back to England. When he was arrested, he said, 'It's worrying me and I want to get back to clear it up. It was not me who touched the boy. I will tell you what I know'.

The police later carried out investigations which led them to keep observation outside a house at 57 Withington Road in Whalley Range, Manchester. When they saw a man come to the house at about 9.20pm they told him that they were going to detain him in relation to an incident in Liverpool and he replied, 'You've got nothing on me'. He was then taken to the Platt Lane police station where he was told about the death of Charles Greeney at his home in Edge Lane, Liverpool and the driver said, 'I was in Liverpool. I know nothing about any murder, or any house being broken into. I know the fellows who they have got for it. I know that they were going on a job, they left us, me and a London kid. When the police asked him who the London Kid was, he said, 'I don't know his name, I only met him a week ago'.

On 8 February 1945, a man was arrested in Denman Street in London at about 6.15pm. When the police told him who they were and that it was about a matter in Liverpool, the man said, 'Yes I was expecting this. I was going down to the Yard tonight'. When he was questioned at the police station he said, 'I can't understand what happened. They can't hang six for one, can they? Don't you think the kid could have done it himself? I banged on the door. There's only two of them could have done it'. He later said, 'I'll go screwing, but I don't use violence'. The police noted that by the word screwing, they understood the man to mean housebreaking or burglary.

After the driver had some tea, he said, 'This is what happened as far as I know. We were in the pub, the six of us. The Liverpool lads were all talking about a house they were going to do. We all went together to do this house. I waited outside with another man. I never went inside the house. I will go into it in more when I make a statement to the Liverpool detectives'.

When one of the main men tried , a 25 year old seaman, gave his statement, he said, 'It was last Saturday night, at about half past eight, I was in the pub in town with a man and a pal of his, I don't know his name, when the driver from Manchester and a Cockney Kid who I don't know came in the pub. The driver said 'I've got a car outside'. My friend said, 'I know a place in Edge Lane we'll go and do a job'. (I knew he meant to go and break into a place) I said 'No, I'm going to a wedding'. After this I changed my mind and the five of us left the pub and went and got in the car. The driver drove the car and my friend directed him to the house in Edge Lane (the house where the lad was). When we got to Edge Lane (about 9 o'clock) me and the driver stopped in the car and three of the others got out. The car was standing in the side street by the house. One of these three forced the door (the front door) and came out and told me and the driver it was open. I then went in with the other three and the driver stopped out in the car. I heard the radio playing in the kitchen and I opened the door and looked in. I saw the lad, he was dressed in grey trousers and a pullover, he appeared looking on the mantelpiece, he had his back to me and he was either standing or kneeling on a chair and I shut the door quietly and told the other three who were in the hall 'There's a kid in there'. One of them said (I don't know which one), he won't hear us going up the stairs, me and two others then went upstairs, and the other man stayed downstairs. We all had a go and broke the door of the bedroom and the cockney kid climbed through the panels. Me and another man looked in the bedroom for money. Then the man downstairs shouted upstairs 'You'd better hurry up', and shortly after he came upstairs and said, 'You'd better get out she'll be coming back any minute. We took some clothes and that and went downstairs and got the carpets and things and carried through the front door and put them in the car where the driver was still waiting and drove away and the other man directed the driver to some house up Wavertree way and we carried the stuff in there and left it. There was nobody in this house and the five of us got back in the car and the driver drove us back to town n parked the car in Church Street on the car park. I left the other four there (It would be about 10 o'clock) and went to a wedding (I won't disclose where). I arranged to meet them in town the next day (Sunday) but I didn't see them. I got up this morning and read the paper and got a shock what I seen and then went to my friend’s house in Chalmer Street and I told him what happened he couldn't understand it. It was a shock the same as me. I said, 'We'd better go to the police'. He said 'I don't know what to do', so we went for a walk around. I left him about half past three this afternoon and that is all I know till I met you tonight'.

The other main man that was tried for Charles Greeney's murder in his statement said, 'We (Cockney, man from London and another) went up there at a quarter past nine (I mean Edge Lane sixty-two). We went up in a motor car what these had, two other men. A man knocked at the house for about five minutes (It would be about quarter past nine we got up there on last Saturday night). We got no reply so me and two others bust the front door in. The driver stayed with the motor in the side street by the house) and when we got inside we heard music, so we went into the kitchen where the music was opened the door and me and the other man peeped in and we seen a kid on a chair standing looking through the mantel piece. The other man said, 'There's a kid there, look'. I looked and saw his trousers. We thought the kid was deaf. We shut the kitchen door and three of us went upstairs and took turns to see if the kid or anyone came out. We ransacked the room and burst the panels in the bedroom door, but we couldn't get any money and we took the carpets and the clocks and a couple of suits, 2 fur, and took them out and put them in the motor and drove away and dumped them in our back yard till the next day, (Sunday) when me and another man put them in his car and took them to the place of the man that went to Gibraltar till we could get a buyer. (This was about half past five last night, Sunday). About 9 o'clock this morning (Monday) the other man came to our house and told me what he had seen in the paper about the kid hanging. We turn round and said 'We'll give ourselves up, before they believe it, because the public will believe we did harm to the kid. So we said we'll hang on, try and get the stuff out of the place of the man that went to Gibraltar and then give ourselves up. I forgot to mention we pulled the radio out in the room next to the kitchen to take the carpet up, but we left it cause it was later. When we went to go out the front door had jammed, so we went into the room where the radiogram was and opened the window, but the London kid came and told us he had opened the front door, so we went through the front door. The driver was in the car all the time and didn't come in the house'.

At the trial the defence said that it was a coincidence that Charles Greeney had died on the night that the men had carried out the burglary and said that if Charles Greeney had been found dead with all the same circumstances except with the absence of the burglary that no one would have suggested murder. The defence said that it was as fair to say that the men decided to burgle the house on the night Charles Greeney died as it was to put it the other way round. They added that the men were not 'enemies of the household' in the sense that they were ready to strike down and kill anyone who interfered.

The defence added that there was nothing to show that any of the men had set foot in the kitchen and said that they had only peeked round the door. The defence then asked whether it was not possible that when the men were committing the burglary that Charles Greeney was not already dead.

The jury at the Manchester Assizes on 7 May 1945 spent two and a half hours deliberating before returning with their not guilty verdict. The trial had lasted seven days and was described as unique.

It was noted that all of the defending counsel, including three KC's had accepted their briefs as legal aid cases and noted that their fees, which would have otherwise run into hundreds of pounds, would amount to only 15 guineas each.

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

see National Archives - ASSI 52/593

see Belfast Telegraph - Tuesday 19 March 1946

see Liverpool Echo - Wednesday 08 May 1946

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Tuesday 05 February 1946