On the morning of Sunday, 21st May, 1893, the residents of the sleepy village of Rochford, near Southend in Essex, woke to the news that a gruesome murder had, apparently, taken place in their midst the previous evening.
News of the murder came too late to make the next day’s papers, but, on Monday, 22nd May, 1893, The York Herald broke the news to its readers:-
MYSTERIOUS MURDER AT ROCHFORD
“Since Saturday night, the small town of Rochford, near Southend, has been in a state of considerable excitement, on account of what appears to be an extraordinary murder.
About five o’clock on Saturday afternoon John Hazell and John Bird, railway porters, heard a cry for help proceeding from a brooklet near the church.
On reaching the spot, they found, partially immersed, a lady with her throat severely cut, hands bruised, and face somewhat gashed. Her umbrella was broken, and there were signs of a desperate struggle. She uttered a groan, and died about twenty minutes after being discovered.
The deceased is a Mrs. Hunt, aged about 40, a widow, carrying on business as a dressmaker, at Rochford, where she was thoroughly respected.
During the afternoon she had been seen with a gentleman who was a stranger to the neighbourhood.
Up to yesterday evening, no arrest had been made.”
SUICIDE, NOT MURDER
However, by the next day, the police were of the opinion that this was, in fact, a case of suicide, as opposed to a case of murder.
The Lincolnshire Echo, on Tuesday, 23rd May 1893 presented its readers with a brief account of the reasons for the Essex Constabulary’s suicide theory:-
THE ALLEGED MURDER AT ROCHFORD
“The supposed murder at Rochford has, in the light of the latest particulars, been reduced to a case of suicide.
Last Thursday night, the deceased took a fond farewell of her son, telling him she had provided a suit of mourning, which was afterwards found at her house.
She had been in a most desponding mood lately.
No weapon whereby the wound could have been inflicted has yet been found.
The police conjecture that it has been carried lower down the brook than where the woman was found.
The alleged evidences of a struggle are pure invention.
The woman was found helpless by a young man, and she had been seen alone ten minutes before.”
DOUBTS WERE CAST
However, the police insistence that Emma Hunt’s wounds had been self-inflicted was, so the following report, which appeared in The Leicester Daily Post, on Wednesday, 24th May, 1893, makes clear, at odds with the opinion of the doctor who had examined Mrs Hunt’s body:-
THE ROCHFORD MYSTERY MURDER OR SUICIDE?
“The excitement occasioned in Essex by the discovery at Rochford – a small market town, four miles from Southend – of a dressmaker named Emma Hunt, aged 38, in a brook with her throat cut, continues unabated.
AN UPDATE ON THE CASE
The latest particulars are as follows:-
At a quarter to five on Saturday evening, a young labourer, named Alfred Hazell was walking through a meadow at Rochford known as “The Wilderness,” and, when he was about 300 yards from the church, he saw the body of a woman lying in a small brook, which runs across the pathway and which is traversed by foot passengers by means of stepping stones.
He lifted the woman, who was still living, out of the water, when he was horrified to discover that she had a deep gash in her throat, a wound on the right hand, and several gashes on the face.
He called for assistance, and two railway porters came.
Inspector Chase, of the Essex Constabulary, was then sent for, but, before his arrival, the woman expired.
INDICATIONS OF A STRUGGLE
The body was at once removed to the mortuary at Rochford, and examined by Dr. James, medical officer at the Infirmary, who expressed the opinion that the injuries could not have been self-inflicted, as the woman had somewhat extensive bruises on the back of her right hand, and there were indications of a struggle having taken place, an umbrella belonging to the deceased having been broken at the handle.
No knife or sharp instrument has yet been discovered.
Near to where the body was found, however, the brook deepens considerably, and the weapon might have been thrown in and washed away.
GEORGE BENSON MET THE DECEASED
The police thus far have only been able to discover that one man, in addition to the youth Hazell, was is in the neighbourhood at the time of the occurrence. This person is a cripple named George Benson, a native of Rochford, who met Mrs. Hunt near the railway station at half-past four, a quarter of an hour the before body was found.
HE WOULD HAVE HEARD A STRUGGLE
The youth Hazell declares that if there had been a struggle he must have heard and seen it, because the meadow is an open space only a few bushes obstructing the view.
Hazell had crossed the brook ten minutes before the discovery, and he was returning when he found the body as above described.
THE POLICE BELIEVED IT WAS SUICIDE
Superintendent Hawtree, of the Essex Constabulary, stationed at Southend, stated in an interview, that he believed that the case was one of suicide.
He stated that, on a search being made at the house in which the woman lived, a letter, written in pencil, the contents of which he would make public before the inquest, was found. It was written by the deceased, and showed that at the time of writing her mind must have been unhinged.
HER LAST VISIT TO HER SON
He further stated that she has a son, aged fifteen, who is an apprentice at Harris’s, in Southend.
Mrs. Hunt visited her son last Thursday and seemed much affected before parting. She told him that. when he came home on Sunday morning. he would find a black suit of clothes waiting for him, and that he would require them.
On Sunday, a new black suit of clothes, tied up in a parcel, was found at Mrs. Hunt’s residence at North-street, Rochford.
SHE HAD BEEN DEPRESSED
For some time, the superintendent added, Mrs. Hunt has acted in a strange manner, and a witness would be called at the inquest who would prove that he saw Mrs. Hunt running round a pond in a frenzied condition a fortnight ago.
The bruise on the hand might, the superintendent supposed, have been caused by the woman falling on one of the stepping stones, as when found the hands were clenched were raised to near to the throat. A fall on one of the stones would cause this bruise.
With regard to the motive for the deed, it is stated that the deceased woman had been greatly depressed of late in consequence of breaking-off of a marriage engagement.
Her former husband has been dead seven years, and Mrs. Hunt, it is rumoured, was expecting to be married again shortly.
THE INQUEST OPENS
An Inquest was held at Rochford, near Southend, yesterday, respecting the death of Emma Hunt, widow.
Alfred Hazell, a groom, deposed to finding the deceased in a brook with her throat cut. He left bor.
John Bird, a signalman, stated that, on receiving information from the last witness that a murder had been committed, proceeded to the brook and found the deceased alive and groaning. There were evidences that a struggle had taken place.
The medical evidence was to the effect that the wounds were not self- inflicted. There were bruises as well as cuts.
The inquiry was adjourned.”
THE MURDER AT ROCHFORD – AN ARREST
By the following Saturday, it would appear that the police had come round to the view that a crime had, after all, taken place, and, as The Western Times reported, on Saturday, 27th May 1893, they had arrested a suspect and had even located a witness who may have seen the crime being perpetrated:-
“Alfred Hazell, aged 17, who gave evidence at the inquest on the body of Emma Hunt, a widow aged 38, who was murdered in the Wilderness Rochford, near Southend, last Saturday, has been arrested and charged with having committed the crime.
Hazell in his evidence stated that he found the woman in a dying condition and ran for help.
He was charged yesterday, before the Rochford magistrates. He entered the dock with an indifferent air, appeared perfectly cool, and spoke in a loud, clear voice.
Inspector Chase stated that he arrested the prisoner at his residence. In answer to the charge, he said, “I did not do it.”
The accused was remanded until Wednesday.
It is rumoured that a little boy named Wakeling, aged about five years, son of a signalman, witnessed the murder, and that he has since stated, “We must not go into the Wilderness playing again because we saw a man killing a woman with a big knife.”
A LITTLE BOY’S STORY
Desperate to get as many facts on the case as possible, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper sent a reporter down to Rochford.
The journalist was able to secure an interview with the little boy who had allegedly seen the crime taking place, and his subsequent report on their conversation appeared in the newspaper on Sunday, 28th May, 1893:-
“On Friday night our special representative called at the house of Frederick Wakeling, a signalman at the Rochford railway station, in consequence of a rumour that his little boy was in the Wilderness fields about the time of the tragedy.
THE BOY IN THE GARDEN
The little boy was in a large garden, and, on being called, came and said his name was Alfred Wakeling.
In reply to a question as to where he was the previous Saturday afternoon, he said he was in the fields.
Asked whether he saw anybody there, he said, “yes a man and a woman.”
THE BOY’S RECOLLECTION
The reporter then knocked at the door and obtained Mrs. Wakeling’s (his mother) permission to question the child, who, she said, would be six years old in June.
The little fellow, who seemed very intelligent, then said, “I was going along the hedges, looking for birds nests, when I saw a man and a woman standing by the hedge near the gate by the water, where the stepping-stones are. I thought they were looking for birds’ nests too.
I saw the man throw the woman down on the grass. She got up again and began to scream.
The man had a large knife, in his hand, and the woman struck at him with her umbrella. She hit him with the handle, and it broke.
When I first saw them, the gate was shut, but he dragged her near the water. He then got behind her and held her. Next, I saw him trying to cut her head off with the knife. She was standing up. He pushed her into the water, and she fell on her face.
After that, I saw him run away towards the church and Rochford Hall.
I did not see her with any basket. She was wearing a black shawl, and the man was wearing a light jacket and light trowsers.
My father came up soon after and told me to go into the signal-box.”
THE FATHER’S ACCOUNT
Mr. Wakeling, the father, then said:- “When I heard that a woman had been found in the brook with her throat cut I ran down the bank and got to the scene as soon as I could.
The woman had been raised up and was sitting against the bank, with her feet in the water. Her eyes were turning from one side to another, and she looked pitiful, with blood streaming from her.
I was startled to see my boy standing opposite to her, staring at her as though he was fixed to the spot. He seemed perfectly shocked and frightened, and I then told him to go to my signal box and wait there for me, because I did not want him to go home and frighten his mother.”
THE MOTHER’S ACCOUNT
Mrs. Wakeling said:- “It is all perfectly true just as he told me. He came home quite frightened. The first words he said to me were, “Mother, don’t you go into the Wilderness, or else you will be murdered.”
I said, “Why?” and he said, “Because there is woman murdered there.” I said, “Hold your noise, and don’t talk about such things. It is only some drunken woman, I suppose, that you have seen.” He said, “No it isn’t, I saw a man trying to cut a woman’s head off.”
I then said to him, “Where?” He said, “By the stepping-stones in the water where we lift the perambulator.”
Then I began to think that perhaps he really had seen something and I asked him what he really had seen. Then he told me what he has told you – that he had seen a man with a big knife trying to cut a woman’s head off.
I then asked him what he did with the knife, and he said he took it with him when he ran away, and ran out at the “Cockney Gate” – that is the name of the white gate, and it is called that because most of the Londoners stop there.
THE CHILD WAS TRAUMATISED
We had a fearful night with him, for he was so terribly frightened and troubled.
About half-past eleven that night, he got up and walked down the stairs in his sleep, and came down here. We got hold of him quietly, and then he woke in a great fright.
He has been suffering from the shock ever since, and we have been doing all we can to try and get him to forget it.
He himself does not like talking about it”
Evidently, the concerned mother’s attempts to get her son to try to forget the dreadful ordeal he had been through did not run to not allowing him to relive the entire episode for the benefit of a passing journalist!
FINAL DAY OF THE INQUEST
The final day of the inquest into the death of Emma Hunt was held on Wednesday the 14th June, 1893.
The Essex Herald carried a report of the proceedings and the verdict in its edition of the following Tuesday, 20th June, 1893:-
“The adjourned inquest on the body of Mrs. Emma Hunt was held at the Old Ship Hotel, Rochford, Wednesday, by Mr. C. C. Lewis. Mr. F. W. Francis was foreman of the jury; Supt. Hawtree represented the police; and Mr. J. E. Searle was present on behalf of the prisoner, Hazell.
Some stir was occasioned by a rumour that the prisoner had had some mysterious packages and letters addressed to him, but the Solicitor for the defence cleared up the matter by telegraphing to the Governor of the prison at Chelmsford, who wired back that the letters merely contained a quantity of religious tracts.
The Coroner did not arrive until some time after the appointed hour, when he explained that the train he had come by had had a narrow escape near Ramsden. The heat had so twisted the metals that had not the engine driver stopped the train it might have run off the line.
ANN HAZELL’S TESTIMONY
Mrs. Mary Ann Hazell, the prisoner’s mother, said that on the 20th of May (the day of the murder) her son had dined at home and then went out.
When he returned late in the afternoon he said his feet were damp.
She said to him, “What a sad thing has occurred,” and he replied “Yes.” She had been told that it was her son who had found the woman. He did not say anything about his wet clothes.
There was some blood on his jacket sleeve, but witness did not say anything to him about it. He took his shirt off on Sunday morning, and she washed it on Wednesday afternoon. She showed it to Mrs. Ramsey because there was a rumour that it was covered with blood. There was not the least stain on it of anything. The shirt produced was the one.
Her son was not in the habit of carrying a knife about with him, and he hadn’t got one. No razor was taken away from the house before they were taken possession of by the police.
In accordance with custom, the prisoner changed his jacket, waistcoat, and trousers on the Saturday evening. Inspector Chase had them on Monday afternoon. They had not been washed in the meantime.
By the foreman: “My son left his clothes on the floor for me to clear up, as he generally did. She hung them up, and he said, “Don’t meddle with they; possibly they may want them.”
THE DOCTOR’S EVIDENCE READ OUT
The Coroner then read the evidence of Dr. James, who, in reply to one of the jury, said the handle of the umbrella found could not have inflicted the injuries to the back of the deceased’s head; it was not heavy enough. The cartilage of the throat was irregularly fractured, which would suggest that the throat had been squeezed.
By a juror: “The wounds on the back of the head might have been inflicted by kicking.”
SUPERINTENDENT HAWTREE TAKES THE STAND
Mr. Searle: “The Rev. Mr. Herbert tells me there is another letter, and I am informed that it is connected with someone in Rochford or the neighbourhood, and there is a desire to keep it quiet.”
Supt. Hawtree: “I found this letter in the bottom of a drawer in deceased’s house, among a lot of old papers. It was very dirty and written in pencil, very probably some years ago. It reads:- “Dear Mr. S.— You cannot think how hurtful it is to me when you say I behaved better to others than to you. It is true I have had plenty of temptations from those in a good position, but I have a clear conscience. There is nothing discreditable in my past life and present. This is a secret. – E. Hunt.”
Mr. Searle: “Have you been able to find out to whom that letter was addressed or for whom intended?”
Reply: “No, it has evidently been written years.”
Mr. Searle: “Have you made any inquiries about it?”
Reply: “How can I?”
Mr. Searle: “Then there have been none?”
Reply: “No, I can’t make any.”
Mr. Searle: “Can you tell me who it was walking with the deceased in the Church meadow?”
Mr. Searle: “Have you heard the Rev. Mr. Hadley say he had seen someone walking with the deceased?”
THE CORONER’S SUMMING UP
The Coroner then proceeded to sum up.
He said that in all human probability if the wounds upon the deceased had been self-inflicted an instrument would have been found close by the deceased.
He went through the various times given by the witnesses, and said Hazell was seen coming down the Wilderness about nineteen minutes to five, and at quarter to that hour he went and told Miss Bishop about the finding of the body. That would only give him four minutes in which to commit the murder, if he were guilty.
The most unfortunate part of the case was the absence of any instrument.
Some observations had been made to the effect that Inspector Chase should have searched Hazell at once, but in his (the Coroner’s) opinion, the Inspector had given his evidence very clearly, and he said he was quite taken off his guard, regarding the case, at the time, as one of suicide.
But even if Hazell were guilty, in all probability he would not have had the instrument about him when he reported the discovery to the police.
If the evidence adduced raised the strong presumption that Hazell committed the murder, it would be the bounden duty of the jury to find him guilty; but if, on the other hand, they were not satisfied, they could bring in an open verdict.
THE INQUEST VERDICT
At 3.45 the jury retired to consider their verdict, the public being re-admitted at 4.50.
The Foreman said the jury had agreed upon the following verdict:- “We think that the deceased was murdered, and in our opinion, the evidence points strongly to Hazell as the perpetrator of the deed.”
The Coroner: “That will be a verdict of wilful murder against Hazell.”
HAZELL IN COURT AGAIN
On the Saturday prior to the conclusion of the inquest, Alfred Hazell had again appeared before the magistrates at Rochford Police Court, charged with the murder of Emma Hunt.
It is worth noting that, despite the fact he had seen the murder, the little boy, Wakeling, was considered too young to give evidence at either the inquest or the trial, a fact that his defence solicitor complained of in the course of Hazell’s Court appearance.
The Warminster and Westbury Journal, and Wilts County Advertiser carried the following report on this hearing in its edition of Saturday, 17th of June, 1893:-
THE ROCHFORD MURDER
At the Rochford Police-court, on Saturday, before a full bench of magistrates, Alfred Hazell, aged 16 years, groom, was brought up, on remand, charged with the murder of Emma Hunt, aged 38 years, widow, formerly carrying on business as a dressmaker at Rochford.
Mr. Thomas Mainprice, a cashier, said he was brother-in-law to Superintendent Hawtree, of the Essex Constabulary.
Witness was in Rochford about half-past four on the afternoon of May 21st, and walked down the Wilderness.
The police were then cutting down hedges and searching the neighbourhood.
While there Hazell spoke to the witness, who said, “It is a strange thing that they cannot find the knife or razor which was used to inflict the injuries.” Hazell said, “It is strange.”
Witness added, “If they were self-inflicted, the weapon must be here somewhere. It is very likely in that deep hole,” pointing to a hole a little below the stepping stones.
Hazell remarked, “If they emptied it they might find it there.”
Soon after, the witness said to Hazell, “If anyone was here you must have seen them.” Hazell replied, “Yes, I must have seen them.”
Witness said, “It must have been a case of suicide,” and the prisoner then left, remarking that he had been there since morning, and had had enough of it for that day.
Mr. Lamb informed the Bench that he did not intend to call any further evidence and that the case for the prosecution was completed.
SOMEONE HAD SEEN THE MURDER COMMITTED
Mr. Searle, for the prisoner, complained of this course, but declined not to call any of the witnesses himself.
In addressing the Bench he said that Mr. Lamb had remarked that no one saw the murder committed; but there was a witness who attended at the inquest who had observed the murder.
He referred to the little boy, Wakeling, aged six years.
He (Mr. Searle) had seen the child, and also the boy’s mother.
The boy not only saw the murder, but, on going home, he told his mother not to go into the field, as there had been a horrible murder there, and he had seen a man kill a woman. She asked the child for a description of the man, and the boy replied that he was an oldish man.
IT WAS NOT HAZELL
The child then went into details to the man’s appearance, and stated that he had seen something coming from the corners of his mouth, as though he had been chewing tobacco.
The boy was an intelligent child, and upon inquiry being made as to whether he knew Hazell he said, “Yes, but it was not Hazell.”
If that child could be produced, and his evidence admitted, it would be such as to provide a complete defence for the prisoner.
Mr. Searle concluded by remarking upon the possibility of the case being one of suicide, and submitted that there was no evidence to go before a jury; he asked, therefore, that the prisoner might be discharged.
The Bench held that the case had been made out, and committed the prisoner to take his trial at the ensuing Chelmsford Assizes upon the capital charge.”
HIS COURT APPEARANCE
On Monday 24th July, 1893, William Hazell appeared at the Essex Summer Assize charged with the murder of Emma Hunt.
There was a great deal of local support for Hazell, as is evidenced by the following mention of his appearance, which appeared on that same day, in The Chelmsford Chronicle:-
“The prisoner Alfred Hazell, who is charged with the murder of Mrs. Hunt, in Rochford, came out of the van smiling.
His appearance has not noticeably changed since his committal.
Mrs. Hazell, his mother, called out, “God bless you, my dear boy,” and several other friends saluted him with, “Halloa, Alf.””
THE ROCHFORD MURDER HAZELL DISCHARGED
The jurors were given the task of deciding whether or not to uphold the inquest verdict against him.
The Essex Newsman carried the following report on his court appearance and the verdict on Saturday 29th July, 1893:-
“Alfred Hazell, 17, groom, was indicted upon the coroner’s inquisition for having wilfully and of his malice aforethought murdered Emma Hunt, at Rochford, on May 20th.
In reply to the charge the prisoner, who, though somewhat pale, was in perfect possession of himself, answered in a firm voice, “Not guilty!”
THE PROSECUTION DRO THE CASE
Mr. Wightman Wood said that he appeared to prosecute with his friend Mr. Duffield.
The prisoner was charged upon the coroner’s warrant.
Yesterday a bill of indictment was before the Grand Jury, and they, after a long and careful consideration, came to the conclusion that it was a case in which there was not sufficient evidence to put the prisoner on his trial.
The prosecution had agreed that it would not be right for them even to invite the Petty Jury to come to any other decision than that to which the Grand Jury had come.
Therefore, the course, subject to the consent of his Lordship, which they proposed to pursue, was not to place any evidence before them upon this inquisition.
THE JUDGE IN FULL AGREEMENT
The Judge: “Gentlemen, I entirely approve of the course that is proposed to be taken.
It appeared to me, upon examining the depositions, that there was no evidence to justify any suspicion of the prisoner, except the opinion of the medical men, and I have no doubt that it appeared to the Grand Jury that the depositions do not represent the deliberate opinion of those gentlemen, and upon that they properly came to the conclusion – the wise conclusion – that the young man should not be put upon his trial.
Accepting that conclusion, it is not proposed to proceed with the finding upon the coroner’s inquisition, and you will, therefore, say that the prisoner is not guilty.”
A VERDICT OF NOT GUILTY
The Clerk of Assize: “What is your verdict, gentlemen? ”
The Foreman of the jury: “Not guilty.”
AN APPEAL FOR A HELPING HAND.
The Judge: Discharged. I am clearly of the opinion there was no good ground except what I stated – the opinion of the medical men – for putting Hazell upon his trial, and I hope he will go back to the neighbourhood from which he has come, and will not be treated with suspicion or aversion.
Every right-minded man can sympathise with him in the position in which he is placed, and I hope those who can will hold out to him a helping hand.
He may now be discharged.”
Prisoner: “Thank you, my lord.”
Hazell went down into the cells and had property handed over to him, and, in a few minutes, he left the dock and the court.”
THE MURDERER WAS STILL AT LARGE
So, Alfred Hazell walked free from court without a stain on his character.
His acquittal, however, meant that the murderer was still out there, and it wasn’t long before the newspapers were wondering if the crime might have been the work of “Jack the Ripper.”
On Monday, 14th August, 1893, The Shields Gazette Daily Gazette was one of numerous newspapers that published the following report that linked the murder of Emma Hunt with the Whitechapel Murders:-
JACK THE RIPPER AGAIN?
“Is it possible that “Jack the Ripper” is about again? Is it possible, further, that he is the culprit in the Rochford murder mystery?
It is true Essex is not Whitechapel, but in communications which there is good reason for supposing were genuine, the Ripper did not bind himself to any locality in continuing his “work.”
SHE WAS A RESPECTABLE PERSON
An objection to the view that the Ripper may have been at Rochford is that the victim was a respectable person – not of the class whom the Ripper regarded as his mission to slay.
Most true; let the argument have all its weight; but it remains to be observed that, pressed by time, even this maniac might mistake the character of his victim.
NO DOUBT THAT IT WAS MURDER
Whatever view may be taken of the theory that Jack the Ripper is still among us, one thing is clear, and that is that what has been is now (if it were not before) to be regarded as in the category of the possible.
Now there can be no doubt that Mrs Hunt was murdered. It could not have been suicide. The deep wound in the neck, the blows on the head, the cuts to the back of the hands, the broken umbrella, and fragments of clothing about pointed to an assailant.
NO MURDER WEAPON FOUND
And even more important still, with the most careful search, from that day to this, no knife – no deadly instrument of any kind – has been found in the vicinity of the woman’s terrible death.
In conclusion, a certain parallelism between the Rochford and some of the Whitechapel murders may be pointed out.
THE SPEED OF THE RIPPER
One point of resemblance is in rapidity.
Speed marked the Ripper’s crimes.
The Mitre Square murder, for instance, with all its intricate dissections, was accomplished within five minutes.
An experienced surgeon at the London Hospital experimentally tried a portion of the same dissection, and was barely able to equal the ripper’s record for the whole of the operation.
At Rochford, the struggle, the murder, and the escape must have occupied less than five minutes.
NO SOUNDS WERE HEARD
Another point of resemblance is noiselessness.
Most, although not all, of the Whitechapel murders were done without a sound being heard, when the least unusual noise would have been perceived by people either lying awake or reading or working a few yards away.
Not a sound was heard atRochfordd, although the railway station is only 320 yards off and the churchyard only 161 yards. Not a cry was heard at the railway station, not a cry was heard by a lady who was in the churchyard placing her flowers on her mother’s grave.”
And so the reporting on the murder of Mrs. Emma Hunt was wound down.
Nobody was ever brought to justice for the crime, and, to this day, it remains, just like the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888, an unsolved mystery, the solution to which will now never be known.