unsolved: the strange coincidences of the erdington murders
May 27th, 1817 at 6:30 am in Erdington, a picturesque suburb of Birmingham, England, a labourer named George Jackson came across some items of clothing including shoes and a hat near a water-filled pit in Pype Hayes Park. He altered local people, who assisted in using a rake to search the water leading to the discovery of a female body. The woman was named as 20-year-old Mary Ashford who worked as a servant and general housekeeper.
On May 26th, Mary worked as normal and then journeyed to her friend's house in order to change clothes, as they were to attend a party that evening at a public house known as Tyburn House. Among those attending the annual dance was Abraham Thornton, a 24-year-old heavyset man who inquired about the identity of Ashford. The male attendees who revealed her identity later stated Thornton expressed that he had been intimate with Ashford's sister three times and aimed to achieve the same with her or he would die for it. Throughout the evening, Thornton was very attentive towards Ashford, and she seemed to enjoy his company. At around 11 o'clock, the friend of which Ashford attended with began urging her to leave. When they did, Thorton accompanied the two girls, walking with Ashford while the friend walked behind. Instead of returning to Erdington, Ashford stated she would go to her grandfather's house as it was closer to work, completely disregarding the fact she would have to travel there to obtain her work clothes, her friend simply travelled home and left Ashford with Thornton. At around quarter to three, a labourer saw Thornton leaving a friends house with a woman who covered her face with a bonnet, this is believed to have been Ashford. Just before 4 am the friend was awoken by Ashford who had come to change into her work clothes, she was in a rush and stated that she had by a certain time. A returning partygoer from Tyburn House saw her walking at a very fast pace, and he was the last person to see her alive.
Near where Ashford's body was discovered, two workers from a nearby factory found a series of footprints showing that a man and a woman travelled nearly up to the pit, and the man returned alone. As Ashford left with Thornton, he was arrested and later searched where it was found that his shoe prints matched those near the crime scene. As well as this, Thorton was wearing underwear with bloodstains on and admitted to having sexual intercourse with Ashford that night. A post mortem showed that she died from drowning, with the only marks on her body being two lacerations on the genital area. These lacerations, along with the quite severe bruising on her arms strongly indicated that she had been raped before her murder.
Thornton stated that after they had sexual intercourse, he walked Ashford part of the way back to her friend house at around 3 am, and after her not returning for a long time he left. However, the police were unconvinced and his trial began on August 8th, 1817 for the murder and rape of Mary Ashford. The public was convinced of his guilt, and even wrote poems and sold posters stating what he had done. Yet, Thornton had witnesses to corroborate his alibi which seemingly proved there was no time for him to commit the crimes, and due to the lack of concrete evidence tying him to the murder, he was acquitted of all charges.
Yet Ashford's brother William refused to accept the jury's decision, which only took them six minutes to agree on, and decided to appeal for a second trial. However, instead of a normal court case, the man who presided over the case decided Thornton could defend his not guilty verdict with a fight to the death to prove one's innocence. Although Thornton accepted this and tried to initiate the battle, William did not respond so the case was discharged and Thornton maintained his not guilty verdict. The public, however, still believed that Thornton was to blame for the horrible murder of Ashford, and due to the abuse from local residents, was forced to flee his home and move to the United States.
May 27th, 1974 in Erdington, a picturesque suburb of Birmingham, England, a 20-year-old woman was found raped and murdered and dumped in a ditch in Pype Hayes Park. Her body, which visibly showed signs of rape and strangulation, was recovered a few days after the time of death. The woman was identified as Barbara Forrest who worked as a nurse at a nearby children's home. Reports state that Forrest was with her boyfriend on the evening of her death, dancing at several bars in town. Her boyfriend states that he walked her to the bus at 1 am, and that was the last time he ever saw her.
A manhunt was carried out, with over 100 detectives helping to zero in on a singular suspect, Michael Ian Thornton. Thornton lived on Chester Road, which was close to where Forrest's body was dumped, and knew Forrest as they worked together. After authorities reportedly found bloodstains on Thornton's pants, and the alibi that was given to him by his mother was uncovered as fake, Thornton was arrested and tried for the murder and rape of Barbara Forrest. However, due to the lack of physical evidence tying Thornton to the case, he was acquitted of all charges. Regardless of this, Forrest's sister Erika refused to accept this verdict and remains convinced of Thornton's guilt. In 2012, she demanded that the case be reopened, and DNA evidence be reviewed in order to find her sister's killer.
Ashford and Forrest were raped and murdered 157 years apart to the day. The crimes took place in Pype Hayes Park, with their bodies reportedly being found only 300 yards apart. Both women were 20 years old at the time of their death and it is believed they shared a birthday. Both women had been out dancing the night that they were killed. Their facial features were similar to each other and they had both been raped and then strangled. Both women had a feeling of dread before their deaths, with Ashford telling her friends mother that she had bad feelings about the week ahead and Forrest telling a coworker that she could feel that the month was going to be unlucky. Both women were believed to have been murdered by a man with the last name Thornton, and both suspects in the case were acquitted due to the evidence. Both women had family members who challenged the not-guilty verdict, and to this day neither murder has been solved.
The people of Erdington continue to search for clues and answers in these mysterious cold cases, perhaps they were just eerie coincidences with uncanny similarities, or perhaps they were the works of a darker evil force.