A fascinating, if uncomfortable, insight into the minds and methods of those who practice murder
The Crime Museum of New Scotland Yard—invariably known as "the Black Museum"—houses a remarkable collection of exhibits, photographs, and documents connected with some of the most notorious crimes in the country's history. Although the museum is closed to the general public, Gordon Honeycombe was granted privileged access to its classified records, and his book reveals the stories behind 21 murders committed in Britain between 1835 and 1985. The author's painstaking research, which reaches beyond the Black Museum to other archives, as well as contemporary newspaper and similar reports, allows him to give detailed accounts of the murders and manslaughter committed by such infamous characters as William Palmer, Charles Peace, Donald Nielson (the "Black Panther"), the necrophiliac serial killer Dennis Nilsen, and Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Here too is the political assassination of the Bulgarian novelist and playwright Georgi Markov, and the murder by IRA bomb of four soldiers of the Household Cavalry in London's Hyde Park.
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Dark Secrets of the Black Museum 1835â"1985
More Dark Secrets from 150 Years of the Most Notorious Crimes in England
By Gordon Honeycombe
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2014 Gordon Honeycombe
All rights reserved.
JAMES GREENACRE AND SARAH GALE
The Murder of Hannah Brown, 1836
The New Police, in their top hats and blue-belted coats, were but seven years old when they were faced with the kind of murderer whom their successors would often encounter over the next 150 years: a plausible and persuasive man, charming, amoral, avaricious, egocentric, self-deceiving, stupid and vain, with an urge to talk and write, to make his cleverness known, though not to acknowledge his evil and guilt – and to give himself away. For having killed and dismembered his victim, who but such a murderer would scatter the separate parts around London for anyone to find? The police involved efficiently pieced together the body, and the case. But, as would be the case in years to come, it was solved for them by the killer's crazy carelessness, by helpful witnesses and citizens, and also by sheer chance.
The Whigs, led by Lord Melbourne, were in power in 1836. William IV, aged 71, the third son of George III, was king. An old sea-captain and now Lord High Admiral, he was married to the much younger Queen Adelaide. Their children had all died in infancy, and the teenage Princess Victoria, only daughter of William's brother, the late Duke of Kent, was now heiress presumptive. William's seven-year reign was approaching its end. It had begun in 1830, when the Duke of Wellington attended the opening of the Manchester and Liverpool railway – an event of as much significance as his victory at the Battle of Waterloo, 15 years before. Times were changing: machines driven by steam were being dreamt of and made; trade unions were being formed; the Tolpuddle Martyrs, sentenced to transportation in 1834, had been pardoned; and in 1835 the word 'socialism' was coined. Winters were worse in those days: it was colder, and there was more snow.
It had been snowing in London since Christmas. On the afternoon of Wednesday, 28 December 1836, a labourer, Robert Bond, was trudging down the western side of Edgware Road near a toll-gate called Pineapple Gate, when he noticed a large bundle stowed behind an upended flagstone propped against a wall. The road was being widened thereabouts and new buildings built, so the snowy footpath was obstructed here and there by piles of bricks and builders' supplies. No doubt on the look-out for something to filch, Bond examined the bundle, whose bulky contents were wrapped in a sack partly covered in snow and tightly parcelled with cord.
'I pulled the stone aside,' he said later. 'At first I thought it was meat, but on feeling it and pulling it about, I felt a hand.'
Alarmed, he summoned another labourer, James White, who was employed in the construction of Canterbury Villas near by. He cut the cords around the bundle and the twine at its neck. After removing various bloody bits of cloth and rag that enveloped what was hidden within, the two men exposed a headless torso with its folded arms tied across its chest.
Bond ran off to find a policeman and hailed PC Sam Pegler, who was on the other side of the road. On inspecting the workmen's grisly discovery, he sent Bond to fetch a wheelbarrow from the Paddington poorhouse, whither the remains, the rags and cords were conveyed about half-past two. It was not until then, when the torso was removed from the coarse, dirty sack and the arms untied, that the naked trunk, without legs, was seen to be that of a mature woman. The ragged bandages proved to be torn parts of a child's frock, a towel, and a shawl, some of which had been secured by small safety-pins, of a sort used on children's clothes.
PC Pegler, carefully examining these items, noticed that the sack smelled of mahogany dust, and that some mahogany shavings were lodged within – 'similar', he said later, 'to what a cabinet-maker would scrape off a mahogany table with a steel instrument'. He had also astutely observed, while in Edgware Road, that there had been no snow under the sack. It had evidently been dumped behind the flagstone on or before Christmas Day.
A post-mortem examination was carried out later that afternoon in the 'deadhouse', or mortuary, attached to the poorhouse, by a local surgeon, Gilbert Girdwood. He reported: 'The hand is a full woman's size, and dirty; there is no mark of needlework on the left forefinger; the mark of a ring exists on the left ring-finger ... There are no marks of violence on the body ... The thigh-bone on both sides ... is sawn through ... and then broken off.' The organs and the body were healthy, he said, and entirely drained of blood, which led him to suppose that the woman had been dismembered after death – after her throat was cut. She had eaten a meal and drunk some spirit shortly before her death, which must have been sudden. She was aged about 40, had been about 5' 6", and had never produced a baby. This latter fact was substantiated by what Girdwood called a 'remarkable peculiarity' – the dead woman had no uterus.
An inquest was held in a large room in the White Lion tavern in Edgware Road on the Saturday morning before a 'venerable' coroner, Mr Stirling, who was attended by his barrister son. Evidence was heard, and the proceedings observed by Inspector George Feltham, who had been put in charge of the case. He made copious notes. After retiring to the far end of the room for a discussion, the 12-man jury returned a verdict of 'wilful murder against some person or persons unknown'. The Times reporter noted 'a most singular coincidence'. Behind the coroner's chair was a full-length painting of an execution at Valencia in Spain, in which the executioner held up a decapitated head before the assembled multitude, who exhibited 'the greatest horror at the sight'.
A week after the inquest, the woman's head was found.
Matthias Rolfe, a lock-keeper on the Regent's Canal, was shutting the gates of the Ben Jonson lock at Stepney at 8.30 am after the passage of a coal barge, when the falls, or sluices, failed to close. Investigating the cause, he was horror-struck to see a human head, to which he assumed a body was attached. Summoning assistance and climbing down a ladder into the lock, his groping hand in the water informed him that the head had no body. The head itself was a hideous sight, bloated and disfigured, with long dark slimy hair. It also lacked one eye.
Taken to the bonehouse in Stepney churchyard, it was examined by a surgeon, who deduced it was that of a woman aged between 40 and 45, and had been in the water for about five days. In fact, it had been in the freezing water of the lock for about two weeks. The jaw had been crushed and twisted by the gates. The right eye had evidently not been dislodged by them, but by a heavy blow that had caused severe bruising and swelling to the brow and cheek.
The canal superintendent, thinking that the head had been severed from the body of someone who had fallen into the water, had the locks emptied and the canal dragged – without result. Meanwhile, Inspector Feltham, hearing of the discovery while at the station-house in Hermitage St, Paddington, sought official permission to obtain the head from Stepney. Although he went to fetch it himself, accompanied by PC Pegler, it was not handed over until 10.00 pm on Sunday night. It seems the local police and parish authorities were reluctant to let it leave Stepney town hall, where the head now reposed and where a large crowd clamoured outside, wanting to view the find. It was wrapped up and taken to Paddington in a basket, as the torso, which had been buried on Thursday, was being exhumed.
On Monday morning Mr Girdwood, surrounded by medical men and parish officials in a poorhouse room, successfully joined the torso to the head. Both were closely examined for over two hours and Girdwood issued another report. He said:
The head is that of a female, and of middle size; the skin is fair, and the hair is of a dirty brown colour, with a trace of grey here and there in it. The longest tresses are two feet long. The eyebrows are well marked, and, with the eyelashes, which are not very long, are of a dark brown colour. The eye is gray, with a shade of hazel in it. The frontal sinuses are strongly marked ... The mouth is middle-sized, the lips large, more especially the upper, and prominent. The front teeth are good ... Both ears are pierced for the ring. The left ear for that purpose has been pierced a second time, the original hole having apparently given way ... The profile struck all of us as being very much that of the lower order of Irish.
A couple called Spencer, from the village of Willesden, were brought by PC Pegler to view the head. They thought it might be that of Sarah Ricketts, who had left the village to collect a legacy and never returned. But having seen the head they declared its features were not those of Mrs Ricketts and they went away.
Reports of missing women had proliferated since the finding of the trunk and arms. Now the one-eyed head excited even more interest and morbid curiosity. It was preserved in a jar of spirits in the Paddington poorhouse and shown to those whom the churchwardens deemed to have reasonable grounds for supposing it might belong to their mother, sister, daughter or wife. The trunk was reinterred, but not before the severed thigh-bones had been removed from their pelvic sockets, in case a match was required for the missing pair of legs. In the meantime, the Regent's Canal, which skirted northern London from the lower to the upper Thames, was dragged where it passed under Edgware Road. For it was surmised that the head and missing legs might have been dumped in the canal, not far from the trunk, and that the head's hair, becoming entangled in a barge's steering gear, might have been dragged all the way to Stepney lock. But although reports and rumours abounded over the rest of January, nothing relevant occurred until 2 February 1837.
A labourer, working in a bed of osiers (willows) in a marshy meadow beside Coldharbour Lane (between Brixton and Camberwell), discovered and opened a large sack. It contained a pair of bloodless legs, severed above the knees. Each was bent backwards and tightly tied, like the trunk and arms, to make a compact bundle.
They and the sack were removed to a police station and examined the following day by the Paddington surgeon, Mr Girdwood, and by Inspector Feltham. The severed thigh-bones made a perfect fit, and Girdwood was now able to say that the dead woman had been 5' 6", that her legs, though large, had been well proportioned, with very small ankles, and that her feet, which were 'large and broad', had the appearance 'of having belonged to a person accustomed to walk barefoot'.
The piece of torn sack containing the legs was marked with capital letters: LEY and ERWELL. It was soon identified as being the property of a coal and corn merchant from Camberwell, Mr Moseley. He had many such sacks, but had no idea who might have so misused one, or when or how. However, the cords employed were the same as those used to tie up the Edgware sack, though that one was quite different from Mr Moseley's. All the evidence was taken to Paddington, and the legs interred in the churchyard with the trunk. The head remained on show.
Seven weeks passed without any further developments. It seemed as if the murdered woman's identity would never be known, nor the murderer found. Then, nearly three months after the torso was discovered in Edgware Road – on Monday, 20 March – an anxious man called William Gay expressed a wish to see the head. Reluctantly, the churchwarden concerned complied. Mr Gay stared at the terrible object with emotions that can scarcely now be imagined. But he said he was certain the head was that of his sister, Mrs Hannah Brown, aged 46, who had disappeared on Christmas Eve.
It was not, however, until the Thursday that Inspector Feltham heard Mr Gay's story and that of his sister's few friends. As a result, within a few days he was able to make an arrest.
Hannah Gay was born in Norfolk in 1790, on a farm two miles from Norwich. Her father was a yeoman farmer. Apart from her brother William, she had two sisters, Mary and Rebecca. Aged 16 (and about a year after the Battle of Trafalgar), she went into service at Crimley Hall, the home of Lord Wodehouse. She was there for four years, after which she came to London and married a shoemaker, Thomas Brown. It was not a happy marriage. But after two years her husband sailed for the West Indies, in the expectation of claiming some property there as an inheritance. However, during the voyage he fell overboard, and was drowned. This would have been in about 1812, three years before Waterloo.
Over the next 20 years Mrs Brown worked for various respectable families as a cook, ending up with a hatter, Mr Perring, in the Strand. During these years of hard kitchen work, being of frugal and temperate habits, she saved a good deal of money, some of which she then used to set herself up in business, buying a mangle and renting a kitchen basement at 45 Union Street (now Riding House Street), where she took in washing. The house, behind the Middlesex Hospital, belonged to a shoemaker, Mr Corney, and his wife who, like most shop-owners in London, took in lodgers paying a weekly rent. Here Mrs Brown lived quite comfortably, with a caged bird for company. Her savings consisted of a bag of sovereigns. But she also possessed some valuable pieces of jewellery: brooches, ear-rings and rings.
In appearance she was a tall, big woman – 5' 6" was tall for a woman in those days. She was 'very high chested', with strong large hands, long fingers, a high forehead and 'short, thickish teeth'. Her long brown hair was streaked with grey. She was very reserved, even secretive, and sometimes never spoke to anyone for several days.
About two years before her death her brother, William Gay, came to London, and Mrs Brown was instrumental in getting him a job as an assistant to a broker (a dealer in second-hand furniture etc), called Mrs Blanchard, whose business was at 10 Goodge Street, off Tottenham Court Road, a few hundred yards from his sister's lodging. William and his wife also lodged there. Brother and sister were very friendly at first, but after some disagreement Mrs Brown cold-shouldered her brother, even ignoring him when she visited Mrs Blanchard's shop.
The last time he saw her was on Thursday, 22 December, when she called on Mrs Blanchard to tell her that she was going to marry a Mr James Greenacre in Camberwell on Christmas Day. The banns, she said, had already been read at St Giles's Church. Greenacre waited for Mrs Brown outside the shop, and when she rejoined him, her brother William watched them walk away.
Her women friends would later say that she could not have known Greenacre for more than three months. Mrs Corney knew of the proposed marriage, and also that Mrs Brown had sold or disposed of her mangle and furniture prior to the marriage, saying that Mr Greenacre had told her to keep what she got for them as pocket money. The rest of her belongings she packed into some boxes before her departure.
None of her friends, or family, had met Greenacre before 22 December, apart from Evan Davis and his wife. They had known Hannah Brown for five years. He was a cabinet-maker, and they lived in Bartholomew Close, near Smithfield Market. About nine days before Christmas, Mrs Brown brought Greenacre to their house and introduced him as her beau. The two men went out to a pub, the Hand and Shears, for a drink, and Davis was told that Greenacre had an estate of about 1,000 acres at Hudson's Bay in Canada, from where he had returned about five weeks ago and whither he would return with his bride. The Davises then entertained the couple to supper in their home. Mr Davis would later say of Hannah Brown that she was 'remarkably sober, and a more social, agreeable woman did not exist'.
Excerpted from Dark Secrets of the Black Museum 1835â"1985 by Gordon Honeycombe. Copyright © 2014 Gordon Honeycombe. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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Table of Contents
1 JAMES GREENACRE AND SARAH GALE The Murder of Hannah Brown, 1836,
2 DANIEL GOOD The Murder of Jane Jones, 1842,
3 MARTHA BROWNING The Murder of Elizabeth Mundell, 1845,
4 WILLIAM PALMER The Murder of John Cook, 1855,
5 JAMES MULLINS The Murder of Mary Emsley, 1860,
6 FRANZ MÜLLER The Murder of Thomas Briggs, 1864,
7 CHARLES PEACE The Murder of Arthur Dyson, 1876,
8 JOHN LEE The Murder of Emma Keyse, 1884,
9 JAMES CANHAM READ The Murder of Florence Dennis, 1894,
10 GEORGE CHAPMAN The Murder of Maud Marsh, 1902.,
11 PAUL HEFELDT AND JACOB LEPIDUS The Murder of PC Tyler, 1909,
12 ERNEST WALKER The Murder of Raymond Davis, 1922,
13 FLORENCE RANSOM The Murder of Dorothy Fisher, 1940,
14 RUTH ELLIS The Murder of David Blakely, 1955,
15 FRANCIS FORSYTH, NORMAN HARRIS, CHRIS DARBY AND TERENCE LUTT The Murder of Allan Jee, 1960,
16 JOHN HALL The Murders of Inspector Pawsey and DS Hutchins, 1961,
17 ALEXANDER VANAGS The Murder of Eleonora Essens, 1968,
18 DONALD NEILSON The Murder of Lesley Whittle, 1975,
19 MICHAEL HART The Murder of Angela Wooliscroft, 1976,
20 THE HYDE PARK BOMBING The Murders of Lt Daly, SQMC Bright, L/Cpl Young and Trooper Tipper, 1982,
21 DENNIS NILSEN The Murder of Stephen Sinclair, 1983,
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