Anthony O’Rourke had a habit of killing people and stealing their property, but on the first occasion the young Irish labourer’s plea of self-defence was accepted and he was acquitted; and on the second occasion he was convicted only of manslaughter.
It was only for his third slaying that he picked up a murder conviction. But if the jury at his second trial for murder had known that this was his second killing involving theft, it is inconceivable that they would have let him off so lightly. In all probability he would have gone to the gallows.
In retrospect O’Rourke’s second slaying may therefore be viewed as the murder it undoubtedly was. It took place on JUNE 4th, 1951, in Pickering, Yorkshire, and the victim was middle-aged Miss Rose Hannah Harper, in whose home O’Rourke had formerly lodged. He admitted strangling her, ransacking her house, and returning the next day and taking more property.
Defending him again against a charge of murder, his counsel John Parris warned him: “You’re for the big jump this time.”
“Think so?” O’Rourke replied with a smile.
Parris was later to recall: “It was just as if we were discussing the prospects of a horse on which he had put a few shillings.”
At his trial O’Rourke claimed that he had earlier paid Mrs. Harper for the items he was alleged to have stolen. He said that when he went to collect them on June 4th, she pushed him onto a bed and suggested they have sex. He broke free and ran downstairs. Mrs. Harper followed him, saying his common-law wife Florrie had sex with anybody and took money for it.
“I called her a dirty old whore,” he continued. “She got mad. She jumped up and grabbed me by my private parts. I tried to push her off. I got her by the shoulders and tried to shove her away. She wouldn’t let go. I was in great pain. I couldn’t get her off so I put my hand round her throat. She went limp and dropped to the floor.”
The jury returned a manslaughter verdict, unaware that two years earlier O’Rourke had been acquitted of murder. On that occasion he had battered his elderly former landlord Thomas Pickering with a poker. His story that time too was that he acted in self-defence. And again the fatal quarrel allegedly arose from the victim’s claim that Florrie was a whore.
O’Rourke said that Pickering told him he’d paid Florrie for sex, and in the row that followed the old man seized a poker and was about to wield it. So in self-defence, O’Rourke testified, he grabbed the poker, struck Pickering with it, and the old man groaned and toppled over.
The jury had accepted O’Rourke’s story and he walked free. Two years later he was jailed for 10 years on being convicted of manslaughter for killing Rose Harper. After the trial his counsel asked him what really happened. O’Rourke replied: “She called me a murderer and I lost my temper.”
Parris advised him to be careful because “even the luck of the Irish will not run a third time.”
Released to kill yet again, O’Rourke changed his name to Regan and in 1962 he had a row with the ever-loyal Florrie and stabbed her in the chest. There was no escaping a murder conviction this time, and he was jailed for life.