Belfast Telegraph

'One of the saddest cases any jury could be called upon to investigate'

THE words of the coroner at the inquest into the horrific death of little Patricia Wylie said it all.

THE words of the coroner at the inquest into the horrific death of little Patricia Wylie said it all.

"There are some inquests more tragic than others, but I feel that this is one of the saddest cases that any jury could be called upon to investigate."

It was September 26 1944, the day US Private William Harrison strangled and raped the seven-year-old child, whose family he had befriended.

The GI was stationed at Cluntoe Airfield in Ardboe, Co Tyrone, and, up until then, relations between the soldiers and local people were good.

By 1943, over 3,500 American troops were stationed there and money was in abundance for local shops and businesses.

But the presence of these soldiers was blighted by the vile actions of one 22-year-old, Pte Harrison.

He had befriended the Wylies, a farming family who lived in Killycoply village, five miles outside Coagh.

Fuelled with drink after a couple of days heavy boozing, Harrison called to the family's house to repay money he had borrowed from Patricia's dad.

But he was out fishing at the time and Harrison decided to accompany the youngster to the shops.

Patricia's semi-naked body, partially covered with hay, was later found in a field half a mile from her home.

She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

At the inquest, a US army major said he wished to state that the crime "will not go unpunished".

During the court martial in Cookstown that November, Harrison admitted choking the youngster, but said he didn't know why.

The killer was then whisked away and it was not widely known what happened to him.

But the army major's words at the inquest were acted on.

And on April 7 1945 he was hanged at Shepton Mallet prison in Somerset.

As with the Harrison case, publicity surrounding the execution of another US killer soldier was kept brief and without much detail.

"Private Wiley Harris, condemned to death for the murder of a civilian, was hanged this morning," read a statement from the US Public Relations office in Belfast.

The place of execution on May 26 1944 was not disclosed, but he, too, died at Shepton Mallet.

Harris (26), who was based in Belfast, stabbed Harry Coogan to death outside an air-raid shelter at the city's Upper Earl Street.

It's widely believed his victim was a pimp, who became embroiled in a fight with the soldier over money.

The two had met in a pub and Coogan provided Harris with the services of a woman.

But the GI demanded his money back when the couple were interrupted in the air-raid shelter after Coogan claimed police had arrived.

During the row that followed, Coogan suffered 16 stab wounds to the body.

Belfast Telegraph

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