Face of a murderer
Private William Harrison of USAAF Station 238, Ardboe, Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Born 1922 in Ironton, Ohio, USA
Hanged 7 April 1945 in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England
30 September 1944
SHOCKING KILLYCOLPY MURDER
An American soldier has been detained for questioning in connection with the brutal murder of a seven and a half years old girl, Patricia Wylie, whose strangled, half-nude and ravished body was found covered with hay shortly after midnight on Monday in a field half a mile from her home at Killycolpy, five miles from Coagh.
The little girl, who lived with her parents, Mr Patrick Wylie (aged 42), farmer and fisherman, and Mrs Mary Wylie, was last seen at six o’clock on Monday evening when she left with an American soldier to run an errand for her mother to a roadside shop several hundred yards from her home. When she did not return, her father who had been at Lough Neagh fishing, became anxious and telephoned the police at Coagh.
Sergeant Partridge reported the matter to Cookstown, and District Inspector Tease, with Head Constable Close and some constables, promptly proceeded to Killycolpy as it was beginning to get dark, and organised search parties. At the same time the District Inspector put the machinery of the law into operation, so that soon almost every police barracks in Northern Ireland was on the look-out for a soldier whose name and description was given. Police from Coagh, Stewartstown, Cookstown, and stations in the district, American military police, and civilians began to scour the countryside.
The body was found by four civilians – Michael Dorman, Peter Dorman junior, Bernard Hagan, all of Carnan, and Daniel Montague, Bellsgrove.
It was lying near several haystacks in a field a short distance from a rough cart track. It was loosely covered with hay, and the basket which the murdered girl had taken with her was lying near the scene.
District Inspector Kennedy, fingerprint experts, and other members of the CID from Belfast, together with District Inspector Tease, Cookstown, and US military police, were on Tuesday busy carrying out exhaustive inquiries in the neighbourhood.
The murdered girl was one of four children, the others being Sadie (9), Charles (5), and Margaret (1½).
The body was removed on Tuesday morning to Carnan Hibernian Hall. The face was covered with blood and there were bruises on each side of her throat.
Mr Wylie, the girl’s father, told a reporter – “I was down at the lough, and when I came back about 7.00pm my wife told me Patsy had gone for a mineral with an American soldier. After some time, when she did not return, I became very anxious about her and went down the road to see if I could find her. I could not see her anywhere and after a while I decided to notify the police. The next thing I heard was that a little girl had been found murdered in a field.”
Peter Dorman, a 19 year old farmer, one of a party who discovered the body, said – “The four of us had been searching for about half an hour. It was a very dark night and we had to use torches. We went into a field where there were four ricks of hay. We searched around the stacks for a while, and then I saw a basket. We thought the girl must have been somewhere near the place. Then we saw a mound of tossed hay lying near one of the stacks. One of the others began to pull the hay back and I saw the girl lying face downwards. Her face was covered with blood, her left eye was swollen, and she was half nude. We then reported the matter to the police.”
It was stated by US Army authorities on Tuesday night that Private William Harrison, aged 22, of Haverhill, Ohio, had been detained in connection with the crime. They had, it was added, assured residents of Coagh that swift justice would be administered.
“There are some inquests more tragic than others, but I feel that this is one of the saddest cases that any jury could be called upon to investigate.”
With these words Dr AM Elliott, Coroner for the Baronies of Dungannon, on Tuesday night opened an inquest on the murdered child. After evidence of identification and medical testimony, the inquest was adjourned indefinitely.
The inquiry was held in Carnan Hibernian Hall. The setting was eerie. The hall was lighted by oil lamps. Fourteen grim-faced jurymen, American Army officers and police officials sat on forms drawn up in a square in a corner, the sheet-draped body of the little victim resting on a table at the other end of the room.
Dr JAL Johnston, Derry, State Pathologist, gave evidence of carrying out a post-mortem examination earlier in the evening. In his opinion death was due to asphyxia caused by strangulation. There was evidence of violation, and there was a good deal of bruising on various parts of the head and neck, particularly the neck.
Dr Archer Brown, Coagh, who assisted at the post-mortem, corroborated.
Mr Patrick Wylie, a 42 year old farmer and a fisherman, the child’s father, was a pathetic figure as he gave evidence of identification. Twice he broke down in answering questions. He said he had last seen his daughter alive at 3.30pm on Monday afternoon.
Mr Samuel Ferguson, Stewartstown, foreman of the jury, said he wished on behalf of his fellow jurors to extend the deepest sympathy to Mr and Mrs Wylie and other members of the family on their most distressing loss.
District Inspector Tease, Cookstown, said they all felt very much for the parents.
A US Army major said on behalf of the American personnel he wished to express their heartfelt sympathy to the girl’s parents. “I wish to state that this will not go unpunished,” he added.
The Coroner, addressing Mr Wylie, said, “We all feel very deeply for you in expressing our disgust at this terrible tragedy. I think I am right in saying that although we feel it deeply the Americans feel it even more so. I can only extend to you our sympathies and hope that Providence will help you, your wife, and family to bear the burden which has been so suddenly thrust upon you. May God bless you.”
While the inquest was in progress a large crowd of people from neighbouring districts waited outside the hall in the moonlight.
FUNERAL OF THE VICTIM
There were touching scenes when the burial of the victim took place on Wednesday in the graveyard of St Patrick’s Church, Mullinahoe. Hundreds of people from the surrounding areas flocked to attend Requiem Mass, which was celebrated by Rev PJ Regan, CC, Ardboe.
Beside the church the school was closed as a mark of respect and more than one hundred children attended the Mass.
A US Army colonel, other officers, an Army chaplain, and a large detachment of American soldiers occupied seats at the rear of the church while others sat in the gallery.
The white flower-bedecked coffin, which had been taken to the church on Tuesday evening, rested on a catafalque before the altar, and after the service was carried on the shoulders of Mr Patrick Wylie, the child’s father, and three of her uncles.
The wreaths included one from the Commanding Officer and all ranks of a US Army camp, and another from the pupils of Albany Public Elementary School.
The chief mourners were the father and Messrs William John, Henry James, and Hugh Wylie, uncles.
Rev Father Regan, addressing the congregation in the church, said he would not be doing his duty if on behalf of the parish he did not sympathise with the relatives of this girl. Priests were familiar with death in all shapes – people who died from lingering illness and those whose death left a great sorrow behind – but the circumstances surrounding the death of this girl were of a different character.
His duty was not an easy one. On an occasion like this, when the parish had lost a member in such horrifying circumstances, their hearts were full and went out sincerely to the parents. The whole parish had been shocked to the innermost core at a death so cruel and horrible. There was no man, be he of their religion or none, who did not feel in this deed a blow at their manhood, a reproach that he was a man.
This was a blot on the parish of Ardboe that would take a good deal to efface. This little girl had become a sacrifice for the good of the parish. They offered from their full hearts their sincerest sympathy to the relatives of one who did not know the meaning of sin. They must pray for the family that had been left behind, for few families would be asked to bear a cross as heavy as theirs.
7 October 1944
COURT MARTIAL OPEN TO PUBLIC
The arrangements are being completed by the US Army authorities for the trial of Private William Harrison, aged 22, of Haverhill, Ohio, in connection with the murder of Patricia Wylie, aged 7½ years, of Killycolpy, Stewartstown, on 25 September last.
The court martial will be held in Cookstown Courthouse and will be open to the public. Although the date has not yet been fixed, it is stated that it is likely to be in the first week of November.
11 November 1944
MURDER OF LITTLE KILLYCOLPY GIRL
US SOLDIER ON TRIAL
The brutal murder of 7½ years old Patricia Wylie, of Killycolpy, Stewartstown, County Tyrone, on 25 September last, had a sequel when, at an American Court Martial in Cookstown on Monday, the trial began of a US soldier, Private William Harrison junior (22) of Haverhill, Ohio, who is charged with the murder. He pleaded not guilty.
The trial was open to the public and the Courthouse was crowded, including a number of women. Little groups gathered outside the building during the hearing.
The accused, a slight, medium-sized, sandy-haired man, sat between his two defending counsel, while directly behind the accused stood an armed military policeman.
The Court consisted of nine members. The President was Colonel Tom W Scott and the Law Member, Captain Frank E Moss.
The Trial Judge Advocate was Lieutenant Maurice C McGee, assisted by Lieutenant RJ Soker.
Defence Counsel was Major CR Liggit, assisted by Lieutenant Theodore Kadin.
DEFENCE COUNSEL’S REQUEST
At the outset defence counsel said they had not sufficient time in which to prepare their case. He asked for an adjournment of ten days after the prosecution had closed.
The Court adjourned to consider the matter and returned in a few moments, when the President announced that, after all the witnesses available had been examined and all information obtained, an adjournment of one week would be granted from the date of the closing of the prosecution.
At this stage there were eleven members of the Court and they were asked if they would have any conscientious scruples in giving the death penalty if the accused were proved guilty, and each of them answered “No”.
One of them however was challenged by the trial Judge Advocate and was excused by the President from service as a member of the Court. Another was challenged by the defence and he too was excused.
CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION
The Trial Judge Advocate, outlining the case for the prosecution, said that on the morning of 25 September accused left his camp about 10.00 or 10.30am. He went to a public-house named Dorman’s, and after a few beers there walked in the afternoon to the nearby house of Patrick Wylie, a farmer, of Killycolpy. Accused, it was stated, knew the Wylie family, and had accepted their hospitality before and was familiar with the vicinity. The Trial Judge Advocate, after saying that the prosecution would attempt to bring out the various movements of the accused prior to the finding of the child’s body in the field, alleged that after the crimes the accused tried to clean himself, and that his left hand was swollen, which he tried to explain away by a story of having a fight with another soldier – that he then callously and indifferently proceeded back to the public-house, had some drink and about 8 or 9 o’clock that night got a taxi-cab and went back to his station and that he slept that night in a parked Jeep.
Mrs Mary Wylie, mother of Patricia Wylie, the dead child, said the first time she saw accused was when her husband brought him home for a cup of tea. She next saw accused on 25 September. He had no drink taken, she said, and was very nice. Accused on that day asked witness where Sadie, her eldest girl (aged 9) was and, when told that she was out, suggested that Patsy should go with him for minerals. Patsy and accused left together and that was the last time she saw Patsy alive.
There was a dramatic moment when Mrs Wylie was asked to walk around the Court and pick out the person who had taken away her daughter on the day in question. She stopped in front of Private Harrison and said, “That is the man”.
Evidence was also given by nine year old Sadie Wylie, sister of the dead girl.
CHILD’S FATHER’S EVIDENCE
The next witness was Patrick Wylie, father of the deceased girl, who gave his evidence under considerable emotion, breaking down several times. He said he first met accused in June and then in Dorman’s public-house on 24 September. Accused told witness he would be down at his house the following day. On that day witness was fishing on Lough Neagh. He came home about 6 o’clock. His wife told him that Patsy had gone out with Harrison and he had better go and look for her. He looked for them at Dorman’s but did not see Patsy. Mr Dorman told him Harrison was in the kitchen, and witness asked him what he had done with Patsy. He said he had left her outside Mallon’s door with two lollipops and a bottle of lemonade. Witness then went on a bicycle to look for Patsy. He went to look in the Moss Holes. He searched all over and called “Patsy”. When he could not find her witness informed the police at Coagh. He next saw his daughter Patsy about 5.00am the following day, lying between four ricks of hay in Matthews’ field.
Peter Dorman said he was in his father’s public-house on the night of 25 September when he saw Harrison, whose left hand was swollen. Witness and three other young men found Patsy Wylie dead in a field underneath hay about one o’clock the following morning.
Cross-examined, witness said that Harrison was sober, although he appeared to have a drink or two taken.
Michael Dorman, brother of Peter Dorman, also gave evidence.
Dr Archer Brown, Coagh, said he was called by the police and saw the body of Patricia Wylie about 2.50am on the morning of 26 September. The face was covered with blood, the left eye was swollen, and there was a bruise on the left side of the face. There were deep scratches along the left side of the jaw. On one side of the face there was a bruise, and on the other side two bruises. It was possible, when he saw her, that the child had been dead for five hours or longer.
Patrick O’Hagan, taxi-driver, said he drove Harrison from Dorman’s public-house to his (Harrison’s) station about 9.00pm on 25 September. Harrison was sober.
Lieutenant RR Whitworth, military police, said that at 2.00am on the morning of 26 September he was awakened at his quarters at Clunto and told to report to Colonel Coates, Commanding Officer of the station. He was informed that a little girl had been found dead and it was thought that an American soldier was responsible as he was the last one to be seen with the child.
Before leaving the station to go to the scene of the crime, he gave instructions for a bed-check to be made at the station. At 7.00am he saw Harrison in the station guardhouse. His left hand was bruised, and it appeared as if he might have been in a fight. When witness mentioned it, Harrison said he had been fighting with another soldier on the road to Dorman’s public-house.
Captain JA Bartos, squadron surgeon, who gave evidence of carrying out a medical examination of the accused on the morning of 26 September, told the Court in cross-examination that Harrison appeared to be alert but seemed somewhat frightened, and there was a pronounced old alcoholic odour from his breath as if he had been drinking the night before.
STATE PATHOLOGIST’S EVIDENCE
Dr JAL Johnston, Derry, State Pathologist, who carried out a post-mortem examination of the girl, said death was caused by asphyxia due to strangulation.
Dr Johnston added that he was unable to group bloodstains found on a man’s shirt and girl’s clothing which he examined.
Cross-examined, he said if asphyxia was caused by epilepsy some of the symptoms he found in the girl’s body would be present.
To the Trial Judge Advocate, he said abrasions on the throat were not consistent with epilepsy.
Technical Sergeant George Hays, CID Section of the US Military Police attached to the Eighth Army Air Force Command, said that he was present on 27 September with two officers when Harrison made a signed statement. Accused was told that he had the right not to make any statement.
Replying to the defending counsel, witness said that it was about 10.15pm when he went to the cell where the prisoner was lying on a bench.
Lieutenant H Ehrlich, of the US Criminal Investigation Department, said he took the statement from Harrison. The statement was read to Harrison and he signed each page. No incitement was held to the accused and no threats were made. It took several hours to make the statement.
In cross-examination, witness said that he told accused to tell everything that had happened.
ACCUSED ALLEGED STATEMENT
In the statement Harrison is alleged to have said that on 25 September he left his camp without a pass and went to Dorman’s public-house where he had a lot of drink. He had also drunk about a quart bottle of wine before leaving camp. He left the public-house at 4 o’clock and walked to Pat Wylie’s house. He wanted to see Pat Wylie to tell him he would pay him the £3. 10 shillings he owed him as soon as he got paid. He was there five minutes, when he left the house with Patsy Wylie to get some beer and mineral waters to bring home to the house.
“We were walking pretty fast,” added the statement, “and in about ten minutes we came to a field which Patsy said was a shorter walk than walking all the way round. She said she would get her feet wet walking through the grass, when I picked her up and carried her.”
Having gone into other details, the statement went on to say the girl wanted to go home, but he told her they would go to the public-house and to be quiet. She was still crying a little.
“I don’t remember what I did say. We started to walk towards the public-house and I told her not to tell anyone what had happened. We walked a few steps and she stopped and said she wanted to go home. She was still crying.”
Accused was also alleged to have stated – “We fell on the ground. I kept squeezing her throat until she did not fight any more. I was scared when she was crying and I got mad all over.”
He further stated that he went back to the public-house, and later in a taxi to the camp.
This concluded the evidence for the prosecution and the Court adjourned until 15 November.
25 November 1944
AMERICAN SOLDIER FOUND GUILTY OF MURDER
At the General Court Martial held in Cookstown, Private William Harrison junior, an American soldier, was found guilty of assault and murder of little 7½ years old Patricia Wylie, Killycolpy, Stewartstown, on 25 September last, and was sentenced to death.
When the trial was resumed, it was stated by the defence that they had not had sufficient time to contact a number of witnesses, including a soldier now serving in France.
At the opening of the Court a motion by the defence for the finding of “Not guilty” on the assault charge, on the grounds that the prosecution had not proved the commission of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, was denied by the Court.
During the adjournment frantic but futile efforts were made by the defending officers to get into communication with witnesses, some of whom were stated to be in England. Several priority telephone calls were put through to American bases in Great Britain but these too were ineffectual.
Lieutenant T Kadin, Assistant Defence Counsel, said they would submit that the accused at the perpetration of the act was labouring under the lack of moral responsibility; that he did not realise the full import of his act, and did not understand the nature and quality of the act he was doing. He did not know the difference between right and wrong. Accused’s drinking was chronic, going on for a great number of years.
Harrison, in evidence, told the Court he graduated from a high school at the age of sixteen. He started drinking when he was fifteen.
When he came to England he drank more than usual. He had been court-martialled five times for being absent without official leave. In April 1943 he was in hospital for six weeks with amnesia.
On the evening he went to Dorman’s pub he remained from 6.30pm till 11.00pm drinking constantly. He had fifteen beers, a small gin with each beer, and two port wines. The next morning he returned to Dorman’s and started drinking.
Round about 5.00pm he went to Wylie’s. He wanted to see Mr Wylie, to whom he owed £3 10 shillings. Mr Wylie was out. Witness went out with Patsy to get some beer and mineral water. They passed young Sadie Wylie on the way. They went through a field which Patsy said was a short cut.
Major CI Liggit, Senior Defending Counsel – Do you remember everything which took place after that?
Harrison – No, sir.
Major Liggit – Did you choke her?
Harrison – Yes.
Major Liggit – Why did you choke her?
Harrison – I don’t know.
Major Liggit – Had you any purpose in mind?
Harrison – No.
Major WV Huber, a psychiatrist of the US Army Corps, said when he examined Harrison in June last he found a constitutional psychopathic state and inadequate personality manifested outwardly by alcoholism.
PRISONER’S MEDICAL HISTORY
Extracts of photostatic copies of prisoner’s medical history were read in court, revealing that on one occasion he was found in an English cinema suffering from loss of memory, and that on another occasion he left a hospital and was found drinking in a public-house. In one document he was described as a “spree drinker since entering the Service”.
Dr Robert Thompson, RMS, Armagh County Mental Hospital, said that Harrison had never developed any sentiments of responsibility and self-respect, and in his opinion had practically no appreciation of the wrongness of his act.
Dr Lothian, Down Mental Hospital, also gave evidence of having examined Harrison.
Lieutenant Whitworth, US Military Police, said that in the last month seven medical experts had examined Harrison.
Two members of a US Army Medical Board, which examined Harrison on 27 October, also gave evidence and stated that the Board decided that Harrison was sane on 25 September, and that he was able to distinguish between right and wrong.
The prisoner was found guilty and sentenced to death.
The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II
By Colonel French L Maclean
An excerpt from the above book –
Major Clarence Liggitt (Senior Defending Counsel) – Do you remember everything which took place after that?
William Harrison – No, sir.
Major Clarence Liggitt – Did you choke the little girl?
William Harrison – Yes.
Major Clarence Liggitt – Why did you choke her?
William Harrison – I don’t know.
A Guilty Verdict
The evidence stated he was born in Ironton, on the banks of the Ohio River, to a mother of only 14 years old. He claimed to have had his first sexual experience while drunk at 15 years old. Since then he was a chronic drinker although he graduated high school at 16 years old.
His military record already listed 5 prior Court Martials for being absent without leave or under the influence of alcohol. In England and Northern Ireland he found himself drinking more and in 1943 had spent 6 weeks in a hospital with amnesia.
He admitted to taking Patricia from her home and wanting sexual contact with her. He claimed then to have blacked out although he was able to tell CID officers where to find his boxer shorts at the scene.
A US Army Medical Officer assessed Harrison and found him sane and able to distinguish right and wrong. The members of the court returned their verdict after only half an hour of deliberation. Harrison sat calmly in a hushed but tense courthouse.
William Harrison faced execution by hanging, at Shepton Mallet on 7 April 1945. As in the case of Wiley Harris Jr, the hangman was Thomas Pierrepoint, assisted by Herbert Morris.
Private Harrison was one of 18 American servicemen hanged for rape or murder while serving in Great Britain during World War II.
Saturday 10 March 1945
THE KILLYCOLPY MURDER
The adjourned inquest on Patricia Wylie, aged 7 ½, whose body had been found near her father’s home at Killycolpy on 24 September last, was resumed in Carnan AOH Hall on Wednesday, before Dr AM Elliott JP, Coroner, and 13 of a jury, the foreman being Mr Thomas Ferguson JP.
Head-Constable Close, of Cookstown, conducted the examination of the witnesses.
Sergeant Partridge, of Coagh, gave evidence of being present at a US Army Court-Martial in Cookstown, when Pte William Harrison, who had been stationed at Clunto, was convicted of the murder of the deceased.
The verdict returned was that death was caused by asphyxia, due to choking or strangulation by Pte William Harrison, of the US Army.
18 Were Executed: excerpt from an article by Matthew Spicer
There is a macabre postscript to this story [of the 18 American soldiers who were executed for murder in Great Britain and Northern Ireland during World War II]
Initially, the bodies of the executed soldiers were interred in the huge cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey. Later, though, the remains were transferred to Plot E, Oise-Aisne American cemetery near Fère-en-Tardenois, Aisne, Picardy, France.
Plot E is approximately 100 metres away from the main cemetery and is a separate, hidden section which currently contains the remains of 94 American military prisoners, all of whom were executed by hanging or firing squad under military authority for crimes committed during or shortly after World War II. Their victims were 26 fellow American soldiers (all murdered) and 71 British, French, German, Italian, Polish and Algerian civilians (both male and female) who were raped or murdered. No US flag is permitted to fly over the section, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road.
USAAF Station 238, Ardboe, Tyrone – 29 August 1943
USAAF airmen (left) under Captain KK Wallick take the salute as the RAF contingent, under Squadron Leader Rawlings, depart
The B17, or Flying Fortress, in which the Americans trained, was a common sight above Ardboe in the war years
Carnan Hall, Ardboe, where the post-mortem and inquest into the death of seven-year old Patricia Wylie took place on Tuesday 26 September 1944
Dr Archer Brown of Coagh (centre) who assisted at the post-mortem of Patricia Wylie in Carnan Hall on Tuesday 26 September 1944
Mullinahoe chapel, where the Requiem Mass for seven-year old Patricia Wylie took place on Wednesday 27 September 1944
Colonel Philip D Coates, pictured in Cookstown in 1944, was commander of Station 238 when Patricia Wylie was murdered. He and his officers attended her funeral in Mullinahoe chapel
Albany School, Killycolpy, Ardboe, where Patricia Wylie was a pupil
Thomas Ferguson, Justice of the Peace, of Dromore, Stewartstown, who was foreman of the jury at the inquest into the death of Patricia Wylie. The inquest opened in Carnan Hall on Tuesday 26 September 1944, and resumed on Wednesday 7 March 1945, when the final evidence was heard and a verdict was returned that death was caused by asphyxia, due to choking or strangulation by Private William Harrison, of the US Army
Cookstown courthouse, where Private William Harrison was court-martialled in open court, and on 15 November 1944 was found guilty of the murder of Patricia Wylie
From left – British hangmen Thomas Pierrepoint and his nephew Albert Pierrepoint. Thomas Pierrepoint and his assistant Herbert Morris hanged William Harrison in Shepton Mallet Military Prison, Somerset, England, on 7 April 1945
The Wylie family plot in Mullinahoe graveyard, Ardboe