Cross Dressing Killer Said "I Was In One Of My Funny Moods" After Murdering Nancy Chadwick In 1948
In August of 1948 in Rawtenstall, England, Mrs Nancy Chadwick was brutally murdered by Margaret Allen, who chillingly stated that she killed the woman because "I was in one of my funny moods".
On Sunday morning August 28, 1948, hundreds of townsfolk gathered on the riverbank at Rawtenstall. There hadn't been a murder in the town for as long as anyone could remember, and as the news spread like wildfire, curiosity brought the sightseers as police in wading boots searched the river close to the spot where the body of 68-year-old Nancy Ellen Chadwick had been found a few hours earlier.
Men returning home from a union meeting at the bus station at the end of Bacup Road had discovered the body of the frail old lady in the road. Assuming that she was the victim of a hit-and-run accident, they had returned to the depot and the police were called. At 4.15 am the police surgeon found that the old lady had been dead for about ten hours, effectively ruling out any chance of her being the victim of a hit and run. An examination of the body had found a number of wounds to the back of the head, caused very probably by a blunt instrument.
Later that morning police officers had interviewed the occupants of the houses on Bacup road and asked if they had seen or heard anything suspicious on the previous night. There were no reports of anything untoward and at lunchtime Chief Superintendent Woodmansey of Lancashire CID made a telephone call to Scotland Yard asking for assistance. As Chief inspector Stevens and his sergeant travelled up from London on the first available train, the local police began their search for the murder weapon.
Amongst those who congregated on the riverbank was 42-year-old Margaret Allen, known locally as Maggie Smith, outside whose house at 137 Bacup Road the body was discovered. She actually preferred to be called 'Bill' and made no secret of her lesbianism, always wearing men's clothing and sporting a distinctive Eton crop. She appeared keen to help in the search. "Look, there's a bag in the water," she shouted to the officers wading in the water. Pointing to a spot some yards upstream, she called out again, "There it is, up yonder."
A detective followed her directions and pulled out a string shopping bag containing a brown handbag which belonged to the dead woman. Inside were a number of items, mostly personal things, and as there was no sign of her purse, this seemed to confirm that the frail old lady had been battered to death for the contents of her purse.
Despite her scruffy appearance, Mrs Chadwick was reported to be a wealthy woman, an assumption which had probably led to her being attacked and robbed of a large sum of money two years earlier. She had been a widow since 1921 and was thought by many in the town to be a bit eccentric, a trait not helped by her frequent wanderings through the streets begging and then counting her money in the park. It was often wondered why she should resort to begging when it was common knowledge that a former employer, a wealthy stonemason, had left her a number of houses in his will and she was known to collect the rent on these properties fortnightly. Since the end of the war, she had been working as a housekeeper for an elderly man who lived at Hardmin Avenue on the Hill Carr Estate.
One other aspect of her life was her reputation as a fortune-teller. She was often called upon to predict people's destiny, which she did with both playing cards and tea leaves. Did she predict her own fate?
Believing that they were searching for a callous thief and anxious to interview anyone who had seen Mrs Chadwick on the last day of her life, officers issued a description of the clothes she was last seen wearing. They were a grey, single-breasted coat with large buttons on the front, a brown woollen dress, brown stockings, pale green ankle socks, and black shoes. This description was flashed on screens in many cinemas in and around East Lancashire but met with little success.
As no one reported seeing anyone suspicious in the area, Chief inspector Stevens thought that the killer was probably a local man, and officers raided the houses of a number of likely suspects and took away items of clothing for forensic tests.
Margaret Allen had made one statement to the police after the murder, as had her neighbours, but Chief Inspector Stevens decided to pay her another visit on Wednesday morning. "Bill" was a sad and lonely woman. A bus conductress during the war, the death of her mother in 1943 seemed to have broken her spirit and she had not worked for three years. Self-neglect had led to illness and at one point she needed medical treatment for attacks of dizziness.
Whatever suspicions her original statement had aroused in Stevens were amply rewarded when he stepped inside the tiny two-room sandstone terrace house. He immediately noticed what appeared to be bloodstains on the wall behind the front door, and a search upstairs produced a bag containing several stained clothes.
He asked Maggie to explain them, and looking him in the eye she replied, "Come on, I'll tell you about it. But not here." Picking up her raincoat she beckoned the officers out of the door, but not before pointing to the cellar and admitting "That is where I put her."
At Rawtenstall police station, she was placed in an interview room and told Stevens as he sat facing her, "I didn't do it for the money. I was in one of my funny moods." After receiving a caution, she then dictated a lengthy statement in which she coldly describes how she had committed the murder.
"I was coming out my house on Saturday morning, about 9.20 am, and Mrs Chadwick came around the corner. She asked me if this was where I lived and could she come in? I told her I was going out. I was in a nervy mood and she just seemed to get on my nerves even though she had not said anything. I told her to go and that she could see me sometime else, but she seemed to insist on coming in. I happened to look around and saw a hammer in the kitchen. At this time we were talking just inside the kitchen with the front door shut. On the spur of the moment, I hit her with the hammer. She gave a shout which seemed to start me off more. I hit her a few times but I don't know how many. I then pulled the body into my coal house."
After the murder she had called on a friend and gone shopping before spending the afternoon with one of her sisters at Bacup, returning to Rawtenstall in the early evening where she spent the rest of the night in The Ashworth Arms.
Thursday, September 2, was Margarets 43rd birthday and the day on which she was charged with murder and committed for trial at Manchester Assizes.
The defence at her trial in December was led by William Gorman KC, later to become Mr Justice Gorman. He described to the court Margaret's frustration at being born a woman, and her failed suicide attempts, but his efforts to prove her insanity were in vain. The prosecution's case that she had murdered for gain was supported by her calm lucid confession to the police and the jury took just 15 minutes to find Margaret guilty of murder.
There was no recommendation for mercy. Margaret Allen was one of only a handful of convicted murderers who declined to appeal against the sentence, choosing to accept her fate "like a man."
As she waited in the condemned cell she had one friend working on her behalf, 34-year-old Annie Cook, who had been friendly with Margaret since the end of the war, and attempted to collect a petition for reprieve in Rawtenstall, but out of a population of 26,000 only 126 signed.
On January 12, 1949, Margaret Allen was hanged at Strangeways, the first woman to be executed since 1936. Denied her usual male clothing, "Bill" was forced to meet her fate wearing a regulation striped prison frock.