Unsolved Murders

Martha Ann Cragg

Age: 82

Sex: female

Date: 24 Dec 1936

Place: Woodlands, Cop Lane, Penwortham, Preston

Martha Ann Cragg was outraged at her home, Woodlands, in Cop Lane and later died in hospital.

Her companion-help had been with her at the time and she was also attacked but survived.

They were attacked on 16 December 1936 and Martha Cragg was taken to hospital but later died on 24 December 1936. It was thought that the man that had attacked them had used a life preserver.

Shortly after the attack the companion-help had managed to escape and run outside to get help and several men came to the house and found the man was still inside. However, the man managed to escape from the house and it was thought that he ran off over some fields.

The companion-help was attacked first in the yard and had then been taken into the house by the man where he bound her up and then attacked Martha Cragg and then put them on a bed in an upstairs room. It was said that the companion-help had feigned unconsciousness and that after the man had left the room she had been able to undo her bonds and to stagger into the street to seek help.

Bloodhounds were used soon after the attack, but the dogs had difficulty in picking up any scent owing to the sodden condition of the ground after the heavy rains.

An old fawn raincoat had been left behind which the police said they wanted to identify the owner of. It was later rumoured that the raincoat had been bought at a jumble sale in Preston, however, the police said that there was no truth in that rumour.

The police also said that they found a cheese sandwich in the raincoat which they said was a clue as it was found that the loaf of bread from which the sandwich was cut was probably made by a local confectioner supporting the theory that the man they wanted to find in regards to Martha Cragg's murder either lived in the locality or had begged in the district and had been given the sandwich by a housewife.

The man that attacked them was described as having a pale face.

The companion-help said that she had been with Martha Cragg since 1920 and said that during that whole time she had not known anyone have any ill-feeling towards her. When the companion-help was shown a man's fawn raincoat, belt, a paper bag and a life preserver she said that she had never seen the items in the house before.

When the companion-help was asked about the sandwich that was found she said that it was their custom in the house to have 1lb loaves and that they rarely had Lancashire cheese in the house because they did not care for it.

She said that she had got up at 7am on the morning of 16 December 1936 and proceeded to the scullery to boil some water and make some tea. She said that before she made the tea she let the cat out through the front door which she then left slightly open but locked the inner door and then took some tea up to Martha Cragg who was in bed at the time and then had a cup of tea herself.

The companion-help said that she then went into the dining room to lay the fire and then went to carry the ash tray into the yard, going through the back door which she unbolted that morning for the first time, the time being about 7.30am when it was just breaking day.

She said that she put the ashes in the cinder separator and was then going to get some briquettes when somebody struck out at her and hit her on the head. She said that all she could see was a coat flapping and that she received several blows. She said that all she could see was a man's shape and that she then fell in the yard and lost consciousness. She said that when she came to she remembered being on the scullery floor with her hands tied behind her back and her legs fastened. She said that she then heard someone turn off the cooker that she had turned on earlier.

The companion-help said that she heard noises like someone swilling the yard and said that she then tried to get free but that the man hit her on the mouth and she then decided to keep quiet and appear to be unconscious.

The companion-help said that the man then dragged her on to the rug and that she then heard Martha Cragg calling out her name and crying out, 'Let me go'. She said that she then lost consciousness again and that the next thing she remembered was the man untying her hands and wiping her face with a cloth. She said that he then carried her upstairs and put her on her bed.

She said that she then heard the man saying, 'Where is the money', twice, saying that it was a gruff voice, noting that she had not heard his voice before. She also noted that Martha Cragg was very deaf.

The companion-help said that Martha Cragg was then brought up and put on a bed and that some bedclothes were then thrown over her. She said that she then heard some rustling saying that she thought that the man was looking for something in a chest of drawers. She also said that she gathered that the man was interfering with her handbag which she said had had between 15s and £1, saying that she had a 10s note and some silver. She said that she also had a stores check and some other articles in her bag.

The companion-help said that she then heard the man in the front room rustling papers and heard the handles of drawers rattle.

The companion-help said that she also heard Martha Cragg calling out for her to untie her hands and her say, 'You are hurting me'. She said that she then managed to unfasten her ankles and get loose and went downstairs and got outside through the back door, which she said was bolted, saying that the man did not come back. She said that when she went out she saw the woman from 78 Cop Lane.

She said that there was a note on the table that read something about coming back that night which she said she had not written. She noted that they kept a man's trilby hat in the hall to give the impression that there was a man in the house as they lived there alone.

A newsagent who lived at 164 Cop Lane said that at about 9.45am on the Wednesday 16 December 1936 he saw the woman from 78 Cop Lane and said that as a result of what she said to him he went to Martha Cragg's house where he saw two other men in the front garden. He said that they then went to look at the back garden and then went into the yard and noticed that the back door was open.

The man said that one of the other men suggested arming themselves and they got a spade and a fork and took them to the side garden where they left them. The newsagent said that he then went round to the front of the house and then saw a man at the top right hand bay window, adding that the window must have been opened as he saw the man's hand outside on the window sill. The newsagent said that as soon as they got into the garden he saw the man go back into the house and said that he thought then that one of the other men went off to fetch the police.

The newsagent said that he then saw the lower portion of the man at the at the side window to the pantry when the man opened it but said that when he went towards it the man shut it. However, the newsagent said that he didn't see the man again and that he then disappeared. The newsagent said that after the police arrived he ran round to the field to see if he could see the man running away but saw nothing. He said that the only description he could give of the man was that he was wearing dark grey pants.

The police said that they took all steps to find the man and had co-ordinated motor patrols and scoured the roads and questioned people living in the vicinity. However, they said that they were only able to secure a very meagre description of the man.

The police said that they had arrived at the house at about 10.05am to find about five men standing in the drive along the side of the house who told them that a woman had been attacked and that they thought that the assailant had escaped over the fields to the rear of the house. A policeman said that when he went into the house he found Martha Cragg on her bed fully dressed, with the exception of her shoes. He said that she was lying on her right side with her feet fastened together with a piece of green cloth and her hands fastened behind her back by a piece of rope that appeared to have been cut from a clothes line.

The policeman said that a doctor was called and that he inserted some stitches into her wound.

When the pathologist carried out the post-mortem examination on Martha Cragg he said that her death was due to meningitis and an inflammation of the membrane covering her brain following multiple injuries to her face and skull. He added that he found no evidence of natural disease in her body. He added that there were a series of multiple external injuries to her head and that she had a large bruise over her left collar bone. The pathologist said that the major wounds to her head were six wounds to the scalp, some of which went down to the bone of the skull and that they were septic. He said that there were also extensive areas of bruising over her left temple. He added that in association with those wounds there were two separate fractures of the skull that had been caused by the same blows. He said that the fractures involved both the vault of the skull, the area above the ears, and the base of the skull, the part beneath the brain. He said that the skin wounds were ragged which suggested that they had been caused by a blunt instrument.

The pathologist concluded that in his opinion that her death was due to violence.

At her inquest in April 1937 a verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown was returned.

Her home, Woodlands, was described as a villa in Cop Lane, Penwortham near Preston.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Gloucester Citizen - Monday 28 December 1936

see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 13 April 1937

see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 23 February 1937

see Gloucestershire Echo - Thursday 24 December 1936

see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 26 January 1937

see The Scotsman - Tuesday 05 January 1937

see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 05 January 1937

see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 06 January 1937

see Belfast News-Letter - Friday 18 December 1936

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Wednesday 16 December 1936