Unsolved Murders

Catherine Kelly

Age: 68

Sex: female

Date: 29 Nov 1963

Place: 131 Argyle Street, Rochdale

Catherine Kelly died from gas poisoning.

She was found slumped in a chair in front of a gas fire at her home at 131 Argyle Street in Rochdale on Thursday 14 November 1963. Her 4-year-old granddaughter was also found lying on the floor, but she was rushed to hospital where she later recovered.

Her inquest heard that the issue was whether or not a boiler point gas pipe had been sealed off or not and the Coroner said that it was not beyond the bounds of possibility that a charge of manslaughter could be made.

The doctor that carried out the post mortem said that in his opinion Catherine Kelly's death had been due to coal gas poisoning, noting that she had had a 67% concentration of carbon monoxide in her bloodstream.

Catherine Kelly's son said that on the day he had not used the gas lighter as his wife had told him that it was faulty. He noted that it was the only gas appliance in the house and that they had only put a shilling in the meter since they had moved in a fortnight earlier. He said:

My mother would not touch the gas fire lighter and if the fire went down she would use more paper and wood.

He said that there had been an open-ended pipe underneath the draining board in the scullery, but that he had never touched it before the day his mother died. He said that after Catherine Kelly had been found dead, he was asked to put his face near the pipe and found that there was a strong smell of gas after which a gas fitter came and sealed off the pipe.

When he was questioned by the solicitor for the North Western Gas Board, he said that he was quite sure that there had been no seal on the pipe when he first saw it, and denied that any of his three children would have interfered with any such pipe.

His wife, Cartherine Kelly's daughter-in-law, said that she had never tried to use the gas-lighter, but said that a gas fitter had and that the appliance had not worked. She said that a complaint had been lodged with the site agent on the estate and that on 7 November 1963 another gas fitter visited her home to examine the appliance. She said:

He said he would send someone else as there was water in the meter.

She said that the following day another fitter came to her house, but she had been out when he called.

She said:

My mother-in-law would not use gas or electrical appliances, but I had shown her how to use one burner on the electric stove.

She added that she had seen a pipe behind the washer in the scullery but had thought that it had been a water pipe as it was open ended.

A gas fitter employed by the North Western Gas Board said that on 12 September 1963, he had installed a meter at Catherine Kelly's home and had tested the pipe system for leaks. He said:

There was a substantial leakage and I checked the rest of the pipe installations.

He said that during his inspection that he noticed the pipe in the scullery and saw that it had been 'capped off'. He said that he then turned the gas off at the mains and left the house.

He said that he returned the following day with an apprentice fitter and found that a nail had been driven through one of the pipes under the floorboards in an upstairs room. He said that he then repaired the length of piping and tested the system again and found that there was no apparent leakage.

He said that at 10.20pm on 14 November 1963, shortly after Catherine Kelly had been found dead, that he again inspected the gas system. He said:

I turned on the supply at the meter and I knew straight away that a large amount of gas was escaping because of the noise at the meter. I found that the boiler point had no cap on.

He added that the fitting on which the cap should have been was still soldered on the end of the pipe.

When he was questioned by the Coroner, he said that the caps were normally screwed on to the induction fitting with a pair of pliers and that the cap could not be unscrewed simply by finger pressure. However, he said that he did think that a child of the age 11 or 12 could have unscrewed the cap if they had been equipped with a pair of pliers.

The apprentice fitter, who had also been employed by the North Western Gas Board, corroborated the gas fitters story and added that he had visited 131 Argyle Street on 7 November 1963 after the fault had been reported. He said that the gas was turned off and that he then inspected the system. He said:

I heard a bubbling noise after I undid the main tap union. There was no smell and I deducted that the fault must be outside the house.

Another gas fitter with the North Western Gas Board said that at 1.30pm on 12 November 1963 he had visited 131 Argyle Street to investigate a fault in the gas system.

He said that the gas was turned off and that he discovered that the fault was outside the house and that he left the house with the supply turned off and reported his findings.

A man that described himself as an Alan Taylor unit operator that was also employed by the North Western Gas Board, said that on Thursday 14 November 1963 he had gone with his unit to 131 Argyle Street. he said that he went to the gas lighter and turned on the tap and found that there was no gas supply coming through. He added:

I turned the meter on and put it 'on test' by reading the clocks. There was no gas passing through. This was due to water in a pipe outside the house.

He added that after he had cleared the water from the outside pipe, he tested the gas lighter and found it lit satisfactorily. He added:

I left the house with the gas supply turned on at the mains and told the old lady (Catherine Kelly) she could then use the lighter if she wanted. She said nothing. There were no leaks in the system then.

An 11-year-old boy said that at 4.15pm on 14 November 1963 that he returned home from school and knocked on the door so that his Grannie would let him in. He said that when he got no answer that he went round to the side door and let himself in and immediately noticed the smell of gas. He said:

When I went into the living room I saw Grannie sat in her chair in front of the fire. I thought she was asleep but after a short while I realised something was wrong and I went to look for my little sister. She was lying on the floor behind the front door. I picked her up and opened the door then shouted to someone who was passing.

When he was asked about the induction fitting and cap on the pipe, he said that he had not seen any such fitting and didn't know there was a pipe behind the washer.

An apprentice painter that had lived in Blackley, Manchester, said that as he was passing 131 Argyle Street that the boy called him in. He said:

I went into the house and saw the old lady slumped in the chair in front of the fire. the fire lighter was not lit but the gas tap was turned on, so I turned it off.

A police constable that was called to the house and that when he arrived he noticed that a budgerigar was dead in the bottom of its cage.

He said that he was also there when the first gas fitter found that the boiler point in the kitchen was open-ended, noting that he didn't recall seeing any facture, such as an induction fitting, on the end of the pipe. He said that the gas fitter then screwed an elbow-shaped seal on to the end of the pipe.

He added that he later made an exhaustive search of the house and was not able to find the missing cap.

A plumber under a sub-contract to the North Western Gas Board to provide fittings for houses on the Darn Hill estate said that he had no specific recollection of the house in question as he had made similar fittings to many other houses on the estate. However, he said that according to his records, the fittings to 131 Argyle Street had been completed in December 1962, noting that the fittings would have included sealing the boiler point with a quarter inch cap filled with a jointing compound.

A commercial manager with the North Western Gas Board said that from the type of meter installed at 131 Argyle Street, 72 cubic feet of gas could be obtained for one shilling and that if the gas was being used by one appliance, that it would take about 25 minutes for that amount of gas to be used.

When the Coroner summed up, he said that he could not accept that Catherine Kelly or the 4-year-old girl had removed the cap from the point, nor that any of the family had any monetary advantage to gain. He said:

It seems to me that whatever view one takes, somebody is grossly mistaken in their recollection, either deliberately, or otherwise. Whoever is responsible for not fitting the cap to the point, or for its subsequent removal, has caused the death of Mrs Kelly and nearly the death of the four years old child.

He also said:

I m not satisfied that I have been told the whole truth in this matter and in the light of more facts a charge of manslaughter would not be beyond the bounds of possibility. However, I must exclude any possibility of suicide.

He then returned an open verdict.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Heywood Advertiser - Friday 29 November 1963