Tale of murder mystery

St Peter's Church, Hartshead. A woman has written a book about her relative who was murdered in the 1800s. She was a parisioner at the church. (d03051141)
St Peter's Church, Hartshead. A woman has written a book about her relative who was murdered in the 1800s. She was a parisioner at the church. (d03051141)

A FIRESIDE tale of a woman who was brutally murdered 180 years ago has been transformed into a book by her distant relative.

English teacher Anna Best, of Halifax, grew up hearing her grandmother’s story of red-haired, striking great-aunt Elizabeth, whose throat was slit by an unknown killer on New Year’s Eve, 1832.

A lifelong fascination led her to research the unsolved crime — and after finding the coroner’s report on the internet, Anna decided to make the story into a book.

She said: “The story was Elizabeth Rayner, pregnant and unmarried, was murdered age 20. Her body was found on New Year’s Day.

“My grandma was a great raconteur who loved telling a great tale. Growing up, I wondered how much was true and how much was Chinese whispers. I started researching in 2002 but came to a full stop. Then in 2009 I found the coroner’s court report.

“It turned out to be an amazing reference and the characters started to come to life. I set out to do a factual study but once I became aware how much material there was, I really felt it was worth making it into a book.”

Anna said researching the story was doubly fascinating because of her family and local connections.

The family went to St Peter’s Church in Hartshead where Elizabeth was baptised by the Rev Patrick Brontë. She is thought to be buried there in an unmarked grave. Her mother, Betty Chew, was from Birstall. And the presiding magistrate was Sir George Armytage of Kirklees Hall.

She said: “I found out that Joseph Stott, the last person to see Elizabeth alive, was another great-great-great-grandfather. There may be other local people who have a connection.”

Anna said delving into the story had led her to come up with a theory into who had killed Elizabeth.

She said: “I came to the conclusion it was much more complicated than first seemed. We never had a conclusion so readers might think differently. I wondered whether I could find out who killed her after all this time and I wanted to see how much I could discover. I eventually unearthed much more than I ever expected.”

Borrowers of the Night is available on Amazon and bankhousebooks.com priced £10.