On Saturday, the 8th of March, 1958, Wexford businessman William Hannan was found unconscious and badly beaten at his sweet shop in Cinema Lane in Wexford Town. The following morning, the 65-year-old shopkeeper passed away as a result of his injuries.
The murder investigation was headed by Wexford Chief Superintendent T. Collins and Superintendent George Lawlor, who was head of the Technical Bureau in Dublin. During the first few days of the investigation, it was determined that Mr Hannan had served his last customer at 10.40PM – 10 minutes before members of the An Garda Síochána found him with serious head injuries. His last customer was named as Mr. C. Jones, a Welsh-born shoemaker that had called into Hannan’s confectionary shop to purchase some chewing gum.
Roughly 30 members of the An Garda Síochána took part in a search of the area. During the search, footprints, fingerprints and a 15-inch steel bar were discovered on top of the roof of Mr Hannan’s premises. The steel bar, which was found to have been made in Wexford four years earlier, was polished brightly and tapered at one end. The lack of rust on the bar suggested that it had not been lying on the roof for a lengthy period of time. An inch-by-inch survey of the rooftops around Mr Hannan’s shop was carried out by members of the Technical Bureau, who photographed the fingerprints that they found before sending them back to Dublin.
Gardai believed that his attacker (or attackers) had entered the shop shortly after 10:40PM on Saturday night and that he had been struck 14 times on the head with a blunt heavy object. The commotion of the attack was heard by four men, who were playing cards in a house next door. Upon hearing the sounds, one of the men – a man called William Scanlon, ran outside and knocked on Mr Hannan’s door. After receiving no answer, Mr Scanlon decided to call the gardai.
Investigators were of the opinion that the attackers had been interrupted by the knock at the door and that they had fled the premises by climbing out onto a roof via an upstairs window. They then proceeded to run across rooftops and walls until they found an exit on Henrietta Street.
Roughly ten minutes after being called, the An Garda Síochána arrived on the scene and discovered William Hannan in an unconscious state.
During the investigation, a number of people were questioned, including a number of young men that had left the Wexford area shortly after Mr Hannan’s death. House-to-house inquiries were made and the descriptions of two men that were seen in the area that night were circulated to the public. Local men were also interviewed and their fingerprints were taken.
Over the following days, the descriptions of the two men were also circulated to a number of British towns and cities, as gardai explored the possibility that the perpetrators may have fled from Ireland. Superintendent George Lawlor flew to Birmingham in England to make ‘inquiries’ and in Wexford, the gardai focused on Maudlintown, where they interviewed people and ‘searched the grounds’. Archived articles from The Irish Times newspaper show that the gardai believed that the attackers may have remained in Wexford town.
Interestingly, one of the men at the card game told the An Garda Síochána that he had heard a female’s voice shouting “Don’t do it!” However, the gardai did not believe that a woman could have been involved in the crime because it was felt that a woman could not have climbed across roofs and escaped the area so quickly.
Unfortunately, the investigation into the crime failed to turn up any leads and the steel bar that was found on Hannan’s roof was ruled out as being the murder weapon. In September of 1958, a garda spokesperson told the press that the investigation was still ongoing and that they had no intention of shelving the case: ‘We never give up hope and can always wait patiently for the day when something new will crop up which will lead us to the killer or killers.’
The murder of William Hannan remains unsolved to this very day.