Irrespective of the notoriety that the murders of Jack the Ripper inflicted on the streets of Spitalfields, the area as a whole was, in Victorian times, a pretty unsavoury one, and violent crime, much of it caused by drink, was a true constant.
The Manchester Evening News, on Thursday, 21st March, 1872, published the following report that gives us an horrific insight into just how easily a drunken disagreement could boil over into a homicide:-
MURDER IN SPITALFIELDS
“On Tuesday night, about eleven o’clock, a shocking murder was committed in Kate Court, Spitalfields, a well-known resort of the very worst class of criminals.
About a quarter-past ten a woman named Ann Cooney, aged thirty-two, entered the White Swan public house, and shortly afterwards a fishmonger’s assistant, by name John Meagle, also entered, and called for a pint of beer.
The woman entered into conversation with him, and they drank together, and shortly afterwards they left the house.
THE LANDLORD HEARD SCUFFLING
At a quarter-past ten, the landlord heard a scuffling outside, followed by the sound of heavy blows, and, on going to the door, saw the woman Cooney lying upon the ground and Meagle standing over her.
He then saw the man lift her up and dash her down on to the stone paving, and, upon her getting up, he knocked her down again and walked off.
DEATH AND APPREHENSION
Cooney got up and seemed for that moment unhurt, but in the course of a quarter of an hour she fell down dead in the court, having received a frightful fracture of the skull.
The police were communicated with, and in the course of an hour Meagle was apprehended and lodged in prison.
The cause of the crime is unknown. The parties were perfect strangers.”
MURDER IN SPITALFIELDS
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, on Sunday, 24th March, 1872 published a fuller account, which gave details both of Meagle’s court appearance and of the inquest into the death of Ann Cooney:-
John Meagle, 26, described as a fish porter, living in Flower and Dean-street, was charged at the Worship Street Police Court, on Wednesday, with the manslaughter of a young woman named Annie Coney, living in Kate Street, Spitalfields.
THE LANDLADY’S TESTIMONY
Mrs. Brierley said that she kept the White Swan beer house, Kate Court, Spitalfields.
On the previous night, about half-past nine o’clock, the prisoner and a woman entered the house and called for some liquor. She served him, and then engaged in other business in the bar.
Presently she heard a noise, and, turning, she saw the prisoner strike the woman, who fell flat down on her back.
They left the house after that, but the woman returned in about half-an-hour and had some rum. She then seemed very bad. and sat down on a form. Witness advised her to go home, and soon afterwards she missed her.
SHE WAS DEAD
About 11 o’clock some other customers coming in called her attention to the woman, who was lying on the floor close to the bar.
They said that she was dead, but the witness did not think so and called two women to carry her out They did so, and that was all she knew of it.
The prisoner had no questions to ask the witness.
EMMA WHITE’S EVIDENCE
Emma White said that she lived at 12, Kate Street, Spitalfields, and was married.
About 10 o’clock on the previous-night she saw the prisoner coming through the street, when he fell over her foot, Then he abused her, and shortly afterwards she saw him engaged in a disturbance.
On going up, she saw the woman, whom she knew as Annie, trying to get him away. He struck her, and she fell. When she got up she tried to get him away, but he pushed her from him.
The witness tried to induce the young woman to go, but she said she would not leave. She meant to go into the public house. She was then the worse for drink.
Soon after that, on seeing a crowd by the public house, and the light of the policeman’s lamp, she went up and then saw the young woman lying on the ground. She was warm, but she was dead.
The prisoner said, “I was drunk, sir.”
He was then remanded.
On Friday, an inquest was held at Whitechapel touching the death of Ann Cooney.
The evidence was substantially the same as that given before the magistrate and reported above.
Police Constable HR 23, said he found the deceased sitting in Kate’s Court about half-past 11 on Tuesday, with her head on her breast, apparently dead, and he at once fetched a doctor, and John Meagles was afterwards taken into custody.
THE POST MORTEM
Mr. S. Swyer said that he was called to see the deceased at about a quarter to 12. She was quite dead.
On making a post-mortem examination, he found all the organs healthy, and, though there was no outward fracture, yet the indications of the bruises on the head, and an examination of the internal organs, showed that she had died from concussion of the brain, which might have been caused by a blow or a fall.
The jury returned a verdict of “Manslaughter” against John Meagle.”