Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Death of Emma Sheard

Another obscure case from West Yorkshire was that of 75 year old Emma Sheard, who mysteriously disappeared in 1942 and it never raised suspicion amongst her neighbours for a number of years. It took a resuming of pit inspections that was to uncover the truth, and put another woman in the dock.  Emma shared her cottage in the tiny village of Walton with her great niece, Winnie Hallighan, a married nursing orderly.  One day, neighbours noticed that Emma was not around and asked her niece where Emma was.  She told them that her aunt had decided to go away for a short time.  This they accepted and eventually forgot about her.  A year later, the cottage was sold, and as Emma`s signature appeared on sale documents, this meant that Emma was alive and well.

    But it was in December 1948 that an inspection of the pit shaft by a mining inspector that uncovered it`s grisly secret.  Inspections had been halted during the war but now it was over, inspections were slowly being reintroduced, even in flooded shafts.  This particular shaft had flooded decades earlier and had been abandoned.  But it was still given periodical examinations.  December 20th 1948, and an inspector moved in to check the pit shaft, moving away debris away from the top and shining his lamp into the shaft, saw thing gruesome.  The shaft measured over 700 feet in depth with the water at least 130 feet from the top.  The inspector thought he saw human remains in the water, so summoned Police from West Riding Constabulary.  They brought in more powerful lights and grappling hooks and managed to bring all the remains to the surface that they could see.

    The bones were taken to the Pathological Laboratory in Wakefield and to be examined by Dr David Price.  He concluded the victim was a small female but unable to deduce cause of death.  A number of body parts were still missing, including the head, so Police asked the mining company for an expert.  They provided a man from the rescue squad, and he was lowered down the shaft to the water.  He had protective clothing and oxygen, and actually recovered all the rest of the bones from within the water.  Police had already started door to door enquiries, and neighbours remembered the sudden disappearance of Emma.  Her great niece was living close by in a terraced house, and told Police that Emma had moved away then later, sold her cottage.  They looked into the sale of the house but could find no trace of her.  With the neighbours remembering her suddenly going away, Police took Winnie in for questioning.  Soon, under intense pressure, she confessed that she had killed Emma but not murdered her.  She said they argued and she hit Emma after she claimed Winnie`s husband was having an affair.  Winnie said that Emma struck her head as she fell.  She started to panic and decided to put her in the old pit shaft which was nearby.  She used her nursing skills to move the body and drop her her into the flooded pit.  She also admitted forging Emma`s signature on the sale documents.  Put before a magistrate, it was decided that there was insufficient evidence to justify a murder charge and changed the charge to manslaughter.  In March 1949, she appeared at Leeds Assizes on  a Manslaughter and three forgery charges. She was jailed for five years.