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]

The ‘artful urchin’ and the 8th Baronet; a contrast in mid Victorian fortunes

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Sir Alexander Grant had a long lineage. In 1852 he was 69 years of age and would die two years later. Grant had served as an MP for various constituencies until the early 1830s and had acceded to his family baronetcy in 1825. Grant had made his money in the West Indies, as a plantation owner. Whether he was an advocate of slavery or a campaigner for its abolition is unknown to me, but either way he profited from the trade and had a smart address in London at Portman Square.

Thomas Dwyer, by contrast, has no known lineage. In 1852 he was just 12 years of age but already had a criminal record for picking pockets. We don’t know where he lived or who his father or mother was; he may have had none and probably slept where he could on the street, in doorways, or any form of rough shelter. Thomas had no stated trade (and clearly no inherited wealth) and we don’t know what happened to him after he briefly made the pages of the newspapers in February 1852.

Sir Alexander was walking on Duke Street, by Manchester Square (in the wealthy West End) when a man tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to see a man holding a young boy firmly by the hand and preferring him a handkerchief.

‘This boy’, the man declared, ‘has stolen your handkerchief’. He handed the lad and the hankie over and then walked off.

Sir Alexander seized the boy (Thomas Dwyer) and marched him off to find the nearest policeman, and gave him into custody. A day or so later the pair were reunited in the Marylebone Police Court.

PC Steel (33C) testified to receiving the prisoner and stated that the boy had pleaded for leniency and begged ‘that he might be forgiven’. He added that the ‘young delinquent’ had previously been prosecuted for a similar offence and, when caught, was found to wearing a black silk ‘kerchief (‘nearly new’) around his neck.

Sir Alexander complained that he lost at least six handkerchiefs to thieves like Thomas while walking the streets of the capital. There was no inclination to leniency from the bench that day and Thomas Dwyer was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment at hard labour, and to be privately whipped on one occasion.

These were the very different fates that resulted from the accident of birth. Alexander Grant had his life mapped out for him; from birth to his education (at Cambridge), then a successful business enterprise from his inherited money, to a position of power and influence in parliament, to a quite retirement in a fashionable quarter of London. Thomas Dwyer was born into poverty and stayed there; even his attempts to survive (by stealing small items of value from those way above his social status) were thwarted and ultimately ‘rewarded’ by punishment which would have made it more difficult to survive in any other way in the future.

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, February 19, 1852]

Pram (and class) wars in Regent’s Park

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A family nursemaid and her fellow servant were taking the children in their care to the park when they ran into an angry pedestrian. The case was trivial but reveals the deeply ingrained class distinctions of late Victorian London.

Evelyn Thatcher lived and worked for General Knox and his wife in Portman Square. The couple had two children, a boy of five and baby under 12 months old. On the 11 November 1891 Ms Thatcher and her assistant nurse, Annie Leadbitter, were on their way to Regent’s Park for the afternoon. The little boy was in his go-kart while Leadbitter pushed the infant along in a perambulator. Together, however, they occupied most of the pavement which as they made their way two abreast, with a yard between the children’s vehicles.

Meanwhile Captain Saunders, of 3 Upper Spring Street, (off nearby Baker Street), also enjoying the late autumn air. Looking up the captain suddenly saw the approaching women and their charges. He stopped in his tracks, ‘stamped his feet, raved, and flourished his umbrella’ before telling them to get out of his way as they were ‘obstructing the footway’.

Leadbitter (possibly ill-advisedly) was in no mood to be gracious enough to move aside. She said:’Good gracious man, are you mad […] what is the matter?’ before pointing down the street at a policeman and telling him to call him to arrest them if he really felt they were causing an instruction. After all there was clear yard of pavement between them he could easily pass through.

At this the captain started his ‘ravings’ again and Leadbitter decided to ignore him and set off again. This enraged Saunders who grabbed her by the shoulder, shook her and then proceeded to drag her along the street. The boy on his go-kart started to cry and the little baby looked terrified by his display.

The policeman soon arrived and while he agreed that the women should perhaps not have occupied all the pavement they had broken no laws. Nevertheless the captain seized hold of the nurse and shook his umbrella ‘violently’ at her and even in the face of the children. A nearby cabdriver saw the whole thing and when the captain was summoned before the magistrate at Marylebone, he testified in support of the servants against the military man.

Captain Saunders was seemingly apoplectic in his rage. The cabbie, Henry Canning, reportedly called him a ‘Zulu’ so fierce was he at having his daily perambulation  interrupted by a pair of lowly nursemaids and a boy in a go-kart.

Mr Newton (the magistrate) had heard quite enough of this nonsense and it was making a scene in his courtroom. Given that the public galleries often attracted the ‘meaner’ sort of Londoner we can imagine that they were enjoying the sport of watching a member of the ‘better’ class being bested on the street and in court by a pair of working-class women.

Captain Saunders vehemently denied assaulting Annie Leadbitter, the children, or indeed anyone else, ever. The nurses were in the wrong for blocking the pavement with the pram and cart. Mr Newton agreed with him on this at least but supported the view of the policeman at the time; it might be wrong but it was not against the law. Grabbing hold of the nurse and hauling her up the street was wrong however, and a crime. He fined him 2s 6d  – a trivial amount for what he described as a ‘trivial offence’.

With a snort that probably reflected his contempt for both the fine and the decision, the captain paid the money and left. Annie and Evelyn were also free to return to Portman Square with an amusing tale to relate over supper in the servants’ quarters later that day. Whether their employers were quite as pleased is another matter of course.

[from The Standard, Thursday, December 01, 1892]

Cruelty to a performing monkey in Marylebone

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Italian organ grinders have figured before on this blog; there seems to have been  a fair few of them active in Victorian London and they nearly all seem to have used a monkey as part of their act. I suppose it helped to draw a crowd and buskers today often need a gimmick to help part passers-by from their cash.

Today we place considerable restrictions on the use of animals in theatres, circuses and on television and film but we frequently look back on the past as a time when people cared less about cruelty towards them than they do now. I’m not sure this really holds up to examination; after all the RSPCA was founded in 1824, long before the NSPCC ( 1884).

Police detective Cumner of D Division was walking around Portman Square in London’s fashionable West End, when he saw a man  knocking on the houses of the well-to-do. The man was ‘dragging a monkey along the street by means of a chain’. As he approached a house he tried to force the animal to camber up the railings, to perform one imagines. But according to the detective the poor beast ‘did its best to do as directed, but seemed unable to complete the task owing to its weak condition’.

The man then kicked the animal before a nearby police constable saw him and approached. At this the man seized his money, thrust it under his coat and walked away. The copper would have probably nicked him for begging or loitering with intent.

Detective Cumner decided to follow him however, to see what he did next.

He saw him stop in the next street and start to hit the animal ‘most cruelly’. At this Cumner intervened and when he got close he saw that the monkey was bleeding from its feet. The man, an Italian musician named Joseph Syra, was arrested and taken back to the police station.

The animal was then shown to a vet on Marylebone High Street. James Rowe examined the animal and discovered that it had suffered really badly under Syra’s ‘care’.

It ‘was dressed up as a soldier’ and strips of steel had been attached to its legs, to keep it upright. It was ‘very ill and emaciated’, and the metal splints had caused its hind legs and feet to bleed. The very act of standing in an unnatural position was, in the vet’s opinion, causing it great pain and injury.

When the case was outlined before Mr Cooke, the sitting magistrate at Marylebone he fined Syra 25s with 10s 6d costs. warning him that if he couldn’t pay he would go to prison for 10 days.

This alarmed the detective: ‘But what shall I do with the monkey, your worship, if the man goes to prison?’

‘I really don’t know’, came the reply, ‘I suppose they would not receive it at the Green Yard?’

This provoked a weak laugh from the courtroom. The Green Yard was the City of London’s holding pen for stray cattle and sheep that had been found wandering before or after they were supposed to be sold at Smithfield Market. It was unlikely that an Italian musician’s pet would be welcome there.

Fortunately  the vet stepped in and offered to keep the monkey for the duration. He had, he said, a large cage which was ideal for the purpose. One wonders whether anyone thought to remove the poor monkey from Joseph Syra’s clutches but perhaps, in 1886, that was beyond the authority of the magistracy.

[from The Standard, Monday, April 19, 1886]

An unwanted French visitor is ‘awarded’ some English hospitality

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Louis Rateau was a serial thief.

A self-declared chemist of no fixed abode he was charged at Marylebone Police Court of stealing overcoats in January 1887. His victims were all medical men: Dr Caley of Wimple Street, Dr Fosbrook of Buckingham Palace Square, and Dr Bradley of Orchard Street, Portman Square.

Rateau’s modus operandi was delightfully simple and effective. He called at the house of a doctor requesting a word with them. The servant that answered the door would take a proffered note to their masters and while the chemist waited in the hall he helped himself to each and every overcoat he could find hanging on the rack.

When the poor valet returned there was no sign of the elusive visitor.

However, while this ruse had worked well at the homes of Dr Bradley and Dr Fosbrook, Dr Caley’s servant was sharper witted. He quickly worked out what had occurred and set off in pursuit of the thief.  With assistance from the police the Frenchman was soon in custody.

In court he pleaded guilty as charged and claimed he was driven to his crime out of desperation. Since he had arrived in London from France three months earlier he had had no work, and nowhere permanent to live. He had ‘dossed’ in a lodging house but now, with no money, he was sleeping rough and stealing to survive.

He must have had the appearance of respectability for the servants to let him stand indoors (or not to send him to the tradesman’s entrance) but a few more weeks of surviving in the open would have soon rendered that ruse impossible.

Louise apologised and promised to return to France if he was discharged but the magistrate had other ideas. He would give him accommodation and regular meals, but at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in prison for four months at hard labour.

quelle dommage!

[from The Morning Post, Thursday, January 27, 1887]