Miss Christina Bradfield was the manageress of her brother’s business at 86 Old Hall Street in Liverpool city centre. The firm made tarpaulins, and also had another site at Great Howard Street, where her ‘hands on’ sibling was found on most days.
Wednesday 10th December 1913 started as any other day. Christina oversaw her staff of three – a young female typist, Miss Venables, and two male shop boys – Samuel Angeles Elltoft and George Sumner. The cold winters day was coming to an end, as she counted the day’s takings as usual, arranging the monies in neat piles and noting down the amounts. The young typist left to catch her train as normal and the two boys finished their chores.
I don’t believe anybody except the three people present that evening know what happened next. It is reported that – George Sumner flew into a crazed rage. Having watched Miss Bradfield for some minutes, he leapt on her, tearing her blouse – tearing at her clothes, and eventually murdering the woman, in cold blood with a ‘fid’. His motive? Apparently, money. My problem with this theory is – why then, he had been working at the firm for just under 5 years? Only a day’s takings? Maybe he only meant to render the woman helpless, not to batter her head in with a blunt instrument. My other issue is Samuel Elltoft; where did he fit in to this horrible crime – did he have prior knowledge to the plan? Whatever his role, he helped George bundle Christina’s lifeless body into a sack, then onto a handcart – ready to be dumped like rubbish into the river.
Sometimes, strange coincidences happen in crime cases, that if you wrote as fiction – people would think you were being far-fetched. The day was a blustery, howling windy day – the shop had a large shutter at the front, which flew down and knocked off a passing man’s hat. The man was Walter Musker Eaves, he was waiting for his sweetheart, trying to shelter. 18-year-old Elltoft heard the man beckoning them, complaining about damage to his hat; the man was given few coppers in compensation and he walked away. A few minutes later, still awaiting his girl – the two boys from the shop were seen by Mr Eaves pushing a handcart with a bulky load towards the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
The next morning, Elltoft arrived for work as normal, and Sumner opened up the shop. Miss Bradfield was nowhere to be seen – a lady who was known for her punctuality and almost Sunday school teacher like countenance; this was completely out of character. Her brother, John, came to the shop around 11am and voiced his concerns to the three employees. Christina’s landlady had also called and mentioned that her exemplary tenant had not returned home the previous night.
Just a few metres down the road, Francis Robinson, a bargeman on the canal was having trouble with Lock 3. He plunged his hook down into the murky waters below, and it snagged on something heavy. He pulled the object up and saw a black stockinged leg protruding from the water laden sack. Unable to quell his curiosity, he slit open the grisly material, only to find the corpse of poor Miss Bradfield, trussed up and sewn into the rough material. Taken to Princes Dock Mortuary, the mortician found a silver chain around the deceased’s neck – a ‘Three Wise Monkeys’ lucky charm. Something Christina had always worn. Her brother and landlady both identified her battered remains that same day.
In the early hours of Friday 12th December, the police arrived at Samuel Elltoft’s house in Windermere Street. He was sleeping soundly in his bed in his parental home. The Police carried on to George Sumner’s house on Boundary Lane – but he was nowhere to be found.
It was a few weeks before Christmas, but this did not deter the Liverpool Police from staging one of the largest manhunts ever conducted on Merseyside. Police notices were issued to Police offices up and down the country, and wanted posters of Sumner were fly posted and even shown in cinemas.
It was another of those coincidences that finally snared the murderous Sumner. An old school friend of his, un-deterred by the eye patch he was sporting and the spectacles, recognised him by his ‘shuffling gait’ walk. He saw him going into 84 St James Street, where he was obviously lodging. The school mate did not hesitate to inform the Police, who duly arrested the wanted man.
Sumner and Elltoft’s trial began at St George’s Hall on 2nd February 1914. The boys used a mixture of lies and fantasy as their defences. George put forward a yarn about a moustached man hiding in the shop, and then holding the boys at gunpoint whilst they battered Miss Bradfield to death, so he could steal the money. Then, made them dump her body into the shadowy waters whilst he fled the scene.
Samuel’s story was purely self-preservation, in that he said he had been told to wait outside the shop by Sumner, and had only assisted him in pushing a handcart ‘full of rubbish’ down to the canal. He had no idea what was inside the sack.
The jury found Sumner guilty. Without doubt. Young Elltoft obviously made a better impression upon them, and he was recommended mercy – and given 4 years’ penal servitude.
Sumner made a full confession before being executed at Walton Gaol.
**I have used the surname ‘Sumner’ throughout, however, the surname Ball is also used widely through press reports and in the official Police files.