Unsolved Murders

Dorothy May Bartle

Age: 33

Sex: male

Date: 12 Jan 1956

Place: 9 Reva Syke Road, Clayton, Bradford

Dorothy May Bartle was found dead at her home on 12 January 1956 from gunshot wounds following an explosion in her house which was thought to have come from her hearth.

The explosion happened just before 8pm as she was watching Puzzle Corner on the television, it was thought, with her back to the fire.

It was thought that she had been struck in the back, receiving a severe injury and it was initially suggested that she had been killed by something that had been in her fireplace.

She was taken by ambulance to Bradford Royal Infirmary where she was found to be dead.

It was said that the blast, which occurred in her living room, had caused no other damage to the room.

However, it was later heard at her inquest on Thursday 26 January 1956 that she had been shot with a shotgun by a 15-year-old youth as he was trying to 'straighten it out' and a verdict of accidental death was returned.

A policeman that interviewed the 15-year-old youth after the incident said that he was satisfied that the incident was completely accidental.

The gun had been a .410 shotgun.

However, it was first thought that her death was the result of an explosive that had been in the fireplace and the BBC made a broadcast asking householders to examine their coal and police cars patrolled the area broadcasting the warning on loudspeakers.

A neighbour who lived opposite Dorothy Bartle's home in Greenwell Lane who heard the explosion said, 'I was watching the television with some friends about eight o'clock when we heard a bang. We all jumped. I thought it sounded like a small bomb. My dog, Punch, started to bark. We went to the door but saw nothing'.

It was noted on Friday 13 January 1956, before the statements about the shotgun being fired were taken that a man that lived in Victoria Street off Cottingley Road had found some gelignite in a shovelful of coal that he had brought in from his cellar and that four days later another stick of explosive was found by another man who lived in Carlisle Place in Manningham as he was refilling a coal bucket.

When the Coroner summed up he said that multiple acts of folly were responsible for Dorothy Bartle's death. He said, 'It seems to me that there have been a number of acts of folly in connection with this case. The first one was the foolishness of leaving a shotgun in the house with live cartridges in the breech. It is true that Dorothy Bartle and her husband had no children of their own, but they knew that this youth was in the habit of calling regularly at the house. The second act of folly was the boys playing about with this gun, even accepting that he did not know it was loaded, and for my part, I do accept that. It seems an act of folly to allow the barrels to be pointed towards any human being at all. It is elementary when you are handling firearms not to point them at anyone. A further act of folly was the boy's allowing a suggestion about an explosion to go uncorrected on that evening. One can understand his feeling upset, it is a thing he will remember to his dying day. But I think it is just in his favour that the first suggestion that it might have been an explosion from the fire did not come from the boy, but it was presented to him. It is to his credit that in less than 24 hours he did tell the truth. I don't think you will have any doubt that this is a tragic accident and I don't think you will have any hesitation at all in finding a verdict of accidental death'.

When the boy himself gave evidence, he said that he had been helping to paper the walls, noting that he was very friendly with the couple and that at about 8.30pm he went to the stairs to get another roll of paper and that on his way down the stairs he accidently knocked against the shotgun which was standing broken on the third stair, causing it to fall.

He said, 'I didn't realise there was a live round in the breach and I started trying to straighten the gun when I was standing at the bottom of the stairs. I didn't succeed  in straightening the gun at the first attempt and I didn't see the round in the breech. The gun wouldn't close and I altered my grip on it. I didn't know that I had cocked it, and it went off. I didn't realise it was pointing in the direction of Mrs Bartle. When it went off I dropped it against the wall in the room. I went straight away to telephone for the doctor'.

The 15-year-old boy said that he later heard someone in the room suggest that it might have been something in the fire and that he agreed and didn't contradict it, but rather adopted the idea.

He said that he then left the gun against the wall until all the people had gone from the house. He noted that he didn't know that Dorothy Bartle was fatally injured.

He said that when he was later left alone in the house he replaced the gun where he had found it and took the discharged round from the breach.

At that point the Coroner interjected and said, 'In fairness to you, didn't you have some idea that Dorothy Bartle's husband perhaps didn't have a licence for the gun and that you didn't want any trouble about that?' and the boy said 'Yes'.

Dorothy Bartle's husband said that nearly all the furniture in the room had been removed and that there was a basket chair in which Dorothy Bartle was sitting watching television and that he was kneeling on the floor when he heard a loud explosion. He said that he then jumped up and caught Dorothy Bartle, who he said had risen from her chair, and who was collapsing onto the floor.

He said that he then told the 15-year-old boy to pass him some clothes from the sideboard to staunch the wound because he could see some blood on Dorothy Bartle's back and that soon after the neighbours came in.

Dorothy Bartle's husband said that when he sent the 15-year-old boy out to get the doctor that he thought that the explosion had come from the fire and that his second thought was that it had been because of the thunder and lightning that was happening at the same time.

He said that the first time that he considered the gun was when the police told him that Dorothy Bartle's injury was due to a gun shot.

He said that he had borrowed the shotgun from a neighbour to go fox-shooting and that he had left the gun on the staircase, broken, with a live cartridge inserted because once a live cartridge had been inserted into the breach it was very difficult to get out. He noted that on the last occasion that the gun was taken out it had not been fired and the live round had been left in it.

Another neighbour who lived at 11 Reva Syke Road said that at about 8.25pm he heard a loud explosion from next door and that shortly after he heard Dorothy Bartle's husband shouting out, 'Nellie!'.

He said that he went round and saw Dorothy Bartle face down on the floor, bleeding from the mouth and said that there were splashes of blood on the floor and heard Dorothy Bartle's husband asking Dorothy Bartle where the blood had come from, but said that she was not answering.

He said that after the doctor arrived there was some discussion over how the explosion had happened and suggested that the only thing it could have been was an explosion in the fireplace.

He said that it was not until the following day that it was established that Dorothy Bartle had died from a gunshot wound and said that after that the 15-year-old boy admitted that the gun had gone off in his hand and pulled the spent cartridge out of his pocket.

After hearing the evidence, the Coroner noted that the police had given most anxious consideration to the case and had no reason to think that it was anything other than an accident, to which the police noted that from the account that the 15-year-old boy had given that and their reconstruction of the incident, they believed that it had been accidental.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Bradford Observer - Monday 16 January 1956

see Bradford Observer - Friday 13 January 1956

see Bradford Observer - Friday 27 January 1956