Samuel Millstein and his wife Annie ran a restaurant at 62, Hanbury Street Spitalfields. According to neighbours, they were a pleasant couple and they ran their business efficiently, albeit, following a downturn in trade in 1911, Mr Millstein, against his wife’s wishes, decided to hand the basement of their premises to gambling parties, which, as it transpired, proved to be extremely popular.
However, this lucrative sideline had tragic consequences for the unfortunate couple.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph broke the story of what befell them in its edition of Wednesday, 27th December, 1911:-
DOUBLE MURDER BY BURGLARS
“A terrible double murder was discovered in London early this morning, Samuel Millstein, aged 35, and his wife Annie, aged 30, being found stabbed dead in their restaurant in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, the scene of one of the notorious Jack the Ripper crimes.
The discovery was made by firemen, who were summoned to a small outbreak of fire in the back room, which, however, was easily extinguished.
It is believed that burglars must have committed the murders.
Another message states that the Fire Brigade extinguished the fire with buckets of water, and the firemen then discovered the bodies of Millstein and his wife. The couple were lying dead on the floor, with stabs in various parts of their bodies.
Coffins were taken to the premises, and the bodies left in charge of the police.
The crime is believed to have been committed by burglars, who subsequently set fire to the premises.
WORK OF ALIEN CRIMINALS
The circumstances of the crime bear every suggestion of its being the work of alien criminals.
Hanbury Street is occupied mainly an alien population, and above the restaurant where the murder took place are three floors of flats, each of which is apparently fully occupied.
It is strange, therefore, that no sound of the struggle which must have taken place appears to have been heard by the occupants of these flats. There is plentiful evidence of a terrible struggle having occurred, as the bodies of the murdered couple bear the marks of numerous stabs, and it will be difficult, therefore, for the criminals to divest themselves of all traces of the deed.
Hanbury Street is now teeming with morbid sightseers, who keep the police busily employed in moving them on.
NEIGHBOUR HEARS VIOLENT QUARRELLING
The deceased couple were hard-working people, of Jewish persuasion, who had kept the restaurant for about four years, but it was not supposed that they had a large sum of money on the premises.
A neighbour who passed the restaurant at about one o’clock this morning saw a light on in the premises and heard voices so loud that he suspected a quarrel. He thought little of it at the time, but later heard a further outbreak, as though there was violent quarrelling.
When he heard of the tragedy, this neighbour recalled the noises of the early morning, which he had previously attributed to quarrelling between the holiday customers.
Another neighbour – who entered the house when the murder was discovered said that on the body of the man was a deep wound in the left breast and neck. The woman was lying in a pool of blood, and had also been stabbed.
A man lodging above the room where the crime was committed heard groaning during the night, but ignored it.
BODY PLACED ON BED
Later information shows that, on observing the fire, a constable broke into the restaurant, and discovered the mutilated body of Samuel Millstein lying in a mass of flames. The body had apparently been placed on the bed, which was afterwards set on fire. The body of Mrs Millstein was lying nearby. Both bodies had been shockingly gashed.
The premises were not seriously damaged by the fire, although the bed was totally wrecked.
In the shop was found a long-bladed knife stained with blood.
THE TENANTS KNEW NOTHING
Interviewed by a representative, Mr J. Price, a baker, living near the scene of the tragedy, said that he entered the restaurant with the police at about 4 o’clock.
The bodies of the murdered couple were lying on the bed, and that of the man was still warm.
The bed was on fire, and both bodies were somewhat scorched. Both were in night attire, and the furniture was undisturbed.
The tenants of the flats above the shop knew nothing of the occurrence, though one man stated he heard groans, but thought they were uttered by a young woman, whom he knew was lying ill in one of the flats.
ROBBERY THE MOTIVE
That robbery was the motive for the murders is considered established by the fact that a bandbox was stolen.
The victims were not only stabbed, but were also terribly knocked about with the poker and tongs, which were afterwards found bent and covered with blood.
The man apparently made a desperate fight for his life, but was stabbed in the head and chest, having his head battered with a poker. The wife, whose body was found in a pool of blood, was evidently murdered first.
POLICE TRACK SUSPECTS
A young man who lives over the restaurant states that shortly before the fire was discovered he heard what seemed like a taxi-cab being driven along the street.
Another upstairs resident heard a woman scream just before four o’clock, but did not take much notice of it.
The police are tracing a number of men; who are alleged to have been playing cards in the restaurant at midnight, but no arrests have yet been made.”
EAST-END CRIME ARRESTED POLISH JEW’S CONFESSION
ACCUSED AT OLD-STREET
However, it wasn’t long before the police had a suspect in custody, as The Globe reported on Thursday, December 28th, 1911:-
“A speedy development has taken place in the Spitalfields murder which was discovered yesterday.
Early today, a man was detained at Leman Street Police Station. He was afterwards removed to the Commercial Road Police Station, and formally charged with the wilful murder of Mr. Millstein and his wife at the restaurant in Hanbury Street.
Following the preferment of the charge, the man was conveyed to Old Street Police Court, where he appeared before Mr. Chester Jones this afternoon.
The prisoner, whose name was given as Myer Abramovitch, is a Pole, a young man of short build, and foreign appearance.
INSPECTOR WENSLEY’S STORY
Detective Inspector Wensley was the first witness, and gave evidence of the discovery or the crime. He also produced a heavy brass set of fireirons – tongs, shovel, and poker which, when found, he said, were bloodstained.
A large carving-knife was also found, and on there were stains.
A small spirit bottle containing paraffin, and a box of matches, a blue silk neckerchief, which smelt strongly of paraffin, and a broken bloodstained butcher’s knife were among the other articles found by the police.
The witness continued:- “I saw the prisoner at Leman Street Police Station. Seeing that he had his right hand bandaged, I said to him, “What is the matter?” He said, “I got in cut in Hanbury Street this morning.”
LOST AT GAMBLING
On taking the prisoner to his office, added the witness, he said, “I know what you want, you will find it in this pocket” (indicating his left inside overcoat pocket). It contained two watches and chains.
He then took a leather purse from his right-hand trousers pocket, saying, “you will find all the money in there.” There was £2 10s. in gold. In various pockets three shillings three pence in silver was found and two shilling eight and a quarter in bronze.
When the witness told the prisoner that he would be detained on suspicion, he replied: “I done it”, and pointing the the blue silk handkerchief said:- “That is mine. I done it because I lost all my money at gambling.”
A DOUBLE SUIT
A further search of the prisoner revealed the fact that he was wearing, in addition to an overcoat, two jackets, two waistcoats and two pairs of trousers, the overcoat, trousers, vest and jacket, and boots belonging to the deceased man.
It is stated that the man who has been arrested was a regular frequenter of the Millsteins’ restaurant, and that his detention is due to the evidence of a woman who lives at the second floor flat above the shop.”
A GAMBLING DEN
The London Daily News, on Thursday, 28th December, 1911, provided it readers with an insight into the set up of the gambling den run by the Millstein’s in their basement :-
“Hanbury-street is near Flower and Dean-street and Duval-street (formerly Dorset-street), and is in the very heart of the neighbourhood which gathered ill-fame in connection with the Jack the Ripper murders, one of which was committed in Hanbury-street itself.
Up to a month or so ago, a servant has slept in the basement, but latterly she has slept elsewhere.
The room she vacated has been given up recently, according to residents of the house and neighbours, to card-playing; and it is said that the custom was for those who played to pay Millstein for the use the room.
That gambling went on regularly appears unquestionable, and a neighbour who passed at one o’clock in the morning states that he heard loud and apparently angry talking at that time.
The nightly noises, at any rate, had been the subject of complaint.
It is declared that Mr. Millstein himself had been roused by the undesirability of the continuance of this state of things, and that he had intended to bring the club to a close.”
HIS OLD BAILEY TRIAL
At the inquest into the death of the couple in December, 1911, the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Meyer Abramovitch and he was committed to stand trial for the crime at the Old Bailey.
His trail took place on Thursday, 8th February, 1912 and The Newcastle Daily Chronicle gave details of the case in the next day’s edition:-
“At the Old Bailey yesterday, the trial was continued of Meyer Abramovitch upon the charge of having murdered Mr. and Mr.. Millstein at 62 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields.
Inspector Wensley deposed to the admissions of the prisoner that he committed the murder, and said that the prisoner was walking about with a “perfect armoury” of evidence against him. He had all the stolen property in his pockets.
WAS HE INSANE?
Dr. Dyer, of Brixton Prison, said that he could find no trace of insanity about the prisoner, who, on his admission to the gaol, was much depressed.
Mr. Elkin, for the defence, submitted that the only conclusion the jury could arrive at was that the prisoner was insane when he committed the murders.
The prisoner was found guilty, and was sentenced to death, the Judge telling him that he could hold out no hope that his life would be spared.
On hearing the sentence, the prisoner burst into tears, and buried his face in his hands. As he was led away, he said in broken English, “Thank you.””
Although Abramovitch lodged an appeal against his sentence, his appeal was rejected and he was executed at Pentonville Prison on the morning of Wednesday, 6th March, 1912.