On Christmas Eve 1919 a gruesome discovery was made on the sandhills close to the former North Manchester Convalescent Home on Clifton Drive. The gruesome discovery was of a “fashionably attired beautiful woman” who at first was thought to have been stabbed. But the subsequent discovery by two children of a revolver and four spent shells showed that she had, in fact, been shot several times.
The woman in question was Mrs Kathleen Alice Breaks of Bradford who, after the breakdown of her marriage, had been attending a Blackpool Hydro hotel and had met a Frederick Rothwell Holt from Fairhaven. He was receiving treatment there for injuries sustained during his stint in the army as a Lieutenant with the Fourth Battalion Loyal North Lancs Regiment.
They formed a relationship, although it had obviously turned sour over the festive period and resulted in the struggle and eventual murder of Kathleen on the sandhills on Christmas Eve.
Holt was arrested later the same day by acting Detective John Sherlock and charged with murder on Christmas Day. The case attracted a great deal of media attention, locally, nationally and even internationally, most notably as Holt was defended by celebrity barrister, Sir Edward Marshall Hall.
After a five day trial he was convicted of murder. Huge crowds attended Manchester Assize Court to witness the proceedings and the sentencing. Holt presented some evidence of correspondence between himself and Mrs Breaks which revealed Holt’s passionate nature, on this basis he lodged an appeal of insanity which was rejected.
On the 13th April 1920, Holt was taken to Strangeways Prison for hanging, which was carried out by famed public executioner John Ellis. Over 1000 people attended outside the prison, many of whom sided with Holt. It was said that he never showed any remorse and ate and slept well in his final days, walking calmly to his demise and never making any confession of his guilt.
Now it is said that on cold, still winter nights all along the ridge of the St Annes sand hills, there are tales of the screams of a woman being heard piercing the night. On other nights the ear-shattering sound of gunfire is heard, usually causing a call to police that ends in a false alarm. In fact, so frequent were these calls in the first couple of decades following the event that, in time, the police, whilst always following calls up, made it less and less of a priority to investigate especially if these disturbances heard were around Christmas time.
Nowadays, whilst these incidents are less frequent than earlier in the last century still, from time to time, the screams of a woman are heard piercing the cold night air, the gunshot is still reported to have been clearly heard and more worryingly, the ghostly figure of a “fashionably attired beautiful woman”, is seen wandering along the crest of the sandhills, apparently in great distress and looking for the lover, she will now never find.
Merry Christmas! And don’t have nightmares!