Unsolved Murders

William Anthony Ferris

Age: 46

Sex: male

Date: 24 Sep 1955

Place: 24 Warwick New Road, Leamington

William Anthony Ferris died from head injuries five days after a quarrel at his home.

He was taken to hospital in Birmingham on 19 September 1955 where he died on 24 September 1955.

William Ferris was a dental surgeon as was his wife.

It was said that William Ferris's 14-year-old son had pushed William Ferris after William Ferris had thrown a plate at him.

At the inquest, it was heard that the only independent witness to the events, a housekeeper, had told two deliberate lies about what had happened to the police.

When the inquest concluded an open verdict was returned.

A man that had lived in Nelson Avenue in Leamington said that on 19 September 1955 he had taken his son for dental treatment to William Ferris and that whilst there he formed the opinion that William Ferris had been under the influence of alcohol to a considerable extent.

When William Ferris's nurse receptionist gave evidence at the inquest she also said that William Ferris had been drunk on 19 September 1955 and added that William Ferris had been drinking heavily for about a year.

The housekeeper said that she had been employed by William Ferris for about five years and that William Ferris and his wife only quarrelled when they drank and that they would sometimes hit each other. She also confirmed that William Ferris had been drinking on 19 September 1955.

She said that William Ferris and his wife came home to tea but that William Ferris had started to complain about the food and that his eldest son, aged 14, had said, 'We will have to get him a steak and present him with a bill at the end of the week'. She said that William Ferris then told the son to leave the room and that when he did not William Ferris picked up a plate and threw it at him. She said that William Ferris then picked up another plate but that she took it from him and that his son then went over to him and pushed William Ferris with his hands causing him to fall and hit his head on the skirting board.

At the inquest the housekeeper admitted telling two deliberate lies to the police when she was first questioned, saying first that William Ferris had only thrown the plate on the table and not at his son and also that William Ferris's wife had not been in the room at the time even though she was.

After admitting the lies at the inquest, the Coroner said, 'This is a serious matter. Why didn't you tell the truth?', and the housekeeper said that she had felt sorry for William Ferris's wife and that she had tried to shield her from further pain and suffering. The Coroner then asked her, 'How do I know you are not trying to conceal something today?', to which the housekeeper replied, 'I have made up my mind to tell the truth sir'.

However, when the pathologist that carried out the post mortem gave evidence he said that he could not reconcile his findings with the housekeeper's story. He said that he found six bruises on William Ferris with the main injury being a fracture to the front of his skull which ran from his eye down to the front of the skull's base. He said, 'This fracture could not have been caused by blunt force to the back of the head'.

When William Ferris's wife gave evidence, she said that both she and William Ferris had in recent times been drinking heavily. However, she said that they were on good terms and did not strike each other anything more than a slap of the head. She said that on 19 September 1955 that she had gone to bed in the afternoon because she had been feeling unwell and that she had suffered from black-outs and dizzy spells. She said that she helped with the tea and said, 'I recollect a certain amount of argument between the eldest son and his father, a crashing of crockery, and then I saw him go down. I presumed that my son pushed him'.

She added, I cannot be absolutely certain of anything, and I do not clearly recollect whether I was standing or sitting at the time'.

An ambulance man that was called to the house shortly after William Ferris was injured said that when he arrived he found that William Ferris's wife was behaving strangely and that he thought that she had been under the influence of drink or drugs. He said, 'Several times she asked was her husband going to die. I said I thought he was all right. She said, 'Is he going to die? He won't die. I could kill him. I would know how to kill him'.'.

At the inquest a detective stationed in Leamington gave details of the incident and said that they were not contemplating proceedings against the son and that the Director of Public Prosecutions had been approached and that they did not intend to intervene at that stage.

When William Ferris's son gave evidence at the inquest he said that he had had no intention of doing any injury to William Ferris when he had pushed him and said that no blow had been struck during the whole of the incident.

When the Coroner summed up he noted that there was only one eye-witness to the event as William Ferris's wife had been in such a condition that she didn't know what was going on, adding, 'Whether this was due to illness, drugs or drink I do not know'.

He then addressed the jury and told them that they had to decide whether it was a question of accidental death or whether they should return a verdict of manslaughter, noting that that verdict could only be brought against the son as there was no evidence of anyone else having hit William Ferris.

He said, 'If you are satisfied that here was a drunken father throwing plates at his son, who was capable to attack his son, or his mother, or housekeeper and you came to the conclusion that the boy was trying to stop anything like that and used minimum of force, that cannot amount to manslaughter'.

However, he added that they could also return an open verdict, stating, 'I don't like that sort of verdict and you probably don't like it. It is a matter for you if you have no alternative. If you leave it as an open verdict there is always a lingering smell of suspicion about the case'.

An open verdict was then returned.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 20 October 1955

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 20 October 1955