When a coach party set out from Preston, Lancashire, for Thirsk races on Saturday, MAY 26th, 1962, the racegoers included William Salter, licensee of Preston’s Kendal Castle Hotel, who left his 57-year-old wife Elsie to run the pub in his absence.
On Saturdays the bar closed at 3 p.m. and reopened at eight. Mrs. Pauline Green worked in the bar, and at 6 p.m. she decided to go in early to help Mrs. Salter, who had been ill. Surprised to receive no response to her knocks on the front and back doors which were locked, she went home and returned with her husband.
The pub was still locked and silent, but Mrs. Green remembered a fire-door that was never secured. Using this entrance, the couple went to the Salters’ flat at the rear of the premises where they found Mrs. Salter lying dead on the floor of her kitchen, her face battered beyond recognition.
Police found that the till in the bar had been forced open and emptied. As there was no sign of a break-in, it appeared that the killer had known of the unlocked fire-door or had hidden in the pub at closing-time. Mr. Salter gave detectives a list of the pub’s regulars, and officers began visiting them.
All were shocked by the news of the murder, with the exception of 29-year-old Bernard McCrorey who seemed indifferent. The investigators had already learned that he was an unemployed labourer with a history of mental illness, and he was taken to police headquarters for further questioning. This got nowhere until news came that a bloodstained hammer had been found at his home. That loosened his tongue, and he told the detectives everything.
He said he had hidden in the pub’s toilets at closing-time, and had then gone upstairs to the Salters’ living quarters to see what he could steal. “I hid behind the kitchen door,” he continued. “She came in and saw me and I hit her with the hammer.”
How many times? He couldn’t remember, but an autopsy found that Mrs. Salter had received eight blows to the head.
The facts were not in dispute when McCrorey appeared at Manchester Crown Court two months later, pleading not guilty to murder. What was at issue was his mental condition. Did he know what he was doing?
He admitted rifling the till and also taking 100 cigarettes, and the prosecution claimed that as the killing was committed in the furtherance of theft, it was a capital offence. Furthermore, the Crown alleged that the killing was premeditated. Mrs. Salter had earlier refused to lend McCrorey £5, and he had told another customer, “I am a regular customer, and the landlady will be sorry.”
For the defence, several doctors testified that McCrorey was mentally abnormal, but the senior medical officer at Liverpool’s Walton Prison said he had found nothing wrong with him.
Summing-up, Mr. Justice Lyell said that to establish diminished responsibility the defence had to satisfy the jury that McCrorey’s mental responsibility was substantially impaired at the time of the killing. But whether or not the killing had been premeditated, the doctors could not say that the impairment of his mental responsibility was substantial.
After more than four hours’ deliberation the jury found McCrorey guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to death. On appeal, however, the murder conviction was quashed, the appeal judges finding that the trial judge had misdirected the jury in failing to make the distinction between the circumstances of a premeditated and an unpremeditated killing. The medical evidence had been that if the crime was unpremeditated there was substantial impairment of mental responsibility. If it was premeditated there was still impairment but the doctors could not say it was substantial.
His murder conviction set aside, McCrorey was sentenced to life imprisonment for manslaughter.