The Murder of Detective Sergeant Robert Kidd, 1895

by Philip Trendall,
June 1995 and August 2021



One of the pleasures of researching this article has been the willing co-operation and friendliness of all the people I have approached for information.  Even those who were unable to help were quick to offer good advice and sincere good wishes.  I would particularly like to thank: Mr Robert Ashfield for access to his family papers relating to Robert Kidd, the staff of the Wigan Heritage Service, the staff of the British Library Newspaper Collection at Colindale, the officers at the British Transport Police at Wigan, and the Administration Staff of the B.T.P. Training Centre at Tadworth whose kindness is great, and whose efficiency is undoubted.

PST – June 1995

Introduction to the Second Edition

August 2021

This revision is produced in conjunction with the British Transport Police History Group (BTPHG) in time for 126th anniversary of the murder of Robert Kidd.  The Group will erect a plaque commemorating his loss and a service will be held at his graveside. This would have been done for the 125th anniversary but the worldwide pandemic has delayed many plans.  The date matters not.  What remains vital is that we remember all police officers who have lost their lives whilst doing their job.  We owe them all an enduring debt of gratitude that is not dimmed by the passage of time.

Much has changed since I first wrote this article.  The release of the documents at the National Archives has given us an insight into the trial of the suspects and the evidence gathering process.  The coming of the internet has enabled us to conduct considerable research from home and the digitisation of newspapers has created searchable indexes.  The British Newspaper Library is no longer a standalone institution and the BTP Training Centre has, regretfully, closed.  Wigan Archives are now based in Leigh and the BTP History Society has been replaced by the much more efficient and dynamic BTPHG.  The Group has done much to improve the BTP Roll of Honour and to ensure that the history of Railway, Dock and Canal Policing is preserved.

The story of the murder and its aftermath has not changed.  The horror of it still echoes across the years.


In addition to those thanked in 1995 I would like to express my gratitude to:

The Committee of the BTPHG, especially to Ed Thompson and Viv Head whose work to ensure that Robert Kidd is remembered is in the best traditions of policing in the UK.

The staff of the National Archives.

The staff of the Wigan and Leigh Archives Service.

                                                                                                PST – August 2021






And thus, the Wigan Observer described the murder of Detective Sergeant Robert Kidd in September 1895.  A straightforward case in that was not long before the offenders were arrested but its historical interest lies in the nature of tragedy itself.  A relatively young police officer was brutally murdered in the execution of his duty.  His murder was not premeditated but desperate and violent men did not restrain themselves when faced with the choice of capture or escape.  The consequences for all concerned were horrific.

Robert Kidd was born in Westmorland on 17th December 1857 and in 1880 joined the City of Manchester Police.  In 1882 he married Ellen Taplin who was five years his junior.   For reasons unknown, he left the force in 1884 to return to the area of his birth.  He did not remain away for long.  Perhaps Ellen missed the bustle of Manchester or possibly Robert did not wish to return to the family business of shoemaking.

Robert Kidd, Date Unknown: Credit: Family Photograph

In 1885 Robert joined the London & North Western Railway Police and served at several locations in the force.  In 1887 he joined the Detective Department at Warrington and transferred to Edge Hill the following year.  In 1889 he was promoted to Detective Sergeant and moved to Manchester Liverpool Road Station.

By the 1860s the London and North Western Railway employed a professional police force.  Their Detective Department was largely engaged in dealing with the theft of goods in transit, an activity that was to occupy 90% of railway police time well into the 1960s.  The rich and varied goods carried by rail were a great temptation to those whose poverty was crippling in its depth and often fatal in its consequences.

Leaving aside theft by staff, goods were at their most vulnerable when stored in yards and sidings.  Then, as now, the only way of dealing with repeated thefts was to mount observations in the hope of catching offenders in the act of stealing.  Railway yards are difficult places to watch.  They are large, unlit and are always dangerous.  Since the 1960s the number of such locations has declined and many are now the site of businesses or housing estates.


The Murder

The old LNWR goods yard at Wigan is located near Wigan North Western Station. A hundred and twenty five years ago the yard was a busy set of sidings used for holding the full range of goods in transit.  Throughout 1895 wagons held in the yard were frequently raided and goods stolen.  The LNWR Police mounted observations without success and it was decided in September 1895 that Detective Sergeant Robert Kidd would work with the Detective Constable based at Wigan, William Henry Osborne.

Kidd met Osborne in the subway at Wigan Station shortly before 8pm on Sunday 29th September.  They made their way off the platform of the passenger station and up towards the sidings.  Osborne lent Kidd a cap to wear in place of his own hat.  Both men were experienced at this sort of work.  Both would have known that the chances of catching thieves in the act were small.  There appears to have been no intelligence that a theft would take place on that particular evening.  As so happens, in cases of multiple thefts, a feeling had arisen that something had to be done.  In the absence of any better strategy, it was hoped that surveillance of the area would detect the offenders.

As soon as the two officers entered the sidings Osborne asked for silence and as they reached the end of a wall which marked the limit of the sidings Osborne saw a man on his hands and knees.  Osborne challenged the man saying, “What are you doing there?”  At this the suspect (later identified as William Halliwell) called out, “Heigh up lads have you got it?” or “Have you got them?”.

Halliwell ran off chased by the two detectives. He was soon caught by Osborne and a struggle took place.  This was the last Osborne was to see of Kidd until shortly before he died.  It would seem that Kidd went off in pursuit of the other suspects.  After a few minutes Osborne managed to get the better of Halliwell but was attacked by another man who kicked him.  A third man appeared carrying something ‘which shone in the moonlight’.  Fearing that he was about to be stabbed, Osborne drew his truncheon and struck the third man on the hand.  The two attackers ran off, leaving Halliwell still on the ground.  Osborne again attempted to arrest him but Halliwell kicked him, seized his truncheon and struck him on the head with it once or twice and then ran off.  Osborne tried to give chase but collapsed with exhaustion.  The suspects made off in the direction of the gasworks and canal.  After a couple of minutes Osborne set off in search of Kidd, who he found on his hands and knees between the wagons and the wall.  It was obvious that Kidd had been badly injured; blood could be seen on his face and when Osborne attempted to lift him he could hear blood dripping from Kidd’s many wounds.  Kidd called out “Osborne is that you? Get me a drink of water”.  Osborne then tried to carry Kidd to the signal box, which was not far away, but he could not manage the heavy burden.  Somehow he managed to raise the alarm with the signalman before fainting.  The signalman felt bound by the rules of the company not to leave his box, but he arranged for a locomotive to pick up the injured officers and take them to the passenger station.  By this time Kidd was dead.

Osborne was taken by ambulance to hospital and a local doctor, Dr Graham, attended the station where he arrived at around ten to nine.  He formally confirmed that Kidd was dead, arranged for the removal of the body and for the police to be called.


The Investigation

The reaction of the local police was swift and effective.  With few telephones and no radios, all messages took some time to reach their destination.  The first police officer to be informed of the events of the evening was Inspector Peers of the Wigan Borough Police.  He at once sent a message to Superintendent Brassington of the County Police as the sidings were near the Borough boundary.  It would seem that these two forces enjoyed a healthy relationship and throughout the enquiry a close co-operation was maintained.  About a dozen officers attended the station and the sidings and they soon discovered the site of the crime.  Pools of blood and a violated wagon were discovered and a number of caps – some blood stained, were removed.  Kidd’s handcuffs were also found, but the murder weapon remained missing despite several further examinations of the area over a period of days.

The railway police were informed and in due course Chief Inspector Richards (LNWR Manchester) and Chief Superintendent Copping (LNWR Euston) joined the enquiry; they were not however involved in the initial arrests.

Near to the sidings were a group of cottages known as Kay’s Houses.  These cottages were inhabited by poor families who were regarded as habitual criminals.  Overcrowded and in a poor condition the houses represented all the worst features of Victorian society.  Several convicted railway thieves lived in the area and this alone was sufficient for the County and Borough police to surround the area and search every house.

At 2.00am Superintendent Macintosh of the Borough Police arrested William Kearsley, a collier and a man with previous convictions for theft.  After a wait of over two hours, two more men, Richard Pritchard and David Millington, were arrested.  The three suspects, together with nine other men were taken to the Infirmary where authority was obtained for an immediate identification parade.  Despite his injuries Osborne had no difficulty in picking out Kearsley as the man who had attacked him when he was struggling on the ground with Halliwell. Two other suspects were identified.  Meanwhile, officers at Kay’s House arrested two further suspects at 07:30am: James Winstanley and Ralph Birchall.

All five appeared at court on the same morning having been charged with the murder of Robert Kidd and the assault on Henry Osborne.  All five were remanded in custody for further enquiries to be made.  Shortly after the hearing William Halliwell was arrested by Superintendent Macintosh.  Another identification parade was held and Osborne picked out Halliwell as the first man he had seen.  In dramatic terms Osborne declared “That is the man that took my staff” and to the prisoner “Where is it?”  Osborne then suggested that Halliwell’s left leg be examined. This was done and marks to the knee and shin were noted.   Halliwell was charged, brought before a magistrate and remanded to appear with the other prisoners.

At around quarter to twelve on the night of Tuesday 1st October a combined Borough and County Police visit to Kay’s Houses resulted in the arrest of the two final suspects: Elijah Winstanley and James Wellens.

We do not know what evidence the police had in their possession before the arrests.  Without doubt there was something of a ‘round-up’ of the possible offenders.  Kearsley and Halliwell carried marks on their faces of being involved in a fight.  All the group were close associates both as neighbours and, possibly, as criminals.  Perhaps most importantly, news of the murder spread rapidly around the pubs of Wigan and the poor areas of housing.  The police, with close local connections, soon had a good idea of who had been raiding the trains that night.

At the time of his arrest, a pair of blood stained clogs was found at the home of Elijah Winstanley.  Dr Roocroft, the police surgeon who worked with Dr Graham, confirmed that the blood was human although forensic science had not reached the stage where a positive match could be made with the blood of the murdered officer.

A full post-mortem was held on 1st October by Drs Graham and Roocroft. They were later to report that Kidd had suffered nine stab wounds to the face and neck – one of which has been through the nose.  The body was covered in numerous cuts and abrasions.  The top of the left index finger had been severed.  Dr Graham was of the opinion that at least some of the injuries had been inflicted after Kidd had lost consciousness, or when he was being held by a second attacker.

Various witnesses came forward, few with any useful evidence.  Mrs Rigby, the wife of the railway signalman who received the first report of the murder, told police that she saw three ‘rough looking men’ in the area at about 10.00pm and that she heard one of them say, “We have killed one and we will kill the other.”

Evidence emerged that most of the arrested men were drinking in the New Inn, Lower Ince, before the murder and that Kearsley, Winstanley and Halliwell were in the Fox Tavern after the event.  An unconfirmed story arose that either on the night of the murder, or in the weeks leading up to it, Kearsley and Winstanley were drinking in the New Inn when they fell into conversation with James Billington, the public hangman.  A jovial conversation is said to have taken place about the need to avoid his services.  If true, the story is lent a strange twist as Billington was to execute one of the pair before the year was over.


The Committal

Before the trial could take place it was necessary for the evidence to be considered before the local magistrates, in a process known as committal proceedings.

It soon became clear that there was little evidence against Pritchard, Birchall, Wellens, James Winstanley and Billington and they there were discharged when they appeared at the Police Court on 3rd October 1895.  Pritchard was later to give evidence at the main trial, but otherwise these men disappear from view.  The Police continued to suspect that at least some of them were involved in the thefts from the yard and were possibly present on the night of the murder.

The murder attracted great public interest and outrage.  The Wigan Observer and Advertiser and other papers, both regional and national, followed the case closely.  Large crowds attended the murdered officer’s funeral on Thursday 3rd October, which started outside his house in Zebra Street, Salford and continued to Salford Borough Cemetery.  The County, Borough and Railway Police were well represented but the bulk of the crowd seems to have consisted of local people who wished to express their own sense of loss.  Such was the interest generated by the case, that Louis Tussaud attended Wigan and Salford with the intention of making a waxwork of Robert Kidd for display in a local hall.  There are no reports of this exhibition actually taking place, although in the absence of newspapers with photographs such a display was not unheard of at the time.

The mood of the public seems to have been one of curiosity coupled with revulsion.  There was no great anger directed at the suspects by local people.  On the contrary there was a great deal of sympathy for thieves who had gone too far.  As well as collections for the family of the victim a public subscription was started for the defendants to ensure a fair trial and, later, to finance an appeal for mercy.

After two brief hearings the case came before the magistrates on 10th October.  No fewer than fifteen Justices chose to sit to hear the charges, which must have caused some accommodation problems.  Several of the magistrates were also members of the local Watch Committee.  Special arrangements had to be made for the press and to deal with the large crowds that gathered outside the court.

The papers now available at the National Archives show that the case was carefully put together and with great attention to detail.  The statements of the witnesses provide a logical timeline of the night and show that the three forces worked well together to assemble the evidence.

The three defendants: Elijah Winstanley, William Kearsley and William Halliwell were all charged with the murder of Robert Kidd and with inflicting grievous bodily harm on William Henry Osborne on the London & North Western Railway on 29th September 1895.

The prosecution case was led by a barrister, Mr Kershaw, who was instructed by the solicitor for the LNWR.  Some members of the Watch Committee had been concerned that Wigan would be required to pay for the prosecution of persons alleged to have murdered a railway detective.  Their belief was that as the railway police were maintained by the LNWR then the costs of the prosecution should be borne by the company.  It was explained that the LNWR would bear the prosecution costs at the Police Court, but that once the defendants were committed for trial the costs would be the responsibility of Crown.  Detective Chief Superintendent Copping of the LNWR Police was bound over in the sum of £50 to ensure that the prosecution proceeded.

Mr William Lees, solicitor, appeared for Halliwell.  Kearsley and Winstanley were not represented. Kearsley and Winstanley were later represented by a local solicitor, Mr James Wilson.  He was to play a major role in the period after the trial.  It would be fair to say that he served his clients to the best of his ability and that he had a keen sense of justice.

All the defendants were in a state of some distress.

During the opening speeches Winstanley fainted and as he did so shouted out, “Kill me, kill me”.  “Go on it’s murder, I did it, I did it, I didn’t intend killing him, I did it!”  He was also heard to say “It’s not our Bill”.  Presumably a reference to Kearsley who was his half brother.  This dramatic scene was widely reported in the press and is said to have made a deep impression on all in the court.  Winstanley was examined by Dr Roocroft who said that he was fit to continue.

Rumours had been spreading all morning about the availability of new evidence and the possibility of one of the defendants giving evidence for the Crown.  Confirmation of the latter part of the rumour soon surfaced in court.  Mr Kershaw told the massed magistrates of Wigan that he intended offering no evidence against Halliwell on the charge of murder but that he wished to see him indicted only on the charge of assault on Osborne.  It was decided that Halliwell should be excluded from the rest of the proceedings, as he was to appear as a witness for the prosecution.  This left two men in the dock.

Mr Kershaw continued his opening address only to be interrupted by Winstanley again who shouted, “I did it!”.  As he did so, he leapt up and made to leave the dock.  He was subdued by four constables and after a few minutes calmed down.  Mr Kershaw went through the events of Sunday 29th September.  He told the court about the identification parade at the hospital and the seized clogs at Winstanley’s home.  Witnesses were then called to give evidence in detail.

The first witness was an employee of the Railway Company and produced a scale plan of the goods yards.  This plan was used to point out where the attack on Osborne had taken place and where the body of Kidd had been found.  It also showed the likely escape routes of the offenders via the lower level of the yard by the gasometer and the canal bank.  The plan has not survived.

Henry Osborne then told the story of the tragic evening.  He gave evidence well and with confidence.  He described seeing Halliwell on his hands and knees and being attacked by Kearsley and Winstanley.  His description of the struggle was listened to in complete silence.  This silence deepened when he told of the discovery of his fatally wounded colleague.  Osborne identified the cap he had worn and the cap he had lent to Kidd.  He also confirmed that the handcuffs found belonged to his sergeant and that the truncheon was his.  Kearsley and Winstanley both asked a couple of questions but these were not pursued with any vigour.  Winstanley said that Osborne was telling lies.

The hush that had greeted Osborne was replaced with much chattering when Halliwell was called to give evidence.  When the court had calmed, Halliwell described how he had gone for a drink with the other two defendants on the night of the murder.  After about an hour in the New Inn, Lower Ince, they made their way over the fence onto the railway where there were a number of wagons stabled.  Halliwell claimed that he acted as a lookout on the instructions of Kearsley.  After this, his version of what followed was somewhat different to that given by the detective.  Halliwell claimed that Osborne shouted, “I’ve got you now you devil” and set upon him.  He saw Kidd rush past him in pursuit of the other offenders.  According to Halliwell he alone struggled with Osborne.  He could not account for the detective’s identification of the others or for their injuries which corroborated his version of events.  Halliwell stated that he did not see the others until he went to the Fox Tavern later that evening.  At this point Halliwell was near to collapse and had to be allowed to rest and was given a drink of water.  His description of his meeting with the other defendants provided the greatest sensation of the day.  He told the court that Winstanley had told him that he did not think that Kidd would live because “I have stabbed him many a time”.  Neither Kearsley nor Winstanley had any questions to ask their friend and the court adjourned for lunch.  When the hearing resumed two more magistrates had joined the bench.

Richard Pritchard, one of the men arrested on the day after the murder then told the court that he had been drinking in the New Inn before the murder with the defendants.  In his version of events, he left the defendants near the railway and did not see any of them again until he saw Kearsley outside his house at 10pm wearing a clean pair of trousers.  Pritchard was replaced in the witness box by Mrs Ellen Occleshaw, landlady of the New Inn.

Mrs Occleshaw gave evidence that she had seen Kearsley, Winstanley, Pritchard, Halliwell and another man in the pub on the night of the murder.  The fourth man, she said had stayed only a short time and the others had left at around 7pm.  Her evidence was supported by Ellen Jeffery, a barmaid.

The next witness caused a great sensation and evoked much sympathy.

Elizabeth Kearsley, daughter of the prisoner, gave evidence through a cloud of tears.  She said that she was at home on Sunday 29th September and saw her father coming home at about 9pm.  She admitted to overhearing a conversation between her father and mother.  She told the court: “I heard my father say, ‘our Elijah has been stabbing a bobby in the face and neck with a knife’.  I heard nothing else…”   Facing her father in court was the cause of much distress.  After various questions from the Chairman of the Bench, Mr Dix (who had been the Mayor of Wigan), about the clothing worn by her father, Elizabeth escaped from the box.  There were no questions from the defendants.  By this stage in the proceedings the Bench had almost taken over the prosecution from Mr Kershaw, much to his irritation if his interventions are a reliable indicator: ‘ Your Worship I was coming to that point….’

A witness who had seen the defendants drinking after the murder was heard with some difficulty as he was quite deaf. His disability cut short the number of questions directed to him.

There then followed the police evidence of arrest and investigation.  Officers from the County and Borough forces told of the rapid arrest of the offenders.  It was at this point that it emerged that the violated wagon contained a load of sweets, of which only one jar had been tampered with.  One of the many tragic aspects of this affair was that one man lost his life, another was badly wounded and others faced the prospect of execution for a prize worth a couple of shillings.

The seizure of Winstanley’s clogs was reported and their subsequent examination by Dr Roocroft explained, but by now the proceedings were nearly at an end.  Without retiring the Magistrates committed Winstanley and Kearsley for trial on the charge of murder.  Kearsley said quietly “I know nothing about the murder”.  Despite his early exclamations Winstanley’s reply to the was:  “I have nothing to say”  Murder was, and remains, a common law offence.  The indictment was straight to the point:


“William Kearsley and Elijah Winstanley on 29th September 1895

at the County Borough aforesaid did feloniously, wilfully and of their malice aforethought,

did kill and murder one Robert Kidd,

against the peace of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, her Crown and Dignity”


Halliwell was brought back into court and after hearing evidence from Osborne, was committed for trial accused of unlawful wounding.

Index to Witnesses, note officers from three police forces gave evidence: 
Source: The National Archives ASSI/52/25


The Coroner’s Court

The role of the Coroner in investigating sudden and unnatural deaths is an ancient one and can be traced back to the 13th century.  Most police officers have given evidence before the modern incarnation of these junior judicial figures and will have found them to be conscientious and thorough. The only difference between now and then is that in former times, (indeed until the Lord Lucan case in 1974) Coroners could commit suspects for trial.  This is what happened in the Kidd case. The Deputy Coroner, Mr Milligan, insisted on hearing all the evidence previously placed before the Police Court.  This meant that by the time the case came to trial at the Assizes some witnesses had already given their evidence twice.  The plea to the jury by the Deputy Coroner for them to put out of their minds all that they had heard about the case was, perhaps, a little optimistic.

The Inquest was held on 17th October and attracted little public interest as it was regarded as something of a formality.  Kearsley and Winstanley chose not to attend but Halliwell gave evidence. Up to the point where the defendants met in the Fox Tavern after the murder his evidence was the same as that given in the Police Court.  Before the Coroner and the jury he repeated the conversation he had had with Winstanley, except he now added an additional phrase implicating Kearsley.  He said that Winstanley told him:  “I don’t think he can live for I stabbed him in the neck many a time while our Bill holded him”.

When asked by the foreman of the jury to confirm that this is what he heard, Halliwell said he was, “Quite sure”.

After hearing the evidence the jury delivered the following verdict: “That Detective Kidd met his death in the discharge of his duty in the goods yard of the London and North Western Railway Company, Wigan, on September 29th at the hands of Elijah Winstanley and William Kearsley”.   The Coroner told them that this was not enough and that the jury needed to be precise in their verdict.  Chastened, the jury retired and shortly after returned with a verdict of wilful murder against William Kearsley and Elijah Winstanley.  They used their extra time in the jury room to compose a rider to their verdict: “That the jury desire to express their deep sympathy with the widow and family of Detective Kidd in their sad bereavement, and commend them to the generous consideration of the London and North Western Railway Company”.


The Assizes

The three defendants appeared before Mr Justice Collins and a jury at the Liverpool Winter Assizes on Tuesday 26th November 1895.  Kearsley was said to look fit and well when he entered the dock.  Winstanley and Halliwell on the other hand, were reported to have looked ill and much disturbed.  The evidence before the court was almost identical to that given at the Police Court and during the Inquest.  Halliwell stuck to the version of the conversation in the pub with Winstanley, which he had given to the Coroner.  At the conclusion of his evidence he fainted and fell to the floor with a great crash which resulted in him requiring medical assistance.

One important piece of new evidence had come to light since the committal proceedings.  Joseph Glover, an iron roller of Lower Ince, gave evidence that he had found a knife in a field which lay between the LNWR and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway on 3rd November and that he had handed this knife to his brother, Thomas Glover.  Thomas told the court that he had given the knife to Mr Robert from the Liverpool Daily Post who in turn had handed it to the police.  Dr Roocroft gave evidence that he had examined the knife, which was blood stained, and that he believed it could have been the weapon which killed Kidd.  David Rogers, a collier, testified that the knife was similar to one owned by Winstanley.

Although it might seem incredible to us today suspects could not give sworn evidence in their own defence until the enactment of the Criminal Evidence Act 1898.  Fear of encouraging perjury meant that defence evidence had to come from witnesses other than those standing in the dock.

The Judge’s summing up was short but fair.  He warned the jury to be cautious about accepting Halliwell’s evidence but reminded those assembled of the terrible injuries suffered by the deceased.  The jury did not retire but delivered a verdict of wilful murder against Kearsley and Winstanley.  Kearsley exclaimed: “I didn’t do it!”. Winstanley ‘in emphatic tones’ said “It wasn’t him.  “It was me as did it. Halliwell tells lies, I did it and that’s God’s truth”.

The judge sentenced both men to death by hanging, the only sentence allowed in law, and all other charges against the two were withdrawn by the prosecution.  All charges against Halliwell were also withdrawn and he left the court unconvicted and free.

The official record of the outcome of the trial.
Source: The National Archives HO140/161



Both prisoners applied to the Home Secretary for their sentences to be commuted.  While the two men waited for a reply, they made statements which were released to the press. Kearsley made bitter comments about Halliwell’s role suggesting that he was a regular railway thief.  Winstanley claimed that he stabbed Kidd only after the detective had attempted to strike him for no good reason.

The appeal for mercy had many supporters, including members of the jury – nine of whom petitioned the Home Secretary on behalf of Kearsley.  The reply was swift, (dated 10th December 1895), Kearsley’s sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life and Winstanley was to hang. While waiting for his sentence to be carried out Winstanley blamed his addiction to drink and maintained that Kearsley was innocent. Winstanley was executed by James Billington on 17th December at Walton Gaol.

The certificate confirming the execution of Elijah Winstanley.
Source: The National Archives ASSI 52/25

From the Home Office files we know that the Judge was uncomfortable with some of the evidence that convicted Kearsley.  The Judge corresponded with the Home Secretary and also met with him to discuss the case.  The Judge thought that five years in prison would reflect Kearsley’s involvement in the events of 29th September, but a tariff of ten years was set.  Whilst in Dartmoor Kearsley was injured in an accident and was assaulted by a fellow convict.  His solicitor maintained a steady and unrelenting pressure on the Home Office, pleading for an early release.   It looks as if James Wilson worked without a fee.   Kearsley was released on Special Licence in 1903 having served a little over seven years.  On his return to Wigan, one of his first tasks was to visit his solicitor to thank him publicly for his help.  The evidence that Kearsley murdered Kidd was unreliable, but he was part of the gang that entered the sidings that night and his sentence was light by modern standards.




Kidd and Osborne were the most obvious victims of the night of the 29th September 1895.  But many others suffered as a result of Kidd’s death.

Ellen and Robert Kidd had seven children, all under the age of twelve.  She was told of the murder on the morning of the 30th September.  An Inspector called at their house in Zebra Street, Salford, around dawn.  Seeing that the house was shut up and the occupants asleep he went away having told an early rising neighbour what had happened.  As she was preparing breakfast Ellen noticed a large group of her neighbours gathered outside the house: “It never crossed my mind that it was anything connected with my husband.  In fact I couldn’t think what it could be; but when more people passed the door and did the same as the others I thought it was quite time to find out the meaning of it, so I went to the door and asked an elderly woman what was the matter.”. “She said she couldn’t tell me, and the way she spoke convinced me that something serious had happened.  Then for the first time I began to suspect that my husband must have met with an accident. I pressed her to tell me the truth, but she only shook her head and said I should know all about it soon enough.  Just then an Inspector from the railway station came up. He broke the news to me gently, and for the sake of my children I thank him for it.”  Police Officers were not well paid and the family were immediately faced with financial problems.

Appeals for funds were started by the local Chief Constable and Mayor.  A total of just over £26 was raised and presented to Mrs Kidd.  Being a member of the LNWR police meant that Robert Kidd’s widow was not entitled to any benefits under the Police Act 1890 or from the Police Mutual Assurance Association.  This generated some discussion in the police press.

Robert’s grave was probably paid for by the LNWR and still stands in the Weaste Cemetery in Salford.  After some internal discussion the Railway Company decided to grant a pension in the sum of 25 shillings a week, until the eldest child was old enough to join the company.   This was quite a reasonable sum, but it was still not enough to bring up a large family.  The grave stone bears the inscription:

In Loving Memory


The beloved husband of Ellen KIDD

For 10 Years in the service of the LNW Rly Co And Died in the Faithful Execution of His Duty Sept 29 1895 Aged 38 Years


“If We Suffer We Shall Also Reign With Him”



Died 19 Nov 1897 2 Years

Ethel Fred MASON

Died in infancy


The biblical quote is from Timothy 2:12 and given the nature of his death is highly appropriate for a man brought up as a Methodist.

Robert Kidd’s Grave in Weaste Cemetery Salford:  Source: Author


Two other family members are also buried in the grave without inscription, including another child of Ellen’s who died in infancy.

An ‘in memoriam’ card issued at the time of the funeral, note the discrepancy in age.  Source: Unknown


Kearsley and Winstanley had twelve children between them, and their wives were faced with the task of coping with no continuing income.



Osborne was promoted to Detective Sergeant soon after the murder and later moved to North Wales.

Ellen Kidd had several more children and later remarried.   Her second marriage lasted only a handful of years and she was widowed for a second time.  She lived until 1940.    Robert’s youngest child, Harold, died in 1897 aged 2 years and is buried with him in the grave at Weaste Cemetery.

There have been many cases where moments of madness and desperation have ruined lives, but few more tragic than this murder.  Before he was executed Winstanley blamed drink for his actions.  Everybody connected with the criminal justice system knows that drinking accounts for a huge proportion of violent offences.  Alas, some things have not changed.

The events of September 1895 and the sacrifice made by Robert Kidd should be remembered.  Kidd and Osborne deserve our respect and gratitude.

Lest we forget.


JUNE 1995 and AUGUST 2021




  1. The Railway Policeman – JR Whitbread, London
  1. Murder in Transit No 15 – W O Gay in British Transport Police Journal.
  1. The Kay’s House Killers – Offprint author unknown.
  1. Nineteenth Century Railway Crime and Policing – Malcolm Clegg 2017



  1. The Manchester Courier & Lancs. General Advertiser October 1895.
  1. Police Chronicle & Guardian October to December 1895.
  1. Police Review & Parade Gossip October to December 1895.
  1. Salford Recorder October 1895.
  1. Wigan Observer and District Advertiser October to January 1895-96.
  1. The Times October -January 1895-96
  1. The Daily Mail – January 1896



  1. Family Papers (courtesy of Mr Robert Ashfield).
  1. Census Records 1881, 1891, 1901and 1911
  1. General Register Office: Births Marriages and Deaths – see full references
  1. The National Archives: RAIL 410/35.
  1. The National Archives: ASSI 52/25
  1. The National Archives: HO 144/549/A57317
  1. The Hangman’s Record 1895.
  1. The Archives & Picture Library of the Wigan Heritage Service (1995)
  1. Wigan and Leigh Archives (2021)