MURDER IN KNOCKNAMUCKLEY CHURCH
The tragic occurrence which took place in Knocknamuckley Church on Friday morning came to a fatal termination the same evening, the injured man, Thomas Thompson, succumbing to the effects of his wound at half-past ten o'clock - about twelve hours after he had been shot. He suffered great pain, and up to the last moment had been attended by Drs. Stewart and Clarke, who did all in their power to relieve his sufferings. They were unable to do anything more, as from the first they knew that no effort on their part would be able to prevent death. The church which was the scene of the murder, probably one of the most appalling that has been committed in the North of Ireland for a long time, is a very pretty little structure, standing on a rising ground in the midst of a clump of trees, and no one could imagine in the least degree, from its quiet appearance, that it had gained such a reputation, and an unenviable one within the past few days.
The whole affair is more like what one would read of in some sensational novel than what would happen in real life, and it will form the subject of many a fireside conversation for the people of the district, by whom the fourth seat in the church, on the left-hand side of the aisle from the entrance door, if not by the people of the country, will be held long: in remembrance, and will be shown as an object of interest to any tourist who may by chance drop into the district. The actors in the startling episode all belong to a respectable class of working people, and most of them appear to have been engaged in Mr. Mc Master's spinning mill. Gilford. The people of the neighbourhood can hardly realise that the murder was committed in coldbloodedness, and in palliation of the crime they put forward the fact that the man. William Thompson, was insane, which they emphasise by the statement that he had been in a lunatic asylum for some time. This circumstance was the subject of several questions by the Jurymen at the inquest, and, although nothing could be deduced to confirm their opinions, they did not appear satisfied by the answers they received, It is also affirmed that the deceased had ill-treated his wife, who was a sister of the murderer, and that instead of attending her funeral he continued at his work. This is alleged to have been the cause for the rash act, but, like the other assertion, nothing could be learned respecting it from the witnesses who were examined. Up to the present time no reason can be definitely as- signed for the murder. Great excitement exists among the people, and much sympathy is expressed for all the parties concerned, particularly her who was to have been the deceased's wife.
The inquest was held shortly after three o'clock on Saturday afternoon in the house of Mrs. M 'Greedy. sextoness of the church, by Mr. W. H. Atkinson, coroner for the northern division of County Armagh, and a jury, of which Mr. Alex. Davidson was foreman. The police authorities were represented by District-Inspector Leathem, Portadown, and no one appeared for the prisoner. Mr. C. E. B. Mayne. R.M., was also present. William Coulter, Gilford, was the first witness examined. He stated, in reply to District Inspector Leathem that he was preparing master in Mr. M'Master's spinning mill, Gilford, and knew Thomas Thompson, the deceased. He used to live with him in Gilford. Deceased, who was a widower, was polishing master in the same mill, and about thirty years of age. Witness boarded with deceased during part of the lifetime of his wife, who was buried on the 17th March last year. he had boarded with them for upwards of seven months. and during that time he never knew of any disagreement between them. He (witness') came to Knocknamuckley Church yesterday morning, and was in it about ten o'clock. Thomas Thompson, the deceased, was going to get married there to Fanny Jane Moffett. There were six in the wedding party, three men and three women. Mary Ann Moffett, a sister of the bride, and the deceased went first; the bride and witness, who was best man, came next, and Joseph Twinam and Margaret Dilworth came last. When he was walking up the aisle he saw William Thompson, of Gilford. sitting in a seat on the left hand side a few pews from the door. He was sitting in a pew close to the aisle. Wm. Thompson had been known by the witness previously in Gilford, and he (witness) also was aware that his sister had been married to deceased. When the wedding party entered the church Wm. Thompson got up in the seat. Before that he had observed him looking towards the door. . When the first couple had passed he got out of the seat and walked two or three steps after them, when he stopped and fired a revolver at the deceased. He put the revolver close to the man's back below the left shoulder, holding it in his two hands. The deceased, who gave a moan, shouted that he had been shot and afterwards turned round and seized the revolver, when Joseph Twinam came to his assistance. The prisoner attempted to fire a second time, but was prevented from doing so by Joseph Twinam and the deceased. He saw Rev. Mr. Oates, the clergyman. pick up the revolver which had been dropped by Wm. Thompson in the struggle. Blood was issuing from a wound on the back of the deceased below the left shoulder. He left one child. He could not say on what terms the deceased was with William Thomp- son, whom he had known for eight or nine years. He was sober at the time he fired the shot.
In reply to a JUROR, the witness stated that he never heard anything said about the prisoner being insane, nor did he know of his mother being of weak intellect. To the CORONER - The prisoner occasionally was a little dull. To another JUROR The prisoner never was in an asylum that he was aware of. He had been dismissed from his work for not having attended to it properly, but he (witness) did not believe that the state of his mind had anything to say to that. Latterly he had heard some mention about the prisoner not having been in his right mind.
Lizzie M'Greedy, Ballygargin, deposed that she lived with her mother, who was sextoness of Knocknamuckley Church. She (witness) had opened the church on Friday morning, at about a quarter to ten o'clock, for a wedding party. After she had opened the door Rev. Mr. Gates passed in, and soon afterwards Wm. Thompson came into the belfry, and asked her if there was anyone in the church and she replied that there was no one there except Rev. Mr. Oates. He asked at what time the wedding was expected, and she told him ten o'clock. He then walked into the church, and took the fourth seat from the door on the left-hand side, sitting near the aisle. She then went to look for the wedding party, and observed it coming up the road. When she returned to the church William Thompson was sitting there still, with his hand on the seat, smiling and looking towards the door. In a few minutes afterwards the wedding party entered, and when they were going up the aisle she heard a shot and saw the smoke. She afterwards heard Thomas Thompson moan, when she ran out. being frightened by what had taken place. Wm. Thompson, when he had spoken to her. was sober-looking.
Fanny Jane Moffett, the bride, stated she lived it Lisnamintry. She was going to be married in Knocknamuckely Church the previous day to Thos. Thompson, of Gilford, who was a widower. having been married previously to Mary Jane Thompson, a sister of Wm. Thompson, of the same place. The wedding party arrived at the church about ten minutes past 10 O'clock. When she entered the church she saw a stranger sitting in the third or fourth seat from the door on the left-hand side of the aisle. She knew since that that man was Wm. Thompson, of Gilford, the prisoner. When the first couple were passing up the church, she saw him (Wm. Thompson) come out of the seat and walk a step or two after them, holding something, which she did not know at the time, with both his hands, which he put below the deceased's left shoulder, when she heard a shot, and saw smoke. The deceased then placed his hand on his side and moaned. She did not observe any injury to the de-ceased, but afterwards she saw a hole in his coat through which blood was coming. She saw deceased wrestling with the prisoner for a revolver' after he fired the shot, and the Rev. Mr. Oates and Joseph Twinam came to his assistance. She knew that the deceased had died since, about half-past ten o'clock the same night as he had been shot. He was over thirty years of age. The witness during the giving of her evidence appeared to be very much affected.
Rev. Mr. Oates said he arrived at the church the previous morning at ten minutes to ten o'clock to marry Fanny Jane Moffett and Thomas Thompson. He went into the vestry after coming into the church, but having been attracted by the noise of people coming in he came out, when he observed William Thompson sitting in a pew near the door on the left-hand side going up the church. He returned to the vestry, and afterwards heard the wedding party coming in, and subsequently a shot fired, with the sound of people moving about. On coming out he saw William Thompson and the deceased struggling together near where he had seen Wm Thompson sitting some time before. He did not know what they were struggling for then, but afterwards found it was a revolver. Both had hold of the weapon, William Thompson having the butt-end in his hand. He assisted to get the revolver from them, and eventually got possession of it. Subsequently he took it to the vestry, locked it in the safe and afterwards gave it to District Inspector Leathem. He did not see any injury to the deceased at that time, but afterwards he did. The injury was on the left of the back below the shoulder, as he saw the blood coming from the wound.
Joseph Twinam, Moyraverty, deposed that he was a farmer's son, and had been with the wedding party the previous morning. When going through the inner door of the church he saw a shot fired by William Thompson at the deceased. After being shot the deceased gave a moan, shouted he was shot, and instantly seized the revolver. The prisoner was prevented from firing a second shot by the deceased and witness. who had to strike the prisoner three times on the face before he could get him to release the revolver. He was knocked back, and afterwards sat down in the pew putting his hands over his face. He saw a hole in deceased's coat on the left side below the shoulder, and blood was issuing from it. William Thompson appeared to be perfectly sober at the time. The deceased sat down on a seat, and witness hurried as fast as he could to Portadown for a doctor and the police.
District-Inspector Leathem stated that from information he had received he came out to Knocknamuckley Church the previous morning about half-past eleven o'clock, and saw a crowd gathered about it. William Thompson came from among the tombs and said, “I am the man. " He arrested him, and, having given him the usual caution, charged him with having fired at Thomas Thompson with intent to murder him, when he said, "He had nothing to say. Anything be had to say he could say it before the bar." He (witness) saw blood on the floor of the fourth pew from the door on the left-hand side of the aisle. Rev. Mr. Oates gave him the revolver (produced), which had five chambers. Four of the chambers were loaded, and one contained an empty cartridge, recently discharged. The prisoner was taken before Mr. Fulton, J.P.. Portadown, and was remanded to Armagh Jail until the 9th inst.
James Edgar, Portadown, stated he was an assistant in Mr. Wallace's hardware shop there. He knew William Thompson for some time. On Thursday, the 1st March, he purchased a revolver from him. The revolver produced was the same class and size as the one he had sold. He got six cartridges with the revolver, and purchased a dozen afterwards. For the revolver and six cartridges he paid 15s, and said he wanted it for a customer of his. He was a customer of Mr. Wallace's, but he never bought a revolver before that to the best of his knowledge. He (witness) fitted one of the first half dozen of cartridges into the revolver, and he ordered the other dozen to be got of the same size.
To a JUROR - He appeared to be in his proper mind when he purchased the revolver. He was in the same state of mind as usual, and he always considered him a steady man.
Dr. Stewart, J.P., deposed that he had been called out to see the deceased about half past eleven o'clock in the morning the previous day. When he arrived he found him lying in bed in the house suffering from the effects of a revolver shot. There was a wound the entrance of a bullet below the lower angle of the scapula on the left side, penetrating the ninth rib, and fracturing it about the middle. The bullet then passed into the plural cavity, through the base of the left lung, then through the diaphragm into the abdominal cavity, through the spleen, making two openings in the upper portion of the stomach-an entrance and an exit - and lodging under the skin about three inches below the left nipple. from which position he made an external opening the previous day, and took the bullet out. He saw the deceased between five and six o'clock that evening, in company with Dr. Clarke. They had made an external and also a post-mortem examination. The cause of death was the injuries he had described, and the internal haemorrhage consequent upon those injuries.
The Coroner said it was not a question for them as to whether the man was insane or not. Their duty was to find out whether he committed the act or not. The fact of his being insane or not. would be investigated at the assizes, where there was no doubt he would he sent. The jury, after a short consultation, returned a verdict to the effect that Thomas Thompson came to his death from the effect of a gunshot wound caused by a shot fired by William Thompson in Knocknamuckley Church on the 2nd March, and that the said Wm. Thompson did, at the same time and place with malice and aforethought, feloniously kill and slay the said Thomas Thompson: There was a rider added that the jury had no evidence before them to show that William Thompson was of unsound mind.
8 March 1888
Yesterday afternoon Mr. H. D. M'Master and Mr. C. E. B. Mayne R.M. (Portadown), held a special Court Petty Sessions in Gilford for the purpose of investigating a case in which Elizabeth Thompson was charged with inciting her son, William Thompson, to murder his brother-in-law, Thomas Thompson. The prisoner, who was previously arrested by the local police on the above named charge, is the mother of William Thompson, who is at present in Armagh Gaol for shooting Thomas Thompson in Knocknamuckley Church on Friday last. A woman named Charlotte Gibson, who resides near to the prisoner in Gilford, stated that she heard Elizabeth Thompson (the prisoner) telling certain person that Thomas Thompson was going to get married on Friday morning, but witness forgot the name of the girl.
Elizabeth Thompson told her son William Thompson that if she had been in his clothes she would have put a bullet into Thomas Thompson long ago, and that (William Thompson) was no man or he would have put a bullet into Thomas Thompson long ago. William never spoke, but shook his head. Thomas Thompson, the witness added, and his wife got on very well when they were living together, and witness often saw him down on his knees washing the floor, and carrying water for his wife. She also knew him to go and visit his wife when she was lying ill in her mother’s house, and bringing refreshments to her.
Isaac Hilan, who is a dealer, and resides in Gilford, swore that on the day previous to the wedding he sold William Thompson a bayonet. He had no doubt on his mind whatever but the bayonet produced was the one sold to William Thompson. It had since been scoured and sharpened at the point.' (William Thompson) gave witness ninepence for the bayonet, which he put up his sleeve and took away. When Wm. Thompson was leaving witness said to him, Be careful, and do no harm with that.” Wm. Thompson then told witness that Thomas Thompson was going to get married to a girl named Fanny Jane Moffatt on Friday morning, and he also added that the Moffatts were a bad clan,” and that she would be a very bad stepmother to be over his sister’s child. Wm. Thompson also told witness that he had seen the child that morning and gave her a penny. The tears came to his eyes while be was talking about the child.
The arrest of the prisoner’s mother has caused the greatest excitement in this neighbourhood. Their Worships remanded the prisoner for eight days. On 20th March Elizabeth Thompson appeared before magistrates and after a protracted trial was found not guilty of inciting her son to shoot Thomas Thompson and was released.
9 March 1888
This morning, at eleven o'clock, the magisterial inquiry in connection with the Knocknamuckley murder was held in the Courthouse in Portadown. The building was crowded to overflowing, and the greatest interest seemed to manifested in the proceedings. William Thompson, the accused, was present, and the inquiry was proceeded with before Mr. John C. Foulton. J.P. District-Inspector Leathem prosecuted.
Dr. Stewart was the first witness examined. He was called to the scene of the occurrence on Friday last, and arriving at the scene at twelve o’clock found the deceased lying the house of Mrs. M'Creedy, parishioner of the church. He was suffering from a revolver shot wound. The bullet passed through the skin, fracturing the ninth rib on the left side, near the middle, below the angle of the scapula. It then entered the pleural cavity. He found the bullet under the skin under the left breast. He died at half past ten the same night. In conjunction with Dr. Clarke made Post-Mortem examination, and found that the bullet had penetrated the base of the left lung, and afterwards the spleen, making two openings entrance and exit. The bullet was extracted from under the skin of the chest. Witness was standing close beside the prisoner during the time the deposition was being taken, and in cross-examination asked several questions. Witness considered him a shrewd, intelligent man of his class, and he had no reason to believe he was suffering from unsoundnees of mind in the slightest degree. Witness thought he acted with great coolness all the time. Prisoner asked no further questions, but examined deceased's bloodstained clothing.
Fanny Jane Moffatt deceased's intended wife deposed. When she entered the church on Friday last, she saw a stranqe looking man. It was the prisoner. He followed the deceased and shot him.
The Prisoner—Do you believe you were the deceased's dearest love?
Witness—No one will know what I think.
The Prisoner—Do you know that the deceased was walking out with Mrs. McMasters a nurse at the time he was after you?
Witness—l did not know, nor do I want to know.
Rev. Richard Oates, in reply to District Inspector Leathem, stated that he remembered the 2nd inst. He entered the church that morning to marry a couple at about ten minutes before ten o'clock. Thomas Thompson and Fanny Jane Moffatt were the couple. He went into the vestry and while there he heard the parties coming into the church. He went into the church and saw a man sitting alone, whom afterwards he learned was William Thompson, the prisoner. Witness returned to the vestry, and after little while heard a carriage driving up. After that he heard a shot and some scuffling. He came into the church, and saw the deceased and the prisoner struggling for a revolver! The prisoner had hold of the butt end of the revolver. Fanny Jane Moffatt was close to Thomas Thompson at the time. Joseph Wintham then came up and struck the prisoner in the face. Witness got possession of the revolver and locked it up in a safe in the vestry, He afterwards gave it to District Inspector Leatham. The prisoner wanted to leave the church after that, but the witness and others would not let him. Witness stood in the doorway and told him not to attempt to leave. A message then arrived that the deceased wanted see him (witness) and he went to him. When he returned he met the prisoner at the gate of the churchyard and told him to go back, and be did so.
The examination of the 24 witnesses occupied most of the evening and the trial continued for several months.
11 July 1888
The first capital sentence at the present Dublin Assizes was pronounced on Tuesday at Armagh, where William Thompson was placed on trial before Mr. Justice Murphy for the murder of his brother-in-law, Thomas Thompson, in Knocknamuckley Church, on March 2nd last. On the day in question the deceased was about to be married, and had arrived in the church in company with his intended bride and the rest of the wedding party. They were proceeding up the aisle of the church, when the prisoner advanced and shot the deceased dead.
The prisoner was found guilty, and his lordship sentenced him to be executed on August 8th.
7 AUGUST 1888
His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant has commuted the sentence of death passed on William Thompson for the murder of his brother-in-law, Thomas Thompson, in Knocknamuckley Church, near Portadown, in March last, to penal servitude for life. The execution was fixed for Wednesday next, and the scaffold had been already erected on the gaol premises in Armagh. The following is a copy of the telegram received by Mr. J. E. Peel, solicitor, at three o’clock Saturday afternoon:— “The Lord Lieutenant has been pleased to commute the sentence of death passed upon William Thompson, prisoner in Armagh Prison, to penal servitude for life.” —Assistant Undersecretary The exercise of clemency in this ease by his Excellency has given the greatest satisfaction to all classes and creeds in Armagh. Mr. E. Peel is to be congratulated on the success of his advocacy. The decision of the Lord Lieutenant was communicated to the prisoner by Rev. John Elliott and the governor of the gaol shortly after the receipt of the telegram, and it is stated be was greatly relieved when he heard it.
There is a myth related to this story. It is said that William Thompson pleaded insanity and was removed to a lunatic asylum. That he escaped a few weeks later and disappeared without trace until he walked into the police barracks at Markethill, on September 10, 1906, and gave himself up. It's unclear why he would do this almost 20 years after the event and we have been unable to find any evidence to back it up.