The Disappearance of Eliza Carter – January 1882

By January 1882, the people of the East End of London in general had all but forgotten about the unfortunate Mary Seward, who had, apparently, been abducted in April 1881 and of whom not a trace had been found, nor had any clue been discovered that could give any hint as to her fate.

But then, on the 28th January 1882, another girl by the name of Eliza Carter also vanished under equally mysterious circumstances and, as it transpired, she not only lived in the same district but, at the time of her abduction, had been staying at her sister’s house, located on the very same street that Mary Seward had lived on.

ANXIETY AND CONSTERNATION

Reporting on Eliza’s disappearance, on the 4th February 1882, The Evening Standard had this to say:-

“Much anxiety, not to say consternation, has been occasioned in the district of West Ham at the sudden and unaccountable disappearance of two young girls. The first of these, for whose recovery a reward of £50 is offered, took place in April.

The girl was Mary Seward, aged 14, who lived with her parents at West-road. She left home in April, and has never since been heard of.

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELIZA CARTER

The affair had been almost forgotten, except by the parents of the child, when on the 28th January a girl named Eliza Carter, of Church street, disappeared in an equally mysterious and unaccountable manner.

This child is 13 years and 7 months old.

SHE WAS AFRAID TO GO HOME

On Saturday she was at play with a school fellow, and, as it was getting dark, about 5 pm, Eliza Carter said to her playmate she was afraid to go home, whereupon the playmate went with her to within fifty yards of her residence. It was at the same place in April that Mary Seward was last seen, a spot near West Ham Park.

The sign for Portway, E13.
Portway is the Main Road That Runs Alongside West Ham Park.

When her absence was reported to the police, inquiries were made, and a general search took place of all the lodging houses and empty premises in the district.

HER BLUE DRESS WAS FOUND

On the following morning (Sunday) a boy walking through the Park picked up a dress, from which all the buttons had been cut. This has been identified as having been worn by the child at the time of her disappearance.

A view acorss West Ham Park.
West Ham Park From The Portway Entrance.

It is supposed by the police that it was taken off in order to hide the identity of the child, who is supposed to have been seen in High-street, Stratford, on Saturday night, going towards Shoreditch.

THE LOCAL POND DRAGGED

On Sunday, directions were given for dragging the pond in the park and other pools of water in the district but, although this was done very carefully, nothing was discovered.

Carter, like the child who disappeared last year, attended Canon Scott’s School, and the rev, gentleman, with many members of his congregation, are making independent efforts to find a clue. Canon Scott has written to the police authorities to urge that no efforts should be spared in endeavouring to find the child or to learn something of her fate.

In consequence of this, last night’s police orders contained directions for the police to inquire at theatres, music-halls, homes for girls, lodging-houses, caravans, &c., to try and find out something of the missing child.

REWARDS OFFERED

At the West Ham Police-court yesterday Mr. Phillips, the Stipendiary Magistrate, in alluding to the abduction, stated that he had received several sums of money from different parties, and he suggested that donations should be sent to the Court with a view to offering something like a substantial reward for the discovery of the missing child.

ABDUCTED BY THE SAME PARTY

The police believe the same party who abducted Mary Seward have been concerned in this case, and the idea is that the child has  been smuggled to the Continent.

HER DESCRIPTION

The following is a description of Eliza Carter: Complexion very fair, hair brown, eyes blue; wore small gold earrings with drops, dress speckled, large black buttons, navy blue dress, white straw hat trimmed slate colour satin; blue stockings and high lace boots.

The child’s father is by trade a carpenter, and he has already spent all his money in printing bills and endeavouring to find his daughter.”

NO CLUES  TO GUIDE THE POLICE

By the 6th February 1882, no news had been received to explain the disappearance, despite the fact that the police had been conducting city-wide searches and, in particular, had paid attention to the nearby docks in the belief that an attempt might have been made to smuggle her abroad.

But, as The Evening Standard reported on 6th February 1882, “…The police are, consequently, without any clue whatever to guide them…”

NEW FACTS HAD COME TO LIGHT

However, the paper also informed its readers that some new facts had come to light:-

“One or two facts have, however, come to light.

It appears that instead of being at play with a schoolfellow, as was at first supposed on the Saturday she disappeared, the missing girl was absent for about seven hours, her whereabouts during that time being unknown. Her parents are very poor, and the child has been in the habit of sleeping with a married sister in the West-road.

An exterior view of Eliza Carter's sister's house at 25 West Road.
25 West Road, January 2016. This was the home of Eliza Carter’s Sister.

On the Saturday in question she left her sister’s house at about half-past ten to go to her parents, in Church-street, having on her way to deliver some mangling.

This errand was discharged, but what became of her from half-past ten till 5 pm there is no clue.

SHE WAS AFRAID OF A MAN

At that hour, whilst a schoolfellow named Harrell was going along the Portway, she saw the girl, who said to her that she had been away all day and was timid of a man and afraid to go home.

Harrell went within forty yards of the house with Carter, and whilst on the way a man, described as tall, with a high hat, came up, and said to the missing girl. “Hallo, Eliza, how is your mother?” and then passed on.

Harrell left her companion and returned home.

DID ELIZA KNOW THE MAN?

This is the last that has been heard of the child but from the fact that she spoke to the man, and told her companion that she was timid of him it would appear that she had seen him before on that day.

It is also clear that the child was in or near West Ham Park after nightfall, as her dress, with the buttons cut off, was found the next day on the spot where a football match had been played on the Saturday, indicating that it was not there before dark, or it would have been picked up.”

ANOTHER ASSAULT IN THE VICINITY

The paper also made reference to an assault that had taken place in West Ham Park on the 21st January 1882. The victim, who was described simply as “a young girl” had, according to the report, “been enticed away by a man and detained for four hours, until it was dark.”

A CHEMIST APPREHENDED

Interestingly, at the end of February 1882, several London newspapers carried a news agency report that suggested that a potential perpetrator had been apprehended.

An article in The Belfast Morning News, on the 28th February, stated that:-

“The police at West Ham, Essex, yesterday afternoon, apprehended a man and woman at Stratford on a charge of enticing children away. The man’s name is Warren, chemist and druggist, trading at Victoria Dock Road. On Saturday he went in a cab with the woman to Great Eastern Road, Stratford, and then got out, leaving the woman in the cab, and walked towards Maryland Point School. He was observed by a gentleman named Harris, a contractor, trying to take a little girl away, whereupon the gentleman interfered. Eventually both the man and woman were arrested.”

Sadly, I can find no further reports on what became of the man and woman. But, then, there were several similar stories appearing in the newspapers, some of which are, to say the least, intriguing, but which seem to have brought the authorities no closer to discovering the fate of the two girls.

A TANTALISING STATEMENT

On the 3rd March 1882, for example, Mr Phillips, the stipendiary magistrate at West Ham Police Court, announced that he had received a letter concerning the case from a person who merely signed themselves as,  “A Well Wisher.” Frustratingly, he also informed the court that he “would not read the letter, but should deem it a favour if the writer would communicate with him as soon as possible, in confidence, giving his or her name and address.”

As far as I can ascertain the contents of the letter were never made public, but the fact that nothing was ever found of the girls suggests that the writer was never traced and the information contained therein resulted in another dead end line of enquiry.

NOTHING FURTHER DISCOVERED

Although the police were evidently making desperate efforts to find the missing girls, no further news of their fates was reported during the remainder of the year, other than regular updates to inform readers that there had been no further progress in locating them.

A POSSIBLE SIGHTING

But, on 12th February 1884, a Major P. F. Robinson wrote to the Daily News to say he may well have seen the Eliza Carter in the company of her abductor a few years previously.

His letter appeared under the headline:-

UNPUNISHED CRIMES
DISAPPEARANCE OF ELIZA CARTER

The accompanying missive read:-

SIR – In your record of “Unpunished crimes” that appeared in one of your pages a few days ago, you refer to the case of the unaccountable disappearance of two little school girls, Mary Seward and Eliza Carter, which caused so strong an excitement to the East of London about three years ago,” and you conclude your remarks on these cases as follows :, -” Not a trace, however, of the whereabouts of either of these children, whose disappearances was separated by an in interval of some months, has  been brought to light.”

DID HE SEE ELIZA CARTER?

In reply to this last statement I should feel greatly obliged by your giving publicity to the following circumstance that came to my immediate knowledge with regard to the” whereabouts” at one time of a little girl whom I firmly believe to have been Eliza Carter  a clue which, if of any value, ought to have been quite sufficient to have secured the recovery of the unfortunate little girl.

On Sunday, the 29th of January, 1882 between 4 and 5 in the afternoon, a little girl, exactly corresponding in age, appearance, and every detail with the description, given of Eliza Carter, was hurriedly dragged past me at the recreation grounds Portsmouth, by a short, thick set, repulsive-looking woman, aged about 45 years, height 5 feet 2 or 3 inches, rather shabbily dressed, and broad across the shoulders. From the rapid strides taken, and other reasons, I now think it possible that this person , may have been a man in disguise of dwarfish stature.

SHE WAS IN AN HYSTERICAL STATE

The little girl was in an hysterical state, and evidently in great alarm and distress; so much so that I wished to stop the woman, and inquire the cause, but having only just landed with my regiment, and being in uniform and with a gentleman who strongly dissuaded me from interfering in the matter, I (to my lasting regret) refrained from doing so.

A few days after this incident, I saw in London the printed handbills describing the particulars about Eliza Carter and her disappearance, and being shown a photograph (by Messrs. Field and Nicholls at their private inquiry office) of the, child, I at once identified it as representing the same little girl whom I had seen being dragged along the streets at Portsmouth.

SCOTLAND YARD NOTIFIED

Being then convinced of the identity of the child, I called at Scotland Yard, and personally gave all the above particulars to the detectives there, urging prompt measures in the matter.

After waiting two or three weeks without hearing the result of any investigation, I wrote direct to the Chief Constable at Portsmouth, who in his reply informed me that, although every inquiry had been made, no satisfactory result bad been arrived at.

Then, being ordered to my present station, in the north 0f Scotland, I was prevented following up the matter any further.

I am, Sir, yours faithfully,

P. F. ROBERTSON

Major 2nd Battalion (late 92nd) Gordon Highlanders,

Invarugie, Aberdeenshire.

NO TRACE FOUND

Whether or not Major Robertson had witnessed the unfortunate Eliza Carter being dragged through the streets of Portsmouth, the delay in notifying the authorities of what he had seen meant that his information would have been of little use to the police in their search for the missing girls.

However, in January 1883, a gruesome discovery in London would lead to press speculation that the fate at least one of the two missing girls had been established.

You can read about this find in our next blog.