“I tried to abuse her and she was nearly dead”
The case of William Fish was the first recorded official use of dogs by police to capture a murderer. On 28 March 1876 seven-year-old Emily Agnes Holland went missing from Birley Street, Blackburn, after telling friends at St Alban’s School that she was “going to fetch half an ounce of tobacco [from Cox’s shop] for a man in the street”.
Two days later, a child’s naked torso was found by a labourer in Bastwell Field off Whalley Road, wrapped in two bloodstained copies of the Preston Herald — minus head, arms and legs. That afternoon a child’s legs were discovered stuffed in a drain not far away in Lower Curtliffe, also wrapped in two copies of the Preston Herald.
A post mortem revealed the child had been sexually assaulted, had bled to death from having her throat cut, and then had been dismembered. The post mortem also noted that the trunk had several different people’s hair clippings stuck to it and so two local barbers came under suspicion: Denis Whitehead and father-of-three William Fish, who kept old newspapers. Fish was co-operative and allowed police to search his home three times. The third search revealed that four issues of the Preston Herald, corresponding with those used to wrap the torso and legs, were missing from his date-ordered stack of papers but Fish claimed he had use them to light the fire and there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
Then Chief Constable Potts received an extraordinary offer from a painter named Peter Taylor, who owned a Springer spaniel and a half-breed bloodhound named Morgan, which he claimed could find Emily’s missing remains. On 16 April — Easter Sunday — the dogs searched Bastwell and Lower Cunliffe but found nothing. Then they were taken to Fish’s home at 3 Moss Street, where Morgan started barking in front of the bedroom fireplace. In a small recess in the chimney was a parcel containing fragments of human skull, hands and forearms, wrapped in a bloodstained copy of the Manchester Courier.
Birley Street, Blackburn, England
Tuesday 28 March 1876
Fish initially denied that he was responsible for the murder but later confessed. “I tried to abuse her and she was nearly dead. I then cut her throat with a razor… I then carried the body downstairs into the shop, cut off her head, arms and legs.” Fish was hanged at Kirkdale Jail, Liverpool, on 14 August 1876, while Chief Constable Potts was ridiculed for his historic decision to allow dogs to do police work.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
A popular riddle of the day ran “When was Mr Potts like the beggar Lazarus?” Answer: “When he was licked by dogs.”