By Edward Stow
Whitechapel Society stalwart Frogg Moody put on a special event on Saturday 5th December – the second Casebook Classic Crime Symposium. Frogg charged just £5 a head for this and not surprisingly the tickets sold out almost immediately..
The first speaker was Jon Rees. His talk ‘In a Nutshell’ was about the work of Frances Glessner Lee, a creator of miniature crime scene dioramas and a ground breaking criminal investigator. Jon was inspired by Season 7 of the TV series CSI, in which a serial killer left miniature models of the crime scenes as part of their signature. This CSI season was in turn inspired by the work of Frances Glessner Lee.
Glessner Lee created 18 miniature dolls house style dioramas based on genuine murder crime scenes – or sometimes a composite of several murder scenes – in incredible detail at the scale of one inch to one foot. She called them ‘Nutshell Guides’ as they were a training tool used by various US criminal investigation departments – to ‘find the truth in a nutshell’. They are currently kept in the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore and are still used today to assist in the training of criminal investigators.
Jon when through several of the miniature crime scenes with close up photographs on his PowerPoint presentation and invited the audience to suggest solutions.
The next speaker was Trevor Bond whose talk, ‘A Terrible Tale of 1888’ was about another murder in 1888 – that of Bensley Lawrence by two youngsters, Charles Dobell and William Gower. This crime was notable for several reasons, one being that Dobell was the last person under 18 years of age to be hanged in Britain.
This was a slightly perplexing and disconcerting case. Bensley Lawrence was shot to death at his workplace in Tunbridge Wells in July 1888. The perpetrators were only caught six months later after one of them confessed. It is difficult to understand the motive. Perhaps it is an early example of impressionable and immature youngsters getting caught up in the tawdry glamour of crime.. The police certainly blamed the Penny Dreadfuls in the same way that some crimes today are attributed to the baleful influence of violent computer games, violent DVDs or videos.
There followed an interval in which we were served up a massive and tasty buffet (an extra cost per head).
After lunch came Neil ‘Monty’ Bell’s talk, entitled ‘Bluebottles and Tecs – Life as a Policeman in H Division’. He started off to the tune of the memorable 1970s TV series ‘The Sweeney’ and ended with the sad, slow, contemplative version of the same tune – the theme that was played whenever Jack Reagan and Carter had failed to get their man. Instead of black and white stills of a villain lumping Reagan on the chin or Carter sprawling on the deck, Monty put up images of various H Division coppers. A nice touch. In between, amongst other things Neil took us inside Commercial Street Police Station, and showed us examples of a beat and described how the local force was organised.
The last speaker was Adam Wood with ‘Donald Swanson and the Seaside Home’, in which Adam added some fascinating background information on Swanson and made the case for the ‘Seaside Home‘ (where the suspect Kosminski was supposedly identified) being near Dover, at St Margaret’s Bay. This was the location of the Morley House Convalescent Home which was sometimes used by the City of London Police. Dr Frederick Gordon Brown, who was the City Police surgeon who performed the post-mortem on Catherine Eddowes, was also connected to this home.
This one-day event was a great success and was ably conducted by the MC for the day – Phil Hutchinson.
Whitechapel Society Meeting
By Ed Stow
The Whitechapel Society has settled into its new home at the Chamberlain Hotel on the Minories in much the same way as your grandfather might when wearing his favourite winter overcoat. After a couple of meetings it is as if we had always been there!
It is certainly posher than our previous venues. Perhaps the membership is upwardly mobile?
It’s a Fullers Pub so the beer is good. It does decent food. And for out-of-towners it is also a hotel (as the name suggests) and the rooms are reasonably priced by London standards. What more could one want all under one roof?
I initially presumed that the ‘Chamberlain’ referenced by the name was the Chamberlain of London, that being the traditional title of chief financial officer of the City of London Corporation. The title dates back to 1237. But the pub sign depicts a man in a red coat wearing what looks like the insignia of a Knight of the Garter, and I don’t think any City Chamberlain’s were ever members of that illustrious Order of Chivalry.
However, Francis Seymour-Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford, was made a Knight of the Order of the Garter in 1757 and was Lord Chamberlain from 1766 to 1783. The Lord Chamberlain is the senior official in the Royal Household. The pub sign is in fact a crude copy of a painting of the 1st Marquess of Hertford.
There is supposed to be a strain of madness in the Seymour-Conway family, although I’m sure that will not rub off on the members of the Whitechapel Society who gather in the pub named after one of 1st Marquess’ sinecures. Why a pub on the eastern fringes of the City of London should be named in his honour I have no idea. Maybe the sign was chosen at random to depict any old ‘Chamberlain’.
But that’s enough diversion – this is Christmas!
Or it was then. Almost.
Before the meeting got underway Sue Parry had a very sad task to perform. Sarah Walker the wife of Mike Walker, a former Chairman of the Whitechapel Society, had been murdered in France. A minute’s silence was held as a mark of respect and remembrance.
Phil Hutchinson then introduced the main speaker – Neil Storey – a firm favourite with the Society.
Many attendees at the December meeting had earlier in the day been to Frogg Moody’s excellent Casebook True Crime Symposium at the same venue (read about it in this journal!). There was a danger of criminological overdose, so having Neil Storey as the speaker was well-chosen. Neil had as his topic ‘East End Tales of Ghosts, Grim Times and Dark Deeds’ and he presented us with a light smorgasbord of mayhem, travelling through the East and actually straying all over London with gay abandon. It was rather like a traditional festive Victorian horror tale, delivered – as to be expected – with wit and style.
Neil started with an examination of the Salvation Army and its female bands. They played squeezeboxes rather than brass instruments, which were deemed unladylike. As part of the temperance movement they marched into the roughest areas playing hymns – enjoining their audience not to partake in the devil drink. In retaliation the breweries paid roughs to hurl stones at them. In response the Sally Army ladies were issued with projecting bonnets that protected their faces and metal webbing to their corsets to act as breast plates! It has echoes of some sort of arms race – for the hearts and minds of the downtrodden – cause and effect.
From there Neil moved back a couple of centuries to Martha Ray (1742-1779). She was an attractive and talented singer who became the mistress to the Ear of Sandwich. One James Hackman became besotted with her. So much so that he stalked her. When she spurned his proposal for marriage, he ambushed Martha in Covent Garden and shot her to death. Hackman tried to kill himself but the pistol misfired. Instead he was tried and hung at Tyburn within a week.
Forward a few years to 1811 and back to the East End!
The Ratcliffe Highway Murders of the Marr and Williamson families on two separate nights horrified London. The chief suspect – John Williams – committed suicide in his police cell. After his death, Williams was declared guilty of the crimes, and his body was paraded through the streets with his alleged murder weapons, before being buried at a local cross road – where Cable Street met Cannon Street Road – with a wooden stake hammered through his heart.
The body was accidentally dug up in 1886 and the skull was kept in a local pub. Alas it is no longer there.
After mentioning Jamrach’s famous menagerie that was located on that same Highway and the Tiger which escaped and nearly ate a local youth, Neil moved to north London and the Edgware Road Tragedy.
In 1837 the police found a head in the Regent’s Canal. It was soon identified as belonging to the fiancée of one James Greenacre. He had become smitten with another and rather than chuck his betrothed, he dismembered her. Drastic action one might think. Greenacre was swiftly caught and dispatched at Newgate in front of a huge and merry crowd. The hangman, William Calcraft engaged in a shrewd and lucrative act of product placement. Before sending Greenacre to his maker, Calcraft took a bite out of a pie – henceforth to be known as a Greenacre pie!
1837 also saw the first account of Spring Heel’d Jack. Accounts of sightings this mythological figure spread across the country for many years.
Neil then delighted us with the tale of Kate Webster, who in 1879 murdered her employer Mrs Thomas and boiled her flesh down. This was the so-called Richmond Murder. It was claimed that the flesh was offered for use in local pies. Webster was inevitably caught and executed.
Then there are the ghosts of Newgate Prison, the most ‘popular’ being The Black Dog of Newgate (a much discussed ghoul in the Q and A that followed) and the face of Amelia Dyer, the baby farmer. Other ghosts haunted the Wood Street Compter – another jail in the City of London – and the Royal London Hospital is haunted by a mysterious Grey Lady.
After rapid-fire references to the 20,000 corpses exposed at Bedlam Churchyard by the Crossrail building works and the London Burkers, we came back to the East.
To St Mary Matfelon Church in Whitechapel – the ‘White Chapel’ itself no less. In 1863 the leaky roof required fixing. Up they went to find out the cause when – shock-horror – a body was found in a box in the loft. A further search found the bodies of eleven infants in the roof space. An inquest found that the sexton had been storing still-born babies their prior to burial! The matter was quietly hushed up.
Many ‘Ripperologists’ know of the Pinchin Street torso of 1889, but in 1892 workmen uncovered three bodies inside a box on some land that was being redeveloped off Commercial Street. Again the matter was hushed up. What was it all about?
Talking of the Ripper, ghost stories are attached to all the Ripper sites.
But for perhaps the most famous murder ghost story of all we have to cross the River to Bermondsey and go back to 1849. Marie Manning went to the gallows for murder wearing black satin and in doing so she became the template for the ‘Woman in Black’.
We can see that Neil Storey covered a lot of ground in his entertaining talk. He will be a hard act to follow come February and the next meeting of the Whitechapel Society…
The weekend was not over.
The Whitechapel Society likes to organise events where possible for the Sunday – to make a weekend of it. On this particular Sunday members went to the Museum of London to view the special ‘Crime Museum Uncovered’ exhibition. This is a well presented collection from Scotland Yard’s famous Black Museum. Items associated with Dr Crippen, the Krays, the Great Train Robbery, and yes Jack the Ripper, along with a great deal more can be seen until 10th April 2016. It was not previously possible for the public to see these items.
Afterwards about 25 members met in the comfortable City pub the Lord Raglan for a festive Christmas dinner to round off an action packed weekend.
What will 2016 hold in store for us?