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Crime and Punishment: Murder

In 1893 PC William Henderson of the Middlesbrough Constabulary was fatally shot by John Henry Gould. Such instances of losing a police officer in the course of duty was a rare occurrence in the Tees Valley and Henderson’s loss was a big shock to the local community.

PC William Henderson of the Middlesbrough Constabulary. Image courtesy of the Dorman Museum, Middlesbrough.

John Henry Gould was 33 years old and had been working in the Stainsby’s brickyard on Linthorpe Road behind the Cleveland Hotel, Middlesbrough when he injured his head. This changed his whole personality. He moved into his father’s caravan next to the yard and began working as a slaughterman (someone employed to put down lame and old animals such as horses).

Incidents throughout the year caused the local community to become concerned with his behavior and on the 13th April 1893, a neighbour called Harry Taylor made a complaint to the police that Gould had threatened to shoot him. At this time Gould also claimed he was suffering from what he called the ‘machines’ in his head making noises.

The police followed up the complaint by getting the local doctor, Dr Scanlan and the Sanitary Inspector, Mr Anderson to see Gould and assess his condition to see if he needed to be committed to an asylum. The next day Dr Scotson visited the caravan where Gould and his father were living to assess him, but Gould’s father warned him that John would not react friendly if he knew he was a doctor and so suggested he said he came to ask about getting his horse put down. The doctor did just that, but Gould refused to go to the horse and insisted it was brought to him. A conversation with Gould was enough to convince Dr Scanlan that his mental state was not safe and so he went away to plan Gould’s arrest and admission into the Clifton Asylum at York.

Later that afternoon the Doctor and Mr Anderson went back to the caravan to see Gould and enlisted the help of Tommy Layburn, the owner of the Cleveland Hotel who had built up a rapport with Gould. The plan was that Tommy would talk Gould into coming calmly and easily with the Doctor by convincing him that they were going to get his stolen machinery. But before they could reach the caravan, Gould’s father came rushing up saying John knew why they had come back and had a loaded gun and was threatening to shoot them. They believed he was capable of this as his father had a fresh injury to his face and had clearly been assaulted by his son.

Deciding to leave straight away they went into town and stopped outside of a shop where they saw Sergeant Black and PC William Henderson on their beat. The Doctor went up to the two uniformed men and asked what should be done with Gould and the two policemen decided the situation could not wait, they must do something about Gould before he hurt someone.

At that point the Doctor left to continue with his duties elsewhere and so the remaining group of men went back to the Caravan and spread out to surround Gould who was sat on a wooden stool in the middle of the encampment. Raising his rifle at the men he said “You have come to take me to the Asylum. Somebody told me, but I’m not going!”

After an hour of talking the men had surrounded Gould who moved his head to speak to his father. PC Henderson took the opportunity to dart forward, and Gould shot him. The shot hit PC Henderson’s elbow and shrapnel went into his lip but most of the shot hit his heart and he died instantly.

Newspaper illustration of the death of PC William Henderson.

Sergeant Black and Mr Anderson struggled to overcome Gould and wrestle the gun from him, but he was eventually arrested and stood trial for the murder of PC William Henderson. He was found guilty and sentenced to spend the rest of his days in an asylum due to his mental health condition.

Leeds assizes bill for the prosecution of John Henry Gould for the murder of PC William Henderson. Image courtesy of Preston Park Museum and Grounds.


PC William Henderson was only 37 years old when he died and left behind a wife, Margaret Ann, and eight children the youngest of which were twins aged 2 months. As a widow Margaret was entitled to £32.10 per year from the Middlesbrough Constabulary Superannuation Fund, £2 of which would be de-ducted once each of her children reached the age of 15. Memorial flowers and dedications came from as far away as Whitby and each of the regional police forces sent flowers and representations to his funeral which was attended by several hundred people. The Middlesbrough Police force paid for his headstone to be erected at Middlesbrough New Cemetery. Margaret Ann and their children moved to Bishop Auckland to be closer to her parents.


On the 27th April 2019 the Police Memorial Trust unveiled a memorial plaque on Binks Street, Middlesbrough in memory of Pc William Henderson and his tragic loss to the community.