On Wednesday, 12th July, 1922, the bodies of barber Lewis Briskin and his wife, Kate, were found in their home in Bethnal Green, East London.
The Dundee Evening Telegraph presented its readers with the circumstances behind the tragedy in its edition of later that day:-
MOTHER’S DESPERATE FIGHT FOR LIFE
Children Undisturbed by Double Tragedy
When an assistant to a hairdresser named Lewis Briskin, of Bethnal Green, entered the shop this morning, he found the dead body of Mrs Briskin lying on the floor with severe wounds to the head.
In a chair was the dead body of Briskin with a gas tube in his mouth and connected to gas ring. The room was full of gas, and there were signs of a considerable struggle.
Briskin was a Russian Jew, and the couple had three children, the youngest being about twelve months old. They slept in a top room and apparently were not disturbed.
A NEIGHBOUR’S STATEMENT
Some light is thrown on the tragedy by a neighbour named Newbury. “One of the children was looking from an upper window,” he says, “and when we asked where her mother was she replied, “She is lying in the kitchen covered with blood. I am very frightened.”
In the kitchen, in a pool of blood, we saw Mrs Briskin lying dead. Her husband was seated in an armchair. A gas pipe was in his mouth. The gas was still turned on. He was dead.
On the table was a sealed envelope. The police took it. The place was a perfect shambles. Everything was knocked over.”
JEALOUSY WAS THE CAUSE
“Jealousy apparently was at the bottom of the affair,” according to a relative of Mrs Briskin.
“Briskin had suspicions of Kate’s conduct,” he said, “and he accused her of carrying on with a certain man.
They had been quarrelling about this for some days.
On Saturday, the man’s fiancee – he is to be married in a week – called at Lewis’s shop and faced him with the accusation, and thereupon retracted.
Last night Mrs Solomon, Kate’s mother, went to the shop in Hare Street and found husband and wife having words.
Briskin withdrew his accusation against his wife.
HE CALMED DOWN
He seemed overcome with remorse, and he threatened to take his life, but he became calmer, and, at eleven o’clock, Kate said to her mother, “It’s all right now, mother. You can go now.”
Lewis gave Mrs Solomon his bank book and some jewellery as she went, and, on the same evening, he also wrote a letter to his brother in Paris.
About one o’clock Kate’s brother went to the shop, and, finding all quiet, came away again without going in.””
TRAGEDY OF JEALOUSY
MURDER AND SUICIDE IN THE EAST END
The Westminster Gazette, on Monday, 17th July, 1922, published the details of the inquest into the deaths, which had taken place two days before:-
“An inquest was held on Saturday at Bethnal Green regarding the deaths of Lewis Briskin, a hairdresser, of Hare Street, and Kate, his wife, Russian subjects, who were both found dead at their home on Wednesday under circumstances which pointed to the man having committed suicide after killing his wife by striking her on the head with a coal hammer.
The police produced a photograph of the room in which the tragedy occurred, and this indicated that Mrs. Briskin had engaged in a terrific struggle before she was overcome by the blows which had been rained upon her.
Her husband ended his own life by inhaling coal gas through a piece of tubing.
THE FATHER’S TESTIMONY
The first witness was the dead woman’s father, Solomon Yablonsky. His daughter, he said, was 38 years of age, and her husband was about 44.
There were three children living.
He had heard that his daughter’s husband was suspicious of her, and he believed his suspicions were against Barney Levene, an assistant, but he did not know whether they were well-founded.
THE ASSISTANT’S STORY
Samuel Sussman, a barber’s assistant, who had been in the employ of the dead man, said that on Saturday morning, hearing screams upstairs, he and Levene rushed up, and on their way heard Mrs. Briskin say, “You have ruined me.”
Turning to Levene she said, “He has accused me of being in love with you.”
Mrs. Briskin said, “I swear I am innocent, and know nothing about it.”
Sussman added that he had not seen any undue intimacy between Mrs. Briskin and Levene.
THE DOCTOR’S TESTIMONY
Dr. Percy John Clark, Divisional Police Surgeon, said that the woman had received many heavy blows on the face and head.
When a hammer was exhibited to the jury, the father of the dead woman stood up in Court and hysterically cried out, “Oh, my God, my God,” and had to be assisted from the Court.
BARNEY LEVENE TESTIFIES
Barney Levene said that he had been assistant to Briskin for six months.
On the previous Saturday night, he was in the shop shaving a customer when he heard a disturbance and rushed upstairs.
There he found Mrs. Briskin on the floor and her husband lying over her. Mrs. Briskin said, “Barney, he has accused me of being in love with you.”
Briskin was about to strike his wife when she caught up a Hebrew book and cried out, “I swear by the Rabbi it is untrue.”
Her husband then got up and he took the witness over the road to a public house and treated him. Briskin said, “Barney, don’t tell anyone I have hit my wife.”
The Coroner:- “Were his suspicions unfounded.”
Levene:- “Yes. I have witnesses to prove it, and to prove that he knocked his wife about before I went there. He has been going mad ever since a man opened a shop in opposition. He had said, “If I catch him I will kill him.”
A SUICIDE NOTE
Two letters in Yiddish had been written by Briskin.
One contained the following “Poor orphans. I cannot say how long he has carried on with her. I cannot remain in the house… We were married together and must die together… It is on account of Barney. May it be a lesson for other wives. We have now finished our lives.”
The jury found that Lewis Briskin murdered his wife and then committed suicide and that he was suffering from delusions at the time. Further, that there was no evidence whatever against Barney Levene.”