The Strange Death of Florence Hargreaves - Sheffield 1926

Whilst I was researching the tragic case of Lorraine Lax, I came across a report in The Manchester Guardian. Dated 29th January 1926 it was account of the death of a Sheffield shopkeeper who had been found dead in very suspicious circumstances.

 SHEFFIELD MYSTERY

DEAD WOMAN WITH STOCKING TIED ROUND NECK

The Sheffield police are mystified by the discovery on Wednesday in a shop on Attercliffe Road of the body of Florence Hargreaves, a 54 year old spinster. She was lying behind the counter of the shop with a stocking tied round her neck.

There was no indication as to what had caused her death and yesterday a number of detectives had searched the premises from roof to cellar, but it is understood, found nothing which will throw any light on the matter. There will be a post-mortem eamination.

Miss Hargreaves, had tenanted this shop for about twenty years and had been a recluse.

As always in cases the local newspaper provided additional information. The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 28th January 1926 carried the report

Two days later on 30th January 1926, the Manchester Guardian updated its readers on the progress or lack of it that had occurred in the case

The next report was in the Manchester Guardian's edition dated 2nd February 1926. It is rather a troubling report given that the police surgeon Dr Godfrey Carter at the adjourned inquest (see above) stated that he suspected murder. From the report it seems as though the police were not of that opinion as they could find no evidence at all to justify the claim

SUSPECTED MURDER AT SHEFFIELD

POLICE BAFFLED

The mystery of the Sheffield draper's shop affair remains unsolved. The police have examined all the available clues to Miss Florence Hargreaves death and each time have drawn a blank. The woman who was 54 years of age was found strangled with her stocking in her shop in Attercliffe Road on Wednesday.

The Sheffield police are making enquiries for a boy who is said to have visited the shop with a note on the Saturday morning before the body was discovered.

Miss Hargreaves, used to make frequent visits to Washford Road Railway Bridge. She would come back in a few minutes in an irritable mood. It is now definitely established that Miss Hargreaves, was alive on Saturday morning.

The final report in The Manchester Guardian dated 26th February 1926.

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 26th February 1926 also carried  a similar report

OPEN VERDICT

MYSTERY OF ATTERCLIFFE WOMAN'S DEATH

MURDER SUSPICION

"An open verdict was returned yesterday at the resumed inquest at Sheffield on Miss Florence Hargreaves, the woman draper who was found dead in her little shop in Attercliffe Road a few weeks ago.

When the woman's body was discovered a stocking was tied round her throat and she had wounds to her head and other parts of her body.

At the opening of the inquest, Dr Godfey Carter, police surgeon said that there was a suspicion of murder about the case and that the inquest had been twice adjourned to enable the police to make full enquiries. A reward of £50 was offered but without result.

The police yesterday were represented by Superintendent Hollis, Superintendent Hughes and Inspector Naylor.

The Coroner (Mr. J Kenyon Parker) said that the police had made very extensive enquiries and working through the statements he felt satisfied that they would be unable to express a firm verdict. It seemed to him there was only the possibility of it being one of two verdicts - an open one or a verdict of murder against a person or persons unknown. The practical use of the latter verdict seemed to him only very small and on the whole he was rather inclined to advise an open verdict.

NO EVIDENCE OF STRUGGLE

It seems to me the Coroner added there was very grave suspicion but no definite proof. The evidence which points to the case of one being murder is almost entirely the evidence of the medical man, and his examinations and tests. There is no evidence found on the premises of a struggle or any interference with the woman. Dr Godfey Carter, police surgeon recapitulated his evidence at previous hearings.

The Coroner: You are quite definitely of opinion that the cause of death was strangulation by the stocking - Yes

Suppose the woman committed suicide by strangling herself with a stocking could she have done that after she had previously sustained the rib injuries? - No not at all, her right hand was seriously maimed.

The Coroner: Is it possible the rib and head injuries might have been caused afterwards by falling? - Not at all. The wounds on the head might have been caused by a fall on the spikes after she became unconscious.

Police Inspector Joseph Wainwright said that there was no sign of struggle in the shop. Witness failed to find any weapon which could have caused the wounds on the head. He met a bailiff with a distress warrant when he was entering the shop" 

The "Open Verdict" is regarded by many in the legal profession as an unsatisfactory one. It strictly means that the death is suspicious but the jury are  unable to reach any of the other verdicts open to them (wilful murder, suicide). It therefore affirms that a crime has been committed without stating by whom. After reviewing the evidence, which admittedly is from secondary sources, I am of the opinion that the cause of death is more likely to have been murder rather than suicide. The police doctor was adamant that the injuries Florence sustained could NOT have been the result of a suicide attempt - if the injuries had been incurred prior to the hanging, she would not have been able to commit the act. If they were incurred afterwards as she fell, it would not explain ALL her injuries which were quite extensive. Coupled with the fact that there was no note and that she had eaten within an hour of two of her death, the suicide theory is looking rather suspect. But the factor that points me towards murder is that although Florence was a recluse and may have had a degree of mental impairment, is that there were no previous attempts at suicide or indications of suicidal behaviour. 

With the injuries being far more extensive than one would expect of a suicide, and the fact that the police doctor suspected murder, must lead to the conclusion that a murder had been committed. But the police after extensive enquiries drew a blank. They said that they could find no conclusive proof of murder which I find rather puzzling - Inspector Wainwright states that he found " a leather money bag empty and neatly folded" and there was NO money in the shop (a 5s postal order was all that was found). Most shopkeepers would keep at least a small float in the shop but in this case none was found. Other facets of the death are also worth noting - the tying of the stocking with a knot at the BACK of the neck seems rather unusual

In conclusion I just get the impression that an "open verdict" suited all concerned. Florence Hargreaves was a recluse and was not going to be missed by either family or friends. The police would have had to devote considerable resources to trace a murderer, resources that were being employed to the fullest against the Sheffield Gangs. Their investigations to date had been inconclusive and they were according to the reports "baffled". The coroner did step in and advise the jury on such a verdict and so perhaps he was pleased that they would have to be no further adjournments and the matter could be laid to rest. The verdict suited the authorities and that was the end of it!

To date, I've no indication of where Florence's is buried and so if anyone can assist me, I would be grateful. I would also appreciate it if anyone could supply me with additional information on Florence.  

Notes

1.Deaths March 1926 qtr - Hargreaves Florence age 54 Sheffield Volume Volume 9c Page 789

2. In late February 2010 I received information from a descendent of Florence who kindly provided me with additional information about her and her family

"Florence was the daughter of James Hargreaves (born 1847 in Wath upon Dearne) and Maria Bool (born Q3 1848 in Rawmarsh)  who married in Q1 1869.  A daughter Lucy Mary was born Q4 1870 in Rawmarsh, followed by Florence Q1 1872.  It appears that a son, John, was born in the last quarter of 1873 when Maria died  (one can only assume in childbirth).  John died in the following quarter. 

Meanwhile Mariaís sister Mary (born Q3 1842 Rawmarsh) had married a William Dickinson in Q3 1866.  A daughter Lucy Dickinson was born (Q4 1869) in Sheffield.  William died Q1 1873. 

So in 1873 we now have James widowed with 2 year old Lucy Mary, 1 year old Florence and a new born baby John.  His sister in law Mary was widowed with 3 year old Lucy.  It seem natural that James should provide a home for Mary and her daughter and she looked after his young family.  The housekeeping arrangements obviously led to other things as they had three sons Albert, Edward (my Grandfather) and Arthur Bernard.

Although Mary was known as Hargreaves (even on Edwardís birth certificate) and known as his wife, I have been unable to trace a marriage.  Eventually I discovered that prior to 1912 it was illegal to marry oneís sister/brother in law.  By this time Mary would have been 70 and James 65   - so why bother!

Broomgrove Crescent, Sheffield - Photo taken March 2010

In 1881 the family was living at 4 Green Lane, Rawmarsh. 

1881 Census Household:
Source Information:
Dwelling 4 Green Lane Census Place Rawmarsh, York, England Family History Library Film 1342132 Public Records Office Reference RG11
Piece / Folio 4679 / 76 Page Number 4

Name Relation Marital Status Gender Age Birthplace Occupation Disability
James HARGREAVES Head M Male 33 Wath On Dearne, York, England Bootmaker
Mary HARGREAVES Wife M Female 38 Rawmarsh, York, England
Lucy DICKINSON Daughter In Law U Female 11 Sheffield, York, England
Lucy Mary HARGREAVES Daughter U Female 10 Rawmarsh, York, England
Florence HARGREAVES Daughter U Female 9 Rawmarsh, York, England
Albert HARGREAVES Son U Male 5 Sheffield, York, England
Edward HARGREAVES Son U Male 1 Rawmarsh, York, England

In 1891 however at the age of 19 Florence was a resident domestic servant with the Goodall family at 13 Broomgrove Crescent. In 1901 Florence had returned home to 4, Green Lane and was now a draperís assistant presumably the beginnings of her job at Attercliffe.

 I can go much further back with both the Hargreaves and Bool families but Iím sure you wonít be interested in that.

I  donít know where she is buried but if not in Attercliffe I would think Rawmarsh the obvious choice. She was born and brought up there and her next of kin, her father, was still resident there.  Her married sister mentioned in the newspaper cutting on your site would be Lucy Mary Hargreaves then known as Mrs Fred Brameld...."

Eight months later, another descendent contacted me with some further information about the family - I have amended the information slightly to protect the person's identity

"Lucy Dickinson was my Great Grandmother. I remember Edward Hargreaves as Uncle Ted and his wife Auntie Alice. I thought they only had two sons John H Hargreaves born February 1920, who married Vera (Potts). I know they had a son David and a daughter Ann. The other son was Donald A Hargreaves born 2nd July 1921 who never married. Uncle Donald used to lodge with my grandmother. My mother referred to Florence Hargreaves as being murdered in the draper's shop. My mother was living with her grandparents James and Lucy (Nee Dickinson) Johnson at the time. She also stated that James Hargreaves and Mary Dickinson went to Switzerland to marry".

The interesting point that emerges from the mail is that the family believed that Florence had been murdered, and did not take her own life as had been suggested initially 

I, and Florence's descendents, would really appreciate it if anyone could supply us with additional information at all on Florence and/or any member of her extended family.   

Sources

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 28th January 1926

The Manchester Guardian dated 29th January 1926

The Manchester Guardian dated 30th January 1926 - 2nd February 1926

The Manchester Guardian dated 26th February 1926

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph dated 26th February 1926

When evidence is not to be had, theories abound. Even the most plausible of them do not carry conviction- London Times Nov. 10.1888

IN SIR ARTHUR Conan Doyle's novel ''The Hound of the Baskervilles,'' the detective Sherlock Holmes cracked a murder case by deciphering the clue of ''the dog that barked in the night.'' The key to the case was that on the night in question, the dog should have barked, but didn't proving, Sherlock Holmes said, that what is not there is often as important as what is.

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