6 crimes that scandalized Victorian England. Part 2

The Thames Torso Killer

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…)

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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).

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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’.

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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.

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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:

‘Whitechapel again’

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.

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Well they can’t do worse than the Metropolitan Police did…

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!

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And it’s only slightly incredibly bleak- yay!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cover of Eliza Fennings case file

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.

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Broadsheet of Eliza Fenning’s execution

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.

6 true crimes that scandalised Victorian England. Part 1

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Maria Manning

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.

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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.

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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.

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for fucks sake

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.

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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.

Frederick George Manning and Marie Manning

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.

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Fanny Adams

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…).

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Please Victorian newspapers, don’t feel like you should hold back…

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)

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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.

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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!

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Part 2 coming very soon, hopefully less child murder…

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