Murder, she wrote…

Our new show ‘Behind Bars: Ghosts of the Lock-Up’ runs from the 19th-21st October for nine performances only.  Taking a theatrical journey through Birmingham’s Steelhouse Lane Lock-Up, it will raise spirits from the prison’s past. Vanessa Oakes writes about one of them…


I’ve been writing about a murder.

A murder involving two real life Peaky Blinders, a spinster and a pair of false teeth.

On 25th October, 1898, at the age of 23, James Twitty broke into Miss Aliban’s house with his accomplice Mumby:

we only meant to gag her… not frighten her to death… i even sang to her to help calm her down.

They had planned to rob her – Mary Ann Aliban (age 60) had a number of rental properties in Birmingham and was well known in the neighbourhood for carrying a large amount of money around in her carpet bag:

all the neighbours heard her… clink… clink… as she walked… clink… clink… clink… as she sat counting her coins of a night… she’d even ask people to feel the weight of her bag… she was asking for it.

Twitty and Mumby gained entry through the cellar (it was reported that Twitty had previously worked for a coal merchant) and waited for her return. They then took their boots off and crept upstairs to search the house – she was asleep by the time they reached her bedroom but on waking began to scream.

They quickly tied her to the bed and gagged her with a silk handkerchief. They then grabbed a small amount of money nearby and left. The robbery was a failure – the police later found £108 hidden in the house.

Tragically Mary died having swallowed her false teeth:

how was we to know she’d swallow her false teeth… who wears their snaggs to bed?!

Having read all the sensational newspaper reports from the period I felt strongly that I wanted my short play to remember what happened to Mary and to provide some small sort of retribution. She must have been terrified as she choked to death. Too often we remember the names of the criminals and forget their victims.

Originally charged with murder Twitty and Mumby’s sentences were eventually commuted to penal servitude for life. In 1915 Twitty was declared insane and moved to Broadmoor, where he died mute, aged 73.

You can meet Twitty as well as a host of other characters from the Lock-Up’s past in Behind Bars – Ghosts of the Lock-Up.

Follow this link to book your ticket/s now: https://www.wowcher.co.uk/deal/birmingham/9258223/bars-ghost-lock-8

Advertisements