Unsolved Murders

John Downey

Age: 21

Sex: male

Date: 20 Oct 1955

Place: Leeds and Liverpool Canal, Litherland

John Downey and Joan Williams were found dead in the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Litherland on Saturday 20 October 1955.

Their inquest heard that suicide was ruled out, and that there were no marks of violence.

John Downey was a languages student and had been due to start a course in Paris on Monday 17 October 1955. He had lived in William Morris Avenue and had been a third year student at Catherine's College in Oxford.

Joan Williams was a shorthand typist and had lived in Hawthorne Road in Bootle.

They had been seeing each other for some time and were in a happy relationship with no worries.

It was heard that John Downey should have caught the 11pm train from Liverpool on the Friday night, 14 October 1955 to travel to the Sorbonne University in Paris to start a three month course. He had left home on the Friday evening and gone to Joan Williams's house after which they went out for a couple of hours to spend some time together before he caught his train, but they were never seen again until they were pulled out of the canal on the Saturday, 20 October 1955.

John Downey had left his passport, packed luggage and money at home.

They were described as persons of good moral integrity and there was no reason known why they might have wanted to take their own lives.

John Downey's brother said that when John Downey left their house at about 6.45pm to visit Joan Williams that he had been in jovial spirits and had been discussing train times with him, saying that he would be back at about 10pm, noting that he was looking forward to going to Paris. He said that their parents knew about Joan Williams and approved of their relationship and that there were no problems.

Joan Williams sister said that John Downey called at their house on the Friday evening at about 7pm and that John Downey and Joan Williams then both went out for a walk, with Joan Williams saying that she would be back by 10pm. She also noted that their parents knew about their relationship and were happy about it.

After they failed to return a wide search was made for them which included searches of the Leeds-Liverpool canal bank, as well as unoccupied properties, open spaces, fields and farms in the area.

They were last seen walking together in Hawthorne Road heading north and it was noted that if that path was followed that it would have taken them to the lift bridge at Litherland from where they could have easily got to the place where they were found.

John Downey's diary was found by the canal bank on the east bank of the canal close to the rear of the Sefton Tannery between a boat and the canal bank, but it had only contained addresses. Dragging was carried out about 20 yards from that spot the next day and John Downey's body was recovered first, his wristwatch having stopped at 6.05 and shortly after Joan Williams's body was recovered nearby, her watch having stopped at 11.20.

It was later determined that John Downey's watch was water tight and tests determined that it would run under water until it wound down.

It was noted that both of their bodies were clothed.

A nephew of John Downey said that as far as he knew John Downey was a non-swimmer.

It was said that there was no evidence as to how they had got into the water. It was noted that there had been a wide cinder path along the canal at that point with an edge of stones which was in reasonably good condition.

The pathologist that examined their bodies said that there were no marks of violence about their bodies or injury and concluded that they had both been in the water for between seven and eight days. He concluded that their deaths were both due to asphyxia from drowning.

When the Coroner summed up he said that it was absolutely clear that there was not the slightest suggestion of suicide and that he was satisfied that suicide did not enter into it.

He added that there was nothing in the evidence from the time they left their home to the time when their bodies were found to show how they had got into the water.

He said, 'I am not entitled to speculate. I am bound to return a verdict on the evidence before me. All I can do is to record an open verdict that death was due in both cases to asphyxia due to drowning. This is a particularly sad case and I do offer my sincere sympathy to the relatives.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Western Mail - Wednesday 26 October 1955

Liverpool Echo - Tuesday 25 October 1955

Liverpool Echo - Monday 17 October 1955