A chance meeting at a pub in Lepton, Huddersfield, in August 1931 led to Thomas Riley becoming Elizabeth Castle’s lodger. He was 36, she 53. Both were lonely, and within weeks they were sleeping together.
But there was a problem. Riley, an unemployed ex-serviceman from Lancashire, fell behind with his rent and left owing Mrs. Castle money. She informed the police, who contacted Riley’s parents in Burnley, and they settled the debt and agreed to be responsible for future payments.
Riley returned to his lodgings and resumed his relationship with his landlady, but they began to quarrel. On December 19th, 1931, he walked into a Leeds police station and told the desk sergeant, “I want to give myself up for murder. I’m fed up, and I’m telling the truth. We had a quarrel and I hit her on the head with a hammer.”
He said that on the evening of DECEMBER 16th he and Mrs. Castle had quarrelled over some firewood he had been collecting for her. She wanted him to fetch more straight away. He told her he’d already brought six months’ supply, and the job could wait until the next day.
He said that Mrs. Castle had then called him an Irish bastard, telling him to get out and moving as if to strike him with a pot. He thought she was going to hit part of his face that was affected by lupus, and he had grabbed “the first thing that came to hand. It was a hammer, and I struck her three blows with a rapid motion.”
Police went to the house, found Mrs. Castle’s body lying in the pantry, and Riley was charged with murder.
At his trial he submitted a defence of provocation. But in referring to the taunt of “Irish bastard” in his summing-up, Mr. Justice Humphreys told the jury that no words, however insulting, could justify the use of a deadly weapon such as a hammer. And no such words could warrant the charge being reduced to manslaughter.
Riley was duly convicted and sentenced to death. His appeal was dismissed, he was denied a reprieve, and he was executed at Armley Prison, Leeds, on April 28th, 1932.