Unsolved Murders

Isabella Mullen

Age: unknown

Sex: female

Date: 10 Aug 1906

Place: Walkers Court, Thames Street, South Shields

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Isabella Mullen was found dead in her bed with a wound to the back of her head.

She had lived in an upstairs furnished back room in Walker's Court in Thames Street with a rag gatherer who she had lived with for about 12 years. The rag gatherer was arrested in connection with her death but later discharged.

A woman who was a licensed hawker and who lived with her husband, who was also a licenced hawker in Walker's Court said that she had known Isabella Mullen for a while and that she had come to live there on the Saturday.

She said that on the Tuesday night at about 5.45pm, Isabella Mullen and the rag gatherer came to her house with their baby. She said that they were quite sober at the time and that the rag gatherer sent for two gills of beer. She said that they later sent for beer a lot more times but could not say how many times. She said that later there were a few words between herself and her husband because she refused to give him any more money for beer, noting that she had already given him some money.

The woman said that she left her house as a consequence of the row and stopped outside until 11pm and said that when she went back in, she found that Isabella Mullen and the rag gatherer had gone back to their own rooms. She later noted that there had been no row between Isabella Mullen and the rag gatherer during the time that they were there, between 5.45pm and 11pm. She also noted that they ordinarily lived very peaceably together.

The woman said that the following morning the rag gatherer came to her house and said, 'Bella's dead'. The woman said that she didn't think that the rag gatherer meant it, but said that he then repeated, 'Yes, she was dead when I awakened this morning'.

The woman said that she then told the rag gatherer to go upstairs and fetch their baby and said that when he came back down the baby was covered in blood.

The woman said that when she then went upstairs, she saw Isabella Mullen lying on the floor near the bed. She said that she was lying slightly on her left side and was covered in blood. She said that there was blood all about the floor and that there was also blood on the bed. She added that Isabella Mullen was fully dressed. She said that she then suggested that the police should be informed and that her son and the rag gatherer then went off to the police station.

The woman's 17-year-old son said that he had been at his parent's house on the Tuesday from 4pm and saw Isabella Mullen, the rag gatherer and their baby come in at 5.45pm, at which time they were all sober. He said that whilst he was there his parents and Isabella Mullen and the rag gatherer sent out for beer often, two gills at a time. He said that she went out for about 15 minutes at 9pm but was there until the company broke up, noting that his mother wasn't in the room at the time as his father had wanted money from her.

He said that when Isabella Mullen and the rag gatherer left he went with them and carried their baby upstairs for them, noting that they were both very drunk, but added that there was no quarrelling between them. However, he said that he didn't stay with them for long as he could hear his father hammering his mother who was screaming and so he went back down and broke open the door and parted them.

He said that whilst he was upstairs with Isabella Mullen there had been no light in the room and no fire and that Isabella Mullen had been going about looking for some matches whilst the rag gatherer was singing.

He said that he was the last to go to bed, which would have been at about 12 midnight but said that when his sister got home she told him that Isabella Mullen had fallen down the stairs. He said that he hadn't heard anything up until that time, but said that shortly after, at about 1am, he said that he heard Isabella Mullen cry out to the rag gatherer, 'Oh, I am dead'.

He said that he then went out into the court and saw Isabella Mullen sitting at the bottom of the stairs covered in blood and moaning and said that she said to him, 'Come and help me upstairs' and that she was shouting, 'Oh, my head'. He said that she didn't tell him how she got to the bottom of the stairs and didn't tell him that she had fallen. He noted that she couldn't walk. He said that there was no light in her room or on the stairs and that he didn't stay long as Isabella Mullen started to undress to go to bed. He said that the rag gatherer was already in bed at the time with the baby.

A woman who occupied a room adjacent to Isabella Mullen's room said that she went to bed at about 10pm, at which time Isabella Mullen wasn't in the room. She said that at about 11pm or 11.30pm she heard the voice of a woman shouting from the bottom of the stairs, 'Come to me and my bairn'. She said that she then heard a man and a woman come up the stairs and go into Isabella Mullen's room and that the man then started singing whilst the woman was crying.  She said that she then heard the woman asking for a bandage to tie up the wounds on her head and then next heard the woman asking the man to open the window. She said that she then heard the window open and then heard the man shout someone’s name. She said that the persons appeared to be in drink and were arguing but not fighting and that she then heard the woman say, 'For God's sake bandage my head'. She said that the singing went on until about 2am.

At the inquest, it was noted that the woman had not slept when she had gone to bed and had not heard anyone fall down the stairs and that she thought that if someone had fallen down the stairs that she would have heard it.

It was also heard that the woman said that shortly after the man and woman had come into the house she had heard the woman say, 'Look, what have you done to my head' and that directly afterwards the man struck a match and that she then heard him say, 'Who did it Bella? It was not me', and that she then heard the woman say, 'Oh, no, it was not you, all I want you to do is to put a bandage on my head'.

The man that lived in the room under Isabella Mullen said that he heard a man singing and a woman crying, saying that the singing went on until about 1am and that he frequently heard the woman calling out to the man as though she wanted him to go to sleep. He said that he heard no sounds of quarrelling but said that he did hear a noise as of someone falling out of bed at about 2am.

The police arrived at the rooms at about 7.10am after the rag gatherer went to the police station and said that Isabella Mullen had died earlier that morning. When he reported Isabella Mullen's death and was asked why he didn't come earlier, he said, 'Well, we were all drunk last night'.

The police said that when they got to Isabella Mullen's room, they found her body lying on the floor close to the windowsill still fully dressed. They said that her head, face and hands were covered with blood and that there was blood where she was lying, blood on the bolster and the mattress on the bed as well as blood underneath the table near the fireplace. They said that there was also a patch of blood on the paper near the door, just as though a hand wet with blood had rested on the wall, and another patch on the cement in the court way about two feet from the door.

The police said that when they asked the rag gatherer how Isabella Mullen sustained her injuries, he said that he didn't know, but that it was a bad job for him and that he had found her dead on the floor when he woke up.

The police, who had known the rag gatherer for many years and knew him to be a man who took a lot of drink said that he appeared to be suffering from the effects of excessive drinking.

When another policeman asked the rag gatherer how Isabella Mullen died, he said, 'I was too drunk last night, and I know nothing about it'. When he was asked whether he heard her fall out of bed, the rag gatherer said, 'No'.

The doctor that carried out the post mortem said that he found that Isabella Mullen's death was due to haemorrhage due to a wound to the back of her head that might have been caused by a blow from a blunt instrument or a heavy fall against some bare substance. He added that a heavy fall on the ground would have been sufficient to have caused her injury. However, he said that if she had fallen down the stairs, he would have expected to have found more bruises elsewhere on her body. He also noted that had anyone been sufficiently sober at the time her wound was caused and had applied bandages to stop her bleeding, that she would not have died.

When the rag gatherer was asked if he wished to give evidence at the inquest, he said that he had nothing to say because he had been drunk and knew nothing of what had happened. He said that he got upstairs at about 10.45pm with the baby and went to bed and that that was all he knew about it.

When the coroner summed up he said that the circumstances were of a mysterious nature but that the only thing that seemed clear to his mind was that her injuries had been received before she had got into her room, but said that there were too many discrepancies in the evidence.

An open verdict was then returned, and the rag gatherer was discharged the following day.


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


see Shields Daily Gazette - Friday 10 August 1906

see Leicester Daily Post - Saturday 11 August 1906