The killing of Minnie Martin at Ballywillwill House, Annsborough, Co. Down

Private Lawrence McKenzie was found guilty of manslaughter following the killing of Minnie Martin in the gate lodge of Ballywillwill House, Co. Down.

On 4th October 1942, Private Lawrence McKenzie was a serving soldier with the United States Army based at Ballywillwill House, Annsborough, Co. Down. Having consumed some Irish whiskey, McKenzie decided on that day to make a short walk to the home of Mary Jane "Minnie" Martin.

Minnie Martin lived in the gate lodge of Ballywillwill House, Annsborough, Co. Down. She was 48 years old, a “deaf-mute” and had an involvement in prostitution. Records suggest that Lawrence McKenzie wrote on a piece of paper of his desire to go upstairs and the pair agreed on a price.

When upstairs, the bed broke and a panicked Minnie Martin began making noises unintelligible to the US Army Private. He also panicked and placed his hands around Martin’s throat to silence her. Noticing the open door of the gate lodge, sister-in-law Sarah Hagan found the body of Minnie Martin on the bedroom floor on 7th October 1942.

Arrest and Inquest

District Inspector Reid gave evidence at the inquest stating that Miss Martin was found fully-clothed and face down. The lower part of the bedroom window was pushed out. Home Office Pathologist Dr. JAL Johnston gave evidence that the amount of bruising suggested there had been a struggle.

The arrest of Private Lawrence McKenzie took place on 19th October 1942. He admitted his guilt in a statement given to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He volunteered the sworn statement having first visited a local priest. Initially charged with murder, his crime was reduced to manslaughter at court-martial. With a guilty verdict, Lawrence received a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labour.

The reduction to manslaughter came after the court-martial decided there was no evidence of malice aforethought. It accepted that drunkenness had clouded the soldier’s judgement. Although engaged in sexual activity, there was no evidence that this was a mitigating factor in the killing.

While it is true that voluntary intoxication is no defence, the fact that accused was in such condition has a direct bearing and relevancy in determining his intention and purpose. He acted under the impulse of passion accentuated by his intoxication.