The Unsolved Murder of Mary Budworth And Her Children,1985,UK
One of the things I struggle with is a natural bias that makes me think of one unsolved murder as worse than another. It is a ridiculous trait, but I don’t think I am alone. All of the cases I write about involve the violent sudden death of someone. The last moments must be full of terror and confusion. All of that said, the use of fire in the night to destroy people is something I really detest.
It is not as if they are rare freakish murders. Already on Reasoned Crime Chronicle you will find accounts of the killing of the Shakoor family, Andrea Daly, Joel Urhie and Kenneth Nunn. Now I add another.
This is the case of Josephine Mary Budworth in the district of Speke, Liverpool, England.
Ms Budworth was 32 years old and pregnant. She had six children and in early hours of 22nd April 1985 she and two of those youngsters would die. The address was 9 Hindley Walk. This is a street of close built terraced houses with small gardens and a pedestrian walk way between them. It is in many ways a typical working class neighbourhood with the sort of post war design that is common in the UK.
The fire service attended the scene. There they saw that neighbours had clambered onto a concrete canopy above the front door. This incredibly brave action saved some of the children.
I had to zoom in on an image of an article of the time. From what I could see the surviving children heard their mother screaming but could not get to her. During this time the Liverpool Echo reports that the father, Terry Peice, had been returning to the house. He was frantic to get inside and had to be restrained because the flames were overpowering.
When police and firefighters could safely examine the scene they discovered Mary Budworth along with her two youngest sons. Mark who was only 13 months old and Leslie who was three and a half years old had died of smoke inhalation.
A Tragic House Fire Turns Into A Murder Investigation
The post mortem (autopsy) turned things on their head. When Ms Budworth was examined she had the same signs of smoke inhalation as her little boys. What was stunning was it was determined she had been strangled. Ms Budworth was also determined to have been 20 weeks pregnant at the time of her death. Statements were taken and a full investigation was carried out, but no-one was identified as being responsible.
As of 2019 the Liverpool Echo reported that Merseyside Police still actively sought leads in the case. A spokesperson said:
‘Merseyside Police can confirm that the case remains open at this time. The matter has been investigated by the force and if any new evidence comes to light then the matter will be reviewed.’
I cannot find any mention of where or how the fire may have started. Witness accounts from the time and later articles seem to contradict each other. This is only to be expected as it has been a long time since the event and the chaos of that night must have been horrendous. In one version a neighbour heard screams and came to the aid of the family. The young daughter recalls her older brother running up the stairs shouting fire. The same boy says he was awoken a by a neighbour who had climbed up to the window and was banging on it.
I wish I had the time and resources to dig into this further. In an article the (then) seven year old daughter was interviewed when she was about 41. She still wants answers and the murder is hardly represented well these days. If you know more of the details or I have got any of the elements wrong please let me know.
I have put the links below. You can see they are primarily from follow up pieces a few years ago. In one account there were already six children in the house. I quote from the newspaper:
‘Tracey, who was seven, escaped along with her brother Dean, four, Craig, two, and step-brother Lee, 11 – but their pregnant mother Mary and toddlers Leslie and Mark died.’
It also says that a number of the children had moved rooms on the night of the fire. What I find really puzzling is that the oldest boy Lee says he heard his mother shouting his name and saying she was scared. You have to look at the image of the original article to see an interview with him on the day after the fire. Yet of course we have the post mortem saying she had signs of having being strangled. That is given as a cause of death and the police are still looking for a culprit.
As always I would rather put up scant detail than let a victim become anonymous as the years go on.
Below are the direct sources for this article. Since then I have also found a Liverpool echo list of 166 unsolved murders in that part of the world. Click here