The Unexplained: Who was the man in the cylinder?

A newspaper photograph of the cylinder that held the remains of the mysterious man.

He was nicely dressed in the attire of a Victorian gentleman.  He was reclined on a cloth in the cylinder and a kind of pillow made of a brick wrapped in burlap was under his head. 

On July 13, 1945, a group of children was playing in a section of Liverpool that had suffered heavy bombing during the war.  There was an old steel cylinder that had been exposed by the shells and pitched awkwardly on the ground.  Was it a section of ventilation ductwork from a paint factory at that location?

Whatever it was, it was a magnet that drew playful children.  They sat on it as if it were a sofa, they straddled it like a horse, they banged on it for the echoing sounds it made.

On that July day, a curious child was able to chip away at the old metal on one end of the cylinder and he decided to peer inside it.  It was too dark to really see much, After a short time, he squealed in horror.  When he did, the little friends that had gathered around, recoiled and flung themselves backward.  What caused such a reaction?

The boy who had removed portions of the cylinder had spit out that he had seen a dead body in the cylinder.  Other brave youngsters had crept up to also take a peek inside.  All were in agreement that it was a dead person.  They had played there for months with a dead body just inches away from themselves.  When the children had collected themselves, they confided in an adult who in turn informed the authorities.  When the authorities verified the grisly discovery, then is when the real mysteries began.

Sara Marie Hogg

Was the man in the cylinder a victim of the recent bombings?  Perhaps he was hiding in the large ductwork when the bombs fell.

The remains, which were mostly skeletal, had interesting stories to tell, but no story revealed the real answer of who he was and what he was doing there.  He was nicely dressed in the attire of a Victorian gentleman.  He was reclined on a cloth in the cylinder and a kind of pillow made of a brick wrapped in burlap was under his head.

In addition to being dressed in reasonably nice clothing, the man had a postcard, a rail notice, a signet ring, keys, and two diaries that were not readable because time had taken its toll.  Could modern science provide new methods for attempting to read the diaries?

The most interesting artifact of all, perhaps, was a receipt from T. C. Williams and Co.  By coincidence, this was a paint company that was suspected of having some cylindrical ventilation ducts. uplifted and misplaced by the bombings.

 All of the papers were dated from 1884/85 and that seems to solidify the actual date of the man’s demise.  He had died much earlier than the bombings of WWII, and most probably he had died in 1885.  This was the opinion of the coroner.

There was a formal inquest and it was concluded that the man in the cylinder had been dead at least 20 years.  Though the man had died under suspicious circumstances, no one on the panel was ready to say that he was murdered.  Had he crawled into the cylinder to sleep and been overtaken by some paint manufacturing-related fumes years ago?  That seemed far-fetched but not impossible.

What was the history of the paint factory?  It was known as T. C. Williams Co. and it was in business from the 1870s to 1884.  It then went bust and the owner, Thomas Cregeen Williams was forced into bankruptcy.   All creditors had been invited to come claim any assets, but Williams could not be found.

He had disappeared.  Neither he nor any family members could be found anywhere.  The factory was not far from the ocean and the docks.  Had Williams found out a way to go to America, and leave his troubles behind,  There was an appeal to find Williams in other locations.  The area newspapers said, not so fast.  They were certain the man in the cylinder was T. C. Williams, himself.

The inquest panel did not want to jump to this conclusion.  Williams had a son born in 1859, and the son seemed to fit the timeline better.  This hypothesis ended when the son was found buried in a Leeds cemetery and there were plenty of documents to back this up.

So there they were staring one probability in the face:  someone had been in resting in a cylinder for over 60 years and no one still knew why or how he died.

Although it is a strong theory that the man in the cylinder could be T. C. Williams, there has never been official confirmation or any proof.   Did he feel the cylinder was a proper hiding place from creditors?  Or, maybe Williams placed an anonymous body in the cylinder as a decoy, so that he could leave the area and not be hunted or followed. He could have gone to parts unknown, by sea.

There are no easy answers about what happened there on Great Homer Street in Liverpool.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Quite Curious, a collection of true stories about the strange and unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

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