Who Murdered Eleanor Hammerton? - Sheffield 1945

A few readers of this article may remember the murder of John Wortley in Sheffield in June 1975. It was to be the first unsolved murder in the city for over 30 years. The previous unsolved murder in Sheffield  is now long forgotten but at the time it made front page headlines.

I did have a problem finding the details. In the book "Unsolved Yorkshire Murders" by Stephen Wade the author makes a fleeting reference to the unsolved murder in Sheffield of a Heather Hamilton. For a number of years I kept a check for the murder of a woman by this name but was unsuccessful. And then purely by chance I came across a report in The Guardian dated Monday 29th January 1945 reporting the savage murder two days earlier of a 67 year old widowed shopkeeper in Bramley Leeds. Her name was Annie Nichols!! The report concludes that Leeds CID were consulting with their counterparts in Sheffield over a "recent" unsolved murder in Sheffield where the victim was also a shopkeeper.
 

I was therefore able to narrow the date down to late 1944 and before 27th January 1945. I went to the local studies library in Sheffield and worked backwards through the local press from that date. Two weeks into my search I found the case. The victim was not a "Heather Hamilton" but an Eleanor C Hammerton who was viciously murdered in her drapers shop and home (72 Ecclesall Road) on Sat 13th January 1945.

The Sheffield Telegraph dated Monday 15th January 1945 placed the crime on its front page

An 80 year old Sheffield spinster Eleanor C Hammerton was found dead at her drapery shop and home 72 Ecclesall Road on Saturday afternoon. With her head and face severely battered, she was lying between pile of stock in the little passage between the shop and her living room

Robbery is believed to have been the motive but the police have a difficult case because the woman lives alone, had no intimate friends and no near relatives. No-one can tell the investigating officers whether she had any money or valuable on the premises but she was secretary of a national savings group which had its headquarters at her shop

The crime was committed at a time when Ecclesall Road - just off The Moor - must have been busy and when passers-by were numerous. Anyone who noticed anything suspicious or unusual is invited to get in touch with the police

It was about 2.15pm that the body was found. A little earlier a man had entered the shop and had been unable to atrract anyone's attention. He told a neighbour who went into the premises and found Miss Hammerton. The police were summoned.

BLOODSTAINS MAY GIVE CLUE

The shop and the living room had been ransacked. The police found a jemmy  which might have been used by the old woman's assailant but they were unable to discover whether it was her property or whether it was the criminals. There were also two pokers which might have been used.

The assailant could hardly have escaped bloodstains

Although Miss Hammerton lived alone and rarely received visitors she was always friendly with customers and sometimes chatted with neighbours who went into her shop. "She wouldn't have hurt a fly" said Miss N Tilbrook, Ecclesall Road. And other women agreed. She slept on a couch in the back room downstairs and in recent years had never undressed.

Although the shop was rather old fashioned Miss Hammerton did a fairly good trade. She had extraordinary large stocks for such a shop. All her rooms were packed with boxes and parcels.

The police believe that her assailant must have been aware of her solitary habits

Neighbours told The Sheffield Telegraph that they seldon saw anyone call on her. The police said that the only relatives they had seen were fairly distant, they just "popped in" to see her on rare occasions but only just to ask about her health and they were never invited beyond the shop. It is understood thatMiss Hammerton had occuppied the Ecclesall Road shop since the Sheffield Blitz raids in December 1940. Before that she is believed to have had a similar shop in Milton Street. Still earlier she was an assistant in a draper's shop. There is also a belief that she was a Derbyshire woman. But details are vague because of the absence of close friends and relatives

Anyone who knew her and is able to give information about her is urgently asked to get in touchwiththe police at either the CID Castle Green or any police station. A special request is made for people whowere customers at the shop on Saturday morning to get in touch with the police. Even without realising it they may have information which will help the investigation

BODY FOUND BY NEIGHBOUR

On personal matters Miss Hammerton was exceptionally reserved and in building such a large staock of drapery and haberdashery she might have been regarded as a little eccentric. But in other ways she was a pleasant old lady. Mrs Florence Cookson keeps a shop at 66 Ecclesall Road four doors away from Miss Hammerton's said a man calle din her shop just after two o' clock on Saturday and said he had been to Miss Hammerton's shop but they did not seem to be anyone in.

She went to the shop and there were some people there when she arrived. Her husband - she had asked him to come along - found the body in the small passage in the back on te shop. He immediately went to Tomlinson and Sons garage across the road and telephoned the police.

I then checked the national press. The murder figured in The Times but only in their News in Brief column. It was brief!

The Manchester Guardian dated Monday 15th January 1945 had a little more detail

The Daily Mirror also carried a similar report

It is clear even at this early stage in the investigation that the Sheffield police were struggling to make any progress in the case, and this was confirmed in the report in next day's Sheffield Telegraph - Tuesday 16th January 1945

It is a widely held belief that the first 48 hours are crucial in the investigation of a murder, and if the press reports are to be believed the Sheffield CID certainly gave the case its utmost priority. To a certain extent they did make progress as the report in the following day's Sheffield Telegraph notes

The next report I accessed is from The Sheffield Telegraph dated Thursday 18th January 1945, five days after the murder

SHOP CRIME INQUEST

There were no further developments in the Ecclesall Road shop crime yesterday but several more people were interviewed by Sheffield CID who are still using every available officer on investigations.

From scores of statements they are hoping to establish more definitely the time 79 year old Miss Eleanor Carnelly Hammerton was killed

The Inquest on Miss Hammerton was held yesterday and adjourned until 31st January

Dr Gilbert Forbes Sheffield police-surgeon said Miss Hammerton's wounds could have not been self-inflicted. The Coroner Mr A P Lockwood) said that the death of the woman had the appearance of a brutal murder and that he would resume the enquiry with a jury.

The family mourners at the funeral at Ecclesall church this afternoon will be two nieces and eight or nine grand-nieces and nephews, Miss Hammerton's only living relatives.

The Inquest was in effect a formality - it's prime purpose was for the Coroner to authorise the funeral and interment of Eleanor.

The Sheffield Telegraph dated Thursday 1st February 1945 had the headline

POLICE STILL SEEK SHOP MURDERER

No further evidence was was given at the adjourned inquest and the Coroner Mr A Lockwood announced yet a further adjournment. The paper reported that all available officers were working on the case, and that their enquiries were covering a wide area of the city.

The inference is that the police were still no further forward with the case. This was re-enforced when the Inquest was resumed on Tuesday 6th March 1945 and a verdict announced. The verdict was "murder by some person or persons unknown" which was hardly surprising given the evidence.

And that is as far as the investigation went, apart from one rather chilling event. In the Manchester Guardian dated 29th January 1945 there was this report of a murder in Leeds

Apart from the strangulation, the murder did bear "a striking resemblance" to that of Eleanor's. Even the day of the week the murder was committed was the same - Saturday. I do not know what became of the police consultations but Annie's murder like Eleanor's remained unsolved, and forgotten! 

As the final report states that Eleanor was buried in Ecclesall Churchyard, five days after her brutal murder. In March 2013, I made enquiries and thanks to the efforts of a fellow researcher I was able to locate Eleanor's last resting place. She is buried with her father THOMAS HAMMERTON was died 63 years earlier in 1882.

 

Notes

1. The next unsolved murder in Sheffield was in June 1975 - From the True Crime Library

"National Car Parks offered a 1,000 reward for information about the killer of their attendant John Wortley, who was standing in for a sick workmate when he was battered to death near his kiosk at the Arundel Gate car park, Sheffield. It is still unclaimed.
Wortley, 66, lost his life on Thursday, June 5th, 1975, when his killer took the till contents of 59.
Clues: a wage slip was found nearby; a local dry cleaner noticed bloodstained clothing; an anonymous phone caller said two men were involved; a 20-year-old green Hillman Minx was parked in the car park but the driver was never traced."

2. 1911 Census Record

Name Eleanor Cornelley Hammerton
Relationship to Head of Household Boarder
Condition Single Gender Female
Age 45 Estimated Year of Birth 1866
Occupation Assistant Drapers
Employed Yes
Working at Home No
Place of Birth Thorpe Healey Yorkshire
Nationality British
Enumerator Information Address 172 Fitzwilliam St Sheffield Parish Ecclesall Town Sheffield
Type of Building Private House Number of Rooms 5 Rooms Inhabited Yes
Reference RG14PN27833 RG78PN1593 RD509 SD7 ED3 SN290 Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Registration District Ecclesall Bierlow Registration Sub District Broomhall
Enumeration District 3 Reference Information Folio 589 Page 1 Piece 27833 RD number 509 SD number 7 ED number 3 Schedule 290

She was living with a 63 year old widow MARY PINDER in the shop - Eleanor was a 45 year old draper's assistant

Sources

The Manchester Guardian dated 15th January 1945 and 29th January 1945

The Sheffield Telegraph dated 15th - 18th January 1945 - 1st February 1945

The Times dated 15th January 1945

The Daily Mirror dated 15th January 1945

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This page was last updated on 12/03/15 16:31