Murder In Canonbury

Although the Jack the Ripper murders were shocking enough, there were other murders that took place in London that year that made many a Londoner fear for their own personal safety, especially if the murder in question took place in the actual home of a respectable citizen.

On the morning of Thursday, 17th May, 1888, the people of London awoke to the news that a brutal murder had taken place in a house in Canonbury Terrace in Islington.

The Morning Post, provided a report on the facts of the crime as they were understood that morning:-


“A murder of a most daring character was committed yesterday afternoon at 19, Canonbury-terrace, Highbury.

It appears that, at half-past two yesterday afternoon, two men were observed to ascend the steps leading to No. 19, which is a double-fronted residence, situated at the corner of Canonbury-terrace, and adjoined by a dead wall which extends some 60ft. towards the Canonbury-road.

They knocked, and on the door being opened by Mrs. Wright they entered.

Mrs. Wright resides there with her husband, who was away on business at the time, and she was alone in the house.


Madame Prevotal, who is staying with Madame Chefdeville at No. 1, Alwyne-villas, nearly opposite, was looking through the drawing-room window at the time, and she called Madame Chefdeville’s attention to the men calling.

While doing so screams were heard proceeding from No. 19.


Madame Chefdeville hastened across the road and knocked at the door, but her summons was not answered.

She heard the men moving within, and she went to the house of a neighbour next door and inquired whether she had heard the screams. The answer was in the negative, and Madame Chefdeville thereupon returned to the house and again knocked, but this summons was not answered.

She was about to fetch assistance when the two men came out of the house.

One of the men was carrying a silk cloth bag with red and brown stripes, suspended by a stick across the shoulder, and they ran into the street; one of them turning up Alwyne-road, while the man carrying the bag ran across the Canonbury-road towards the New River.


Madame Chefdeville followed for some distance, but she lost sight of the man, who dropped the bag.

She picked it up and tried to make a policeman understand what had taken place, but owing to her bad English he probably could not comprehend what she wished to convey.

The officer returned with Madame Chefdeville to the residence of Mrs. Wright.

He could not force an entrance from the front, but passed through No. 18, and got in at the back.


He found Mrs. Wright dead behind the street door.

Marks of strangulation were on the throat, and a bruise was found on the left temple, but, beyond these injuries, there were no wounds.

A medical man, on his arrival, pronounced life extinct.


The object of the murder was undoubtedly robbery, but whether the assassins succeeded in carrying anything away is not yet known. The bag, when picked up, was empty, and the police have it in their possession, as it is likely to give them a clue to the perpetrators of the crime.

No arrests have yet been made.”

Illustrations showing the details of the murder.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 26th May, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


Reynolds’s Newspaper provided a fuller account, together with an update on the case and the police investigation into it, in its edition of Sunday, 20th May, 1888:-

“A murder was committed, on Wednesday afternoon, at No. 19, Canonbury-villas, Canonbury-terrace.

The house was occupied by an aged couple named Wright. The husband is employed in an office in the City, and, as no servant was kept, the wife was alone in the house during the day.

During her husband’s absence on Tuesday afternoon, a man about twenty-six years of age, with a red cloth bag slung over his shoulder, called at the house, and said he had been sent to see to the water fittings.

Mrs. Wright informed him that there was some mistake, as the fittings were in perfect order, and she refused to admit him.

On the return of her husband in the evening, she informed him of the strange visit, and said she was convinced by his replies that the man was an impostor.


Previous to the husband’s departure yesterday morning, the old lady evinced alarm at being left alone, but was assured by her husband that the man would not come again.

Shortly after eleven o’clock, a friend called upon her, and, after a short conversation, it was decided to inform the police of the visit of the man on the preceding day.

The inspector on duty at Upper-street Station having been informed of the matter, posted a man on point duty on Canonbury-bridge, about sixty yards distant, and in full view of the house.


About three o’clock on Wednesday afternoon two men, one carrying a red bag, again knocked at Mrs. Wright’s door, and, unobserved by the police, entered the house.

According to the statement of a French lady named Chefdeville, living opposite, they forced their way in immediately the door was opened.

Madame Chefdeville, regarding the occurrence as suspicious, crossed the road to Mrs. Wright’s door, when she heard three screams. On knocking once or twice, and receiving no response, she left with the intention of finding the police.

After proceeding a few yards, she turned round and observed two men hastily leave Mrs. Wright’s house, one hastening down Alwyne-road, and the other, who carried the red bag, across the Canonbury-road in the direction of the New River.

Sketches showing the events surrounding Mrs. Wright's murder at Canonbury.
From The Penny Illustrated Paper, Saturday, 26th May, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


On the arrival of the police, they attempted to enter the house at the front, but failing to do so they got in at the back.

On proceeding to the front hall, they found Mrs. Wright lying on the mat close to the street door. She was insensible, and on Dr. Greenwood, of Canonbury-square, being fetched, he pronounced life extinct.

The old lady was lying on her right side; her left eye was blackened.

The husband was communicated with, and an examination made of the premises, but nothing appeared to be missing. A bag answering the description of that carried by one of the men was found shortly after the occurrence in an adjacent road.


On Thursday, Dr. Danford Thomas opened an inquest at the Islington Coroner’s Court.

Charles Cole Wright said: My wife has been very ill during the last three months suffering from general debility.

At five minutes to two yesterday afternoon, I left her sitting in the dining-room. She was then in weak health.

I returned, according to custom, at half-past five. I was then informed my wife was dead. There was a little bruise over her left eye.

On Wednesday morning, my wife told me she had had an unpleasant incident. An ill-looking fellow had called and asked if a man had been at the house from the New River Company. She was very much frightened at the man’s appearance.


Andrew Breen, 448 N, said: Yesterday, about 2.55 p.m., a French lady came to me in Canoubury-road, but I could not understand her. She pointed to 19, Canonbury-terrace. I knocked at the door, but received no answer. I saw a lady standing at the door of No. 15, who said, “I think there is something wrong. I saw two suspicious men loitering about this morning.”

By this lady’s permission, I passed through her house, and entered No. 19, over the garden wall.

I opened the back door and then saw the deceased lying in the passage at the foot of the staircase, on her right side, with both arms stretched out. She felt warm, and there was foam coming from the mouth. I noticed a little mark over the left eye, which was black, and got blacker. The deceased appeared to have been struggling. I thought so from the position in which I found her lying. Neither her dress nor hair were disordered. The hall mats were undisturbed. The front door was closed, and was secured by a latch- lock. There was no chain.

Madame Chefdeville and another French lady gave evidence to the effect that they saw two men go into the house, and heard cries.


In the result, the jury announced that they attributed death to syncope, and that death had been accelerated by a sudden shock, caused by a blow on the eye, given by two men on the 16th inst., and that the two men are guilty of wilful murder.


A large staff of detectives and plainclothes constables were engaged in following up their information concerning the murder.

As a result, they have succeeded in arresting three men, who closely resemble the description given of the supposed murderers by Madame Chefdeville, who courageously endeavoured to intercept them on their leaving the house where the crime was committed.

One of the men was captured in the neighbourhood, and is detained at the Upper-street Police-station.

The other two men, to whose arrest the police attach great importance, were taken up by the A division of police in Westminster.

Immediately after the inquest, the principal witnesses and three or four men and youths, who had also given a description of the supposed housebreakers, were taken to the Upper-street Police-station, to identify the fourth man, but they could not recognise him.


Madame Chefdeville says the man who threw away the bag was about five feet seven inches in height, clean-shaven, with the exception of a slight moustache; the nose straight, the eyes clear, and the hair brown in colour, cut close behind.

The deceased woman is said to have been somewhat “odd”, and, from the fact that the couple lived a retired life in a house which looks larger than it really is, there is some reason to believe that robbery was the real object in view.

The arrangement of the hall at No. 19, Canonbury-terrace, is such as to admit of the theory that the injury of the left eye of the deceased was caused by her falling back against the bannisters of the staircase.

The funeral of the victim takes place on Tuesday, at Nunhead.


Late on Thursday night, another man was arrested in Holloway. He was placed among twenty-five other men at the Islington Police Station, but Madame Chefdeville failed to recognise him.

She, however, pointed out another man, against whom there was no suspicion, as being much more like the man sought for.

The man arrested has been detained by the police for other witnesses to see him.


Descriptions of the men wanted have been circulated throughout the police force.

That of the first man is given as a person of twenty-one years of age; height five feet six inches; pale complexion; dressed in a dark cutaway coat, black trousers and vest.

The second man’s description is – height, five feet one or two inches; tweed trousers and vest, cutaway coat, and of military appearance.

One of the men carried a red plumber’s bag.


The police have received from a publican who resides near the murdered lady’s house a statement to which they attach considerable importance.

The statement is that between one and two o’clock on the day of the murder, three men, accompanied by a woman, were in his house drinking in the front of his bar. They were all conversing together, as though they were planning something.

One man had a bag, and, among other observations, said, “We must have more than that.”

They talked very low and closely together. He thought at the time that they were up to something in the neighbourhood, so he stood by the bar to see if he could overhear anything further. Then he heard another man say, “Well, I wish I was down in Spitalfields again.” He then caught the words “Great Eastern,” but the complete sentence he did not hear.

They then drank their beer, and went out.

He followed them to the door, and saw two of the men go in the direction of Mrs. Wright’s house, whilst the other man and woman walked a little distance off in nearly the same direction, as though they were going to take up positions and watch for the approach of any police.

The police themselves strongly incline to the opinion that they all belonged to the same gang.


Two men who were arrested on Friday morning on the suspicion of having murdered Mrs. Wright, at 19, Canonbury-terrace, were released at noon.

The account they gave as to their whereabouts on the day the murder was committed was of such a character as to satisfy the police authorities at the Upper-street station, where they were detained, that they could not possibly have been the murderers. They were not released, however, until full inquiry had been made in substantiation of the statements they made when apprehended.

Up to the present, no further arrests have been made, and the whole affair still remains enveloped in mystery, despite all the efforts of the police.”