The Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 tend to overshadow the other crimes that took place in the East End of London around that time.
But, there were other murders and some of them certainly did generate press coverage, albeit perhaps not to the same extent that the Whitechapel murders did.
THE MURDER OF LYDIA GREEN
In February 1887, 31 year old Lydia Green was murdered in Hoxton and the police very quickly had a suspect in the form of a gentleman friend of hers by the name of Thomas William Currell.
Unfortunately, they simply couldn’t find him.
What is interesting about the case is that we can follow it step by step in the pages of numerous newspapers; and watch as a Victorian manhunt – that ultimately did catch the perpetrator – got underway and progressed.
The two papers that I have sourced the police hunt from are The St James’s Gazette and The Illustrated Police News.
On Monday 7th February 1887 The St James’s Gazette broke the news of the murder to its readers.
In the immediate aftermath of the crime there was a certain amount of confusion, for example they spelt the suspect’s name as Carroll, as opposed to Currell; but it is interesting to view the reporting of a crime in its immediate aftermath:-
MYSTERIOUS MURDER IN HOXTON.
“A murder was committed at 8, Bacchus-street, Hoxton, on Saturday morning. Lydia Green, aged thirty-one years, a surgical instrument case coverer, who resided with her parents, retired to bed in her usual good health on Friday night; she shared a room with a widowed sister.
About a quarter to seven on Saturday morning the sister rose, leaving her infant child in bed with the deceased.
Some time afterwards a noise was heard in the room as of something falling heavily, and then some one was heard leaving the house; but no notice was taken, as it was thought to be a lodger going to work.
Subsequently the mother entered the room and discovered the deceased lying on the floor in a pool of blood.
A doctor was immediately summoned, and he found that life was extinct, though the body was still warm.
Examination showed that the deceased had a severe wound on the head, a punctured wound on the right temple, another under the left jaw, and severe wounds on the hands. There was abundant evidence that there had been a desperate struggle between the deceased and her murderer, the room being in great confusion.
It is stated that thirteen hours were allowed to elapse before the police were informed of the occurrence.
Suspicion is directed to a man named Carroll as the murderer. It is stated that the deceased had kept company with him for some years and that of late they had quarrelled. It is alleged that Carroll had obtained from a lodger living in the house the street-door key under the pretence that he wanted to remove some things.
The police are endeavouring to find him. They arc reported to have discovered that on Saturday morning he went to the Dalston Junction Railway Station and there met two companions of the deceased. They had something to give to the deceased, and he told them that she would not be able to keep the engagement owing to her mother being unwell, and he obtained from them what they had for the deceased, promising to give it to her.
The police have visited the places which he was in the habit of frequenting, and they found that he had not been home after he had left for his work early on Saturday morning.
A full description of the man has been telegraphed to the police in every district.
The body of the deceased was removed to the mortuary at Shoreditch, and the inquest will be opened by Mr. Wynne Baxter on Wednesday.
The following is the description of the suspected man:—Aged thirty years, height 5 ft. 6 in., complexion fresh, mole on right ear, hair dark, slight side whiskers, and tuft on chin sandy. Dressed, blue Chesterfield overcoat, dark or check trousers, black hard felt hat, having upon it a mourning band.”
THE POST MORTEM
The Divisional Police Surgeon, Peter Ludwig Burchell, was given instructions to make a post mortem examination of the body of Lydia Green.
He conducted it at the mortuary under Shoreditch church, where he was assisted by his assistant, Mr Oliver, and he later testified to what he had discovered:-
“…there were two wounds on the neck at the angle of the right-hand side of the jaw, near the corner, not quite an inch apart, about half an inch perhaps – they were punctured wounds, and we traced the course of the bullet – on the inside of one wound we found a small sticking of lead, which has been produced, and farther on a bullet lying close to the back of the tongue, near the uvula, not penetrating the mucous membrane of the mouth – in the head I found a wound about half an inch externally on the occipital ridge; that fractured the skull – there were marks of gunpowder – in cutting into the scalp we found two pieces of lead, and following up the course of the bullet about two inches into the brain itself we found a larger piece with a portion of bone that it had carried on it.
Mr. Oliver took charge of those pieces of lead – there was only one entrance – one shot must have caused the injury to the brain and the skull – striking the bone, of course, would divide the bullet – a pistol bullet must have entered the palmar surface of the thumb between the thumb and the first finger, shattering the metacarpal joint entirely, and making its exit with a different shaped wound in the dorsal surface – we did not find any bullet there – she must have had her hand up – the cause of death was injury to the brain; the other wounds must have occurred beforehand – the injury to the brain and the shock would cause instantaneous death – the wounds to the neck would not have caused death immediately – the shot in the brain must have been fired last because that caused immediate death – it is possible, but not probable, for the deceased to have fallen dead at the first shot in the neck.
My opinion is that there were four shots; there must have been three – I think there were two in the neck, one in the head, and one in the hand – I have not made experiments with bullets – there are five pieces of lead, one almost, if not quite, an entire bullet; that was in the throat behind, in the neck; one piece of lead was in the brain, two under the scalp…”
CURRELL IN HAMPSTEAD
On Thursday 10th February 1887, the newspaper updated its readers on the latest developments in the hunt for Currell:=
“It has been ascertained by the detectives engaged in the investigation of the murder of Lydia Green that Currell, the man who is “wanted” for the crime, was at Hampstead on Saturday night, at about eight o’clock.
An aunt on his mother’s side, an elderly woman, getting her living as a dressmaker, resides not far from the Heath.
She states that her nephew paid her an unexpected visit, and appeared in a condition which suggested that he had been drinking heavily. They talked together on general subjects for about an hour, and in the course of conversation he said that he intended bringing Lydia (the deceased woman) to see her shortly.
No reference was made by him to pecuniary matters, and nothing was disclosed to excite his relative’s suspicions or alarm.
He left soon after eight.
The Hampstead ponds are within a short distance of the house, and the suggestion that the man has committed suicide is now strongly entertained.
It was feared at first that he had taken a train for some place away from London at Dalston Junction on Saturday afternoon, but by postponing his departure from the metropolis he allowed the police cautions to reach the provinces and seaports before he could arrive.
Currell has a relative also at Baldock, Herts.”
LODGINGS IN FLASK WALK
By the 12th February 1887, the police were no nearer to catching him, albeit they had received information about the places he had been to as he attempted to evade justice:-
“This morning the various police-stations in the metropolis received a telegraph message from Brixton police-station that a man answering the description of the man Currell, who is suspected of and “wanted” for the murder of Lydia Green, was seen at half-past three o’clock this morning in the Millbrook-road, Brixton, when he asked the way to Kensington.
The person who was asked the question had his suspicions, and gave information to the police, the description given by him being identical with that of Currell.
The police authorities immediately sent round the neighbourhood; but the man had had time to get clear away.
The Central News learns that Currell engaged lodgings at 22, Flask-walk, Hampstead, on the night of the 5th inst. – i.e, the night of the murder – in the name of Thomas Cole. He remained there until twenty minutes past one on Thursday, when he left, saying that he would be back in about two hours. He left his lodgings unpaid for, and did not return.
He stole from a fellow-lodger a tight-fitting diagonal undercoat, which he has since endeavoured to pledge.
His correct description is as follows:- Small side whiskers, dark clean shaven face. Black overcoat, with velvet collar, rather seedy at seams, brown mixture tweed undercoat, with black mourning band on the left arm, black diagonal trousers and vest, with a white shirt, with an Oxford shirt under it, turn-down collar, black and yellow (or red) scarf, black felt hat, with mourning band, and laced-up boots. He has a mark on the right ear.
The police will be glad to hear from any person to whom application may be made by a man of his description for lodgings. He would probably take lodging in a poor neighbourhood, as he has no money.”
VARIOUS SIGHTINGS OF HIM
On Monday 14th February 1887, The St James’s Gazette updated its reader on the police progress – or rather the lack of it – as the Criminal Investigation Department tried desperately to hunt him down:-
“The officers of the Criminal Investigation Department have not up to the present time been successful in apprehending the man Currell.
Early this morning a telegram was received from the Dartford police stating that a man answering the description of Currell was found applying for lodgings at a common lodging-house, and had been taken to the station pending inquiries.
Detective-inspector Peel, in consequence of this information, has sent some persons to whom Currell is well known to see whether they can identify the man.
A LETTER AND A TELEGRAM
On Saturday morning a letter, which has been identified as being in the handwriting of the supposed murderer, was received by Mr. Morton, whose coat Currell stole from the house at Flask-walk, Hampstead, on his leaving on Thursday evening, and which was afterwards found to have been pawned for 5s. with Mr. Henry Lawrence, pawnbroker, of Upper-street, Islington, in the name of John Morton, of John-street, Islington.
In this letter is enclosed the pawn-broker’s duplicate for the stolen coat, while the writer states that if Mr. Morton would go to his aunt, Mrs. Thorne, of New-end-square, Hampstead, she would give him the money and interest to redeem the coat and that his aunt would pay the landlady, Mrs. Smith, what was owing for rent.
The letter was given to the police.
Currell when at his lodgings anxiously read the evening papers, and was noticed to cut something from them, and these are supposed to, be the accounts of the particulars of the murder and his description.
No one had any suspicion of Currell until after he had left the house.
On Saturday morning a telegram was received that a man answering the description of Currell in every particular was seen in the Ladbroke-grove-road inquiring his way to Kensington, and that it was then close upon 3 A.M.
A later telegram was received announcing that a man also answering to the description went into a refreshment-house at North Finchley, and that after having some refreshment he left and went in the direction of New Southgate, and, further, that for the purpose of disguising himself he had been shaved and wore spectacles.
A SUSPECT DETAINED
In the afternoon a rumour was circulated that the police had succeeded in apprehending Currell; but, upon inquiries being made, it was ascertained that a man giving the name of Currell had been taken in custody.
This man, on the previous day, had gone into a watchmaker’s shop and left a watch to be repaired; and, he giving the name of Currell, and as he resembled the description of the suspected murderer, instructions were given by Detective-inspector William Peel that if the man called he was to be detained and the police communicated with.
On Saturday afternoon the man called for the watch, on which he was taken to the Dalston-lane police station, where, after being detained for some time, it was clearly shown that he was not the man wanted, and he was allowed to go.
THE WHITE SNUFF BOX
At Bow-street police station information was given that a man believed to be Currell had the previous evening attempted to pawn, at 52, Broad-street, Bloomsbury, a white metal oval snuff-box.
Yesterday another telegram was received from Richmond stating that a man resembling Currell was seen there, and that when he noticed that some men were watching him he ran away and was lost sight of.”
CURRELL IS CAPTURED
On Wednesday 16th February 1887, The St James’s Gazette was able to inform its readers that the fugitive was, at long last, in police custody; the article even admitted to a sneaking admiration for the way in which he had been able to evade the forces of law and order:-
“Currell, the alleged perpetrator of the late murder at Hoxton, is at length in the hands of the police, and was yesterday charged at the Worship-street Police Court with commission of the crime and remanded.
For ten days he managed successfully to elude the strenuous efforts made by the police to capture him, and would probably still be at liberty but that he was good enough to send a letter by post to a detective officer, expressing his intention of giving himself up and making an appointment at a certain hour and locality for that purpose.
Having, perhaps, some other engagement, he was a little unpunctual and kept the officer waiting, which was, of course, a breach of politeness; but he was found later on leisurely proceeding towards the slot specified, and was at once taken into custody.
A SNEAKING ADMIRATION
Thus ended a pursuit which has, during the last few days, excited general interest, and, from the ingenuity displayed by the fugitive in baffling the skill of the detectives who were after him, has almost awakened a sneaking sympathy in his behalf notwithstanding the horrible suspicion attached to him,
The fact of a man without means, or with at most only a few shillings in his pocket, being able thus to dodge the detectives for several days, with telegraph-wires, advertisements, money, and every facility possessed by modern police arrangements to help them in their search, shows that London is about the safest refuge a “wanted” criminal can find in the United Kingdom, if not in the world.”
On Thursday the 17th February 1887, The St James’s Gazette, reported on the various locations that Currell had sought shelter at whilst on the run and revealed that he had, in fact, gone to Scotland Yard, where he had tried to hand himself in to the detective department, but none of the officers had recognised him:=
“Long accounts are published this morning of Currell’s wanderings since the day of the murder of Lydia Green at Hoxton, but they contain little that is new.
It appears now to be certain that Currell did spend some of his nights in company with a watchman keeping guard at sewage excavations which were being carried on in St. John-street-road.
There a fire and extemporised shelter were provided, and the scanty comfort seems to have been so inviting to Currell, that he asked Gifford, the watchman, last Thursday night, to be allowed to sit by the brazier, and the request was granted.
He reappeared on the Friday, and the same thing happened.
On Saturday and Sunday the trench was filled up and no watchman was required; but, the hole having been reopened, on Monday night a labourer, named Kellick, kept watch.
Kellick yesterday made a statement to the effect that between 1 and 2 A.M. on Tuesday, a man answering to Currell’s description came to him and said: “Can I have a warm ?” Kellick replied, “Certainly,” and the stranger sat by the the fire some hours dozing.
He appeared very nervous, started at a spark from the fire, and he was continually stroking his chin with his hand or fumbling with his fingers. His cough troubled him. Very little was said on either side, and, although questioned as to his employment, Currell gave no reply. “Haven’t you got four-pence for a kip (lodgings’) ? was the question; to which he answered, “If I had I shouldn’t be here.”
Currell asked Kellick if he had been on the job all the time and was told that he had, but not as watchman; whereupon Currell said, “I was here the early part of last week.”
Soon after six o’clock another man, Wood, arrived, and his attention was drawn to the mark in Currell’s right ear.
Kellick and Wood walked together to a public-house, requesting Currell to give “a look-out,” and on the way Wood said, “That fellow is the Hoxton murderer.” Kellick admits that he ridiculed the idea, but he had not read the papers nor seen the description of the fugitive.
On their return Currell had his coat off, and Kellick declares that he had only a white shirt beneath, with the sleeves cut off or rolled up.
The man half brushed the sand off his clothes and hurried away.
HE HAD PRESENTED HIMSELF AT SCOTLAND YARD
Currell, it is reported, informed Mr. Newton, his solicitor, that on Tuesday of last week he presented himself at Scotland-yard, with a view to seeing Inspector Lansdowne, of the Criminal Investigation Department, who, he understood, had charge of the arrangements made to secure his arrest.
In reply to inquiries made of several constables in the yard, he was told to go to Whitehall-place, where the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department have been removed.
Currell proceeded to Whitehall-place, where he was told that the inspector was out, and that he had better call again.
At neither place did he mention his name or reveal his identity.
Mr. Newton says that it can be established by evidence that the prisoner went to Scotland-yard.
Mrs. Green, the mother of Lydia Green, states that on Tuesday night she received a letter signed, “Yours truly, Tom Curren”, dated February 12.
It was written in pencil upon a half-sheet of note-paper, the writing strongly resembling that of a previous communication to her, which is believed to have come from Currell.
It was addressed to “Dear Lydia” (the deceased), and it seemed to Mrs. Green that the writer was “feigning mad.”
So far as she could recollect, he expressed himself to the effect that ” he (Lydia) did it for the best,” and added, ” or if she had not I should have settled her.”
He went on to say that it was “by a mistake that she took the pistol from my hands to look at, and shot herself;” but admitted that he was “Very sorry” for what he had done, and said he would be in Islington on Monday.
He concluded by stating that he had written “this in the early morning of Sunday,” and again hoped that he would be forgiven.
This letter has been handed to the police; but, although every effort has been made to trace the address given, Borking ” or “Corking-walk, Islington,” has not been discovered.
There is said to be reason to believe that the letter is genuine.”
Following an appearance at Worship Street Police Court, Currell was remanded to stand trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of Lydia Green.
HIS OLD BAILEY TRIAL
The trial of Thomas William Currell for the wilful murder of Lydia Green began at the Old Bailey on the 28th March 1887.
You can read the fill transcript of the trial on the Old Bailey Online Website.
BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT
On the 2nd April 1887 The St James’s Gazette reported that his defending barrister, Mr Gill, had addressed the jury and urged them to put anything they might have read about his client out of their minds:-
“The trial of Thomas William Currell for the murder of Lydia Green was continued to-day at the Old Bailey, before Mr. Justice Grantham.
Mr. Gill addressed the jury for the defence, urging them to forget all the details which they might have read with regard to this case, and he urged that they should be satisfied beyond doubt that the prisoner was the man who had committed the crime.
Suspicion, however strong, would not do.
The prosecution must make out their case beyond the possibility of doubt.
In this case no one could say that there was not very grave doubt.
In the first instance the prisoner was a man who loved the deceased, and she, as the letters had shown, loved him.
Was it probable, then, that he would have brutally murdered her?
The prosecution had put forward no motive – they urged no reason for this dreadful crime.
It had not been proved that there had ever been a cross word between the deceased and the prisoner. He had never been heard to threaten her. On the contrary, they had apparently parted on the most affectionate terms late on the previous night, and the whole evidence went to show that it was a moral impossibility for the prisoner to have committed the murder.”
On Monday 4th April 1887, The St James’s Gazette reported on the conclusion of the trial and the murder:-
“The trial of Thomas William Currell on the charge of murdering Lydia Green at Hoxton was concluded at the Old Bailey on Saturday evening.
After Mr. Justice Grantham had summed up the evidence, the jury asked for the plans and letters which had been mentioned, as well as the bullets and cartridges; and, while these were being handed to them, the prisoner stood up and held an earnest conference with Mr. Arthur Newton, his solicitor.
The prisoner watched the jury file from their seats out of the court with a strangely pathetic look on his face; and up to that moment entertained a fixed hope that he would he acquitted.
In half an hour the jury returned into court, as the clock was striking six.
The prisoner cane to the front of the dock and scanned the faces of the jurymen closely; his face then wore a painfully anxious look.
The jury had taken their places before the judge re-entered the court.
The jurors’ names were called over, then the foreman stood up – the prisoner’s eyes were fixed upon his face as he rose – and in a moment more he had pronounced the word “Guilty.”
CURRELL LOOKED APPALLED
The prisoner appeared appalled; he stepped backwards hastily from the front of the dock, and came into collision with a warder – a row of prison officers had silently formed in his rear.
He clasped his hands behind him, and with lips slightly apart and eyes widely opened stared at the judge.
In reply to the Clerk of Arraigns as to what he had to say why sentence of death should not he passed, he glanced at his counsel but made no attempt to speak.
The judge said he was bound to say the verdict of the jury was based upon evidence which left no reasonable doubt that the prisoner was guilty of the crime attributed to him.
Words of his would fail to convey his horror of the crime, and none should be uttered to aggravate the painful position in which the prisoner stood.
A crime more cold blooded was rarely brought to light in a court of justice.
Sentence of death was then passed in the usual form.
The prisoner heard the sentence with a look o horror.
A warder touched him on the shoulder, he turned, and was led below.”
HIS EXECUTION AND CONFESSION
Thomas William Currell was executed on the morning of the 18th April 1887.
That day, The St James’s Gazette featured its final report on a case that had gripped its readers for the best part of two months:-
“Thomas Wiliam Currell, who was convicted of the murder of Lydia Green at Hoxton, by shooting her with a revolver, was executed this morning at eight o’clock within the prison of Newgate.
An attempt was made after his conviction to obtain a respite on the grounds that he was insane, and the Home Secretary directed Dr. Savage, one of the physicians of Bethlehem Hospital, to visit the prisoner on Friday to examine him.
He accordingly did so, in company with Dr. Gilbert, the medical officer of Newgate.
Both doctors, after an interview which lasted nearly an hour, formed the opinion that Currell was perfectly sane, and the law was consequently left to take its course.
The prisoner was visited on Friday afternoon by his father and mother and an aunt.
Mr. Bennett, a Wesleyan minister, who had known the prisoner, accompanied the prisoner’s father and mother.
HE CONDUCTED HIMSELF WELL
Currell is stated to have conducted himself extremely well since he has been under sentence, and to have paid great attention to the ministrations of Mr. Duffield, the prison chaplain.
On Sunday morning the prisoner was engaged for a considerable time in writing out a confession of his crime.
The statement was handed by Mr. Duffield to Colonel Milman, the governor of Newgate, by whom it was sent to the Home Secretary.
It was to the effect that the writer fully admitted the justice of his sentence and that he premeditated committing the murder, actuated by jealousy. He stated that he purchased the revolver shortly before, and that he paid 6s. 6d for it and the cartridges; and he denies that the bullets used in the revolver had formed a portion of those that were found in the box at his lodgings.
He asserts that there was no quarrel between the deceased and himself, and that he fired the pistol at her without a word being said.
After the murder had been committed the prisoner says he made the best of his way to the residence of his father, and as he was passing over one of the bridges over the canal he threw the revolver into the water.
He fully admitted the justice of the sentence, and repudiated with something like indignation the suggestion that he was not responsible for his actions when the murder was committed.
Shortly before eight o’clock this morning Mr. Sheriff Kirby arrived at the prison, and was joined by the under-sheriffs, Messrs. Rose-Innes and Sidney, and they proceeded to the prisoner’s cell, accompanied by the governor.
While Berry was pinioning the culprit, Sheriff Kirby asked him if he desired to say anything, and he replied, “No, I thank you, sir.”
He walked with a firm step to the scaffold, and did not utter a word while the pinioning took place.
He was a short, thick-set man, and Berry gave him a drop of 5 ft. 6in.
Death appeared to be instantaneous, and the prisoner did not seem to make the least struggle.
A considerable number of persons assembled outside the prison awaiting the hoisting of the black flag denoting that the sentence had been carried out.”