Executed in Manchester in 1949, Margaret Allen was one of the strangest and most tragic cases in British legal history. Indeed, her crime might not have occurred at all if she'd lived in more accepting and enlightened times. Margaret was what we'd now understand to be transgender, calling herself Bill and dressing and identifying as a man. Bolshy, boisterous and fond of a pint, she considered herself one of the lads since childhood, and took jobs loading coal, fixing houses and working as a bus conductor. Her abrasive, aggressive manner often got out of control, and she was even fired for shoving and bullying the passengers.
Margaret later claimed she'd undergone some kind of sex-change surgery, though we don't know if this really happened. It's clear she was an alienated and troubled person, made a misfit by the social conventions of the 1930s and 40s. Things finally came to a head when an eccentric, elderly neighbour called Nancy Chadwick was found beaten to death with a hammer. Nabbed for the crime, Margaret admitted to having been in a "funny mood". The murderer - who hailed from an immense family with no fewer than 21 siblings - was sent to the gallows. Defiant to the last, Margaret kicked over a final dish of scrambled eggs, saying "At least no one else will enjoy that meal!"
In 1887, a strikingly ghoulish and heartless killer met her demise at the end of a rope. Her name was Elizabeth Berry, and the circumstances of her end are grimly peculiar. Not only did her executioner, James Berry, share her surname, but they had already met under much happier circumstances - when he had danced with her at a police ball. He probably wasn't feeling too sentimental about that, given the crimes for which Elizabeth had been convicted.
The young woman had poisoned her own 11-year-old daughter for life insurance. And she did it in the most painful possible way, feeding her child a drink made up of corrosive creosote and sulphuric acid. Tthat wasn't all. While awaiting her rendezvous with her executioner, Elizabeth was also convicted of murdering her own elderly mother, also by poisoning, and also for insurance. Since then, it's been speculated that Elizabeth was a fully-fledged serial killer who'd also murdered her husband and son.
Susan Newell has an unenviable place in history as the last woman to be hanged in Scotland. Her life had been hard in the lead up to her death in 1923. Her first husband had perished in the trenches of World War One, and her second marriage was so volatile that her new husband reported her to the police for physically abusing him. Then, one fateful day, she committed the bizarre and senseless murder that would consign her to the gallows.
A teenage paperboy called John Johnston called on her home to sell her the paper. What happened next is shrouded in ambiguity, but for some reason Susan Newell led him upstairs and killed him. Then she calmly rolled the corpse in a rug and placed it in a cart, on which she sat her own young daughter before heading out to dispose of the body. Witnesses alerted the police when they spotted Susan and her daughter literally carting the corpse about, and in the end it was the testimony of her own daughter which sealed her fate.
The 1950s saw an especially horrible crime committed in London by the unlikeliest of murderers: a middle-aged Greek-Cypriot grandmother who was in Britain visiting her family. But Styllou Christofi was no ordinary grandmother. In her formative years she had been charged with killing her mother-in-law, by ramming a burning chunk of wood into her mouth, but for some reason escaped jail. Her son later left their village to work as a waiter in a trendy British restaurant, and tied the knot with a German-born fashion model. The couple had kids, and were all set for a perfect life. But then, grandmother Styllou came to stay, and immediately began questioning their parenting skills, particularly picking on her daughter-in-law.
In July 1954, Styllou snapped, bludgeoned and throttled her daughter-in-law to death, then tried to cremate the body herself. The ensuing inferno sent Styllou calling for help, yelling "Please come, fire burning, children sleeping." She was eventually arrested and sentenced to hang. The case shattered her son, who said "I cannot find it in my heart to forgive my mother. The word 'mother' has become a mockery to me". By dark coincidence, Styllou had been staying just yards from the pub outside which Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in Britain, would commit her notorious killing just months later.