Unsolved Murders

John Neill

Age: 54

Sex: male

Date: 25 Feb 1943

Place: Stanley Warehouse, Regent Road, Liverpool

John Neill was shot at about 10.25pm on Thursday 25 February 1943 on the 9th floor of Stanley Warehouse on Regent Road in Liverpool.

He was shot by an American soldier that was on guard duty at the warehouse where he was working.

The case was put forward by the Director of Public Prosecutions, but was not brought to trial.

The greater part of Stanley Warehouse in Regent Road Liverpool was used as a store by the United States Army and a large number of dock labourers were employed there trucking and stacking the goods.

The 9th floor was divided by four consecutive sections, A, B, C and D respectively and each section was divided from the next by two sets of double doors that were left open in the sections where the dock labourers were working.

On the night of 25 February 1943 20 dock labourers were working on the 9th floor, 10 in C Section and 10 in D Section. There was also a large goods and passenger lift working in B Section and consequently the doors dividing B Section and C Section were not closed although the dock labourers were not working on the floor of B Section even though they were using the lift there. The doors between A Section and B Section were as such closed.

There was an armed sentry patrolling each floor whilst work was in progress and his duty was to protect the Army Stores against pilferage or wilful damage.

John Neill, who lived at 8 House, 6 Court, Upper William Street in Liverpool was a dock labourer and had been in charge of the gang working in D Section.

The soldier that shot him was 29-years old and was a 1st Class Private in the 156th Infantry Detachment, APO 507 US Army and had been on sentry duty on the 9th floor of the warehouse and had been armed with a rifle that was loaded with 8 rounds of ammunition.

It was found that shortly before 10pm on 25 February 1943 the dock labourers in D Section had been trucking cardboard cartons of Army boots and the soldier had taken exception to the rough manner in which they were handling the goods and he spoke to John Neill about it. However, an argument developed that was thought to have gone on for some time, first in D Section and then in C Section. However, the man in charge of C Section said that he could see that the argument was going to lead to serious trouble and he said that he stepped in between the two men and took John Neill back to his section and the soldier went off in the opposite direction towards B Section.

However, a few minutes later the man in charge of C Section said that he saw John Neill walking towards B Section, but thought that he was just going down the lift to have a smoke, and as he wanted to have a smoke too, he went to do the same and followed John Neill towards B Section. However, he said that John Neill went past the lift to the far end of B Section and that a few moments later he saw a flash and heard the report of a gun and then saw John Neill fall by some packages. He said that he didn't see who fired the shot but said that as he approached John Neill to help him, he saw the soldier who told him to get back and so he went back to his own section.

Another dock labourer who lived at 3 Bickerton Street in Liverpool and who was a floorman on the 9th floor said that at about 10.45pm on the Thursday 25 February 1943 he had been walking along B Section gangway towards A Section when he saw John Neill walking in front of him in the same direction and said that in front of John Neill he saw the soldier. He said that there was about 10 yards between them and that he then saw a flash and heard a shot, noting that the flash came from the soldier. He said that he then saw John Neill spin around and fall behind some cases.

The dock labourer said that he continued to walk in the same direction towards A Section when the soldier, who he said was standing practically up against the iron doors between A Section and B Section said to him, 'Get back' or 'Stand back'. The dock labourer said that he then said, 'You've shot the man', and said that the soldier then repeated, 'Get back' or 'Stand back'. The dock labourer said that he then went back to C Section where he made a telephone call to tell someone what had happened.

Three other dock labourers also made statements detailing the argument between John Neill and the soldier, but they didn't see the shooting.

A staff sergeant who had been in the office on the ground floor of the warehouse said that he got a telephone call at about 10.25pm and as a consequence, he went up to the 9th floor of the warehouse with a lieutenant and some other officers where he saw John Neill and the soldier in the doorway between B Section and C Section, noting that his rifle was in the post-arms position and that there was a crowd of men standing about 12 yards from him. He said that when he asked the soldier what had happened the soldier said, 'We got in an argument and I shot a man’ and turned around and pointed along the gangway. The staff sergeant said that he then went in the direction that the soldier indicated along the gangway and saw John Neill on the floor with a wound in his back, apparently dead.

When the lieutenant asked the soldier again what had happened, he said, 'The men were handling the cases roughly and I told them to be more careful. The crew leader agreed with me and told the men to be careful. A few minutes later I noticed that the men were handling the cases rough and I told them again. The crew leader didn't like it and said it was none of my business how they handle them. I told them that it was my orders and could prove it by the Sergeant of the Guard. I started to the telephone to call the Sergeant and the crew started ganging round me. I stepped back and the crew leader started calling me names. I walked away to keep from having any trouble. The crew leader followed me, still cursing. I walked as far back as I could. The crew leader wanted to fight. I threw my gun on him and told him not to come any closer. He kept walking in at the gun and I shot him'.

The soldier was then disarmed and placed under arrest and later detained at Seaforth Barracks.

When the police arrived and examined the scene they said that it appeared that after being struck by the bullet, John Neill appeared to have staggered about a yard from the middle of the main gangway and then twisted round and to have fallen against a tier of packages which were found to have been heavily bloodstained. He was found lying face downwards and inclined to his right-hand side with his arms outstretched. The police noted that his overcoat was almost removed from his body and that all but the right sleeve just above the elbow was off and that there appeared to be little doubt that John Neill had been in the act of removing his overcoat when he was shot and that as such, there was reason to believe that he had been about to attack the soldier.

After a lengthy search, the bullet was discovered to have passed through John Neill's body and to have struck a concrete pillar that had caused it to break into small pieces. One or two pieces were recovered from the floor and the other pieces were recovered from inside a carton of boots.

When the soldier’s rifle was taken and examined, it was found to contain 7 live rounds of ammunition and one empty cartridge case.

During the medical examination of John Neill, liquid was found flowing from his mouth and there was found to be a strong smell of alcohol.

When the police questioned the soldier, he said, 'I have nothing to say to the civil authorities about it'. When he was told that he might be charged with wilful murder he made no reply.

The case was brought to the Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration, but no charges were made.

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

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - DPP 2/1099