There are certain stories and tales that we first hear when we are children, that for some reason or another – never leave us.
I first heard of the terrible tale of the Leveson Street Murders when I was around 12 years old, whilst reading ‘Liverpool – Tales of Murder, Mayhem and Mystery’ – by the late Richard Whittington-Egan.
Once I had read this book [that belonged to my dad], I would simply turn back to the Leveson Street story again and again. There was just something about the events of this horrible murder case that was morbidly fascinating.
Mr and Mrs Hinrichson [or Henrichson – according to some early accounts of the case] had taken a house at 20 Leveson Street just a stone’s throw away from Great George Street; this area was described as ‘one of the greatest thoroughfares in the town’ by the Liverpool Journal at the time of the murders.
The couple had moved to Liverpool from Hull with their children and Ann Hinrichson was 8 months pregnant. She was described as being an ‘accomplished person’ by her friends, which was no doubt a nod to her also being a private music teacher whilst her husband, John, was away at sea. The other residents of the large house were the couple’s children, Henry and John, both aged under 6 years’ old, and their maid servant Mary Parr.
It was somehow decided between the family to take in lodgers – simply to provide additional income to the household whilst John was away from home on long sea voyages. He was the Commander of the ships he sailed, which must have been a decently paid position, although I suppose there was always unforeseen circumstances with long voyages that could have left his family without the money they needed.
On 27th March 1849, a man called at the house – answering the advert that Ann had placed in the window of her front parlour. The stranger gave his name as John Gleeson Wilson, a dock carpenter, he disclosed he was earning 2 pounds and 10 shillings per week, and was able to pay a week’s rent in advance on request.
Ann showed the man around the top front bedroom and also the back parlour; these proved to Wilson’s liking and the two of them agreed that he could move into the house as soon as he liked – he stated that his luggage would be arriving on 29th March.
If Mrs Hinrichson looked upon her new tenant favourably, she was a very bad judge of character. Her new lodger already had an address in the city, at Sparling Street, presumably the act of renting a room in a salubrious part of town was merely a ruse to carry out some future criminal activity.
At around 8 o’clock that evening, he moved in. He settled himself in his new rooms, sent out for a pint of ale around 10pm, and then went to bed.
He rose early the next morning and whilst supping ale in a nearby tavern, he wrote a note and asked the propiertress for some sealing wax for the envelope. He also asked the lady if she could address the letter to ‘John Wilson Esq, 20 Leveson Street, Liverpool’. [He was illiterate and could not write]
He went out into the street and asked a passing boy to deliver the letter for him, but gave instructions to follow him, wait until he was safely inside the house – then knock and ask if John Wilson resided at the address. This chain of events seems to have no explanation, yet I suppose this could have been a strand of an unfinished part of Wilson’s later actions that we will never know of. The boy did as he was told, and Mary Parr handed the note to Wilson – who tipped the boy [with money borrowed from Mrs Hinrichson] and the lodger returned to his room.
Ann went out around 11 o’clock to carry out some grocery shopping in nearby St James Street, where she was a regular customer. She visited a chandlers and also a greengrocer – purchasing 2 jugs and some potatoes, which she arranged to have delivered later that day by the errand boys.
The potatoes were delivered in the first instance by the grocer’s errand boy. Wilson answered the door to him, taking the basket of produce and emptying it inside the house – then returning the empty basket to the boy. Around 20 minutes later, the chandler’s boy appeared at the front door but could not gain any answer; the boy rang the bell, and stood waiting to no avail. He put his eye to the keyhole and saw a pair of women’s legs lain across the hall, becoming more curious, he perched on the handle of his basket and steadied himself on the railings to peer into the front parlour window… The room was swathed in blood, with Mary Parr lying on the floor with serious injuries to her whole body. Alongside her was 5-year-old Henry Hinrichson, his head had been bashed to a pulp. The errand boy ran for his life back to his father’s shop, stammering out his horrific story – his father sent him back onto the streets to look for the nearest policeman.
Meanwhile at the house, a neighbour, Mr Hughes, had been summoned by a waiting pupil of Ann Hinrichson, waiting for her music lesson outside. He peeped into the front window, and his eyes shared the awful vision of the chandler’s boy, who had just returned with a policeman. Mr Hughes broke the window pane and gained access to the house, as the constable sent for reinforcements. The body of Mrs Hinrichson lay in the hall, mortally wounded; 3-year-old John lay down in the cellar with his throat cut from ear to ear, and Henry lay dead in the upstairs parlour. Mary Parr was found to be still alive although severely injured.
Upstairs in the house, the police found a bowl of blood stained water in Wilson’s room, yet he had long fled the scene.
Mary was rushed to the Southern Hospital and briefly regained consciousness to give the police a brief statement. She stated ‘The children were in the parlour and he drove them out with the newspaper’. She was cleaning the grate when Wilson began asking her the prices of various items in the room – the fire irons, the card table, the fender, etc. The next thing she remembered was being struck on the head with the tongs and lying helpless. She passed away a few days later.
Wilson’s next movements were given by various shop owners and witnesses across the city. He firstly headed to the ‘Figure of Eight’ pit in Toxteth Park to wash some of his blood stained clothing, he then headed to London Road to sell a gold watch, sold his boots to a woman, and asked his landlady [at another of his lodgings on Porter Street] for a clean shirt. He ventured out again around 6pm to a barbers shop on Great Howard Street, wherein he asked the owner if he could sell him a wig. The barber recommended a shop in Oil Street that may be able to help, and displaying a sheer air of criminal vanity – he asked the barber if he had heard of the terrible murders. When the barber anxiously asked if the killer had been caught, Wilson replied in the negative. He then took the ferry over the water, to spend the night in Tranmere.
The following day, he was back in Liverpool, in the grocer’s shop of Israel Samuel [who also dealt in watches]. Mr Samuel should have received a medal for his part in these events. He became suspicious of the gold watch that Wilson was attempting to sell to him, and even called in a passing policeman who said he didn’t recognise it as being stolen. Thinking on his feet, Israel said that the man could follow his son to his brothers shop on Dale St, the money could be given to him there, in exchange for the watch. In Hebrew, he told his son to watch the man closely, and to bundle him into the nearest Bridewell – and ask them to charge him.
Being taken completely by surprise, the plan worked! John Gleeson Wilson was now in the hands of the law.
The case caused a sensation. One of the main elements was that Mr Hinrichson was away at sea near Calcutta, and was in blissful ignorance of the horrors that awaited him when he came ashore. The tragic victims were buried in St James’ Cemetery, the Liverpool Mercury described the location of the grave ‘a little to the south and east of the monument erected to the memory of Mr Huskisson’. Unfortunately, the plot today is unmarked.
Upon incarceration in Kirkdale Gaol various stories were reported of him flying into violent rages with warders, threatening some with a hammer that had been left by some workmen. Following popular tradition of the times, a number of broadsides were written about the murderer. These were sold in the lead up to his trial.
Wilson’s real life story was dredged up by the press whilst he was awaiting sentencing. His real name was Maurice Gleeson and he was born in Limerick, the son of a blacksmith; who himself was a man of disrepute and much drunkenness – seemingly to have been passed on to his son. Gleeson’s family were supposedly ‘pariahs’ of the district in which they resided, and did not integrate with their social peers. Maurice was one of six children, the youngest being 10 at the time of his trial, and the mother having passed away some years before. He constantly spoke of his love for his mother whilst in gaol, and thought if she were still alive, he would not be in the position in which he was. He also asked to see his twin brother, John, whose name he had assumed for some months.
He supposedly left Ireland after committing a felony, and then made his way to Cork, then onto Plymouth where he found work in the iron industry. Never staying in one place for too long, he soon moved on to London, then Liverpool, marrying into a prosperous family, allowing him to subsist without working. It wasn’t long before he separated from his wife.
He did not attend Chapel in prison, and had two men sit in his cell with him each night, whilst another man read to him.
Unsurprisingly he was found guilty by Mr Justice Patteson at Liverpool Assizes and was hanged outside Kirkdale Gaol on 15th September 1849. Over 30,000 spectators attended his execution and extra trains were laid on by the railways to cope with the demand.
When Gleeson’s body swung from the rope – the crowd erupted in huge cheers and shrieks.
Shortly after the case was over, to shrug off the air of the horrific house of horrors, the street name was changed to Grenville Street South. The murder house was converted into a beer house in 1850, as it proved impossible to sell; and after a lengthy period of convalescence, Captain Hinrichson became the Dock Master of Toxteth, Huskisson and eventually Queens’ Docks.