Unsolved Murders

Esther Read

Age: 39

Sex: female

Date: 30 Sep 1954

Place: 13 Deepdale Street, Preston, Lancashire

Esther Read died from an abortion.

Four women were tried for her manslaughter but were acquitted. One of the women was Esther Read's sister.

The four women were:

  • Sister A. 44-year old housewife who had lived in Pleasant Street, Preston.
  • Sister B. 39-year-old woman who worked as a carriage cleaner and who lived in Brunswick Street, Preston.
  • Other woman. 31-year-old domestic help who had lived in Latham Street in Preston.
  • Esther Read's sister. 55-year-old single woman and shop keeper who had lived in Deepdale Street, Preston next door to Esther Read.

Esther Read was admitted to Sharoe Green Hospital on 30 September 1954 and died the same day.

Following her death one of the four women was arrested and appeared before Preston magistrates court on the charge of using an instrument or other means to procure a miscarriage.

At Esther Read's inquest on 22 October 1954, the pathologist that carried out her post mortem said that her death was due to toxaemia due to acute and profuse peritonitis due to a septic abortion, perforation of the uterus and acute bronchial pneumonia. He said that he did not think that from the evidence that syringes had caused the miscarriage but said that he believed that they could have caused the infection.

A detective said that when he interviewed Esther Read's sister along with the other three women on Friday 1 October 1954, the day after Esther Read's death, that she had told him that five or six months previously that Esther Read had told her that she was pregnant and had kept telling her that her husband would not believe that the baby was his. He said that Esther Read's sister then told him that she accompanied Esther Read to the home of one of the other women and that the other woman's sister then came along who then arranged for Esther Read to see the other woman. Esther Read's sister said that Sister A and the other woman then later called at her shop and that Esther Read and the other woman went upstairs and that when they came back down Esther Read borrowed £3 to pay the woman. She said that the other woman called again on the Tuesday or Wednesday, 21 or 22 September 1954 and went upstairs with Esther Read again, taking her syringe, as well as her own syringe up with her.

Esther Read's sister said that on the Sunday morning before her death that Esther Read told her that she had lost the child and that when they went to Esther Read's home they wrapped up the child’s body and put it on the fire.

Sister A said that she had first met Esther Read when they had worked together on the railway during the war and that afterwards Esther Read had occasionally visited her and complained about the treatment she was getting from her husband. She said that about four months before her death, Esther Read had asked her if she knew of anyone who could help her and said that she would try and find someone. However, she said that she didn't try to find anyone, but said that on a later visit Esther Read met her sister, Sister B and asked her if she knew of anyone that could help her. However, she said that about two or three days later Esther Read told her that she had arranged things with the other woman and said that when the other woman called at her house she took her to see Esther Read at Esther Read's sister's place.

Sister B said that Esther Read had told her that she was three months pregnant and that she had contacted the other woman. However, she said that sometime later Esther Read told her that nothing had happened after the woman's first visit and said that Esther Read then took her along to Avenham Lane where Esther Read spoke to the other woman and then told her that she was going to see the other woman again later.

The other woman said that in the beginning of September 1954 that she had been in a public house when Esther Read, who she knew as 'Irish Margaret', asked if she could get rid of a baby and said that she told her that she could try. She said that because she didn't know where Esther Read's sister's shop was that it was arranged for her to call at the house of Sister B first.

She said that when she got to Esther Read's sister's shop that Esther Read gave her £3, adding that she didn't want to take it, but that Esther Read had made her. She said that she saw Esther Read and then later after meeting her in the street went again to see her a second time. She said, 'A week last Thursday I saw Sister A and she asked me would I go again because nothing had happened. I said I would go, but I was frightened and did not.

A detective said that when he went to the other woman's home she admitted that she had a syringe in the bottom of her wardrobe. He added that he also found a syringe at Esther Read's sister's house in a bedroom drawer and said that when he did Esther Read's sister said, 'That is the one she used when she came the second time'. The detective said that he found another syringe in the same drawer and said that Esther Read's sister then said 'Oh, that is an old one I have forgotten about'.

The detective said that whilst he was searching Esther Read's house and Esther Read's sister's house he also found some knitting needles which were sent off to the North Western Forensic Laboratories but with negative results.

The detective said that after the other woman had made her statement, he charged her with using an instrument or other means with intent to procure a miscarriage on Esther Read between 13 September and 30 September 1954.

The detective added that when he saw Esther Read's sister again on 7 October 1954 he asked her whether if anyone had visited her sister on 23 September 1954 or the following day, and said that she told him that she did not think so, adding that the other woman had not.

The detective said that he later saw Sister A again on 18 October 1954 at which time she added something that she had left out of her previous statement, that being, 'Mrs Read said, 'I shall have to get rid. I have been tampering with myself so much, it may be dead''.

Esther Read's husband said that he didn't know that Esther Read was pregnant until she had gone to the hospital.

Before Esther Read died at Sharoe Green Hospital she was seen by a senior house officer who asked her some questions but the senior house officer said that Esther Read denied interference with her pregnancy by herself or anyone else.

The doctor that was called out after Esther Read became ill said that he went to Esther Read's sister's shop on 30 September 1954 where he saw Esther Read who he said looked very poorly. He said that she told him that she had been four months pregnant and had lost the baby the previous Sunday and that he then ordered her to hospital.

When the Coroner summed up at the inquest, he told the jury that there were two verdicts for them to consider, manslaughter or an open verdict. He added that if they returned a verdict of manslaughter against one of the women that they may think, if they accepted his direction, that they should return the same verdict against all four of the women. When the Coroner referred to the evidence, he said that it was not disputed that a clear offence had been committed and said that it might be thought that the four women had aided and abetted that offence, but added that they had to decide whether they thought that Esther Read had died as a result of that offence.

After the jury retired they returned 35 minutes later to ask whether Esther Read would have still died without the use of the instrument that caused the perforation and the doctor said that in his opinion Esther Read would have died whether there had been a perforation or not, but that the perforation had accelerated her death by allowing the infection to spread. After the jury retired briefly again, they returned a verdict of manslaughter.

At the trial on Wednesday 1 December 1954 the four women were acquitted of manslaughter, however, the other woman was found guilty of conspiring to use an instrument to procure a miscarriage and of using an instrument for that purpose. She was sentenced to two years imprisonment.

Sister A, Sister B and Esther Read's sister were each sentenced to six months imprisonment after pleading guilty to the conspiracy charge.

They were all found not guilty of manslaughter on the direction of the judge. The court had heard that the other woman had syringed Esther Read on two occasions but that it seemed probable that the miscarriage did not arise from that although it was heard that there was no doubt that the women had aided and abetted the other woman in causing the miscarriage. When the judge summed up he said that it was a dreadful thing for women who had never had any previous convictions, noting that only the other woman made £3 for her part. He said, 'Offences of this kind are dreadfully serious because an instrument of this kind in the hands of an inexperienced woman might cause death, distress and pain to the woman whom the operation is performed'.

Whilst the judge was summing up the other woman was heard to say 'I didn't do it' before she collapsed.

When the judge continued in his summing up he said that he accepted that Esther Read was anxious to get rid of her unborn child an that he accepted what had been said on behalf of all the women but added that without their assistance that the operation on Esther Read might never have been performed. He said, 'You took steps of one sort or another to bring this woman to the other woman who performed this operation on her'

Esther Read was the mother of two children.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 22 October 1954

see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 01 December 1954