The Murder Of Margaret Byrne

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, on Monday, 18th April, 1898, broke news of a murder that had taken place at a common lodging house in Red Lion Square the previous day:-



“The Central News says that Holborn was yesterday afternoon the scene of a most mysterious murder. The victim was a Miss Margaret Byrne, aged 41, keeper of a common lodging house, 28, Red Lion Square. She was discovered lying in a dying condition in the hall passage just before half-past three.

The unfortunate woman was taken to King’s College Hospital, but died on the road.

The house surgeon, on examining the body, found two deep stabs, apparently inflicted by a sharp clasp knife, or some weapon of that description, in the left shoulder and left breast. The latter was the fatal wound, and was an inch long.

The doctor is of the opinion that the injuries could not have been self-inflicted.


Although the kitchen below was crowded at the time, none of the lodgers appear to have heard the slightest scuffle.

Miss Byrne was known to be a woman in fairly prosperous circumstances, and robbery is believed to have been the chief object of the crime.

She was very popular amongst her lodgers and neighbours.

The police immediately took possession of the house, and then carefully questioned and examined its inmates, but up to the time of telegraphing no arrest had been made, though detectives are scouring the neighbourhood.


The Press Association says:- A shocking murder was committed in Holborn, London yesterday afternoon, a single woman named Maggie Byrne, being stabbed by a person unknown, who has so far escaped arrest. She died while being conveyed hospital.

The deceased, with her invalid mother kept a registered lodging-house in Red Lion Square, and at the time of the crime a religious service was in progress in the basement.”


The Illustrated Police News, on Saturday the 23rd of April 1898, carried an update on the case, as well as the news that a suspect had been arrested:-

“On Sunday afternoon, No. 28, Red Lion Square Holborn, was the scene of a most mysterious murder.

The place is conducted as a common lodging-house – one probably of the most respectable kind in the metropolis – and the victim of the tragic occurrence was the proprietress, Miss Margaret Byrne, a middle-aged woman, who was very popular with both her lodgers and her neighbours.

How the crime occurred is at present a mystery, not only to the a inmates of the house, but also to the police and Scotland Yard detectives who have taken the matter in hand.

The authorities are naturally very reticent on the whole subject, and decline to give any information to the members of the Press.


It is certain, however, that the fatal deed must have been perpetrated between three and half-past.

At that hour most of the lodgers were in the kitchen in the basement of the building, chiefly engaged in culinary operations, for that is usually the time when “dossers” take their Sunday meal.

Miss Byrne occupied the room immediately above the kitchen and it was in the hall passage just outside that she was discovered lying in a pool of blood by one of the horrified lodgers just prior to the half-hour.


So far as can at present be ascertained no sound of any struggle was heard, and certainly no screams from the wounded woman were heard.

If not actually dead when found, life was extinct when the unfortunate woman reached King’s College Hospital – where she was taken by the police of the H division. She never spoke. The actual cause of death was a terrible stab in the left breast.


The doors of the establishment at No. 28,Red Lion Square, were at once locked by the police, and all the inmates rigidly prevented from leaving. The place was searched from top to bottom, every man was severely questioned, but not the slightest clue could be found to the murderer.

The motive of the crime is generally believed to have been robbery, for Miss Byrne was well known to have been a woman in fairly prosperous circumstances and possessed of considerable property.

The affair caused great excitement in the neighbourhood of Red Lion Square, and the whole district was actively scoured by the police who, up to the time of writing, had failed to make any arrest.


Dr. Lewis, the house surgeon at King’s College Hospital, in the course of an interview, stated that the body of the murdered woman was brought to the hospital at about twenty minutes to four in the afternoon. Life was extinct, and, so far as he was able to form any opinion, death had taken place some few minutes before.

She was a youngish woman in appearance, possibly verging towards middle-age.

On examining the body, which was somewhat poorly clad, he found two deep incised wounds, probably caused by a sharp knife, in the left shoulder and the left breast, one of the wounds being fully an inch in length. He was distinctly of opinion that the wounds could not have been self-inflicted. There was very little haemorrhage, the bleeding being chiefly internal. They must have been heavy and well-directed blows, for the cuts in the clothing were wonderfully clean.


The weapon with which the crime was committed was, it is stated, found in the area of a house adjoining No. 28, Red Lion Square. A boy named Williams, who was playing about in the neighbourhood, is reported to have found it.

It is a small sharp dagger with a narrow blade, with a keen edge each side. When It was found both the blade and the hilt were stained with blood which had only recently dried.

The weapon is now in the possession of the police.


At Clerkenwell Police Court on Monday afternoon Jonathan Lowe, fifty-two, a seaman, of the Strand Union, Edmonton, was charged with the wilful murder of Margaret Byrne.

Inspector Leach said that the prisoner was arrested that morning, and had admitted his guilt.

Detective Sergeant Blight said, from instructions he received on Sunday evening, he went with Detective Sergeant Waters to the Strand Union, Edmonton, where he saw the prisoner in one of the bedrooms.

Witness asked, “What is your name?” Lowe replied, “Jonathan Lowe.” Witness added, “We are police-officers, and we are going to arrest you for causing the death of Miss Byrne, at 28, Red Lion Squared Holborn, this afternoon by stabbing her.”

The prisoner made no reply.


Before witness and the other officer left the building, the prisoner exclaimed, “Miss Byrne, eh! What a Christian lady. I hope she knows it now. I am done. I am guilty. The —— hope she is dead.”

On the way to Gray’s Inn Road Police Station, Lowe said, “I brought the knife away with me from the workhouse. It has ‘The Strand Union’ stamped on it. You will find it In one of the areas in the square.”

Inspector Leach said the inquest had not yet been fixed.

Mr. Horace Smith remanded the prisoner.”


Jonathan Lowe appeared at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) on Monday, 16th May, 1898, charged with the wilful murder of Margaret Byrne.

It transpired that he had actually worked for a time at the lodging house and had wanted to become involved with the deceased woman, who had rejected his advances.

A city policeman watching a prisoner arrive for trial at the Old Bailey Court.
A City Constable On Duty At Old Bailey.


In court, a letter was read out that he had sent to her:-

“To Miss Byrne, April 12th, 1898.

I trust you will not think I am impertinent in again troubling you, but if you only knew my thoughts regarding you, I am sure you would write a line and grant me a few words personally.

I am really very much upset thinking of you morning, noon, and night, in fact I do not really know wat will be the result as far as my health goes if you do not do me this favour. I can assure you it is most urgent, I know I have not been very very polite, and have used very strong language towards you, but I hope they will all be forgotten, and I only regret that I have not taken your advice, and have taken no notice of him, he caused me to drink, and that hadded to my troubles I wish to God I had never seen you, or it would never have left me in the state I am in.


I implore you to grant me this interview or send me a line, so that I know I am forgiven, as you hope to be in the great and last day. I do not want anything from you only a few soothing words to settel and soothe my troubled mind, and then I will be at rest; if you do not you will have a great deal to answer for.


I firmly believe if I do not get a suitable reply it will cause my death or loss of reason, which will be worse, for as it is I feel almost distracted, so do drop a line or two if not I must call once more to see you, so do not put me off under any consideration, or you will drive me mad, and then I do not know wat might happen, so as you profess to be a cristian woman just show me one spark of Christianity by getting a sheet of paper and writing a few lines, and if you don’t do that I will know by your silence that you will see me when I call and grant me a few words, and that will soothe my minde.

You neede not be afraid I will not harme you in the least.

I have tolde you before now that I will never offend you again. I am sorry this as ever happened for your sake as well as my own; anything I have put in my former letters that as hurt your feelings I am very sorry for.

Before drawing to a close hopeing you are quite well, as this leaves me at present only downhearted, and alow me to subscribe myself yours respeckfully and ever indetted Jonathan.

I freely forgive you, its my own fait.

Mr. J. LOWE, Strand House, Silver Street, Edmonton, N., anxiously awaiting your reply”


The jury found him guilty of the crime, and the judge duly sentence him to death.

The date of his execution was set for Tuesday, 7th June, 1898, but he was granted a respite on account of his mental state and was transferred to Broadmoor.