In May, 1888, news broke in England that a man by the name of Michael Carroll had confessed in Australia to having carried out the murder of a girl by the name of Jane Maria Clousen in Eltham in May 1871.
The murder was a truly horrible one, and it had shocked the nation when it had occurred, and, despite the fact that a man had been put on trial for the crime, he had been acquitted, and by May 1888, the so-called “Eltham Murder” was still unsolved.
The Dundee Courier Friday, on 4th May 1888 took up the story of the confession:-
CONFESSION OF MURDER AFTER SEVENTEEN YEARS
A FORGOTTEN TRAGEDY
A few days ago, a telegram was received in London from Sydney, New South Wales, announcing that a man named Michael Carroll had confessed to being the murderer of Jane Maria Clousen in Kidbrook Lane, Eltham, Kent, seventeen years ago.
His confession is as follows:-
He was at the time residing at Woolwich, and for some period previous to the crime had been keeping company with the girl Clousen. A tiff occurred between them, and she said that she would have nothing more to do with him.
This declaration “raised the devil in his breast.” He made an appointment with the girl in Kidbrook Lane, Eltham – a spot between Deptford and Woolwich.
They met, and, after a fearful altercation, he hit her a fearful blow on the head with a hammer which he had brought with him. He fled, leaving her for dead.
On the following morning the girl was found near a hedge in a dying state, and, after lingering a few hours, she died.
Carroll – who added to his statement that he had been “engaged in a heavy drinking bout” for a week before he gave himself up – admitted to the police having undergone five years’ imprisonment in England for inflicting grievous bodily harm on a gas manager. He had also, he said, been a soldier during part of his life, and twice deserted.
REMEMBERING THE CRIME
Few of the general public who read this announcement would remember much about this murder to which it refers; for seventeen years is a long period in this fast-living age, and events soon pass out of public memory.
Yet few crimes of the present century have been more horrible or caused more sensation than that which Michael Carroll confesses to have perpetrated.
Eltham is a small village about two and half miles to the south-east of Greenwich, and Kidbrook Lane, at the time of the murder, was a lonely country lane running between fields, and with a ditch and trees on each side.
THE CRIME DISCOVERED
About five o’clock on the morning of May 3, 1871, a policeman, whose duty it was to patrol the lane in the course of his beat, came upon the body a young woman lying on the ground with her feet partly in the ditch.
She presented ghastly sight, and was literally lying in a pool of blood. Her head had been absolutely battered in at the back, so that the brain protruded, and her face was also horribly disfigured by repeated blows from some blunt instrument.
TAKEN TO A DOCTOR
Although so terribly injured, the poor girl still breathed, and the policeman procured assistance and conveyed her with all speed to the nearest doctor; but it was seen at once that she was beyond mortal aid.
For few a moments, she partially recovered consciousness and murmured, “Mary Smith knows all about it,” but she immediately relapsed into a coma again, and a few minutes later had ceased to breathe.
A DIABOLICAL MURDER
That a diabolical murder had been committed there was not the slightest doubt, and inquiry soon elicited the fact that the murdered girl’s name was Jane Maria Clousen, that she had been a domestic in the family of a respectable tradesman at Greenwich and that her age was nineteen.
It was known that she had been keeping company with young man named Edmund Pook, of Greenwich, and that she had been seen in his company on the night of the murder.
The police, therefore, without searching elsewhere, proceeded to interview Pook, and as his answers did not appear satisfactory, he was arrested.
The inquest on the body proved that the girl had been beaten to death with either mallet or a stonemason’s hammer, and in the course of their investigations the police learned that on the night of the murder a man purchased such a hammer an ironmonger’s shop in Greenwich, but the shopkeeper failed to identify Pook as the man, although he thought he was.
POOK GOES ON TRIAL
The case of Pook was taken by a lawyer who oddly enough bore the same name, uncommon as it is, but he disclaimed all relationship with the accused man.
Huddlestone, barrister-at-law, afterwards elevated to a judgeship, was retained for the defence, and, on the 12th of July, young Pook was put upon his trial, which lasted two days.
The witnesses for the prosecution proved themselves very unreliable, and there is little doubt that some of them perjured themselves.
The evidence also showed that the police had grossly bungled, for it was unmistakable that a terrible struggle had taken place in that lonely lane. Blood had splashed on to the hedgerow and the trees near, and all round about the ground was saturated and trodden into mire by scuffling feet.
This being so, the medical men, and common sense bore them out, declared that the murderer must have been drenched with the blood of his victim.
POOK WAS ACQUITTED
Now, no trace of blood was found on any of Pook clothes, and the counsel for the defence made a strong point of this, the result being that, though at first things looked black against the accused, he was, after patient investigation, acquitted.
When this verdict was made known it caused a tremendous sensation, and there was an expressed opinion that the police, in their eagerness to arrest Pook, and in their firm belief that they had the right man, had allowed the real criminal to escape.
INDIGNATION MEETINGS AND A PAMPHLET
Indignation meetings were, therefore, got up in the neighbourhood, and the Home Secretary was petitioned to offer a large reward for the apprehension of the murderer.
But, for some inscrutable reason, he declined to do this, and the consequence was that the public became exasperated.
The writer of this article, sharing in the exasperation, took an active part in endeavouring to arouse the authorities to a sense of their duty, and spoke at several public meetings while Mr Crossland of Greenwich, wrote a pamphlet entitled “The Eltham Tragedy Reviewed,” which was published by a local bookseller named Farral.
The object of the pamphlet was to show that there had been a pitiable miscarriage of justice and that the accused was, after all, the guilty man.
Pook, the solicitor, thereupon took the matter up and commenced an action for libel against author and publisher.
But so indignant was the public that, on the evening Saturday the 16th of September, 1871, a monster meeting was held on Blackheath Common to express sympathy with Messrs Crossland and Farral and to subscribe to funds for their defence.
A large sum was subscribed on the spot, and some of the speakers did not hesitate to openly avow their belief that young Pook was guilty.
The present writer, in referring to that meeting in one of the London papers said:-
“When are we to hear the last of the Eltham murder. Is it destined that this story of one of the most horrible of modern crimes is to be vividly kept before the public gaze until its brutal perpetrator has expiated his crime upon the scaffold?
Better that it should be so – better that ‘the Eltham murder’ should fill our papers, and meet our eyes on every hoarding and dead wall, than that the villain who beat Jane Maria Clousen to death with such awful barbarity should escape the punishment he so richly deserves.
The public are justly indignant at the grievous miscarriage of justice, at the bungling of the police, at the apathy of the Government, and the refusal of the Home Secretary to offer a reward.
Yet, in spite of public indignation, the murderer stalks red-handed in our midst, and the sword of justice has fallen powerless at her side.”
A HORRIBLE SIGHT
The author of the foregoing had the opportunity of seeing the body of the murdered girl, and, though he had previously witnessed many dreadful sights, had seen nothing to surpass this in ghastliness.
Jane Maria Clousen had been noted in Greenwich for her good looks and fine figure; but not only had the fiendish murderer smashed her head and face to a pulp, but he had broken many bones in her body.
And the only motive that was ever suggested for this savage crime was that the poor thing was encient.
But, in spite of indignation meetings, and the efforts that were subsequently put forward by the police, the criminal was never detected.
In the process of time, young Pook disappeared from the scene, and “The Eltham Tragedy” was relegated to the long list of crimes that have escaped punishment.
JUSTICE AT LAST?
Seventeen years have passed. Jane Maria Clousen’s body has long since returned to the dust from whence it sprang, and now conscience with a scourge of scorpions seems to have driven Michael Carroll into confessing that he is the spiller of the poor girl’s blood.
It is to be hoped that he may not turn out to be one of those half-mad fools who seem to take a delight in accusing themselves of great crimes; and that even after this lapse of years the vengeance which pursueth the murderer shall not go unsatiated.”