Murder or suicide? The death of John Broome Tower in Stoke Newington (part 2)

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For the first part of this story follow this link

Ernest Cogdon saw John Broome Tower several times on 31 December 1884. The two men were friends and Cogden said they met at Haycroft and Gilfillon’s offices   in Great Winchester Street where Broome Tower worked as an underwriter’s clerk.

The course of his work meant that Cogden, a fellow clerk, ran into Tower three more times that day before the pair took a train back to Finsbury Park (where Cogden lodged) at 6.30 that evening. They dined with a Mrs Earl and her daughters (one of whom was sweet on John) before going to a service at St John’s Church in Highbury Vale. It was well past midnight when they parted company on Green Lanes, Cogden going back to Finsbury park and Tower to his digs at 109 Dynevor Road in Stoke Newington.

That was the last time anyone saw John Broome Tower alive but Cogdon was sure he left his chum in good health, sober and with money in his pockets. They’d agreed to meet the following day for lunch. Cogdon was also puzzled that Tower’s body had been found where it was, as he was not on his normal route home; what had caused him to change his habits that night and did he take his own life, or was he murdered?

The police were pursuing the second option: when Tower’s body had been recovered it seemed as if he’d been attacked. His hat was battered (and it wasn’t an old hat), he collar looked as if it had been wrenched from his neck, and the state of his coat suggested the wearer had been involved in a struggle. More than one set of footprints were discovered near the bank of the reservoir where the body was found, and only one matched the boots Tower was wearing. A scarf or large handkerchief was around his neck, spotted with blood, and the press and police speculated that he had been strangled with it.  However, there were no other wounds that might have accounted for his death.

It was a proper Victorian ‘murder mystery’ in ‘the rapidly growing northern suburb’ as the Penny Illustrated Paper described Stoke Newington. It provided its readers with a sketch of the locality and an artist’s impression of the finding of the body at the reservoir (above). No one had heard a sound that night despite there being several potential witnesses including a cab driver, two carriages, and two young lads being close to the scene of the supposed attack at the time.

The police had employed divers to search the reservoir, men working for Doewra and Co., but they had not uncovered anything that might help explain the circumstances of the death. The police, under the direction of N Division’s Superintendent Green, remained baffled and were offering a reward of £100 for information.

Several days later the police investigation had still not resulted in an arrest. Enquiries at Tower’s workplace had now revealed that ‘discrepancies’ in his accounting which hinted at workplace theft. The amounts were significant but not huge – £60-80 – and no cheques were missing. Had Tower killed himself to avoid disgrace? It seemed unlikely, especially as Dr Bond (who examined his body) found no sign that he’d drowned in the reservoir. This suggested to him that he’d been killed first and then thrown into the water. Bond (who was later to be involved in the Whitechapel Murder case of 1888-9) was ‘clearly of opinion that death resulted from homicidal strangulation, and that two or more persons had been engaged in the matter’.

Two years later the case remained unsolved. A man did confess to killing Tower and robbing him with an accomplice but his evidence contradicted much of what the police already new and little credibility was given to it. In 1886 the papers reported that Chief Inspector Donald Swanson was convinced that the poor man had committed suicide. Another theory was that he had been decoyed into the area of scrub near the reservoir by a woman, and then attacked and killed. Swanson may have been content to put the mystery to bed as suicide because it relieved the police of responsibility for finding the killer/s, however unlikely it seems from the evidence presented to the coroner.

The mystery certainly caught the attention of people at the time and the 1886 confession (by a man named Thackery) was not the only one. In January 1887 George Charles Wilson also said he’d killed the underwriter’s clerk but he was dismissed as being unfit to do so suffering as he was, from ‘a disturbed mind’ and being found wandering as ‘a lunatic’.

In the end the crime was and remains unsolved. Somebody killed John Broome Tower or else he made it look that way. It had briefly propelled the outlying suburb of Stoke Newington to national attention, something I’m not sure its inhabitants would have welcomed.

[The Penny Illustrated Paper, 12 January, 1884]

‘Oh nonsense, I scarcely touched you’: a gentle nudge out of the door

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It can’t have been much fun being a solicitor’s clerk in the Victorian period. In fact I doubt its that much fun now but at least you probably aren’t as exposed to causal violence as Albert Jones was in 1886.

He was sent out to serve a writ and demand for money on a publisher and arrived at Messrs Eyre Bros at 4 in the afternoon of the 18 October. The writ was made out against a Mr G Butcher and Albert duly served it at his office in Paternoster Square, close by St Paul’s Cathedral.

Mr Butcher was not amused. Having asked a series of questions about the writ (which seems to have been part of a long running legal dispute) he said:

‘Can you convey a message to Mr. Kelly?’

Albert replied that he could but said he had been instructed by his superior to tell Butcher that ‘if he had anything to say he had better see him in person’.

‘Does Mr. Kelly expect me to pay this?’ Butcher asked.

Having been told that he did the publisher went on to say:

‘’He wont get a halfpenny of it, and tell him from me that if ever there was a liar in the world he is one’.

As Albert turned to leave, placing his hat back on his head, Butcher kicked him sharply in the rear, propelling him forwards and out of the door. This prompted the clerk (or perhaps his employer) to press charges for assault, and so Butcher found himself up before an alderman at the Guildhall Police court.

‘Did the kick hurt you?’ Jones was asked.

‘It did hurt for a few moments’, the clerk replied.

‘Oh nonsense, I scarcely touched you’, came the response from the dock. ‘I simply put my foot up to assist you getting out of the office a little faster’.

With laughter ringing out in court Butcher might have enjoyed this small victory had the magistrate not then handed him a fine of 40s.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, November 17, 1886]

Help for heroes in 1870

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A veteran of the Crimean War

Whilst today is Hallo’een and this evening we will be inundated with small children flying high on sugar and commercialized excitement this is also the week that poppy sellers really began to make an appearance.  I’m not going to engage in the debate as to whether or not anyone should wear a poppy (or what colour that poppy should be); I believe that men and women have died in wars to preserve our freedoms and the freedom to wear a poppy (or not) is part and parcel of that.

Poppies were first sold in Britain in 1921, the year the Royal British Legion was formed. It sold 9,000,00 of them and raised £106,000 for veterans from the First World War. Last year 40,000,000 were sold worldwide and now the Legion helps veterans from all wars in the 20th and 21st century. The FWW was meant to be the ‘war to end all wars’, sadly it wasn’t.

What struck me about the reportage from the London Police courts for hallo’ween 1870 was a story about six young lads who had been collecting money for veterans, just as the Legion’s poppy sellers do today. The boys (part of a wider group of 36 they said) had approached Sir Robert Carden at the Guildhall just as the court was closing for the day.

A spokesman for the group piped up to say that they were asking for the magistrate’s help as they hadn’t been paid. When asked they said they took a stand in the street and collected money in a box which they then returned to the clerks in ‘the office’. Depending on the amount they raised they were paid between 2s6dand 4sa week. However, when they went to collect their money that day the office was closed and they had gone away empty handed.

It seems they were collecting considerable sums of money from the public. They knew how much because the opening used to remove cash was kept sealed. Nevertheless the boys could feel the weight of the boxes and could see the money being put in them. One lad, who stood outside Bow Church on Cheapside said that he seen a gentleman put in a sovereign and two other men donate half sovereigns. Each box must have amounted to a considerable sum and so for just a few shillings a week the lads were doing great work in drumming up money for the charity.

Sir Richard was sympathetic to their plight but thought that it might just be  a temporary error on the behalf of the clerks to forget to pay these six individuals. He advised them to try once more the next day but to return to see him they remained unpaid. In that case, he said, he would take more formal action against the charity.

So this shows us that the courts were used for more than just crime, they were arenas for negotiation, advice and support. It also reveals that there was some sort of charity to support old soldiers in the late 1800s, perhaps a recognition that the Victorian state (as Kipling later observed) was not doing enough.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, October 31, 1870]

A ‘she cannibal’ in court for biting off her victim’s nose

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I have spent the last two weeks following the metropolitan police courts in one year, 1888, the year of the Whitechapel murders. I’ll return to 1888 in a couple of weeks to pick up the unfolding case at the point of the ‘double event’ – the murders of Liz Stride and Kate Eddowes on the night of the 30 September. But today it is worth reminding ourselves that the area of Whitechapel and Spitalfields was synonymous with violence  throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.

Catherine Simpson was well known to the police, and to her neighbours, as a violent woman. Anne Atkins was no angel but on this occasion she was the victim of a brutal assault which arose out of jealousy and, possibly, a misplaced attempt at defending some sense of ‘respectability’ in a part of London where poverty and degradation was ubiquitous.

The attack in question had happened in late August 1860 but as a result of Anne’s injuries it didn’t come before the magistrate at Worship Street until 15 September. Even then Anne was barely able to stand to give her evidence, and trembled at the very sight of her abuser.  Nor did the court do that much to protect her at first, allowing Simpson to cross-examine her directly for several minutes, something that clearly traumatized her victim.

The court was told that on 21 August Simpson had confronted Anne at her front door in Dorchester Street, Hoxton, demanding to know: ‘what business had you with my husband last night?’

Anne explained that she had seen Simpson’s husband that night but he’d not been with her, he’d been with another, much younger, woman. This didn’t satisfy Catherine who called Anne a prostitute and ‘other bad names’. Clearly Simpson either believed Anne was having an affair with her spouse or was tempting him away from her. She may even have genuinely believed that Anne was a prostitute, although it is more likely that this was simply a convenient and oft used term of abuse in working class communities like this.

Anne’s reacted to being called a ‘whore’ by slapping the other woman around the face and turning to shut the door. Catherine wasn’t easily deterred however, and followed her inside. There she grabbed Anne’s shoulders, pulled her towards her, and bit her nose. She bit down hard and left her victim with a bloody mess where her nose once was. Spitting the end of her nose on to the ground, she left.

Anne was quickly taken to hospital where the house surgeon, George Payne, did his best for her. She had lost a lot of blood he later testified, and it was almost three weeks before she was fit to be discharged. After her initial recovery she developed erysipelas, now described as a rash that can be treated with antibiotics. In 1860 however antibiotics were not available and the doctor feared that Anne might die. Fortunately she didn’t.

Catherine was forthright that the attack she’d made was provoked, not only by Anne’s alleged dalliance with her husband but because not only had she slapped her, she’d also spat in her face. As she defended herself and cross-examined Anne the other woman struggled and trembled in the witness stand. Even when the clerk acted as an intermediary, asking the questions on Catherine behalf,  Anne was so distraught that the prisoner had to be removed from the court for a while.

Various witnesses testified to the assault, including Louisa Cox who had screamed and ran for a policeman when she saw Simpson’s mouth covered in blood as she spat out Anne’s broken nose. Simpson was remanded for further enquiries, the evidence against her being considerable and the court being told that she had ‘a propensity for [this] class of offence’. She’d once served a week in gaol for biting sergeant Copping of K Division and was clearly a violent individual.

Reynolds’s Newspaper described Simpson as a ‘she cannibal’ and the whole sorry incident would have done nothing to dispel the view that the East End of London was a den of iniquity where violence, vice and crime  were rife.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, September 16, 1860]

A sorry tale of an old abuser who finally went too far

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Isaac Jones was a violent man when he was in his cups. He had that in common with very many in nineteenth-century London and his poor wife and family suffered for it.

On the 21 July 1860 he’d come home late, drunk as he often was, and belligerent with it. His wife and he had the usual exchange of words and a fight broke out. The exact details are not clear but at some point Isaac lunged for his wife Jane who, fearing for her life, grabbed the nearest weapon she could and defended herself.

She selected a poker but she might have easily picked up an iron, a saucepan or a rolling pin; when women fought with their menfolk it was often one of these they used (or had used against them). The poker connected with Isaac’s leg and he slipped and fell, unable to maintain his balance as he was so drunk after the evening’s excesses.

He cried out and his groans brought a policeman to the door of the house. PC 256M came into the room and found Isaac on his side his leg bent horribly under him and ‘the bone of the fractured limb protruding through the skin’. A cab was called and the injured man was ferried to Guy’s Hospital where his leg was amputated. Since it seemed evident that Jane was to blame she was arrested and taken into custody.

Events unfolded with some inevitability given the state both of Isaac’s general health (he was an elderly man with a drink problem) and Victorian medicine. The local magistracy were informed that the old man was dying so went to see him in hospital to ascertain who was responsible for his condition. Jane went along as well and he kissed her warmly saying ‘that it was the last time’.

Isaac was too ill to say anything else, and did not condemn his wife in the presence of the justices. He died a day later and so Jane was taken before Mr Maude at Southwark Police court accused of causing his death by striking him with the poker.

An inquest had concluded that he had died from the injury but ‘there was nothing to show how it was done’. Isaac’s daughter (also named Jane) gave evidence of the row and the fight but said she’d not seen her mother hit her father with the poker, adding that she’d told her she had not. She elaborated on the fight saying that Isaac had a knife and was threatening her mother with it.

Mr Maude heard a report form the surgeon at Guy’s which was pretty clear that the leg was broken by an impact injury not a fall but he was trying to find a way to clear Mrs Jones if at all possible. Isaac Jones had been a wife beater, she was a domestic abuse survivor and, on this occasion, the tables had turned on the old man. There was clear evidence that Jane had been defending herself and that the attack – if attack there was – had been spontaneous not premeditated.

There was also sufficient doubt over the exact cause of death to give Jane the benefit of the doubt. It is unlikely that a jury would have convicted her anyway and she was evidently remorseful at the death of her husband, however bad a man he was. It would do no one any good to see her go to trial much less go to prison so Mr Maude commented that it was ‘a very painful case’ but he would detain her on longer; she was free to go.

Mrs Jones, who had ben allowed to sit the clerk’s table instead of occupying the dock wept throughout the examination but was helped to her feet and led out of court on her daughter’s arm.

[from The Morning Chronicle, Tuesday, August 28, 1860]

Dangerous dogs or well loved pets? Two magistrates, two very different interpretations of the law.’

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The law is, of course, open to interpretation. In the 1880s the law concerning the control of pet dogs was, seemingly, as a clear as mud and so we can see that two magistrates chose to apply it in two different ways.

At Lambeth Mr Biron was in the chair on 8 June 1886. The clerk produced a string of dog owners were charged, by the treasury, with failing to keep their dogs under control. For the magistrate the law depended on how one interpreted the word ‘control’.

In a number of cases dogs had been found by police, wandering 20-30 yards from their owners or their owner’s home. If the dogs were muzzled, not on a lead, or no one appeared to be in control of them, more often than not a policeman would take their collars and take them back to the station. In those instances, if they had a name on the collar the owner was summoned to collect them.

In several of the cases brought before him Mr Biron dismissed the charge. If, for example, the owner said that the dog had just been let out in the morning (to do its ‘business’ one supposes) and was within 20 yards of the house then that was ‘under control’. In another case the owner said his animal was ‘within call’ and the justice accepted that. Indeed he accepted most explanations for why dogs were not on leads or muzzled and only one case, where a dog had bitten a child, did he find strongly against the owner who was penalised with a 10fine.

In this case though the owner had already been warned about the behaviour of his beast so perhaps that was more about demonstrating that the law had to be obeyed than anything else. The courts were quite strict on those that ignored instructions previously handed down by the magistracy.

Overall Mr Biron declared that it was ‘doubtless right to take dogs unmuzzled and without owners to the station, but when animals were within a few yards of the owner or his premises he could not see much good sense in it’.

North of the river at Clerkenwell Mr Bartsow took a different line on ‘dangerous’ dogs. John Adams was brought before him charged with not keeping his good ‘under proper control’ contrary to police regulations. Adams said that the dog was walking a yards ahead of him and that ‘some magistrates held this to be “under proper control”.’

Mr Barstow told him that ‘he could be bound by the decisions of other magistrates’ and fined him 5s. If it was off the leash and without a muzzle, it wasn’t under control. I suspect the newspapers focused on this because it was a law that was commonly interpreted differently, something that must have been confusing for dog owners and policemen alike.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, June 09, 1886]

On June 15 Drew’s new book (co-authored by Andy Wise) is published by Amberley Books. It is a new study of the Whitechapel murders of 1888 which offers up a new suspect, links the ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings to the unsolved ‘Thames Torso’ crimes, and provides the reader with important contextual history of Victorian London. The book is available to order on Amazon here

No joke as a comedian finds himself in the dock of an East End court

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In 1888 the comedian Walter Groves appeared, not on stage this time, but in the dock at Worship Street Police court. He had been summoned by his former manager and fellow comedian Henry Bruce who accused him of assaulting him after the pair had fallen out in a dispute over what we would probably term ‘intellectual property’.

Back in February 1888 Bruce had employed Groves to perform as part of his theatre company. The comedian had written (or perhaps co-written) a sketch act that brought the house down on Easter Monday. On the basis of that success they decided to carry on performing the act and, Bruce insisted in court, had agreed to share the proceeds.

As seems so often to be the case in show business however, the pair fell out and eventually Bruce was forced to let Groves go but seemingly carried on using his material. This clearly irked the other man and on 14 May that year Groves found his former collaborator deep in conversation with the manager of the Forester’s Music hall (also known locally as Lusby’s after its owner, William Lusby). He strode up to the seated pair and loudly accused Bruce of stealing his idea and denying him the profits of it.

The court was shown evidence of playbills listing some of the sketches performed by ‘Harry Bruce’s Company of Comedians’ such as: ‘A sweep for king’ and ‘the Tin Soldier’ that Groves presumably claimed were originally his. It also heard that when Bruce denied any wrongdoing and insisted Groves leave the comedian challenged him to step outside and fight him, man to man. When the other man declined this invitation to a fist fight Groves thumped him in the face and gave him a black eye.

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This was corroborated by Frederick Clarence, a comedian in Bruce’s troupe, and by Charles Barber who worked for Bruce as clerk. In defence of Groves Neal Dryden (himself a comic) said his friend was sorely provoked, adding that he understood that Mr Lusby had wanted to employ Groves to perform in the act but Bruce had told him not to, saying the other man was ‘no good’. So with his character and talents impugned and his creative ideas ‘stolen’ from him it was hardly a surprise that Groves lashed out. It didn’t convince the magistrate however who ordered the comedian to find two sureties of £25 each to ensure that he kept the peace towards Bruce for the next twelve months at least.

William Lusby was a minor local celebrity in the 1880s and his first music hall was a popular venue on the Mile End Road. He had taken over the premises in 1868 and rebuilt the theatre, reopening it in April 1877 as Lusby’s Summer and Winter Palace. When it opened a gushing press review stated:

‘This new place of amusement, which, both on account of its great size and the splendid appearance of its interior, deserves to be described as “grand,” was opened to the public for the first time on Easter Monday evening. It affords accommodation for five thousand visitors, and there must have been nearly that number of persons who availed themselves of the earliest opportunity to see the magnificent building which Mr William Lusby has had erected for the use of the pleasure-seekers of the Mile End-road and its vicinity, as well as to witness the performances of the large and talented company of artistes which he has engaged’.

(The Era, 8 April 1877)

However, by 1888 Lusby had sold the theatre and it later burned down in a fire in 1884.  A new music hall rose from the ashes, the Paragon which opened in 1885 but by then Lusby had moved on, opening the Forester’s Music Hall where Bruce and his fellow comedians performed their sketch act.

Lusby, an East End lad made good, had built his success on property speculation and had, he claimed, only got into show business to help a young relative get a foot on the ladder. The Foresters was on Cambridge Road East, in Bethnal Green and in 1885 it gave Dan Leno his first big break in the entertainment industry. The legendary music hall star performed two comic songs and a clog dance and was paid £5 a week for doing so. Leno is credited with inventing stand up comedy which is probably why his name is still remembered today while Harry Bruce and Walter Groves have disappeared from history.

[from The Standard, Wednesday, May 31, 1888]

If you enjoy this blog series you might be interested in Drew’s jointly authored study of the Whitechapel (or ‘Jack the Ripper’) murders that is published by Amberley Books on 15 June this year. You can find details here: