On Saturday, 17th October, 1908, 18 year old Esther Praager was found murdered at the house in which she was lodging, in Bernard Street, Bloomsbury, in London.
The Aberdeen Press and Journal gave details of the murder in its edition of Monday 19th October 1908:-
SHOCKING MURDER IN LONDON
“A shocking murder, which was perpetrated during Friday night was discovered at 3, Bernard Street, Russell Square, London, on Saturday. The victim was a rather good-looking Jewess, whose age is presumed to be not more than 18; and the features of the crime are somewhat similar to those in which other women of the unfortunate class in London have met their deaths in recent years without any real clue being found their murderers.
SHE GAVE THE NAME MRS MARKS
In the present case, the woman only took up her residence at 3 Bernard Street – which is a boarding-house of the type common to the neighbourhood – on Friday evening. She brought a letter of recommendation from an acquaintance of the landlady, and on the strength of this was accepted as a lodger, and allocated a bed-sitting room at the back of the second floor. She gave the name of Mrs Marks. She commenced occupation at once, and was given a latch-key.
No further attention was paid to her movements, and her non-appearance in the early hours of Saturday morning was not regarded as unusual.
THE DISCOVERY OF THE BODY
When, late in the day, no one had seen or heard anything of her, and the discussion of this fact led to a gentleman living in the house stating that he heard noises in her room as of quarrelling, between 2 and 3 in the morning, the housekeeper became alarmed, and, with the landlady and her son, decided to investigate.
On opening the bedroom door, which was unlocked, they found the bedding piled up in an ominous-looking manner on the bed, and, when this was pulled away, Mrs Marks was found lying dead on the bed.
There were ugly marks on the throat, which was partly covered by a towel, the removal of which, and subsequent examination, revealed the fact that she had been strangled. The woman was night attire.
Another account says that she had not even this scant clothing on, and the appearance of some horse hair torn from the mattress suggested that a desperate struggle for life had taken place, ending in violent and suffocating death.
THE POLICE ARRIVE
The police were immediately summoned, and, attended by police and other surgeons, quickly arrived, and the body was removed to the mortuary, where it now lies, its peaceful appearance hardly suggesting such a violent and agonising death.
The landlady said Mrs Marks was probably 25- years old. but medical men think she cannot be more than 18.
M’NAUGTON TAKES CHARGE
The serious view taken of the crime is indicated by the fact that the Assistant Commissioner, Sir Melville M’naughton himself, is directing the investigations, assisted by the best men of the Criminal Investigation Department, but to last night these had been without result.
The victim is said to have been well known as one of the unfortunate class, and to have been seen frequently in Southampton Row. It is assumed that she casually made an acquaintance with a man in the neighbourhood of Russell Square, and returned with him to her room for the night. No one was seen by any of the occupants of 3 Bernard Street to enter the house with her, nor was anyone heard to leave the house during Friday right.
A CRY FOR HELP?
The lodger, who heard the sounds of quarrelling, further states that he thought he heard sounds that might have been screaming and words which resembled “Ga volt” – said to be the Jewish cry for help. He paid no attention, as he thought it was a family quarrel.
It is also stated that Mrs Marks had been living off and on at Whitechapel with a man who bears one of the names by which she was known at Bernard Street, and the police are actively trying to trace him, and also the purchaser of some bread and cheese found in the murdered woman’s room in a paper bag bearing the name and address of a tradesman.
A detailed post mortem examination of the victim will be made today, followed in due course by the inquest.
IDENTIFIED BY HER SISTER
A later telegram says:- During yesterday afternoon, a married woman, living in the east end, called at the mortuary and identified the deceased as her sister. Esther Prag, aged 17.
She came to England three years ago, and had been employed as a tailoress up to three months ago, when she left home.
Her sister last saw her living in Cooper Street with a man, whose name she gave.
The police have now discovered in the bedroom three pieces of copper wire, each about 18 inches in length, which they are holding as a possible clue.
No arrests have been made, and the police have none immediately in view.”
THE MYSTERIOUS MURDER IN LONDON. THE INQUEST
The Aberdeen Press and Journal, carried the following report on the inquest into her death in its edition of Thursday 22nd October 1908:-
“An inquest was opened yesterday at St Pancras Mortuary, before Coroner Schroeder, on the body of Esther Praager, the victim of the murder in Bernard Street, London, on Saturday morning.
Mrs Cooper, sister of the deceased, identified the body, and said that for the last eighteen months the deceased had been leading a bad life, but witness never knew of anyone threatening her.
Mrs Cooke, housekeeper at Bernard Street, described the finding of the body, as already reported.
ARTHUR CHAPPLE’S EVIDENCE
Arthur Chapple, son of the landlady, gave similar evidence.
He lit a match, and found the clothes heaped on the bed. On pulling the clothes aside, he found the face of the dead woman with some dark marks under the right cheek. He immediately sent for the police.
THE DOCTOR’S TESTIMONY
Dr James O’Donnel, who was the first to examine the body, said that a towel was tied tightly round the neck, but he could put his finger between the towel and the neck. Inside the towel he found a piece of insulated electric wire, but not round the neck. Close to the wire was a piece of cotton wool, about the size of the palm of the hand, with some blood on it. A similar piece of wool was found on the floor, and a third piece in the centre of the bed. He also found a piece of wire attached to the bedstead.
There were over a dozen abrasions on the neck and cheek. Death was apparently due asphyxia. The hands and teeth were clenched; and there was a wound on the right breast. There was an agonised expression on the face. The eyes were closed, but, on opening the lids, were protruding. There were abrasions also on both hands.
The body had been dead between 16 and 18 hours.
CRIES IN THE NIGHT
A lodger in the house stated that he heard screams about two o’clock in the morning. He heard the words “Ga volt!” (meaning “Help!”) and “Police!” but he thought they came from the outside.
This was all the evidence, and the inquest was adjourned till Monday next.”
A MAN DETAINED
The Morning Post, on Friday 30th October 1908, reported that a suspect had been detained:-
“A man was detained for many hours at Bow-street Police Station yesterday in consequence of a statement he had made as to the murder of Esther Praager in Bemard-street, Bloomsbury.
He did not answer the description of the man seen with Praager on the night she was murdered, and, from the first, the police attached little importance to his statement.
Late in the afternoon, the man was taken the workhouse in Endell-street, and will probably be placed in the insane ward.”
FINAL DAY OF THE INQUEST
The Northern Whig, on Monday 9th November 1908, reported on the final day of the inquest into Esther’s death:-
“Dr. Schroder, deputy coroner for Central London, held the adjourned inquest on Saturday at the Coroner’s Court, St. Pancras, into the death of Esther Praager, the girl found murdered in a house in Bernard Street, Bloomsbury.
The case was adjourned for further inquiries by the police.
Mr. George Young, solicitor, represented Mrs. Cooper, sister of the deceased, and her husband.
The Coroner said that he was afraid there was little further evidence to put before the jury, and if they were satisfied that death was caused by asphyxia they perhaps would be able to return a verdict.
ALICE RYLEY’S EVIDENCE
Alice Ryley, a young woman, who described herself as a dressmaker, living in Devonshire Street, Holborn, stated that she had known the deceased for several weeks.
About six weeks ago she went to reside at the house of the witness. She was visited there by several persons, and on one occasion there was a quarrel.
What was the nature of the quarrel? – A man who left her and went downstairs said he would “get his own back with her.”
Do yon know who that was? – No, but it was about a fortnight before she left my house.
Do yon know what was the cause of the quarrel? – It was because she would not let him stay.
Did he ill-use her? – No. She told him to get out of the room, and then he stated that he would get his own back.
The deceased, witness added, left my house on the 28th of September, the night of the raid. Since then I nave seen her in Southampton Row. and she seemed very jolly.
CLARA SUGEAR’S TESTIMONY
The next witness called was Clara Sugear, the wife of a tailor, living in Grove Street, Commercial Road.
She stated that the deceased came to lodge at her house towards the end of September. She told the witness that her name was Esther, and that she was a button hand. She engaged a room, for which she paid 3s 6d a week, and brought her own furniture. She usually got up at about midday, and would go out at two o’clock in the day or thereabouts, and did not return till midnight or later.
Witness gave the girl notice to leave the house, and she then stated that she was going to Piccadilly.
The Coroner:- Was there any quarrel between her and the young man? – No.
Julius Cooper, a brother-in-law, and Joseph Praager, brother of the deceased, were examined, and said that they had no suspicion of anyone who might commit the crime.
The jury returned verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.
EXCITEMENT IN COURT
Some excitement was caused during the hearing by a gentleman who rose at the back of the court, and declared with emphasis that in his opinion the girl was the victim of an abominable form of outrage, the prevalence of which was being suppressed both by the police and the Press.
He gave evidence, but being informed by the Coroner that it was not relevant to the issue he became still more excited, and, protesting vehemently, he was escorted from the court.”
IS MURDER THE EASIEST CRIME?
Ultimately nobody would be brought to justice as the perpetrator of the murder of Esther Praager, and, like those of the victims of Jack the Ripper before her, the crime joined an ever increasing list of unsolved murders in London, a fact that prompted The Penny Illustrated Paper, in its edition of 31st October, 1908, to pose, and tried to answer, the vexing question:-
“In Great Britain during the past thirty years more than a hundred murderers have escaped unpunished.
Whilst in France nearly every murderer has been arrested. Out of the perpetrators of 500 crimes, 495 murderers have stood their trial.
The murder in Bloomsbury of Esther Prager, the unfortunate eighteen-year-old Polish girl, adds another to the appalling number of murders of women which have been committed in recent years, the perpetrators of which are still walking about in our midst unpunished.
Of course it is too early yet to say for certain that the man who committed this dastardly crime will go free for the rest of his life – indeed, he may even be arrested before these lines appear in print. It is to be hoped that this will be so, but it is hardly likely.
EVERYONE IS A SUSPECT
Even is anyone is suspected of the murder by the police at the present time, it is highly probable, by the very nature of the crime, the life led by the unhappy victim, and the fact that no one seems to have been seen entering or departing from the house of the tragedy, that if any man is arrested his guilt could not be proved to the satisfaction of a jury.
MURDER WILL OUT
There is something decidedly uncomfortable in realising that we risk rubbing shoulders in the ‘bus or train or restaurant with the undetected murderer, and yet when we recall the sinister fact that, during the last thirty years or so, more than a hundred unravelled murders have been committed in the metropolis alone, the possibility of being in company or even in close conversation with an assassin is evident. “Murder will out” is a time-honoured proverb, but the dismally long list of dark mysteries of Modern Babylon seems to prove that it is a fallacy.
There is not a single district in London where dwellers of long standing cannot tell a weird tale of undiscovered murder – in nearly every case that of a woman.”