A Strange Fatality

A common crime committed against men in the East End of London in the 19th century was that of using a woman, probably a prostitute, to lure them to a location where the men would sometimes be drugged to render them defenceless, whereupon confederates of the woman would rob and assault the victim.

One possible case of this type of crime was reported by The Hackney and Kingsland Gazette on Monday, 23rd July, 1888.

The case is interesting because, at the inquest into the victim’s death, it became apparent that the coroner wasn’t in the least bit interested in considering the opinion of the man’s brother who claimed that he had witnesses and evidence to suggest that the death had not accidental.

The article read:-


“Dr. Macdonald held an inquiry at the Whittington and Cat, Bethnal Green respecting the death of Thomas Edwards, 57, a hawker, lately living at a lodging house in  Brick Lane, who died from injuries received under peculiar circumstances.

Joseph Rice, of 107, Brick Lane, deposed that the deceased lodged with him.

On Saturday night, he came home at about twelve o’clock. Blood was then flowing from his face, and his eyes were swollen.

The Witness put him to bed where he became unconscious and remained so till his death on Tuesday evening.


Morris Barnet, a fishmonger, of 6, Bell Lane, Spitalfields, deposed that on Saturday night, about eight or nine o’clock, he was looking out of his window when he saw a man fall down in the street.

A young man, who was passing, picked him up by the arm, and then let him go again and walked away. The man fell on his face in the gutter.

The Witness went to his assistance, and then left him in the charge of a policeman.

A group of Children in Bell Lane, Spitalfields.
Bell Lane, Spitalfields In 1912.


William Brown, a scavenger, said that he saw the deceased coming along Wheeler Street at half-past nine that night.

He fell in the roadway, and he appeared to be drunk.

Dr. Stretch, of Virginia Road, deposed that death was due to an extravasation of blood in the brain, caused by the injuries to the head.


The brother of the deceased, who was in court, here asked that the inquiry might be adjourned so that he might have legal assistance.

He was not satisfied with the medical evidence without a post-mortem examination, as he believed his brother had been drugged by some women in whose company he was seen previous to the time mentioned by the first witness; besides, the deceased was not a man to get drunk.


The Coroner: “That is for the jury to decide, not you.”

The Brother: “There are witnesses being withheld.”

The Coroner: “Where are they?”

The Brother: “One of them is here.

The Coroner: “Then let us hear him.”

George Wood then came into court, and said that he saw the deceased on Saturday night, when he told him that he had ‘had the boot’ – that meant he had been kicked. He did not say who by.


The Brother: “The police have the names of 10 witnesses, but they have been kept back.”

The Coroner: “How dare you say so? I shall leave the matter in the hands of the jury.”


The Jury found that the injuries were inflicted by the falls, and that the death was accidental.

The Brother: “This is not a fair inquiry.”

The Coroner: “The jury have returned a verdict, and I shall not hear you.”

With that the brother left the court.”