Illustration: Michael M'Keand Arrested after a Fierce Struggle
Few cases have occurred, in which more deliberate and cold-blooded cruelty has been exhibited by the murderers, than in that which we are now about to detail, and for their participation in which these unhappy malefactors underwent the dreadful sentence of the law.
The victim of their crime was a defenceless and unoffending servant, named Elizabeth Bates, and the circumstances under which they deprived her of life are as follows: --
On the evening of Monday, the 22nd of May 1826, Alexander M'Keand entered the Jolly Carters, public-house, which was situated at Winton, near Worsley, in Lancashire, and was kept by a person named Joseph Blears; and being known to Mrs. Blears, the landlady, took a seat in the bar, and called for a glass of ale. Having been served, he placed it before him, but he drank none of it for half an hour, at the expiration of which time his brother Michael entered, and sat opposite to him. They appeared from their manner to be strangers to each other, and Michael was unknown to Mrs. Blears. The new-comer, almost immediately on his entry, called for some bread and cheese and ale; and then his brother Alexander also had some bread and cheese. For a time they sat together, but did not appear to be in conversation; but then Mrs. Blears having quitted the bar for a moment, on her return she found that they had shifted their seats to a sofa, and that they were closely engaged in whispering to each other. Her suspicions were alarmed, but she made no remark; and then Michael asked where her husband was. She answered, that he had gone to Manchester; and, in reply to a further inquiry, said that he would be back at about eight o'clock. They remained until his return, and then Michael invited him to drink. He at first declined, but on the man pressing him, he drank a glass of whiskey, and subsequently a second. The two M'Keands also drank whiskey, and then they called for some cider, and entered into conversation. In the mean time Blears, who had doubtless been hocussed, became quite overcome with the liquor he had drunk, and lay down on the sofa, where he went to sleep. After about half an hour spent in whispering together, Michael inquired of Mrs. Blears, whether he could have a bed, as it was too late then to go to Manchester; and she answered, that he and his companion were welcome to the accommodation which her house afforded. They made some observations in reference to her husband being intoxicated, and then they desired to be conducted to their rooms. Betty Bates, the servant, was called to bring a candle, and she accompanied them up stairs. The circumstances immediately attending the murder of this poor girl were learned from a boy named Higgins, fourteen years of age, who was permitted, from motives of humanity, to live in Blears' house, and who slept in the room in which the bed intended for the two M'Keands was placed. It would appear that on their reaching the top of the stairs, the two men separated; and while Alexander went on with the servant, the other returned down stairs. The former was conducted to the room where Higgins was sleeping; and the boy, being awoke by the noise, looked from under the bedclothes, and saw the man put his arm round the girl's waist. She resisted, and said, "Be quiet!" upon which, with great force, he threw her back on the floor, and did something which the boy could not see. The girl cried "Murder!" and succeeded in rising; but the fellow threw her back again, and then again did something under her ear, with his right-hand, in consequence of which, as it appeared to the boy, blood flowed over her bosom. The woman struggled very much, and cried out that she would mark him; but the boy being dreadfully alarmed, looked to see no more, but concealed his head beneath the bed-clothes. The murderer was doubtless disturbed by the movement of the boy, and directly approached the bed in which he lay, pressed his hand upon his mouth, as if intending to despatch him also. The servant at this moment, however, managed to rise, and stagger towards the door, and the villain instantly quitted the boy, and went in pursuit of her. Higgins at this moment, taking advantage of the diversion of the man's attention, succeeded in passing him, and jumped over the banisters, but in his doing so, the man grasped at his shoulder. He, however, escaped and ran out of the house, and hiding himself in a ditch, was not further pursued.
In the mean time the second villain had attacked Mrs. Blears. The latter, it appears, hearing the cries of the servant from the upper room, was on the point of rushing up stairs to ascertain the cause, when Andrew M'Keand seized her, and made a cut at her throat with a knife, which she saw him produce from beneath his coat. The wound was not serious, but she attempted to cry out, and then he took her by the throat, and drove the knife in under her left ear. He attempted to withdraw it, but could not; and having pulled several times, the handle at length came away, and he ran off, leaving the blade still remaining in the wound. Blears during the whole of this time had remained asleep on the sofa, suffering from the effects of the narcotic with which he had been plied; but now, awoke by the outcry, he started up, and found his wife wounded as we have described. The alarm was given to the neighbours, and the boy Higgins having returned, the body of the girl Betty was found lying on the landing, outside the bed-room door. Several persons attempted to pull the knife from the wound in Mrs. Blears' neck, but unsuccessfully; and Mr. Garthside, a surgeon, having been called in, he at length succeeded in extracting it. It was a whittle knife, and was sharp-pointed; and upon subsequent inquiry, it turned out that one of the murderers had obtained it on the morning of the murder, and had sharpened it on the hearth-stone of a Mrs. Stewart, living near Blears' house.
Notwithstanding the immediate alarm given of this diabolical murder, the villains, for the time, succeeded in escaping detection; but their persons being known, it was not long before they were secured and brought to justice.
The particulars of their apprehension are rather curious. It appears, that a butcher residing at Kirkby Steven, having got up about five in the morning, saw passing his house, two strangers, who appeared to have walked a great distance, as they were evidently fatigued and foot-sore; and on that account he took more notice of their persons than he would otherwise have done. About two hours afterwards he went to a barber's shop, and whilst he was there, the constable of Kirkby Steven came in with a hand-bill which had been sent from Worsley, containing a description of the persons of the M'Keands, which he read to the people in the barber's shop. On hearing it, the butcher immediately said, that it corresponded exactly with the men he had seen passing his house some time before; and as those persons appeared to have come a long way, he had no doubt they were the men. Some conversation ensued about following them; and at length the constable, and a publican named Farraday, a very stout and resolute man, set out on horseback in pursuit of them, about three hours after they had passed the butcher's shop. Monday being the market-day at Kirkby-Steven, a number of people were coming towards the town, and from them the constable and his companion learnt that the objects of their pursuit were before them, on the road to Appleby. After they had gone some miles, the horse which the publican rode became unable to proceed, and he exchanged horses with the constable, who did not appear quite so anxious to come in contact with the men. The publican, however, pushed on, and when he got within about three miles of Appleby, saw them before him on the road; Alexander, the taller, walking first, and Michael about fifty yards behind him. After scrutinising their persons a little, and satisfying himself that they answered the description in the hand-bill, he rode forward to the next public-house, which was a short distance, where he dismounted, and waited the coming of Alexander, whom he immediately accosted, "You seem to have walked a long way, sir. Will you take a glass of ale?" Alexander unsuspectingly accepted the invitation, and walked into the house, followed by Farraday, who immediately seized him, saying, "You are my prisoner;" and at the same time he was laid hold of by two men who were in attendance. Farraday then went to the door to apprehend Michael, who was outside, when Alexander having recovered from the momentary surprise which at first overpowered him, broke loose by a desperate effort from the two men, and came rushing from the house. Farraday, on hearing the two men in the house call out, "He is off," immediately turned round, when he met Alexander coming out of the door, and instantly felled him to the ground with a blow of his fist; and fortunate it was for himself, that he was so prompt and decisive; for Alexander had, at that time, a loaded pistol in his pocket; and there is little doubt that he would have used it if he had had an opportunity. As soon as he was secured a second time, and again handed over to the men, with an injunction to be more careful of him, the publican again went out, to wait for Michael, who came up immediately. With him, the publican did not make use of any stratagem, but seized him at once by the collar. Michael raised a stick which he carried, as if for the purpose of striking him; but before he could execute his purpose, Farraday tripped up his heels, and threw him upon the ground. A violent struggle then ensued, in which Michael repeatedly kicked Farraday, and bit him severely upon the hand. He was, however, finally overpowered, and being forced into the house, the two brothers were tied together with a rope, and a chaise being sent for, they were conveyed to Appleby.
The prisoners having been subsequently examined in the presence of Blears, appeared to be greatly dejected and agitated, and they were eventually committed to Lancaster Castle for trial.
It was not until the 17th August that they took their trial, and then the facts which we have detailed having been stated in evidence, a verdict of Guilty was returned. The defence set up was that the prisoners were intoxicated, and that they never contemplated the commission of murder; but the plea was unavailing, and sentence of death was immediately passed.
During Friday night and Saturday morning after the trial, the Reverend R. Rowley, the chaplain of the Castle, visited them, and found Michael much altered in appearance. He persisted in his statement, that he was not the man who stabbed Mrs. Blears, and declared that he knew nothing of his brother's murderous intention until all was over. He requested pens, ink, and paper, and wrote several letters to females of his acquaintance, and during the forenoon he had interviews with two women. After this the Reverend Divine exhorted him to prayer, but he seemed reckless, and declared again that he was perfectly innocent, and ought not to suffer, insinuating that his brother had alone perpetrated the foul crime. In consequence of this some inquiries were made, and Mrs. Blears was again questioned as to the identity of Michael; but she persisted in declaring that he was the man that she met on the stairs (while running to the assistance of the murdered woman), and that his was the hand that wounded her.
Alexander M'Keand had long since prepared himself for the worst, and had fixed his attention entirely upon religious exercises. Upon being informed of the statements of his unhappy brother, he exclaimed, "Oh, God, forgive him! he is guilty, and well he knows it; it was he who stabbed Mrs. Blears below stairs, while I murdered the woman above in the room, for which I hope God will forgive me -- I was drunk when I did it." He declined stating anything as to his motives, and it was judged prudent not to disturb him by further questions. The wretched man appeared to possess much determination and firmness of nerve, and throughout the whole of the last awful scene was calm and penitent. He declined seeing any person, and expressed a wish not to be disturbed by any visitor whatsoever; and begged the reverend chaplain to have it made known that it was his first crime, as it had been circulated that he had been concerned in a murder and robberies before. On Sunday the unhappy brothers met in the chapel for the first time since their condemnation, but Michael averted his head, and seemed desirous of avoiding any conversation or notice of Alexander. They were placed in a pew by themselves.
At six o'clock on Monday morning the criminals were led to the chapel and received the sacrament, and remained at prayer for above an hour Alexander exclaimed, "Oh, God. have mercy on me," almost incessantly. Michael was quite sullen, and seemed scarcely able to stand or walk. A few minutes after seven o'clock, they were pinioned, and the under sheriff and his officers entered the chapel and demanded the culprits. Mr. Thomas Higgins, the governor, caused the M'Keands to advance to the chapel door, and withdrew a few paces; the procession then moved from the chapel to the place of execution, at the exterior of the north-western part of the castle. Michael walked with a hesitating step, and appeared dreadfully dismayed. Alexander was more collected, and his lips appeared as if moving in silent prayer.
At half-past seven o'clock precisely, a window which opens on hinges as a door, and which led immediately to the scaffold, opened, and the moment of expiation had arrived -- no bell tolled, nor was there any other funeral rite to mark the approach of the murderers' death; all was conducted with imposing silence, and not a murmur of pity appeared to escape from the crowd. Everything being arranged, the caps were drawn over the culprits eyes; the chaplain read a part of the burial service, the drop fell, and the wretched men were launched into eternity. After their bodies had hung the usual time, they were cut down and delivered over to the surgeons for dissection.
It would appear that these unfortunate brothers were born of poor parents, and that they pursued the occupation of hawkers as affording a means of procuring a living. Alexander was a hawker of tea, and was well known in the neighbourhood of the place where the murder was committed. His brother's district lay in another part of the county. Their mother and sister lived at Byromplace, Winton, and received a communication from the culprits on the morning of the murder, through the medium of a Mrs. Stewart, with whom they were all acquainted, informing them that they were quite safe and had secured their escape, and accounting for the murder by declaring that they had only acted in their own defence, and that they had been attacked by Blears, the landlord.
A circumstance occurred about a week before the murder which may, perhaps, throw some light upon the motives which dictated it. An action had been brought against Alexander M'Keand some time before, for a debt due to a man named Claworth, a farmer, residing near Eccles; in consequence of which, he called upon the attorney who had brought it, and offered to pay the debt if it could be proved to be due. The attorney told him, that if he would call upon him on Saturday, he would produce a witness who would prove the debt. He did call; and they produced Blears, who distinctly stated that he had heard Alexander admit that he owed the money. Alexander denied that he had made any such admission, and, as we are informed, uttered some violent and threatening language towards Blears.
It appears to be impossible to ascribe any other motive for the commission of the murder than this; and even this anecdote can afford no solution of the mystery why the servant-woman was first attacked, unless their object was to dispose of the whole of the family, in order that their identification as the murderers might be concealed.