WILLIAM Fish gained infamy as Blackburn's answer to murderous cut-throat barber Sweeney Todd when he killed and butchered seven-year-old Emily Holland in his shop. In the final part of his series of six features retracing the steps of some of East Lancashire's most notorious killers, crime reporter NICK EVANS looks back at the case
FEW things evoke greater public horror than the murder of a child -- and the case of seven-year-old Emily Holland was no exception.
The child's mutilated body, minus head, legs and arms, was discovered lying in a field off Whalley Road by a labourer two days after she had gone missing in March 1876.
She had told her friends at St Alban's School she would see them again as soon as she had been to the shop.
But nobody except her killer was ever to see the young girl alive again.
The same day her butchered trunk was discovered, a man handed in a parcel at Rishton police station which he had found in a ditch at Bastwell. Inside were the child's legs, crudely wrapped in a copy of the local newspaper.
The prime suspect for the killing was a local tramp who had been seen in the area at the time of the killing. When he was eventually tracked down to Derbyshire, however, and an ID parade held, none of the people who claimed they had seen him were able to pick him out.
The trail seemed to have gone cold until a police surgeon working on the case noticed strands of hair on the girl's body and on the bits of paper in which it had been wrapped. He also gave the cause of death as a cut to the throat, after which every drop of blood had been drained from Emily's young body. From the strands of hair the surgeon argued that the murder and mutilation of Emily must have taken place in a barber's shop.
Every barber's in Blackburn was searched from top to bottom in the hunt for clues. Eventually the candidates were narrowed down to two men, with a barber called William Fish of Moss Street as the prime suspect. Once more, however, detectives hit a stumbling block as the evidence against the father-of-three was nowhere near strong enough to arrest him.
As with the forensic evidence of the hair on the girl's body, it was new methods of policing that once again provided the breakthrough in the case.
A local man offered police the use of his two dogs, a bloodhound named Morgan and a pointer. They eagerly seized on the offer, taking the dogs to the scenes where the bits of Emily's body had been discovered and then to the two barber's under suspicion.
Although nothing was found at the first premises, during a search of the upstairs room in Fish's shop, Morgan the bloodhound made the final grisly discovery that sealed the barber's fate. Tucked away in a cubby hole in a chimney were the charred remains of Emily Holland's head and arms. It was Easter Sunday 1876.
An angry crowd gathered outside the shop as news of the discovery spread like wildfire through the town. It was all the police could do to prevent Fish being torn limb from limb by the mob who lined the streets.
Eventually he was led to the relative safety of Blackburn police station and from there to the Liverpool Assizes where, three months after the gruesome find in the shop, Fish was found guilty of Emily Holland's murder.
He was hanged together with another killer from Liverpool on August 14, 1876 at Kirkdale Prison.
Few tears can have been shed for Fish, on the surface a mild-mannered family man running a respectable business, but just below the surface a callous killer -- Blackburn's very own Sweeney Todd.