In October, 1887, the year prior to the onset of the Jack the Ripper murders, a fatality occurred the East End of London which, as it transpired, was the result of a tragic accident.
However, the circumstances behind the accident, and the fact that the only witness to it was the man who was responsible for the death of the victim, meant that the police had to decide whether it was an accident or a murder.
AN EAST-END FATALITY
The Swindon Advertiser and North Wilts Chronicle reported the full story in its edition of Saturday, 8th October, 1887:-
A shooting fatality of an extraordinary character, and which is surrounded by very distressing circumstances, occurred on Saturday afternoon at 422. Mile-end-road, and has caused considerable excitement, mingled with no little sympathy, throughout the neighbourhood.
The scene of this sad occurrence is immediately opposite the Queen’s Hall of the People’s Palace, and is a three-storey structure, obscured from the general view of the passing pedestrian by comparatively large houses on either side, the house itself lying some little distance back from the main thoroughfare.
These premises have been in the occupation of a family named Barns for a great number of years, and is one of the oldest established photographers in the East-end of London.
A DOCTOR WAS CALLED
It appears that Saturday afternoon, about four o’clock. Mr. John Barns called at the surgery of Dr. John Todd, of 301, Mile-end-road, and requested him to come immediately and see his wife.
He proceeded with Mr. Barns to his residence, which is some 300 yards further along the thoroughfare on the opposite side of the way.
On entering the drawing-room, he saw Mrs. Barns sitting in a chair, apparently asleep, but on examining her he found her to be dead.
He questioned Mr. Barns as to the cause of death, and the latter told him that he had accidentally shot her, whereupon he proceeded to make a closer examination of the unfortunate woman.
SHE HAD BEEN SHOT
He discovered that she had been shot in the right breast, the bullet entering the body about three inches above the nipple, and embedding itself in the deceased’s breast.
Mr. Barns, who seems very distressed, called in the assistance of a second medical man, but said nothing except that the discharge of the firearm was accidental.
THE POLICE WERE SENT FOR
The doctors, after having made a thorough examination of the body, sent for the police; and Police-constable Weston, 106H. quickly arrived on the scene.
Having been acquainted with the facts of the case by the doctors, he inquired of Mr. Barns where was the revolver, whereupon Mr. Barns handed over the revolver, which was a pin-fire.
TAKEN TO THE POLICE STATION
The constable told him that he would have to accompany him to the station house, which Mr. Barns did readily, and on arriving at the Arbour-square Police-station he was formally charged with causing the death of his wife.
Having received the usual caution, that whatever he might say would be taken down in writing and used in evidence against him, he stated that he was examining the revolver when it suddenly exploded.
Beyond this, we are given to understand that he made no other remarks whatever.
The revolver was examined and found to contain one spent cartridge, but had no appearance of having contained any more.
IT WAS A TRAGIC ACCIDENT
The police state it as their opinion that the affair was the result of an accident, as stated by Mr. Barns.
The neighbours give the Barns family a very good character, as being very peaceable people and respected by all who knew them.
Further, the police authorities state that as a result of their inquiries there is nothing whatever to show that there was any ill-feeling between the deceased and her husband, or that there had been any quarrel which would be likely to lead to such shocking results, but on the contrary, that they were living on the most affectionate terms.
Since his confinement in the cells at the lock-up he appears very depressed, and feels his position most acutely.
The body of Mrs. Barns still remains in the house pending the coroner’s inquest, which will be held today or tomorrow, and at which enquiry it is expected that the prisoner will be brought up in custody to give evidence, as there was no other person in the room or near the scene, who can corroborate or contradict the statement made by Mr. Barns.