Unsolved murders were a common occurrence in Victorian Britain. The murder of an unfortunate – a term used in the press to describe a lower class of prostitute – was an incredibly difficult crime to solve, since there was often little to link the victim with the perpetrator.
Emily Nowell was one such victim whose murder, just like the Jack the Ripper murders of four years later, remains unsolved.
The Bury Free Press took up the story in its edition of Saturday 12th January 1884:-
THE MURDER OF A WOMAN AT WESTMINSTER
In London, on Saturday, Mr. Samuel F. Langham, the deputy coroner for Westminster, held an inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of Emily Nowell, aged 32, who was found murdered at No. 7, Artillery-square, on the morning of Sunday, the 30th of December.
A carman named Frederick James Harris, with whom the deceased cohabited, has already been charged with causing her death, but liberated on bail pending the inquest.
JAMES HARRIS’S TESTIMONY
Harris was the first witness called, and after being duly cautioned, elected to make a statement on oath. He said:-
“I live in Eccleston-street East, and follow the occupation of a carman, but am at present out of employment. I knew the deceased, and had been cohabiting with her for seven weeks past, but had known her altogether about six months.
On Saturday night, the 29th ult., about twelve o’clock, I met her at the corner of Artillery-row and Victoria-street, and was in her company about ten minutes, during which time we walked towards Strutton Ground. She had been drinking, but I had not been drinking with her at all that day.
We met Charlotte Barnett and a young woman named Georgina Smith. Deceased spoke to Smith, and I and Barnett walked on and stood talking together. Barnett and Smith then bade deceased “Goodnight,” and left. Deceased then turned to me and said “I shall not go home before one.” I understood from that she meant Artillery-square.
HE WENT FOR A WALK
We parted, and I went for a walk up Rochester-row, Vauxhall-bridge-road, over Vauxhall-bridge, down the Albert Embankment, and over Westminster-bridge. As I passed the Houses of Parliament Big Ben struck the hour of one. I came down Victoria-street slowly.
When I reached the corner of Strutton Ground I saw a police-constable speaking to a man. He said, “If I see you go to another gentleman I will take you down to the station for begging.” I then went to the corner of Artillery-row, where I had arranged to meet the deceased and stood there for few minutes.
As she did not come I went to No. 7, Artillery-square.
SHE WAS LYING ON THE BED
Upon entering the house I noticed that the parlour door was a little way open. There was a lighted lamp in the room, and I saw deceased lying on the bed. She was dressed, and I tried to awaken her, but I could not. I then took off her boots thinking that it would be easier for her, and went to No. 8 and asked Charlotte Barnett to come with me. I told her that Emily had had a severe “doing” by someone.
Barnett came into the room and said, “Who did this?” and I replied, “I don’t know.” I asked her to bring some water and wash the blood off deceased’s face. I got some water and a sponge, and while I held deceased up Barnett washed the blood from her face. She was afterwards undressed and put in the bed. Deceased, while her face was being washed, never spoke, but groaned once. Barnett then went into her own room saying, “I will see you again presently.”
NOT SURE IF SHE WAS DEAD
I then poked the fire, and after sitting down for five or six minutes, I tried again to rouse the deceased, but could not do so. I put my hand on her forehead, and found that it was very cold and hard. I put my lips to hers and they were the same.
I then called Charlotte Barnett again and told her Emily was dead. She put her hand to deceased’s heart and said, “I can’t tell you whether her heart is beating, for I am all of a tremble.” She then got the looking glass and put it over her mouth and said, “I don’t know whether she is dead or not.”
We then went out of the room and I locked the door and said I would go to Peter-street and tell some friends of the deceased what had happened to her.
HE WENT TO WESTMINSTER HOSPITAL
I went to see a young woman named Alice Alexander, and knocked three times, but could make no one hear.
I came back to Artillery-square and inquired of Barnett if anyone had been. She said, “No,” and I then went to the Westminster Hospital, where I asked for a doctor, but the porter told me that no doctors attended from there unless to midwifery cases and suggested that I should see a constable.
A NURSE WAS FETCHED
I went back to Artillery-square, where I saw Barnett and a girl named Clara. We went into the room and I said, “Oh, what shall I do?” Clara said, “I’ll be sixpence if you Lottie will be sixpence and we will fetch a nurse to look after her.”
They fetched a woman, but she could not tell whether deceased was dead or not, and advised me to go for a policeman. The officer came and I drew his attention to a strange scarf which was on a chair by the bed.
I and Barnett then went for a doctor, and I told him how I found the deceased.
When I left the deceased to go for a walk it was ten minutes past twelve, and I returned to the house at half-past one.
In answer to questions, witness said – “l did not have any words with the deceased when I met her in Victoria-street, neither did I ask her for any money. I went for a walk because I could not get into the room when she was out. When she left me I knew she was going to look for someone.”
OTHER WITNESS TESTIMONY
Charlotte Barnett next gave evidence corroborating that given by Harris, and adding that, when the latter met the deceased in Victoria-street they were friendly and parted on good terms.
Martha Duggan, wife of an organ-grinder living in the same house as the deceased, deposed that she occupied the room above that of the deceased.
On the night of the murder, about half-past twelve o’clock, deceased brought a man home who was dressed in a long dark overcoat with corduroy trousers and a felt hat dented in the centre. Witness beard an altercation between them. At half-past one the man left, and as he did so she heard him staggering as though he was the worse for drink.
A girl named Hubbard deposed to seeing the deceased in company with a man dressed as described by the last witness.
THE CAUSE OF DEATH
Dr. George Toussaint Girdler stated that he made a post-mortem examination, and found that death had been caused by concussion of the brain and strangulation. In his opinion the concussion was caused by a blow from a man’s fist and the strangulation by compression of the throat.
SUMMING UP AND VERDICT
Some farther evidence having been adduced, the Coroner summed up and pointed out that the evidence showed that the murder had been perpetrated by the man who was with the deceased as described by the witness Duggan, and the statement made by Harris appeared to be generally borne out by the facts as they were related by the different witnesses.
The Jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown,” and expressed the opinion that there was no evidence to implicate Harris.”
A REWARD OFFERRED
The Derby Daily Telegraph, on Thursday, 17th January, 1884, published a brief article detailing the fact that a reward for information had been offered:-
“Placards and handbills were issued throughout the Metropolitan police district on Wednesday morning, offering a Government reward of £100 for information leading to the apprehension and conviction the murderer of Emily Nowell, Westminster, and a free pardon to any accomplice not the actual murderer.”
A SAILOR CHARGED
On Saturday, 19th January, 1884, The Gloucester Citizen reported that a sailor had been arrested on suspicion of having carrying out the murder on the ground of an unwise statement he had made in a pub:-
At Bow-street Police-court, London, on Friday, a sailor, named Crispen, was charged on suspicion with the murder of Emily Nowell, on the night of December 30th, in Westminster.
“Prisoner, who was arrested in public-house after he had expressed hope that the murderer would get off, was remanded om bail, the magistrate remarking that there appeared to be no case against him.”
NO SUSPECT CHARGED
As the magistrate had predicted, there was little evidence, other than his statement in the pub, to actually convict the sailor Crispen, and he was soon discharged, meaning that the murder of Emily Nowell, just like the Whitechapel murders victims, has joined a list of homicides that the Victorian police failed to solve.