The Inquest – The Body In The Box

In the previous article on the case of the teenage girl whose body was found in a box inside a carrier’s office on Goswell Road in January 1883, we discussed speculation that the body might be that of one of two girls who had gone missing in the West Ham district of East London in 1881 and 1882. We also covered the fact that the inquest into her death had been adjourned so that Professor Tidy could analyse the contents of her stomach in order to ascertain whether or not she had been poisoned. Today we look at the findings at the inquest into the girl’s death

The Illustrated Police News Cover Illustration of the Case. Copyright, The British Library Board.
The Illustrated Police News Cover Illustration of the Case. Copyright, The British Library Board.


By the 13th February 1883, Professor Tidy had completed his analysis of the stomach contents and had sent his report to the Coroner, Sir John Humphreys who, that day, reconvened the inquest.


The inquest is interesting in that it makes no mention of the girl having been either Mary Seward or Eliza Carter, the two girls who had disappeared in West Ham, suggesting that this possibility had been ruled out.

There was also no mention of another girl, Clara Sutton, who, according to press reports in early February, had gone missing from Salisbury Square off Fleet Street and whose appearance was said to have matched that of the girl whose remains were found in the box in Goswell Road.

Nor was there any mention of the girl who had applied for a position as a servant in Leyton and who, again according to contemporary press reports in early February, had also disappeared.

The fact that no mention was made of either of these would suggest that the police had traced them both and had satisfied themselves that neither of them were linked to the mysterious find in Goswell Road.


On the 14th February 1883, The Evening Standard gave a detailed account of the proceedings at the previous day’s inquest:-


At the Hope Music Hall, Banner-street, St. Luke’s, yesterday, Sir John Humphreys, the Coroner for East Middlesex, concluded the adjourned inquiry into the cause of death of a girl unknown, whose body was found packed in a deal starch box at the office of Carter, Paterson, and Co., the carriers, in the Goswell-road, on the 18th inst.

The box was addressed “Miss Green, 24, Abbey-road, St. John’s-wood, N. W.,” and was handed in on Dec. 11th at the Cambridge Heath-road receiving-house, from which it was forwarded for delivery, but no such person being known it was returned to the central office, and placed amongst the undelivered goods.

Here it remained for over a month, until the disagreeable smell coming from it caused the foreman to open it, with the result of discovering the body of a girl, apparently about fourteen years of age, fearfully emaciated, and compressed into a small space.

The police have since been instituting inquiries, but have not yet succeeded in tracing the sender.

The inquest had been adjourned for the purpose of having the contents of the stomach analysed by Dr. Tidy.


Mary Jane Green, examined, said :-

“I am an unmarried woman, and live at 3, Abbey-road, St. John’s-wood. I have lived there four years.

I have heard of a box being found with a body in it, but I know nothing of it.

I have never had a child, and know no one of my name in Abbey-road who has had one.

I know no circumstances that would cause anyone to send the child to me.”


Mrs. Susannah Bentley, examined, said:-

“I am a married woman, and live at 24, Abbey-road, St. John s-wood.

I have heard of a box being addressed to my house, but know no reason why it should have been sent there.

I have lived there since March, 1876, and during that time have had no servant of the name of Green.”

THE CORONER: Have you ever had a servant of the name of Green ?

“I had one of that name about 17 or 18 years ago, but not at Abbey-road. I kept up no communication with that servant, and know no one who has.”


Mr. William Bentley, examined said:-

“I am a silk merchant, and the husband of the last Witness.

I was living at No. 4, Cavendish-road, St. John’s-wood, when we had a female servant of the name of Green for a short time. I do not know where she went after leaving our service, and have not seen or heard from her since.

THE CORONER: Do you know whether she gave birth to a child at all ?

“No. Cavendish-road is a short distance from the Abbey-road. I can suggest no reason why the box and its contents should have been sent to my house.”


Mrs. Eliza Green, 7, Cannon-street-road, St. George’s-in-the-East, said she was a married woman.

On December 11th, about six o’clock in the evening, she saw two men carrying a box in Watney-street. Witness described with her hands the size of the box as being about the same as that found, which she had not seen. She could not say whether the box was wrapped in anything, but noticed a label at the end of it. She thought there was some name like Freeman on it. Witness stood aside to let the men pass by and observed them. She saw them again three weeks since in Back-row, Shadwell, and would know them again if she saw them.

On the 11th December one of the men ran against her and nearly dropped the box on her foot, and she followed them a little way. When she met the men the second time the man who had carried the box turned pale and made a remark to the other man, who looked round at her once or twice before they turned down by Prince’s-square.


Inspector Peel called the Coroner’s attention to the fact that it was sworn that the box was handed in before two o’clock in the day.


Professor C. Meymott Tidy, of 3, Mandeville-place, Manchester-square, was next called, and handed to the Coroner the following statement of the result of his analysis of the stomach :—

“To Sir John Humphreys.


By your order I received for analysis from Dr. Yarrow, on January 22d, the stomach of a child. The vessel containing the same was duly secured. Supposing it to have been (as stated) the stomach of a child of 12 or 13 year old. I should wish to remark that it presented an unusually contracted appearance. I should myself have judged it to have been the stomach of a child not more than eight or nine at most.

On laying it open, the only matter found was a small quantity of a dark thick gelatinous fluid, closely adherent to the surface of the stomach.

On thoroughly cleansing it by washing, I found an extreme pallor of the mucous membrane. The special point observable was the extreme thinness and excessive translucency of the coats of the stomach. Indeed, its translucency was more marked than I have seen before, except in very young children.

I submitted the stomach and its contents to a most careful examination for both mineral and organic poison. I found on analysis minute but definite traces of morphia, the active principal of opium. Failing, however, to find meconic acid (another constituent of opium), I am unable to state positively whether the drug was given as morphia or as opium.

Having been informed of the post-mortem appearances recorded by Dr. Yarrow, and taking into consideration the condition of the stomach that I have recorded, I am of opinion that the child would have taken but very little nourishment for some time before her death, but whether this was dependent on her inability to take food, or on her inability to get food, I have no facts to guide me.

That a dose of morphia (either as morphia, or as laudanum, or in the form of one or other of the many soothing syrups and medicines largely sold) had been administered to the child within a comparatively short period of her death, I have no doubt—but, considering the small quantity I found on analysis, a quantity that per se would probably be insufficient to kill (although on this I speak with reserve, considering the condition of the child), I am unable to say whether the morphia was administered with criminal intent, or with a proper object for medicinal purposes.

Nevertheless, unless it can be shown (a) that the appearances of starvation were the results of disease, which either prevented proper nourishment from being taken, or prevented its nourishing the body when taken (of which condition there is nothing observed at the post-mortem to indicate), and (b) that morphia in some form had been administered medicinally, the facts, in my judgement, indicate that death was due to one of three causes, namely – 1. Deprivation of food ; 2. Poisoning by morphia ; or 3. A combination of both causes. ”


Professor of Chemistry and of Forensic Medicine at the London Hospital, and one of the Advisers in Forensic Cases to the Home Office.”


Dr. Yarrow, the medical gentleman who made the post-mortem examination, was recalled, and stated that the child had not been violated.

Having heard the result of the analysis by Professor Tidy, he believed that death was caused by privation, accelerated by a dose of morphia.

He could not say the intent with which the morphia was given.

A further examination of the body showed a bruise on the right cheek extending down to the bone, caused by either a blow or fall during life.

THE CORONER: Do you find sufficient organic disease to account for death?

“None whatever.”

THE CORONER: So far as you can proffer an opinion, do you think the privation was from the body being unable to take nourishment, or from nourishment not being given to the child?

“I should think from food being withheld. That I judge from the absence of anything in the intestines and upper part of the stomach, and from the fact that the lower portion of the stomach contained a black fluid, such as is found in cases of absolute starvation, like where men have been locked up in mines.”


The Coroner then proceeded to sum up, and went through the whole of the evidence given at the different stages of the inquiry, pointing out that the box spoken to by the witness Mrs. Green could have nothing to do with the case, as there was evidence that the box containing the body was delivered at the receiving-house at midday.

The cause of death was, no doubt, deprivation of food ; but whether the child could not take food, or whether food was withheld from it, was not clear.

Or it might perhaps be from poisoning by morphia, or a combination of causes.

Dr. Yarrow had given them his opinion that death was caused by privation, accelerated by a dose of morphia. They all knew very well that many soothing syrups were sold, all containing opium or morphia in some form or other;  and, therefore, it might have been administered either innocently or with a criminal intent. Of that there was no evidence, and perhaps the best form for their verdict would be to make it of an open character.


The Jury consulted together for a few minutes, and then returned a verdict to the following effect:-

“That the child was found dead in a box ; that the death was due to privation combined with having taken and swallowed down a dose of morphia ; but under what circumstances the said privation was brought about, and under what circumstances the morphia was administered, there is no evidence to prove.”

The Jury further recommended that a reward should be offered with a view to the discovery of the sender of the box.

Inspector Peel said he world report the recommendation to the authorities.”


And, there the case petered out. As far as I can ascertain the mystery as to the girls identity was never solved.

She is just one of the many cases that were allowed to go cold, simply because the police had neither the resources, nor, apparently, the inclination to devote a great deal of manpower and energy to solving the mystery of how she came to be in the packing case and what fate had actually befallen her.