“Come on, lass, let’s go and have a drink together.” That’s how James O’Connor propositioned Mrs. Mary Shears, who he had never met before, as she left a music hall in Toxteth, Liverpool.

Not many people said no to O’Connor, a powerfully-built boilerman and prizefighter, but Mary, walking off down Mill Street, declined his invitation. Miffed, O’Connor followed her, berating her, cursing and swearing, and beating her about the head.

At that moment two friends, James Gaffney and William Metcalf, approached and intervened to protect Mary. O’Connor lashed out, striking Gaffney in the face. Gaffney punched him back, whereupon O’Connor drew a knife and stabbed Gaffney behind the ear. As Gaffney reeled back, O’Connor turned on Metcalf and stabbed him.

Gaffney died soon afterwards in hospital and O’Connor was charged with his murder, and with the attempted murder of Metcalf. He was hanged at Kirkdale Prison on Monday, September 8th, 1873.

The execution turned out to be another in the long line of botched hangings by the now aged executioner William Calcraft. As he pulled the lever the rope snapped and O’Connor fell into the drop, where, with his arms and legs still pinioned, he squirmed about in great pain. A new rope was fetched; O’Connor was brought up and then dropped a second time to his death.