Whatever happened to baby Elizabeth? The question rang through County Derry in the summer of 1917 because on APRIL 16th that year her father, Patrick Nicholl, took five-month-old Elizabeth from her mother, a young servant girl he had seduced when she was working for him. And the baby was never seen again.
I smothered the child and buried it in my mothers grave, Nicholl told the servant girl. The police were informed but they found no baby in the grave of Nicholls mother.
Well, I sold the child to a woman in Dublin, Nicholl then told the police.
They didnt believe that, either. They thought it much more probable that hed buried the baby in bogland near his farm at Coolnaculpagh, near Claudy. Although there was no body, they decided to charge Nicholl with murder.
Nicholls defence was simple – no body, no murder. The jury, though, was satisfied that hed killed baby Elizabeth and on July 17th he was sentenced to death. He was reprieved on August 4th and spent the next 10 years in prison.
This was a remarkable conviction by the jury. It was not until 1953 that for the first time an English jury convicted a man of murder when there was no body.