Of the six cases featured in the latest Murder by the Sea series, Louisa May Merrifield’s is the one I would most like to research further.
The Blackpool Poisoner was the final episode on CBS Reality’s British series last week, and it is fascinating.
In 1953 Louisa went to work as a housekeeper for a rather cranky old gal called Sarah Ricketts, aged 79. As I point out during the programme, Louisa was something of a dodgy character, having had 20-odd jobs in three years prior to this.
Murder at the bungalow
Louisa and her third husband, Alfred (who was 24 years her senior at 71) moved into Mrs Ricketts two-bed bungalow at 339 Devonshire Road, Blackpool.
The housekeeper got her employer to change her will, leaving her £3,000 bungalow to Louisa and her husband. Soon after Louisa put rat poison in the old lady’s favourite treat – a jar full of jam.
As Murder by the Sea makes, Louisa was greedy and boastful. She made several blunders and was soon arrested.
Hanged by Albert Pierrepoint
She was hanged by Britain’s most well known executioner, Albert Pierrepoint, at Strangeways Prison in Manchester in September 1953. Her husband seems to have played dumb at his trial and was acquitted.
She was the third-last woman to be executed in Britain.
Many of the cases in this most recent series covering the dark side behind the glitz and fun of the seaside have featured grim domestic murders or brutal psychopaths.
Did Louisa kill her husbands too?
But none has revealed such a rogue’s gallery of players. For starters, Louisa married three times, on each occasion to much older men.
Joseph Ellison died in 1949 of hepatitis, and Richard Weston, 78, of a heart attack in 1950, just 10 weeks after marrying Louisa.
The programme asked the obvious question – did Louisa previously do away with these husbands by poisoning them too?
Alfred revealed himself after the trial
Alfred revealed himself not to be the ‘simpleton’ he was called during the trial. He would later tell a journalist that he suspected the ‘old bugger’ would have done away with him as well.
He would later donate Louisa’s clothes to Madame Tussauds for a Chamber of Horrors figure they produced of her. He would also become a seaside attraction in Blackpool regaling audiences with tales about his life with the Blackpool Poisoner.
He was actually something of a nasty and conniving character all along. This was a man who had abandoned his first wife and 10 children.
And what to make of Louisa’s claim that Mrs Ricketts slept with Alfred? Was this true, or was Alfred abusing Mrs Ricketts?
Mrs Ricketts’ two husbands
Even Mrs Ricketts is something of a suspicious character. The little old lady, just 4 feet 8 inches tall, had two husbands who both committed suicide in bizarrely similar ways.
They both gassed themselves in the kitchen at 339 Devonshire Road.
William Ricketts, 77, died in 1946. Her first husband, John Green, died in 1942. I’ve done a bit of research about these two deaths, and nothing is known about their state of mind at the time of their deaths. In other words, there was no evidence that they were depressed or suicidal.
Were Mrs Merrifield and her victim both murderers?
However, William Ricketts left a whopping £4,493 in his will, a fortune in 1953.
It is a strange coincidence that Mrs Rickett’s should have two husbands who not only killed themselves, but did so in exactly the same manner. The odds against that happening twice must be astronomical.
So, for these and many other reasons this was the case that most intrigued me while studying the crimes for my contributions to Murder by the Sea.
The presenter, Geoffrey Wansell, said during the programme, ‘This is one of the most fascinating killers I’ve studied.’
And I’m still thinking, what really happened here? And how many secrets were these people hiding?