The Battersea Mystery

Another murder that took place in London during the year of the Jack the Ripper atrocities was that of a three month old baby, who was murdered by his father Clarence Henry Longman.

As with the many cases of infanticide that were reported in the newspapers, it was difficult to establish whether a murder had occurred, since the parent, or parents, was, in the majority of the cases, the prime suspect, or suspects; and they of course had plenty of reason to mislead the police and juries about the circumstances surrounding the death of the infant.

In this case, however, it appears more than certain that the perpetrator of the crime was the baby’s father Clarence Henry Longman; although, on reading the various witness statements, you are left with the distinct impression that many of those called to give evidence to the coroner’s inquest, and later the Old Bailey trial, were being decidedly evasive about their involvement.

THE FINDING OF THE BODY

At 5.45 a. m. on Wednesday 28th March 1888, Thames waterman John Jones, noticed a small bundle lying on the foreshore of the river, underneath the Albert Bridge. He went to take a closer look and discovered that it was the body of a child.

He later testified that:-

“…it was done up in a parcel covered with a piece of sacking; it was tied with string; under the sacking there was a white cloth tied across by the corners. On undoing the cloth I saw the head of a child; I sent for the police, and Constable Love came and took the body away…”

Initially the police had no clues as to the child’s identity and the newspapers were quick to dub the case “The Battersea Mystery.”

On Sunday 1st April, 1888, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper updated its readers on the known facts of the case and reported on the opening of the inquest into the child’s death:-

SUPPOSED HEARTLESS MURDER OF AN INFANT

“Yesterday, Mr. Hicks held an enquiry at the Star and Garter, Church Road, Battersea, regarding the death of a male child of unknown parentage, who was found dead on the foreshore of the Thames, underneath the Albert Bridge, on Wednesday morning.

The child was wearing a white cotton chemise, and a white flannel petticoat.

There were no marks on the clothing or wrapper.

Dr. Kempston, The divisional surgeon, said the cause of death was asphyxia. The probability was that the child had been thrown into the water alive.

The coroner said it was clearly a case of foul play, and the inquiry was adjourned.”

THE BODY IS IDENTIFIED

The inquest was resumed on the afternoon of Saturday 14th April, 1888, by which time the baby had been identified, and his mother was called to testify.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper reported on the proceedings in its next day’s edition:-

“Yesterday afternoon Mr. A. Braxton Hicks, the Mid-Surrey coroner, resumed his inquiry at the Star and Garter, Church-road, Battersea, concerning the death of a male child, aged apparently three months, whose body was discovered tied up in a sack on the foreshore of the Thames, underneath the Albert-bridge at Battersea, on the 28th ult.

When the case was before the court a fortnight ago Dr. Kempster, who made a post-mortem examination, stated that the child must have been placed in the sack while alive, and thrown into the river, either just before or immediately after death.

The cause of death was suffocation.

Elizabeth Ann Longman, a young woman of 19, dressed in mourning, stated that she was the wife of Clarence Henry Longman.

On Thursday, April 5th, witness came to the Battersea mortuary and identified the body of deceased as that of her son, Clarence Henry [Jnr], who was born on December 18th, 1887.

She last saw the child alive on Thursday, March 22nd, at 14, Clayton-road, Peckham, where she was then living.

Witness was married on October 11th, 1887, three months before the baby was born.

The date on the marriage certificate produced was altered from “1887” to “1886” by her husband.

Her husband had not followed any employment since their marriage, and had treated her very unkindly. He smacked the baby twice, but with that exception he seemed fond of it. He was of sober habits, but very bad tempered. He had often told her to do something to keep him.

Witness went on to say that her husband had wished to put the child out to nurse, and that on March 22, they having been at her husband’s mother’s house, the witness went out, leaving the child in bed; but her husband told her not to come home until he came for her.

He called for her at half-past seven, and, in reply to a question put to him by her sister as to where the child was, he said, “My sister has got it.”

Witness then deposed to various statements made by her husband as to what had become of the child.

On Easter Tuesday he took her to a house in Mount-gardens, Westminster, where, he said, the child was, and after speaking to a man at the door he said that the girl who had got charge of the baby was out.

Witness’s mother went to the house and made inquiries, and was informed that there was not a baby in the house.

Her husband afterwards made other excuses for not producing the child.

She had not the least idea where her husband was now.

The coroner pointed out that when the husband made one of the statements referred to, the body of the child had already been found.

The inquiry was again adjourned.”

THE POLICE AND THE MISSED OPPORTUNITY

It was emerging that the person who was most likely to have been the perpetrator of the crime was the child’s father, Clarence Henry Longman, albeit he appeared to have completely disappeared.

Furthermore, it appeared that the police had missed an opportunity to apprehend their prime suspect when, on the 31st March 1888, the distraught mother and Clarence Longman had both gone to Camberwell Green Police Station, ostensibly to make enquiries about the missing child.

Police Constable George Luff later recalled an exchange he had had with them:-

“…The wife was crying very bitterly. I asked her what was the matter, and she said, “I want my baby, my baby.” I said, “Where is the baby?” She looked at Longman and said, “He has taken it away.” I then asked if that was her husband; she said, “Yes;” I then said to him, “Where is the child?” He replied, “I have put it out to be taken care of.”

Not being satisfied, I asked them to accompany me into the station, which they did, and I left them in charge of Sergeant Cockerell.”

Police Sergeant George Cockerell later recalled his meeting with the couple:-

“I remember Longman and his wife coming in about twenty minutes past one that afternoon. The wife said that her husband had taken her child away, and would not tell her where it was. I asked him where the child was, and he said, “It is out at nurse, I don’t know where; my father and mother do know where it is.” I asked him where they lived, and he said, “75, Stanbury Road, Peckham.”

I telegraphed there for inquiries to be made, and they waited for a reply; I was not there when the reply came back; I was relieved by Inspector Fry.”

Inspector George Fry recalled his encounter with the couple as follows:-

“The sergeant told me what it was the woman had told him and, upon that, I said to Longman, “Where is the child?” He said, “He is out at nurse.” I said, “Where?” He said, “I shall not tell unless I get my father’s consent.” I said, “Is your father at home?” He said, “Yes.”

I then said we must wait until we had a reply to the telegram which had been sent – after a while an answer came – I told Longman what it was; it was that the father was not at home.

During the time we were waiting, I said, “Is the child weaned?” They both replied, “Yes, about a month.”

After some time Longman said, “This is a long time to wait.” I said, “It is your own fault; you can tell your wife where the child is.” He again said, “I shall not tell unless I get my father’s consent,”

He ultimately got up and said he would go with his wife and show her where the child was. I said to her, “Are you willing to go with him?”, and she said, “Yes.” I said, “If you don’t see the child, come back and let me know,” to which she replied, “I will.”

They left together; she did not return.”

VERDICT OF THE CORONER’S JURY

The inquest resumed again on Tuesday 17th April, 1888, by which time the police were convinced that the boy’s murderer had, in fact, been his father Clarence Henry Longman.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper duly reported the proceedings the following Sunday, 22nd April 1888:-

“On Tuesday Mr. Braxton Hicks resumed his inquiry at the Star and Garter, Battersea, concerning the death of a male child, aged apparently three months, whose body was discovered in a sack on the foreshore of the Thames, at Battersea, on the 28th ult.

Mr. Frederick Longman was called, and stated that he was the father of Clarence Henry Longman, 17 years of age.

He believed his son was married to Mrs. Longman.

He saw his son for the first time on Friday, April 6, opposite the Old Bailey, but he had not the remotest idea where he was now, neither could he say for what reason he was keeping out of the way.

His son’s landlady, Mrs. Aldridge, told him that on the morning of March 22 she heard the baby crying, and it suddenly stopped as though it was being pressed to its mother’s bosom, and after that she heard the mother’s voice.

She said she believed that the father was the first to leave the house, and witness told her that his son was at his house all day.

Alice Aldridge, a girl of 14, daughter of the landlady at 14, Clayton-road, Peckham, said that she remembered Mr. Longman, jun. leaving the house with a parcel on the evening of March the 22nd. She could not say whether the parcel was such as would contain the body of a baby.

On Thursday Mrs. Catherine Carmichael, of 8, Elliott-road, Brixton, stated that the mother of the child was her stepdaughter.

Witness identified the body of the deceased, and also its clothing and the piece of sacking in which it was wrapped when found in the river.

On March 22, when her stepdaughter came to stay the day with her, she said that she had left the child with her husband, and the latter came for her in the evening, without the baby.

On the 26th witness was informed that Longman had put the baby out to nurse. Longman told her that the child was in Arlington-road, Westminster, and when she said there was no such road in Westminster, he asserted that there was, and she retorted, “There might be for your convenience,” adding, “They must be curious people to take a baby from you without knowing anything of the mother.”

Leonora Smith, of 156, Ferndale-road, Brixton, sister to Mrs. Longman, the mother of the child, also identified the baby’s clothing.

Police-serjeant John Winzar, P division, gave evidence to the effect that a large number of articles of clothing belonging to the child were missing, including a white woollen hat (knitted), a white cashmere bonnet, three frocks, two petticoats, an infant’s nightdress, and a woollen shawl, etc.

Yesterday Mrs. Catherine Aldridge, wife of a fishmonger, living at 14, Clayton-road, Peckham, stated that on March 20th she had a room to let. On that day Longman, junior, came and engaged it, and moved in on the same evening. Witness was not very well on that day, so she did not see Mrs. Longman.

At 11 o’clock on the morning of the 22nd she heard the baby cry and suddenly stop. After that she believed Mrs. Longman went out, followed in about 10 minutes by her husband.

On the same evening witness’s daughter was standing at the window and informed witness that she saw Mr. Longman, jun. go out with a brown parcel. Afterwards witness saw the latter, and he told her that he could not open the door of his room because his wife had lost the key.

He then went out, and witness subsequently had a long conversation with Mrs. Longman about the child. She seemed very much upset through the loss of her baby, and cried a great deal.

Mrs. Longman, sen., who was recalled, said that she did not recognise any of the writing on the document (produced) as that of her son’s.

Mr. Longman, sen., recalled, was also unable to identify his son’s writing.

Elizabeth Ann Longman, the mother of the child, also recalled, stated that the baby had been crying when she left it on the morning of the 22nd ult. She went out shortly before 11 o’clock, at which time there was a feeding-bottle in the room in a drawer, but although she searched for it she was unable to find it.

The foreman here remarked that it had occurred to the minds of some of the jury whether it would not have been more prudent if the officer on duty at the Camberwell-green police-station had detained young Longman when he called there on the 31st ult. The coroner said no doubt the police would have done so had they known as much as they do now.

The coroner then reviewed the evidence, commenting upon the fact that Longman, junior, who would have been a most important witness in the case, had failed to attend the inquest at either of the five sittings.

Referring to the evidence given by Mr. and Mrs. Longman, sen., the coroner said it was most conspicuous by the absence of its details.

They professed not to have made any inquiries about the child, but he (the coroner) did not believe them. He left it to the jury as reasonable men to say how the child had met its death.

The jury retired, and after a few minutes’ deliberation returned into court with a verdict of “Wilful murder” against Clarence Henry Longman, and the coroner issued a warrant for his apprehension and committal to Holloway prison.

The following description of the missing man bee been issued :—Aged 17 years; height, 5ft. 2in.; complexion, swarthy; hair, dark brown (worn on forehead, and when oiled appears to be black); high forehead; eyes, full, very dark hazel; very thick black eyebrows; nose well formed; two large scars back of head, one extending to left; small feet; swinging gait; carries hands in pockets. Dress: Short blue serge jacket, green or black cloth vest; grey mixture trowsers; black hard felt hat, worn on one side of head; spotted silk tie; patent high-heeled boots.”

NO SIGN OF LONGMAN

However, as far as the police enquiries were concerned, Clarence Henry Longman had vanished without a trace. They conducted searches of his known haunts; they circulated his description around police stations. But, no sign of him could be discovered, and no clues as to his whereabouts were forthcoming.

HE RESURFACES

On 11th October 1889 Private Edwin Shuttleworth, serving with the 29th Steel Battery of the Royal Artillery at Newbridge Barracks in Ireland, found himself under arrest for some minor military offence.

According to his superior officer, Sergeant, Frederick Bennett:-

“I heard him say to the sergeant-major, “I wish to give myself up” – I said, “What for?” – he said, “For child murder” – I said, “That is very serious” – he said, “Yes; there has been a warrant out against me for the last fifteen months; if you will come in and sit down I will tell you all about it.”

He then made a very rambling statement – after every few words he kept saying, “But I did not do it.”

He told me about his being married to a young girl in London about eighteen months ago, and his having a child three months old; that his wife went out one day to see her mother, and when she came back the child was deficient, and he being the only one there they blamed him for it; and then again he said, “I did not do it.”

I asked him if he knew who had done it? – he said, “Yes, but it is not for me to say.”

I then asked him what his real name was, and he said, “Clarence Henry Longman.”

That was all the conversation. I reported the case to the police.”

HIS OLD BAILEY TRIAL

Longman was duly returned to London and charged with the wilful murder of his infant child.

His trial took place at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) on 18th November 1889.

You can read the full trial transcript here.

There was little doubt that Longman had been responsible for the death of his son, so the defence opted to argue that it had been accidental, that he had, in fact, unintentionally smothered the baby while lying beside him on the bed. He had then panicked and had, therefore, disposed of the body in an attempt to cover up the death.

The jury, however, were not convinced by this defence, and they duly found him guilty of manslaughter, and he was sentenced to 20 years penal servitude.