‘I did it, and I wish the knife had gone in deeper’: Life goes on as a killer stalks the streets of Whitechapel

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As the main crime news of 1888 continued to unfold on the ‘front pages’ of the London newspapers the inside pages carried on reporting the ‘daily doings’ of the Metropolitan Police courts. Readers of the Sunday papers might have been shocked by the horrific murder of Polly Nichols in Whitechapel but when they had digested that they could reassure themselves that the usual fare of petty crime, disorderly behaviour and mindless domestic violence was still being dealt with by the capital’s magistracy.

The editor of  Lloyd’s Weekly  chose to carry two cases from the Worship Street Police court in Bethnal Green, not far from Whitechapel and the site of Polly’s murder. The first was fairly light-hearted and involved a pub landlord. The second was sadly typical of the darker side of working-class life in the 1880s.

George Saunders was leaning on a lamppost outside his pub – The Admiral Keppel on Hoxton Street (pictured above in about 1930) – when a policeman approached him. The PC asked him if he was ‘waiting for a friend’ and then suggested he move along. Saunders growled at him and stayed put, indicating the sign over the doorway, which had his name as the licensee.

Whether the officer failed to notice this or was simply being difficult Saunders couldn’t tell but when PC 211G moved closer and trod on his boots (accidently or otherwise) the publican reacted. He shoved the policeman backwards and aimed a punch at his retreating back. A nearby colleague of the copper saw this (or said he did) and came to his rescue. Saunders was arrested and brought before Mr Bushby.

It was a trivial case and the magistrate may well have harbored doubts as to the veracity of the two policemen’s version of events. He declared that a man ‘had a right to stand in the street, unless seen to do any overt act, without being catechised by a constable’. The arrest was unlawful and the prisoner was discharged.

If this was trivial the other case was far from it. John Agas, a 34 year-old hawker, was charged with ‘maliciously wounding’ Henry Watson in a row over a woman. Watson explained that on Saturday night (this would have been the week before, the 25 August 1888) Agas had called at his home in Kingsland Road, Dalston. The hawker demanded to see his wife who was now cohabiting with Watson. Watson refused to let him in or see her and this sent Agas into a fury. He threatened him and then made good his threat by drawing a knife and stabbing him in the shoulder.

A cry of ‘murder!’ went up and several people set off after the assailant. He was caught by the police and taken into custody. At the station he supposedly admitted his crime stating:

‘I did it, and I wish it (the knife) had gone in deeper’.

Mr Bushby cautioned him and then asked why he’d done it. Agas replied that he was upset and angry because the other man had ‘led away’ his wife. In other words this was an act of revenge. He was fully committed for trial. Perhaps his resort to violence might explain why his wife had left him in the first place.

[from Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, September 2, 1888]

December 1888: Whitechapel is quiet again,but ‘Jack’ is still at large.

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Today finds me, weather permitting, stumping around Whitechapel with my third year undergraduates. This is an annual occurrence for me; in the past 12 years I’ve only missed one year of taking students around the area to visit the sites of the ‘Ripper’ murders and the associated places of interest.

This year my route has again been carefully worked out to take in as many places that might prove interesting (from Flower & Dean Street, to Wilton’s Music Hall, to the Pinchin Street arches, and back up to Mitre Square and then Christ’s Church, Spitalfields). It will take us the best part of four hours with stops for lunch and refreshments. At the end of it I hope they will have learned something as well as getting slightly fitter!

130 years ago the shadow of the Ripper still lay across Whitechapel. Following Mary Kelly’s death in early November the case began to lose its interest for the newspapers but no killer had been caught and the police patrols continued. There had been an attempt of the life of one woman (Annie Farmer) on 20 November, just eleven days after Kelly’s murder, and there was another homicide that can be associated with ‘Jack’ on December 20 that year (Rose Mylett), but things were more or less back to ‘normal’ in East London.

On Thursday 13 November 1888 the proprietors of Batey & Company Limited, ginger beer manufacturers, were summoned to appear at Worship Street Police court accused of infringing the factories act. It was alleged that the company had employed 21 young women who were set to work beyond 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon at the company’s factory in Kingsland Road.

Under the terms of the act they should have been released at 11.30 that morning but the company was hard pressed. There had been, its representative explained, an ‘extra demand for aerated waters, owing to the late summer’. They admitted their culpability and Mr Bushey fined them £21 (£1 for each girl) plus £2 2scosts. It was an expensive day in court for the Bateys and one wonders if an employee had blown the whistle on them or whether a factory inspector had been watching them. Often these prosecutions followed repeated infringements of the law, rather than being isolated incidents.

The paper that day also chose another similar case to remind its readers (who would have come from the same class as the owners of the factory in Kingsland Road) that the laws must be respected. Hannah Bender, who worked as a French polisher, was fined £1 plus 4sfor employing two young women after eight in the evening, against the statute. The Match Girls strike had happened in 1888 and so labour rights were fresh in everyone’s memory, perhaps that was why these cases were prosecuted, or at least highlighted by the Standard.

[from The Standard, Friday, December 14, 1888]

In June next year my own solution to the Whitechapel murders is due for release. Based on several years of research it is a collaborative effort with an independent researcher, Andy Wise. We hope to offer a new angle on the killings that terrified Londoners in the late 1880s. 

The man on the Dalston tram stands up for commuters everywhere

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In these days of contactless payments and Oyster cards it’s easy to forget that not so long ago one used to need a ticket to travel on London transport. I remember bus conductors with their machines spewing out paper tickets like the waiting systems in some supermarkets and surgeries, and we still have travelcards on the tube and trains. But how did our ancestors prove they had paid their fare, were tickets always required, and how were they issued?

When Alfred Pearl appeared at Thames Police court charged with ‘dodging’ his fare to Dalston Junction it revealed the system one tram company deployed to check passengers had paid.

Apparently the North London Tramways Company (NLTC) didn’t trust its their own employees. It had adopted a system whereby none of its conductors could collect fares from those boarding their trams. Instead a ‘collector mounts the car and collects the fare, giving to each passenger a ticket, which is to be delivered up on leaving the car’.

So you got on, waited until a collector got on, then paid him, and carried on your journey clutching your ticket. As long as you had one you were ok; fail to produce it however and you’d be asked to cough up. This seems very like the system of inspectors we have now. They may be infrequent visitors to the buses and trains of the capital but I’ve been asked for my ticket (or my contactless debit card) a number of times in the past 12 months.

Alfred Pearl had boarded a tram car at somewhere before Kingsland Road on a Saturday afternoon in August 1873. At Kingsland Road Philip Egerton, one of the company’s collectors, ‘demanded his fare in the ordinary way’ but Pearl refused him. He said would not pay his fare in advance, but only once he had reached his destination.

I suppose this is a reasonable position to hold given the unreliability of transport systems now and then. After all most people paid for services they had received, not that they were about to receive. Pearl said he was going to Dalston Junction and would pay his fare there, and so the tramcar carried on. At the Junction however Pearl now insisted he wanted to continue his journey further, and remained adamant that he would only pay on arrival.

The collector asked him for his name and address, and when Pearl refused to give them Egerton called over a policeman and asked him to arrest the man. The policeman was not inclined to waste his time but Pearl decided he was going to clear his name, and make a point, so he took himself to the nearest police station where he again refused to pay or give his name. The desk sergeant had him locked up and brought before a magistrate in the morning.

In front of Mr Bushby at Thames Police court Alfred insisted he had done nothing wrong. He ‘denied the right of the [tram] company to demand or receive his fare before he had completed his journey’. In response the NTLC’s solicitor Mr Vann ‘produced the by-laws of the company’, which clearly demonstrated (at section nine) that they were perfectly entitled to do just that.

Mr Bushby wasn’t clear how to proceed. He wasn’t aware of whether the company’s own by-law was valid and he would need time to seek advice and consider the legal implications of it. For the time being he adjourned the case and released the prisoner who went off loudly complaining about being locked up in the first place. Mr Pearl was no ordinary traveller either, he was smartly dressed and may have been ‘a gentleman’. It seems he was quite keen to test the law but hadn’t bargained on being held overnight as an unwilling guest of Her Majesty.

The case came back to court in October 1873 where the tram company were represented by a barrister as was the defendant. Astonishingly here it was revealed that Pearl had actually offered the policeman 10sto arrest him and the collector (Egerton) a whole sovereign if he would prosecute. It was claimed he declared he  ‘would not mind spending £100 to try the matter’.

This then was a clear case of principle to Mr Pearl.

His lawyer (Mr Wontner) cross-examining the ticket collector ascertained that Pearl’s defence was that when he had been asked to pay had explained that he had refused because:

his mother had on the previous day lost the ticket given on payment being made, and had been compelled to pay again’. He had told the collector in August that his own ticket had ‘blown away in a gust of wind’.

Evidently Pearl was not the usual fare dodger (and there were plenty of those brought before the metropolitan police courts) and Mr Bushby had no desire to punish him as such. He (the magistrate) also felt the circumstances of the arrest and imprisonment had been unjustified and so agreed Mr Pearl had been treated poorly. The by-law however, was ‘a very excellent regulation’ but ‘it was informal, and consequently not to be enforced’. The whole matter was, he was told, to go before the Queen’s Bench court for consideration so there was little for him to do but discharge Mr Pearl without a stain on his character.

Thus, the man on the Dalston tramcar (if not the Clapham omnibus) had won a small victory, but I doubt he won the argument in the end as we are well used to paying up front for a journey that might be uncomfortable, delayed, or indeed never reach the destination we ‘paid’ for.

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, August 24, 1873;The Morning Post , Saturday, October 04, 1873]

A ‘long firm’ swindle on Kingsland Road

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The long firm fraud – where a criminal organisation sets up a seemingly legitimate business (such a distribution warehouse) for illegitimate purposes – was a noted practice of 1960s gangsters like the Kray brothers, Reggie and Ronnie. The deception featured at the heart of Jake Arnott’s 1999 novel about the fictional criminal gang leader, Harry Starks. But long firm frauds weren’t new in the 1960s as this case demonstrates, they were well known in the 1880s if not earlier.

William Hammond (an agent in the leather trade) appeared at Worship Street Police Court in March 1883 charged with ‘having conspired [with two other men] to cheat and defraud Samuel Chittick by fraudulently removing certain goods with an intent to prevent an execution for an unsatisfied judgement’.

In layman’s terms what this meant was that Hammond had run up large debts (to the tune of £167 the court heard) and Chittick had been forced to take him to law to recover his money. Hammond operated out of premises on Kingsland Road in north-east London but when a sheriff turned up to remove goods and chattels to the value of the debt he ‘found them empty’.

Chittick’s lawyer declared that he would prove that Hammond had:

‘actively assisted in removing the goods, leather and machinery, and further that he had said Mr Chittick would not get a farthing of his money’.

But there was more the lawyer insisted. He didn’t believe that Hammond’s co-accused (a man named Thomas Marshall) was as culpable, the real villain was the leather salesman.  He told the magistrate – Mr Bushby – that he could prove that Hammond had set up the business as a fraudulent venture. Marshall had already been convicted in the previous year of fraud at this address but now he was able to provide evidence that Hammond was the main operator. It was Hammond who had set up the false business and installed Marshall to run it.

He said that ‘goods were obtained merchants ostensibly for the purposes of legitimate business, but instead of the goods being used in the way of fair trade, they were removed in bulk from the premises soon after delivery, and sent to a firm carrying on business as Lodes and Son at Norwich, and sold under cost price’.

This was, he hoped Mr Bushby would official record, a ‘mere “long firm” swindle.

Hammond had escaped the law for some time by relocating himself to Norfolk but had made the mistake of suing a local newspaper there for libel because it had accused him of carrying on  similar racket in Norwich. This backfired and he had been arrested and convicted there. After his conviction he had been handed over the Metropolitan Police who were keen to question him about the Kingsland Road case.

Several people testified to the truth of the lawyer’s allegations and the magistrate remanded Hammond in custody, waiving away the prisoner’s request to be granted bail. Hammond was eventually tried at the Old Bailey in April that year. He was convicted and sentenced to nine months imprisonment at hard labour.

[from The Standard, Tuesday, March 06, 1883]

Gang violence in Dalston as a new year dawns : an echo from 1877

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Joseph Allen was walking out with his ‘sweetheart’ on Kingsland Road in Dalston in early January 1878. It was just after midnight when the couple found their route barred by a large group of youths, about 20 strong. According to Allen’s report the gang of ‘roughs’ were: ‘occupying the breadth of the pavement , and pushing all persons into the road’.

This is quite familiar as the behaviour of youth groups or gangs in the late nineteenth century. In the 1870s and 80s they were usually referred to as ‘roughs’ (although that term was also applied to agitators in political crowds and other unruly elements of society). By the turn of the century the word ‘hooligan’ was used, being coined in the early 1890s, and immortalised by ‘Alf’, from Lambeth, in Clarence Rook’s Hooligan Nights

As the gang of youths reached Allen and his girl they pushed him about as they had done everyone else. When he objected he was surrounded, beaten about the head and knocked to the ground. He was forced to ‘fight his way out’ he later explained, but that was not the end of his troubles.

One of the ‘roughs’, a 22 year-old man named Thomas Robson, ‘rushed upon him and struck him two blows on the lest side of the head above the temple’. As he took his hand away from his wounded head Allen realised he was ‘bleeding freely’. Robson ran away but Allen chased after him and wrested with him. Despite the efforts of his fellows Robson was eventually handed over to a nearby policeman who took him into custody.

In front of the Police Magistrate at Worship Street Robson challenged Allen’s version of events. He suggested instead that Allen had sustained his wounds ‘by falling in a fair fights’ and asked those present to back him up. The magistrate decided to believe the victim in this case, who appeared in court with his head heavily bandaged. Robson was committed to take his trial before a jury.

Tried at the Sessions on 8th January Thomas Robson was convicted of wounding and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. The case has echoes of the Regent’s Park murder of 1888, when Joseph Rumbold was stabbed to death outside the gates of the park in a gang related incident. It is also a timely reminder that youth violence has a very long history in the capital. In the last few days we have heard that four young people were murdered on New Year’s Eve which brought the total of knife killings in London in 2017 to 80, the highest number in a decade.

Sir Craig Mackay, Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police made a statement, saying:

‘We need to find out why some young people think it is acceptable to carry knives, and this is where community organisations and local initiatives, charities, schools and educators, youth workers and families all have an important role to play in changing this mindset’.

I agree with his message but wonder what exactly we have been doing for the past 10, 20, 50 or even 100 years? Youth violence isn’t something we are suddenly going to understand or easily be able to solve. When my wife and I got home from a quiet New Year’s Eve with family we were disturbed by cries for help from two young men in the street. The pair were wrestling in the road and we called 999. Fortunately it was a case alarm; the pair were simply drunk and incapable and not killing each other. We aborted the call and apologised to the operator.

Joseph Allen was lucky, he survived being stabbed in the street. Joseph Rumbold was not so fortunate, dying in his girlfriend’s arms. As for the protagonists, Thomas Robson would have served most of his nine years and found work very hard to come by ever after. The consequences of his brutish behaviour would very likely dog his future. Joseph Rumbold was stabbed to death by George Galletly. He was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey in 1888 but reprieved on account of his age, he was just 18 years old.

Those murdered last Sunday night were 17, 18 and 20 years of age. The killers were probably young men of a similar age, and their lives have also been dramatically changed as a result of what they’ve done.

[from The Morning Post, Tuesday, January 03, 1878]

Two ‘professional’ thieves are nabbed on the Kingsland Road

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Although the metropolitan Police Courts mostly dealt with petty crime and disorderly behaviour this was also the place where a lot of more serious crime first came before the criminal justice system. Magistrates acted as a filter to the justice system, holding pre-trial hearings and determining whether there was a case for sending defendants for trial before a jury.

Early one morning on 8 October 1870 Inspector George Silverton (of N Division, Metropolitan Police) was out on patrol with two of his officers in the Kingsland Road, Dalston. They may well have been acting on information because they were after two well-known thieves, George Wool and John Thompson.

At about 5am Silverton spotted the two men and attempted to follow them. He lost them close to a stable yard attached to a pub, the De Beauvoir Arms*. The inspector now decided that the suspected thieves could only be in one of a handful of buildings nearby so he had his men surround them and waited.

Soon enough they saw a door in one of the properties, a shop belonging to Simon Drickkes, open slightly before it shut again immediately. Silverton alerted his men and when the door opened again they rushed it, gaining access and overpowering the occupants.

Inside they found Wool and Thompson with several sacks of goods they had stolen and were preparing to carry away.  The men were arrested and taken back to Kingsland Road Police Station. In the morning they were taken before the magistrate at Clerkenwell. There they were charged with ‘burglariously breaking and entering’ Mr Drickkes property and attempting to take away the following haul:

‘eight timepieces, two watches, three meerschaum pipes, 700 cigars, twelve meerschaum cigar-holders, and a quantity of other valuable property’.

Inspector Silverton also explained that the police had found a skeleton key in the building that had fitted the shop’s lock, suggesting that the burglars had carefully planned their operation.  The two accused men declined to comment, preferring to reserve their defence for a judge and jury at the Middlesex Sessions.

[from The Illustrated Police News etc, Saturday, October 22, 1870]

*a pub with that name still exists on Southgate Road, only a short walk from where Inspector Silverton says he lost sight of the pair.

A sad example of Victorian poverty

Police Constable Williams of N Division, Metropolitan Police, was patrolling his beat late in the evening of November 28th 1863 when he saw a man he found suspicious. As the PC retreated into a doorway he saw the man stop outside a building on Kingsland Road near to a yard for the King’s Head pub.

The man unfastened his coat and trousers and withdrew a parcel which he flung into a nearby  empty building. The PC showed his lamp and demanded to know what the man was doing and what was in the package.

“A dead kid” came the reply. The officer now asked him to show him but the man, Charles Law, at first refused. PC Williams insisted and the two retrieved the parcel. It contained the tiny dead body of a female child.

When asked how he came by it Law replied: “It was a premature birth from a poor woman, and I, being a medical man, undertook to get rid of it to save the burial fees, which would have been 7s and 6d”. He then added that he wished he’d buried it in the garden and avoided being caught with it. The policeman took him into custody.

Back at the station house another body was found in his pocket, both were ‘rather small’, both premature and about six months old according to the divisional surgeon who appeared to give evidence at Law’s hearing at the Worship Street Police Court. He was unable to say whether the children had breathed at all or had been still born.

The building into which the body had been thrown was a house in the process of being built or renovated and the court was informed that in daylight anyone could have seen and found the remains of the children Law was disposing of. The clerk told the justice that under law exposing bodies in this way was an offence at common law. As Charles Law stated himself to be a ‘medical man’ he was saved the inconvenience of being remanded in custody and was bailed at his own surety of £80 and two from his friends at £40 each.

Was Law an abortionist? He told the court one of the women lived in Nottingham and that he was merely clearing up on their behalf. There is no Charles Law prosecuted at the Old Bailey for abortion (which was illegal) so perhaps he was telling the truth. It may be however, that there was simply not enough evidence against him. It does however, tell us something about the desperation of women who either wished to lose unwanted children or who miscarried and could not afford the fees to bury their offspring.

 

[from Reynolds’s Newspaper, Sunday, November 29, 1863]