For the residents of Soho, leafing through their newspapers in the days after Christmas in 1900, the news that a woman’s leg and been found in their district on Christmas Eve must have made for rather unpleasant reading. Especially for those who had had their turkeys delivered by Mr. Neve, a local butcher.
The Nottingham Journal, took up the story in its edition of Friday 28th December, 1900:-
A LONDON MYSTERY. CRIME OR HOAX?
Christmas in London without a startling police sensation would be no Christmas at all.
Soho this year has the customary mystery. And for the moment the police are as much in fog as the Embankment was last Sunday, to say whether the mystery covers a tragedy or a medical student’s practical joke.
THE FACTS OF THE MYSTERY
These are the facts.
On Christmas Eve, George Randall, a youth of nineteen, employed by Mr. W. H. Neve, butcher and game dealer, of 30, Rupert Street, Soho, was delivering Christmas turkeys for his employer in the neighbourhood of Little Pulteney Street, Soho.
When driving his cart along Little Pulteney Street, at the corner of Windmill Street, he saw two boys approaching in an opposite direction. “Look out!”, cried one of the boys, to which the other answered, “Let it go!”
Immediately afterwards something fell into his cart, and as he turned he saw the two lads running in the direction of Wardour Street.
THE GRUESOME DISCOVERY
He thought nothing more of the occurrence, and he drove on to next customer, at Marshall Street.
Returning to his cart after delivering the customer’s turkey, Randall found his assistant, Walter Walsh, a lad of sixteen, examining something which he had picked up in the bottom of the cart.
“It was a human leg and foot,” said young Randall to a Daily Mail representative on Wednesday, “and it was quite warm when I picked it up.”
TAKEN TO THE POLICE STATION
When Randall discovered the gruesome addition to his load of Christmas turkeys, he “felt like fainting,” to use his own expression. He at once sought the advice of other butcher boys, employed at Broxill’s, Marshall street, and, at their suggestion, he took the grisly find to Great Marlborough Street Police Station.
Under the glare of gaslight, the object at first glance looked like a portion of the leg of mummy, from the kneecap downward. But the still latent warmth of the flesh and the half-charred skin gave a more tragic suggestion.
There could be no mistaking the fact that it was a portion of a woman’s leg, cut off, in a bungling fashion below the knee joint. That it had been subjected to a roasting process was also evident from the charred skin. The first joints of all the toes had been broken off, apparently after being reduced to cinder.
MOST ASTONISHING OF ALL
But, most astonishing of all, was the fact that the upper end, where it had been severed from the knee joint, was clean and uncharred, showing that it had been cut off after the leg, or body, had been roasted.
Around the ankle were marks of a cord. Prom the thick portion of the calf a clean slice had been cut, in somewhat bungling fashion.
A DOCTOR’S EXAMINATION
Dr. Alex Mitchell, the divisional surgeon, was at once called to examine the fragment.
His examination simply showed that severance had taken place after the limb had been roasted, and that it was a portion of a woman’s leg.
But that was all.
All Christmas Day, detectives from Marlborough Street were scouring Soho to discover the two boys who had thrown the object into the butcher’s cart.
It is stated that two boys answering the description given by Randall were found, but at present the police have no information which throws any light on the mystery.
A FURTHER MYSTERY
To add further to the mystery, a woman’s garment, picked up in St. Martin’s Lane, was taken to the police station on Wednesday. Whether this was part of the covering of the victim, or whether it was a corroborative hoax put up by medical students who are supposed to be aggrieved with the police ever since the riots, is a question that remains solved.
A coroner’s jury will have the solution of the Soho Christmas mystery.”
IMPOSSIBLE TO HOLD AN INQUEST
However, as The Evening Herald pointed out in its edition of the 28th of December 1900, it would be nigh on impossible to hold an inquest on a leg, and, anyway, as far as the newspaper understood, the police were in possession of certain facts that semed to point to the whole saga being a hoax:-
“To hold an inquest on such portions of a human body as a leg, a hand, or an arm would be impossible, and the Coroner will be able to take no action whatever until he gets further information.
It was pointed out that, for all the evidence at present procurable, the former possessor of the limb may be stumping about London’s streets on a wooden leg. To hold an inquest and then afterwards discover that the limb belonged to a living person would be ludicrous to a degree – at any rate, to all except the unfortunate person who had lost the leg.
EVIDENCE AT HAND
The police have stated to a news agency that they have evidence in hand which will obviate the necessity of an inquest.
This can only mean that the authorities have discovered that the affair is a hoax – probably a silly medical student joke; and that the theory of a crime cannot any longer be entertained.”