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Greater London Murders
33 True Stories of Revenge, Jealousy, Greed & Lust
By Linda Stratmann
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Linda Stratmann
All rights reserved.
BARKING AND DAGENHAM
A Fight to the Death
In the 1840s, Dagenham was a rural village, largely populated by agricultural labourers. With the Thames estuary only two miles away, many men were tempted to supplement their low wages by smuggling. There was no Essex police force, and the area earned a not undeserved reputation for lawlessness. To combat the problem the Metropolitan police force established a small station in Dagenham which was manned by six constables and a sergeant, and provided with a horse. The police soon came into conflict with the criminal elements, and some constables received threats which were taken so seriously that it was decided to transfer the officers in question to other districts.
On 4 March 1846, PC Abia Butfoy was on patrol when he encountered a man he knew to be of bad character, carrying a bag. Suspecting that the bag contained stolen property, he insisted on seeing its contents. The man refused and this resulted in a scuffle. Later the man showed him what was in the bag, but departed with a threat to get even. In mid-May Butfoy was replaced on his beat with another constable, PC George Clark.
Clark had been in the police force only six months, and in Dagenham just six weeks. He was 20 years old, robust and well able to take care of himself, and had already impressed his superiors with his conscientious attention to duty. He was a quiet, good humoured and religious lad, who sang hymns as he walked along and carried tracts in his pocket. He had recently become engaged to be married.
The police patrol began every night at 9 p.m., with Sergeant William Parsons on horseback at the head of his men. At a crossroads known as the Four Wantz, where the roads led to Ilford, Barking, Dagenham and Chigwell, the men parted, setting off on their individual beats. They met up at set points and times during the night, returning to the station at 6 a.m. The lone policeman walking country roads in the hopes of deterring a band of armed cutthroats was poorly equipped. He carried a truncheon and a cutlass, and wore a thick greatcoat done up tightly at the neck with a stout leather stock to protect against being strangled. If attacked, he could alert his colleagues with a wooden rattle.
On Monday 29 June the men patrolled as usual, and Clark was at his appointed place at 1 a.m., but two hours later, he was missing. When the men returned to the station, Clark was absent. His colleagues retraced his route but found nothing, and started dragging ponds for a corpse.
On 3 August they reached the farm of Ralph Page and asked his wife, Elizabeth, for permission to drag the pond. Mrs Page remembered that at 3 a.m. on 29 June she had been awoken by the furious barking of dogs. She had thought she heard a distant cry for help, but the barking was so loud that she had not been sure. Once the pond had been dragged Mrs Page said that there was another further on, and sent her two boys to show constables Butfoy and Thomas Kimpton where it was. In a field a quarter of a mile from the main road, they became aware of a strong smell. Kimpton found a policeman's staff, bloodstained and very much cut about, and immediately recognised it as Clark's. A little further on he found Clark's cutlass, stuck in a hedge, and when it was withdrawn it was seen to be covered in blood, with human hair sticking to it. Half a dozen yards further on was the body of George Clark, and even after the previous two discoveries the two policemen could not have been prepared for the ghastly appearance of the corpse. 'Here he lies!' called Butfoy, while the children screamed so loudly their mother could hear them back at the farmhouse. Kimpton was too appalled to speak and Butfoy, who had a stronger stomach, added, 'you are a pretty cow-hearted sort of a policeman.' They called for Sergeant Parsons and PC Stevens, who were in the adjoining field. Stevens took one look at the body and fell back in a dead faint.
Clark was lying on his back, one hand tightly grasping a handful of wheat in the last spasm of death. There had been a fierce struggle, for the crops were trodden down for ten or twelve yards in every direction. The face and hands of the corpse were covered with blood and dirt. The wounds were appalling. There was a large opening in the back of the skull some six to eight inches in circumference. Part of the scalp had been cut off, probably with the cutlass, and was lying beside the body.
Local surgeon Mr Collins was sent for to examine the body, then it was removed to the ruins of a nearby cottage using a cart borrowed from Mrs Page. Whatever the motive for the murder it could not have been robbery, for Clark's money and watch were found in his pockets. His rattle was still in his greatcoat pocket, in such a position that he could not have got to it in time to give the alarm. Collins removed the leather stock, which was completely saturated with blood, and found a deep wound to the throat, cutting through the windpipe and the root of the tongue almost through to the vertebrae. Another wound under the right ear went completely through the neck and must have been inflicted with a sharp double- edged knife. The face and chest were heavily bruised. There were other superficial wounds, and one finger had been cut off, probably as Clark defended himself.
Late that night the policemen returned the cart to Mrs Page, and she invited them in for refreshment. As they chatted, Kimpton mentioned that Sergeant Parsons had not been on duty for the whole of the night of Clark's murder. At about midnight, the sergeant had said he was not feeling well and had asked Kimpton to take the horse and do his duty for him. This casual statement sowed the seeds of a major scandal which was to damage the reputation of the Metropolitan police force for several years.
At daylight, further searches were made at the scene of the crime, but there were no footprints, and though the wheat had been parted at the side of the field showing that people had passed that way, it was not clear from what direction they had come, or where they had gone. Broken pieces of Clark's skull were so deeply embedded in the earth that they had to be dug out with a knife. The newspapers were to report that the body had been flung down with such force that it had left an impression in the earth, but a more likely explanation was that Clark's corpse had been trampled by many feet.
The inquest was opened on Saturday 4 July. The jurymen were obliged to view the remains, but many could barely glance at the body, and the smell made them feel nauseous and faint. Back in court, Abia Butfoy gave the name of a suspect, but this was not made public. Mrs Page was in court, and must have been astonished when Sergeant William Parsons gave evidence in which he stated that he had been on duty all night. The inquest was adjourned for a fortnight, and Clark's mother begged to be allowed to see the body. The coroner advised her not to do so, but reluctantly granted her request with the anticipated effect – she was overcome and had to be carried away, insensible.
Two detective officers from Scotland Yard arrived in Dagenham to conduct the investigation, questioning the inhabitants, visiting public houses and beer shops, and placing any known bad characters under surveillance. It was believed locally that Clark had been murdered after being mistaken for Abia Butfoy. The body was so far from his normal beat that he must have been deliberately lured there.
At the next inquest hearing, Mrs Page revealed that she had been told that Parsons had been absent from duty after midnight, however PC Stevens testified that he had seen Parsons at a quarter to one and denied that anything had been said about Parsons not doing his duty on the night of the murder. Kimpton then denied having made the statement about Parsons and swore that he had seen the sergeant on duty. Another constable, Isaac Hickton, also said he had seen Parsons on duty after midnight.
Mrs Page was not prepared to let the matter rest. At the next hearing, her daughter Priscilla, who had been present at the disputed conversation, testified that Kimpton had said not only that he had done Parsons' duty that night but it had not been the first time he had done so. Mrs Page and Kimpton were then brought into court, where there was a testy confrontation, each sticking to their testimony.
A neighbour, Mr Kettle, had been present at the time of the conversation, but asked to testify whether the disputed statement had been made, he said he couldn't remember. Mrs Page was heard to observe dryly that he had remembered it well enough last Saturday, and the jury expressed the strong opinion that the witness knew a great deal more than he was saying. James March, a labourer, who had assisted with transport of the body, testified that he had never heard Kimpton say he had done Parsons' duty. Unfortunately for March, his master was a member of the jury and immediately pointed out that he had heard March saying he had heard the statement not once but several times. A Dagenham grocer, Thomas Smith, supported Mrs Page by saying that Kimpton had also told him he had done Parsons' duty.
By now it was painfully apparent that several people in court had lied, the only problem being determining exactly which ones.
Julia Parsons, the sergeant's sister, had been staying with her brother on the night of the murder. She testified that she and Parsons' wife had met up with Clark and Parsons at about 9 p.m. Clark had been in a jocular mood, for when Mrs Parsons complained of feeling tired he had jokingly suggested he lift her onto the policeman's horse. The women returned home, and Clark and Parsons went on. Julia said her brother had returned to the station at midnight, had made out a report then gone out again. She had gone to bed and did not see him till 9 o'clock the next morning.
The coroner's opinion was that Parsons had been on duty the whole night, and the only question was whether or not Kimpton had made the damaging statement to Mrs Page. He believed that Kimpton had made it but why he had done so God only knew. In vain did Kimpton protest that he had not done so, for the jury said that they were satisfied that he did. The enquiry was adjourned for a month.
In August there was a hearing in Ilford concerning the potential involvement of three Irish itinerant agricultural labourers, who had been taken into custody after a drunken altercation in which words had been bandied about concerning the murder. Abia Butfoy gave evidence but when it was time for him to return to duty in Dagenham, he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps as a result of having to air the whole story again, Butfoy had suffered a crisis of conscience. He had gone to Scotland Yard and made a statement admitting that the policemen had lied at the inquest and that Kimpton had indeed done Parsons' duty for him. Officers were at once despatched to Dagenham, and Sergeant Parsons and the five constables, Hickton, Kimpton, Stevens, Butfoy and Farns, were relieved of their duties and placed under surveillance.
The news caused considerable excitement in Dagenham, and ripples of astonishment carried all the way to London. It was widely rumoured that the men had been arrested for the murder. Since Clark had been efficient, religious and popular, motives were hard to come by. Perhaps, it was hinted, his colleagues were jealous because he was just too efficient, religious and popular – perhaps he had discovered that they had been involved in smuggling or lectured them about their drinking habits, or maybe the incident with Mrs Parsons and the horse had aroused the sergeant to a frenzy of jealousy. Ultimately, no evidence was ever produced that the police were involved in the murder of Clark.
In August 1847 a memorial was placed on the grave of George Clark, the inscription reflecting the feelings of the community: 'His uniform good conduct gained him the respect of all who knew him, and his melancholy end was universally deplored.'
At the resumed inquest the constables, now in plain clothes, admitted that they had lied because Parsons had ordered them to, while Parsons was adamant that his original story was correct. When the inquest closed in September the jury returned a verdict of 'wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.'
Butfoy, Farns and Stevens had not been under oath when examined before the coroner so a charge of perjury could not be sustained and they were dismissed from the force. The others were suspended without pay which was especially hard for Kimpton, who was married with six children.
In the following March proceedings commenced against Kimpton, Hickton and Parsons on charges of wilful and corrupt perjury, but at the bail hearing, only Kimpton appeared, Parsons and Hickton having made their own arrangements by absconding. In London and Essex there was the unusual sight of placards being posted offering a reward of £50 for the apprehension of the two former policemen. Kimpton, lacking the £400 bail money, was taken to Ilford Gaol.
Hickton had gone to Liverpool, but seeing the wanted posters, his nerve failed him. In July he wrote to his father asking to send Sergeant Hardy of the Derbyshire police force to arrest him. Hardy was an old school friend and Hickton wanted him to get the reward.
Hickton and Kimpton were found guilty of perjury and the judge passed the maximum punishment, 'for if we cannot have truth from police officers what guarantee have we for the security of either our persons or property?' They were fined one shilling, and sentenced to prison for a week and then transportation for seven years. Hickton served his sentence in Portsmouth dockyard and Kimpton on board a convict ship at Woolwich. Both men were pardoned in 1849.
Parsons was apprehended in Lincolnshire, and stood trial in March 1848 for conspiracy to impede the course of justice. The judge commended the generally excellent behaviour of the Essex police, and pointed out that since the perjury was to avoid charges of neglect of duty and had nothing to do with the murder investigation, Parsons had not been indicted on the correct charge. Parsons was acquitted and walked from the court a free man.
In June 1858 a Mrs Mary Ann Smith claimed that Clark had been murdered by a gang consisting of her husband, William, and four others: Ned Wood (in some accounts Wilcox), George Chalk, George Blewitt and a farmer called Page. She described how the men had been surprised by Clark while stealing corn from a barn. She had been standing lookout and had given the alarm when she saw Clark approach. William had died in an accident about a year later, Wood was said to have hanged himself, Page had poisoned himself six years ago, and Chalk was in Australia. That left 32-year-old hay carter George Blewitt, who was arrested. When he appeared at the Ilford petty sessions in July, it became apparent that there was a problem with Mrs Smith's story, and indeed, a problem with Mrs Smith. She had stated that Clark had been killed near the barn and the body carried to where it was found, however the evidence at the scene showed that the murder could only have taken place where the body lay. Mrs Smith, who believed – rightly or wrongly – that Blewitt or some member of his family had stolen money from her, revealed that she had supernatural visitations and dreams. She claimed that she had seen her dead husband, and heard the Devil tapping under her chair. Her neighbours, she said, whispered that she was 'not quite right', and by the end of her testimony, the court had come to much the same conclusion. 'The magistrates,' said Mr Atkinson for the defence, 'would not pull a feather out of a sparrow's wing upon such evidence as this.' At the summer assizes the jury found 'no bill' against Blewitt, who was freed.
Hope faded and memory faded. No one was ever convicted of the murder of PC George Clark. The solution to the murder must lie in the dreadful mutilation of the corpse, which can only have been carried out by those with a deep hatred either of the young man or, more probably, what he stood for.
But PC George Clark was not entirely forgotten. On Sunday 30 June 1996, the 150th anniversary of his death was commemorated in Dagenham by a service held at the church of St Peter and St Paul, and a tree-planting at Eastbrook End Country Park. Policemen visited local schools to talk about policing in Victorian times, restoration work was carried out on the monument, and a letter from Police Commissioner Sir Paul Condon was presented to Clark's great-great-niece.CHAPTER 2
On 21 October 1949 Sidney Tiffin, a farm labourer of Tillingham, Essex was out looking for wild fowl on the marshes when he saw a floating bundle. He opened it to see if there was anything worth salvaging and found instead the decomposing torso of a man. The head and legs had been cut off, but the arms remained. Tiffin secured his find by pushing a stake into the mud, and notified the police at nearby Bradwell-on-Sea. The torso was taken to Chelmsford mortuary and Police Superintendent Totterdell arrived to see it, having first notified pathologist Dr Francis Camps.
Excerpted from Greater London Murders by Linda Stratmann. Copyright © 2012 Linda Stratmann. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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