Looking back to what was making headlines 100 years ago this week, a murky tale unfolded on the front page of the Eccles and Patricroft Journal called ‘Sensational Case at Irlam’.
On 9 August 1916 a man called Joseph Hodgkiss, who lived at Silver Street, was walking by the River Irwell in the early hours of the morning.
It was around 5.40am that day when he spotted a pile of women’s clothing on the riverbank.
On closer inspection they appeared to belong to a young or teenage girl.
Mr Hodgkiss called in the local police who began sweeping the river course for clues.
After searching for three hours, PC Lowe discovered the bloated corpse of a 15-year-old girl who would be later named as Doris Grime.
At the time Doris was living in Woodsend Road in Flixton with her father, George.
The authorities proceeded to set up an inquest at the Council Offices on Liverpool Road in Irlam.
Doris had left home as normal on the Thursday morning and told her mother that she was going to Irlam.
When she did not return that evening, her family assumed that she had stayed with friends in the local area.
The mystery deepened when Doris’s mother told the inquest that her daughter had said that she been working for a farmer in Irlam which later was revealed as fabrication; it appeared that Doris had drifted in and out of employment in the last few months before her death.
A pawn ticket had been found among Doris’s clothing for a gold ring belonging to her mother, and she had not been given permission to take it out of the house.
A young girl, 14-year-old Nora Brand, who lived at Alexandra Grove, Irlam told the inquest that she had known Doris for several years.
On the Thursday morning she had arrived at her house at 8.30am and had with her a parcel containing a white dress, white boots and stockings which she changed into at Nora’s house.
Nora noticed that Doris was wearing a gold ring.
Later that same day she observed that the ring was missing, Doris told her that she had lost the ring and would get a ‘good thrashing’ when she got home.
They left company that evening at 8.30pm when Doris said that she was going to the 800-capacity Irlam Picture Palace on Liverpool Road.
Incidentally, the cinema was demolished in 1966 and in its place now is a car park for the Irish Catholic Men’s Club.
To the Coroner, Mr Lereche, this seemed a staightforward case of suicide.
He had heard that Doris’ clothes were left folded on the canal bank and judged that she was in her right frame of mind.
The jury agreed and a verdict of felo de se was returned.
Felo de se is the archaic Latin legal term “felon to himself”, and was used in English law to mean suicide.
However, the case took a dramatic twist when the court was told that two local men had been arrested in connection with Doris’s death.
Joseph Green, 20, Brighton Avenue, Flixton and Ephraim Robertson, 20, Church Road, Urmston appeared at Strangeways Court and a rather different story unfolded.
Green was employed as a munitions worker in Irlam and Robertson was employed at a ‘herb beer shop’ in Irlam.
Green told the court that he and Robertson had met Doris and Nora on a field in Irlam and invited them back to the herb beer shop where Robertson worked for a free drink and a chat.
He alleged that Doris told them that she and Nora were both aged 19, and were performing at the Irlam Picture Palace acting as dancers for an artiste who hadn’t turned up.
To prove her point Doris then allegedly showed the men a few dancing steps on the floor and on the table in the shop.
He then told the court that both girls had powder on their faces and believed that they were ‘fast’ girls but stressed that nothing untoward had gone on between them.
No evidence was submitted to say that that Doris had been assaulted either while dead or still alive – however antiquated the crime scene investigation by police would seem to modern eyes.
Robertson swore that both girls then left the shop and that was the last time that he had seen either of them.
The Magistrate recommended that both men be remanded in custody until the following week while further enquiries were made.
Mr Jackson, the solicitor representing the two men, submitted that no jury would convict the men on the evidence that had been heard that day.
The presiding Magistrate, Mr W Bridge, said that the bench were also “unanimously of that opinion” and the prisoners were set free without charge.
It was here that the court’s interference came to an end. Reading back, it seems an unsatisfying verdict with many unanswered questions.
Would a girl due to commit suicide firstly steal then pawn her monther’s gold ring?
Could the police have pursued the two arrested men more rigorously, if only for the sake of Doris’ family? And how exactly did poor Doris end up face down in the river?
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