Avid readers of true crime will be familiar with execution by hanging, but what if that hanging is self-inflicted? What if the hanging happens to a teenage boy with no apparent rhyme or reason?
The most well-known example of this in Liverpool is the unsolved case of Charles Greaney. He lived at 62 Edge Lane, on the corner of Dorothy Street – in a large 3 storey Victorian house; where his mother, Mary, ran a pawn broking business.
Charles was left home alone whilst his parents went to a nearby hotel for drinks on the 2nd February 1946; they left him contentedly reading a Boy Scouts book [of which he was a member].
A young boy named Ernest Johnston, a relative of the family, was passing by the house that Saturday evening and was alarmed to see the front door wide open and the lights spilling out into the front garden. He walked inside the house and found 11-year-old Charles, hanging from the wooden slatted clothes airer in the kitchen. He ran as fast as he could to track down Mr and Mrs Greaney – and brought them back to the house immediately. Charles’ head was in the loop at the top of the airer.
The despairing parents became aware that their house had also been burgled – which seemed more than a coincidence. They had no time to look into the items that were missing at first, their son obviously being their prime concern. It wasn’t long before the Police and the parents classed Charles’ death as murder. Murder by hanging; carried out by the intruders.
The pathologists examining the scene noticed there was a chair underneath the kitchen fireplace, below the boy. Yet, they could not find any footprints on the chair, and also – if the boy had somehow climbed up onto the contraption – the mantelshelf would have been his climbing aid. The shelf in question was thick with undisturbed dust. The pulley for the airer was also in the ‘Up’ position – and this would’ve had to be manually moved.
When the body was examined in the mortuary, the pathologist found some deep bruising that pointed to a h weavy blow having been sustained – just before death. Charles may have been unconscious when hoisted up on the old fashioned clothes line.
Over 1000 mourners attended the boy’s funeral in West Derby Cemetery, with the service being held in St Cyprians Church.
The Liverpool CID wasted no time in their search for the criminals. Six men were arrested less than a week after the events. Only four of the men were eventually tried for murder and burglary. The court’s verdict in May 1946 was ‘Not Guilty’. This case remains tragically unsolved.
I have discovered other similar cases in Liverpool – also involving young males.
John Austin Byrne, aged 14, of Southbank Road also hung himself, apparently due to comments made by his mother that his appearance was not smart enough for a new job role as a butcher’s boy. At the inquest, Mrs Byrne stated that she had simply suggested that her son use bicycle clips on his socks instead of ‘stuffing the end of his trousers into his socks’. When John retorted sharply, Mrs Byrne stated that he wouldn’t talk to his boss that way, otherwise he would ‘have his head knocked off’. ‘I won’t let anyone knock my head off, I’ll kill myself first!’ was John’s reply before whistling on his way out of the house.
A few hours later, a messenger was sent from John’s workplace to see why he hadn’t arrived at work that morning. Mrs Byrne looked around the house and found her son hanging in one of the rooms. A verdict of ‘Suicide’ was brought by the Coroner.
To conclude, I came across another similar case too. John James Farrell, also hung himself – aged 15 years, in 1937. The circumstances were somewhat similar. He lies in a small grave in the corner of a sleepy cemetery in Liverpool’s suburbs.