In late November, 1888, a very curious case was played out at Sheffield Police Court. It involved a lovelorn German nobleman and, in a roundabout way, featured the Whitechapel murderer, albeit, I have to confess that the link to the East End crimes was a tenuous one!
The Sheffield Independent covered the story of the events that lay behind the case in its edition of Saturday, 1st December, 1888:-
A GERMAN “NOBLEMAN” IN SHEFFIELD
HIS LOVES AND HIS TROUBLES
At the Sheffield Police Court, yesterday, before the Mayor (Ald. Clegg) and Mr. S. Roberts, a case arising out of a charge of a breach of the peace created considerable amusement.
Paul Von Knoblock was the defendant, and he described himself as a German “nobleman.” He appeared under a warrant which was executed on Tuesday.
The charge against him was of committing a breach of the peace by forcibly entering the house of Mrs. Edith Vickerage, No. 285, Glossop Road, on Monday night. Mr A. Neal appeared for Mrs. Vickerage, and Mr. A. Muir Wilson was for the defendant.
THE LAST OF THE BARONS
Mr. Neal:- “The defendant is ——–”
Mr. Wilson:- “The last of the barons.” (Laughter.)
The Mayor:- “No. not the last.” (Renewed laughter.)
Mr. Neal, resuming, said that the defendant was a German gentleman, who seemed to be of somewhat eccentric habits. He had for some time past caused a great deal of annoyance to the complainant and others at her house.
THE POLICE WERE CALLED
On Monday evening, he forced his way in there, and remained, in spite of efforts made to get him out, and ultimately two policemen had to be called in to effect that desirable object.
He was taken to the Town Hall, and interviewed by the Chief Constable, who allowed him to leave, after telling a constable to return to the house to prevent any further attempt at entrance.
BACK TO THE HOUSE
Unfortunately, the defendant arrived at house first – (laughter, in which the defendant joined) – and remained there until the police officer arrived, and again he had the pleasure of turning him out.
In consequence of these entries the house had to be watched all night.
The complainant had no desire to punish the defendant. All she wanted was to be free from molestation. He (Mr. Neal) should ask that he be required to find substantial sureties to keep the peace, for his own, he was afraid, would not be good enough. The fact was, there was order on him for the Workhouse.
Mr. Wilson: “No, no, he sent that to your client.”
The Mayor said that if the facts were as Mr. Neal had opened them, the defendant would, of course, have to be bound over to keep the peace.
AN UNENVIABLE POSITION
Mr. Wilson said his position was an unenviable one. He desired to do the best he could for the defendant, but he refused to be guided by advice, or to refrain from visiting the complainant, whom he called “his sweetheart.”
He further expressed his opinion that “love ought not to be bound” – (Laughter) – and insisted in saying, “I vant mine sweetheart.” (Laughter.)
The Mayor:- “But he hasn’t got one. (Renewed laughter.)
HE HAD ANNOUNCED THEIR MARRIAGE
Mr Wilson stated that he did not wish to reap up anything unpleasant, but the defendant had at one time visited the complainant. and had had meals at her house.
Without authority from her he had had the banns of marriage between himself and the complainant published in the parish church, and had also announced in the local papers, following the custom of the Germans, his betrothal to her.
Mr. Neal said that he was certain that Mr. Wilson would do his best for his client. He then proceeded to call evidence.
MRS VICKERAGE GIVES EVIDENCE
Mrs. Vickerage was then sworn, and said that, on Monday last, she was at her mother’s house, when she heard the prisoner’s voice, and, going out of the room, she found him seated on the stairs, and pretending to be asleep. She told him to go out, but he took no notice, and he finally had to be ejected by two constables.
He again returned, however, and took up his old position on the stairs. She and her mother had at one time “tolerated” the defendant’s visits, but latterly they had refused him admittance.
He had formally visited the house occasionally, but only as an ordinary caller.
HE IS A FRAUD
By Mr. Wilson:- I made the defendant’s acquaintance at Cleethorpes a few years ago, being introduced by my brother-in-law. I knew nothing further about him, and did not invite him to visit me in Sheffield.
During the present year, he has been refused admittance ten times. I was married six weeks ago, and since then have been away from home. The I reason I refused him was he made himself offensive to people in the house.
At one time I believed he was a genuine German baron, but I have since found he is not, and I consider him “a fraud.”
The Mayor remarked that that had nothing to do with the case. The defendant had been refused admittance to a certain house, and had entered the place by force. That was the charge against him.
Mr. Wilson then read the following letter, which, he said, the defendant sent on November 1st:-
For goodness sake make me to be imprisoned. I’m not a safe party at all.
I can’t bear the torture any longer . I shall become either a criminal or a lunatic.
P. Von Knoblock.
HE HAD NO FRIENDS
Police-constable Mill having given evidence in I support of the opening statement, Mr. Wilson said that the defendant was a German, without friends in England, but if he was to be believed, of good position in his native country. He claimed to be a baron, whatever that might be, had only income of 15s. 6d. per week, which would not go far towards keeping a barony in England. (Laughter).
Rightly or wrongly, the defendant had a notion that he had a right to visit the house. He met those friends two years ago at Cleethorpes, and he said they encouraged him. They did not tolerate him, but treated him as being a person worthy of their friendship.
Of course they had the right to determine whether he should visit them or not; but the defendant was, he believed, in love, not with any particular individual, but in love with the whole family – in with the mother, in love with the daughter, in love with everybody, and that was the trouble. (Laughter.)
A GREAT FORCE OF LOVE
It was unfortunate that the defendant had gone so far as to sign one of his letters “Jack the Ripper.’”
He had friends in Sheffield willing to be bound over for his good behaviour, but he had a great force of love, and felt he ought not to be bound against going wherever wished.
The defendant might have had bail, but he declined, saying that he would rather remain in gaol than promise not to visit the house.
MAD ABOUT THE LADIES
He had had expressed a desire to see the German Consul, and said he was not insane; he was only mad about the ladies. (Laughter.)
He (Mr. Wilson) was of the opinion that he was pretty true about that, and he regretted it.
The Mayor:- “Is that your regret or his?”
Mr. Wilson:- “It is my own, I am afraid.”
Continuing, he said the defendant had prepared a long string of questions, but he would not attempt to put them, or read them. The defendant could put them himself, but he would not be party to it.
Mr. Roberts:- “What does the defendant do?”
Mr. Wilson:- “He is a gentleman of independent means; he lives on his means.
Mr. Neal:- “I believe he taught languages to a few pupils once.”
Mr. Wilson said that the defendant was a scientific man of great capacity, and he had a letter, sent from London, which pointed to his not being responsible. It was, however, only when the moon was at the full that he was not responsible for his actions. (Laughter.)
Mr. Neal:- “I am afraid the moon is always at the full so far as he is concerned.”
Mr. Wilson:- “Only the love moon.” (Renewed laughter.)
PAUL VON KNOBLOCK TESTIFIES
After some discussion as to the desirability of allowing the defendant to give evidence, it was decided to swear him, the Mayor tersely informing him that what he had to prove was – that he had a right to go to the house and kick up a row.
Mr. Wilson:- Is your name Paul von Knoblock?
Are you a baron, a count, or what?
I am nobleman, sir. (Laughter )
You went to the house?
Have you been forbidden to go there?
I have been forbidden there once; but after that I have spoken to the lady, and she accepted me several times before this case was.” (Laughter.)
Why did you go on Monday?
Because I wanted to see the lady.
The Mayor:- “Didn’t you know that the lady did not want to see you?
Well, sir, I was not particularly aware of that, and I cannot think it after the behaviour of the lady in former days. He added that he went once, and they told him that the lady was not in.
Mr. Wilson:- “That is the English way of saying that they don’t want to see you.” (Laughter)
Defendant:- All right.
Mr. Wilson:- “Are you willing to promise not to go to the house again?”
I am not willing to promise anything, because I think I am in my good right.
The Mayor:- “I don’t know what they do in Germany, but in England if a person said he did not want another to come to his house he has no right to go, and if he does he creates a breach of the peace. You were not aware of that probably?”
I was not.
AN ANGRY EXCHANGE
Mr. Roberts:- “Are you troubled about the moon?”
I don’t take any notice of the moon whatever. (Laughter.)
Mr Roberts:- You said something in your letter about a full moon?
Well, I write such things sometimes, but they mean nothing.
Mr. Wilson was about to ask some farther questions, when the defendant indignantly remarked, “Are you the solicitor for me, or the other side?”
Mr. Wilson:- “I wish to act fairly to you, and don’t want to see you sent to prison.”
The Mayor:- “I think Mr. Wilson has acted in a very wise manner in conducting the case as he has done on your behalf.”
The defendant was about to make some remarks, but was stopped by the Mayor, who said that they were not going to bring the ladies’ names into the case all.
BOUND OVER TO KEEP THE PEACE
Mr. Neal asked that the defendant might be bound over to keep the peace for a reasonable time.
Mr. Wilson asked the defendant if he thought he (Mr. Wilson} had been squared, and if he had any confidence in him? He would advise him to promise not to go near the house again.
Defendant:- “If you make a breach of promise on that lady, I will promise not to do so.” (Laughter.)
Mr. Wilson:- “I can’t make a breach of promise on the lady, because she has not promised to marry me.”
Defendant:- “Oh, but for me, I mean.” (Laughter.)
The defendant was ultimately bound over to keep the peace, himself in £20, and two sureties in £10 each, the Mayor remarking that if the bonds were not forthcoming he would go to prison for two months, and then a medical man would be able to say whether he was really of sound mind or not.
The sureties ware afterwards forthcoming, and the defendant was liberated from custody.
THE JACK THE RIPPER LETTER
The following was the letter referred to by Mr. Wilson as containing a reference to Jack the Ripper:-
On Sunday next but one Surrey street and Chapel is to be blown up by “Jack the Ripper.” Stay away, friend, in case yon want to save one soul from the torture of hell fire.
A message by
ONE WHO KNOWS ALL ABOUT IT”
A SECOND LETTER
Another letter sent by the defendant to Mrs. Vickerage was as follows:-
London, September 21,1888.
I thank you very much for your silent communication.
As the moon this year has no influence on my system, I will have that excursion to East Africa.
We had a full moon on yesterday, and I feel as if I could run my head against the wall, never minding whether I burst it or not.
It is a nasty feeling which led me to the following example. (Here followed some curious arithmetic.) Nine is the finest number. Seven is to be considered a bad one.
I shall in future mind the full moons, as I seem to be very assertive.
P. von Knoblock.
P.S. I shall not any more be interesting towards you and ——-. I will forget she was so kind as to push me out of her house. P. von Knoblock.”