The early 1900s were hardly a good time to be gay, much less transgender, but Margaret Allen was living such a life when it was almost unheard of to be doing so. He was 42 years old at the time of his death, went by the name of Bill, and almost always dressed in men’s clothing. Not surprisingly for the time, his family had disowned him for his “choices” in life. He was in poor health, chain smoking and suffering from depression brought about from his mother’s death in 1943.
Because of his lot in life, he had a great deal of difficulty finding work.
Perhaps it isn’t surprising then that he turned to violence and that his life ended in the same. On August 28th, 1948, his neighbor Nancy Ellen Chadwick visited him hoping to borrow some sugar. The two were not fond of one another. The decision cost Nancy her life — reports from the time period indicate that Bill bludgeoned Nancy to death with a nearby coal hammer. Shockingly, he dragged the body down to the cellar before going out to enjoy a few drinks with his friend, Annie Cook.
That night, Bill had difficulty sleeping. He went back down to the cellar, removed the body, and dragged it out to the road. He wasn’t the brightest criminal on record. Someone found Nancy’s body the very next day, and police immediately opened an investigation.
Bill was arrested on September 2nd, 1948 — his last birthday alive.
Detective Chief Inspector Stevens of Scotland Yard had interviewed him only one day before. Police discovered blood stains all along the inside wall near the front door.
After Bill’s arrest, he confessed quickly: “I didn’t do it for money, I was in one of my funny moods. I just happened to look around and saw the hammer in the kitchen. Then, on the spur of the moment, I hit her with it. She gave a loud shout and that seemed to start me off more, and so I hit her a few times more, I don’t know how many.”
Even today, transgender individuals who are imprisoned face significant challenges that other prisoners don’t. Being born in 1906 certainly didn’t help Bill when faced with a judge and jury. His lawyer, William Gormann K.C. argued that Bill was criminally insane. The jury deliberated for fifteen minutes, finding him guilty of murder after the prosecution argued that Bill had intended to rob Nancy. Perhaps his fate was sealed when he wore a suit to the trial.
Strangeways Prison officials in Manchester, England did not allow Bill to wear man’s clothing to his own execution. He was provided with a prison dress, brought to the gallows, and hanged until he was dead.
Strangeways chaplain Reverend Arthur Walker later argued that no woman should be hanged and that the execution had left he and other bystanders in worse health than before.