Although the Jack the Ripper murders were truly horrible, they were not the only crimes of this nature that took place in London in 1888.
Indeed, there were other gruesome murders that year, and a host of other attacks and assaults that, although they didn’t result in murder, most certainly came close to doing so.
One such horrible case of attempted murder took place in Bermondsey on Monday, 10th December, 1888, and was reported in The Dundee Courier, on Tuesday, 11th December, 1888:-
ATTEMPTED MURDER IN LONDON
DESPERATE ATTACK ON A GIRL
“Last evening an extraordinary and desperate attempt at murder was made at Bermondsey upon a young girl, who is at present lying in Guy’s Hospital in a very critical condition.
The circumstances of the affair are remarkable, in view of the fact that no possible motive for the crime can be imagined.
THE FACTS AS KNOWN
A reporter, who made inquiries of the parties concerned, ascertained the following facts:-
Between half-past four and five o’clock, a man entered the refreshment shop of Mr James Whiting, 17 Spa Road, Bermondsey, and ordered a cup of tea.
His wants were attended to by a young girl, about fifteen years of age, named Lucretia Pembroke, who is described as tall for her years, pleasant in looks and manner, and bearing a very good character.
It seems that the girl inquired of her customer as to whether he would like some bread and butter, and upon his replying in the negative she turned towards the door leading from the shop to the sitting room behind.
HE CUT HER THROAT
So soon as she had moved a sufficient distance from the man to be unable to observe his actions, the fellow rushed rapidly to the front door, locked it, and, before the girl realised his intention, crept behind her, seized her by the back of the neck, and cut her throat, inflicting a fearful wound, extending from the joint, just clearing the windpipe, to the right ear, the lobe of which was struck off at the time of the occurrence.
MRS. WHITING HEARD A SCREAM
Only Mrs Whiting was in the house, and she had a few minutes previously gone upstairs preparatory to making ready for her tea trade in the shop.
She heard a scream, ran downstairs, and found the girl in the back room in a pool of blood.
SHE FETCHED A POLICE CONSTABLE
The woman unlocked the front door, and got into the street, where, after shouting for assistance, she found a police constable.
The officer entered the house shortly afterwards.
THEY SEARCHED IN THE FOG
A dozen men who had heard the outcry followed him, and made a thorough search of the back premises, where they supposed the would-be assassin to be lurking.
Many of these hastily manufactured torches on account of the dense fog which prevailed, and by the aid of the light endeavoured to find a clue.
TAKEN TO HOSPITAL
In the meantime, the injured girl was removed to Guy’s Hospital, and received surgical attendance.
Her wound was found to be a very serious one, and it appeared doubtful whether she would live long enough to make a statement.
WILLIAM ATKINS ARRESTED
In the evening, however, she was seen by Detective Sergeants Bradford and Haigh, from Bermondsey Street Police Station, and was able to detail to them certain facts which led to the arrest of a man named William Atkins, who is better known in the neighbourhood as “Silly Billy,” and has lately lodged at 21, Lunasol Street, close to the place where the crime was committed, and not far from the residence of the girl’s parents, who live at No. 9 Spa Road.
THE GIRL’S STATEMENT
The allegation of the girl against Atkins is that he entered the shop and called for tea, with which she served him.
She had a moment’s conversation with him, and then was returning to the room behind, when he seized her, and cut her throat with a penknife.
Her story as to the place where she was assaulted receives confirmation from the fact that there is a good deal of blood on the floor just inside the entrance to the room where food is prepared.
Mrs. Whiting states that the man must have left the house by the back door, and that he had taken the precaution of securing not only the front door, but all the other communications on the ground floor.
HE KNEW HIS VICTIM
The man in custody knew Lucretia Pembroke, because he frequently came to the place for refreshment, and he had many times had food given him when out of work. He did odd jobs about the neighbourhood, and not long since was employed at some whitewashing in Whiting’s house.
WHAT THE NEIGHBOUR HEARD
A neighbour of the Whitings who was in her shop that time heard some disturbance going on in the back yard of the adjoining tenement, and got out in time to see a man leap on to the stable roof and drop into a tanyard.
She could not, however, identify him.
HE ASKED IF SHE WAS DEAD
The man Atkins was arrested in Spa Street, and on being taken to the station and charged with the attempted murder, asked, “Is she dead?” He was told that the girl was not dead, and he made no further observation.
HE WAS UNSTABLE
It was stated in the neighbourhood of the crime that he was known to be irresponsible for his actions, but his demeanour at the police station did not indicate any mental aberration.
The accused will be brought before the Magistrate at Southwark Police Court this morning.”
A MAN BEFORE TIIE MAGISTRATE
The day after the attack, Atkins appeared at Southwark Police Court, and The Northampton Mercury published the following brief account of his cappearancerance in its edition of Saturday, 15th December, 1888:-
“At Southwark Police-court on Tuesday, William Atkins, 21, labourer, was charged with wounding Lucretia Pembroke’ with intent to inflict grievous harm by cutting her throat.
Detective Bradford said that, in consequence of information received, he arrested the prisoner at Limasole Street, Bermondsey, and told him the charge.
Prisoner asked whether the girl was dead, and handed witness a pocket knife.
Witness took the prisoner to the station, and then went to Guy’s Hospital, where he saw Lucretia Pembroke.
HE TOOK OUT A POCKET KNIFE
She said that Bill Atkins, known as “Silly Billy,” entered the coffee-house at Spa-road, Bermondsey, and cut her throat. She served him with some tea when he came in, and was walking away when he took out a pocket knife and attacked her in the manner described.
In answer to Mr. Shiel, the witness said there was blood on the knife.
The girl’s wounds were very serious.
The prisoner was remanded for a week.”
HIS OLD BAILEY TRIAL
At his next court hearing, Atkins was committed for trial.
He duly appeared at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) on Wednesday, 9th January, 1889.
The South London Press carried the following report on the verdict on Saturday, 12th January, 1889:-
SENTENCED TO SEVEN YEARS
“On Wednesday William Atkins, aged 21, was found guilty of feloniously wounding Lucretia Pembroke, with intent to murder her.
The prosecutrix was a young woman employed as a waitress in a coffee house in Bermondsey, and the prisoner, without the slightest provocation, inflicted a serious wound upon her throat with a penknife.
The prisoner was sentenced I seven years’ penal servitude.”
You can read the full transcript of William Atkins’s trial at the Old Bailey Online website here.