Fresh appeal to find killer of Halifax shopkeeper

Emily Pye
Emily Pye

The brutal murder of shopkeeper Emily Pye sent shockwaves through her community.

The 80-year-old’s battered body was discovered in her corner shop in Gibbet Street, Halifax, where she had been repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with a companion set she kept by the fire.

But, over half a century later, the identity of her killer is still shrouded in mystery.

Despite an anonymous call to the Courier in the 1980s by a man who said his father had made a deathbed confession to the killing, the murderer has never been found.

Now West Yorkshire Police’s Major Investigation Review Team - a team of top detectives re-looking at thousands of cold cases - are renewing their appeal for anyone who has information to get in touch.

Detective Superintendent Colin Prime, head of the team, said: “We continue to investigate unsolved murders no matter how long ago they took place.

“It has now been 55 years since Emily Pye was murdered and I would like to renew the appeal for information.

“In 2004 an appeal was made direct to a man who, in 1988 made anonymous phone calls to the Halifax Courier saying his father had admitted to Emily’s murder just a few days before his death.

“We haven’t been able to trace this man despite making extensive enquiries and I would like to speak to him.

“Anyone with information about Emily’s death or who may know the anonymous caller I would urge you to get on contact with us on 01924 334899.”

Miss Pye was killed in the house part of her shop and a few pounds were found to be missing from the till. Her attacker missed out on more than £100 which had been hidden upstairs.

She was killed on June 8, 1957 and the attacker escaped from her home unseen

But then it was Whitsuntide Saturday, when many people in the town were away on holiday.

A massive thunderstorm had also broken, forcing many inside.

She had lived alone for 15 years and before that had a life-long female companion.

Her customers and people with shops nearby said she was so dedicated to her business that she would never close for lunch.

But on the day of her murder, her store was found locked up at 1.45pm.

Miss Pye’s body was discovered at around 3.30pm that day after her niece, Doris Wilson, and her husband Eric called to invite the pensioner to their home in Northowram.

When no reply came to their knock on the door, they peered through a letterbox and saw Miss Pye’s legs sticking out from under a rug.

They called police who broke down the door and found the room ransacked and the elderly lady’s body hidden under the rug.

The investigation launched into her killing was the biggest Halifax had ever seen.

Chief Constable of Halifax at the time Gerald Goodman requested help from Scotland Yard, who sent detectives to help with the inquiry.

They included Detective Superintendent Herbert Hannam, one of the Yard’s Central Murder Squad.

“This was a most terrible crime. The woman was really brutally injured,” he said at the time.

“It might be that fists were the initial weapon.

“I don’t know how many blows were struck but it appears they rained down on this unfortunate woman.”

Around 10,000 men living in the area around Miss Pye’s shop were interviewed about her death.

Everyone who lived within half a mile of the shop was sent a questionnaire asking if they had been in the shop that day or had seen anyone suspicious.

The inquiry was broadened to six counties, from the north of Scotland to Birmingham, and an unidentified fingerprint was found in the room where the pensioner died.

But still, her killer was not found, and an inquest recorded she had been killed by “persons unknown”.

In May 1988, the Courier received an anonymous phone call by a man who claimed his father had admitted he killed Miss Pye.

He said: “He told me two or three days before he died that he had done it. It had been on his conscience for a long time.

“He told me when we were by ourselves and said that what he had got away with was not worth the anguish he had gone through.”

The caller refused to disclose his name and telephone number, saying his mother was still alive and unaware of her husband’s dark secret.

The investigation into Miss Pye’s murder has never been closed.