Spouse murder, whereby husbands murdered their wives, was alarmingly common in Victorian London. It would appear, from reading the numerous accounts of these domestic crimes in the 19th century newspapers, that drink played a major part in the large majority of murders or attempts at murder.
MURDER FUELLED BY DRINK
Admittedly, some of the perpetrators, such as James White, who murdered his wife, Margaret in April, 1888, or James Brown, who murdered his wife, Sarah, on 29th September, 1888 seem to have been suffering from some sort of mental illness, but, in a large percentage of the cases, intoxication played a major role.
The Lancashire Evening Post, on Saturday 2nd June, 1906, broke the news of another horrible domestic murder:-
HUSBAND SUSPECTED OF KILLING HIS WIFE WITH A CHOPPER
“A woman named Devlin found murdered in her bedroom at County-terrace, New Kent Road, London, this morning’. She bad been killed evidently Meat chopper found on the floor.
The woman’s husband, an eccentric general dealer, known as “Mad Jack,” has been arrested. On being taken to the police station, he merely said, Don’t make noise, or she (apparently referring to the murdered woman) will hear you.”
WOMAN MURDERED IN LONDON
The Belfast News-Letter, on Monday 4th June. 1906, gave a little more detail:-
“A ghastly crime was perpetrated on the 2nd of June in tiny court off the New Kent Road, London, a woman being murdered with a chopper. Living in the only house the passage were a hawker, who is locally known “Mad Jack,” but whose real name is John Devlin, and his wife.
A sister-in-law inhabited the upper part of the house.
About half past eight m the morning, the sister entering the Devlins’ bedroom was horrified to see Mirs. Devlin lying on the bed with terrible gash on the back her head. The poor woman had evidently been dead for some time, and on the blood-stained floor lay a meat chopper covered with blood.
Jack Devlin meanwhile was walking up and down the one end of the street. Nobody dared interfere with him.
When the police arrived at the scene they proceeded arrest him, but made a mistake in their man.
“There he is.” cried the crowd, and the police made a rush at their supposed prisoner, a man by the name of Chadwicke. Chadwicke began to shout out that the police had made a mistake, and “Mad Jack” meanwhile was an interested spectator of the occurrence.
Recognising their mistake from the shouts of the crowd, the police then transferred their attentions to Devlin, who was arrested and conveyed in a cab to the police station.
THEY HAD BEEN DRINKING
According !o the neighbours, Devlin is a hawker in cheap jewellery, and is 54 years of age; his wife was somewhat younger.
The couple had been drinking heavily during the last fortnight, and had had frequent wrangles.
On being arrested he said – “I was going to show a friend what I had done, and then give myself up. I’ve had terrible life.”
At Tower Bridge Police Court Devlin was remanded charged with the murder of Agnes Carter (46) (not Devlin, as stated), with whom he lived.
It was said that the couple drank heavily together the previous night.”
ALLEGED MURDERER ASKS TO SEE WOMAN’S BODY
The Lancashire Evening Post, on Wednesday, 6th June 1906, published details of the inquest into the woman’s death:-
“At the inquest in Newington, yesterday, on the body of Agnes Cartner, 46, who was found with her skull battered in at a house in County Terrace, New Kent Road, the jury returned verdict of wilful murder against John Devlin, with whom the deceased had lived for some years.
A GRUESOME STORY
A gruesome story was told by a neighbour.
Emily Hines, who was summoned to the house said that she found the room in darkness.
She asked Devlin to pull up the blind, and he replied, “You don’t want light. You can do no good. I have murdered her.”
Asked what weapon he used, he said, “with that chopper on the floor,” pointing to the blood-stained weapon.
Devlin then left the house, and Hines informed the police.
ARRESTED THEN A BIZARRE REQUEST
Meanwhile the man surrendered, and said to the police, “You don’t know what a life I have had with her during the past three months.”
Devlin asked permission (which was granted) to see Cartner’s body, and on the way to the mortuary he was passionately kissed by two women and a brother.
The jury expressed the opinion that Devlin was not responsible for his action owing to the effects of drink.”
BRUTAL CRIME SOUTH LONDON
The Illustrated Police News published more details on Saturday 9th June 1906:-
“One of those sordid tragedies which periodically shock the inhabitants of big cities was enacted in the early hours of Saturday in a mean street off the New Kent Road.
John Devlin, a middle-aged hawker and general dealer, has been arrested on the charge of murdering Agnes Cartner, with whom he has lived for some time past.
Devlin, who is fifty-six years of age, lived with the unfortunate woman at 20a, County Terrace Street, a small thoroughfare near the Elephant and Castle, running parallel to the New Kent Road. He is known in the neighbourhood as “Mad Jack,” and seems to have been drinking with the woman Cartner on Friday night.
A HORRIBLE DISCOVERY
His step-sister occupied a bedroom next to theirs, but she does not appear to have heard anything unusual overnight beyond sounds of a wrangle, and was surprised on Saturday morning at receiving no answer to her customary morning call.
The reason of the unwonted silence and the horror of the situation were at once obvious to her on entering the room.
Lying on the bed, next to the sleeping Devlin. was the partially clothed body of Cartner, who had been killed by a terrible blow on the back of the head. A hatchet lay on the blood-stained floor. Cuts on the fingers of both hands suggest that the poor woman vainly struggled to save her life.
The body was quite cold, death having apparently occurred some hours previously.
ARRESTED BY THE POLICE
Devlin got up and went out. He paced about outside, the neighbours not daring to interfere with him, knowing his quarrelsome disposition.
However, the police were soon on the scene. Devlin, who is short, thick-set man, was speedily arrested, and conveyed to Rodney Road Police Station.
Mental derangement, temporary or otherwise, is suggested by his urgent requests to the police officers “not to make noise, or she’ll hear” – the plea apparently referring to the dead woman.
The prisoner made no resistance when a cab was called to take him to the police-station.
AN ECCENTRIC CHARACTER
He appears to have borne an eccentric character in the vicinity. He earned his living by selling cheap jewellery and crockery, having a stall in Westmoreland Road, Walworth, and Tower Bridge Road, and is said to have lived for the past twelve years with Cartner, who came from Liverpool.
Subsequently, at Tower Bridge Police Court, Devlin was charged with the murder before Mr. Cecil Chapman.
It was alleged that the prisoner and the deceased had been drinking together on Friday, and had retired to rest the worse for drink.
INSPECTOR NICHOLLS TESTIFIES
Inspector Nicholls said that that at ten a.m., from information he received, he went to 20a, County Terrace Street, in company with Detective Ryan.
He found the house in the possession of the police.
In the back room, on the ground floor, he saw the dead body of a woman on the bed. The back part of the head was covered with blood, and there were cuts on the fingers of the right hand. On the bed and floor were pools of blood, and near the fireplace lay a hatchet with blood upon it.
Dr. Jacquet, the divisional surgeon, was called, and pronounced life extinct.
Subsequently, the witness saw the prisoner in County Terrace Street, and told him he would be charged with murder. Devlin replied, “I was going to show a friend of mine what I have done, and was then going to give myself up. I have had a terrible life for these three months. I will go quiet.”
The prisoner, who appeared to be very callous, was then remanded.”
HIS OLD BAILEY APPEARANCE
John Devlin appeared at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) on Tuesday, 26th June 1906 (You can read the full transcript of his trial here). By this time the true identity of his lover had been revealed as being Agnes Hankers.
The Western Times published the following brief article on his trial and the verdict on Wednesday, 27th June, 1906:-
“John Devlin was indicted the Old Bailey yesterday for murdering Agnes Hankers of New Kent-road.
They lived together for 12 years as man and wife.
Both were addicted to drink, and the fatal deed was done with a hatchet.
The accused was found guilty but insane, and was ordered to detained during the King’s pleasure.”