Tragedy, as a man murders his cleaner before turning the gun on himself

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From The Illustrated Police News, January 1882

In a break from the usual focus of this blog I am looking at a case that didn’t make it to the Police courts, for the simple reason that there was no one to prosecute. The source for all my posts are the reports of the cases heard at the Metropolitan Police courts in the Victorian press and these are usually situated with all the other ‘crime news’ in the papers. On the 2 January 1882 the usual record of events at the Bow Street, Guildhall and Marlborough Street courts was followed by the following headline:

Shocking murder and suicide.

It detailed the case of Robert Saunders, a 60 year old man who had given many years service as a butler to ‘a gentleman in Portman Square’. On his retirement from service Saunders had managed to accumulate enough money to purchase a number of small properties close to the Edgware Road. He rented most of these out but lived at 16 Shouldham Street with his wife Mary Jane in two rooms (the remainder of that house also being let to tenants).

Sadly what should have been a gentle and prosperous retirement for Robert was anything but. He was in financial difficulty and two of the leases of his properties had ‘fallen in’. Saunders feared that instead of prosperity, poverty was all that he and his wife had to look forward to. The former butler now fell in to what the report described as a deep ‘depression of spirit’.

In one of his houses, at 5 Newnham Street, lived a cab driver named Humphries and his wife Louisa. Humphries had had an accident and was being treated in the Marylebone Infirmary, as he was too sick to work. As a result Louisa was forced to take up charring for the Saunders and on Saturday 31 December 1881 she was at 16 Shouldham Street all day.

At half past five o’clock she had finished cleaning and went to see Mrs Saunders to let her know. The Saunders were seated in the parlour eating a meal. They were having hare but Mary remarked that they should have pork tomorrow, and asked him Mrs Humphries would oblige her by fetching some for them. She turned to her husband and asked him to give the cleaner 3s for the meat.

This simple request seemed to trigger something in Robert. He got to his feet and moved to the door, locking it. Slowly, he turned around and drew revolver from his pocket. In horror Louisa Humphries tried to rush to the door but Saunders shot her at point blank range in the face. She fell down dead on the spot. Mary screamed but ran at her husband, trying to wrestle the gun from his grip. He let off two shots, which missed her, before she knocked the weapon from his hands. As he reached for it she unlocked the door and ran out into the street, shouting for help. As she did so ‘she fancied she heard another shot fired’.

Neighbours soon rushed to the scene and a police constable (Stokes 156D) assumed control. He called for support and other police arrived including Inspector Measures of D Division. Mr. Saunders had locked the door again but they broke it down and entered the parlour where ‘a shocking scene presented itself’ (as the Illustrated Police News‘ artist imagined it above).

Mrs Humphries was lying dead in a pool of blood, the bullet had entered just below her left eye and had penetrated her brain, the money for the pork joint still gripped tightly in her lifeless hand. She would have died instantly, the report suggested. The former butler’s body was draped over a fender, the revolver close to his right hand. He had pointed the muzzle of the gun into his mouth and fired upwards, once again death would have been instantaneous.

The revolver still contained one charge; he’d fired one at his wife’s retreating back before locking the door behind her. The final shot Mrs Saunders had heard was the one that took her husband’s life.

A crowd had gathered outside the house and the bodies were taken away to the mortuary prior a formal investigation by the Middlesex coroner. There would be no trial but the readers could look forward to seeing if anything new emerged from the coroner’s enquiry in a few days time.   The question on everyone’s lips was how had an otherwise mild mannered former servant gotten hold of a pistol and why had he chosen to shoot an entirely innocent woman? Unfortunately, with no defendant to set in the dock and ask, these were questions that were unlikely to be answered.

[from The Morning Post, Monday, 2 January, 1882]

A ‘murderous assault’ in Southwark

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Observant readers will have noticed that three of this week’s cases have come from the same paper in 1868. The Illustrated Police News was not an official police paper but instead a glorified comic which published crime news over a number of pages with a large illustrated front page to catch the reader’s attention.

The Illustrated Police News provided a weekly catch up for those wanting to find out the latest scandal and gory detail about murder and serious crime alongside reports from the lower courts in London and around the country. Having featured a serial thief on the railways and a drunken vicar today’s case concerns a violent assault in south London.

Sarah Mancy ran a lodging house at 8 Barron’s Place off the Waterloo Road and on Sunday 11 October 1868 a former resident paid her an unwanted visit. Ellen Wallace was drunk when she barged her way into Sarah’s room and the pair soon began rowing. Mancy had also been drinking – it was common enough in working class communities at the time – but she wasn’t as inebriated as her visitor.

When she asked her to leave Ellen refused and they pair closed in a wrestle. Sarah threw her assailant off but Ellen picked up a half gallon beer can and struck her former landlady on the head with it. Sarah received several blows which drew blood and Ellen ran off, perhaps scared by what she’d done. Ellen, no doubt powered by adrenalin, raced after her calling the police as she did. A constable arrested Ellen Wallace and then handed her over to a colleague while he helped Sarah to  get to Dr Donahoe’s surgery on Westminster Road so her wounds could be dressed.

In court at Southwark the magistrate was told that Sarah (who sat to give her evidence, as she was still very weak from the attack) had lost a lot of blood and the doctor was worried about infection setting in. She was not out of danger yet he added and so what was at present ‘a murderous assault’ might  become more serious yet.

Faced with this the justice committed Ellen for trial at the next Surrey Sessions of the Peace. I don’t have access to the records at Surrey but in 1868 an Ellen Wallace was sent to prison, but no details are provided. I suspect this was her and suggests that Sarah recovered from her injuries so that this became an assault charge rather than one for murder or manslaughter.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 17, 1868]