Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five is easily one of the most important history books of the last decade.
For the first time a book that contains the words ‘Jack the Ripper’ isn’t about the over mythicised serial killer. It’s about the women whose lives were not only brutally ended, but their memory twisted. Over a century they’ve become a carnival sideshow, pantomine prostitutes at tourist attractions like The London Dungeons, pictures of their brutalised bodies on display in a mocked up ‘morgue’ at The Jack The Ripper Museum, they’re the butt of a pop culture joke.
Which is why this book is so important. Restoring the dignity of Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary Jane.
Hallie Rubenhold places the women into history, revealing that each women was indelibly linked to a key moment in Victorian history, be that the Trafalger Sqaure encampment or The Princess Alice disaster. Turning the book not only into a story of individuals but one of those forgotten by history, Englands underclass.
Each women’s story is told over the course of multiple chapters and in such a way that even though as a reader you ultimatley know each womens fate, you’re still attached to them. Rubenhold examines their lives with an understanding that for the first time makes these women real people; flawed, good, bad and utterly relatable.
Annie Chapman, leaves behind a traumatic childhood to start climbing the ladder to becoming middle class, only to fall into alcholisim. Losing her husband, children and spiralling further down until she hit the streets of Whitechapel.
Elizabeth Stride, a Swedish farmers daughter whose encounters with sexual abuse led her to London, where she managed to snatch a chance to become an entrepreneur. But in era where one finicial blow could end it all, her buisness failure leads to her downfall. By the end Elizabeth is supporting herself by posing as a disaster victim.
One of my favourite things about the book is that it doesn’t feature any images of the womens bodies. That might sound ridiculous, but when the first google result for these women is their bloodied faces, thats a huge achievement.
Rubenhold also challenges usual perceptions of the women, mainly that each victim was a sexworker (showing evidence that most weren’t) but also calmly tearing down the moral demonisation over the women who were.
In addition Rubenhold argues that it is incredibly likely that the Rippers victims were asleep. The killer targeting down and out women as they bundled up asleep in darkened allies or door ways.
Its a theory that makes a great deal of sense and also one that highlights how history has wanted so badly for the victims to be sexworkers ‘who got what they derseved’, that its been willing to overlook the truth. 130 years on, it’s time we fixed that.
The Five, The Untold Lives of Jack The Ripper’s Victims, by Hallie Rubenhold, is out now.
At the turn of the 20th century, Sydney was in a battle for its soul.Gangs roamed the streets, their enemies lifeless bodies on pavements were a regular sight; Brothels, illegal bars and gambling everywhere; the city was fast becoming a booze soaked wasteland.
Two women ruled this all:
Tilly Devine and Katie Leigh
The birth of Sydney’s gang land
Ok, let’s set the scene: At the end of the First World War, Australian soldiers returned to discover that prohibition had hit the country hard – not a great welcome home present.
Massive chunks of Australia, including Sydney, saw tight drinking hours put in place, with absolutely no alcohol consumption allowed after 6pm.
Yeah, turns out if you tell people they can’t do something, they want to do it even more. Cue:
Kate Leigh AKA The Sly Grog Queen
Kate grew up in a neglectful household, and went straight from that, to a string of shitty relationships with petty criminals.
It wasn’t an ideal start in life.
But then Kate found crime and discovered she was pretty great at being a ruthless criminal! So she put all her energy into achieving her new dream; ruling Sydney’s underworld (I guess everyone needs a dream)
Kate got straight to work, taking advantage of Sydney’s new 6pm drinking curfew and opening a chain of illegal after hours bars.
Then, when Australia made cocaine illegal, she took advantage of that too! Buying all the coke she could, marking it the fuck up and selling it almost exclusively.
By the late 1920s Kate Leigh was one of Sydney’s biggest kings pins; her buisness was booming and life was sweet… well except for the constant thorn in Kate’s side:
A sex worker from London, Tilly came to Sydney after she married what she thought was an millionaire Australian kangaroo farmer. It turned out that (frankly ridiculous) story was a lie and her new husband was, in actual fact, just an arse hat.
So, Tilly continued working as a sex worker in Sydney. BUT after a short jail spell (for stabbing a man in the face with a razor) she decided she needed a change.
Tilly didn’t just want to be her own boss, she wanted to be the ONLY boss. And she thought she knew how to do just that.
Sydney had a handy little loophole that Tilly thought she could use to her advantage. You see, in Sydney it was illegal to run a brothel or profit from sex work if you were a man. Spoiler: Tilly wasn’t a man
By the late 1920s, Tilly was the city’s top madam, running a chain of leading brothels.
She was ALSO known as one of the most violent criminals in the game. She’d set fire to a policeman, pulled apart a mans face with a razor and generally slashed to ribbons any John who tried to cross her. Bitch. Was. Scary.
BUTTilly wasn’t a one trick stab pony, she was a real renaissance woman (be it of the criminal variety) and along with her talent for violence and brothel running, she moved into the illegal booze trade.
Slight snag:Tilly was now directly encroaching on Kate Leigh’s buisness, and you KNOW Kate wasn’t happy with her bottom line being messed with!
Then again, neither was Tilly when Kate started opening brothels…
And neither was Kate when Tilly started looking into the drugs trade.
The stage was now set for an epic battle. Each woman wanted total domination and there was no way she could do that with the other around. There was only one option:
All out war!
The battle begins
Katie and Tilly both operated gangs to mange their businesses and, erm, ‘take care’ of their enemies.
With both women now firm rivals, their gangs knew their enemy; attacking each other on sight with razors, after Sydney outlawed guns.
Huge fights of with gang members cutting the living shit out of each other, became a common sight on Sydney’s streets.
This ceaseless violence became known as:
The Razor Gang Wars
But the violence wasn’t limited to street fights, here are just some of the delightful things Katie and Tilly did to each other:
Ransacked each other businesses
Set fire to each other’s businesses
And ordered rival gang members to be disfigured
…Oh and there was that one time that there was a shoot out at Tilly’s home and her husband shot Kate’s right hand man in the face.
Butthe war didn’t just play out via stabbings, shootings and slashing. Oh no, Kate and Tilly had one HUGE weapon they liked to break out:
Yup! Along with killing and mutalation, Kate and Tilly both used public relations to destroy each other in the papers; you know, just like D list celebs do today!
Kate bloody loved a good bit of PR, you see, she wanted to be seen as Sydney’s Jovial mother figure.
Sure she might have shot and killed a couple of guys, but really, underneath it all, she was just a nice lady who happened to run a criminal empire. You Guys… people actually bought this!
In fact it wasn’t even difficult for Katie to become a beloved (if terrifying) criminal.
While Tilly was famously slashing John’s and dousing policemen in petrol, Kate was making a very public show of donating some of her ill gotten gains to poor children and hosting Christmas for the cities poverty stricken families. Kate just looked so much better compared to her rival!
Even when she was being trailed by police, Kate found time for an old timey photo op.
In one newspaper write up of Kate’s crimes, the journalist took time to note that the detective followed Kate while she was: ‘Bound on a noble errand of supplying food to unemployed’
Now, obvs there was no way that Tilly was letting Kate be the public’s favouriteand so she went all in, tearing apart her rivals image.
Tilly played up her English roots in a bid to appear classy, often bought up Kate’s childhood abuse (to try and illustrate how rough Kate was) and of course, Tilly was more than happy to trash her rival to any journalist she could find, saying:
‘I’m not like Kate Leigh anyway. I might drink and have a run in with the police now and then, but I don’t take dope, and no one can say I have ruined young girls. Kate Leigh does all this’
But the women’s tabloid fun and games was to end.
By the early 1930s police were hot on Tilly and Kate’s heels, after yet another series of armed brawls between their gangs had terrorised Sydney.
As the net closed, Tilly fled home to England for several years; Kate wasn’t so lucky.
After a series of raids, Kate was arrested, spending the next few years locked up.
Obviously Kate being Kate, she owned prison; inviting the wardens wife for tea and pretty much ruling over the inmates.
But when she was released Kate found herself in a very different world, with drugs and illegal boozing now completely off Sydney’s streets.
Luckily (for her) Kate managed to keep her brothel businesses running and therefore could remain one of Sydney’s wealthiest citizens.
Tilly also landed on her feet, once more back in Sydney and operating her chain of brothels.
Then in the 1940s Kate and Tilly did the impossible, they called a truce.
By now all their friends were dead or in jail, both women truly only had each other.
Obviously that didn’t stop them from continuing to constantly tear each other a new one in the press.
Eventually karma came around for Tilly and Kate
BUTit wasn’t guns or gangs that were Tilly and Kate’s downfall… It was taxes, which obviously both women had been dodging for years.
By the time the taxman caught up with Kate in 1954, she owed so much that paying it back bankrupted her.
Tilly was slightly better off, losing almost all her property and only just managing to hold on to one small brothel.
10 years later in 1964, Kate Leigh died in a one room bedsit. Tilly followed in 1968, her funeral almost unattended, the only eulogy given by Sydneys Police Commissioner, who said (in possibly the most contradictory sentence ever uttered by someone working in the police):
Here at F Yeah History we’re all about celebrating women, but some people are just unavoidably the worst.
Sure maybe they achieved a lot, maybe they are badassery incarnate, and maybe they accomplished a lot… but they’re also kinda, sorta massive dicks
So without further ado here are the wort women in history:
Former sex worker turned pirate, Ching Shih ran one of the largest and most feared fleet of pirates in the world.
Ching was married to the leader of the Red Flag Fleet, a much reviled and respected pirate armada. When her husband was killed during a tsunami, Ching took over.
If her men thought they were going to have it easy with a woman at the helm, they were sorely mistaken. To say Ching ran things with an iron fist would be an understatement:
-Disobeyed an order? you’re getting beheaded – looted plunder? Beheaded – stole from an allied town? Beheaded. – raped a female prisoner? oooo you best know you’re getting beheaded
But despite all the rules, Ching Shihs pirates were allowed to marry female captives. BUT if their leader heard that they were in anyway messing their new wives around… well hopefully they weren’t to emotionally attached to that whole ‘having a head’ thing.
Yet Ching’s steely control worked and under her rule The Red Flag fleet grew in both infamy and size.
By 1808 Ching had amassed an armada of thousands and was in control of well over 70,000 men. It was then the Chinese government felt that maybe they’d let things go a bit far, and that Ching needed to be reigned in.
An imperial fleet was sent after Ching and she met them head on; the government didn’t stand a chance.
By the end of the battle Ching had actually expanded her fleet (capturing Chinese sailors and offering them the choice of joining her ranks or a bloody death)
For two years the Chinese government tried to destroy the Red Flag, even roping in the British Navy for help. But they just couldn’t beat Ching.
The Chinese knew that things had gone fully tits up when The Admiral of the Chinese navy actually committed suicide rather than face capture by Ching.
So they opened up amnesty negotiations with Ching. But rather then ask for clemency Ching fought for the right to retire.
Obviously nobody said no (if we’ve learnt anything, it’s don’t fucking mess with a Pirate Queen) And so Ching retired to the country where she spent the remainder of her days running a brothel and gambling.
Born in 1463 Caterina was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan; one of Europe’s most notorious dicks.
The Duke loved nothing more than planning out horrifying torturous deaths for his enemies, tearing them limb from limb, burying them alive – whatever took his fancy.
…Caterina took after her Dad.
At just 10 Caterina was married off to the Pope’s nephew and a few years later the pair left for the life at the Vatican.
There Caterina was transformed from a teenager to a powerful and famously ruthless courtier.
But Caterina’s world was turned upside down in 1484 when the Pope died and suddenly shit got very real, very quick.
Riots and rebellions spread like wildfire. With Caterinas husband off fighting fires she was left to hold down a fortress whilst seven months pregnant. As you do.
Fortunately (or not, if you were her enemy) this was the famously ruthless and cunning Catarina; she took to life at war like a duck to water.
Having proved her tenacity and strength, people started to turn to Caterina rather than her far weaker husband.
It’s unsurprising then that when her husband was named ruler of Imola and Forli, it was kind of obvious who was really in control.
This was exhibited for all to see following a revolt in Forli. Caterina rode out to Forli to take control of the situation and nice lady that she was, she personally oversaw every detail of the brutal torture and execution of those involved.
But brutal executions can only quell a people for so long and following a tax increase the people of Forli had had enough.
in 1488 Caterina’s husband was murdered by the Orsis family while he ate dinner (the Orsis were one of Forli’s top noble families – it’s all very Game Of Thrones)
Caterina and the children were now prisoners, but if the Orsis thought a woman and some kids were going to be easy captives then they were veeeery wrong.
Caterina tricked the Orsis into letting her out of confinement, offering to help them convince other strongholds to surrender to the Orsis. They agreed and even let her go in alone to bargain with one fortress so long as Caterina left her children behind as hostages.
Once inside the stronghold, Caterina obviously immediately started organising an attack on the Orsis…
When the Orsis reminded her that if she went ahead with her plans they’d kill her children, Caterina climbed the fortress walls, hiked up her skirt and explained that they were welcome to kill her kids, hell kill them in front of her if they really fancied, because she had the tools to make more.
Somehow, despite Caterina, the kids stayed alive.
Caterina herself managed to hold out within the fortress, and sent out a message to Forli:
‘My people, people of Forlì! I tell you to punish and kill all enemies. For it I will consider you my good brothers for evermore. Do not hesitate to act, and fear nothing, because the deed will benefit you and your children. And if you fail to act you will regret it in a few days.’
The veiled threat worked!
The people of Forli took to the streets and Caterina left the fortress where she was reunited with her children (who I bet were just thrilled to see her…) Unsurprisingly Caterina’s next step was to hunt down her new enemies and brutally kill them, as was her style.
Born in 1867 in Minnesota, Linda Hazard was in many ways a woman ahead of her time. A female doctor in an era when this was unheard of; a successful author and driven as all hell to boot!
But before we get out the marching band and erect this bitch a statue, I should also point out that Linda murdered a metric shit ton of her patients.
You see, Linda believed that starvation could cure all diseases.
She practiced this theory in Minneapolis, but after one of her patients actually DIED of starvation, Linda was threatened with legal action.
Ironically she was saved from jail, as she didn’t actually have a medical license.
Though she escaped jail this incident was enough to convince Linda to get the hell out of dodge. So she moved to Washington, where thanks to a legal loophole she could practice medicine legally.
In Washington Linda opened up Wilderness Heights, a health farm in the Countryside where she promised to fix all medical ailments through starvation. Linda’s passion – which verged on fanaticism – quickly helped her build up a fan base of loyal followers.
Life at Wilderness Heights was tough for the guests (who paid though the nose to be there). In addition to a diet of essentially no food, Linda also helped them ‘tackle disease’ by enforcing daily enemas, scalding hot baths and massages that verged on beatings.
Some of Linda’s (mainly already really ill) patients just couldn’t take it and soon the emiciated and bruised bodies started to pile up.
Yet people continued to come.
Linda’s ‘health farm’ had became like some kind of cult; the danger was clear, the deaths abound, but followers kept coming. Two such followers were Dorothea and Claire Williamson, wealthy socialite sisters with a hypochondriac streak.
The sisters arrived healthy but within just months, one would be dead.
Under Linda’s supervision the two women entered into a strict diet of almost no sustanace. Within two months the women weighed just 70 pounds. Yet they choose to remain in Linda’s care, most likely as they had deteriorated to much to refuse her.
But help was coming!
Dorothea had sent a cryptic letter to an old Nanny. Worried the women came to visit the sisters. On arrival she was told that Claire was dead and she found Dorothea 50 pounds and close to death.
Thanks to the sisters social standing, Claire’s death registered with the authorities (though more than 14 people had already died of starvation under Linda’s care)
Linda was stripped of her license to practice medicine and given 2-20 years in prison.
She of course got out of jail after 2 years.
Linda traveled to New Zealand where she once more set up shop and peddled starvation as medicine. Several years later she moved back to Washington and set up another ‘health camp’
Again patients died (Linda was fined a whole £100!). Luckily after almost a decade the place burned to the ground in 1935.
Linda appears to have taken this as a sign and slowed down, which clearly wasn’t good for her health.
In 1938 she took ill and died after trying to starve herself back to health. Shame.
Now whilst the prior entries on our list have committed dickery in the name of wealth, power and progress… Elizabeth Bathory was just a plain old dick.
Like really. She’s the literal worst.
Elizabeth came from a long lineage of distinguished Hungarian nobility and so, naturally, as a noble woman in the 1500s she was married off at 15.
Her new husband was famed for his cruelty, but fortunately Elizabeth was fully on board with this!
Legend has it that Elizabeth’s new husband lovingly gifted her with her own personal torture chamber (because fuck Barbies dream house!)
Together the couple blissfully lived life in thier castle, occasionally brutalising errant wrong doers from the villages they ruled over.
Then in 1604 Elizabeth’s husband died and, now in her 40’s, she was left to rule alone.
Elizabeth relished her solo role. Everything was going swimmingly until 1610, when word started to spread that Elizabeth had some… er, nefarious hobbies.
That winter a group of soldiers came to Elizabeth’s home and arrested her. From here shit went downhill fast.
Now, it was well known that Elizabeth was partial to a bit of light murder and torture, but it soon transpired that she had been getting up to some seriously bloody high jinks.
Elizabeth was accused of murdering over 600 people, most young women. She did this in many and various ways, but here are just some:
– stuck red hot needles under peoples nails and skin. – starved people to death (Hey Linda!) – made one woman cook and eat her own flesh – sticking red hot irons in very very uncomfortable places – – – covering girls in honey and leaving them outside on a hot sunny day to be slowly devoured by insects.
She was tried for murder, but due to her influential family ties was spared the death penalty (the same cannot be said for her closest servants, who were all executed)
Elizabeth spent the remainder of her days locked within the walls of her castle. Bricked up inside her quarters with only a crack in the wall for air and food.
In the final part of our series on Victorian crime and murder we have Britain’s most prolific serial killer and an actual case of death by chocolate, so without further ado let’s get to it:
The Angel Maker
If you asked a child to draw a picture of a serial killer, they would draw Amelia Dyer…and then have nightmares for literally ever because ohmygod have you seen this woman?!?
Amelia Dyer grew up reasonably well off. She trained as a corset maker but gave up the trade in 1861 to marry George Thomas (at 59 over twice as old as 24 year old Amelia). Once married Amelia started training to be a nurse and it was nursing that would introduce her to baby farming and turn Amelia Dyer into Britain’s most prolific murderer.
Baby farming was a black market career choice but a not uncommon one. The 1834 Poor Law Amendment saw unwed mothers lose most rights to support; these women were now only able to receive clothes, food or shelter if both mother and child went to the workhouse – not a good option to put it mildly. Single mothers were limited to a few desperate options: prostitution, taking their chances on the streets or making their own children ‘angels’. Less Sophie’s choice, more super fucked no matter what you do.
This is where baby farms came in. For a fee women would take in these children, adopt or foster them, care for the child as their own and then rehouse the child with suitable parents. Of course the reality was very different, most destitute mothers couldn’t afford a rolling fee for their child’s care, many paying a one off fee of around £5 (around (£225 today). Anyone who has seen the price of nappies knows that sum isn’t going to care for a child for long, so it’s unsurprising that some baby farmers had no intention of caring for the child as their own. Instead they fed their charges the bare minimum, used opium to keep the children quiet and left them in squalid conditions. It was not uncommon for baby farm children to die as a result of neglect.
It was this world Amelia Dyer chose to enter.
By 1869 Amelia had left nursing and soon after this her husband died. she needed a source of income fast and baby farming seemed like the best choice to make a quick buck. Amelia threw herself into this new profession but she soon got greedy and started allowing some of the children to die, purposefully neglecting them to free up space for more babies.
She tried to make these deaths seems as legitimate as possible (well as legit as tons of dead babies can be). after several years a local doctor finally started to think there might be something dodgy about all the dead children at Amelia Dyers house and reported her to police on suspicion of neglect, she was found guilty and in 1879 was sentenced to just 6 months of hard labour.
Once out of prison, Amelia left baby farming, she tried to get back into nursing, but was deemed mentally unstable and was sent to a mental asylum. When she left the aslym Amelia had no place to go, so she turned to what she knew: baby farming.
It was perhaps her mental break that led Amelia to stop trying to get death certificates for the infants that died in her care. Instead she decided to cut the middle man out entirely, killing the children almost immediately after their arrival. This meant she could take on more children then ever before. At one point neighbours saw up to 6 children a day being handed over to Dyer. Business was booming.
One unwed mother soon to cross paths with Amelia Dyer was Evelina Marion, a young barmaid who had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Doris. Short on options Evelina came across an advert in The Bristol Times and Mirror:
On 31st March 1896 Evelina met with the woman who posted the advertisement, Mrs Harding, and handed over Doris. Mrs Harding was of course Amelia Dyer using a pseudonym. Now on a roll, just a day later Dyer took guardianship over another baby Harry Simmons.
But Amelia’s luck was running out. The day before she was given Doris Marmom, a bargeman fished a brown paper package the Thames at Reading. Upon inspection the wrapping came loose and a child’s foot fell out. When fully unwrapped, the package revealed the tiny body of Helena Fry, a child who had been left in Amelia Dyers care.
After the discovery the river was immediately searched. A carpet bag was dredged up and inside were the bodies of Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons. Both had been strangled with white tape.
However the brown paper packaging that Helena Fry had been Found in provided police with a vital clue. The paper was addressed to a Mrs Thomas, yet anouther pseudonym used by Amelia Dyer.
Whilst the police hunted for Dyer, four more children’s bodies were dredged from the river. Each had been strangled and like Doris Marmom and Harry Simmons, white tape was wrapped around their necks.
It didn’t take long for the police to catch up with Dyer and on 4th April 1896, just days after she had taken custody of Doris Marmom, she was charged with the child’s murder. Amelia Dyer confessed, telling police to look for children with white tape around their necks, that way they ‘Could tell it was one of mine’
Daily Mail article following Amelia Dyers arrest
Amelia Dyer stood trial on 22nd May 1896 at The Old Bailey. She confessed to only one murder, Doris Marmom. The evidence was stacked against her, along with her written confession, several people reported seeing Dyer acting strangely and it transpired she had almost been caught on multiple occasions.
Despite Amelia Dyers pleas of insanity and her long history of stays in mental asylums, it took a jury under 5 minutes to find her guilty. She was sentenced to death.
Amelia Dyer described herself as ‘the angel maker’. Prior to her execution she wrote a confession which filled over five exercise books. It’s thought she killed over 200 children, though the number may be as high as 400 or even 700.
Death By Chocolate
Christiana Edmunds was a fashionable lady about town and also one of Victorian England’s most interesting mental health case studies. Her increasingly elaborate killing spree sent her to Broadmoor and thanks to newly released archives we are just starting to discover what led her to killEdmunds came from a background streaked with mental illness, her Dad died in an asylum in London from what was considered ‘madness’ (now considered the side effects of syphilis) Christiana’s brother was also sent to an asylum this one ‘for idiots’ (don’t you just love those Victorians) where he died from an epileptic fit. Christiana’s sister attempted suicide several times, finally collapsing and dying outside her home following the death of her brother. Soon after all of this Christiana was diagnosed with that Victorian classic, hysteria – or what we would now diagnosis as (at least) severe depression, most likely stemming from ALL THE FUCKERY.
In the 1860’s Christiana, her mother and sister moved to Brighton and an by 1867 a Dr Beard starting treating Christiana for her hysteria. Beard was attractive, intelligent, kind and married. The married part was less than ideal for Christiana, especially as the two grew closer and she started to fall in love with Beard, but life had knocked Christiana so many times she wouldn’t allow a little blip like a wife to get in the way of her future happiness. So in September 1870 Christiana visited the Beard residence armed with a box of chocolates.
Dr Beard was out but his wife Emily invited Christiana in and the two women sat in the kitchen with the chocolates between them and chatted. Emily reached for a chocolate cream but quickly spat it out, something was wrong, the cream inside was bitter and spoiled. That night Emily was incredibly ill, vomiting and in increasing pain- she had been poisoned with Strychnine.
Emily lived, much to Christiana’s frustration. To make matters worse Dr Beard appeared at Christiana’s home the next day. He confronted her and revealed that he had recognised the symptoms of strychnine and he knew that Christiana had tried to murder his wife; if she knew what was good for her then she would stay away from him and his family.
To Christiana this was just another blip on the road to happiness. She now knew she must do two things:
1) Successfully kill Emily Beard
2) Ensure Dr Beard no longer suspected her as the poisoner (because murder is kind of a turn off)
Christiana decided to stick with chocolates as her murder weapon, injecting chocolate creams from a local sweet shop with strychnine and then planting them back on the shelves. Planning to kill Emily Beard under the guise of a serial killer and throw Dr Beard off the scent. It seemed to work and over the coming months numerous people fell deathly ill after eating the chocolates. But nobody actually died.
But then in June 1871 4 year old Sidney Barker was on holiday in Brighton with his family. His Uncle bought the boy some chocolates as a treat. After eating just a few chocolates Sidney was dead.
Sidney Barkers death was initially ruled an accident but it didn’t take long for police to join the dots between his death and the other curious illnesses that had spread across Brighton. At the inquest into Sidney’s death, Christiana Edmunds actually appeared, giving evidence that she herself had become ill after eating chocolates bought from the same shop.
But Christiana didn’t stop there, she started writing Sidney’s father letters, urging him to take legal action against the shop that had sold the chocolates. The police quickly noticed Christiana’s continued involvement in the case. Rather than helping to to create an imaginary serial poisoner, it was just leading police right to her.
And then shit got real. The Beards announced they were moving to Scotland. Christiana went into full defcon mode and started work on one last ditch attempt to kill Beard’s wife and make him fall in love with her and stay in Brighton.
Christiana created a batch of poisoned plum cakes and distributed them around Brighton, sending them to random people as well as the Beards and herself.
The cakes didn’t work and Dr Beard finally alerted the police to his suspicions.
In January 1872 Christiana Edmunds stood trial at The Old Bailey in London. Her lawyer, John Humffreys Parry openly admitted to being confused at Christiana’s motives, however upon meeting with her he decided that the only route to go down was to plead insanity. This was not an easy task in Victorian England, the only way the plea would be granted was if a jury could all agree that Christiana could not be blamed for her actions.
Parry leaned on her family history and also had several notable doctors come to examine Christiana, all agreeing that she could not tell right from wrong. Still the plea didn’t work and Christiana Edmunds was sentenced to death. Though she did attempt to avoid the hangman’s noose by faking a pregnancy – the rouse was quickly discovered.
But then Christiana underwent a full psychiatric evaluation and her sentence was remitted, she was then moved to the newly opened Broadmoor. This move resulted in a public outcry, with many seeing it as a clear sign of class privilege and massive miscarriage of justice. None the less Christina spent the rest of her life in Broadmoor dying there in 1907, aged 78.
That was interesting, where can I find out more:I’m glad you asked! If you haven’t already caught up with the rest of this series you totally should! And you can! Right here:
Whilst Jack the Ripper was making the streets of Whitechapel an all around unpleasant place to be in 1888, another serial was also roaming the streets of London and its time he got his share of the praise well it’s not, because he did horrifically murder several people but you get my drift…)
In May 1887 workers along the Thames river valley pulled a bundle from the river bank. Upon opening the bundle they discovered a woman’s torso. Throughout May and into June more body parts washed up onto the banks of the Thames, once put together doctors confirmed that the limbs were from the same woman. Doctors were eventually able to piece together the body, with only the head and upper chest missing. However the bodies dismemberment had been so cleanly carried out and the corpse so water beaten that no cause of death or clue of the woman’s identity could be uncovered.
Almost a year later in September 1888 Scotland Yard were desperately trying to solve the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the second prostitute in as many days who had been found murdered and mutilated in Whitechapel. Then a woman’s arm washed up in Pimlico, followed by its partner on Lambeth Road.
What came next can only be described as a ballsy move by the killer – on 2nd October the same woman’s torso was discovered by builders in the construction site of New Scotland Yard. The murder had been bought straight to the Police and they now had a torso, two arms, two serial killers on the loose and no clue – it was then that a journalist’s terrier dug up the woman’s leg from the grounds of New Scotland Yard (after police dogs had failed to find any further remains).
Doctors concluded that the limbs found under New Scotland Yard had been buried there for weeks and had perhaps been buried by someone with easy access such as a workman or builder. However, the cuts that had been made to dismember the victim were once again clean cut and surgical, and yet again no cause of death could be found and no clue to the woman’s identity made. The murder was filed as ‘found dead’.
In June 1889 a woman’s body parts started to wash up on the shores of The Thames. A leg and thigh in Battersea, liver in Nine Elms and a foot and leg in Wandsworth. A body part was even thrown into the estate of Percy Shelley, whose mother, Mary Shelley had written Frankenstien; a book about a monster pieced together out of human body parts.
Though once again the victims head was missing, the police managed to identify this victim thanks to a fragment of clothing found of the body. Elizabeth Jackson had been missing from her Chelsea home since just before the first body parts were found. Jackson had been 7 months pregnant at the time of her death. A verdict of ‘Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed; though no cause of death was ever discovered.
By the 10th September 1889 the police were no closer to finding who the killer was when a cryptic telegram was sent to all police stations in London:
Police scrambled suspecting another Ripper murder. However they were to be foiled, yet again. When walking his beat on Pinchin Street Police Constable William Pennett discovered a woman’s torso.
Once more doctors were stumped and unable to work out the victim’s identity or cause of death. As in the case of Elizabeth Jackson a verdict of ‘wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed. In an effort to preserve the torso (should any other clues be discovered) the unknown women was buried in a cast coffin filled with spirits.
Possible links were discovered to a murder in Paris in 1886 (where a woman’s torso and several limbs were found on the steps of a church) and two other murders in London in 1901 and 1902, but none truly fit the Thames Torso Killers method.
The victims heads would never be discovered, nor would the victims breasts or uteruses, which the killer also took. The case went cold, with no clear motive, no evidence and not even a cause of death, there were next to no clues leading police to the killer.
The Thames Torso Murders remains a mystery.
The tragic case of Eliza Fenning and the devilish dumplings
Ok so full disclosure this crime does just miss the Victorian era, taking place in 1815, BUT I couldn’t not include it. That’s how good this one is, your gonna love it!
Fun fact:I actually used to work on London’s Chancery Lane, where the crime took place, and took great pleasure in telling this crime to friends when meeting for after work drinks- truly I am a joy.
Aaaaaand onto the crime:
Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Fenning entered the employment of Robert Turner and his wife Charlotte in early 1815. The house in Chanchery Lane looked to be a step up for 20 year old Eliza, she had been hired as a cook, a promotion after working 6 years as a lower level domestic servant in other households.
Eliza’s first two months in her new post went well and she started to fall into the pattern of day to day with the Turners’. On the night of the 21st March 1815 Roberts Turner’s Father was due to come round for dinner. Eliza prepared a dinner of beef and dumplings for the family. Just before she finished cooking Robert Turner came into the kitchen and ordered Eliza not to leave the room until the meal was finished- strange, but she complied. The dinner was served and the family tucked in, along with two of Roberts apprentices and a housemaid. Shortly afterwards everyone at the table collapsed onto the floor.
The police arrived to find Eliza curled up on the stairs in crippling pain, the rest of the household were in a much worse state and close to death. An investigation was started. Foul play was suspected for the sudden sickness that had torn through the house and the line of suspicion led straight to Eliza.
Forensics expert John Marshall was bought in. The art of forensics was very much in its infancy but Marshall had a theory; he thought that the nights dinner must have been subject to arsenic poisoning. He searched the kitchen for traces of the stuff and came up with a small half teaspoon of ‘white powder’ which had been found in water used to wash up Eliza’s mixing bowl. Marshall carried out tests to see if this powder was indeed arsenic, this included heating the powder over a flame to see if it emitted a garlicy smell (this was obviously not 100% foolproof test…) when Marshall put the powder on a halfpenny over a candle the room was quickly filled with a pungent garlic aroma (surprisingly food sometimes smells of garlic-gasp!)
Things were not looking good for Eliza. To make matters worse witnesses came forward claiming that Eliza hated her employers who had recently threatened to fire her after she was seen coming out of the bedroom of an apprentice at night.
Within several days everyone who had eaten the potentially poisoned dumplings started to get better. Still, Eliza was arrested and was quickly put on trial for attempted murder.
The evidence against Eliza was strong, the forensic expert had evidence of arsenic and witness testimony gave a motive for the attempted murders. However, it was pointed out that it would not have been possible for the arsenic to have been mixed into the dumplings- the amount the forensic expert claimed to have found would have been enough to kill 120 people per serving, the Turners couldn’t have survived! For the dumplings to have been poisoned they would have to have been sprinkled with the poison after being cooked. A deed which could have happened in the kitchen or in the dining room- a room Eliza had been banned from.
To add more fuel, witnesses came forward alledging that Robert Turner had a history of violent and ‘mad’ outbursts. Further more a chemist clamied that Robert Turner had tried to buy arsenic from him just months earlier. The forensic evidence was also shown to be lacking as there was no evidence that this mixing bowl had indeed been used to make the poisoned dumplings and Marshall had failed to test any other substance found in any other of the cookware or ingrediants that had been used to make the dumplings.
Sadly this was all no was no use to Eliza and she was found guilty. The public rallied to her side and campaigned against the courts decision. Petitions were made and the press even came to her defense. On the day of her execution the home office held a meeting to look over the case.
It all proved fruitless. Eliza was hung alongside William Oldfield who was convicted of rape and Abraham Adams a homeless man who was sentenced to death for ‘unnatural crimes’ (translated to sodomy) on the 26th July 1815. Eliza’s last words with of her innocence.
Following her death The Turners became public hate figures and John Marshall a laughing stock. The misuse of forensics in Eliza’s trial was held up as a prime example of legal misconduct and several medical societies put in place measures that anybody studying for a license with them take a three month course in legal medicine (or medical jurisprudence) to ensure what happen to Eliza Fenning would never happen again.
Everyone loves a murder. It’s one of those indelible facts of life; everyone is born, everyone must die and everyone bloody loves a murder.
Our murder obsession feels at its peak with podcasts like Serial now everywhere and documentaries on murderers and their victims littering our Netflix suggestions. But this is far from the first time that untimely and gruesome deaths fascinated people. We can date our love of murder back to…well literally always. It’s something that has just always fascinated people.
Nobody was no more obsessed than the Victorians. They truly loved the macabre, it’s in this era that we see the boom in séances and horror fiction, not to mention the very Victorian after dinner activity of busting opening a sarcophagus to see what was inside (japes) but there was nothing they loved more than a good murder.
True crime Penny Dreadful’s like Famous Crimes luridly detailed present and past crimes and even Punch got in on the action, eagerly sinking its teeth into grisly foul play and ensuring that the crime, trial and often inevitable execution became national gossip.
Without further ado here are some of the most sensational murders that gripped Victorian Britain
1 . The Bermondsey Horror
In 1847 Swiss ladies maid Maria de Roux met Frederick George Manning. Now Manning was not exactly a catch, he had recently been fired from his job as a train guard following suspicion of theft and wasn’t the brightest BUT Manning told Maria he was due to inherit a small fortune from his mother and so the two were wed.
Frederick George Manning tried his hand as a pub landlord and failed almost immediately. After selling the pub the couple moved to much smaller lodgings in Bermondsey. This is when Maria found out Fredrick George had lied and there was no fortune. Sadly couples therapy wasn’t an option at the time, nor were quickie divorces – so the Mannings hatched a deadly plot to both save their marriage and ease their money troubles.
Patrick O’Connor had once proposed to Maria and though he was well off she had opted to marry Frederick George Manning knowing he would one day inherit a fortune. Obviously this had turned out to be a lie and Maria now realised she had made the wrong choice…yet she thought that Patrick O’Connor could still be the solution to her financial woes. On the 8th August 1849 Maria invited O’Connor to dinner. Before his arrival she bought a large shovel.
When O’Connor arrived at the Mannings house, Maria sent him into the kitchen to wash his hands before eating. With his back turned to her, she shot him in the head. Frederick George Manning then came into the kitchen to find O’Connor half dead on the floor and he finished the job: “I never liked him, so I battered his head with a ripping chisel.”
Husband and Wife buried O’Connor and Maria went to the dead man’s house to start collecting his valuables.
Police soon began investigating O’Connor’s disappearance and their suspesions pointed to the Mannings. Realising they were cornered the couple planned to flee. Maria sent her husband to sell their furniture to raise funds for their life on the run. As soon as he had left the house she took everything of value and fled.
Frederick George returned to find his wife had double crossed him, but managed to escape just before the police reached the Manning residence where they quickly found O’Connors body covered in lime and buried under the kitchen floorboards.
Maria and Frederick George fled to Edinburgh and Jersey respectively. They were both caught within days of each other; Maria after attempting to sell O’Connors belongings and Frederick George after his rampant drinking drew attention.
The couples trial was held at The Old Bailey in London on 25th Oct 1849 and it was a sensation. Maria was the subject of most of the attention, throughout the trial she was immaculately dressed, elegant and composed. However, this composure slipped once the jury read their verdict; guilty. Maria stood and screamed at the court: ‘You have treated me like a wild beast of the forest.’
Husband and Wife were both sentenced to be hung. This most rare of executions (a woman and the first married couple to be hung together in over a hundred years!) created further fever. A cottage industry was soon set up, with lodgings and horse and cart owners selling standing room tickets to the hanging and at least 2.6 million broadsides (Victorian one sheet newspapers) dedicated to the execution being sold.
On the day of the Mannings execution a crowd of between 30,000 and 50,000 gathered to watch the pair be hung- the biggest crowd ever assembled at an execution in Britain. There was much gossip prior to the hanging as to whether the couple would reconcile on the scaffold and more importantly just what Maria Manning would wear to her execution (times really have not changed…). Fashion lovers were not disappointed and Maria ascended the scaffold “beautifully dressed, every part of her noble figure finely and fully expressed by close fitting black satin”. Maria and Frederick were then hung side by side.
Yet they lived on. Those who had not been able to witness their execution were still able to see the Mannings in waxwork form, with Madame Tussaud’s promising a recreation of the Mannings kitchen (complete with O’Connor under the floorboards!) and a waxwork’s in Manchester advertising its Manning’s-a-likes as able to ‘amuse, delight and highly instruct’.
Maria Manning went on to inspire in the world of literature, most notably Charles Dickins, who having been at her execution became fascinated by the scandalous black satin clad woman and created a character in her likeness, Mademoiselle Hortense (both a lady’s maid and murderer) in his next book, Bleak House.
2. Sweet FA
In at number 2 its child murder! (Don’t say I don’t do anything for you- also in advance, sorry this one is pretty bleak)
On the 24th August 1867 Fanny Adams , her younger sister Minnie and a friend left their house to go for a walk. The group were approached by a smartly dressed man in a black coat who offered Minnie and their friend money to leave and go get sweets, which they did. The man then offered Fanny a half-penny if she would accompany him to ‘The Hollow’, she refused and he picked her up and took her anyway.
Several hours later Minnie returned home without Fanny and told their mother about the meeting with the man in the black coat. Worried Mrs Adams, went to look for Fanny with the help of a neighbor, Mrs Gardiner.
Whilst searching they saw a man in a black coat walking back to the village from the direction of The Hollow. Mrs Gardiner accosted him and demanded to know what he had done with Fanny, the man shrugged off her claims “Nothing, I gave the girls money, but only to buy sweets which I often do to children.” The two women remained unconvinced, but then the man told them that he was the clerk to a local solicitor, William Clement, deciding him to be respectable the women let him walk away.
A search party was formed, and they quickly came across Fanny’s remains. Her head was found stuck up on two poles, the eyes missing. It would take several days to find the rest of the body which was dismembered and scattered nearby, her eyes were later found in a nearby river (I said this was bleak…).
That same night an investigation into the murder was launched and the obvious prime suspect Frederick Baker, Clerk to William Clement, was immediately arrested. Baker claimed his innocence, despite his clothes being bloodstained and being found carrying two bloody knives.
Evidence mounted. The entry in Baker’s dairy for the 24th August read: ‘killed a young girl. It was fine and hot’. Bakers colleagues said that he was missing between 1pm-3pm (the time of Fanny’s disappearance) and left the offices again at 5pm (when he met Mrs Adams and Mrs Gardiner) returning at 6pm when he then mentioned the meeting with the two women and commented that if Fanny’s body were to be found it would be ‘awkward for him’ (truly a master criminal)
The police feared that the local community would attempt to lynch Baker and his initial hearing and trial were carried out at top speed, with his trial starting at Alton Town Hall on Thursday 29th August, just days after the murder.
The judge urged the jury to take into account Baker’s poor mental health and consider Baker irresponsible for his action through reason of insanity- but the jury took just 15 minutes to convict him, Guilty. The judge had no choice but to carry out a sentence of death.
Prior to his execution on Christmas Eve 1867, Baker wrote to the parents of Fanny Adams and asked for their forgiveness of his crimes that he had committed at: “an unguarded hour and not with malice or a forethought”
The murder of Fanny Adams resonated throughout the country, with the grotesque illustration and write ups of the murder featured across newspaper and broadsides. The murder would also become the subject of many a folk songs and ballad.
Then in 1869 the British Navy introduced a new ration, mutton in a tin. The food stuff was hardly appetizing and sailors started a running joke that the mutton was actually the remains of ‘sweet Fanny Adams’ (truly the height of humor…). These joke continued and soon the contents of the tin became to be known as ‘sweet FA’ this trickled into popular parlance and still today people say ‘sweet FA’ as another term for ‘nothing’. Nice.
I’m sorry, but I did say this one was bleak!
Part 2 coming very soon, hopefully less child murder…
The excellently named Sophia Dorothea was born in 1666 the only child of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, who ruled the Celle portion of the Duchy of Brunswick. Sophia’s mother was the Dukes long standing mistress Éléonore Marie d’Esmier d’Olbreuse, who he quickly married after Sophia’s birth.
It was a scandalous start to a life that would see Royal coverups, affairs and murder. With Sophia cementing her place in history as England’s lost Queen.
By the time Sophia reached marrying age she was something of a certified beauty, skilled at a whole host of ‘womanly pursuits’ (i.e music and sewing…) and was funny and smart to boot. Girl was a catch!
Sadly for Sophia, she had no say in who she married. So rather than marrying any of the eligiable suitors who she might have lived happily ever after with, she had to go with her parents first choice -her first cousin George Ludwig.
In addition to being her cousin, George was THE WORST. Rude, loud, and aggressive but not too smart, George was notoriously quick to anger. He was also vindictive and obnoxious.
The only thing going for George was the fact that he was heir to Hanover.
A marriage between George and Sophia would mean that George’s family would rule both Hanover and Celle. So despite the fact that Georges family hated Sophia (due to her low birth) all parties involved were for the marriage.
Well, apart from Sophia. Who when told about the engagement, promptly threw Georges portrait across the room.
The marriage, unsurprisingly, didn’t get off to a good start.
Sophia struggled to fit into her new world. Not helped by her new mother in law who constantly called Sophia out and bitching about her with the court.
Sophia’s new husband was not any better (like you were expecting him to be…) he was stand off-ish and spent very little time with his new wife, going away whenever he could.
He also created a network of spies so he could know what Sophia was doing at all times – which is super normal and healthy.
Yet, somehow the pair had not one but two babies, with George (who later became King George ll of England) both in 1683 and Sophia (later, Queen of Prussia) in 1687. With an heir and a spare in the bag, George saw his job as over.
So George started having very public affairs, notably with two women nicknamed The Beanpole and The Elephant.
To add to this, George was physically abusive towards Sophia. He would beat her in public and on one occasion nearly strangled her, an act of violence that was witnessed by a room full of people.
That was just what George did it public. We don’t know what went on behind closed doors, but we can imagine.
Neglected and isolated, Sophia found solace in an old friend. Swedish Count, Philipp Christoph von Königsmark (try saying that 5 times fast).
The pair had had met in Sophia’s homeland just before her marriage to George. Whilst Sophia had gone to Hanover, Phillip traveled to England, becoming a favourite in the court of Charles ll and creating something of a Casanova like persona – bedding countless countesses (and the odd Duchess).
The rekindled friendship with Phillip was a life line for Sophia. She started to become healthier and happier, something that was noted by Hanovers courtiers. Though they knew George wouldn’t approve of the friendship, the court did. Sophia was overdue some happiness.
But then Philipp and Sophia became more than friends.
The pair were spotted writing each other love messages on the palace windows, and exchanging romantic letters; one notable line from Philipp is:
“I embrace your knees”
This was a very dangerous game. But the pair continued and by 1690 things had gotten serious. With the couple spending as much time together as possible, and using codes and confidantes to communicate when apart.
In 1692, George’s Dad, the King of Hanover, was shown the couples love letters. Angry, he promptly sent Philipp away to fight with the Hanoverian army – with any leave request turned down.
But Philipp was not that easily deterred. He abandoned the army and rode to be with Sophia.
At this point, George found out about the affair. He confronted Sophia and shouting quickly escalated into violence. Sophia only survived the encounter thanks to servants who pulled George off her
Following this terrifying meeting with her husband, Sophia and Philipp hatched a plan to escape Hanover together and elope.
BUT the plan was quickly foiled – word got round to George and his Dad and the lovers plans were put to an abrupt stop.
Philipp was ambushed, and in an attack that would later be covered up, he was murdered.
Several court insiders would admit on their deathbeds to being involved in the death, but none would say how Philipp died or where his body lay.
Popular legend said Philipp’s body was covered in quicklime and buried under the still bloody floorboards of the castle
Hysterical, Sophia was held under house arrest in her rooms.
George managed to divorce Sophia and she was found guilty of malicious desertion.
Then George ordered that his wive be locked away in Castle Ahlden. Her right to see her children was cut and the only visitor permitted was to be her mother.
Sophia remained captive, locked away in her castle, for 30 years. Until she died in 1726.
But what happened to George? Well George went on and became King of Great Britain and Ireland- King George l, the first of the Hanoverian line.
When he arrived in England he turned up speaking very little English and with his two loyal mistresses in tow- The Beanpole and The Elephant. But rumours of his ill fated wife and her lover continued to swirl. Dogging George until still his dying day.