Murder And Suicide At The East End

On Wednesday the 1st of February 1888, a great deal of excitement was caused in the East End of London when a 25-year-old boot-maker by the name of Abraham Potzdamer, murdered his twenty year-old wife, Hannah, and then committed suicide before he could be taken into police custody.

The story of the murder appeared in The Daily Free Press on Thursday the 3rd of February 1888.

As with some of the names that appeared in the newspapers during the Jack the Ripper murders, the journalist responsible for the story evidently noted down the names of those involved phonetically from the witness accounts that he collected for his article, and consequently he spelt the name of the deceased as “Potstami”, as opposed to its actual correct spelling of “Potzdamer.”

This was a common problem for both journalists and police officers in dealing with an area that consisted of a large immigrant community to whom English was a second language, if they could speak it at all.

I have, therefore, left the spellings as they appeared in the article.

WIFE MURDER AND SUICIDE IN LONDON

“A terrible murder, followed by the suicide of the murderer, was committed at about half-past one o’clock on Wednesday, at 147, Backchurch-lane,Whitechapel, a poor thoroughfare running out of the Commercial-road, and inhabited mostly by foreigners and small shopkeepers.

LOUIS COHEN THE BOOT-FINISHER

No. 147 had among its occupants a boot-finisher, named Louis Cohen, and living with him as his wife was a young Russian Jewess, whose name as far as can be ascertained was Potstami.

It is stated that the female came to England from Russia about five months ago in company with her husband, who, it is alleged, had married her from a house of ill-fame.

Two months since, she left her husband and went to live with Cohen, and the husband, though much distressed, kept himself at a distance, not even disclosing his address.

HER ESTRANGED HUSBAND SEEN IN THE STREET

On Wednesday morning, however, a man, in calling at Cohen’s for two shillings that was owing him, remarked that he had seen the woman’s husband in the street.

No particular notice was taken of this, and at about one o’clock the woman went out to buy some provisions.

SCREAMS HEARD OUTSIDE

Soon afterwards Cohen heard the woman screaming, and on rushing down the stairs he was just in time to see her lying in the middle of the road, with her throat cut from ear to ear.

She was just able to point in the direction of Commercial-road and then became unconscious.

THE HUSBAND CUTS HIS THROAT

Meanwhile some neighbours saw the husband running away and pursued him, but in passing along Greenfield-street, after crossing the Commercial-road, he noticed Constable 6 H R coming towards him, and turning his back upon the policeman he immediately cut his own throat with a shoemaker’s knife.

The constable at once procured a cab and conveyed the man to the London hospital, but he expired on the way.

SHE DIED EN ROUTE TO HOSPITAL

Whilst this was taking place the woman had been removed on a barrow to the same hospital; but she also died before the hospital gates were reached.

Although no one actually saw the murder committed, it is evident that the man attacked his wife and cut her throat at the foot of the stairs as she re-entered the house, and that she ran out and fell down in the road, as the floor at the foot of the stairs had a quantity of blood upon it, and the provisions which the woman was carrying were strewn in all directions.

A crows watched Hannah Potzdamer being taken to hospital on a barrow.
Hannah Potzdamer is taken to hospital. From The Illustrated Police News, 11th February 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.

THEY WERE IN THE SAME TRADE

The murderer was in the same trade as Cohen, and the knife with which he committed the deed is now in the possession of the police. It is an ordinary boot-finisher’s knife, and was secured by the constable at the time that the man committed suicide.

The affair has, naturally, created great excitement in the neighbourhood, and inspector Thrasher, who has the case in hand, is now collecting evidence and is endeavouring to ascertain where the murderer has been living recently.”

WILFUL MURDER AND SUICIDE

In reality, there was little more for the police to investigate, as it was evidently a cut and dried case of a man murdering his estranged wife and then committing suicide himself.

At the inquest into the two deaths, which was held on Friday ¬†the 3rd of February 1888, the jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder” against Abraham Potzdamer, who they found afterwards committed suicide while in a state of temporary insanity.