On Friday 13th July 1945, a small group of boys were playing on a blitzed site at the corner of Great Homer Street and Fulford Street. There had been a cylinder on their makeshift playground for a while now. Some workers sat on it and used it as a bench whilst taking a break, it became part of the rubble, and many assumed it was just debris from the bombed site.
One of the boys, Tommy Lawless, whilst finding a hiding place from his friends in their game of hide and seek noticed a white object sticking out of one end of the metal object. On closer inspection, the boys gathered around and discovered it was a human leg bone.
The boys ran to find the nearest policeman who happened to be on duty on nearby Kirkdale Road. He had the cylinder and its contents removed to the mortuary.
Upon arrival at the City Morgue, the cylinder was duly noted and described in the log, ‘riveted sheet iron cylinder, approximately 6 feet and 9 inches long and 18 ¾ inches in diameter. Sealed at one end with an iron lid, riveted in position, and the other end closed by pressing together.
Due to the metal, a blow lamp was needed to cut through the object to delve deeper into its secret contents. The pathologist, Dr Charles Vincent Harrison, could not believe his eyes when the figure of a Victorian tattered man lay inside. His head was resting on a brick fashioned as a pillow covered in sacking, He was dressed in a morning coat, trousers and elastic sided boots.
An autopsy was carried out and Dr Harrison stated that the man had been dead for a long, long time. Due to this, there was no way of discovering a cause of death.
Dr J.B Firth from Preston’s Home Office was called in to take the investigation further. Found amongst the tattered clothing, was a signet ring with a dark red stone dated 1857, a pen knife and 2 diaries. The diaries were covered in a substance that had emanated from the corpse during decomposition. Dr Firth painstakingly worked to separate the pages from these diaries and these proved the biggest clues in the case.
They concerned a firm named ‘T.C Williams of Leeds St’, paint and varnish manufacturers. The police found that Thomas Creegan Williams had been a wanted man by various creditors, and had many money worries.
The conclusion reached was some sort of suicide; possibly Williams had crawled inside the cylinder to hide from creditors and suffocated inside. I have always found this conclusion unrealistic, yet when we remember he had a makeshift pillow inside – he must’ve positioned himself in there, no killer or torturer would make sure his victim was ‘comfortable’, surely?
I often wonder what happened to the cylinder, and to the remains of the dead man. What a horrific way to die.