Unsolved Murders

Stephen Leadbetter

Age: 10

Sex: male

Date: 15 Feb 1965

Place: 32 Talbot Street, Bootle, Lancashire

Source: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Stephen Leadbetter was beaten about the head and strangled with a rope.

His body was found under debris in a derelict house.

The man who lived behind the house was tried for murder but acquitted.

Talbot Street has since been demolished but is approximately where Gemini Close is now.

A policeman who lived on Stafford Street which was on the other side of Talbot Street said that he knew the man that was accused of the murder of Stephen Leadbetter. He said that at the time the demolition in the area had been going on for about 3 months and that part of the time a proper demolition squad had been working on 32 Talbot Street but that the children that played nearby had also done some demolition themselves. He said that on the afternoon of Sunday 14 February 1965 at about 2.30pm he saw the man chasing some children in Stafford Street. He said he stopped the children and spoke to the man who told him that he was fed up with the children causing annoyance around his home. He said that one of the children was Stephen Leadbetter's 11 year old brother and that the man pointed him and Stephen Leadbetter out saying that they were always bothering him. The policeman said he then took Stephen Leadbetter's brother home to his mother where he lived on Talbot street. He said that at the time Stephen Leadbetter's brother was carrying a small hatchet and he warned their mother about them behaving themselves.

The policeman said that he knew from his enquiries that the man was very concerned about the amount of hooliganism that had been going on around his house. He also said that the children had been in 32 Talbot Street and that there had also been fires there.

Stephen Leadbetter's father was a builders labourer and had been living on Talbot Street. Stephen Leadbetter was born on 30 August 1964 and was the third youngest of his six children. He said that at about 4.30pm on Monday 15 February 1965 Stephen Leadbetter was inside their home playing with a football on his own. Next, at 9pm he said the police called came to his home and he went with them to 32 Talbot Street where he identified Stephen Leadbetter's body.

A 16 year old apprentice welder who worked at the united Grain Elevators at 53 Talbot Street, Bootle just over the railway bridge said that he finished work at 5pm on Monday 15 February 1965 and was standing at the gate of the premises looking towards the Marsh Lane end of Talbot Street when from the second alleyway he saw a man run into Talbot Street. He said the man wore a cap and a black overcoat but wasn’t sure about his height. He said he saw him run from the entry and take hold of a small child and holding him by the back of his collar he took him back down the entry. The apprentice welder said he then went home. He said that the boy was grabbed between 28 and 30 Talbot Street. He also said that at the time there were a couple of other children over the railway bridge.

The man who was charged's wife said that they had been living on Bootle Street. She said that he was a retired motor driver, 69 years of age. She said that she came to Stafford Street in 1939 and they married in 1952 and that prior to their marriage he had lived at Deeside Bungalows in Heswall and when they were married he came to live with her. She said that he retired two years earlier.

She said that he liked to go out in the afternoons for some fresh air and that he went out for a while on Monday 15 February 1965 but said he didn’t say what he went out for although he always went out. She said he went out at about one or half past or there abouts and was out for a few hours and then he came home again.

She said he then went out again to get the paper which he always did but she didn’t look at the clock and couldn’t say what time it was although he normally went out for the Echo between 4.30 and 5.00pm and was normally only out for a few minutes. She said he went out through the back door. She said that she was cooking at the time and after a while she went to the back door to see if he was coming but didn’t hear anything or see him. Then she went again to the back door and saw him and said that he was in a very queer state of mind. She said 'What’s the matter lad, have you fallen?' She said that his clothes were in a very bad state and his face was all dirty. She said that she brought him in by the arm and said that he hardly knew her. She said 'I'll wipe your face' and also 'I'll wipe your hand' which she noticed was bleeding very badly. She said she wiped his face and wiped his hand a bit and then told him to stay where he was while she went for the doctor because he seemed very ill. She said that at first she went to a house on the opposite side of Stafford Street but got no answer. She then went back and told her husband that she would have to get help to get a doctor and went to a nephews on Hornby Road.

She also said that when she had first seen her husband after he had got back from getting the newspaper that he had stood on the step of the back door opposite the back door of their house and he had said 'I have had three bricks thrown at me this afternoon'. She said she asked 'What for?' and that he had replied 'Bricks and slates'. She said that she asked 'Why didn’t you come and see me, I might have gone and seen the children’s mothers' adding that she had been to see one of the child’s mothers on the Saturday about the fires. She said that they had had nothing but fires and smashing and bricks and goodness knows what. She said that she had been to see Stephen Leadbetter's father but all he had said was that he didn’t want to upset her and she said that that was all he had said. She said that her husband had not said what child had thrown the bricks at him that day.

She said that her husband was a quiet man and liked to stay at home and had a collection of classical records and liked to listen to them and read a lot. She said that it was about June that they started demolishing the houses and moving people out and that after they moved people out the children had started pulling them to bits and lighting fires. She said that her husband had been concerned about the damage to the property and the fires that had been caused and that the fire brigade had to be called out a number of times for fires that had been started in the street.

When questioned she said that when she said that her husband was in a very confused state of mind when he returned she meant he was confused, dazed and hardly knew her and said he looked as though he had had a black out and could not get any sense out of him saying he just said 'Bricks and slates'. She also said that at the time she didn’t know about his badly bruised and bleeding right leg. She said that he was wearing a navy blue raincoat at the time.

The woman’s nephew said that she came to his house at about 5.50pm after which he went to her house in his van where he saw her husband in the kitchenette in a state of shock and bleeding from his right hand. He said he wrapped his hand in some material and took him to Bootle Hospital. He said he asked him 'What’s the matter lad, did you fall over again?' and said that he only replied 'Bricks and slates'. After he went back to Stafford Street with his Aunt and as a result of something his Aunt said he had a look around the yard and then looked in the yard of the house opposite and then went into the house and saw some blood stains around the place. He then got a more powerful torch and saw quite a lot of blood around the chimney breast and then when looking further back from where he had already entered he saw a shoe protruding from under a door which was lying horizontally and lop sided on the floor. He said he lifted the door and saw the body of Stephen Leadbetter and then sent someone for a doctor.

When questioned he said that when he said that his uncle was in a state of shock he meant that he was dazed and mumbling to himself and he could not make out what he was saying or get any sense from him. He said that he had asked him what happened on the way to the hospital but could not get any sense out of him at all. He also added that he knew that he had fallen over on the debris on occasion two days before.

When a junior house officer at Bootle Hospital treated the man he said that he had told him that he had cut himself when he fell down chasing some boys and he had cut his hand on some pieces of slate lying on the ground. He said that he had two cuts on the back of his right hand. One was on the back of the right index finger and the other was on the hand itself.

When the police went to the back entrance of 32 Talbot Street they said that they saw a baseball boot protruding from underneath a pile of rubbish and with some assistance he moved two blocks of concrete and then some pieces of lino followed by a baulk of timber which then exposed a door which he then removed with some assistance to reveal the body of Stephen Leadbetter.

The police also saw a trial of blood that went from the body of Stephen Leadbetter to the back door of the man’s house on Stafford Street and continued through the door and into the kitchen.

During a search of 32 Talbot Street the police also found a pair of spectacles lying in the rubble near where the boys head had been. It was stated that the previous occupants who had lived there until July 1964 had never worn glasses and that as far as they knew there were no glasses in the house when they left.

An optician said that he had prescribed glasses for the man when he had been living at Deeside Bungalows saying he prescribed a right eye spherical 3.75 and in the left eye a spherical plus 3.50 with a frame and cover and said that the glasses he had been show that were found in the rubble were fairly similar and the pattern was the same adding that the pattern was a No. 514 of the Health Service range. He said that in 1949 there were about 16 types of frames available to adult men under the Health Service but only about 3 or 4 were chosen. He also said that Frames 514 were no longer available and became unavailable several years before. However, he said that he could not tell if the lenses in the glasses found were for reading or distance and said that the right eye spherical was plus 2.25 and the left eye spherical plus 3.5. He said that he had prescribed reading glasses for the man and that if he had prescribed distance glasses he would have prescribed a right eye spherical 2.25 and for the left eye plus 2.00. He also said that the man had very little vision in his left eye due to corneal opacities caused by lime when he was 15 and that he would not have expected his prescription for the left eye to have changed after 1949. He also said that when he came to him he already had a pair of glasses and the prescription for hem was right eye plus 2.50 and in the left eye plus 3.50 but that he could not say whether or not his eyesight would have changed between 1949 and the present day.

When the police examined the spectacle they found blood stains on the lens and slight dust on top of the blood indicating that the glasses had only been there for a short time

When the doctor examined the body of Stephen Leadbetter he found lacerations about his head and skull fractures as well as a piece of cord resembling window cord that had been tied tightly around his neck with a granny knot. He said that the head injuries could have been produced by a length of wood that was found at the scene and presented as evidence. The cause of death was given as asphyxia due to strangulation by ligature. They also found bruises on his arms that were thought to have been caused by self-defence.

When the police interviewed the man at Bootle Hospital he said 'It was the kids, I was chasing three kids and then I fell over and I don’t remember anything until I came to in the yard'. When he was asked what yard he said 'It wasn’t the yard, it was on the waste ground at the end of the entry. I cut my hand on some slates when I fell'.

Examination of paint flakes found on Stephen Leadbetter found flakes of brittle paint with three layers, red, brown and green. Other samples from the area included red paint, mainly on plaster with several layers which included red, brown and green. Other samples from the mans boots also showed paint flakes with red, brown and green layers, samples from his trousers included plain colours red, white and white on red. Other flakes from Stephen Leadbetter included red, red and white, white and black, yellow, and red and cream.

When the police asked the man if he could help them with their enquiries he said he fell over, and when he was arrested he said nothing. Later when they asked him about his wife saying that she had seen him at the back of Talbot Street and bleeding he said 'I cannot remember anything after I fell. Only meeting my wife in the entry.' When asked if he had been in an empty house that night he said 'I cannot remember, I don’t think so'. The police then asked if he would like to hear his wife’s statement and he said yes and after it was read to him and he was asked to think hard he said 'I am thinking. My wife would not tell lies, it must be true but I can’t remember. I only remember chasing three boys and falling down. He was then asked to demonstrate how he fell and he stretched out both arms, palms downwards and the police then asked him how was it that the wounds were on the back of his hands and he said 'Im trying to remember but I can’t'. They then showed him his blue raincoat that was dirty, torn and bore what appeared to be a large number of blood stains and he was asked if he recognised it and he said he did, and when asked if he was wearing it when he fell he said it must have ripped when he fell and said that the blood stains on the inside and out must have come from his hands.

When they looked in his raincoat they found two spectacle cases, a red one and a black one. The red one had a pair of spectacles in it but the black one was empty. They asked him if he was wearing his spectacles when he chased the children and he said he couldn’t remember and that he didn’t always wear them. When asked what type they were he pointed to the policeman’s glasses and said 'They were not thick framed glasses like yours. They were brown tortoiseshell with thinner frames.

Then he noted that his Ingersoll pocket watch was not there. Later the police showed him an Ingersoll pocket watch and told him that it was found inside the derelict house at 14 Talbot Street but he said that he could not remember being in any house in Talbot Street the previous afternoon or day.

The man was tried and his defence offered to plead manslaughter but it was rejected and he was then acquitted.

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

see National Archives - DPP 2/3955, ASSI 52/1543

see "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 17 Feb. 1965: 17. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.

see "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 31 Mar. 1965: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.

see "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 28 May 1965: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.

see Liverpool Murders