Who really killed young Irene Hart?

Jeannette Hensby with her book The Rotherham Trunk Murder.

by ANTONY CLAY

A WOMAN claims that a man was wrongly hanged for murder in a book focusing on a notorious Rotherham killing.

Jeannette Hensby says that Andrew Anderson Bagley was wrongly convicted of killing 16-year-old Irene Hart and hiding her body in a trunk back in 1936.

She says that the evidence suggests his son did the killing and Bagley took the fall to protect him.

Jeannette, of Robinets Road in Wingfield, had been fascinated by the case since her grandma told her about it when she was young and felt compelled to look through old documents and reports to see what she could find.

In her book The Rotherham Trunk Murder: Uncovering An 80 Year Old Miscarriage Of Justice, she claims the evidence has been found to prove Bagley innocent.

Jeannette, a former NHS director of mental health services, said: “When I was about nine my grandma told me about this murder.

“I have researched it and I know what my grandma has told me.

“When you know what I know, it’s fairly obvious who did it.”

Bagley, who was born in Nottingham, was known as Bill Smith at the time of the killing on September 12 1936.

The 67-year-old was living in Hartington Road, Masbrough, with his daughter Avice Smith, son Ambrose Smith, and a young woman called Irene who was the daughter of Avice’s husband Walter.

On the day, Avice returned home and found Bagley in the kitchen but no sign of Irene. Later Bagley said he was going to Sheffield and would be home later, but didn’t return.

In the meantime, Avice and Walter had discovered the strangled body of Irene bundled inside an old green tin trunk in the clothes closet of her bedroom. Newspaper had been stuffed into her mouth and a rope was tied twice around her neck.

Bagley’s disappearance prompted the suspicion of the police who launched the biggest national manhunt up to that time. Six weeks later he was tracked him down to Huckhall in Nottinghamshire and charged with the killing.

He was hanged in February 1937 after being found guilty at Leeds Assizes.
Newspapers dubbed it the Rotherham Trunk Murder.

But Jeannette believes the real killer was Ambrose, a deaf and mute dwarf with physical and mental difficulties, who she suggests was infatuated with Irene. There had been signs of sexual activity in the bedroom where the murder occurred though it could not be linked to the crime itself.

Jeannette said: “You can understand why the police thought Bill Smith did it.

“Rather than dob his disabled son in, he went to the gallows.

“It’s obvious that when Bill Smith saw the body, panic seized him.”

Ambrose was never a suspect for the murder but Jeannette is convinced that Irene died at his hands.

Jeannette said: “Bagley was found guilty, and after a botched and covered up appeal to the Central Criminal Court in London, he was hanged in February 1937 by Thomas Pierrepoint at Armley Prison in Leeds, and buried in the prison graveyard.

“I spent the whole of 2015, helped by my sister, looking at all the old newspaper accounts, especially those in the Rotherham Advertiser, and reading court and other records held by the local Rotherham archives, and the National Archives in London.”

Jeannette spent 18 months researching and writing the boo.


* The Rotherham Trunk Murder by Jeannette Hensby is available from Amazon. It is also available in bookshops.

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