The infamous murders of Thomas Bradbury and his father William remains one of the country’s most gruesome unsolved mysteries. But this is your chance to investigate the events surrounding that fateful day in Greenfield, Saddleworth, in 1832.

Read the police reports, inspect the evidence, examine the motives behind this savage crime, and save any vital clues in your own virtual notebook. And at the end of your inquiry, draw your own conclusions about who you think did it.

Tuesday 3rd April 1832

Saddleworth Museum

Frightful murders in Saddleworth

After almost 200 years, one of the most shocking crimes in history remains unsolved. But Saddleworth Museum investigators have opened the files again in a bid to uncover some answers for good.

The case has long puzzled police who have yet to identify the person or persons responsible for the chilling murders of father and son, William, 84, and Thomas Bradbury, 46 of Greenfield, Saddleworth.

Thomas was married, but lived with his elderly father at William’s pub – The Moorcock Inn, commonly known as ‘Bills o’ Jacks’.

The pub was nestled on the hillside along Holmfirth Road, making it a convenient stopover for travellers and ‘navvies’ working nearby.

But as darkness fell upon the moors on 2nd April 1832, the normally unassuming inn was thrust into the spotlight as the scene of two horrific murders.

Reuben Platt, a friend of the two men, was at the pub earlier that evening sharing a quiet drink with the father and son…


Case Files

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The three irishmen had a history of theft.

Was it a robbery gone wrong? £7 was found to be missing, along with some clothing

Monday 2nd April 1832


The owner of The Moorcock Inn, William Bradbury (Bill), was joined by his son Thomas Bradbury (Tom) and friend Reuben Platt (63) for an evening drink at his pub.

Shortly after, Tom and Reuben set off on a 2 mile walk into Greenfield village – Tom to pick up some supplies at the village store, and Reuben to go home. Bill was left on his own at The Moorcock Inn.

Half a mile down the road, they encountered three men. In an Irish accent, one of them asked how far it was to Holmfirth. They told the men it was 8 miles or so.

According to Reuben, Tom felt uneasy: “I don’t like to leave my father as he is. I don’t like these men; they are a bad-looking set: they are Irishmen.” He also knew one of the men to be a thief who previously stole stockings from his father.

Tom and Reuben watched and waited until the men had walked on, up the path and beyond the pub. Only then did they continue walking to the village, parting company at Road End, Greenfield, to go their own separate ways.

It’s possible he called in to see his estranged wife.

Tom had an affair with Esther Porritt. Did a recent confession lead to a crime of passion?


Reuben went for a drink at the beerhouse in nearby Uppermill, owned by James Bowker, before going home at Primrose, near St. Chad’s Church

Tom bought coffee, sugar, and half a pound of candles at Daniel Whitehead’s shop at Spring Grove

He then made his way back along Holmfirth Road to his family home at Sidebank. It’s possible he called in to see his estranged wife.

As the night closed in, Tom set off back to the pub.

Tuesday 3rd April 1832


Amelia Winterbottom, Bill’s 12 year-old granddaughter and Tom’s niece, arrived at the pub to fetch some yeast for her mother. Instead, she made a gruesome discovery.

She saw a man lying on the floor covered in blood, barely alive. Only later would she learn it was her uncle Tom.

Amelia left to get help, running half a mile to the nearest house of James Whitehead at Binn Green. Having told James what she found, he and his wife rushed to the scene. Nothing could prepare them for the horror that awaited.

Bill was found crawling towards the bed.

Was he trying to stop someone from taking something?

Bill's final words were "pats...pats".

Was he actually saying Platts, as in Reuben Platts? Or was he saying ‘pats’ referring to Paddy’s or Irishmen?


James and his wife arrived at the scene, identifying the man as Thomas Bradbury, who was lying in a congealed pool of blood. His body was a mangled mass of bruises and wounds, and his head badly crushed, with 16 deep gashes into it – two fracturing his skull. The candles he’d bought only hours earlier were still in his coat pocket.

The Whiteheads followed the trail of blood upstairs, where they found Bill lying in a bed he’d seemingly dragged himself to. He was equally beaten and bloodied – his left hand and arm shredded and broken, and his head severely crushed.

James sent for Mr Higginbottom, a surgeon from Uppermill. But it was clear there was very little he or anyone could do for the pair. They were both nearing the end of what was a slow and agonising death.

All present recall Tom’s harrowing groans as he tried hopelessly to prop himself up only to collapse to the floor, while Bill moaned and murmured incoherently. Some say he said nothing, while others were certain he uttered the words “pats, pats”.

All they could do was move Tom to the bed to be near his father.


Thomas Bradbury, aged 46, succumbed to his injuries, pronounced dead at approximately 3.00pm.

Wednesday 3rd April 1832


William (Bill) Bradbury, aged 84, passed away in the early hours the following morning, pronounced dead at approximately 1.00am.



John Mitchell

John Mitchell

A navvy who confessed drunkenly in a crowded pub to the murders some 13 years later.

He claimed “I know more about that [the murders] than you do” and was seen to “have something on his conscience”.

He said he was one a group of men in the pub at the time, and that he saw “the first blow struck” against William Bradbury.

Following this outburst in the pub, he was arrested on suspicion of being involved.

However, the local magistrate didn’t believe the confession, described him as an “idle, drunken, dissolute blackguard” who “frequently ill-used his wife”, and he was discharged with a reprimand.

Reuben Platt

Reuben Platt

Platt was the last person to see Tom and Bill alive.

Importantly, he was the only person to see the three Irishmen he so carefully described, despite it being a casual encounter.

He would also know that the older Bradbury would be alone in the pub for quite some time. Also, the surname Platt is very close sounding to the words “patts, patts” possibly uttered by Bill on his death bed.

Arguing against Platt being a suspect is the fact that he was 63 years old, and that he would easily be overcome by the strong and fit Thomas.

We shouldn’t forget, too, that he was a friend of both men. With regards the Irishmen he allegedly saw, they may have been real, or perhaps, and despite being innocent of the crime, he realised that his name sounded uncomfortably like Bill’s last words, thus making him a prime suspect, and he invented the three Navvies to explain it away.

The Bradburys

The Bradburys

The theory goes that father and son fought each other, each inflicting fatal wounds on the other.

An unlikely scenario, given the nature of the wounds, but one that might be considered.

James Hill

James Hill

The Huddersfield Chronicle of 5 th April 1853 published a letter from a Robert Whitehead in Australia, in which he recounts meeting a man from Saddleworth in a pub there.

The man told him that an acquaintance of his, James Hill, had confessed to him a few years previously that he committed the murders.

Hill was a travelling peddlar in Saddleworth at the time, and had robbed and murdered the Bradbury’s, though he had not intended to kill them.

He fled the scene to Nottingham, where he committed a further robbery, for which he was transported to Australia. Here he committed a murder, and was hanged in 1848. Is this confession reliable? And is James Hill the murderer?

The Three Irishmen

The Three Irishmen

The men seen by Reuben Platt as he walked with Tom into Greenfield.

The brief conversation they had convinced Bradbury that they were a bad sort, and that he knew one of them as having stolen some trousers from his father.

Bradbury was known for his quick temper, and he would have been unlikely to have let the theft go lightly at the time.

Despite him and Reuben Platt watching to make sure they passed by the Moorcock Inn, did the Irishmen decide to double back and seek revenge?

Esther Porritt

Esther Porritt

A servant girl who, rumour had it, was having an affair with Tom Bradbury, and who almost certainly bore one, if not two, of his children.

The affair may be the reason that Tom was living with his father, having become estranged from his wife.

Interestingly, Esther was accused of murdering her new born child at the same inquest as the Bradbury murders, and was later convicted of the crime at York Crown Court.

That in itself seems a remarkable coincidence, and if the rumours were true, might it not be possible that she, or more likely members of her family, sought to avenge the girl who was so roughly used and discarded, with Tom being blamed for the Esther’s situation.

The Five Strangers

The Five Strangers

Between 6 and 7pm on the day of the murder, a group of workers from Greenfield Mill got into an argument with five men, dressed as farm labourers and wearing slouching hats, who passed by.

After they parted, the group of five continued on the road towards Holmfirth, which, of course, would have taken past the Moorcock.

Is this the group of “Pats” (‘Paddys’, or Irishmen) that William Bradbury spoke about with his dying breath?

The Red Bradburys'

The Red Bradburys'

Father and son, James and Joseph Bradbury (no relation to the victims), were accused of poaching, and due to stand trial in Pontefract on this charge on 3 rd April 1832, the day after the murders.

Tom Bradbury was due to testify against them in the court, and they were expected to receive harsh sentences. It would certainly be in their interests if Tom didn’t show up to give evidence.

The pair were seen drinking in the Church Inn, Uppermill, on the evening of the murder.

Further evidence of their involvement might be seen in their announcement in Pontefract that Tom wouldn’t be testifying against them as he would be “in hell at that time”, before news of the murder had reached the court. Did they have knowledge of events because they were involved? Or was it just wishful thinking and bravado?

Burn Platters

Burn Platters

The Burn Platters were itinerant peddlars and gypsies who periodically arrived on the moors to pick heather in order to sell on.

They had a long running feud with Thomas, who would try and extort money from them, with physical violence and threats of throwing them off the moors. Perhaps they had decided enough was enough, and came for revenge?

Might these be the meaning of the final words spoken by William Bradbury, “plats, plats” instead of “pats, pats”?

Abraham Dawson

Abraham Dawson

A stonecutter from Manchester, employed in the area.

At about 9.30 on the Monday evening, he was on his way to visit another stonecutter, Joseph Matthews who lived further up the Holmfirth Road. He passed by the Moorcock Inn and heard noises coming from the building, and, arriving at Matthew’s hut he said that “he thought old Bradbury had some rough company”.

Perhaps he and Joseph Matthews had called in for a quick drink, and found the old man alone…

Charles Mullins

Charles Mullins

Mullins was observed to pass the house of Benjamin Broadbent, of Hard End, in Marsden.

He was dressed as a navvy, and had two black eyes, and crucially his clothes were noticed to have blood on them. He was arrested, and at the inquest he gave an account of himself.

He had, he said, been working as a navvy at Methley, near Wakefield.

On Tuesday 3 rd April he had got into a fight with another navvy, resulting in his bruised and bloody condition, and his dismissal from his employment. Rather than seek new work, he had decided instead to visit his wife in Cumbria. He was released following the inquest.

Irish Navvies

Irish Navvies

Matthew Marsh, a friend of both victims, recalled an incident that occurred the year before the murders.

Thomas, returning from the pub, maliciously pushed down a wooden building in which a number of navvies were sleeping.

Some of them were injured in the collapse, and they swore revenge against him, vowing that they would murder Thomas once their work on the road was completed, and before they left England.

Did the navvies hold that grudge, and make good on this promise?

Tom was known for his quick temper.

Was there another more sinister reason?


Tom Bradbury was due to testify against the Red Bradburys.

Were they trying to silence a witness?

Tom made enemies with The Burn Platts gypsies.

Was it revenge?

Charles Mullins was said to be dressed as a navvy, black eyed and bloodied at the time of the incident.

Why was he in such a state? And why was he dressed as a Navvy - was it a disguise?

The Irish Navvies once swore revence against Thomas, for destroying one of their sites.


Witness Statement

“I entered a room about 10 feet square, with a flagged floor. The floor was covered in blood, as if it was a butcher’s slaughter house.

The walls of the room on three sides were sprinkled with human blood which had flowed from the bodies of the murdered men, in consequence of heavy blows from some iron instrument; and even the glass of the windows on the fourth side was splashed with blood to a height of five feet from the floor.”

Thomas Smith, 3rd April 1832


The blade of the shovel was broken at the shaft.

Did it break during the beatings or was it already broken?

Who would need a soldiers gun?

William Bradbury Murder Victim

Thomas Bradbury Murder Victim

Sidebank, family home of Thomas Bradbury

Binn Green, home of James Whitehead

A map of the local area c1985

Spring Grove shop Greenfield

Bill's O' Jack's, Moorcock Inn, Greenfield

Inside the pub


Who do you think did it?

  • John Mitchell
  • Reuben Platt
  • The Bradbury's themselves
  • James Hill
  • The Three Irishmen
  • The Five Strangers
  • The 'Red Bradburys'
  • The Burn Platters
  • Abraham Dawson
  • Charles Mullins
  • Esther Porritt
  • The Irish Navvies
  • Person or persons unknown