In the last instalment of a three-part series, we take a final look at gruesome crimes and grisly misdemeanours around Easington Lane in the good old, bad old days
THE storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe as William and Hannah Anderson fought their own fierce battle back on the home front in 1913.
Indeed, the “war to end all wars” was still 12 months away when the couple’s violent quarrels ended in tragedy for one – and prison for the other – in August that year.
“It must have been an unpleasant affair to live in the flat below the Andersons, particularly when they were locked in mortal combat,” said historian Norman Kirtlan.
“But the screams and shouts were never to bother neighbours again after August 11. Sadly, the end to their troubles also marked the tragic end to Hannah Anderson.”
The day before, August 10, had seen 44-year-old William Anderson slake his thirst at the Albion pub, before staggering home to his flat at Pemberton’s Bank, Easington Lane.
His long-suffering wife Hannah had snatched at the chance of a few hours of peace, and even managed to fit in a pleasant chat with a neighbour, while he was out.
“But the pleasantries lasted only a short while however, as a drunken William staggered into the backyard and immediately took exception to the chattering,” said Norman.
“Knocking his wife down with a punch to the back, he then smashed a hob-nailed boot into Hannah’s face – her screams bringing neighbours Mr and Mrs Morrell running to help.
“The arrival of witnesses saw William end his immediate violence but, after cursing all and sundry, he pushed the poor woman back inside and slammed the door.”
Hannah was repeatedly punched as William shoved her up the stairs to their flat, but worse was to come. Upon reaching their shabby rooms, he tipped paraffin all over her.
Then, despite swaying drunkenly, he managed to grab the terrified woman by the hair and force her head into the fire. Within seconds, Hannah was engulfed in flames.
“As she screamed out in agony, William pulled her from the fire and, after threatening to ‘finish her off that night’, finally poured a bucket of water over her,” said Norman.
“Poor Hannah must have been in excruciating pain as she frantically banged on the floor to attract the attention of the Morrell family downstairs.
“The Morrells duly responded and hammered on Anderson’s door – but, as expected, William refused to allow them in, offering them a few choice expletives instead.
“He then ordered his wife to go to bed and keep quiet. Poor Hannah had little choice but obey. With the upstairs flat now peaceful, the Morrells retired for the night too.”
At 9.30 the next morning, however, all hell broke loose. The Morrells were just getting ready for chapel when William paid a quick visit – asking them to check on Hannah.
“She’s fettled this time,” he calmly told them, before wandering off.
“The Morrells ran upstairs fearing the worst, and found it. Poor Hannah was lying half-clothed on a mat in the kitchen, her body all bloody and bruised,” said Norman.
“She also smelled strongly of paraffin and, crucially, Mrs Morrell noticed that the paraffin lamp – the only one in the house – was still burning on the windowsill.” The 43-year-old’s terrible injuries sparked a police investigation and, when PC Drysdale and Dr Drummond arrived, they noted Hannah had been “badly use for months”.
But, as she was taken by ambulance to Sunderland Infirmary for emergency treatment, so William was spinning a web of lies during conversations with relatives and pub pals.
“She’s put an end to herself this time,” he told his daughter-in-law, before claiming to have found Hannah in the fire that morning – adding “there was nothing left but bones”.
And he also paid a visit to his local workingmen’s club, where he confided in the manager that there had been “trouble” at his house – trouble worse than ever before.
“By the time William got home detectives were waiting for him and he was arrested for injuring his wife,” said Norman, map archivist at Sunderland Antiquarian Society.
“But that charge changed very quickly to murder, as by morning Hannah lay dead. As expected, William took the cowardly route and pretended it had all been an accident.
“Hadn’t he found his wife in a collapsed state in the fire that morning?
“Hadn’t the paraffin lamp accidentally broken and exploded, causing those dreadful injuries?”
But, according to Mrs Morrell – and evidence now held by the police – the lamp was still very much intact and showing absolutely no signs of being burned or broken.
With the case now stacking up against William, he was taken before the courts – where the judge urged jurors to make a “clear choice” about what had occurred.
“If they believed William hadn’t meant to kill Hannah, then their verdict should be manslaughter. If he had intended serious harm, it should be murder,” said Norman.
“The judge added, quite correctly, that he believed murder was the only clear choice.
The jury, however, disagreed with him – and William was jailed for just 15 years.
“The decision upset many. After suffering a lifetime of violence at William’s hands, the jury delivered a final insult to Hannah – by not branding that brute a murderer.”
l Norman’s new book, Pedagogues, Perps, Prostitutes and Piles, is on sale at £4 if picked up from Sunderland Antiquarian Society at 6 Douro Terrace, Sunderland, SR2 7DX, on Wednesday or Saturday mornings.
It is also available by post for £5 from the same address – mark cheques as payable to Norman Kirtlan.