True Crime Sunday: Emily Swann and John Gallagher

Welcome back to True Crime Sunday! The last couple of weeks, we’ve looked at the cases of two women, one of whom may hold the title of America’s first serial killer. Today we’re going to look at the only man and woman to be hanged together in Britain.

In the early 20th century, Emily Swann and her husband, William, had a lodger named John Gallagher. The stories indicate that the Swann home was quite tumultuous with the beatings William Swann gave his wife. So frequent and awful were the beatings that their lodger left after arguing with Mr. Swann about it.

Though he moved out, he still visited the Swann house and some of their neighbors. One day in June 1903, Mrs. Swann went to a neighbor’s house with a black eye and bruises. Mr. Gallagher happened to be there at the time and was having none of that. Reportedly, he said, “I’ll give him something for himself.” Swann followed Gallagher to the house where there was a struggle. Gallagher told the neighbor that he’d broken four of Mr. Swann’s ribs.

Allegedly he said, “I’ll finish him before I go to Bradford,” and went back to the house where Emily Swann was. Another struggle ensued, and when it was over, Gallagher and Mrs. Swann emerged from the house holding hands and looking at each other affectionately. It seems there was more to their relationship than a simple tenant/landlady arrangement.

Swann was arrested after her husband’s death, but Gallagher escaped and was on the run for two months. While incarcerated, Swann put all of the blame for the murder on him. John Gallagher was arrested in August 1903, and the pair was later tried and convicted of murder. Officially, Swann did not take part in the murder, and the judge explained “As for the woman, it is my duty to tell you that one does not commit murder only with one’s hands. If one person instigates another to commit murder, and that other person does it, the instigator is also guilty of murder.”

However, testimony presented after the verdict indicates Swann wielded a fireplace poker and participated in the crime. Whether she did or didn’t help Gallagher, she was sentenced to hang right along with him.

On December 29, 1903, Swann was led to the gallows where Gallagher was already positioned. They stood side by side, and reportedly died instantly when the lever was pulled.

Thank you for joining me. Are you wondering what case will be next? There’s only one way to find out…

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