THE EERIE FACTS OF THE IDENTICAL DEATHS
The girls were born on the same date. Both died of the same fate. They died on the same day. Both at the hands of men who wore the same name. In the exact same spot. And both men were found not guilty!
THE SETTING – ERDINGTON
Erdington is a suburb of Birmingham, England. It dates back to the ninth century. The old English community evolved from a rural village to a popular midway point for travelers coming and going between Chester and London in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In Erdington there remains two unsolved murders, with very similar details. So similar in fact, that one would immediately jump to the conclusion that the same perpetrator had committed both crimes. However, these identical murders took place 157 years apart!
At 6:30 a.m. on May 27th in 1817, a named George Jackson came across a bundle of clothing, a hat and a pair of shoes near a water-filled pool. He reported his finding to the authorities. The pond was dragged and the body of 20 year old Mary Ashford was discovered. She was covered in bruises and she had been raped and strangled. Footsteps of a man and woman were found in a nearby field. Authorities arrested a man named Abraham Thornton as the prime suspect.
HERE’S HOW THE STORY GOES
On May 26th, Whit Monday, Mary Ashford walked from Langley Heath to Birmingham on her way to work. She stopped at the home of her friend, Hannah Cox, on her way. Mary dropped off a new dress that she planned to wear to a dance later that evening.
At 6 p.m. that evening, Mary returned to Hannah’s house and changed into her new outfit. Then she, and Hannah, left for the dance that was being held at the Tyburn House. The girls enjoyed their evening, the largest portion being spent in the company of two young suitors, Benjamin Carter and Abraham Thornton.
The foursome left the dance at midnight. Hannah Cox headed back to her residence alone, Benjamin returned to the dance after walking Hannah half way home. But Mary and Abraham had different plans and they slipped away together into the dark night.
At 4 a.m., Mary returned to Hannah’s house to change back into her work clothes. Hannah questioned her about what she and Abraham had been up to all that time. Mary explained she had simply spent time with Abraham before he left. And witnesses claimed to have seen Mary walking alone along Chester Road shorty after 4 a.m.
A few hours later, Mary Ashford’s dead body was discovered.
By 8 a.m. on the morning after the dance, Abraham Thornton was arrested for the murder. He reportedly told police, “I cannot believe she is murdered. I was with her until four o’clock this morning.” During questioning, Abraham told detectives he had had sex with Mary that night in the fields. Afterward they had talked and gazed at the stars until around 3 a.m. Abraham said that he walked her part of the way back to Hannah’s house. He waited for her outside for a bit, however, when she did not return, he left for home. And that, he swore, was the last time he saw Mary alive.
Abraham Thorton’s trial began on August 8th. Three witnesses were able to corroborate Abraham’s alibi and, due to a lack of concrete evidence, he was deemed not guilty.
MARY’S BROTHER REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE RULING
Mary’s brother, William Ashford, refused to accept the jury’s decision. He appealed for a second trial. Instead of a second trial however, Lord Ellenborough, who presided over the case, allowed Abraham to defend his not guilty verdict with a ‘Trial by Battel.’ This meant, a fight to the death to prove one’s innocence.
Abraham accepted the challenge but Mary’s brother would not. Abraham walked. The public however continued to believe Abraham was guilty of the crime and Abraham eventually left the village and moved to the United States.
BUT THE STORY DOESN’T END THERE
157 years later, on May 27, 1974, another 20 year old woman was murdered and left in a ditch near Chester Road in Erdington. She had been raped and strangled to death. The woman was identified as Barbara Forrest, who worked as a nurse. She too had gone missing on Whit Monday.
Barbara was with her boyfriend, Simon Belcher, on the evening of her death. They had gone out dancing at several bars that evening. Simon stated that he had walked Barbara to the bus at around 1 a.m. and that was the last time he saw her.
A manhunt ensued and a man named Michael Ian Thornton became a subject of interest.
Michael lived on Chester Road and was one of Barbara’s coworker. Authorities reportedly found bloodstains on Michael’s pants and learned that his mother had lied, creating a false alibi for her son. He was arrested and charged with Barbara’s murder.
Michael was put on trial but, just as in Mary Ashford’s case, due to lack of evidence, Michael Thornton was deemed not guilty.
BARBARA’S SISTER REFUSED TO ACCEPT THE RULING
Barbara Forrest’s sister, Erika, like Ashley’s brother, 157 years earlier, refused to accept the verdict. In 2012 she demanded the case be reopened and DNA evidence be brought into review.
Both murders remain unsolved.
ON A BIT OF A CREEPY NOTE
Both of these young women seemed to of had a sort of premonition of their own demise. Mary Ashford, a few days before her death, supposedly confided in Hannah’s mother the she had “bad feelings about the week to come.” Barbara Forrest had likewise told a coworker, ten days before her murder, that “This is going to be my unlucky month. I just know it. Don’t ask me why.’
Or maybe she had known. Well, maybe not Barbara, but rather Mary Ashford. Had Mary been reborn in Barbara to regain her life in Erdington?
Well, if she had, had Abraham Thornton done the same in Michael and came back to repeat his crime, and murder Mary Ashford again?