The case of William Fish was the first recorded official use of dogs by police to capture a murderer. On March 28, 1876 seven-yearold Emily Agnes Holland went missing from Birley Street, Blackburn, after telling friends at St. Alban’s School that she had met a nice man and was going to run some errands for him. She was never seen alive again.
Two days later, a child’s naked torso was found by a laborer in Bastwell Field, wrapped in two blood stained copies of the Preston Herald – minus the head, arms, and legs. That afternoon the child’s legs were found stuffed in a drain not far away in Lower Cunliffe, also wrapped in copies of the newspaper.
A post mortem revealed the child had been sexually assaulted, had bled to death from having her throat cut, and then had been dismembered. The post mortem also noted that the trunk had several different people’s hair clippings stuck to it and so two local barbers came under suspicion: Denis Whitehead and father of three William Fish, who kept old newspapers. Fish was cooperative and allowed police to search his home three times. The third search revealed that four issues of the Preston Herald, corresponding with those used to wrap the torso and legs were missing from his date-ordered stack of papers but Fish claimed he had used them to light the fire and there was insufficient evidence to charge him with the murder. Then Chief Constable Potts received an extraordinary offer from a painter named Peter Taylor, who owned a Springer spaniel and a half breed bloodhound named Morgan, which he claimed could find Emily’s missing remains.
On April 16th – Easter Sunday the dogs searched Bastwell and Lower Cunliffe but found nothing. Then they were taken to Fish’s home at 3 Moss Street, where Morgan started barking in front of the bedroom fireplace. In a small recess in the chimney was a parcel containing fragments of a human skull, hands and forearms, wrapped in a blood stained copy of the Manchester Courier. Fish initially denied that he was responsible for the murder but later confessed. He was hanged at Kirkdale jail in Liverpool on August 14, 1876.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: