A unsolved murder in the East End, forty years before the ‘Ripper’

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Spitalfields Market, c.1842

This is a very curious case and one which may require some deeper digger over the next few weeks. In May 1848 a murder was discovered in Spitalfields, East London. Many readers will be familiar with the history of area in the Victorian era and others might perhaps assume that murders were two-a-penny in such a ‘degraded’ part of the capital.

This is often how Whitechapel was (and continues) to be portrayed in the media of the day and it was one of the dominant tropes when the so-called ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders occurred in the late summer and autumn of 1888.

However, while the area did have high levels of poverty and crime it was probably no worse than St Giles in the 1840s or indeed the Borough; murder was still relatively rare and far from being commonplace.

Nevertheless this murder was of a child, and so something that was very likely to garner column inches in the newspapers. In this case the child was a local immigrant – ‘a little Jew boy’ – as the papers of the time described him. His name was Henry Lazarus and, by the 10 June at least, no one had been prosecuted for his murder.

On that Saturday however, one man was in custody and he appeared in the dock at Worship Street Police court accused of the crime. There was only one witness who gave evidence however, and he was far from reliable.

Charles Savage testified that he was standing near a place known as ‘The Ruins’ in Fashion Street at about 10 o’clock at night. Savage was a street musician and he was planning on playing that night.

He watched he said as a group of men set upon the little boy and strangle him with a necktie. He recognised one of the men as a local who was known as the ‘bottle conjurer’ (presumably another performer) but the others he didn’t, or couldn’t name except for one, the young man the dock: Thomas Hart, a porter at Spitalfields Market.

Having killed the boy the men stripped him of almost all his clothes and told Savage to get rid of it. He refused and wouldn’t be persuaded even when the threatened him he said, so they picked up the dead lad and through him into a dust hole in the tenter ground.

He’d followed them to see where they went and fully expected (or hoped) to meet a policeman but couldn’t find one. So he went home to his lodgings in Wentworth Street and fell into a troubled sleep. Standing in Mr Arnold’s court he now pointed out Hart and accused him of being the one that had strangled the little boy.

Savage was described as being ‘a poor half-witted cripple’ and he was not taken seriously by the bench. Mr Arnold heard that the street singer had previously accused the ‘bottle conjuror’ of the murder a few weeks earlier and so his credibility now was much in question. Savage was clearly aware of this and admitted that he’d changed his story. ‘I deny all that now’ he declared with what the paper called ‘an imbecilic simper’.

Faced with such a weak witness Arnold decided to release the porter, telling him he was free to go ‘without a stain on his character’. He turned to the dead boy’s father and said ‘he was astonished that anyone could be given into custody upon such a serious charge upon such evidence’. Henry’s killer then, remained at large but in the next week I’ll see whether we can find him in the records.

Watch this space.

[from The Standard, Monday, June 12, 1848]

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