The Bill o’Jack’s Murders: The Multiple Retellings of a Mystery

Bill o’Jacks photographed some time between 1902 and 1909
(Image: via

In the years following the 1832 murder of William and Thomas Bradbury at Bill o’Jack’s in Saddleworth, there was no new evidence to shed any light on what happened. But that did not lessen the widespread fascination people felt; nor did it stop people continuing to discuss the case. Nearly 190 years later, a huge number of words have been written about the story. Saddleworth Sketches was the first full-length book to discuss the Bill o’Jack’s murders, but it was followed by at least three other factual accounts, only one of which was dedicated solely to that story. Similarly factual were the numerous newspaper and magazine articles that reviewed the case. There were also more creative retellings; at least four plays, two novels and numerous poems have been written about Bill o’Jack’s. Some of these works offer interesting solutions to the mystery; others, while extremely fanciful, have suggested ideas which have been taken up enthusiastically by later writers.

What follows is not an exhaustive list of writings about the case, but hopefully gives a flavour of what has been published over the years.

The first dramatised account of the story appeared within a month of the murders. In May 1832, a play called The Greenfield Tragedy, or the Unknown Assassins was being performed at Oldham Theatre. Three groups of suspects were presented: three Irishmen, three “gypsies” and three poachers, all of whom were at the inn on the night of the murders. However, the actual murder was completed with the stage darkened so the audience never saw who did it. At least three other plays were written and produced on the murders. Bill’s O’ Jack’s: An Original Play From Local Sketches by Alfred Denville was performed in the Oldham area after the First World War, which we shall discuss more. The Bill’s O’ Jack’s Mystery by Wylbert Kemp was first performed at the Oldham Coliseum in 1960; it was later performed in other places, for example in Holmfirth in 1961. The most recent play of which I am aware, The Moorcock by Henry Living, was performed at the Oldham Coliseum in 1982. A book about the murders also mentions another play performed at Uppermill in 1911, but gives no title or other details. There was even, in 1936-37, a film produced by the Oldham Cine Society which included some scenes filmed in the shortly-to-be-demolished inn itself. Unfortunately, the film does not appear to survive.

Similarly creative, several poems were written which were at least partly inspired by the gruesome killings and the perceived “sickness” and “terror” of the crime. Perhaps the most famous were the lines written for the Bradbury gravestone by a local man named James Platt, still visible today and reproduced many times in almost every book and article on the murders.

Nor did it take newspapers long to revisit the story. An 1852 article in the Huddersfield Chronicle retold the main details of the murders and summarised the original article from the Manchester Guardian, albeit adding some colourful description and omitting Reuben Platt’s evidence and the notion that William Bradbury said “Pats, Pats”. However, two details are included which were not mentioned at the time – that the items Thomas bought at the shop were “strewed about the house in all directions” and that “the pistol had previously belonged to the Bradbury family” – which contradict earlier accounts and are probably dramatic inventions. But the article offered no solutions or fresh insights, instead merely retelling the tale.

A few years later, perhaps the strangest work of all was written: a 12-page book published anonymously in 1860 called Bill O’Jack’s. A conversation between Dick the carder and John the slubber, on Sunday afternoon, about William Bradbury and Thomas his son. This was a record of an imagined conversation between two men, principally about one of them no longer attending church on Sundays, but which digressed into discussing the murder at the inn. As the focus was more on religious instruction than solving a murder, the only conclusion drawn by the two participants in the conversation was that the unknown murderers would one day face judgment from a higher authority.

The publication of Saddleworth Sketches in 1871 redefined the whole story, and almost everything written since then has used this work, perhaps unwisely, as its main source. For example, a rather melodramatic account was given in the Manchester Courier in 1887 as part of a series entitled “Lancashire Episodes: Historic, Romantic and Tragic”. This was evidently based on Saddleworth Sketches, containing for example the “five Irishmen” and the three men seen by no-one but Reuben Platt. It also included the alleged utterance of “Platts, Platts” and the suspicions against Reuben Platt and the Red Bradburys. Like Joseph Bradbury, the author was dismissive of the effectiveness of the inquest and noted that “people were made prisoners chiefly because they were Irishmen, or looked like such”. The article ends with a dramatic poem, which perhaps indicates the intended effect.

The next influential account to shape subsequent retellings was a novel called Miriam: A Tale of Pole Moor and the Greenfield Hills written in 1912 by D. F. E. Sykes, a Huddersfield author and historian. The entire text is available online at Project Gutenburg. This story, “narrated” by Abel Holmes, the son of “the Reverend Holmes”, does not especially concern us, but the murder of the Bradburys plays a crucial role in the plot. The narrator rescues a girl called Miriam from the malign interest of Thomas Bradbury, and has several encounters with the father and son until they are killed when Miriam is rescued from the Moorcock Inn having been kidnapped by another character. The narrator describes them: “I saw the two well-known gamekeepers that all the countryside knew as Bill o’ Jack’s, and Tom o’ Bill’s, William Bradbury and Tom, his son, men of bad repute, wenchers and ale-bibbers, and never so happy as when they could get some poor devil of a weaver into trouble with his betters for snaring a rabbit or bagging a bird. Tom was a fine upstanding fellow enough, but his father had an evil face, full of malice and guile. It was a common saying that Bill made the bullets and Tom shot them.” Such a negative view of the Bradburys had not been expressed in print before then. It does reflect the negative reputation Thomas had before his death, but no-where else is the father described as the worse of the two men.

Although the story is not especially original, the identity of Miriam did offer another possible scenario explaining the murder: she was a “Burnplatter”. Sykes’ premise was that William Bradbury was trying to say “Burnplatts” rather than “Pats” or “Platts” (Sykes is one of the few people writing around this time who observes that Reuben Platt had no motive whatsoever for the killings). As Sykes describes them, Burnplatters are romanticised “gypsies”; he was the first to associate them with the Bill o’Jack’s story, but this theory became hugely influential to the point that many considered (and still consider) them to be realistic suspects. Before writing Miriam, Sykes had demonstrated an earlier fascination with the Burnplatters and his theory that they were originally “gypsies” in his 1906 History of Huddersfield and the Valleys of the Colne, the Holme and the Dearne.

These Burnplatters seem to have been almost mythological figures, although stories about them exist independently of any retellings of the Bill o’Jacks murders. They lived in an area near Slaithwaite known as Burnt Platts or Burnt Plats. The website Huddersfield Exposed has extracts from several books about this area. Slaithwaite: Place and Place-names, written in 1988 by George Redmonds, theorises that the name “Burnt Platts” came from the habit of clearing the moor by burning. The inhabitants of this area were known as “Burnplatters” but were thought to be “foreigners” who had lived there for some time.

The area of Burnt Platts, pictured in 2009. The pathway in the photograph branches off the road known as Burnt Plats Lane, and the hill on the left is Worts Hill (Image: Photo © Humphrey Bolton [cc-by-sa/2.0]).

The 1928 book A New Glossary of the Dialect of the Huddersfield District by Walter E Haigh states that a “small colony of ‘foreigners'” lived in the area from around 1750 to 1860 “in a few poor huts at Burnt Platt”. This group, known as “Duędiz”, were notorious “for miles around as singers of uncouth songs, and as pedlars of small-wares – combined with opportune pilfering. They gradually became dispersed however, their last hut being pulled down some sixty years ago.” Haigh speculates that they were originally stragglers from the Highland Army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) as it retreated from Derby and their name came from George II’s proclamations against the rebels: Duęd, according to the same book, was a nickname for George. However, Redmonds argues that local records such as parish registers, militia lists and the 1841 census show only local names and do not suggest foreigners at all.

Much of what is said about them in these various publications derives from one source. This was an 1847 article for the Bradford and Wakefield Observer by George S. Phillips, part of a series called “Walks Round Huddersfield”. Writing about “Burn Platts”, he says: “A few years ago the inhabitants of the Platts were literally savage, living in log huts thatched with sods, and paying neither rent nor taxes. They were a community to themselves, and had their own wild laws and government. They were the terror likewise of all wayfarers, and it was dangerous for any man to go amongst them alone. They lived by hunting and whiskey making; and when these failed by depredations. Their legal marriages however, were celebrated in one or other of the churches of the neighbouring villages; and on all such occasions, they marched in grand procession, adorned with ribbons, and having a fiddler at the head of them.” Phillips goes on to say that the community had largely broken up at the time he was writing, but the families now earned a living through “cloth making or fancy weaving”. He also described an earlier visit he had made to the community, when he was invited into one of their huts, which were “built of stone and mud, and at a distance have more the appearance of hovels than of human habitation.” Sykes, in his History of Huddersfield, quotes from Phillips’ article and remarks that these Burnplatters “were the bogey-men of the children of those parts, and I remember that my grandmother, who resided in her early married life at Holme, not far from the seat of the Burnplatters, could find no more awful threat than ‘to send me to the Burnplatters.'”

As we shall see, several writers have considered the involvement of “Burnplatters” to be plausible. There are a few problems though. First is that the area of Burnt Platts is a considerable distance from Greenfield: it is over six miles in a straight line and rather longer if the roads are followed. There is no obvious reason why Thomas or William Bradbury would have any business there, nor why any Burnplatters would be near Greenfield often enough to create a feud. Secondly, the earliest association of these people with the murders is in Miriam, a fictional and rather romanticised account written 80 years after the deaths of the Bradburys. No-one writing nearer the time seemed to consider the “Burnplatters” to be suspects. Thirdly, there is a distinct legendary air about them: there is only one concrete account of anyone having met them – and that was recalling a visit from “a few years” before and written at a time when the community had already dispersed. Additionally, even the writer of Miriam remembered the Burnplatters as being a mythological “bogeyman” used to scare children.

There no evidence to support the idea that the murders were connected to the Burnplatters. Why was the link made? The description given by Phillips about the huts in which his Burnplatters lived does sound remarkably similar to the account of Matthew Marsh describing the actions of Thomas Bradbury in which he overturned the hut of some Irish “navvies”: their house was made of sods of earth. This account by Marsh was not published until the 1970s, but there is a resemblance between the houses described. However, Marsh describes the event as taking place on the Holmfirth road, not at Burnt Platts. If someone remembered hearing these stories and made the link with the houses of the Burnplatters, it could explain how the idea presented itself. Similarly, newspapers had made a connection with Thomas Bradbury’s actions against poachers and “broom collectors” on the moor; perhaps someone recalled this story and decided it could have been the Burnplatters. As for the idea that William Bradbury meant to say “Burnplatters” rather than “Pats, Pats”, this is largely based on Joseph Bradbury’s theory that he actually said “Platts, Platts” – a theory for which there is no evidence and which reflected Joseph Bradbury’s attempts to cast suspicion on Reuben Platt. No-one made the link to between “Pats, Pats” and Burnplatters until 80 years after the murders. Overall, this is most likely nothing but an imaginative idea associating a legendary murder with an equally legendary group of people.

Alfred Denville by Walter Stoneman, January 1938, NPG x167097
© National Portrait Gallery, London

However, Miriam influenced Alfred Denville, an actor who ran a repertory theatre company and who later became a Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne Central. In 1919, he combined the theories in Saddleworth Sketches with the premise of Miriam to write a play, Bill o’Jack’s which was first performed in 1919 in Oldham and later at the Theatre Royal in Ashton-under-Lyne in 1922. I have not been able to locate a copy, but in 1932, a book called Bill’s O’ Jack’s: A Moorland Mystery, Facts and Surmises by George Halstead Whittaker included several reprinted sources about the murders, including a cast list and extracts from the play. The characters include several Burnplatters (one of whom is Miriam), the Red Bradburys, Abel Holmes (the main character in Miriam), “Owd Kedlock” from Saddleworth Sketches, and – as the story opens with a man dying in Australia – “an Aboriginal from Western Australia”. Whittaker includes a quote from an unidentified newspaper that Denville “has constructed a play full of thrills out of the notorious mystery … The author-actor claims to have given a common-sense solution of the mystery.” The summary and extracts given by Whittaker suggest that in this play, the Red Bradburys were responsible for the injuries to William and a Burnplatter called Patsy Mullins (who was played at some of the performances by Denville himself) killed Thomas. His idea of separate murderers for William and Thomas appears to be unique.

These were not the last fictionalised accounts; in 1928, an author from London, William Groves, wrote something called “The Bill’s o’Jack’s Mystery” which appeared in the September 1928 issue of Week End Novels, but I have not been able to find a copy. Along similar lines, a fictionalised account of the murders was written by James Davenport and published in 1985 under the title The Murders at Bill’s O’Jack’s. This latter book once more goes down a romanticised route involving gypsies.

Factual accounts predominated later writing on Bill o’Jack’s. Thomson’s Weekly News printed an article in 1915 as part of its “Famous Lancashire Mysteries” series. The by-line – “Specially Contributed by Noted Investigator” – kept the author anonymous but he claimed that, while he had not been born at the time of the murders, he came across the story “when for purposes of paralleling the incident with a similar happening, I was called upon to investigate “Bill’s o’ Jack’s” murder.” He claimed that in so doing he “was lucky enough to be brought into contact with a number of people who were professionally employed in trying to clear up the mystery”. Quite who these people may have been, if they existed at all, is not clear; the article draws from several sources and is fairly comprehensive, but establishes nothing new. The author claims, as was the growing trend, that Thomas Bradbury was not very popular. He was described as having a temper and being cruel. To support this, it mentions the “Irish gypsies” who collected brush from the moor – as mentioned in the Manchester Guardian at the time. The author then writes a reconstruction of what may have happened, blaming the three Irishmen seen heading towards Holmfirth: Thomas returned home to see them attacking his father in the corner and fought back with his fists before being overcome. The author also mentions the Red Bradburys, but only to clear their names; the tale is a little muddled and suggests that the Irishmen’s motive was that one of their sisters was in love with Thomas Bradbury. This lack of detail – and the fact that Amelia Winterbottom is the name given to William Bradbury’s granddaughter – suggests that the author had not consulted Saddleworth Sketches. But the involvement of “gypsies” and a troubled romance indicates he may have read Miriam.

Another new theory emerged around this time. In 1926, a local councillor, A. J. Howcroft, published Tales of a Pennine People in which he retold old stories from the area around Saddleworth. In a chapter entitled “A Moorland Mystery” he gave a straightforward retelling of the murder from 1832. The only “new” details (which are actually plausible even if they don’t help very much) come in a description of Thomas as “a tall muscular man of sandy complexion, devoted to sporting and the preservation of game. He had also been a fully-qualified poacher in his day.” The account in this book seems to have been based entirely on the contemporary articles from the Manchester Guardian. It mentioned how Abraham Dawson heard sounds around nine o’clock and mentioned this “rough company” to “Mr Patterson, constable of Manchester” – contradicting his original source which gave a time of half-past nine and said that he told Joseph Matthews. Howcroft was skeptical that the sound would be heard through “twenty-one inch walls and grey slates and travel seventy yards to the road.”

Howcroft noted the suspicions against Reuben Platt whom he nevertheless concluded “probably, mostly spoke the truth” but followed the Saddleworth Sketches in suggesting “his determination to drag in the Irishmen and their headgear” was strange. Howcroft also used Saddleworth Sketches as his source to discuss the Red Bradburys, although he dismissed the idea that they said that Thomas “would not appear against them”. He even added a new theory: “It was soberly believed by others that the two men [William and Thomas] had annihilated each other, as warranted by their temperaments.” This seems to be the first time that the idea that the father and son killed each other in a fight was mentioned in print, but which as written suggests it was a theory in wide circulation.

A. J. Howcroft pictured in 1931 (Image: Old Stand, 19 March 1931)

The author, unlike some other writers, did not seem to have any doubts about how the inquest was carried out: “The inquest was duly held; men told what they knew or imagined. Much speculation, no substance.” He concluded there was little evidence to convict anyone. At this point, Howcroft headed down a path that no previous writer had trodden.

His theory was that there was a connection with Esther Porritt. He wrote: “It was an extraordinary inquest, or rather, two inquests, first on two bodies, then on a third – three bodies in a row, all done to death – father, son and grandson.” Although Howcroft did not name the third body, or who the “beautiful young woman” against whom a verdict of murder was returned, he was clearly referring to Esther Porritt and her dead child (who was in fact a girl). Once more, he must have used the Manchester Guardian as that was the only newspaper to make such a connection between Porritt and Thomas Bradbury.

Howcroft then wrote a long passage of slightly purple prose which gradually turns into a fictionalised account of what might have happened, based on his theory. He describes a man travelling over the moors from Chapel-en-le-Frith carrying a pistol (despite having read the Manchester Guardian, he got the lettering on the pistol wrong). Amid rather tedious descriptive passages, the man is never named but remembers saying goodbye to his daughter, Hester (the original Manchester Guardian article called her Hester Porritt), as she left home for the first time. But now, this Hester Porritt is a criminal and when he looks down at the Moorcock, all he sees is “a little boy brought into his home without the wholesome joy and gladness known to honourable living.” He arrives at the Moorcock where William gets him a drink before going to bed. When Thomas arrives, he recognises the stranger and the two men fight – interrupted at one point as William tries to intervene before being struck. The fight as Howcroft describes it does a good job of accounting for the state of the “murder room”, including an episode in the pantry. Having killed both men, the stranger flees, wracked with guilt and despair. Although never stated outright, the man is obviously the father of Esther Porritt.

The idea that a relative or friend of Esther Porritt is not completely outlandish, although as we saw, the story that Thomas Bradbury had any children with Porritt is far from proven. If it were, it would be a good motive. This account of Howcroft seems to be the first time this was suggested as a possible scenario. Esther Porrit’s father, Jonathan Porritt, seems to have lived in Chinley all his life and appears to have died in 1836, meaning he was alive at the time of the murders. And walking to Greenfield from Chinley over the moors was certainly possible, although it is roughly 20 miles. But there is no evidence to support Howcroft’s theory. At least compared to the Burnplatters theory, this one is based on evidence from 1832.

Around the time of the centenary of the murders, a publication called Old Stand – about which I have been unable to find any information – included a couple of articles. One, published on 19 March 1931, summarised A. J. Howcroft’s theory. A second, published on 10 February 1932 simply went over the facts much as many other articles did – it followed Saddleworth Sketches almost exactly in suspecting Reuben Platt and the Red Bradburys, for identical reasons.

Soon after, George Halstead Whittaker wrote one of the best summaries of the case, printed as Bill’s O’ Jack’s: A Moorland Mystery: Facts and Surmises in 1932. As well as containing lengthy extracts from various newspapers and publications, including the play by Alfred Denville and the ubiquitous Saddleworth Sketches, the author made a coherent attempt to draw some sensible conclusions from the wide array of evidence. He also observed that, at the time he wrote, people remained as intrigued by the mystery “as surely as though the event had been of recent date”. Whittaker went over the facts as they were known. He ruled out, on the grounds of the “very severe injuries to each man” that the two men had fought between themselves. He theorised that Thomas was attacked and his father came to help, which is a reversal of most theories held at the time but which seems to draw its inspiration from Tales of a Pennine People. Another idea was that the three men seen by Reuben Platt – he repeated the usual incorrect claim that no-one but Platt was a witness to these men – went into the inn, refused to pay and injured William in the resulting quarrel before waiting for Thomas, “against whom they had some grudge.”

Whittaker next mentioned Thomas Smith’s letter – without offering too much in the way of comment except that its author had not been called to the inquest – before noting the arrested Irishman at Delph and the five men recorded in Saddleworth Sketches who interrupted the game of pitch and toss. Still following the Sketches he cast suspicion on Reuben Platt and wondered if he doubled back to “plunder” the house, but like Joseph Bradbury was unable to supply a convincing motive and conceded that Platt alone was unlikely to overpower Thomas Bradbury (although this overlooks the possible advantage of both surprise and a pistol). Here Whittaker added something new: in discussing whether William said “Pats” or “Platts”, he observed: “It should be made clear that ‘Pats’ a hundred years ago had a meaning more like ‘navvies’ and did not necessarily mean Irishmen. ‘Pats’ were navvies who lived in huts at Greenfield during the construction of the road hereabouts, which completed the turnpike from Manchester to Holmfirth.” However, it is clear from the inquest (although not universally reported) that James Whitehead assumed that “Pats” meant Irishmen and passed this on to Higginbottom.

Whittaker reprinted two articles from the Manchester Courier about the murders and the inquest, although the use of the name “Mary Winterbottom” confirms that he was using the text as printed in Saddleworth Sketches. He also followed Joseph Bradbury in mentioning suspicions against the Red Bradburys, including the idea that one of them confessed in Australia and that “Red Tom” died in agony near Holmfirth constantly talking about the murders. Whittaker next discusses the possibility which seems to have been based on the play Miriam – that there was a connection with the “Burnplatters”, which would perhaps explain William’s words if he actually said “Platts”. Whittaker noted that this connection was not made by anyone at the time, nor was it mentioned in Saddleworth Sketches.

Finally, he discussed how many attackers there were: he concluded that one person was unlikely to overcome both men and get away undetected, although it would have explained the “savage butchery of the deed” if it was a single attacker who hated the Bradburys; two could possibly have done it, especially if it was the Red Bradburys who wanted to stop Thomas giving evidence; three “is a likely number of assailants” and would point at the three Irishmen and a motive of robbery. Again, he seemed to be unaware of the pistol as a possible factor. Whittaker concluded by relating the solutions given in the stories presented in Tales of a Pennine PeopleMiriam and the play Bill o’Jacks. Incidentally, although he quoted from Tales of a Pennine People, he did not identify the killer as the father of Esther Porritt or give the reason implied by Howcroft. This possibly suggests that he was unfamiliar with the supposed connection between Thomas Bradbury and Esther Porritt – especially as he included every other theory that had been suggested.

One other item of interest is that Whittaker wrote: “Relics of the crime were sought for, and are preserved in various families. Occasionally such relics are assembled and photographed to be sold as a picture postcard, depicting a broken muzzle-loading flint-lock pistol, an iron spade, a highly decorated mug, ‘his bible,’ and ‘his brewer’s licence.'” This perfectly describes a postcard produced, a copy of which is held at the Oldham Local Studies and Archives, although the date is unknown. This postcard, despite what Whittaker says, looks to show a museum display as the labels for the items are pinned to some kind of board and the mug and pistol are obviously held in place rather than just laid out for a photograph.

In 1935, the Yorkshire Weekly Post Illustrated published an article on the case – advertised in other newspapers – which, as usual, summarised the Saddleworth Sketches including the case against Reuben Platt and the Red Bradburys. The author, R. Hawkin, believed that Platt was the most likely murderer, with theft as the motive. Hawkin made one interesting observation: a robbery would explain the attack on William, but would not have provided a reason to kill Thomas except to prevent his identification of the attackers; if revenge against Thomas was the motive, there was no need to kill William.

After the centenary of the murders had passed, the outpouring of new material slowed. The next serious attempt to examine the case was in Saddleworth Murder and Mystery by Vera Winterbottom, published in 1960. The author, using a slightly different approach, began her chapter on the Bill o’Jacks’ murders by setting some historical context: that there was social unrest at the time; that trade was depressed and the cost of living increasing after the wars of the late 18th and early 19th centuries; that a drought in 1826 had caused unemployment; that “machine-wrecking riots” were spreading as mechanised mills threatened the traditional industry of handloom weaving; that the Great Reform Bill passed in 1832; that the common land of the area had been Enclosed in 1815. Of this final fact, she wrote: “It is small wonder that men like Thomas Bradbury … still looked upon the land around their homes as their own, an important factor in the crime.” Winterbottom also set the scene at Greenfield: no police force until 1858; no railway until 1848; few newspapers; the only means of rapid travel were the canals or the turnpike road with its coach fares too expensive for most locals.

Winterbottom then related the facts about the murders – relying as usual on Saddleworth Sketches as indicated by the use of the name “Mary Winterbottom” and hence the reliance on the Manchester Courier. She also followed Saddleworth Sketches in casting suspicion on the Red Bradburys and saying that Jamie Bradbury’s daughter played a role, but downplayed Joseph Bradbury’s obsession with Reuben Platt. She then mentioned the “many lawless characters in the district”: the “navigators” working on the new roads and canals who had moved into Delph and Diggle, “making these once-quiet villages like the Western outposts of Gold Rush days by their fighting and drinking”; “wandering tribes of gypsies, and the ‘Burnplatters’ or ‘Platts'” (following the much-used account of George Phillips), whom she linked with the story of Thomas Bradbury demanding money for access to collect broom and mis-located to the moors above Greenfield. While still reliant on Saddleworth Sketches, she summarised the strength of case against each major suspect or group. The Red Bradburys were the most likely attackers, Reuben Platt had no motive except theft and was unlikely to overcome both men on his own; other possibilities are examined and dismissed, including that the father and son wounded each other. Winterbottom ended by outlining the outstanding questions in the case and concluded that the murderer or murderers will never be known.

In 1967, an article appeared in the Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine written by Geoffrey Whiteley called “The Murders at the Moorcock”. The ten-page article gave a fairly thorough background to the story; the author appears to have used Vera Winterbottom’s book as his only source, and therefore followed the facts as given by Joseph Bradbury. Whiteley concluded that Reuben Platt was unlikely to have been involved – particularly as he had no need to incriminate himself by saying that he saw Thomas Bradbury the night before – but that none of the theories really fitted the facts. He therefore followed the idea first suggested by Alfred Denville: that the killing of the two men was by two separate parties. Whitely suggested William was attacked by thieves while Thomas was killed by the Red Bradburys.

In the 1970s and 1980s, three articles were printed in the Saddleworth Historical Society Bulletin, two by Neil Barrow in Summer 1978 and Autumn 1978, and a further one by Barrow and Terry Wyke in 1987. The first two outline some newly discovered evidence, discussed earlier, about the Australian “confession” and information of the characters of the Bradburys. The 1987 article outlines the history of the case, its coverage and some possibilities for further investigation, including the role of Esther Porritt and the Burnplatters, many of which we have discussed earlier. To date, this 1987 article is by far the most rigorous account of the evidence and circumstances of the case.

Even today, fascination with the unsolved murder has not faded. It is occasionally mentioned on websites such as or which look into old mysteries. There have been threads on Reddit, YouTube videos, and even occasional mentions in the mainstream news such as an article in the Mirror on pub murders, or an article on the BBC News website on unsolved English murders. The story has found its way into recent books of historical tales, although few of these reach the level of detail of earlier writing and usually just follow the standard interpretation

Probably the best recent writing on the subject is on a blog by wessyman137 which covers the tale admirably and succinctly and has recent photographs of the many places involved, including the site on which the Moorcock stood.

But in all of these thousands and thousands of words on the murders, no-one has yet come up with the definitive theory that explains what happened that night (or morning) in April 1832.

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