On Saturday night into Sunday morning of May 5th/ 6th 1956, sisters Margaret Jane (69) and Mary Ormesher (67) were viciously killed in their own home, ‘Ivy Dene’, 8 Asmall Lane, Ormskirk. The house was the former Brickmakers Arms, a ten room house with a court yard behind, which contained several small dwellings, all accessed via a passage way between number 6 and number 8.
The spinster sisters lived a quiet life with their black spaniel dog ‘Trixie’, being regarded as a reliable alert dog,Trixie was known to greet people noisily. The dog was in the kitchen of the house where the two ladies were found and Trixie had received a considerably heavy blow to the head, she was in a poor state when the house was entered by a neighbour and followed the neighbour out of the back door.
Minutes later P.C. Mellor arrived, there being police houses at that time just 100 yards up the road. At the September inquest, P.C. Mellor states that apart from the victims and various items he noticed, a small mongrel dog came out from under the kitchen table as he stood surveying the awful scene. The sisters did only have the one dog, known to be a black spaniel.
At the inquest several people made statements to the court about hearing a variety of noises, groans, breaking glass, bin lids clattering, voices, both male and female. These noises appeared to have been heard from around 11.15 and 11.30 pm.
The area behind the Brickmaker’s Arms was a small compact yard overlooked by no’s 1 & 2 cottage to one side and No’s 3 to 7 cottage along the back, residents at no 2 and no 3 all heard the noises later reported in depositions, however, on the night they were dismissed as ‘someone having a bit of bother’ or ‘someone drunk’ and everyone went to bed again.
Mary Ormesher had arrived home from her shop alone between 10-10 and 10.25 pm, she was carrying the brown attaché case she always used for the shop takings in her right hand and something else in her left hand, but the neighbour who saw Mary from the window did not see what else Mary was carrying.
At around 10.18pm, another neighbour who had been out and was returning to his cottage in Brickmakers Yard, saw a man he did not recognise across the road from the Yard. Sometime later, another neighbour left his house by the front door to take some golf clubs across the road to a neighbour, returning at 11.20 but he did not mention seeing or hearing anyone in the area.
Despite a witness coming forward in the days that followed the murders saying they also saw a man with a similar description in the same area, that man does not seem to have been identified in the days/weeks following.
The police searched the house and found that the brown attaché case was on the kitchen table and contained a small amount of silver but the two khaki cloth money bags which Mary used for the takings were missing. After a thorough search of the house, small quantities of money, wrapped in paper, were recovered from various rooms. Despite local rumour that said the sisters were hoarding cash, only a modest amount was recovered and the house had not been ransacked at the time of the murders. Mary had not left a will but the letters of administration granted on June 12th declared an estate of £1722.14s.4d. Margaret had not left a will either and in the letters of administration granted on June 20th her estate was £249.13s .4d.
The town came to a standstill for the joint funeral of Margaret and Mary, it was a poor day and rained constantly but hundreds of people lined the streets to pay their respects as the funeral cortege passed through the town from the hospital to the Parish Church. The sisters were laid to rest together in the Parish Church and for many years their grave was tended by Stanley Draper C.B. E. Church Sexton.
Five weeks after the murders, and after searches using police dogs at Ruff Wood, Edge Hill College and the Burscough Brick Works, the investigation was not progressing and although 1000 fingerprints had been taken and eliminated, the decision was made at a special court on June 14th to begin to fingerprint every male in the district aged over 16 who was living in the district on the weekend of the murders. This was to be done by plain clothed detectives visiting people in their own homes and it was expected to take up to a month to complete the exercise.
The person or persons who committed these murders has never been officially named and identified, rumours would emerge over the years as to the identity and fate of the killer. The case will never be closed.
Memories recently shared by a cousin of the family, paint a picture of a hard working woman in Mary and a gentle caring person in Margaret Jane.
“Maggie and Polly were such gentle souls – there wasn’t an ounce of animosity in them. Mother and I visited quite a lot and were always made very welcome. Polly was the bread winner and Maggie the homemaker who also looked after their mother Emma – she died aged 84 in 1951. Auntie Maggie always ‘read our tealeaves’. Polly opened the shop every day –including Sundays- she was so very well known in the town, she always had a roaring fire burning, like everyone else they had evacuees during the war, there was a young boy and later a mother and son.
Their murder was a dreadful shock for everyone, not least the family – it was unbelievable.
If only the one witness- Trixie their little dog, could have talked.
Although the house was quite big they only seemed to use the one room-it always felt very homely, Maggie made delicious pies!”
The shop in Church Street had been the subject of a demolition order due to the condition of the old building since the early 1950s and following the deaths, the order was carried out and the shop demolished and re-built.
Ormskirk Bygone Times has copies of the reports of the events following the murders and the details on the coroner’s enquiry.
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