In January 1888, a murder took place in London that, in some ways, could be said to have heralded the Whitechapel murders that would so shock Victorian society later that year.
A SOBER AND TEMPERATE WOMAN
The murder actually took place at 86 George Street, Portman Square in the West End of London, and the victim was a 49 year old dressmaker by the name of Lucy Clarke (some newspaper accounts spell her name as Clark) who was described in press reports as being a “very sober, temperate woman.”
Her name was spelt differently in various newspaper reports on the crime – sometimes it was Clarke and sometime Clark – so I have kept the spelling as reported by the various sources on the individual parts of the story, hence the variance on the spelling of her name throughout this article.
SHE LIVED ALONE
Miss Clarke lived alone, occupying three rooms on the first floor of the property where her body was found, and she was described by newspapers as being Very comfortably off. At the time of her murder the other rooms and floors in the house were unlet, so the house itself was empty but for her.
The last person known to have seen her alive was her brother, Francis, who had visited her at 86 George Street on the 8th January 1888.
THE DATE OF HER MURDER UNKNOWN
Although nobody could be 100% certain as to when her murder had taken place, it was stated at the inquest into her death that it had occurred on, or around, the 17th of January.
On Saturday 21st of January 1888 her brother had gone to invite her to come to Sunday dinner the next day. He rang the bell three or four times, but received no answer. Having waited 45 minutes, he slipped a note under her door asking her to come to dinner.
HER BODY FOUND
On the evening of Monday 23rd January, William George Betts, clerk to Mr Holkham, the agent responsible for letting the rooms at 86 George Street, went to the house in the company of two ladies who were interested in renting rooms in the unoccupied portion of the house.
Having let the ladies in, he walked into the passage and found the body of Lucy Clarke at the foot of the staircase. Her head was lying over the top stair of the staircase, which led down to the basement. He also noticed a quantity of blood around the scene, but, in the darkness, he could only make out that the body was that of a female.
He, therefore, returned to the two ladies and, having quickly escorted them out of the premises, he located Police Constable James Grayston and retuned to the house with him.
POLICE CONSTABLE GRAYSTON ARRIVES
On arrival, PC Grayston struck a match to illuminate the scene, and then stooped down over the body and held the hand of the deceased woman, which he found to be cold and stiff.
Noting that she was obviously dead he headed off to find a doctor and returned with Dr Henry Times who performed a cursory examination and declared that the woman had been dead for three or four days.
Grayston had also summoned the assistance of another constable and, leaving the doctor with the body, they went upstairs where they found Miss Clarke’s rooms in a state of considerable disorder. A jewel case and a watch case, both of which were empty, lay open on the floor in the front room. Entering the bedroom they found that too had been ransacked, the drawers having been pulled out and linen and clothing scattered all over the floor.
THE TESTIMONY OF DR TIMES
Dr Times later testified to the sight that greeted him on arrival at 86 George Street:-
“I saw the body of Miss Clark at the foot of the staircase, with her head down the kitchen stairs. Her feet were on the mat above. I found she had been dead some days. Upon examining the head I discovered that there had been a severe fracture. There was a quantity of blood than the kitchen stairs and all along the passage. I went upstairs. I did not notice any blood in the room upstairs. I confirm the constable’s evidence as to disorder. It seemed as if someone had hurriedly searched the drawers. Everything was in confusion. I afterwards examined the body. The skull was extensively fractured; and there were also injuries to the throat. The wounds were so severe that they had reached the vertebrae and the column behind.”
DR. SPURGIN ARRIVES
Grayston sent his fellow officer to fetch an inspector as well as the Divisional Police Surgeon, Dr Frederick Spurgin.
On his arrival Spurgin concurred with his fellow medic that Miss Clark had been dead for some days. Asked by the coroner at the subsequent inquest into her death whether the injuries could have been self-inflicted he was emphatic that this would have been impossible.
INSPECTOR SPURGIN FINDS A LETTER
Inspector Robson arrived at the scene shortly after the divisional surgeon and on searching the rooms he found a letter which was proved to be in Miss Clark’s handwriting addressed to “Mr Henry Chadwick, 78, Gloucester Street, South Belgravia.”
The letter read:-
“86 George Street, Saturday, Jan. 13, 1888. Harry, – I am waiting an answer from you to know what is your intention – to pay for the damage you did to my gold chain, and make good the other things you have stolen from me. I have taken my chain to a jeweller. But you have broken and twisted it so badly, and one piece you have broken off, he cannot mend it for less than seven shillings and sixpence, and the double ring, of the same quality, would be 10 shillings. I think the action you did was that of a villain. You know I had it in my power to make you pay one way or another, so you had better let be know if you wish to do so of your own free will. – L. Clark.”
THE NE’ER DO WELL NEPHEWS
It transpired that the Henry Chadwick to whom the letter was addressed was in fact Miss Clarke’s nephew. Inspector Robson subsequently interviewed Chadwick who told him that his deceased aunt had been staying with his family three weeks previously and had sent him to 86 George Street to feed her cat. He had duly gone there accompanied by his brother, Walter. Whilst there they had searched the premises and had stolen two gold stoppers which Walter had then sold for 10 shillings.
However, Henry Chadwick claimed that he had been overcome with remorse and had, therefore, gone to see his aunt on 16 January to beg her forgiveness telling her, he claimed, that he would pay for what damage he had done.
That, he said, was the last time he had seen his aunt.
Walter Chadwick made a similar statement.
THE CHADWICKS TAKEN INTO CUSTODY
On 24 January Detective Inspector John Tunbridge, of Scotland Yard, had gone round to the Chadwicks residence and had interviewed Walter and Henry. Having done so, he searched them and the premises and then took them to Marylebone Lane Police Station.
Despite the fact that he evidently had grave suspicions about them, there was little actual evidence to link them to the murder and they were duly released.
MURDER BY PERSON HER PERSONS UNKNOWN
Summing up at the inquest into Lucy Clark’s death, the Coroner stated that, although the motive had evidently been robbery, it had not been the work of a professional hand and suspicion pointed to “one or two who were not strangers to the deceased.”
The Jury returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against person or persons at present unknown.”
The case had soon gone cold and, within a month or so, it appears that the detectives had resigned themselves to the fact that the murder of Miss Lucy Clark was going to remain unsolved.
However, the Police had not heard the last of the Chadwick Brothers, as this clipping from July 1888 shows.
AN UNSOLVED MURDER
The murder of Lucy Clark would remained unsolved, despite the fact that the finger of suspicion most certainly pointed towards one or both of her nephews. And, of course, by the end of 1888 a series of murders in the East End of London would overshadow crimes in other sections of the Victorian Metropolis and the likes of Lucy Clark would be consigned to the status of unsolved murders that took place in the same year as the Jack the Ripper crimes.
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