Murder at the Inn: A History of Crime in Britain's Pubs and Hotels

Murder at the Inn: A History of Crime in Britain's Pubs and Hotels

by James Moore


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The first book to explore the fascinating and dark history of England's pubs and hotels

In which pub did the Krays murder George Cornell and so achieve notoriety as Britain’s most feared gangsters? Where is the hostelry in which Jack the Ripper’s victims drank? How did Burke and Hare befriend their victims in a Scottish watering hole before luring them to their deaths? What is the name of the pub where the Lord Lucan mystery first came to light? And how did a pub become the scene of the murder that led to Ruth Ellis going to the gallows? For centuries, the history of beer and pubs has gone hand in hand with some of the nation’s most despicable and fascinating crimes. Packed with grizzly murders—including fascinating little-known cases—as well as sinister stories of smuggling, robbery, and sexual intrigue, Murder at the Inn is a treasure trove of dark tales linked to the best drinking haunts and historic hotels across the land.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750956833
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 05/01/2015
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

James Moore is a journalist with 20 years of experience writing features for national newspapers and magazines. His work has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Mirror, and more. He is the coauthor of six books.

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Murder at the Inn

A History of Crime in Britain's Pubs and Hotels

By James Moore

The History Press

Copyright © 2015 James Moore
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-6333-6


Homicide and the Hostelry

For many years The Crown and Dolphin pub in Shadwell, East London, displayed a macabre item of memorabilia behind the bar – a genuine human skull. It was purported to be that of John Williams, the man supposedly responsible for the Ratcliff Highway murders which had rocked the capital in 1811. The story goes that in the 1880s his skeleton had been dug up near the now closed Crown and Dolphin during building works. They knew it was Williams' body not only from the location in which he was known to have been buried, but also because the skeleton had a wooden stake through it – just like Williams when he'd been buried.

The Ratcliff Murders saw seven people killed in two separate incidents over twelve days within a square mile of each other, and were later described as 'the sublimest and most entire in their excellence that ever were committed'. The first murder occurred on the night of 7 December 1811 when a 24-year-old draper, Timothy Marr, along with his wife, Celia, 22, their 3-month-old son and a shop assistant were all found dead at their shop in Wapping. The adults' skulls had been crushed in and the baby's throat cut. Then, on 19 December, 56-year-old John Williamson, landlord of the nearby King's Arms, along with his wife and a servant, were murdered in their own pub. A serial killer appeared to be on the loose and initially the Bow Street Runners, a precursor of the Metropolitan police force, had little to go on. However, John Williams, who lodged at another defunct Wapping pub, The Pear Tree, became a suspect when he was linked to a ship carpenter's hammer thought to be the murder weapon in the first killings. The evidence was shaky, but Williams was arrested. He was never brought to trial, committing suicide in jail. The public were outraged that Williams had cheated the hangman, and to assuage them the Home Secretary ordered that his body be paraded through the streets. An estimated 180,000 people attended the procession before Williams' dead body had a stake hammered through the heart according to ancient custom, and was unceremoniously buried in a hole at a crossroads.

The case became a media sensation and was instrumental in the growing fascination with murders among the nineteenth-century public which saw many high profile killings such as the Red Barn Murder of 1827 (see here) dramatised in plays. Our obsession with murder has continued to this day, fuelling countless TV dramas, films and books. But one aspect that has been largely ignored is how pubs and inns have often provided backdrops or even the stage for murder, just as they did in the Ratcliff Highway killings. Indeed it is startling just how many of the famous murder cases in history involve a pub or hotel in some capacity. Sometimes they feature as murder scenes, sometimes as places where despicable crimes are planned or simply as locations where the villains have been arrested. In other cases they provide vital evidence to police and prosecutors as places where victims or suspects were last seen.

Sharing a drink can bring people together and induce a convivial, friendly atmosphere. Yet too much drink can get the better of any of us, and the records of the earliest alehouses show that beer and blood have always been bedfellows. Just as now, fights and brawls could break out over anything from religion and politics to sex or money. In 1641, for example, the constable of East Grinstead found people fighting in an alehouse. He reported 'a great deal of bloodshed' and the ale-wife 'covered with gore'. At worst, of course, this behaviour could lead to murder. For many years it was said that the famous playwright Christopher Marlowe had been killed in a simple tavern brawl, though this is now in dispute among historians. Whether or not the esteemed author of works like Doctor Faustus was indeed stabbed in a row over a bar bill as it is alleged, there are plenty of other examples from history where violence flared up in drinking venues and led to death. On 10 February 1355, two university students drinking in the Swyndlestock Tavern in Oxford complained about the quality of the wine. In the argument that ensued they ended up throwing the jug at the head of the taverner, John Croidon. What had begun as a low-level row soon erupted into a full-scale riot in the streets of the city, with hundreds of scholars taking on groups of locals. The trouble lasted several days and only ended after the deaths of ninety of those involved. During the English Civil War, inns and alehouses were often melting pots for heated debate, and in 1648 at The Bull in Long Melford it may well have been a disagreement over politics which led Roger Greene to stab Richard Evered. The murder took place in the entrance hall of the half-timbered inn, which dates back to 1580. Greene was swiftly tried and executed.

Disputes over more trivial matters can always get out of hand too – but never more spectacularly than when Lord Byron, an uncle to the famous poet, killed his cousin William Chaworth in a disagreement over who had more game on their respective estates. On 26 January 1765 the pair fell out over the issue whilst drinking at the Star and Garter tavern in London's Pall Mall, and a duel in one of the rooms of the building resulted in Chaworth being run through with a sword. Although Byron was brought to trial he got special treatment, being a peer of the realm. He got off with a conviction for manslaughter and a small fine.

Although often outlawed, or the subject of regulation, gambling in alehouses and pubs has been popular for more than 1,000 years. It has also led to murderous disputes. The Maid's Head in Norwich, Norfolk, has a proud history going back 800 years, but in 1519 it was the setting for a shameful episode when John Ganton was slain with a dagger in a disagreement over who was winning in a game of dice. In the following century a game of shove ha'penny, still a bar room favourite today, resulted in a man being stabbed to death in a Hertfordshire alehouse, while the ghost that is reputed to haunt The Grenadier, in London's Belgravia, is said to be of a former soldier murdered there after cheating in a game of cards.

Money is often a motive for murder and plain old robbery has accounted for plenty of killings linked to hostelries. In 1734, for instance, a pedlar called Jacob Harris slashed the neck of the landlord at the now demolished Royal Oak in Ditchling Common, West Sussex, killed his wife and maid too and then made off with the night's takings. Before he died, however, the taverner named his victim and Harris was tracked down to the Cat Inn, West Hoathly, where he was found hiding in a chimney. Another murder and robbery, that of William Stevenson, in 1859, by two men with whom he had been drinking in The Ship at Sibsey, Lincolnshire, even gave rise to a ditty:

At the public-house he called for ale,
His lowly spirits for to cheer,
He little thought that night to die,
And being to his home so near;
But he was followed from that house,
By some ruffians you shall hear,
Who robbed and murdered the poor old man,
In Sibsey village in Lincolnshire.

An equally invidious crime took place in June 1922 when an 18-year-old pantry boy at the Spencer Hotel in London, today known as the DoubleTree, went to the gallows after killing a guest there, Lady Alice White. Henry Jacoby had battered the 65-year-old to death with a hammer in Room 14 of the hotel. She had made the mistake of waking up during his attempt to rob her. Seven years later, Sidney Harry Fox was also hanged after he strangled his mother in the Metropole Hotel in Margate, Kent, to cash in on an insurance policy. His attempt to disguise the murder by lighting a fire in her room had failed.

Plans to bump people off have often been hatched over a drink in a pub. In 1551 Thomas Arden, the mayor of Faversham in Kent, was strangled, beaten and stabbed to death in his own home. His wife Alice and her lover, Richard Mosbye, planned the murder at an inn called the Fleur-de-Lis, now a museum. Alice was burned at the stake and others who took part were also executed. In another case, from 1741, a captain in the Royal Navy, Samuel Goodere, ordered some of his men to assemble in the White Hart in Bristol before kidnapping his own brother, Sir John Goodere, who was then murdered aboard the HMS Ruby.

Pubs can be the venue for criminal 'hits' too, most famously in the case of the Krays (see here). That case took several years to solve. But the police have had even more difficulty in bringing anyone to justice for the murder of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. After taking tea at the Millennium Hotel in London on 1 November 2006, in the company of two other Russians, the 44-year-old former secret service agent fell ill. He died a few days later. His death was attributed to poisoning with the radioactive substance polonium-210, traces of which were found at the hotel. While British police identified a Russian man as the main suspect, no one has, to date, faced charges.

It's always worth being wary about whom you're talking to in a pub or hotel bar. In the last 200 years they have been the haunts of a number of serial killers, many of whom appeared to be charming characters on the surface, as they lured victims to their doom. Among these were Neville Heath, John George Haigh and Dennis Nilsen.

Numerous pubs crop up in the evidence surrounding the most famous serial killer of all, Jack the Ripper, whose murders shocked London in 1888. Many Whitechapel watering holes were later declared as places where possible suspects and victims were seen drinking in the run up to the crimes. And, while the Ripper murders have remained frustratingly unsolved, sightings of murder victims in pubs just before their disappearance have been crucial in many a murder trial. In April 1937, Ruby Keen, 23, was killed in a lane near Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, by a former boyfriend, Leslie George Stone. The pair had been seen drinking in several pubs in the town including the Golden Bell, the Cross Keys and the Stag in the hours before the murder, and witnesses were able to testify that Stone, well-oiled with beer, had been trying to persuade the port-drinking Ruby to break off her engagement with a local policeman on the night she died. Stone, 24, was eventually hanged at Pentonville Prison on 13 August 1937.

In an earlier case, heard at the Old Bailey, George Foster denied killing his wife and child by drowning them in the Paddington Canal. He swore that, though he had been in the Mitre tavern with them on the day in question, he had left alone. A waiter at the pub testified that he had seen them leaving together. Foster was hanged on the 18 January 1803.

Sometimes, however, such evidence would lead to the wrong verdict. In March 1949 the Cameo Cinema Murders rocked the city of Liverpool when the manager and assistant at the picture house were robbed and shot dead. Chillingly, the plot of the film that had been showing that night involved a double murder. The police made little headway with their investigations until 23-year-old local prostitute Jackie Dickson and her boyfriend, pimp James Northam, came forward. The couple said that they had seen labourers George Kelly, 27, and Charles Connolly, 26, both of whom had minor convictions to their name, planning the crime in a pub called The Beehive in Mount Pleasant that night. According to them, Kelly had been showing off his gun in the bar. Kelly and Connolly claimed not even to know each other and to have alibis. They both maintained that they had not been in The Beehive on the evening in question. Despite more shaky evidence from a convict who had claimed to have overheard the two accused men plotting whilst behind bars, Kelly and Connolly were put on trial. While Kelly was convicted and hanged in March 1950, Connolly got ten years behind bars. Both convictions were eventually quashed in 2003.

Sex and troubled relationships account for a vast number of murders, and again pubs and inns play their part in these tragic episodes, perhaps most famously in the case of Ruth Ellis (see here) but also in the case of another female killer, poisoner Mary Blandy (see here). A man who could not bear to see his relationship fail was behind a less famous murder in Catton near Norwich in 1908. Horace Larter killed his 19-year-old sweetheart Nellie Howard and later that night stumbled into The Maid's Head in Old Catton, dripping blood and spilling beer. He pleaded guilty to the crime, telling police, 'In a fit of passion I stabbed her in the neck.'

Some murders do, of course, seem completely senseless, such as the 1922 murder by 15-year-old Jack Hewitt of Sarah Blake, the landlady at the Crown and Anchor pub, which was located by the aptly named Gallows Tree Common near Pangbourne in Berkshire. Before Hewitt was convicted he put his actions down to watching too many movies, telling police to 'blame it on the pictures'.

For some reason, after committing their crimes, murderers often seek refuge in the comforting surroundings of pubs and hotels. When Harry Roberts and two accomplices killed three police officers in 1966 in what would become known as the Massacre of Braybrook Street, the felons went on the run. Roberts checked into London's grand Russell Hotel. While staying here he bought camping equipment, subsequently managing to avoid capture for three months before being apprehended and locked up for life. Thankfully the long arm of the law usually does catch up with murderers, and they have often been arrested in pubs, such as William Wilton who killed his wife, Sarah, in Brighton in 1887. He was picked up just hours later in the Windmill, now The Dyke Pub & Kitchen, confessing there and then.

Murder victims have even turned up in pubs many years after the event! In October 2010, workmen were redeveloping a derelict pub in Richmond-upon-Thames called the Hole in the Wall for the naturalist and filmmaker David Attenborough who lived next door. They discovered a skull which had been buried where the pub's stables had once stood. Scientific tests concluded that it was the missing head of Julia Martha Thomas, a widow who was known to have been murdered by her maid, Kate Webster, on 2 March 1879 in a house nearby. Webster first pushed her victim down the stairs, then boiled her body before disposing of the body parts around south-west London. She even tried to sell the fatty remains of the dead woman as dripping to the landlady at the Hole in the Wall. Webster was hanged in July 1879 at Wandsworth Prison.

Locations: The Bull, Hall Street, Long Melford, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 9JG, 01787 378494,; Maid's Head Hotel, No. 20 Tombland, Norwich, NR3 1LB, 01603 209955,; The Grenadier, No. 18 Wilton Row, London, SW1X 7NR, 020 7235 3074,; The Cat Inn, Queen's Square, West Hoathly, West Sussex, RH19 4PP, 01342 810369,; Double Tree, No. 4 Bryanston Street, Marble Arch, London, W1H 7BY, 020 7935 2361,; Millennium Hotel, No. 44 Grosvenor Square, London, W1K 2HP, 020 7629 9400,; TheGolden Bell, Leighton Buzzard, No. 5 Church Square, Leighton Buzzard, Central Bedfordshire, LU7 1AE, 01525 373330,; The Stag, No. 1 Heath Road, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, LU7 3AB, 01525 372710; The Beehive, No. 14 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, L3 5RY, 0151 525 8967; The Maid's Head, No. 85 Spixworth Road, Old Catton, Norwich, Norfolk, NR6 7NH; Hotel Russell, Nos 1–8 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5BE, 020 7837 6470; Dyke Pub & Kitchen, No. 218 Dyke Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 5AA, 01273 555672,



Most pub landlords and landladies are genial folk. They are people with whom you can share a joke and enjoy a chat. Sometimes they even provide a shoulder to cry on. But there are exceptions to this rule, and a few have been truly villainous. Tales of murderous landlords date back centuries and the concept of the psychopathic innkeeper has a rich heritage in literature and film. This tradition first arose because travel, until relatively recent times, was an extremely hazardous business. There was not only the threat of being robbed by bandits or highwaymen on your journey, but it was difficult to know whom you could trust as you bedded down for the night in an unfamiliar place. At even some of the best inns you could awake to find your possessions gone in the morning, only taking comfort from the fact that you hadn't been murdered in your bed too.

The Ostrich Inn at Colnbrook, Berkshire, can trace its history to around 1100 when it was a hospice for travellers, though the present building dates to around 1500. It was probably the Crane Inn, mentioned in Thomas Deloney's 1600 work, The Pleasant Historie of Thomas of Reading. This tome included the anything but pleasant account of a landlord by the name of Jarman who robbed rich travellers by boiling them. He constructed a special bed in one of the chambers of the inn above the kitchen. When he was sure his unwitting guest was asleep, the poor soul would then be tipped through a trapdoor into a bubbling cauldron beneath. Jarman, aided by his wife, did away with some sixty people before his ruse was finally rumbled when enquiries were made about one of his missing guests, Thomas Cole. His body was found in the local brook, supposedly giving the village its name. Deloney's work was, in fact, designed as a fictional tale, but the tale about Jarman, which is supposed to have happened in the reign of Henry I, may well have been based on a true story. After all, serial killers are not a new phenomenon and some of Deloney's details are quite specific.


Excerpted from Murder at the Inn by James Moore. Copyright © 2015 James Moore. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part One: A Drinker's Guide to Crime,
1 Homicide and the Hostelry,
2 Murderous Landlords,
3 Hold-ups, Hideouts and Heists,
4 Plots, Riots and Rebellions,
5 Bodies in the Bar, Post-mortems and Inquests,
6 Courtrooms and Prisons,
7 Inns and Executions,
8 Landlords and Hangmen,
9 Signs of the Crimes,
10 Policing the Pub,
11 Catch Them While You Can,
Part Two: The Cases,
1 Golden Age of the Scoundrel: 1600-1700s,
2 From Georgian Dramas to Victorian Scandals: 1800s,
3 Murder Most Modern: 1900s,
Select Bibliography,

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Murder at the Inn: A History of Crime in Britain's Pubs and Hotels 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Interesting material. It is non-fiction but a lot more fun than reading a textbook.