Catherine, Cecelia and Doris Tam – 1926

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Lock Ah Tam
Lock Ah Tam

The tale of Lock Ah Tam is one of the most familiar and also saddest stories of murder in Birkenhead. It should be noted that there are likely to be few if indeed any headstones of murder victims which also contain the name of their murderer.

Lock Tam was born in Canton in 1872 and came to England as a Ship’s Steward, eventually settling at 122, Price Street, Birkenhead. He was married and had three children, his son David died just a month old in 1910. Tam became a successful and well respected man who was responsible for the organisation of Chinese labour on the Merseyside Docks, gaining a reputation as a peacemaker and having a gift for helping solve industrial disputes.

The docks were back in the early twentieth century fairly dangerous and there was a lot of drinking and fighting amongst the labour forces, and Tam, through his work occasionally became embroiled in these fights.

Sadly in February 1918 he became involved in a fight with Russian sailors which resulted in him receiving a blow to his head. Although he was not deemed seriously enough injured to attend hospital, it was noted that from that date he began to suffer from epileptic fits and violent mood swings and also began to drink heavily.

His general well being continued to deteriorate and on 2nd December 1925 after a family party at his home, he produced a shotgun and shot his wife Catherine aged 42, and daughter Cecelia 17. He then took up a revolver and shot his other daughter Doris, 19. The wife and Cecelia died immediately, Doris died in St Catherine’s Hospital on 21st January 1926 from head injuries.

Cecelia Ah Tam
Doris Ah Tam

After carrying out the act, Tam telephoned the police and told them what he’d done, asking them to come and arrest him. Upon their arrival at the house, he handed the gun over to a police sergeant. He was tried at Chester Assizes in February 1926 and submitted a not guilty plea of insanity based around his personality change after the attack some seven years earlier and the accepted evidence that Lock was subject to severe epileptic attacks.

The claim was overruled however on the basis that he’d called the police so must have therefore known that he’d done wrong. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by the judge, Mr Justice McKinnon, it being noted that the judge who was ‘much moved in pronouncing sentence of death’.