The Death Of Elizabeth Lazarus

Alice McKenzie was murdered in Castle Alley, off Whitechapel High Street, on the 17th of July, 1889.

However, eleven years before her murder, on the 1st of June, 1878, the Street had been the scene of another mysterious death, which may or may not have actually been a murder.

The body of a 19-month old girl was found on a doorstep in the alley, close to the Public Baths and Washhouses, the facade of which still stands in what is today Old Castle Street.

The case is of interest for several reasons, not least because the detective who headed the investigation into what was presumed to be a murder was none other than Inspector Frederick George Abberline.

The facade of the washhouses.
The Facade Of The Washhouses In Old Castle Street, Whitechapel.

THE INQUEST INTO HER DEATH

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper carried a report on the proceeding at the inquest into the child’s death in its edition of Sunday, 16th June, 1878:-

On the 3rd inst. Mr. Humphreys held an inquiry at the Weavers’ Arms, Baker’s-row, Whitechapel, as to the death of Fanny Lazarus, aged 18 months, who was found lying dead on a doorstep near her parents’ house.

Simon Lazarus, a tailor, living at 4, New Castle-place, Whitechapel, stated that the deceased, his daughter, was missed from the house at six o’clock on last Wednesday evening. He informed the police, and her description had been fully circulated.

At half-past one on the morning of Saturday, the deceased was brought to his house by a police-constable, dead. She was wet from the waist to the head, but the lower part of her body, socks, and shoes, were perfectly dry. She was dressed in the same clothes.

Joseph Barnett, cigar maker, 9, Old Castle-street, deposed that at a quarter-past one o’clock on Saturday morning, whilst in the company with his friends, he saw the deceased lying upon the doorstep of 22, New Castle-place, about 20 yards from her parents’ door. A police-constable was fetched, when the deceased was identified as the missing child.

Mr. Edward T. Crouch, assistant police-surgeon, said he found the surface of the body covered with sand, the hair being matted with it. A quantity of sand was found on the nose and lips. The tongue was protruding through the lips.

On making a post-mortem examination, he found that the cause of death was suffocation from drowning.

The inquiry was adjourned.

THE INQUEST RESUMED

On Friday the inquest was resumed.

Inspector Detective Aberline and Serjeant Foster, H division, deposed that on proceeding to the baths and washhouses, they found building operations going on, and, by the back door, which opened into castle-alley, they discovered two tubs which contained sand and water.

They questioned Peter Wincey, the watchman, and took him into custody for causing the death of the child, and he was remanded on his own bail, no evidence being taken.

The back door of the baths was about 100 yards from the parents’ house.

An image of Inspector Abberline
Inspector Abberline

A STRANGE VISIT

Simon Lazarus, the father, said that at two o’clock on Saturday afternoon Peter Wincey came to the house, and asked to look at the child. After feeling the legs and head, he began to tremble, and sat down in a chair, placing his hands to his head. when he said, “Leave it all to me and I will make it all right.”

He then asked if I could show him the step where the body was found, and I pointed it out to him, to which lie replied, “No; it was the middle step.”

He said the Clothes were not wet at the bottom. He again said, “Leave it all to me, and I will make it all right.”

He then left, but at five o’clock he called again and said, “you must give me your name and address, and you must come when I send for you.”

Witness had never seen the man previous to that.

FURTHER TESTIMONIES

Moses Isaacs said that he had seen Peter Wincey chase children with his stick when they had annoyed him.

Charles Tyrrell, of 10, Calvert-road, Greenwich, said that he was the foreman to the builder’s who had the job. The back door of the baths was fastened with one of Hobbs’s locks. The witness had a key, and Peter Wincey, the watchman, also had a key.

Peter Wincey, having been duly cautioned by the coroner, stated that he was the watchman and timekeeper at the baths.

At about a quarter-past one o’clock, he came out of the back door of the baths, thinking that he heard a disturbance, and walked to the corner of the alley, but he saw no one. He returned and locked the door.

A FOUL MURDER

The coroner said that a foul murder had been committed, but, at present, there was no evidence as to the murderer. The jury could again adjourn, but he (the coroner) did not think any good would be obtained by such a course.

The Jury, having consulted together, they returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown,” leaving the case for the police to follow up.”

MYSTERIOUS CASE OF CHILD MURDER IN WHITECHAPEL

Peter Wincey, having been arrested on suspicion of having murdered the child, duly appeared at Worship Street Police Court on Wednesday , 12th June, 1878.

The East London Observer reported on his appearance on Saturday, 15th June, 1878:-

“Peter Wincey, 62, described as a watchman, and living in Goulston-street, Whitechapel, was charged before Mr. Hannay, at Worship-street Police-court, on Wednesday, on suspicion of the wilful murder of a child named Elizabeth Lazarus, aged 19 months.

Inspector Abberline, H division, in charge of the case, stated the facts which would be brought against the prisoner. He had been at an inquest held on the body of the child, and a verdict of “Wilful murder” had been returned, but “against some person or persons unknown.”

It appeared that the child, who though young was very forward and tall, was let out to play in the street in which her parents live, Newcastle-place, Whitechapel, on Wednesday, the 29th ult.

THE FINDING OF THE BODY

She was missed soon afterwards, and three days later her dead body was found at one o clock in the morning on the doorstep of a house about thirty yards from her father’s place.

There was then doubt that the child had been drowned. Its mouth and nostrils were stuffed with sand, and its clothes were wet, but not its boots and socks.

Inspector Abberline came to the conclusion that it had been drowned in water where building operations were going on, the sand and lime being in the child’s clothes.

An illustration showing the entrance to Castle Alley.
Castle Alley From Whitechapel High Street. From The Penny Illustrated Paper. July 27th 1889. Copyright, The British Library Board.

THE PUBLIC BATHS AND WASHHOUSES

Some 100 yards distance from the house of the father the Whitechapel Public Baths and Washhouses are situated. These at present are under repair, and no other building operations are in the neighbourhood.

The prisoner is a watchman at the premises.

The child was last seen alive at six o’clock in the evening, about fifty yards from the building, and its body when found had been brought about 60 yards from the building.

Large tubs full of water were on the premises, but the workmen left at 5.30., and the prisoner was then on duty until seven the next morning.

THE EVIDENCE AGAINST THE PRISONER

Mr. Hannay asked Inspector Abberline what was the evidence against the prisoner.

The Inspector replied that a police-constable would prove that the body was not on the doorstep a few minutes before it was found there by three men. Those men approached the spot from three different passages. One of the men saw a person, whom he would speak to resembling the prisoner, passing from the spot towards the washhouses.

The prisoner, when taken into custody, made a statement to witness admitting that he had passed the spot about one o’clock that morning. Further, he stated that he saw something lying on the doorstep, but he did not go to see what it was.

THE FATHER’S TESTIMONY

Simon Lazarus, tailor, then deposed to the loss of the child and the subsequent bringing home of its body.

On the afternoon of the 1st inst., he added when the child was lying in his room, the prisoner came knocking at the door, and the witness, thinking that he was a parish officer, let him in. He asked to look at the child, and when he saw it he sat down beside the bed and buried his face in his hands.

Afterwards, he said to the witness, “Leave it all to me. I’ll see it right.”

He afterwards sent for the witness’s name and address.

FURTHER EVIDENCE

The prisoner, when asked if he wished to put any questions to the witness, entered into an explanation of his going to the house, and said that it was because he had heard of the loss of a child, and being himself the father of nine, he took interest in it.

He denied having made such a statement as the father had alleged, and simply said that the child must have been murdered.

The prisoner appeared an educated man, and he said that though he was working as a watchman, was a “professional” man.

Three young men deposed to the finding of the body on a doorstep in Newcastle-street, at 1.15 am on the morning of the 1st inst., and one of the witnesses said that he, turning into Newcastle-street, saw a man, about the height and appearance of the prisoner, going from the spot where the body lay, up Castle-alley to the washhouses.

Further evidence corroborating that of the father, that the prisoner had made statements wishing the matter left to him, was given, and an adjournment was then taken for medical evidence.

The prisoner was admitted to bail.”

HIS NEXT COURT APPEARANCE

The London Daily News, on Thursday, 20th June, 1878, reported on Peter Wincey’s final court appearance:-

“Peter Wincey, 62, described as a watchman, surrendered to his bail, and was charged on remand on suspicion of having wilfully murdered a child named Fanny Lazerus, aged 19 months, by drowning it. The prisoner was undefended.

The facts were fully reported at the last examination, and it may be remembered that the child was missed from its home, having been let out in the street to play, on a Wednesday evening, and its dead body was found at 1 o’clock on the morning of the Saturday following, on a door-step some sixty yards away from the parents’ house. The clothes of the child were then wet, and it had all the appearance of having been immersed, with the exception of the legs, in water containing lime and fine sand, the clothes being full of the same.

Close to the parents’ house were the Whitechapel Baths and Washhouses, where building operations were in progress, and where the prisoner was employed.

The police came to the conclusion that the child had been drowned in one of the large tubs used on the premises, and lime was found around the tub, and also on the child’s boots. The water was also limy and sanded.

The coroner’s jury had returned a verdict of “wilful murder” against some person or persons unknown, and the prisoner was apprehended by the police on suspicion.

MYSTERIOUS STATEMENTS

The only evidence against him was mysterious, yet negative statements, made by him to the parents, and the fact that two minutes before the body was found, a man, in figure like the prisoner, had been seen going from the spot to the Baths.

The prisoner also admitted to the police that he had been out at one o’clock that morning past the spot, but he could not explain why, as he had no occasion to leave the baths, and it was some 60 yards away. He also said that he had seen a parcel on the doorstep but did not go to look at it.

Inspector Abberline, H division, in charge of the case, said that there was no more direct evidence.

CASE DISMISSED

Mr. Hannay said that there was not enough to detain the prisoner longer.

There was nothing incompatible with the child’s having fallen into the tub, and its body, on being found by someone, had been secreted until it could be left in the street.

The matter could be re-opened if further evidence were obtained.

The prisoner was then discharged.

A REWARD OFFERED

The authorities appear to have continued to believe that they were dealing with a case of murder, and, on Saturday, 6th July, 1878, The Edinburgh Review reported that:-

“The Home Secretary has offered a reward of ¬£100 for the discovery of the murderer of Fanny Lazarus, one year and seven months old, whose dead body was found outside her father’s house at Newcastle Street, Whitechapel, at 1.15 a.m. on the 1st ultimo.”

However, no new information was forthcoming, and, although it is more than apparent that the police had strong suspensions against Wincey – and, to be honest, his bizarre behaviour in the aftermath of the child’s death seemed to point to his guilt – nobody was ever brought to justice for the murder of little Fanny Lazarus, and, like the Jack the Ripper murders eleven years later, the perpetrator escaped justice.