Unsolved Murders

John Smith

Age: 45

Sex: male

Date: 10 Sep 1902

Place: York Street, Leeds, Yorkshire

John Smith died after being hit in the street.

A 15-year-old labourer was tried twice for his manslaughter but acquitted. When he gave evidence he denied knowing John Smith or having ever seen him.

It was alleged that the youth had gone up to John Smith as he was talking to some friends in York Street on Sunday 7 September 1902 and struck him under the jaw, knocking him to the ground unconscious. John Smith had been taken home in a cab but died a few days later on Wednesday 10 September, his skull having been fractured. His head had hit the kerbstone.

John Smith had been a master bricklayer and had lived in Bertha Grove, Upper Accommodation Road.

When the labourer was first brought to the police court he objected to being put in the dock before being identified but was told that the man that said he had struck John Smith knew him.

At the trial it was alleged that the group that John Smith had been with were all more or less addicted to fighting with their fists as occasions required down York Street way although they denied it.

When one of the men that had been talking to John Smith was asked whether another man that had been talking to John Smith was a bit of an expert at fighting, the man replied, 'Well, I don’t suppose he gets his living by it'.  When the defence asked him, 'He is not as quiet as a lamb, if anybody put him up to it?' the man replied, 'No, perhaps not'. However, when he was asked, 'And I daresay you have sometimes used your fists?' he replied, 'No, never'.

The other man that had been talking to John Smith and who had lived in Sykes Place, York Street gave evidence stating that he had seen the labourer go up to John Smith and felling him. When the defence asked, 'I take it that you, amongst others in York Street, can use your fists a bit?', the man replied, 'No'. when he was then asked, 'Do you ever use them?' he said, 'Well, sometimes'. When he was asked whether he had used them since the Saturday he replied, 'Yes'.

It was also heard that the two men that John Smith had been talking to had been threatened. One of them said that he had been standing with the other man in Kirkgate when a man stepped out in front of them and said, 'Holloa, you two ---- policemen', I'll fight the pair of you', and that the man then took off his coat and at the same time another man came up behind him and said, 'Go on, fight him, lad' whilst simultaneously dragging off his coat. At the trial he was said to have dolefully added, 'I have not seen the coat since'. He said that when a policeman then saw him with his coat off that he was taken into custody but was later discharged.

When the labourer was found not guilty, the judge said to him, 'Now I want to say a word to you, young man. You may not always be so lucky in finding people who can't distinguish between truth and falsehood, and what I want to tell you is this, that if these two witnesses are assaulted, somebody will get severely punished, and the law will be strong enough to find it out. They were interfered with last Saturday for the evidence given in this case, and I warn you had better take care what your friends are about'. The labourer then said, 'I can't help what other people do' and the judge replied, 'Yes, you can, and you had better take care what you are about'. The labourer was then discharged.

It was heard that John Smith had recently been the prosecutor in a case of assault and robbery that was heard at the Leeds Assizes where three men were implicated.

The labourer had lived in Sykes Place, York Street.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Wednesday 17 December 1902, p3

see Western Times - Thursday 18 September 1902

see Derry Journal - Friday 12 September 1902

see Canterbury Journal, Kentish Times and Farmers' Gazette - Saturday 01 February 1902