Unsolved Murders

John Edward Mercer

Age: 11 months

Sex: male

Date: 29 Mar 1948

Place: South Grove, Myerscough, Preston, Lancashire

Margaret Maud Mercer, Richard Thomas Mercer and John Edward Mercer died after eating porridge with rat poison in it.

Margaret Mercer and Richard Mercer died almost immediately after eating the porridge whilst John Mercer died sometime later in hospital.

Their 31-year-old mother also ate some of the porridge and became violently sick, but later recovered in Preston Royal Infirmary. The mother was said to have made the porridge at the request of Margaret Maud

The remains of the oatmeal were analysed at the Home Office Forensic Science Laboratory in Preston.

Their mother said that she thought that the tins must have got mixed up when the family recently moved from Holcombe Green near Bury. It was said that after the move the foodstuffs had not been sorted and thought that the mother had as a result picked up a container in which poison had been mixed to tempt the rats by mistake.

It was said that three mistakes led to the tragedy:

  1. A professional rat catcher had given the father, a farm labourer, an exceedingly dangerous article, a mixture of poison that any doctor would be afraid of and would by law keep locked up.
  2. The poison had been put in a syrup tin of a type often used to hold foodstuffs.
  3. The tin had been left unlabelled and forgotten.

The coroner said the mistakes taught three lessons, first that in no circumstances should rat catchers, or anyone else whose duty it was to use dangerous poisons be allowed to give poison away; secondly that dangerous poisons should never be kept in any house except a doctors; and thirdly that poison should never be placed in a receptacle used for food.

The inquest which concluded on Wednesday 14 April 1948 returned a verdict of misadventure, with the coroner saying that the children had been poisoned accidently.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Belfast News-Letter - Tuesday 30 March 1948

see Liverpool Echo - Tuesday 30 March 1948

see Gloucestershire Echo - Wednesday 14 April 1948