Today, when we look back at murders that took place in 1888, we tend to focus more or less exclusively on the Jack the Ripper atrocities, with the result that the other murder victims of that year are seldom, if ever, remembered.
Horrible as they were, however, the Whitechapel murders were not the only homicides that took place in 1888, and there were, of course, other victims of other murderers, as well as other families left to mourn the losses of their loved ones.
THE MURDERER OF CONSTABLE MICHAEL LEWIS
One of the other homicide victims in 1888, was Police Constable Michael Lewis, a beat officer in Chelsea, who, in simply doing his duty on the streets of the Victorian metropolis on the evening of the 31st of May, 1888, sustained injuries that led to his tragic demise.
MURDER OF A LONDON POLICEMAN
The Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, on Wednesday, 6th June, 1888, gave the following detailed account of the events as they unfolded on that May evening and of the subsequent inquest into the death of Police Constable Michael Lewis:-
“At the Westminster Police Court today, Frederick Wood and Edward Warne were charged with stealing zinc flower boxes from a garden in a road off King’s-road, Chelsea.
Wood was also charged with causing the death of Police Constable Michael Lewis by injury occasioned in violently resisting apprehension.
Warne was additionally charged with a violent assault on another constable named Feekes.
ARRESTED FOR STEALING
The evidence of the latter was that the prisoners were arrested stealing zinc boxes of flowers.
Wood was in the charge of the deceased constable. Witness had charge of Warne, and during the walk to the station, Warne brutally assaulted him, and tried to throw him under the wheel of an omnibus.
Witness then struck the prisoner, who returned the blow and kicked him in the stomach.
HAD TO ASK FOR HELP
Wood attempted to join in the struggle, and finally threw the deceased constable to the ground.
Witness had to call on a private gentleman to assist him.
THE DEATH OF CONSTABLE LEWIS
On reaching the station, Lewis complained of internal pain.
A surgeon was sent for, but before his arrival blood burst profusely from the deceased’s eyes, nose, mouth, and ears; and he died almost instantly.
MR. RICHARDS HELPED
Mr Richards, a surveyor, who passed during the struggle in Chelsea, said the prisoner was most violent. It was quite necessary that the constable should use the truncheon in defence. He struck the prisoner with it.
Witness held the prisoner whilst the constable recovered himself.
INSPECTOR BICKLEY’S TESTIMONY
Inspector Bickley, who was on duty at Chelsea Police Station when the prisoners were brought in said that Lewis did not at first complain of being injured, but when he was about to leave the station at 8.30, to resume his beat, he complained of pain, as already stated.
He was a strong, healthy man, 47 years old, of twenty years’ service. He leaves a widow and two children.
The prisoners were remanded in custody.
Dr. Diplock held an inquest on Saturday at Chelsea respecting the death of Michael Lewis, 47, police constable.
TESTIMONY FROM WITNESSES
George Warman, a licensed victualler, of 348, King’s-road, Chelsea, stated that at about twenty minutes after seven on Thursday evening he saw a crowd of persons outside the premises.
There were two constables – Lewis (deceased) and Feek – and witness went to Lewis and said, “Can I give you any assistance?”
The deceased answered, “No; go to my mate.”
Feek was then struggling with his prisoner.
Inspector Bickley said he afterwards charged Wood with the more serious crime, and the reply was, “I never had a struggle or anything with him.”
MORE WITNESSES GIVE EVIDENCE
Police-constable Robert Feek gave evidence descriptive of the desperate conduct of the prisoner, and said that Wood threw Lewis down. The deceased bled freely from his nose and eyes at the station.
Dr. R. T. Daniell, the divisional surgeon, said that a post-mortem examination revealed that Lewis had a severe contusion at the lower part of his body, in a dangerous part. The heart was also ruptured in two places, which was the cause of death.
The injuries were the result of a struggle or kick.
The Jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Frederick Wood, and he was committed on the capital charge.”
FOUND NOT GUILTY
On Tuesday, 2nd July, 1888, both Warne and Wood appeared at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) charged with the wilful murder of Police Constable Michael Lewis.
The Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette provided the following brief account of the rial and the verdict in its edition of Thursday, 12th July, 1888:-
“Edward Warne and Frederick Wood were acquitted at the Old Bailey of murdering Police-constable Lewis, at Chelsea, by assaulting him on being arrested for stealing.
It was proved that Lewis died from rupture of the heart, caused by the excitement.”
You can read the full transcript of the criminal trial on the Old Bailey online Website here.