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The Double Murder Of Two Young Boys In Wigan, England In The 1950s & The Hanging That Followed

11-year-old Billy Harmer was murdered in 1954 and 10-year-old Norman Yates was murdered in 1955. Norman Green a 23-year-old from Aberdeen was convicted and hanged for the crimes.


Norman Green was hanged for the murders at Walton Prison in 1955
Norman Green was hanged for the murders at Walton Prison in 1955

In August 1954, eleven-year-old Billy Harmer was knifed to death in Wigan, England. Intensive police inquiries failed to come up with a suspect for the murder. Then, less than a year later, there was another apparently motiveless, senseless attack on a young boy. it was Easter Monday, 11 April 1955 and in houses throughout the country people listened to their radios enthralled as American lawyer Perry Mason successfully defended another client. In the Lower Ince district of Wigan, Jimmy Jones and his friend Walter Wiggins were both enjoying the program when a piercing scream interrupted their listening.

Darting from his chair, Jones feared that the scream had come from his daughter Doris's bedroom. He dashed upstairs and seeing that Doris was sleeping, he went outside. Opening his front door onto Cross Street, Jones saw that other neighbours had also been alerted by the sound, and lifting the light from Wiggin's bicycle, Jones shouted to his friend, "Walter, come quickly!", and together they rushed down the street. As they approached a piece of wasteland some 20 yards away, Jones's first thought was that a girl was being assaulted, so high pitched was the scream, but reaching the patch of land he saw a young boy lying whimpering on the ground.


By the light of the bicycle lamp, Jones could see the boy was bleeding heavily from the neck and telling his friend to stay with him, he hurried to call the police from a nearby phone box. The phone box was occupied and Jones knocked on the glass asking the caller to hurry. Walter Wiggins saw that the boy was barely alive and needed urgent attention, and rather than wait for the ambulance he hurried to summon Dr Murphy who lived nearby. Dr Murphy tried to make the young lad comfortable until the ambulance could ferry him to hospital, but at 10.20 p.m. he was pronounced dead on arrival. The boy was identified as ten-year-old Norman Yates, who had left his home on Heywood Street to run an errand for his mother. He had only been gone five minutes and must have encountered his killer almost at once. But who would want to kill a young boy? A post-mortem showed that death had been caused by four knife wounds: three of the wounds to the chest, while the fourth, and fatal blow, had severed the neck close to the adam's apple causing a hemorrhage.


The investigation was handled by Chief Superintendent Lindsay, and although nobody had seen Norman's killer as he made his getaway, a number of witnesses gave police a description of a man seen in the area shortly before the murder - aged around 20 to 30 years old, 5ft 2ins to 5ft 6ins tall, slim build, long blonde hair swept back, sagging jaw - possibly with no teeth - and a prominent nose, wearing a blue suit and crepe soles and a silver wristwatch. He also had the habit of running his hands together as he spoke. The wanted notice issued by the police ended with the line: "Two boys have already been stabbed to death in the Wigan district. Your help may prevent another boy from being murdered."


Lindsay thought that he had a likely suspect when it was learned that a patient from a Liverpool mental hospital had escaped and was believed to be heading for his home in the Wigan area. When it was learned that he matched the description of the killer the hunt was stepped up. On Tuesday afternoon he was arrested, but after satisfying the police of his innocence he was eliminated from inquiries and returned to the institution.


The hunt for the killer involved all available officers in the region with many from neighbouring towns drafted in to help. On Wednesday morning, Lindsay announced that he urgently wished to speak to the man using the telephone box at the time of the murder as he might have seen the killer while making the call. On Thursday afternoon, after hearing of an appeal for him to come forward, postman Percy Green confirmed that he had been summoning a doctor for a relative who had been taken ill, but was unable to offer any help to the officers. Lindsay was surprised at the lack of leads regarding his suspect, bearing in mind his visually striking features which he felt sure would betray him. Every witness in the area on the night of the murder reported seeing a blond-haired man, and each statement seemed to verify every other.


On Friday afternoon, Norman was buried at Westwood cemetery. The cortege passed slowly through Lower Ince, the streets lined with many of his young schoolmates who stood with their caps in their hands, several in tears. Numerous wreaths were piled high at the cemetery gates, including one from the parents of young Billy Harmer, murdered the previous summer, and who police believed had been killed by the same person.


As the funeral ended, a rumour spread that a man had been arrested for Norman's murder and a large crowd converged on Lower Ince police station. At 8.10 p.m. that evening, Superintendent Lindsay announced that 23-year-old Norman William Green had been cautioned and charged with the murder of Norman Yates and that he would appear at Wigan magistrates court on the following morning.


Lower Ince Police Station, Wigan
Lower Ince Police Station, Wigan

Green had been arrested at his workplace, Charlson and Sons, corn millers, on Dawber Street, Wigan, after inquiries turned up his name on more than one occasion as a likely suspect. Detective Sergeants Edmundson and Parkinson called at the factory shortly after lunch on Friday afternoon. Green was interviewed in the manager's office and both detectives were struck immediately by his close resemblance to the description of the wanted man.


He was asked to account for his movements on Easter Monday night and gave a detailed account denying being anywhere near Lower Ince. When asked why he had not come forward, as he clearly fitted the description of the wanted man, Green said it was because he "didn't want any trouble". When told by detectives that they did not believe his version of the night's events, Green changed his story a little, saying that he had been drinking in the Railway Hotel, Lower Ince. "I have told you the truth now. I was in the Railway, but had nothing to do with that boy." Edmundson then went to Green's home on nearby Hallgate and took away a blue suit which Green admitted to wearing on Easter Monday. As the suit was being examined at the forensic laboratory, Green suddenly confessed to the murder, adding, "I am sorry. I am very sorry for his mother. I hope she forgives me for what I have done."


Later that Friday evening, two detectives accompanied Green back to his workplace. He directed them to a sack on the second floor where he told them they would find the murder weapon, and they later took away a wicked-looking knife. "That's the knife," Green indicated, "I think there will be some blood on it."

On Saturday morning Green was questioned by Detective Inspector Davies who was still investigating the murder of William Harmer in August of the previous year, and later that morning, Chief Superintendent Lindsay announced to the press that Green was to be charged with the murder of both young boys. What sort of man was Green? They learned that he was 23-years-old, single, and a native of Aberdeen, Scotland, but for many years had lived with his widowed mother and elder brother in Wigan, after spending his early schooldays in and around Northumberland. He settled in Wigan in July 1940, and finished his education at the end of the war, and was working in a cotton mill when he was called up for National Service.


Green was classified as Grade Two defective due to poor eyesight and opted to serve his time in the mines. In 1951 he was re-assessed by the medical board and found to be Grade Three defective with weak eyesight and a hernia. He was also thought to be emotionally unstable and was classified as unfit for National Service. Since 1951 he had been employed as a corn grinder at Charlson and Sons.

Railway Hotel, Wigan
Railway Hotel, Wigan

Green came before Mr Justice Oliver at Manchester Assizes in the first week of July. Although it was summertime, Green stood in the dock dressed in a fawn shirt with a green zip pullover, light-coloured trousers, a sports coat, and a mac. He was represented by Mr J.D. Robertson Crichton QC and pleaded not guilty.


The court then heard a contest by both counsels, one claiming that the murderer was insane and therefore not responsible for his actions, that he kept getting the urge to kill and that he couldn't fight it, the other that Green was a wicked killer who had murdered two young boys and made a failed attempt to kill a third. Parts of Green's statement were read out in court, in which he admitted the murder of Norman Yates.


"Yes, I killed him..." He began, saying that he had visited the Railway Hotel until 9 p.m. when he had left by the back door after visiting the lavatory. "As I stood at the door I caught sight of a young boy coming down the street. I walked up the entry and the boy followed me. I turned around and asked him where I could get a glass of water. The boy said I could get one at his mother's house and I followed him across the street towards the house. We crossed the back street and I killed him there. When I killed him he screamed. I stabbed him four times." It was clear to the jury of ten men and two women that Green was the killer, but they had to decide if he was guilty of wilful murder, or insane as the defence claimed. The trial lasted four days and shortly before 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, 5 July, the jury retired to consider the verdict. They returned at 6.24 p.m. and asked the judge for further direction on the issue of insanity. Fifteen minutes later they returned and announced that they found Green guilty as charged.

The clerk rose to his feet. "Norman William Green, you have been convicted of murder on the verdict of the jury. Have you anything to say why judgement of death should not be passed on you, according to law?"

"No sir," Green mumbled, and as the black cap was placed on Mr Justice Oliver's head and the sentence was passed, Green began to shake visibly. His mother who had sat in court throughout the trial clutching a bible, also began to weep. As the sentence ended, Green had to be assisted from the dock into the cell below.


On Wednesday 27, 1955 Norman Green was hanged at Walton Prison.


Now you have learned about the double murders in Wigan, take the time to read about Dr Buck Ruxton and the Lancaster Jigsaw Murders.