Unsolved Murders

Brenda Pierce

Age: 9

Sex: female

Date: 25 Mar 1957

Place: Llanddoget Road, Llanrwst

Brenda Pierce was shot by a 20-year-old Youth in the street.

The Youth was tried for her manslaughter but acquitted. He said that the gun had gone off accidently when someone struck his gun whilst it was at half cock. His gun was shown to the court and it was demonstrated how it could be loaded at half cock and when struck would fire.

The prosecution said that shortly after 6pm on he evening of 25 Mach 1957 that the Youth had discharged his shotgun at a group of children, amongst which Brenda Pierce was one, who were walking along Llanddoget Road.

He was initially charged with her murder but the magistrates said that there was insufficient evidence for a charge of murder and he was committed for trial on a charge of manslaughter. The prosecution said, 'I do not think anyone who has listened to the case could say that the defendant wanted to hurt or kill this girl'.

The prosecution said that they were unable to say exactly what the Youth did or exactly what was on his mind at the time of the shooting. They said that there was no motive for the killing and that there was no enmity between them and that there had been no quarrels, adding that there was nothing to explain why he should suddenly shoot Brenda Pierce.

The Youth was a labourer and had lived in Cae'r Felin, Llanrwst.

Brenda Pierce, who had a twin sister, had also lived in Cae'r Felin and had been out rambling with other members of the Tabernacle Chapel Band of Hope on the Llannoget Road on 25 March 1957 when either Brenda Pierce or her twin sister shouted out 'Teddy Boys' at a group of boys amongst with the youth was with. It was claimed then that the Youth, who had been carrying the gun had replied, 'You say that again and i'll shoot you. However, when that evidence was heard at the magistrates court, read out by the police prosecutor, that te Youth shouted out, 'That's a lie'.

The shot had also wounded Brenda Pierce's twin sister and two other girls who, one of whom spent two weeks in hospital.

It was said that the Tabernacle Congregational Church had held a meeting every Monday evening for the Band of Hope and that at about 6pm the children had persuaded the minister to take them for a walk along Llanddoget Road, which was a quiet country lane. It was said that the minister had instructed the children not to bunch together, but told the younger children to walk in front and for the older children to walk behind.

It was said that at the rear of the procession were five children, including Brenda Pierce and her twin sister, and that as they walked along the road approaching Gorphwysfa, that the Youth and three of his companions came along from the opposite direction. It was said that the Youth had been carrying a shotgun in the normal position with the barrel pointing downwards.

It was said that the Youth had been given the gun about a quarter of an hour earlier from his brother who had been out shooting pigeons along with four cartridges. The prosecution said, 'It is not clear when he passed the children whether there was a cartridge in the gun or not. Just after the Youth had passed, Brenda or her sister, or both, shouted 'Teddy boys'. The Youth and his companions turned round to face the girls and the Youth, it is alleged, said some words to this effect, 'You say that again and I'll shoot you'. At that point at the magistrates hearing the Youth shouted out in court, 'That's a lie'.

The prosecution then went on to say, 'The Youth pointed the gun at the girls, waist level, and pulled the trigger. The click of an unloaded gun was heard. The Youth was then seen by two of the children taking a cartridge from his pocket and putting it into the breach. He aimed at the girls again from waist level and again pulled the trigger. This time the gun exploded, injuring two of the children and killing Brenda Pierce. Brenda was taken immediately in a motor van to the doctors surgery where she died within fifteen minutes of being taken there. The Youth followed immediately to the surgery and told the police he was responsible for the accident. He was taken to the police station. His brother arrived at 6.50pm and had a conversation with him. The Youth asked his brother, 'How is Brenda?' and received the reply, 'Mae hi wedi marw', (she is dead). The Youth found this difficult to grasp'.

The prosecution added that in the conversation with his brother the Youth was alleged to have said, 'I went with the gun for a walk. I tried the safety catch before reaching the road and it was all right. As we went along the road Brenda called 'Teddy Boys'. One of the boys hit the butt of the gun and it went off'.

It was further alleged that in a statement to the police that the Youth had said, 'At about 6pm I went for a walk with three friends. Proceeding through the fields, I met my brother. He had a gun. I took the gun and four cartridges. When I came to Llanddoget road I made sure the safety catch was on. Going along we met some girls who were in the care of an elderly man. One of the twins teased me and called me 'Teddy boy'. It happened as I turned to answer, when one of the boys hit the butt of the gun and it went off. I ran to the girl and found her face was all blood. A van took the girl o the doctor. I took the other sister home and told her father and mother what had happened. I then went to the surgery and told a police sergeant that I was responsible for the accident'.

The Youth was later that same night, at 10.15pm, charged with the murder of Brenda Pierce.

The prosecution said, 'It is necessary for you to know something about the mechanism of this gun. It is without a safety catch and it was necessary to exert a moderate and deliberate pressure to pull the trigger. There was no apparent mechanical defect and the gun could not easily be discharged by accident'. The prosecution then noted that it might be suggested that the gun was accidently discharged by the failure to operate one or two of the safety methods hat the previous owner of the gun was said to have explained to the Youth. The prosecution then said, 'One of the methods to make the gun safe was apparently to keep it at half-cock or to keep the trigger pressed while the bolt was pushing a cartridge into the breech. You may think that one or both of these methods in the hands of an inexperienced possessor of the gun, if pushed at the wrong moment, might discharge the gun. You may also think that with a gun without a safety catch it was highly dangerous to point it at a party of children, especially it it were known that there was a cartridge in the breech'.

The prosecution then went on to note that the Youth was charged with murder, which he said was a very grave charge for such a young boy, noting that it was one of the charges especially designated in the new Homicide Act and that there was the very real prospect that he might be convicted, describing it as the gravest of all offences. The prosecution then added, 'After hearing all the evidence you might think this was an accident, which the Youth has consistently maintained it is. It is, however, an accident occasioned by the greatest possible carelessness and one which never should have happened. The picture in your mind might be of a thoughtless young man aiming a loaded gun at a party of children in a moment of bravado and discharging it without any real intention to do sp. If at the conclusion of the evidence, you still think so, it will be consistent with your duty, and you have no other, to send the case forward with a charge of manslaughter'.

It was noted that the prosecutions opening address lasted 25 minutes.

Brenda Pierce was taken to the doctors surgery on 25 March 1957 at about 6.30pm suffering from gunshot wounds. She had blood flowing from her mouth and had a wound to the back of her chest. The doctor said that 'she was in a dying condition and she died about a quarter of an hour afterwards. She was brought in by the Reverend.

The pathologist that carried out the post mortem said that he found that the body of Brenda Pierce was that of a normal healthy girl he put as being aged between 10 and 11 years and that her death had been caused by a number of gunshot pellets, about 74, mainly distributed over her right back and shoulder blade that had penetrated her right lung, liver and kidneys, causing her death from shock and haemorrhage.

A chief inspector with the Home Office Forensic Science Laboratory in Preston said that on 26 March 1957 he received a single-barrel 12-bore shotgun, two live 12-bore cartridges and another cartridge that had been dissected. He said that after he received that gun that he tested it and found it to be in working order having carried out shooting tests with it and noted that the only difficulty that he experienced in the tests was the occasional failure of the extractor to extract the empty cartridge case from the breech after discharge. He said, 'I did not see any tendency for the weapon to be discharged accidently due to rough treatment of the weapon or due to pressure or blows on the sliding portion of the bolt. I found the trigger pressure was approximately four pounds, which is normally lighter than the pressure usually met in this type of gun. The expression hair-trigger does not apply to the trigger pressure in this case. In my opinion the most probable cause of an accidental discharge would be the accidental manipulation of the trigger of the when the weapon was loaded and cocked. There is no fitting which could be described as a safety catch. The expression half-cock does not accurately apply to this weapon but it could be used loosely to describe the forward movement of the bolt without pushing the bolt handle to the home position clockwise. With the gun in what has been loosely described as the half-cock position and with a live cartridge in the breech. I would certainly not regard it as an adequate safety precaution. There are two danger, that the discharge of the cartridge might cause the bolt to fly backwards, with the resultant possibility of damage to the firer or, alternatively, a cartridge may be discharged in the normal way. In the second alternative I am envisaging the possibility of the bolt handle falling forward, out in either of these two alternatives there would not be an explosion without pressure on the trigger. I have considered a second safety method, which is that of pressing the trigger before pushing a live cartridge into the breech by the bolt. In my opinion this would be a perfectly sound safety method but if the timing of the two acts, pressure on the trigger and pushing the bolt home, were not separated distinctly by pressing the trigger first and keeping it pressed there would be the danger of the gum discharging. The danger arises from the trigger being pressed at the same moment as the bolt being moved forward. Some degree of experience in handling this gun would be needed before it could be regarded as rendered safe by these measures'.

Brenda Pierce's father said that had had just returned home from the doctors at about 6.15pm when a few minutes later she saw Brenda Pierce's sister and two other girls along with the Youth come in and said that his daughter told him that Brenda Pierce had been hurt. He said that the Youth then told him that he had only hurt Brenda Pierce a little bit. Brenda Pierce's father said that he then asked where Brenda Pierce was and said that the Youth told him that she was at the doctors and said that he then went there on his bike. He said that when he got there he found several people attending to Brenda Pierce and that he was present when she died.

Brenda Pierce's father said that the Youth had known Brenda Pierce for about nine years and that they were on friendly terms but said that he did not know that Brenda Pierce used to call he Youth 'Embo'.

A labourer that lived in Hillside, Dolgarrog and worked for the Aluminium Corporation works in Dolgarrog said that sometime before Christmas 1956 that he ha downed the shotgun in question and that he had sold it to the Youth, who was his sister's brother-in-law, for £2 10s. He said that he had had the gun for about a year and had done a good bit of shooting with it and said that it was in good condition mechanically and that there was no 'hair trigger pressure' on it. He added that when he had had the gun that it had never gone off accidently without the trigger be pressed. He said, 'There is no safety catch on the gun, only when you work the bolt. He said that when there was a live cartridge in the breech that in order to make it safe, that he used to open the bolt and press the trigger and push the bolt back while the trigger was still pressed. He added that his second safety method had been to open the bolt and rotate the cocking piece to the left so that the bolt could not close.  He described that as the 'half-cock' method but said that he had never tried pulling the trigger when the gun was at the half-cock with a cartridge in the breech. He added that when he sold the gun he had described the methods of making the gun safe to the Youth.

The Youth's brother said that he lived at home in Cae'r Felin with his other brothers and sisters and said that on the 25 March 1957 at about 4.30pm that he left the house to go shooting pigeons, taking with him two No. 4 and two No 5 cartridges and the shotgun. He said that they Youth, his brother, owned the gun and that whilst out himself he didn't use any cartridges and that about 6pm or shortly after he met  his brother coming along the fields with some friends and that after speaking to him he gave him the gun and cartridges and walked about and then went home for tea.  He said that the gun had been unloaded when he had given to his brother and noted that his brother had owned it since the previous Christmas but that he could not say how many times his brother had been out with it. He added that he had however been out with his brother shooting on a number of occasions and noted that whilst out the gun had never gone off accidently with a cartridge in it.

He said, 'I think the trigger mechanism has gone off when the gun has had no cartridge in the breech while in my possession. This happened by my knocking my hand on the bolt. I mean it has gone off accidently by a rough method of closing the bolt'

A friend of the Youth who lived in Cae'r Felin and who was a pupil at Llanrwst Secondary School said that at about 5.10pm on 25 March 1957 he met the Youth at Cae'r Felin and that the Youth asked him if he had seen his gun and that he told him that he hadn't. He said that they could not find the gun in the Youth's house and so they went off with some other friends to Bron Berw fields where they met the Youth's brother who gave the Youth his can and four or five cartridges after which they said that the Youth's brother went off home.

He said that they then crossed back to Tyddyn fields where he remembered he saw the Youth loading the gun but noted that when they crossed a hedge that he saw the Youth take out the cartridge. He said that they then finally got to the Llanrwst to Llanddoget road near Gorphwysfa Lodge where he saw a number of children coming from the opposite direction with a gentleman. He said that he recognised Brenda Pierce and her twin sister along with two or three other girls. Je said, 'As we passed the girls one of the Pierce girls called the Youth a Teddy boy. He was just passing the girls then. We made a joke over it and the Youth raised the gun. At this moment the girls were behind him and he turned round and pointed the gun towards them. When we first saw the girls he had been carrying the gun under his right arm with the barrel pointed downwards. He held the gun at waist level with the barrel pointing slightly downwards when he turned round. He then lowered the gun to ground level again. We were laughing and the Youth said, 'I will shoot you', making a joke out of it. I turned round and walked about two yards away from the Youth then I heard a shot. Turning round I saw the girls running down the road, screaming, towards the gentleman. I did not notice the Youth at that moment. The youth ran across the road and placed the gun at the side of the road. He ran towards the girls and said, 'What the hell have I done?' One of the Pierce girls had fallen into the gentleman's arms. A van belonging to two brothers came along and was stopped by the gentleman. He lifted the girl inside. Two boys stayed with the girls. I walked with the Youth down to Llanrwst. He asked me to take the gun to his house and threw the cartridges away'.

The Youth's friend  said that he had been two yards away from the Youth when the shot was fired and that he could not have jogged him or the gun. He said that the Youth had been in the middle of the road when the shot was fired. She said that the two other boys that later stayed with the girls had been behind the Youth when the shot was fired and that they were nearer to the Youth than he had been himself.

The Youth's friend said that the Youth had told him that he thought that he should take the cartridge out when he was getting on to the main road, noting that that was before they had seen the girls and that he saw the Youth put the safety catch on at which time there was a cartridge in the breech. He added that he didn't see the cartridge removed before he heard the bang and that he remembered seeing the Youth push the bolt home, leaving the bolt outwards, which was what he said the Youth meant by saying that he had put the safety catch on.

He said that when one of the twins had called the Youth a 'Teddy boy', the Youth had been about one and a half or two yards away from them.

When the Youth's friend was cross-examined he said that the little girls had been joking and friendly and that it was clear that the Youth had been being friendly towards them. He said that after the shot that he saw the Youth put the gun down and run towards the girls and that on the way down to Llanrwst that it was clear that the Youth was very shocked.

Another friend of the Youth that had been with the group said that he remembered passing the first lot of children that were being led by the Reverend and that he remembered seeing three girls at the rear including Brenda Pierce but could not remember anything being said when they passed. He said that at that same time he was watching a little boy in a nearby stream and said that he and his companions laughed at the boy. He said, 'I saw the Youth put up the gun and I put my hands over my eyes. The Youth had previously been holding the gun under his arm'. He said that he next heard a bang but could not remember how long that was after he covered his eyes, saying that he could not have jogged the Youth's or the gun as he was about three feet away. He said that he and his companions has passed the girls whe the Youth started raising the gun but that he could not remember if the Youth had turned round towards them.

When the other friend was questioned at the magistrates hearing he said that the girls had been facing the Youth before the gun had gone off and that he was on the Youth's right, between him and the girls, when the girls passed. He said that the first of the Youth's friends was about 12 yards in front of him and the third friend was to the left of the Youth. He added that he didn't hear the Youth or the girls say anything and did not see anything and that all he heard was the shot fired and that he had no idea how it was fired. He said that he stood still at the time but did not remember where he was facing just before the shot was fired.

When the other friend was asked, 'We are not quite clear why you covered up your eyes', the other friend said, 'I don't know'.

The third of the Youth's friend who had lived in Cae Tyddyn, Llanrwst said that he had been on the Youth's left and that the Youth had been carrying the shotgun under his arm with the barrel pointing downwards. He said when the last group of girls, including Brenda Pierce passed, that he didn't recall them saying anything. He said, 'After we passed, the bang went off and we put our hands to our faces'. He added that when the bang had gone off he had been talking to the other friend, the second youth that had been on the Youth's right. He said that before the bang went off that the Youth had been talking to the first friend that had been 12 yards in front. He said that he didn't see the Youth turn around when the shot was fired and that he did not see the Youth do anything with the gun from the moment they passed the girls and added that he was sure that he had not touched the Youth or the gun.

When the third friend was questioned he said that it was the noise of the bang that made him put his hands over his face and said that the second friend had later told him that he too had put his hands over his eyes in fright.

One of the girls that had been in the group of girls who had lived in George Street, Llanrwst, said that she had gone to the band of hope at Tabernacle after which the Reverend had taken her and some other children for a walk. She said that she had been part of the last group of girls with along with Brenda Pierce  and that whilst on the road that they had passed four boys walking in the opposite direction. She said that she saw the Youth carrying a gun and that one of the twins, Brenda Pierce or her sister, called, 'Teddy boy'. She said that she remembered seeing the Youth putting his hand in his pocket but could not remember what happened afterwards.

Brenda Pierce's sister said, 'The Youth was carrying a gun and when we passed he stopped. I turned round and he left the gun up. He pulled the trigger and nothing happened. I heard a click. He pulled something orange from his pocket and put it in his gun. He lift the gun up and I then heard a bang. I turned away. Brenda Pierce started to run to the Reverend. There was some orange paper on her arm. It was the same colour as the orange thing I had seen before'.

Brenda Pierce's sister then described how Brenda Pierce was put in the van and said, 'The Youth said he would take me home. He did not say anything else'.

Another of the girls that had been in the group who had lived in Tryfan, Llanrwst said that when the boys passed them that Brenda Pierce and her twin sister were not together but that she heard someone shout 'Teddy boy'. However, she said, 'I did not see him pull the trigger, but I heard a small bang. I turned around and then I heard a big bang. I saw Brenda run and heard her sister say she had been shot'. At the magistrates hearing the girl said that she didn't know what had caused the small bang but noted that the big bang did not follow very quickly after the little one. She said, 'It happened just after I turned round'.

Whilst the girl was giving her evidence the prosecution demonstrated the sound of the bolt being released and the girl confirmed that hte little bang was like that, the sound of the bolt handle being released from the down position. When the prosecution then demonstrated with the gun's trigger, she said that the small bang was not like that of the trigger being pulled.

Another girl that lived in Trytan, Llanrwst said that she took Brenda Pierce's sister home and that on the way they met the Youth who she said asked whether anyone else had been hurt and said that she told him that two other girls had been hurt. She said that he then told her that he didn't know how it happened but then said something about a safety catch. She said, 'I think he said 'It must have slipped'. She said that the Youth then told her that he would take Brenda Pierce's sister home and then go to the police station and give himself up. She added that she theought that when they got to Brenda Pierce's home that the Youth told Brenda Pierce's mother that there had been an accident and that it was not his fault.

When the Reverend of the Tabernacle Congregational Chapel gave his evidence he said that he had taken the children for a walk and that when they had approached Gorphwysfa Lodge that a party of boys came from the opposite direction and that the Youth was one of them had been carrying a gun with the barrel pointed downwards. He said that he had instructed the children to space themselves out on the walk with a group of older children to the rear which included Brenda Pierce. He said that the he saw the boys pass and then heard the report of the gun a few seconds afterwards at which tim he was in the middle of the group noting that some of the younger children had gone to some water at te foot of the hill. He added that the gun and been being carried properly before the report.

He said that Prunella Scales collapsed in his arms and that he then stopped a passing van and Brenda Pierce was taken to the doctor's surgery.

Following the shooting the Youth was soon after arrested and charged with murder.

At the magistrates hearing the Youth's defence claimed that there was insufficient evidence for a charge of murder and added that there was no evidence that could constitute a prima facie case of manslaughter.

When the Youth's defence addressed the jury he explained that the murder charge was a capital charge under the new Homicide Act and that the law was quite simple on the matter and that in order to find the Youth guilty of the alleged offence that they would have to be satisfied that Brenda Pierce's death was occasioned by a voluntary effort and that the Youth wilfully pulled the trigger adding that thy would also have to be satisfied that the pulling f the trigger had been done with malice and that the Youth had intended to cause Brenda Pierce grievous harm or death and that unless that could be proved that the charge should be one of manslaughter and not murder.

The defence then said, 'I do not think that anyone who has listened to this case could say that the accused wanted to hurt or kill this girl. The whole of the evidence has indicated in every way that it was an accidental meeting. The only evidence at the most is from two witnesses who indicated that there might have been some jocular activity which resulted in the gun going off. It might have been carelessness, bravado or foolishness on the Youth's part and the jury would have to consider whether the carelessness was sufficient to justify manslaughter. In my submission no reasonable jury could convict him on a charge of murder on the evidence submitted'.

Following the submissions the jury at the magistrates court reduced the charge to manslaughter and the Youth was sent for trial at the Ruthin Assizes on 23 May 1957, but he was acquitted although its not clear whether that was because they could not be satisfied that there was doubt or whether they decided that it was purely an accident or some other reason.

At the trial a police inspector demonstrated before the jury with the rifle to show how the gun at half-cock might be caused to go off when given a blow. The police inspector cut the top off a cartridge in the court room and put it in the breech and struck the gun whilst it was at half-cock and it was seen that the bolt went home and when the police inspector then extracted the cartridge it was seen that there was a small mark on itto indicate that it might have been fired in that way. It was reported that the Youth had been acquitted after the police inspector carried out the test with the gun in the court room.

The  Daily Mirror on Friday 24 May 1957 published  an article titled, 'Gun test clears man' implying that it was the strength of the test in the court that secured the Youth's acquittal.

The Youth denied pointing the gun at Brenda Pierce and said that he had had the gun at half-cock and that somebody, he did not know who, had struck the butt of the gun nd his arm and that the gun had gone off in that way.

Brenda Pierce's funeral took place on Friday 29 March 1957 at Llanrwst. Her service was held at her home and was followed by a cortege through the streets to the cemetery. It was reported that more than 300 floral tributes were received and that shops along the route were closed and that hundreds of mourners lined the street in silent crowds.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see North Wales Weekly News - Thursday 30 May 1957

see North Wales Weekly News - Thursday 02 May 1957

see Daily Herald - Friday 24 May 1957

see Western Mail - Friday 24 May 1957

see Daily Mirror - Friday 24 May 1957

see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 24 May 1957

see Northants Evening Telegraph - Friday 24 May 1957

see North Wales Weekly News - Thursday 04 April 1957

see Northants Evening Telegraph - Friday 24 May 1957

see Halifax Evening Courier - Friday 24 May 1957