Unsolved Murders

Jean Dewhurst

Age: 4

Sex: female

Date: 16 Apr 1949

Place: New Hall Street, Burnley, Lancashire

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Jean Dewhurst was found dead in a canal on Wednesday 13 April 1949.

She had lived at 103 Waterbarn Street in Burnley.

She was last seen when she went out just before 2pm by her great aunts’ husband who, along with his wife, had been looking after Jean Dewhurst at their house at 50 Hurtley Street. The great aunt’s husband, who was a retired railway checker, said that for the previous four years he and his wife had looked after both of the children whilst Jean Dewhurst's parents were at work. He said that when he went out at 2.05pm on the Wednesday 13 April 1949 that he saw Jean Dewhurst playing near the backdoor alone and that that was the last time that he saw her alive.

The coroner asked the railway checker whether he felt easy in his mind when he went out that Jean Dewhurst was able to look after herself, and the railway checker said, 'Well, she was in the habit of going out for short intervals and coming back again', and added that he thought that she was quite capable of looking after herself.

The railway checker added that he had frequently warned Jean Dewhurst not to go near the canal whenever she went out, noting that Huntley Street where he lived was only a short distance from the canal.

He noted that Jean Dewhurst had been out that morning with another little girl.

Jean Dewhurst's great aunt said that Jean Dewhurst had come in at frequent intervals during the morning, adding that she kept wanting to go out to play. She also added that she thought that Jean Dewhurst was quite capable of looking after herself.

She said that the last she saw of Jean Dewhurst was when she went out at 2pm and that as she had not come home by 3pm she went out to search for her.

She said that she first went to the New Hall Street canal bridge and then to the Barden children's playground and then to Jean Dewhurst's home, but could find no trace of her. She added that she had gone to Jean Dewhurst's home twice whilst she was out looking,

She said that later, whilst in New Hall Street, she heard some people talking about a girl having been found in the canal, but said that at that time she couldn't connect the story with Jean Dewhurst. However, she said that a while later she learnt that Jean Dewhurst had been pulled out of the canal.

An oiler employed by Messrs B Thornber's at Daneshouse Mill and who lived in Spencer Street, said that at about 2.55pm whilst he was working, his attention was attracted by three girls aged about eight or nine years who were on the towing path on the other side of the canal to the mill. He said that they were pointing to the water and that he could see something floating in the canal near the towing path. He said that he then immediately crossed the bridge and went along the path from where he was able to recover Jean Dewhurst from the water without going in.

He said that when she was pulled out of the canal, he laid her face downwards and that a mechanic from the engine house came over and tried artificial respiration.

He said that Jean Dewhurst was then carried across to the mill engine-room and the police telephoned. The police arrived about five minutes later and Jean Dewhurst was taken to hospital.

It was noted that the three girls that the oiler had seen were never traced. At the inquest, the coroner asked the oiler whether he knew any of the little girls or whether from their attitude he thought that they knew anything about how Jean Dewhurst had got into the water, and the oiler said that he didn't know the little girls. He said that they left the place whilst he was ringing up the police and that he had not seen any children playing near the canal before he saw the three girls and that as he had only had a passing glimpse of them that he could not describe them. He also said that he formed the impression from their manner that the girls didn't seem to know Jean Dewhurst and that he thought that they had just been passing at the time.

The policeman that arrived soon after the call said that he had been on motor patrol duty in St James's Street when he received a wireless message to go immediately to New Hall Street Bridge which he did. He said that when he got there, he was taken into the engine room where he then saw Jean Dewhurst. He said that he formed the opinion that she had not been in the water for very long and commenced artificial respiration, which he said was continued whilst she was being taken to hospital in the police car.

The policeman added that there was no cause whatever to suspect any foul play.

The house surgeon that examined her body at the hospital said that he formed the impression that her death had taken place within an hour of his examination.

When the coroner summed up, a superintendent noted that it was gratifying to know that the men that pulled her out of the canal did all in their power at the time.

The coroner then returned an open verdict.


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


see Burnley Express - Saturday 16 April 1949