The Harrowing Murder Of Beatrice Rimmer In 1951: Widow Beaten To Death In Her Home In Liverpool

Beatrice Rimmer was murdered in an attempted burglary at her home in the Wavertree area of Liverpool in 1951. Two young men were hung for the crime.

Murder of Beatrice Rimmer
Beatrice Rimmer was found dead in her home in Wavertree, Liverpool

Even hardened detectives were sickened by the death of 52-year-old widow Beatrice Rimmer in her little terrace house in the Wavertree area of Liverpool.

She was last seen alive shortly after ten o'clock on Sunday, August 19, 1951, when a neighbour saw her, returning from a visit to her son Thomas's house, put the key into the latch of 7 Cranborne Road and enter the darkened hall. The next day, the milk bottles stayed on the doorstep and there were no comings or goings at the house until her son visited in the early evening. Walking towards the front door the former police officer immediately sensed something was amiss. Pushing the morning paper through the letterbox, he bent down, peered inside, and had his worst fears confirmed.

Lying in a pool of blood on the hall floor was the battered body of his mother, still wearing her topcoat, and clutching the small bunch of flowers he had given her.

Detectives hurried to the scene and Superintendent Taylor of Liverpool CID took charge. The attack had all the hallmarks of a housebreaking - the intruder had entered through the back kitchen window. Since the death of her husband some years earlier the widow had become something of a recluse who, according to local gossip, was sitting on a tidy sum. More than once in the recent past, the house had been the subject of an attempted break-in. It appeared that on this occasion, having failed to find the money, they had waited for Mrs Rimmer, intending to force her to hand it over.

A Home Office Pathologist, Dr George Manning, carried out the post-mortem and told detectives they were probably looking for two different weapons. One, sporting a sharp edge, had lacerated her face, whilst the other, a blunt weapon - possibly an electric torch - had fractured her skull.

The frail old lady had been subjected to 15 blows to the head, although none would have proved fatal if treated in time. This supported the theory that the injuries were more likely to have been caused by someone trying to extract more information, than the work of a homicidal maniac. The detectives were sickened to hear that she had taken a long time to die, her weak cries for help going unheard, slipping in and out of consciousness as her life ebbed away.

A search of the house failed to identify any missing property and there were no fingerprints other than those with a legitimate reason to be there.

Police thought they had those responsible a few days later when two young, known house-breakers were picked up. There had been a spate of house break-ins in the area and it was not unreasonable to assume they were the work of the same gang. One of the youths had blood on his clothing but forensic checks found it not to be group A, that of the dead woman, and, unable to connect them to the crime, they were released.

Days turned into weeks as detectives combed the numerous late-night cafes, billiard halls, pubs and lodging houses in the busy port but there were to be no leads, other than the sighting of the two youths who had alighted from a bus, close to Cranborne Road, earlier on the evening of the murder.

It was almost a month later when word reached Chief Superintendent Balmer, who had cut short his holiday to take over the investigation, that a 19-year-old army deserter held at Walton Gaol knew the identity of the killers. When interviewed he refused to talk, declaring, "I'm no squealer." Skilful persuasion loosened his tongue.

George McClaughlin claimed that a week before the murder he had spoken with a man in an all-night city-centre cafe. The man told him he had travelled from Manchester planning to rob a house at Wavertree, and he agreed to join him. At a further meeting, the man introduced McClaughlin to another man who was also to take part in the raid. On Friday, August 17, however, two days before the murder, McClaughlin was picked up as a deserter and they carried out the job without him.

The idea for the robbery was simple. A waitress called June Bury was to call the house and distract the occupant. The men would scale the back wall, enter through the kitchen, grab what they could find and bundle their way out past the startled woman and make off down the street.

Police interviewed June Bury and she told them the names of the wanted men, 21-year-old Alfred Burns of Medlock Street, Manchester, and 22-year-old Edward Francis Devlin of Leinster Street, Hulme, Manchester. Despite their relative youth both were seasoned housebreakers boasting a string of convictions across the country.

Murdered Beatrice Rimmer and her home in Wavertree
Murdered Beatrice Rimmer and her home in Wavertree

Balmer knew that he could not order an immediate arrest purely on McClaughlin's testimony, so he assigned scores of detectives to the investigation with the order to question the friends and acquaintances of Burns and Devlin. From June Bury they learned of 17-year-old "Chinese Marie" Milne, Burn's sometime girlfriend, who provided them with a fatal breakthrough after reassurance from Balmer that she would not be charged with anything to do with the murder.

Marie frequented various all-night cafes, mixing with low-lives and petty criminals and Balmer's first impression was that she reminded him of a "moll" from American gangster films. She claimed that Burns had told her he and Devlin planned to do a job in Liverpool and she asked to come along and act as the lookout. She initially accepted and travelled with them, but was later told she would not be needed and they arranged to meet later.

She told Balmer that when they eventually met up, both men were in a highly agitated state, and Devlin was worried that they might have killed the old lady. "Don't worry, We'll be well away before long," Burns had reassured him.

A man interviewed in Liverpool admitted that he had been asked to join them on the robbery on the Friday afternoon after they had learned of the arrest of McClaughlin. He agreed but later changed his mind.

Balmer decided to bring the two men in for questioning. On October 10, Devlin was arrested in a Manchester cafe. He went on the defensive immediately and denied being in Liverpool on the night in question, claiming that he had not even heard of the murder as he was "screwing a gaff" in Manchester at the time.

He claimed that he and Burns had been robbing a warehouse in Manchester which had netted them over a hundred raincoats, various other clothes and rolls of material. They finished the job at four o'clock Monday morning and spent the next few hours trying to steal a vehicle to transport their haul.

Burns was arrested on the following afternoon. He had been taken into custody on the previous day - and like Devlin taken to Liverpool for questioning. He also denied the murder but did not offer any alibi except to say that he had been with Devlin.

They were put up for identification and although the man who had dropped out of the robbery failed to identify them, George McClaughlin pointed them out.

Their clothing was sent for forensic analysis but this proved inconclusive. There were bloodstains on Devlin's suit, which he claimed were the result of a nosebleed sustained in a fight. Tests proved that it matched his own as well as that of the dead woman. Unable to find the murder weapons or any fingerprints that linked either man to the house, Balmer was forced with charging them on the testimony of several undesirables, two of whom had been or still were in prison. It was down to persuading the jury to believe these witnesses, but the experienced officer was certain that he had his men.

Burns and Devlin stood trial before Mr Justice Finnimore at Liverpool Assizes on February 19, 1952. Miss Rose Heilbron QC defended Devlin, while Burns' case was handled by Sir Noel Goldie QC. The prosecution was led by Mr Basil Neild QC. The defence case was simple: no one had seen the accused enter the house or commit murder, the prosecution was relying purely on circumstantial evidence which they planned to refute.

The two accused seemed totally unaffected by the seriousness of the occasion, sniggering at each other and scowling at onlookers up in the public gallery. The trial progressed slowly until the seventh day when Burns' counsel challenged a young detective in the dock.

"Am I right in saying that on the night of the alleged murder a burglary was committed at Sun Blinds Ltd, on Great Jackson Street, Manchester?" Neild rose to object.

"M'lord, what has this to do with the case?" he protested but was brushed aside by Mr Goldie who said he didn't want to take his learned friend by surprise later. Goldie said he planned to prove that Burns could not have been in Liverpool on the night in question because he was not involved in the aforementioned break-in.

Now 21-year-old Alan Campbell was called to the stand. He had been convicted of the offence in Manchester and claimed under oath that he had been accompanied on the job by two of the accused. Burns and Devlin both gave evidence but were unconvincing with their account of the Manchester robbery, with Mr Neild claiming the only information that they could offer was that which they could have learned by reading any newspaper reporting the crime. The defence, however, claimed that the Manchester alibi was proven and, as other, witnesses had sworn to seeing both men in Manchester on Sunday night, it was unsafe for the jury to convict on the prosecution's evidence.

Challenging the defence, Mr Neild told the court that Campbell had in fact been convicted for a crime committed on Saturday August 18, 24 hours before the Liverpool murder, thus rendering the alibi little more than worthless.

On the tenth and last day of the trial, the courtroom was packed to capacity. Crowds gathered at first light and hundreds more, unable to gain entry, waited outside for the verdict to be announced. Speaking for over four hours, Mr Justice Finnimore ended by directing the jury that it was down to which set of witnesses they chose to believe. They needed just 75 minutes to find both Burns and Devlin guilty of murder.

Burns' counsel immediately announced plans for an appeal and asked Lord Chief Justice Goddard, and the other appeal judges to allow the unprecedented step of calling new evidence.

A statement, they said, had been made by 15-year-old Elizabeth Rooke, a friend of June Bury's, whose testimony had helped convict the men. Bury had told her she had lied about being with Devlin on the night of the murder because she was covering for the real killer, a soldier named "Auzzey" who was the father of her child. Devlin's sister also made a statement claiming that June Bury had named the killer as a man called McNeill and that he had rewarded June for not altering her statement. On this information, Mr Goldie said, it was unsafe to allow the conviction to stand.

The prosecution claimed that the soldier was one Edward Duffy, but he would not have been able to have committed the murder as he was safely behind bars at Walton Gaol during August 1951. June Bury was also questioned again, and under oath, she denied both statements.

Dismissing the appeal, the Lord Chief Justice said it was not the duty of the appeal court to hear new evidence, as this must be submitted to those whose duty it was to advise the crown, namely Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, the Home Secretary.

Maxwell Fyfe made legal history when he agreed to launch an inquiry into the investigation, and the date set for the execution, April 18, was put back a week to allow the report to be compiled. On April 21, the report was published. It claimed that there were no reasonable grounds to suggest that a miscarriage of justice had taken place and the law must take its course. The families of the prisoners petitioned the newly ascended Queen Elizabeth to show mercy but the plea went unheeded.

On Friday, April 25, 1952, Burns and Devlin were hanged at Walton Gaol. A large crowd, including many relatives, protested their innocence and the injustice of the sentences, but two days later a Sunday newspaper alleged that one of them had confessed shortly before execution and that both were guilty of the horrific murder of Beatrice Rimmer.

Now you have read about the murder of Beatrice Rimmer, take the time to learn about the Murder Of Alan Kenyon In 1970: Brutal Killing Of A Gay Man Who Was Beaten To Death With A Fire Poker.


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