The crime of “garroting”, whereby a gang of ruffians would seize a victim by the throat and then rob them of as many of their possessions as they could easily escape with, was just one of the many dangers that late night wanderers faced, as they walked through the nocturnal streets of London.
Although cases of garroting were frequent in the East End of London, the crime itself was not just confined to that particular district. Indeed, cases of it cropped up all over the Victorian metropolis in the latter half of the 19th century.
However, throughout the 1880’s, magistrates were handing out much tougher sentences to those found guilty of the crime – including the cat-o’-nine-tails – and this seems to have deterred the gangs from indulging too much in this pursuit for a time.
But, in 1892, Londoners were once more reading about a resurgence in garrotting cases, and the newspapers began to report that an organized gang might be on the rampage in London.
Reynolds’s Newspaper, on Sunday, 16th October, 1892, published the following round-up of garrotings that had taken place in the Capital over the previous few weeks.
GARROTTING IN LONDON AN ORGANIZED GANG
“Garrotting, of which during the last few years comparatively little has been heard in London, owing to the adoption of the cat-o’-nine-tails as a form of punishment, is again reported to have broken out on a serious scale in several districts of the metropolis.
Recent events point to the existence of an organized gang, whose depredations are being carried out on an extensive scale.
From time to time, rumours have been prevalent of pedestrians having been assailed late at night by small bodies of ruffians, knocked down and gagged, and robbed of all the money and valuables in their possession.
GARROTTING IN SOUTH LONDON
Charles Haine, a ruffianly-looking young fellow, was charged on Monday, at Southwark Police Court, before Mr. Fenwick, with being concerned with three other men – not in custody (and believed to belong to a gang of garrotters who have lately been in evidence in South London) – with assaulting Thomas George Bird, a warehouseman, and stealing a watch and chain valued at £2 10s.
The Prosecutor stated that on the night of Sunday week, about eleven o’clock, his attention was arrested by hearing stealthy footsteps behind him, and he had only time to half-turn his head when he was seized round the throat from the back, throttled and nearly choked, so that when he was released it was a minute before he could call out, but he saw four men run away, and found that his watch and chain were gone.
Soon after he called out, he saw two officers approaching him, having the prisoner in custody.
He was so suddenly attacked, and the men bolted so quickly, that he could not identify any of them. Their violence had been a great shock to him.
Police-constable 9 M said that he was on duty in Suffolk-street when he heard a cry of, “Murder.” The prisoner was running as fast as his legs would carry him, but, seeing the witness, he turned into a narrow court, where he was overtaken, and, with the assistance of another officer, he was apprehended and closely watched.
On the way to the police station, he said, “I haven’t done anything,” but, on his being searched, the prosecutor’s watch and chain were found in his pockets.
Warder Hands, of Wandsworth Prison, proved previous conviction for housebreaking and robbery.
Mr. Fenwick committed the prisoner for trial.
GARROTTED IN THE WEST END
A daring case of garrotting and robbery took place on Tuesday, the perpetrators escaping without having left anything behind them which might lead to their identity and arrest.
Mr. Vaughan, a tall young man, in the employ of Messrs. Dustan, carriage builders, of Marylebone-road, was proceeding along St. Mary’s. terrace, Paddington-green, about eight o’clock in the evening, on his way to visit a friend in St. Peter’s Park, and on reaching the corner of Fulham-place he was suddenly attacked from behind by three ruffians.
One of them seized him by the throat and throttled him, while the other two rifled his pockets and took all they could lay their hands on.
Fortunately, he was not wearing any jewellery at the time, and, on discovering that fact, the two men seized Mr. Vaughan’s overcoat, which was quite new, and dragged it off his back.
They then gave their victim a tremendous blow in the stomach, nearly doubling him up in pain, and then made off.
Mr. Vaughan was much hurt for the time being, and, before he could raise an alarm, his assailants had made good their escape, taking with them his property.
The attack was so sudden and unexpected, and the men behaved with so much violence, that he was quite unable to see their faces so as to be able to recognise them again.
ATTACKED IN OLD KENT ROAD
In addition to these two cases, one well-authenticated instance of garrotting is that of which a traveller in the cigar line named CrawIey was the victim.
A few weeks back, while he was quietly walking home by himself, between one and two in the morning, down the New Kent-road, Mr. Crawley was suddenly pounced upon from behind by three men near the pile of buildings known as the Palatinate.
Crawley received a violent blow on the head, was gagged with a muffler, and his pockets were diligently searched.
The thieves, who, according to Crawley, must have tracked him from a coffee-stall near the Obelisk, where he had certainly seen one of their number, were rewarded for their trouble by discovering the modest sum of one halfpenny only in the possession of their victim.
They managed to escape before the police appeared upon the scene.
ATTACKED IN LUDGATE CIRCUS
In another case, the victim was a gentleman whose avocation keeps him late in the City, and who was homeward bound in the early hours of Thursday morning.
At twenty minutes to one he passed the post-office in Ludgate-circus, and when he reached the other side at the bottom of St. Bride-street he was seized and firmly pinioned from behind by two men, while a third confederate proceeded to search his trouser pockets.
The thieves speedily appropriated the few shillings they found there, and all three then fled up St. Bride-street.
Beyond the pinioning, no attempt at violence was made, and the light-fingered gentleman who conducted the exploration of his pockets had even the courtesy to return the owner’s latchkey.
The whole affair, states the individual who was assailed, did not last more than three minutes, and the men were away before he could even realize the situation, much less raise an alarm.
He was unable to discern the faces of his assailants. They were, however, he could tell, tall, powerfully-built men.
The gentleman in question at once gave information of the occurrence at the Bridewell Police Station, but pursuit then was out of the question, and, moreover, he was unable to furnish the police with any description of their appearance that could possibly lead to the identification and apprehension of the thieves.
GARROTTING A SAILOR
Yesterday, at the Thames Police Court, Timothy Donovan, 35, and Catherine Burns, 22, were charged with assaulting and robbing Philip Mallen, a sailor, staying at the Well-street Sailors’ Home.
About one o’clock in the early morning of the 8th inst., the prosecutor was walking along, when he was accosted by this female prisoner.
Mallen told her he did not wish to have anything to do with her.
Donovan then rushed up and seized the prosecutor by the throat, nearly choking him. That prisoner then tore down Mallen’s trousers and pulled away the pocket containing the money. Donovan also threatened to kill him.
Prosecutor still felt the effects of the violence to his throat.
Constable 402 H heard Mallen’s cries for assistance, and, seeing the prisoner running away, he followed Donovan, while another officer pursued Burns.
Donovan was seen to throw away some money, and afterwards about 1s. 7d. was picked up.
That prisoner, when charged, said, “You are mixing up for me nicely.”
Mr. Dickinson sentenced Donovan to three months’ hard labour for the assault, and three months’ hard labour for the robbery, and Burns to three months’ hard labour for the assault.”