Unsolved Murders

Alice Kershaw Robb

Age: unknown

Sex: female

Date: 8 Jul 1922

Place: 4 Constance Street, Oldham

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Alice Kershaw Robb died in a suicide pact.

A man was tried for her murder but acquitted.

At the trial the judge withdrew the capital charge, saying 'that theories of constructive murder belonged to an age out of which we had passed'.

The man had married Alice Robb bigamously.

They had taken oxalic acid and salts of lemon and Alice Robb died, but the man recovered.

The man was convicted of attempted suicide and was sentenced to two years' hard labour.

Alice Robb was born on 3 December 1899 and was a Ring Spinner employed at the Tay Spinning Co. in Shaw Road, Oldham.

Alice Robb's brother said that he first met the man that Alice Robb married on 21 June when he went to the Royal Oak Hotel in Union Street, Oldham and had a conversation with him. He said that from that time onward that the man came to his home frequently to see Alice Robb and that he eventually became engaged to her.

He said that they were eventually married at the Registry Office in Church Lane, Oldham on 3 January 1922.

Alice Robb's brother said that in about the middle of May 1922 that he saw the man in Egerton Street, Oldham and said that he entered into a conversation with him in reference to family matters and that he afterwards asked the man, 'Are you a married man?', and said that the man replied, 'No'.

He said that he later saw the man at the Oldham Royal Infirmary on 9 July 1922 and said that he asked him, 'Where's our Alice?', and said that the man replied, ''She is at No. 4 off Constance Street', and said that when he then asked him, 'Do you know that she is dead?' that he answered , 'Yes, I do'.

He said that he then asked the man, 'Why has all this come about?' and said that the man replied, 'I had heard that there was a warrant out for my arrest'. Alice Robb's brother said that he then asked, 'What for?', and said that the man replied, 'For debt'. He said that when he asked how much, the man replied, 'Sixteen pounds'. He said that he then asked him if there was anything else and said that the man replied, 'Yes, various things'. Alice Robb's brother said that he then asked him again what they were but said that the man replied, 'Money, you will get to know the remainder later'.

Alice Robb's brother said that he then asked the man if he was married and said that the man replied, 'No, who's told you that?', and said that he told him 'The Police Authorities', and the man then said, ''Tell them they are wrong'.

The man's wife was a weaver and had resided at 1 Grove Terrace in Fence near Burnley saying that they were married on 17 April 1911 at the Wheatley Lane Wesleyan Chapel in Fence near Burnley.

She said that some time after their marriage that they lived together at Epping where the man was employed as a cobbler, noting that they had a house of their own and said that about six months later that they returned to Fence and lived with her mother at which time her husband did odd jobs.

She said that about March 1912 that she gave birth to their daughter who lived to the age of 14 months. She said that during that period that her husband did not work regularly and kept her very short of money and said that she had to depend on her mother for food.

She said that she then gave birth to a son who lived to the age of 9 months.

She said that they then went to live at Harper's Cottage in Fence where they remained until February 1916 when the man joined the RFA.

She said that she then drew a Separation Allowance in respect of him until July 1919, noting that he had had leave four times whilst with the Army and that he had spent each leave with her.

However, she said that in June 1919, on account of his conduct towards her, that she wrote him a letter saying that he must not return to her and said that in consequence that he stopped her allowance.

She said that he later sent a letter to her at Old Laund Street in Fence saying that he would not release her and that he had never seen him since.

A chemist who carried on his business at 512 Huddersfield Road in Oldham said that at about 11am on 8 July 1922 that the man came into his shop and asked him if he kept salts of Lemon and then asked for the price. The chemist said that he had no salts of Lemon in the shop at that time and asked him for what purpose he wanted it and said that the man replied, 'I want it for cleaning brass'. The chemist said that he then told him that oxalic acid was a much stronger preparation and that the man then asked him for the price which he said was 3d per ounce and that he then sold him four ounces. He said that he wrapped up the acid in paper and tied it with string and put a label on it which was similar to the one later found at Constance Street.

The chemist said that he then told the man, 'Did you know it is poison?' and said that the man replied, 'Yes. It is strong poison', and the chemist said that he replied, 'Yes, it is, it would make you very ill if it did not kill you'.

The chemist said that the man then paid for the oxalic acid and left his shop. The chemist noted that he did not think that it was unusual for him to have taken such a large quantity as it was commonly used for cleaning purposes. He noted that it was a Schedule 2 Poison and did not require being registered or signed for. He said that its solubility was about 1/12.

A chemist at 491 Huddersfield Road in Oldham said that at about 11.30am on 8 July 1922 that the man came into his shop and asked for about four ounces of oxalic acid, saying that he wanted it for cleaning purposes. He said that he weighed it out and wrapped it up in paper and tied it with string and labelled it. He said that the man then asked for two ounces of Salts of Lemon, saying that he wanted it for the same purpose and said that he measured it out and wrapped it up in paper in a similar fashion and that the man paid for the goods and then left. He noted that the man had the appearance of a horseman and that he often sold those goods to carters etc for cleaning purposes.

The woman that lived at 4 off Constantine Street in Oldham said that she was an Iron Turner and that she lived there with her widowed daughter who kept house for her. She said that she slept in the front bedroom.

She said that about May 1922 the man and Alice Robb came to lodge with her, occupying the back bedroom, and paying 12 shillings a week. She said that during the period that they lived with her that they always appeared to be on very friendly terms with each other.

She said that at about 8.15pm on 8 July 1922 that her daughter decided to go to Waterhead and that they asked the man and Alice Robb to go with them and said that Alice Robb said, 'We may come down about 9 o'clock'. The landlady said that she then told her, 'Well. we are going to the Plough Inn'.

She said that they then left the house, leaving the man and Alice Robb in the kitchen, noting that they appeared to be in their usual spirits and were very friendly. However, she noted that they didn't join them at Waterhead.

She said that she and her daughter later returned home at about 10.30pm on the same date and found the door locked. She said that when they opened it neither the man nor Alice Robb were in the kitchen and said that she presumed that they were in bed. She said that there was nothing to indicate that they had had anything to eat during their absence and said that later, at about 11pm that she went to bed, followed by her daughter about five minutes later.

She said that from the time that she entered the house until she went to bed that she didn't hear any sound from the back bedroom. She noted that when they went to bed that she closed their bedroom door.

She said that she got up the following morning at about 8.30am and went downstairs and made a fire and that her daughter followed her down at about 8.45am and prepared the breakfast. She said that they heard nothing unusual and finished their breakfast at about 9.15am.

She said that neither the man nor Alice Robb came downstairs at that time, but said that that was not unusual for a Sunday morning.

She said that later, at about 10.30am, that she was sat in a chair in the house when she heard the man shouting from upstairs, noting that he was shouting in a voice that was louder than usual.

She said that he called out, 'Will you make me a pint of tea?', and said that her daughter answered 'Yes'. She said that the sound of the man's voice would have travelled from upstairs, through the kitchen and into the house.

She said that her daughter then made a pint of tea and that whilst she was making it that the man again shouted in a loud voice, 'Is the tea ready?'. She said that her daughter then said 'Yes' and that she said, 'I will bring it up in a minute'.

The landlady said that she got the tea and went upstairs, noting that she made a fait amount of noise going upstairs as she had on her boots and that there was no carpet on the stairs. She said that when she got to the top that she said, 'The tea is hear', and said that the man opened the bedroom door a few inches and put his hand through the opening and took the pint of tea with one hand and then closed the door. She said that she didn't see into the room and that she then returned downstairs.

She said that about 15 minutes later, whilst she was sat back downstairs, that the man called out in a loud voice again, saying, 'Will you bring me a cup of water?'. She said that she then went to the bottom of the stairs and said, 'What do you want a cup of water for?', and said that the man replied, 'I want it for drinking'. She said that she then called out, 'Well, I will bring you a drink up'.

She said that she then got the cup of water and took it upstairs and found the door open about three inches and said, 'Here you are, the water's here', and said that the man then put his hand through the opened door again and took the water off her and closed the door. She noted again that she didn’t see into the room.

She said that she then went back downstairs and that from 10.45am until 2pm she and her daughter were both in the house and heard nothing from the bedroom.

She said that at about 2pm Alice Robb's two younger brothers aged 9 and 16 came into the house and went upstairs and then immediately came down and told her something.

She said that about 2.05pm that she was still in the house talking to her daughter and the children when the man called out to her and said, 'Come up here, I want you'. She said that she noticed that his voice was quite usual and that she went upstairs and noticed that the bedroom door was open a few inches. She said that she stood on the landing and asked the man what he wanted her for and said that the man then looked round the door and said, 'Alice is dead', noting that his voice then seemed weaker and that he spoke in a whisper.

She said that she then went into the bedroom and saw the man standing near the foot of the bed and that Alice Robb was lying on the floor, apparently dead. She said that her right arm was outstretched and that her head was resting on her arm. She said that she then checked her pulse and concluded that she was dead.

She said that the man then got back into bed and wrapped himself in the bedclothes. She then said to him, 'You may well say she is dead, she has been dead many hours'. She said that the man then said, 'Yes, she dropped there last night'. The landlady said that she then said to him, 'You mean to tell me that girl dropped dead there last night', and said that the man replied, 'Yes'.

The landlady said that she then asked the man why he had not let her know before that time and said that the man replied, 'Because I did not like to leave her'. The landlady said that she then said, 'This looks like being a case, I am going to fetch someone in', and said that the man then said, 'Yes fetch someone in'.

She said that she then went downstairs and went out for a woman that lived at 50 Top Street in Oldham and said that as a result of what she told the woman, that she then went to Townfield Police Station and reported the matter and then went back to her house with two policemen.

She noted that at the time the man had been working as a hawker of green grocery and fish. She said that Alice Robb had been working recently as a Ring Spinner at Tay Mill. She said that they always paid their dues to her and had appeared to have been on very good terms. She added that she had never heard of them complaining about being in debt.

A police sergeant that was on duty at Townfield Police Station at 2.50pm on 9 July 1922 said that he received a certain communication and went to 4 off Constantine Street where he went upstairs and found Alice Robb lying on the bedroom floor with her feet to the window and her head to the wall lying on her right side with her right arm extended above her head and her head resting on it.

He said that she appeared to be dead.

He said that the man was lying in bed and appeared to be ill and said that when he asked him what the matter was he said, 'We have been drinking Oxalic Acid and Salts of Lemon, I got it from a Chemist at Waterhead. I bought eight ounces of Oxalic Acid and two ounces of Salts of Lemon. We decided to die together and drink the lot between us. I divided it into two parts and she drank first and I drank later. We were expecting trouble and she said she did not know what she would do'.

The police sergeant said that he then found a note which read, 'To whom it may concern. Please bury us together and anything we leave behind please give to the person at 26 Wallshaw Street, Oldham, good bye', which he said that the man told him he had written.

The police sergeant said that the man told him that his throat was very sore and that he administered Magnesia and water.

When a doctor arrived at 4 off Constantine Street at 4.15pm on 9 July 1922 he said that he went into the back and saw Alice Robb lying in the centre of the bedroom floor. He said that she was clothed in her chemise and nightdress and was lying on her right side with her right arm outstretched and her head resting on it. He said that there was a quantity of blood on the floor under her nose and that she had been dead for several hours. He said that her body was cold and that rigor mortis had set in.

The doctor said that the man was laid on the bed on his left side and was quite conscious but appeared to be ill. He said that he asked him what the matter was and said that the man said, 'I have taken some oxalic Acid and some Salts of Lemon'. The doctor said that he then asked him, 'Do you know anything in reference to this woman?', and said that the man said, ''We were expecting trouble and I was going to be arrested for debt and her in trouble. We decided to commit suicide together. We drank oxalic acid and salts of lemon. We drank it about nine o'clock last night'.

The doctor said that the man later said, 'We got into bed and she got out to vomit and I got out to vomit and she must have fell in a faint, she was addicted to fainting'.

The doctor said that after he ordered the removal of the man to the Royal Infirmary that he looked around the room.

He said tha the entrance to the bedroom was on the left side of the staircase and that on entering the bedroom there was a bed on the left near the wall with the head to the window. He said that there was a dressing table in the front of the bedroom window with the head of the bed about ten inches away and a chest of drawers and a chair on the right side of the bedroom and a tin box on the right of the entrance.

The doctor said that the man's trousers and vest were on a chair near to the window on the right side of the bedroom and that Alice Robb's clothes were hanging over the bed end.

He said that there was a chamber utensil that was three parts full of vomit of a reddish colour which was near the bedside and at the feet of Alice Robb.

On the dressing table the doctor found a watch which was still going at 4.20pm and partly wound up, a razor in a case, a book and several bill heads. He said that there was a pint pot a quarter full of what appeared to be a salty solution and a spoon and a cup containing a smaller salty solution that was about a quarter full.

A police superintendent said that when he later saw the man at 12 noon on 10 July 1922 he told him that he was making enquiries into his previous marriage and then cautioned him and said that the man said, 'Yes, that is the cause of the whole trouble. A young woman in Glodwick told me a few days ago that there was a warrant out for my arrest, and she knowing I was a married man when I married her, we decided to end it together. She knew as well as me I was married'.

The police superintendent said that further enquiries were then made in the vicinity of Burnley on 11 July 1922 and the man's legal wife was found and marriage certificates obtained.

When the pathologist carried out the post mortem on Alice Robb at 3.15pm on Monday 10 July 1922 he stated that she was 5ft 4in tall, well-nourished and said that rigor mortis had passed off. He said that he found a slight bruise on her right cheek but said that there were no signs of any wounds.

He said that the mucous or lining membrane of her mouth, tongue, gullet, larynx, trachea and stomach were all white, softened and with black streaks, which he said indicated corrosion.

He said that her body contained half a pint of a dark liquid matter and that there was evidence of pleurisy on her right side. He said that her intestines, peritoneum and uterus were slightly inflamed and that there was a small quantity of blood-stained fluid in her peritoneal cavity.

He said that her uterus was enlarged and weighed thirty ounces and contained a three or four months foetus, noting that there was nothing abnormal about it.

He said that all her other organs were normal.

The pathologist concluded that her cause of death was due to corrosive poisoning.

A number of articles found in the room were later examined by an analytical chemist who provided the following results:

  • The Pint Mug: Contained a white crystalline substance in a little water and consisted of a mixture of 5 ounces of oxalic acid and salts of lemon and 2 ounces of water.
  • The Tea Cup: Contained a similar mixture viz 1 1/2 ounces oxalic acid and salts of lemon and 1/2 ounce of water.
  • The Blanket: Was copiously stained with vomit. I found distinct presence of oxalic acid.
  • The Internal Organs of Alice Robb: Also shewed presence of oxalic acid. In the tongue, gullet and throat I found 7 1/2 grains of oxalic acid. The stomach contained 4 1/2 ounces of a thick chocolate coloured liquid which I found contained 92 grains of oxalic acid. The organs were very much corroded and burnt.

The house surgeon at the Oldham Royal Infirmary said that at 4.45pm on Sunday 9 July 1922 that the man was admitted suffering from collapse, partial loss of voice, and commenced vomiting shortly after admission. He said that he complained of burning pains in his throat and stomach and said that he found that his tongue was very coated and that his soft palate and throat was burned. He said that the man was vomiting almost continuously after his admission and was detained. He said that the signs and symptoms were those of recent corrosive poisoning,

A man that lived in Huddersfield Road in Oldham said that he carried on the business as a chipped potato dealer and had known the man for about nine months. He said that about four months earlier that he agreed to lend the man his horse and cart in order that he could start a business as a hawker of greengrocery and fish. He said that he did not make any definite arrangements with the man as to payments, but said that he agreed to pay him for the loan of the horse and cart as soon as he could afford to do so. He said that for the first three months the man did not pay him anything but said that he did pay for the horse's feed. He said however, that for the previous five weeks that the man had paid him about fifteen shillings per week for the loan of the horse and cart and added that the man had not been in any financial difficulty with him.

The man was sent for trial at the Manchester Assizes on Tuesday 28 November 1922, on the grounds that he had attempted to commit suicide with Alice Robb but had survived, but the charge was withdrawn at the direction of the judge and the man was acquitted of that charge although he was convicted of having attempted to commit suicide.


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


see National Archives - ASSI 52/334

see Western Daily Press - Wednesday 29 November 1922

see Londonderry Sentinel - Thursday 30 November 1922