It had been a quiet night at Barclay Street police station, Monkwearmouth. Sergeant Hutchinson, resisting an impulse to doze, bent over some paperwork, determined to get up to date. At that moment a small, scruffy man came in through the doors, leaned over the counter and said meekly, “Excuse me. I’ve something to tell you. I’ve cut my bairn’s head clean off.”

“Could you give me some details, sir?” the sergeant asked suspiciously.

The man could. He was John George Turnbull, 45, and he had just left the body of his six-year-old stepson in the kitchen of his house in Gosforth Street, Roker. He had locked four other children in a room.

Deciding to investigate, the sergeant set off for Gosforth Street. There on the kitchen mat, he saw the little boy’s body. His head had been cut off, and it lay in front of an open coal fire. A bloodstained razor lay on a table nearby.

A year previously Turnbull had married a widow, Mrs. Tucknott, mother of the four children Turnbull had locked in one of the rooms. They also had a baby of their own.

Turnbull was a drunk who had so terrified his wife that the night before the killing she had fled from the house and was too frightened to return.

At Durham Assizes on NOVEMBER 12th, 1919, Mrs. Turnbull’s oldest child, Sarah, 12, told the jury how she woke up to see her stepfather pouring medicine down the throat of baby Tommy to try to quieten him.

When the boy still wriggled, he slashed his throat, before turning him over and slowly cutting through his neck.

Sarah added: “He chucked the head down against the fender and then turned to us and said he would cut off our heads as well. We buried our heads under the pillow while my brother Matty stood up and prayed for him not to kill us.”

The jury found Turnbull guilty but insane, and he was ordered to be detained during the King’s pleasure.