18. Catherine Flannagan & Margaret Higgins

Lady Killers with Lucy Worsley

09-05-2023 • 28 mins

Lucy Worsley investigates the historical crimes of women from a contemporary, feminist perspective. In this episode, Lucy is joined by award-winning crime writer Lynda La Plante CBE to investigate the case of two sisters, Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins. They’re part of the Irish immigrant community in Liverpool, living near the docks in a crowded, working class area, doing many different jobs to make ends meet. Professor Rosalind Crone from the Open University visits the Museum of Liverpool to find out what life would have been like for the sisters, tracing their steps as they moved around different houses in the area.

By 1881, Catherine is a life insurance broker and also a widow. Margaret is married, but her husband, Thomas Higgins, falls ill and dies. Thomas has life insurance policies so, after his death, Margaret and Catherine receive a generous payment. But Thomas’ death doesn’t make sense to his brother Patrick, who calls for a post mortem. Traces of arsenic are detected in the body and Margaret is arrested. But as the police arrive, Catherine escapes. She disappears into the warren of Liverpool’s streets and ends up in the east of the city.

After ten days on the run, Catherine is found and brought to trial with her sister. Did the sisters work together, or was one of them pressuring the other? Were the sisters actually part of a female syndicate, murdering people for monetary gain?

Lucy asks how similar this is to investigations today. Do close knit communities in cities still help each other evade the police? Producer: Hannah Fisher Readers: Clare Corbett and Jonathan Keeble Sound Design: Chris Maclean Series Producer: Julia Hayball

A StoryHunter production for BBC Radio 4

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