100 YEARS AGO: TRAGIC DEATH OF SIX YEAR OLD SALFORD GIRL LEAVES MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
To be honest, I had certain reservations about writing this story for fairly obvious reasons of sensitivity, but I think it should be retold and you can make your own mind up on this matter.
Six years old, Elizabeth Nolan lived at the back of a property at 116 Regent Road, Salford and attended the nearby Mount Carmel R.C. school, only 100 yards from her home.
Her mother took her to school at 1.50pm on Tuesday 16th April and the girl was last seen leaving the school at 4 pm with other schoolchildren.
The alarm was raised by her parents when she didn't return home and a search of the local area was carried out including the nearby River Irwell all to no avail.
As the days passed without any sign of Elizabeth her parents must have feared the worst, sadly their worst nightmare would come true.
A water inspector, Robert Smith was walking along the bank of Shawbrook, which was close to the Burnage and Wilmslow boundary the following Monday, 22nd April when he spotted a child's body lying in two feet of water and quickly summoned the police, who confirmed that the body was of Elizabeth Nolan.
An inquest was held at Manchester Coroners Court the following week under the supervision of Mr Sturridge the Manchester Deputy Coroner where some rather unusual facts emerged.
Elizabeth's mother told the court had not been accustomed to wandering off on her own and although she had only been attending school for two days, her home was only 100 yards away and she knew her way home on her own.
A teacher from the school confirmed that Elizabeth had left school on time along with other children.
Robert Smith who found the body told the court it would have been impossible for her body to have been washed down the stream as it was only six inches deep in parts.
Sergeant Collins from Salford Police said that enquiries had failed to find anybody who saw her, after she left school, he then added that the place where her body was found - some three miles away from her home - was a quarter of a mile from the nearest cottage and it was 100 yards on either side of the streams banks to the nearest footpath.
Continuing with his evidence he said that it was possible that she could have slipped on the bank, struck her head against something, then she would have become insensible and drowned, however, there were no marks of a struggle on the path alongside the stream.
Next to give evidence was Dr Heslop who had made a post-mortem examination on Elizabeth, he said there was a bruise on the back of her head and then added somewhat horrifically and possibly needlessly that rats had attacked the body and eaten part of her!
He could only surmise if she had been hit on the head with a stone as the bruise had been caused before her death and may have been caused by her accidentally falling into the brook and striking her head.
Detective Inspector Hoare of Salford Police said he and his force had made the fullest enquiries into her disappearance but were unable to ascertain as to how the child had got to the spot where she was found.
The Deputy Coroner described the case as being, "a sad one" and remarked that it was extraordinary that the child could have wandered so far without being noticed and there was nothing to show she had gone with other children or was taken away by someone and the only verdict he deliver was, "An Open Verdict"
There are so many unanswered questions in this case that it beggars belief that this verdict was reached at.
How on earth could a six-year-old girl simply vanish off the face of the earth, Regent Road was one of the busiest thoroughfares in Salford with 100's of shops and traffic streaming into and out of Manchester, surely somebody saw her?
How did she manage to "wander" some three miles to the place of her death without being seen, to a place that she had never been to before, I assume, and its a hell of a walk for a six-year-old.
Her injuries seem to be as consistent with being struck on the head and being pushed into the ditch, possibly to conceal her body from prying eyes.
Did schoolchildren take her there as a prank that went horribly wrong, and she accidentally fell into the ditch banging her head causing them to panic and run off, I doubt that as young children could not have kept that dreadful secret for that long.
Finally, the worst case scenario is that Elizabeth was abducted on the street near her home, possibly by someone who knew her or that she trusted, or a complete stranger befriended her and lured her to her death.
A very, very sad story, but it would be good if some truth were to be finally revealed after all these years, if only for her family's sake, a sad and mysterious case indeed.
Edited by KARL