THE EAST HOUSE MURDERS SHEFFIELD - NEW YEARS DAY 1960

The Times in its edition dated 2nd January 1960 reported the following

THREE DIE IN PUBLIC HOUSE SHOOTING

Three men were killed and two injured last night when a man armed with a revolver began shooting in the crowded concert room of a Sheffield public house. Michael McFarlane died instantly. George Frederick Morris and a Royal Navy man, Thomas Owen, died later in hospital.

Early to-day Donald McFarlane.. who was injured and is believed to be Michaels brother was undergoing a major brain operation. The fifth man. Kenneth Ellis aged 21, was detained with a wrist injury.

A man was taken into custody in connexion with the shooting.

Two days later the same paper gave additional information

CHARGE OF TRIPLE MURDER

Mohamed Ismail aged 30, a native of British Somaliland, unemployed labourer of Spital Hill, Sheffield. was at Sheffield on Saturday remanded in custody until January 11, charged with triple capital murder.

He was alleged to have shot Michael McFarlane, Thomas Michael Owen. and George Frederick Morris. Detective Chief Superintendent G. A. Carnill, said that Ismail was also alleged to have shot Donald McFarlane brother of one of the dead men - who was said to be in a critical condition and Kenneth Ellis

And finally on 26th February 1960 The Times on its inside pages gave the following report of the trial

SOMALI ON CHARGES OF TRIPLE MURDER

Mohamed Ismail, aged 30, a Somali labourer. of Spital Hill. Sheffield. was found at Sheffield Assizes yesterday to plead to charges of triple capital murder. He was ordered to be detained until the Queen's pleasure be made known

Ismail, was charged with the murder by shooting of three men. When the committal proceedings were heard before Sheffield magistrates. the prosecution stated the men were singing in a public house during an extension of licensed hours on New Year's Day shortly after 10.30 p.m. Ismail, took a revolver from his pocket and fired at the men one after another.

When I first saw these reports I was amazed at the dearth of information that they contained. There was no reference to the name of the public house where the murders occurred or even the district where the pub was located. No information was given about the victims of the attack or about the aftermath of the incident. Given that three men were killed and two others injured and the assailant faced the death penalty for triple murder, I would have thought that the case would have featured prominently in the national press.

Fortunately the local press gather the triple murder more prominence. The Sheffield Telegraph reported the murders under the title

THREE DIE IN SHEFFIELD SHOOTING

POLICE HOLD MAN AFTER DRAMA IN PUB

Three men were killed and two were injured when a man produced a revolver and started shooting in a crowded smoke-room of a Sheffield public house last night.

One man died immediately. Two died at Sheffield Royal Infirmary. Sheffield poice announced early this morning that a man had been taken into custody in connection with the deaths.

The time was 10.45p.m. in the East House, Spital Hill - Sheffield's public houses had an extension for New Years Day.

MAJOR OPERATION

People in the bar were singing carols around the piano when suddenly a man who refused to join in pulled out a revolver. Seconds later Michael MacFarlane of Perkyn Road Sheffield was lying dead, and George Fred Morris of Writtle Road and Thomas Owen a soldier on leave were gravely injured. They died in hospital.

Seriouly injured and taken to the Royal Infirmary was Donald MacFarlane brothet of one of the dead men, also of Perkyn Road, Kenneth Ellis of Forncett Street Sheffield had a wrist injury. Donald MacFarlane is undergoing a major brain operation at the hospital to save his life.

"HEARD BANGS"

Fifty-six year old Thomas Gulfoyle who lives just opposit the pub told a Sheffield Telegraph reporter shortly after the incident "I was watching the television and heard four or five bangs. There was a rumpus across the road at the pub. Then I heard the police arrive"

Mr Donald Bilton a close friend of Fred Morris told a reporter "Fred usually drank at the East House and had gone there to celebrate the New Year"

Fred Morris aged 30 was an employee of Firth Browns Ltd and lived with his brother and sister in law.

A neighbour of the MacFarlanes at Perkyn Road Shiregreen said of the two brothers "Mick and Don always went round together and never went out with women, They were very sociable but only went out drinkingon special occassions. they went down to Pitsmoor for a drink because they used   to live ther five years ago.

Michael was aged about 23 and Donald is about 28. They lived with their parents in a council house and are believed to be steelworkers

In April 2009 I obtained two newspaper reports from The Manchester Guardian dated 2nd January 1960 and another report that appeared in The Observer dated 3rd January 1960. The former stated

The Observer's report was under the title

    SOMALI ON ON TRIPLE MURDER CHARGE

A native of British Somaliland, Mohamed Ismail, 30, an unemployed labourer. of Spital Hill. Sheffield was remanded in custody at Sheffield yesterday until January 11 charged with triple capital murder.

Ismail who was handcuffed in the dock was alleged to have shot  Michael McFarlane, Thomas Michael Owen. and George Frederick Morris. Detective Chief Superintendent G. A. Carnill, said that Ismail was also alleged to have shot Donald McFarlane brother of one of the dead men - who was said to be in a critical condition - and Kenneth Ellis

Chief Superintendent Carnill said he went to the smoke room of the East House public house Spital Hill, Sheffield on Friday night and saw Michael McFarlane dead on the floor. The bodies of Owen and Morris were at the Royal Infirmary.

He later showed Ismail a revolver which had been found on him and said " I have reason to believe you shot these men with this revolver and that you wounded Donald McFarlane and Kenneth Ellis" Ismail replied "Yes, sir"

Ismail had no money, and so far as was known no relatives in Britain.

Asked in court if he wanted a solicitor to represent him, Ismail said "I don't mind". He was granted legal aid.

This was the first mention I'd come across in the national press which actually mentioned the name of the East House. The photograph below was taken twenty years later in 1980

I did know of the incident and did a internet search but the details were meagre to say the least. A right-wing website furnished further details of the victims. Michael McFarlane was aged 22 and a local steelworker whilst George Morris was eight years older and a furnace pitman. (see note 1) The last victim Thomas Owen was 27 and a regular soldier (The Times stated he was a naval rating). From the information I have it appears that Thomas was stood watching the pianist play on the piano and a man walked in and shot him dead

The first book I checked was "Sheffield Public Houses by Michael Liversage" . He relates the following information 

'A Somalian named Mohamed Ishmail, calmly walked into the 'House' drew a revolver and discharged all six rounds into the customers as they sat around enjoying New Years Day 1960.
Three died almost instantly and two more were seriously injured, one, Donald McFarland was crippled for life. The Somali was caught hiding in the toilets and upon his arrest , stated that he wanted to kill himself but his religious beliefs forbade him from doing so. He thought being that we, the British, would hang him for the crime of murder, therefore fulfilling his desire to die.
Unfortunately, we the British, deported him back to Somalia after six months. A pub talk by local historian Douglas Lamb stated that Ishmail, had ran amok when he returned home and was gunned down. Hopefully true, but no definite evidence of this incident has come to light.'

Douglas Lamb in his book " A Pub On Every Corner" puts the murders at just before 11.00pm when Ishmail, began shooting at a group of seven young men who were singing around the piano. Michael McFarlane instantaneously whilst the two friends George Morris and Thomas Owen died soon afterwards. Donald McFarlane, Michael's brother received serious head injuries that required many months of hospitalisation and left him with permanent disabilities. As for Ishmail, once he had emptied the revolver he headed straight for the pub toilet where he was arrested minutes later. The author then relates the aftermath of the case. The jury at his trial at Sheffield Assizes took only fifteen minutes to declare him "unfit to plead" and he was "detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure." It appears that Ishmail, was released after only twenty two months and deported back to Somalia where he supposedly met his fate.

A report in The Guardian dated 29th January 1960 also adds confirms the events of that night

 

J.P. Bean in his excellent book "Crime in Sheffield" adds to the account by disclosing that it was the Medical Officer at Armley Jail in Leeds where he was being held on remand that declared that there was unmistakable evidence that he was insane. He believed that evil voices spoke to him through the electrical system and that he had smashed the light bulbs to stop the voices reaching him. However Bean reveals that it was The Sheffield Star that was the source of the material about Ishmail's, release. A feature  article by Ian Macgill, in January 1984 stated that that Ishmail, was released from Broadmoor, in April 1962, just 22 months after being sentenced, and deported back to his home country of Somalia. The survivors of the shooting were reported to be have been stunned by this revelation.  Donald McFarland who had been severely injured in the attack had received no compensation whatsoever in the interim. Because the attack happened before the introduction of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme he did not receive a penny. I have been unable to find the reason why Ishmail, was released from Broadmoor but can only assume that he was deemed to be no longer a danger to the public once he had received proper treatment and care for his illness.

It was a former acquaintance of Ishmail who had known him in both Somalia and Sheffield who contacted The Sheffield Star a day after the article appeared. This is the source of the information about Ishmail's death. This acquaintance states that  in the late 1960's he ran amok in a village in Somalia, murdering several villagers before he was himself killed. It appears that the doctors at Broadmoor had made an incorrect diagnosis!  

In July 2012 I received a reference and was referred to The Sheffield Star dated 3rd January 1984 which contained the following article on the ultimate fate of Ishmail

The Sheffield Star dated 3rd January 1984

Thankfully, murders on this scale are very rare indeed. As far as I can ascertain, the worst case of multiple murder in Sheffield was that of the Laycock Family in 1884 when five people were killed by Joseph Laycock. The only other case that springs to mind in Sheffield since the East House murders is that of three members of the Laitner family at their daughter's wedding reception in Dore (1983)

Notes

1. George worked at Firth Brown's in Sheffield where he was known as Mick Morris. He lived with his sister on Writtle Street in the Burngreave area of Sheffield and on the day of the murder he had been working until 6 pm. One of his colleagues had promised to go have a drink with him and Tommy Musgrave that night. He recounts that the  gunman held the gun at Tommy Musgrave's head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately there was no more bullets left in the gun. Mick Morris's funeral at Burngreave, Cemetery was one of the largest the area had seen for many years.

2. J.P. Bean in his book "Crime in Sheffield" identifies the weapon as a Smith and Wesson revolver

3. At the time the murders took place in the East House, a local Sheffield journalist was passing the scene but due to his inebriated state he ignored the incident. In his autobiography he recalls

"On my way home one evening, after a long session in the pub, I saw four police cars parked outside a little pub called the Vine (it was the East House). I decided that I'd better go nowhere near it in my  inebriated state and drifted home to covert my sofa into a bed. In the morning the headline in the Daily Express was "FOUR SHOT DEAD in SHEFFIELD HARLEM". I would have been the first journalist on the scene. I kept very silent about that..."

The journalist went on to become one of Britain's top television writers. He recounted this episode in his autobiography "I Didn't Get Where I am Today". His name is David Nobbs, and he was the creator amongst other things, of Reggie Perrin. 

4. In January 2007 I received further information about Kenneth Ellis who along with Donald McFarlane was wounded in the assault

"Just to let you know that Ken Ellis---who was shot through the wrist and survived the East House shootings (1960)---died shortly before Christmas, this year (2207).   Ken was 2 years into his railway career in 1960.He carried on installing signalling equipment with British Rail until privatisation-when he took an early retirement package.    He was very popular with his railway colleagues (myself included).  He makes a brief appearance in Ken Loach's film The Navigators (2000 )....... local artist,  Joe Scarborough painted a depiction of the East House shootings.   I saw it about 16 years, or so,  ago;  it was then owned by a private collector, with whom I have since lost touch.  Joe Scarborough may have a catalogue which reproduces the painting.
 
Ken was amazingly lacking in bitterness, generally--as well as specifically about the shooting.  I recall him telling us that he was in the pub, that night, when the killer entered.  Ken saw the gun in the man's hand and assumed it was a toy.  Ken said that he lifted his hands towards his shoulders--in western movie fashion--and that's when the first bullet was fired." 

5. The Guardian reported on 26th February 1960

6. PC Gilbert Robertson (1921-87) was the unarmed policeman who had confronted Ismail in the toilets and disarmed him. He inexplicably received no official recognition for his brave actions that night.

7. Donald McFarland who was severely disabled as a result of the attack died in his 50's from a brain hemorrhage. It is thought that his death may have stemmed from the injuries he received.

8. The East House continued to trade as a pub up until a few years ago when it, like many in Sheffield, closed for the final time. The building still stands but it is now a cafe

Sources

Sheffield Public Houses by Michael Liversage

The Sheffield Telegraph  dated 1st January 1960 - 4th January 1960

The Times 2 - 4th January 1960 and 26th February 1960

The Observer dated 3rd January 1960.

The Manchester Guardian dated 2nd - 29th January 1960

The Sheffield Star dated 3th January 1984

Douglas Lamb - A Pub On Every Corner

J.P. Bean - Crime in Sheffield

Sheffield Forum

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