MURDER AT GORSE HALL
Two men were tried for a murder, both were acquitted.
Compiled from stories by Jonathan Goodman, Steve Fielding and Ms Edith Brocklehurst.

As I begin the walk up the mile long drive to Gorse Hall, large majestic trees, rhododendron and holly bushes which were once finely tendered by gardeners, are now overgrown and imposing, creating a dark tunnel effect that would have been similar to that fateful November night nearly a hundred years ago.

The mystery of Gorse Hall may have started long before the brutal murder of George Harry Storrs in 1909.

One of George Harry Storrs long time friends was solicitor Robert Innes. In 1897, Innes and his wife Emma decided that a governess should be employed to educate their eldest daughter. Subsequently a Bavarian governess named Maria Hohl was taken on to live and work at their home Holm Lea. Mr Storrs being a regular visitor to Innes’s house became quite friendly with Maria, and was seen out walking with her in Stamford Park just across from the Innes’s home. One evening in early February Maria walked out of the house never to return. The winter of 1907 was severe and the waters of the canal frozen over in most places. Three weeks later Maria’s body was taken from the now thawing canal near Knowl Street, a considerable distance from the house she walked out of three weeks earlier.

Although no post mortem was carried out on Maria’s body, her actions previous to her apparent suicide gave every indication that she could have been pregnant. As the only men she was known to associate with was the minister (priest) at Manchester, John Innes and George Harry Storrs, it is suspected that she became pregnant by Mr Storrs. And that Maria said to be a devout Lutheran would be embarrassed and ashamed enough to take her own life on that cold February evening.

 

The second part of this intriguing murder starts on the night of September 10th 1909. At about 9.30pm, George Harry Storrs and his wife Maggie were alone in the dinning room, when suddenly a voice shouted from outside the window, “Hand’s up, or I’ll shoot “. A shot was fired and a window broken. Storrs aged 49 a strongly built man, jumped up and ran to the window. Facing him through a hole in the shattered glass was a gun. For an instant Storrs and the gunman faced each other. Storrs then shouted, “I’m going out after him” “No Harry, don’t “ cried his wife rushing to restrain him. But it wasn’t necessary, by then the man was gone. Who was the gunman and what was his motive? Was it an attempted-armed burglary- which seemed unlikely, or to settle some sort of grudge, with the man loosing his nerve or maybe another reason?.

Storrs would have had enemies. He was a tough successful businessman, mill owner and building contractor, the sort of man that was a bit rough and ready. He might have easily been involved in bitter business disputes, but it seems unlikely that this would be reason for murder.

He was one of the richest and most respected men in the area son of ?? building the market hall and the swimming baths other fine local buildings. Do we want details of his father

Perhaps that was the reason why the police decided to offer him protection. It was agreed that at least one policeman would patrol the grounds each night, and that a warning bell should be installed on the roof of Gorse Hall to be rung in an emergency. (It is said that a few weeks before the dreadful murder, Storrs whilst on his way home, caught a man in the grounds of Gorse Hall, and the man was severely beaten for this intrusion).

The police patrolled the grounds every night that is until the night of November 1st, nearly two months after the shooting. By this time, the shock of the attack on September 10th was wearing off. November 1st 1909 was Election Day, and in the evening every available police officer was needed for crowd control duty in the town.

Shortly after 9 o’clock once again an intruder crept through the dark grounds towards the isolated mansion. Mr and Mrs Storrs and Marion Lindley, their niece, were chatting in the dinning room, whilst the cook, Mary Evans prepared supper. The cook was startled to see a man lurking by the kitchen door and, with the light being poor, she at first mistook him for Worrall the coachman. “Oh Worrall “ she said, “How you frightened me” but a split second later she realised that she was mistaken. The man was taller with a moustache, thinner and younger than Worrall. To add to her confusion he was pointing a gun at her. “Say a word and I shoot “ he said quietly but firmly. Dropping a jug of milk, she ran from the kitchen into the hall screaming, “There’s a man in the house”. Hearing the commotion George Harry Storrs, his wife and niece jumped up and ran towards the kitchen. In the hallway for a second, the two men faced each other silently. A fight started, with Storrs being more than a match for the intruder. During the fight, the intruder for the first time showed his fear when seeing Maggie Storrs with a Shillelah that she had taken from it’s wall mounting in the hallway. He called out “I will not shoot”. Maggie took the gun from the intruder as Harry Storrs called out “Run and ring the bell“. Hearing the bell, two police constables started running up the mile long driveway to Gorse Hall. Upon entering the kitchen they found George Harry Storrs dying from loss of blood through 15 stab wounds inflicted by the intruder. George Harry Storrs died shortly after 10pm. The hunt was on for a murderer. When interviewed by the police later, Marion Lindley and Elisa Cooper thought that the murderer resembled a nephew of Mrs Storrs, a Cornelius Howard whom they had fallen out with a number of years before.

The police consequently issued an arrest warrant for Howard.

The funeral of George Harry Storrs took place on Thursday 11th November. The following day James Worral the coachman did not return home from a shopping trip. He was eventually found later that evening hanging from a beam in the hayloft.

Cornelius Howard was apprehended on DATE trying to break into a shop in Oldham, about 4 miles from Stalybridge. Although when arrested Howard called himself John Ward, the arresting officer, Constable Ernest Schofield thought he looked like the wanted man Howard. He was brought to Dukinfield police station where an identity parade was organised, and three witnesses at Gorse Hall on the night of the murder picked Howard out as the intruder. The police, armed with eyewitness identification, refused to accept Howard’s alibi that he was in Huddersfield drinking at the time of the murder

When the trial opened at Chester assizes, Howard’s barrister, Trevor Lloyd, brought from Huddersfield witnesses to corroborate the alibi. James Davies, the landlord of the “Ring O Bells” public house confirmed that Howard was in fact playing in a domino contest the night of the murder. The jury took only 20 minutes to acquit Cornelius Howard of the murder.

It was now 4 months since the murder of George Harry Storrs and the police embarassed by the court result, had to start there enquires over again. They had a lucky break. On the evening of June10th 1910, a young couple out courting were disturbed by a man walking from Gorse Hall to Matley, along Early Bank Road, The man attacked the couple injuring the young man with a knife. Luckily the injures weren’t serious and the description they gave to the police turned out to be similar to the man wanted for the Storrs murder. Subsequent enquires by the police lead them to issue an arrest warrant for a Mark Wild. Wild was later arrested, charged with attempted murder of the young man, and sentenced to 2 months in prison. On his release he was re-arrested for the murder of George Harry Storrs. Another identity parade arranged where Eliza Cooper and Mary Evans picked him out as the intruder at Gorse Hall, Marion Lindley wasn’t certain that Mark wild was the attacker.

Wilde gave no credible alibi for the night of November 1st. Checks found that on the night of the murder he failed to turn up for work. This time the police carried out their investigations more thoroughly leading them to believe they had the killer of George Harry Storrs. Wilde was committed for trial at Chester Assizes. A stroke of luck for Wilde was that the barrister, Edward Theophilus Nelson who had represented Cornelius Howard at the magistrate court, had been engaged to represent him.

The experienced Mr Nelson successfully argued in court that if the only witnesses to the intrusion at Gorse Hall were convinced that Cornelius Howard was the murderer, then their identification of Wilde as the murderer must be ignored; and that if there was any reasonable doubt about Wilde, he must be acquitted. After only 50 minutes, the jury agreed with the barrister and Wilde was found not guilty.

On his release Wilde met up with Cornelius Howard for drinks to celedrate.

Another twist to this intriguing mystery, that around the time of the murder, a rumour that two foreign gentlemen were seen in Stalybridge, and that they disappeared soon afterwards while the police were searching for Cornelius Howard. Could these have been relatives of the young Maria Hohl, who died so tragically a few years before?

Was there a conspiracy between Marion Lindley and Mark Wilde? Were they lovers and wanted to be together but were frightened of Storrs reaction to the relationship?

Why did no one help Storrs to overpower the intruder?