The Boy Murderers

Liverpool Daily Post Sat 21st July 1855


John Fleeson, labourer, residing at No. 10, Queen square, Saltney-street,  had a little boy, aged seven years, named James Fleeson. This little boy went out on Sunday afternoon last to play, along with the other boys of the neighbourhood. At night the child did not return home. The parents became exceedingly anxious, and, after making the customary inquiries, they awaited the result of time.

On Wednesday morning last, as the father was walking about Stanley Dock, in search of employment, his attention, which had been doubly keen, was arrested by the appearance of something in the water. It struck him that it was the body of his own little boy.

It was got out of the water, when the result proved that his worst fears were realised. The head of the corpse presented the appearance of having been very much bruised by something or other before it got into the water. The police made inquiries, when they learned, from some of the boys who were playing with the deceased, Sunday last, that quarrel had arisen betwixt a boy named Alfred Fitz and the deceased, in which the former struck the latter on the temple with a brick. This blow struck the little fellow to the ground, and renewed the blow.

After the deceased had been struggling in agony the ground for short time, Fitz took hold of the body, and, with the assistance of another boy called Breen, threw it into the canal. The police consequently took Fitz into custody on Thursday night. While doing so, the father of Fitz, a labourer, residing in Saltney-street, became very violent, and threatened to stab Inspector Thompson, who made the arrest.

Mr. Blake, the beadle of the Coroner’s Court, apprehended the boy Breen, who is about eight years old, at the Night Asylum in Brownlow Hill. The mother of Breen a poor woman, with two other children, had been at the Night Asylum for two or three days, and was on the point of obtaining order for parish relief, for herself and three children. None of the children concerned in this sad affair are more than ten years age.

The inquest was held on the body, yesterday, when the following depositions were taken:— Robert Melling, being sworn, said, —I am a police constable (505). Yesterday morning between and seven o’clock, I was on duty at the Stanley Dock. I observed a man on the bridge looking something which was in the water in the dock. I went to the edge of the quay, and saw that it was the body of a child. I had the body taken out of the water. Before taking it away, a man came up to me and said, ” That is the body of son, who has been lost since Sunday.” The body was taken to the man’s house in Saltney Street.

James Fleeson said : The deceased was my son. His name was James Fleeson ; he was seven years of years  [sic]. He went out on the Sunday afternoon. I never afterwards saw him alive, for he did not return. I made every enquiry about him, upon his being absent but without learning anything until Thursday morning. I was at the Stanley Dock in search of work, I saw a dead body in the water which I at once recognised the body of my son. I had the body taken home. I observed a severe wound over the right eye. There was another one upon the upper lip, which blood was flowing, when we got the body. I don’t know either of the boys who are now in custody.

James Hawkins, a sharp little fellow, aged about nine, said : I am the son of Harry Hawkins, who is a tailor, residing in Brunswick-place, Saltney-street. I was well acquainted with the deceased, for he was playfellow of mine. I also know the two boys now at present in custody. The name of one the boys was John Breen, and the name of the other was Alfred Fitz. They both reside in Saltney-street, as we are all playfellows.

On Sunday afternoon last, I went into the brick-fields to play, with the deceased and others. The two boys Breen and Fitz were there, as well several others. We began to play at ” leap on back” (leap frog}: While we were playing, the deceased fell out with Alfred Fitz, ‘ because he said he did not take a fair jump. They had good deal of talking about the jump, which lasted for half an hour or so. Fitz then took up a half brick, and struck the deceased a blow on the temple, on the right. The deceased fell the ground, with the blow. And when he was the ground, Fitz struck him again, on the temple. I saw good deal of blood come from the wound.

The deceased never spoke but he worked and struggled with his hands and feet. After a time, Alfred Fitz took hold of the deceased by the arms, and John Breen took hold of him by the leg, and they dragged the deceased to the canal, and threw him in. The distance from where the deceased fell in the canal is forty yards. The boys then ran away. The deceased struggled a minute or two in the water, and then sank.

There was only a lot of boys present. I said I would go and tell the boy’s father. I told my father and mother the same night what had been done. Breen never struck the deceased. I have seen and recognised the dead body, at his father’s house.

Mr. George Kemp, surgeon, deposed to having made a post Mortem examination of the body the deceased. He thought death had been caused by suffocation from drowning. But there was a wound over the right eye, that seemed to have been caused by some hard rough substance. The membranes of the external surface of the brain were more than usually congested. But this might either result from suffocation from drowning though he was inclined to think it more likely from the former. The wound the right temple was inflicted during life. The further inquiry into the case adjourned until to-day, at half-past eleven o’clock.

Liverpool Daily Post  Sat 21st July 1855


On Saturday, noon, the inquest relating the death of James Fleeson, a boy aged seven years, whose body was found drowned in the Stanley Dock, on Thursday, and which exhibited marks of violence, was resumed. The two boys, Alfred Fitz and John Breen, who, it was alleged, threw the deceased into the canal, after Fitz had struck him on the temple twice with a brick, were before the jury, in custody.

Fitz is rather an intelligent-looking boy, aged nine years. Both seemed to be a state of great neglect. They were bareheaded and barefooted. On the first day of the inquest both boys cried while the examination was going on, but on Saturday they appeared composed, and as if they were scarcely aware of the serious crime with which they were charged.

Mary Ann Pratt, of No. 5, Eldon-street, said she knew the boy Fitz. She was in the brick-fields in Great Howard-street, on Sunday afternoon last, about three clock. She saw a large number little boys playing there. Both Fitz and the witness Hawkins were there. She saw Fitz strike the boy, but she could not say it was the deceased she saw struck. She told Fitz not to abuse the boy, when he replied, “Mrs. Pratt, mind your own business.” Fitz then took up a half-brick, and struck the boy on the head with it, right over the eye. The blow knocked the boy down, and when he was down Fitz gave him a kick. A man came up and separated them.

The boy James Hawkins was recalled, and said he saw no man there whilst Fitz was striking the deceased. This was all the evidence taken.

The Coroner then addressed the jury. He said, before he made any remarks, he would take a portion of their verdict—what, in their opinion, was the cause of the death the deceased. The jury, after short deliberation, gave it as their verdict that the deceased was drowned.

The Coroner again addressed the jury, upon the point, as to the circumstances under which the deceased was drowned. The case was certainly extraordinary one. The boy killed was a child; the chief witness was a child; and the two prisoners were both children. He had no doubt a question would arise in the minds of the jury—can these children be guilty of the crime of murder? The law laid it down that infants under seven years of age could be punished for a criminal act; but from the age of seven to fourteen, an infant was deemed by the law capable of committing crime. If the jury were of opinion that two such children as those before them were not guilty of murder, he must discharge them. If they were of opinion that they were guilty of murder, in three weeks they would be taken before his lordship to be tried on the charge.

The jury, after a short consultation, stated that they were of opinion that the two boys had committed murder. They, however, were rather reluctant in consigning two such infants on so serious charge.

The Coroner remarked that, under no circumstances would they be put to death; they might, indeed, be put under better care than they had been, and it might be the means of bringing them to a sense of the awful crime with which they were charged, and their evil comae.

Prior to the boys being returned to prison, they commenced to cry very keenly. Breen protested earnestly that knew nothing about it, and he charged the boy Hawking with telling lies. Fitz, in like manner, said did not strike Fleeson. They were then removed.

Liverpool Daily Post Tues 24th July


Moral evil is more infectious and more fatal than the typhus the cholera. A illustration of this melancholy truth has occurred within the last few days, at our very doors.

Last Sunday week some boys were playing in the brickfields at the north end of the town, near the Leeds and Liverpool canal. As usually happens, dispute arose between two them. The trifling quarrel might have been appeased or arranged, as was the case in our schoolboy days, by the interchange at the utmost of a black-eye or bloodv nose—and there an end.  In our hot youth, when George the Third was king – Callidus Juventa consule Planco- we were sufficiently prompt to resent insult or injury but the casualties we have- named sufficed to vindicate our injured honour or satiate our thirst for vengeance. But have wondrously improved since that distant era.

Among the “young barbarians” of the present day an angry word can only be expiated by the life-blood of the offender. In the case before us one of the disputants knocked the other on the head with a brickbat until he was rendered insensible, and then, with the assistance a companion, threw him into the canal, where the tragedy was completed by the suffocation of the victim.

Perhaps the serious phase of the transaction, and, regards the well-being of society, certainly the alarming, remains to be told.

Several other boys witnessed this horrid deed, apparently without the slightest attempt at interference to prevent it. When the fact itself transpired in the neighbourhood, a degree of vigilance amounting to a conspiracy, to screen the murderer and conceal his guilt, was displayed by the entire population of the district, who thus, voluntarily became participes criminis.

It was not until the following Thursday, four days after the commission of the deed, that the accidental discovery of the body of the murdered boy in the Stanley Dock, excited the suspicions of the police, and induced’ those inquiries which brought the fact to light.

We cannot regard this as a mere reckless indifference for human life,—even, that of an innocent child,—but rather as a positive sympathy for crime, and for crime of the deepest dye. This is not a’ solitary instance of the same morbid perversion of moral feeling existing in this locality, and, we fear, elsewhere. There not a murderer turned off at Kirkdale tor whom there does not exist among the spectators a greater sympathy for his fate “than horror for his crime.”

How has this monstrous instinct been implanted ? And how can it be eradicated These are questions into which we cannot now enter, but which deserve, think, the attention of the philosopher and the statesman. Surely, education, if we had it, might do something. ” Men,” as Byron- says, ” though made of clay, are not of mud.” The plastic mass in the hands of the potter may assume the form of a dishonoured utensil or an Etruscan vase.