Lancaster’s most notorious criminals explained
The most fascinating part of Lancaster history no one will tell you about
If you’re a crime junkie and love to watch crime documentaries on Netflix, you’ll be very excited to find out that Lancashire, like any other county, has had its fair share of grisly crimes. After some research, The Lancaster Tab was able to put together this list of the most famous criminals, whose ghosts probably haunt our beloved castle up to this day.
The Savage Surgeon
In the early hours of 15 September 1935, Indian born physician Buck Ruxton murdered his wife and their housemaid in their Lancaster home, as mentioned in an article by LancsLive. He strangled both women to death with his bare hands and then proceeded to extensively stab in an attempt to dismember and mutilate their bodies, cutting them up into almost 70 pieces.
Wikipedia further explained that the bodies of the young women were found several days later, on 29 September dumped in the banks of Gardenholme Linn, in Moffat. Isabella Ruxton and Mary Jane Rogerson’s remains were found by young Susan Haines Johnson wrapped in a bundle of bedsheets in various areas of the river, heavily decomposed.
Buck Ruxton, otherwise known as “The Savage Surgeon”, was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The case became possibly one of the most famous crimes in the UK, because of the brutality of the crime as well as the innovative forensic techniques used to prove Ruxton’s guilt.
The Up Holland Highwayman
We’ve all seen Ocean’s Eleven or Heat or Fast Five. The common theme between these movie classics is that there is an extravagant heist in each and every one of them. None of them, however, can beat George Lyon’s feats as a highwayman.
Mostly known for the Liverpool mail hold up, George Lyon’s career as a criminal span out for thirty years, using Up Holland as his base, with him and his gang carrying out burglary after burglary and not getting caught. In their successful attempt to rob the passengers of Liverpool mail coach, the gang, with George Lyon as their leader, persuaded the ostler at Bull Head’s Inn in Up Holland to lend them horses, with which they would later hold up the coach. They fired two shots at Tawd Vale, forcing the driver to stop, so they can rob the passengers. Wikipedia also mentioned that their alibi was solid, as they were seen by people in the pub beforehand.
Research found that Lyon and his accomplices were executed on 22 April 1815 at Lancaster Castle, after being convicted of burglary. The Up Holland Highwayman was also convicted of eleven other similar offences, but at the end, the burglary at Charles Walmesley’s home was the one that put an end to George Lyon’s legacy as a professional thief, according to the Lancaster Castle website.
The Pendle Witches
The little woman on a broom with a huge hat, who poses on the logo of Pendle college? Yes, you know the one, she actually represents real women who lived in the 17th century.
The Lancaster castle website in a feature of the Pendle Witches claimed that witchcraft in the 17th century was a vocation and people, who posed as witches would make a living from it. Many of the allegations made against the Pendle witches were the result of a feud between two families, the Demdikes and the Chattoxes. It is said that they were in competition, both trying to monopolise making a living from extortion, begging and healing.
The trials of the Pendle Witches in 1612 were one of the most infamous trials to have taken place in English history. The twelve accused, insofar regarding their Wikipedia page, were charged with murder by witchcraft for their ten victims. We should note that the of the eleven witches who lived in Pendle Hill, ten were found guilty in the Lancaster Assizes and were convicted to death by hanging.
The Blackpool Poisoner
Also known as Louisa May Merrifield, poisoned her employer, 79-year-old Mrs Ricketts using rat poison Rodine and then, had her immediately cremated. Mrs Merrifield was not executed in Lancaster castle, but instead was sentenced to hanging in Manchester. The name “Blackpool Poisoner” was given to her in an article by LancsLive.
Her victim, Mrs Ricketts, complained about the lack of care Mrs Merrifield provided her, the shortage of groceries at home and about the fact that her and her husband, Alfred Merrifield, were spending a large sum of the old lady’s money to pubs, where Louisa preferred to spend most of her time.
Louisa Merrifield talked Mrs Ricketts into including her in her will, leaving her a bungalow worth a couple of thousand pounds. Merrifield then got Mrs Ricketts’ doctor into confirming she was mentally competent to alter her will, claiming that her employer may die at any given moment by stroke or a disease.
From Wikipedia reports, Mrs Ricketts died on 14 April 1953 from the poisoning, but Merrifield did not call the doctor that same night and instead called him the next day. The reason for this was because, as Merrifield stated, Mrs Ricketts was clearly dead and thus, she did not want to bother the doctor that late at night. Even though the police did not discover the poison, inquiries made to the local chemist shop confirmed that Louisa May Merrifield purchased Rodine, for which she was legally required to sign the poison register.
So there you have it. A small bit in what seems to be a huge history hiding in plain sight in Lancaster.