Why crime writer Stephen Wade thinks executed Leeds killer Louie Calvert was not murderer

Louie Calvert was hanged for murder at Strangeways Prison in Manchester in June 1926.
Louie Calvert was hanged for murder at Strangeways Prison in Manchester in June 1926.

Writer and historian Stephen Wade has recounted some of Yorkshire’s most notorious murders in his true crime books.

Among those to have graced their pages is Louie Calvert, a Leeds woman hanged in 1926 for the murder of the widow who took her in as a lodger.

Murder in Mind author Stephen Wade.

Murder in Mind author Stephen Wade.

Read more: How the YEP reported on the execution of Louie Calvert in 1926

But several years on from first writing about her, Stephen has begun to have doubts that Louie was the cold-hearted killer portrayed in the press at the time.

Details emerged of how she had lied about being pregnant and left her husband and young son on the basis that she was going to stay with family in Dewsbury until the birth.

Instead, she arranged to adopt the baby due to a teenager in Pontefract and moved in with widow Lily Waterhouse in New Wortley with the intention of eventually returning to her husband.

Witnesses saw 33-year-old Louie leave Lily’s home in Amberley Road on the evening of March 31 and within two days the police had arrested her for murder.

Officers calling at the house on another matter had found Lily apparently strangled to death, with her boots and some other items missing.

Stephen said: “Louie was a fantasist, no doubt about it. She used to work for people as a housekeeper and there’s no doubt she stole things and would pawn them.

“The police find the body of Lily Waterhouse. They then very quickly find Louie back with her husband. She had gone back there and taken a suitcase of things which she was going to sell.”

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Newspaper reports latched onto Lily’s missing boots and a connection was then made to the death of John Frobisher, a former employer of Louie whose body had been found clothed but without boots in the River Aire back in 1922.

“Years ago I took the accepted view,” Stephen said. “This is just one of the cases that made me look again.”

Louie was only a slight woman and around 5ft, something that makes the idea of her being physically strong enough to have dumped a man’s body in the river seem unlikely.

Stephen said: “She did work for Mr Frobisher but it was about three-quarters of a mile from the river. The question remains over how the body got there. She was 5ft, very slight, very weak.”

With doubts in his mind about the earlier death, Stephen set about reviewing all the available evidence relating to Lily’s murder for a chapter in his latest book, Murder in Mind, and a further book now with publishers.

Although old newspaper reports reference a supposed confession from Louie as she awaited execution, Stephen has been able to find no other evidence of this at all.

“I think the papers made this up,” he said. “What is recorded is that she asked for a little notebook so that she could record her life story because she had never been allowed to speak in court.”

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The original notebook, held in the National Archive, details Louie’s account and the presence of a man at the house.

Stephen said: “She saw the man and Lily start fighting. It got violent. Louie says she picked up the nearest thing, which was a poker. She tried to hit the man but hit her friend instead.

“I suspect her lawyer had told her not to speak in court. She was a prostitute, the jury wouldn’t believe a word she said. It’s so sad.”

A forensics report says Lily had been hit with a blunt instrument and her wrists had been tied before death, so she may have been bound up when Louie tried to come to her aid.

There were also marks around her neck and other injuries to her body.

With no DNA profiling at the time, there is no way to know who had tied the ligatures and it is unsurprising that Louie’s fingerprints were found in the home the women had shared.

Witness statements also corroborate the account that a man had been at the house, with police going so far as to interview a Barnsley miner named Fred Crabtree.

He had a wound on his face and claimed to have been injured down the mine, something that more than a dozen others backed up in written statements.

But the virtually identical wording of those statements and Fred’s subsequent disappearance had led Stephen to place more weight on the account given by Louie.

“I wouldn’t want to say Fred’s a killer, all I’m saying is it was suspicious,” he said.

“Nobody in the legal system was ever going to read Louie’s exercise book. She was going to hang in 10 days. She wouldn’t have been executed for manslaughter though.”