Wearside Echoes: Hetton woman shot dead on eve of wedding

MURDER SCENE: Hetton showing the New Inn, from where Johnson kept watch for Margaret Addison.
MURDER SCENE: Hetton showing the New Inn, from where Johnson kept watch for Margaret Addison.
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A FORMER police inspector is penning a book on gruesome Wearside deaths. Here we feature two of the tales.

JEALOUSY, it is said, is like a green eyed monster. When that monster has a revolver and a pocketful of bullets, then it becomes a formidable power indeed.

Sadly, 52-year-old Margaret Addison, a well-respected widow from Four Lanes Ends at Hetton, would feel the full force of that power one chilly autumn day in 1891.

“She was an integral part of the community and, following her husband’s death, lived comfortably with her grown up children,” said local historian and retired police inspector Norman Kirtlan.

After taking in a lodger, however, Margaret’s life was to change dramatically.

“Farm labourer John Johnson mistook his landlady’s kindness for affection, and things were to turn very nasty indeed,” said Norman, who unearthed details of the tragic story in old newspapers.

“Johnson repeatedly pestered Margaret for a return of the affection in which he held her – even going as far as to ask for her hand in marriage, but Margaret was steadfast in her refusal.”

Indeed, Margaret had lost her heart to another man, Andrew Simpson. After the happy couple announced their engagement in October 1891, Johnson hit the bottle with a vengeance.

“For two weeks he downed drinks from morn to night, tormenting himself with thoughts of the woman he loved and her new man,” said Norman, a member of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

“He even told one of his drinking pals ‘there’ll be a funeral at the Lane Ends before there’ll be a wedding.’ Something would have to be done. If he couldn’t have her, then no one else would!”

On the evening of October 31, while Johnson was having yet another drink at the New Inn, Margaret left her home to walk to the railway station – a stroll which took her past the pub.

As Margaret approached the end of Springwell Terrace, Johnson already had her in his sights. He left the pub, called out her name and then blasted two shots into her at point blank range.

“One bullet smashed into the back of her head, throwing out splinters of blood, brain and bone. The other lodged in her brain. She was dead before she hit the ground,” said Norman.

Seconds after the shooting, Johnson knocked at the nearby house in which police officer Cartwright lived. When the sergeant’s wife, Sarah, answered, he calmly told her: “I’ve killed my landlady!”

Johnson then meekly handed Sarah his pistol, emptied his pockets of three cartridges and a knife and walked into a police cell – where he remained until Cartwright arrived home.

“I followed her and I did it. I fired two shots at her – I could stand it no longer,” Johnson admitted. “I am happier now than I would have been if she had married him.”

Johnson maintained this stance at his trail, accepting his fate with dignity. Murder meant a hanging, and, as he told the police officers, he certainly wasn’t frightened of the rope.

On December 22, 1891, just a few weeks after the murder, Johnson “dropped like a clod” at the gallows. He was dead before many people had eaten breakfast that day.

“Johnson’s prediction of a funeral before a wedding was slightly out – there had been not one, but two funerals; one of which was his own,” said Norman.

** More tales of murderous Mackems can be found on Norman’s website at: www.sunderland-ancestors.co.uk


SOUTHWICK man Christopher Geldert found himself in the depths of despair as Wearsiders welcomed in the new year of 1902.

The 31-year-old, from James Armitage Street, had lived quite happily with his elderly mother for decades, until a sudden illness brought on severe depression.

“Had Christopher worked anywhere else in Southwick but the quarry, then he might not have procured the means with which to take his own life,” said Norman.

“But, as it was, the makings of a sudden and very violent death were very much available to him.”

Christopher struggled on for eight weeks, missing the odd day at work and then becoming too ill to work at all. That was the final straw. Depression hit like a steam hammer.

“Early on April 15, Christopher disappeared from his mother’s sight and was gone for a short while before the poor woman heard a massive explosion in their back yard,” said Norman.

“She immediately ran outside, where, as the smoke gradually cleared, she saw what remained of her son, sitting in the outside netty.

“Christopher had taken a stick of dynamite and put it into his mouth like a huge cigar. He had struck a match and lit the fuse – the resulting explosion had blown his head clean off his shoulders.

“We often talk about being shaken by the news of someone’s death. This particular death must have shaken the whole of Southwick – quite literally!”