The Tragic Murder Of Eliza Caldwell & The Hanging Of Her Husband Charlie At Strangeways In 1938

A tragic story of domestic disputes that resulted in Eliza Caldwell being brutally stabbed to death by her husband in the street in Rochdale, England in 1938.

Charlie Caldwell murdered his wife
In 1938 Charlie Caldwell was hung at Strangeways prison for the murder of his wife Eliza

The depression of the 1930s brought hardship and tragedy to many households, but none more so that that of Charlie and Eliza Caldwell, who had fallen in love during the equally dark days of the First World War.

It was while interred in Switzerland awaiting repatriation from a German prisoner of war camp that Charlie met pretty Eliza Augustine. The relationship blossomed and when hostilities ended in the autumn of 1918, they married at Montreux before returning to live in England.

They chose to settle in Charlie's home town of Rochdale and in the immediate post-war years, their family grew, first with a son and two years later a daughter. As the country readjusted to the aftermath of war, the Caldwell family lived happily enough together.

Charlie had always found steady skilled work in local mills, but by the mid-1930s he was out of work and taking on anything he could turn his hand to, including hawking and rag collecting. Eliza managed to find herself a job as a seamstress, so there was some money coming into the house, but Charlie increasingly drowned his sorrows in drink. The seeds had been sown for a tragedy that would tear the family apart.

As the new year of 1938 dawned, the couple greeted it as they had seen out the old year, by fighting with each other. Eventually, Eliza had had enough. One morning in February, tired of the constant rowing, she took their daughter and a few belongings and headed for the sanctuary of a workmate, Jane Lee's home. Eliza wanted space and time to consult a solicitor regarding a separation order. Their son, who had started a job in January, had also left to find lodgings of his own. Charlie was left to fend for himself.

The day after leaving her husband, Eliza called back at the house on Clementina Street to collect some more of her belongings and found she was unable to gain entry. She hailed a passing policeman and, explaining her situation, got him to force the door open. To her horror, she found that the contents of the living room had been smashed up and stacked high in a pile in the centre of the room, as if ready for a bonfire.

Charlie was in another room, drunk, and the police officer had to forcibly restrain Eliza from striking him. After reassurances from both parties, there would be no more trouble the constable left.

Eliza collected the clothes and told Charlie she would call in the next day to see him. Charlie asked her where she was staying but she refused to tell him. However, he called on his son later that day and after convincing the lad that he wanted to try and save his marriage, Charlie got him to reveal her whereabouts.

On the afternoon of February 11, Charlie and his son waited at a bus stop on Halifax Road for Eliza to arrive home from work. They watched as she alighted from the trolley bus and followed her up the road. Charlie began pleading with her to come home, but it was to no avail. As they reached the corner, Eliza turned round and yelled, "I'm not coming home!"

In an instant, Charlie pulled out a knife and plunged it deep into her chest. Eliza staggered into a local butcher shop and collapsed against the counter. She was dead before help could be summoned. Charlie made a half-hearted attempt to escape but was taken to Rochdale police station.

After being questioned for a long period, he was left unattended for a moment to collect his thoughts. Although the murder weapon had been taken from him, Charlie had concealed another knife in his clothing. A constable re-entered the room just in time to see him raise the knife he held in his hand and attempt to cut his own throat. The officer rushed across the room and dashed the blade from his grasp. In tears Charlie told him, "I wouldn't have killed my wife if that woman hadn't come between us." He then made a statement and was remanded in custody.

When Charlie Caldwell stood trial before Mr Justice Hucker at Manchester Assizes on March 14, 1938, the defence counsel claimed that Eliza's workmate, the unfortunate Mrs Lee, had deliberately come between husband and wife, convincing Eliza she would be better off away from her husband. For the prosecution, it was a simple case of murder; Caldwell had killed his wife because she rejected him.

The trial lasted one day and ended with Mr Justice Hucker pronouncing the death sentence. Against Charlie's wishes, an appeal was made on the prisoner's behalf, but it was rejected.

Forty-year-old Charlie Caldwell continued to tell the guards in the condemned cell at Strangeways prison that he didn't want a reprieve and that he wanted the rope.

On Wednesday morning, April 20, 1938, he got his wish. Now you have read this story, make sure you take the time to look at A Fateful Day In Blackpool: An Armed Robbery, A Violent Car Chase & A Murdered Police Officer


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