On Saturday the 17th of November, 1894, Marie Damyon (also known as Marie Martin) was murdered at a coffee shop in Thomas Street, Whitechapel. For several newspapers, the crime brought back memories of the Whitechapel Murders that had held the area in a grip of terror six years previously.
The comparison was made doubly poignant by the fact that it took place in a side turning off Buck’s Row, where Mary Nichols had been murdered on the 31st of August 1888.
In its edition on Sunday 18th November 1894 Reynold’s Newspaper went straight for the comparisons, with an article that was headlined:-
MURDER IN WHITECHAPEL YESTERDAY
A “JACK THE RIPPER” SCARE
ARREST OF SUSPECTED PERSON
The article read:-
“Yesterday morning London was startled by the report that another crime of the “Ripper” type had been perpetrated, and colour was given to the rumour by the fact that the scene of the murder was Thomas-street, a squalid small thoroughfare turning out of Buck’s-row, and within an easy stone’s throw of the scene of several of the “Ripper” series.
Nos. 5 and 7, Thomas-street are small shops, the former being occupied by a wardrobe dealer, and the other as an eating-house or coffee-shop.
The two houses appear to communicate by a common stairway from the first floor.
From inquiries made on the spot, it appears that the people at No. 7 heard an altercation between the occupants of No. 5, a man named Matthews and his wife.
This continued for some time, and eventually Mrs. Matthews went out and brought in a female friend, who resolved to stay in the house till the morning, Mrs. Matthews being in fear that her husband would injure her.
A TEMPORARY CESSATION, THEN A SCREAM
At one o’clock yesterday morning the quarrel appears to have temporarily muted, but half an hour later the occupants of No. 7 were startled by a scream, followed by a fall.
Mrs. Matthews’s friend, as it subsequently transpired, had fallen down the common stairway, being subsequently found head downwards at the foot.
The police were sent for, but by the time they arrived Mr. Matthews had left the house, and could not be found.
Medical aid had been immediately summoned, and two medical men were soon on the scene.
When the first arrived, the poor woman was still alive, but unable to speak.
Shortly after, and before the arrival of the second surgeon, she expired.
A CURIOUS THING HAPPENED
Mrs. Matthews appears to have first imagined that her friend had possibly tumbled down stairs under the influence of drink, and without noticing the fatal wounds in her throat she sought to revive her.
Becoming alarmed at the fixed expression of deceased’s eyes, she ran to the door and gave the alarm.
Before help arrived, however, a curios thing happened
The gas, which had previously been glimmering in the various rooms and in the shop, went out, and on the arrival of the police it could not be re-lit, having apparently been turned off at the motor.
THE HEAD ALMOST SEVERED
No weapon has yet been discovered, but probably a large knife was used.
The head was almost severed from the body, and the wound being clean cut, as if done with one vigorous slash, the weapon must have been both heavy and keen.
THE VICTIM IDENTIFIED
The victim is an elderly woman named Martin, wife of a night porter employed at Spitalfields Market, and she was related by marriage to the suspected murderer, Mrs. Martin’s daughter having been married to Mrs. Matthew’s brother.
MR. MATTHEWS ARRESTED
After the crime Matthews, who rightly or wrongly was at once suspected, made his way to Wick-road, Hackney Wick, where he is stated to have some relations.
He was arrested there an hour or two after the murder.
The victim’s body has been removed to the mortuary.
Her age was fifty-two, and she lived at Brady-street, which is within a stone’s throw of Thomas-street.
AN INOFFENSIVE DISPOSITION
She was of an inoffensive disposition and never quarrelled with anyone, and so far as her friend, Mrs. Matthews, is aware, the object of the crime is purposeless.
THE WEAPON EMPLOYED
A razor-case is in the possession of the police, and it may be this contained the weapon employed, though the character and extent of the wound rather favour the theory of a heavier implement being used.
THE CAPTURE OF MATTHEWS
Matthews is asserted to have washed his clothes at Temple Mills after leaving his house.
The police captured him on the road back, Detective-sergeant Mills and Inspector Elson making the arrest.
For about eight months he was an inmate of Claybury Lunatic Asylum, but came out about twelve months ago.
PRISONER’S SENSATIONAL STATEMENT
At Worship-street Police Court yesterday afternoon the prisoner was charged, and evidence was called to show that, when arrested and told that he would be charged with the murder of the woman, Martin, he said:-
“What Martin? Thomas-street? I have never been in Thomas-street for the night. There was a rare to-do there last night. They was fighting with my missis. I had to part them. She struck me on the head with a coffee-pot. She was fighting with Mary Kent. That is the reason I went away. I have been over to the White Hart to bathe, and I have just come out of the water, and came to my brother’s to have a cup of coffee as it was on my way back.”
The Prisoner was remanded until Friday.”
THE ACCUSED’S COURT APPEARANCE
On the 19th November 1894, the St James’s Gazette reported on Mr Matthews Court appearance, and provided its readers with a description of him, as well as with more details of the crime:-
“George Henry Matthews, described on the police-sheet as a coffee-house keeper, thirty eight years of age, was placed in the dock at Worship-street Police Court on Saturday, before Mr. Bushby, charged with the wilful murder of Marie Martin, at 7, Thomas-street, Whitechapel.
Superintendent Meering was present on behalf of the police.
The prisoner, a man below average height, is blind of the right eye, has lost the thumb of the left hand, and is otherwise maimed.
It is said he has been a rope-maker and a ship’s fireman, having sustained his injuries in the latter capacity.
Mr. Meering said that he should ask that only sufficient evidence for a remand be taken, and he proposed to call the constable who was first at the house, and evidence of the prisoner’s arrest.
Police-constable Libra deposed that shortly after one o’clock that morning he was attracted to 5, Thomas-street by a whistle.
He entered the shop, and saw in a side room the body of a woman with a large gash in her throat.
He afterwards went upstairs and entered a bedroom on the first floor, where he saw a bed covered in blood, and on the mattress, under the clothes, a razor case. (This was produced by Chief-Inspector Pryke.)
The prisoner was asked by the clerk if he wished to put any questions to the witness, Mr. Bushby adding, “You need not put any questions now unless you like.”
The prisoner: Sir, I object, I object. I may have a better opportunity later on.
Mr. Meering said he proposed to prove the ownership of the razor case, and called Mrs. Matthews.
HIS WIFE COULDN’T TESTIFY
A woman entered the witness-box and was sworn, giving her name as Sarah Ann Matthews.
So soon, however, as it became known that she was the prisoner’s wife, her evidence was rejected, and she was told to stand down.
THE ARREST OF MATTHEWS
Chief -Inspector Pryke stated that he went with Inspector Helson to Wick-road, Hackney, and kept observation at 313, a shop kept by Edward Rogers.
Entering the shop about 6.33, they found the prisoner lying on a form asleep.
He was aroused and was told that he would be charged with the murder.
He replied, “What! me? Murder a woman! I have not been near the place all night.”
Later on he said that there had been a rare ”to do” at Thomas-street during the night, and that the woman was fighting with his “missis”, who, on his trying to part them hit him with a coffeepot.
Then he said the woman was fighting with Mary Kent, and that was the reason he left.
He went on to say that he walked over to the White Hart (a tavern near the River Lea), and had a bathe, afterwards calling in Wick-road for a cup of coffee, as it was on his way home.
When, having been removed to the station, he was formally charged, he said, “I cannot help it, I have nothing to say.”
Meanwhile, the inquest into the death of Marie Damyon, presided over by Coroner Wynne Baxter, had opened on the 19th November 1894.
On Tuesday 20th November 1894, the St James’s Gazette carried a report on the proceedings:-
“At the Whitechapel Coroner’s Court yesterday morning Mr. Wynne E. Baxter opened an inquest on the body of Maria Damyon Martin, aged fifty-three, wife of a porter employed in Spitalfields Market, who was found dead with her throat cut, at No. 5, Thomas street, Buck’s-row, Whitechapel, on Saturday morning.
George Henry Matthews, thirty-eight, described as a coffee-house keeper, at 5, Thomas-street, stands remanded from the Worship-street Police Court on the charge of having wilfully murdered the deceased woman.
Mr. R. J. Drake, barrister, appeared for the accused man Matthews.
William Parker, a dock labourer, of Old Ford, identified the body as that of his mother.
She had been twice married, her second husband, Damyon, being a porter.
For the past two years she had lived at, 7, Thomas’s-place, Bradey-street, Bethnal-green, with a man named Thomas Martin. They were on good terms with each other.
On Thursday night Mrs. Matthews told him she had had to call someone to stay with her, as she was afraid that her husband was going wrong in his head again.
By the foreman: The witness had heard that Matthews had been confined in a lunatic asylum.
By Mr. Drake: Matthews had only been married to his wife for about five weeks, but they had lived together as man and wife for eighteen years. The witness knew of no ill-feeling between the deceased and Mr. Matthews.”
SARAH ANN MATTHEWS’S TESTIMONY
The next witnessed to be called was Sarah Anne Matthews, the wife of the man accused of having carried out the murder.
Reynold’s Newspaper featured her testimony in its edition on the 25th of November 1894:-
“She gave her age as thirty-three, and stated that she was married to the accused on the 8th of this month at St Philip’s Church, Stepney. She added, “I have been living with him as his wife since I was a child of fifteen.” Their courtship commenced when she was thirteen years old.
After he returned from hopping last year he thrashed her on two occasions. She went to the police to lodge a complaint, and on her return she found there had been a fire at the shop and that Matthews had fallen downstairs and hit his head.
The result was that he was committed to Claybury Asylum, where he was detained until last Christmas.
During his illness he thought himself to be the King of England.
Last Thursday he complained that his head was “all lumps” and “wanted his mother, who was in heaven, sent for.”
He kept screaming out, “Look at the dark,” and bit his own finger with his teeth until he drew blood.
When going to bed he handed to the witness a pocket-knife, together with his watch and other things.
On the same night he told her that he had bought a revolver, with which he intended to shoot Ambrose, who attended him when he had injured his head in a fall; but he did not show her the weapon, nor could she find it.
He slept on the bed with his clothes on all night, and when he got up he was much quieter and went out.
SHE WENT TO THE PUB
The witness went on the Friday to the Star and Garter at 5 o’clock with the deceased woman, and remained there until half past eleven.
She took the deceased home with her and they sat in the coffee shop together some time.
She saw her husband passing in front of the shop, but he did not come in, and she did not see him again until after the murder.
At about 12:30 AM she closed the shop door and went with the deceased into the wardrobe shop next door, where her friend decided to stop for the night.
The witness got into bed about one o’clock, and she had been to sleep some time when she was awakened by the deceased screaming out, “Good God! Sarah! Sarah!”
She opened the door leading down the staircase, when the deceased fell into her arms, blood flowing from a deep gash in her throat.
Matthews did not like the deceased, he had forbidden her the house.”
THE SISTER’S TESTIMONY
The next witness to testify was the sister of George Henry Matthews.
The St James’s Gazette featured her evidence in its edition of the 20th November 1894:-
“Mrs Rogers, wife of a master printer, of 313, Wick Road, Homerton, said Matthews was her brother.
About 4 o’clock on Saturday morning the witness heard a loud crash downstairs, and going below found her brother in the shop raving and throwing the goods about.
She went in to try and quiet him whilst her husband went for the police, but they refused to arrest him.
The witness asked her brother what he was doing out so early, and he replied that he had been out for a bathe in the River Lea, and that he had been in the water three times.
He also said that he had ripped up Marie and Sarah, and, when asked why he had done so he replied that they had been “rowing” all the evening.
Two hours later the police, who had been fetched from Whitechapel, came and arrested him.
She was of the opinion that her brother had been mad ever since he was discharged from the asylum, and thought that he ought never to have been discharged.”
ALREADY KNOWN TO THE POLICE
On the 24th November 1894 The Whistable Times and Herne Bay Herald reported that:-
“…Matthews is not unknown to the police, his connection with women of a very low class, and the fact that the house that he kept was a place of bad repute, thinly disguised as a coffee house, having brought him into the hands of the authorities. He has been convicted and fined for keeping disorderly houses…”
HIS NEXT COURT APPEARANCE
On the 23rd November 1894 George Henry Matthews made another appearance at Worship Street Police Court; and the next day the St James’s Gazette reported on his bizarre behaviour:-
“When brought into court he had almost to be held in the dock, and his condition seemed little changed from that of the day of the murder.
It was said that he had been all the time in the infirmary of the prison (Holloway) and kept in bed with ice to his head.
To get him to the court it was necessary to almost force his clothes on him, but it is the opinion of some of the officials that a part at least of the prisoner’s manner is assumed.
When brought to the court in the van he asked for water, and on a can containing about half a pint being handed to him he poured the water over his head.”
PRISONER’S PITIABLE STATE
Describing his court appearance, Reynold’s Newspaper, under the above headline, on Sunday 25th November 1894, reported:-
“…Matthews was then led into court. He seemed to be too ill to stand erect, and he was supported by several constables. He presented a most woeful appearance, both his clothes and his physical appearance being wretched in the extreme.
With waistcoat thrown open, it was evident that he was without a shirt.
When Mr. Bushby informed him that he would be remanded for a week, the prisoner seemed surprised, and, in a most pitiful voice, he said, “I want to speak. Can I speak to you a word. Sir? I do not wish to be defended by anybody in court when my case comes on – by no Queen’s counsel when my case is on.” The magistrate made no further remark, and the prisoner was led away.”
RESUMED INQUEST AND VERDICT
The inquest into the death of Marie Damyon was resumed on 26th November 1894.
The next morning the St James’s Gazette reported on it:-
“At the Whitechapel Coroner’s Court yesterday afternoon, Mr. Wynne E. Baxter resumed the inquiry respecting the death of Marie Damyon, aged fifty-three, widow of a blacksmith, who was found dead with her throat cut in a coffeehouse, at 7, Thomas-street, Whitechapel, on the 17th inst.
George Henry Matthews, the proprietor of the shop, stands remanded from the Worship-street Police Court on the charge of having wilfully murdered the deceased woman.
Mr. Drake, barrister, again appeared on behalf of Matthews.
A VERY VIOLENT PATIENT
Dr. Robert Jones, medical superintendent at the Claybury Lunatic Asylum, deposed that from the 21st of September to the 21st of December last year the accused man was an inmate of the asylum.
On the latter date he was found to have quite recovered, and was accordingly discharged.
He was not suicidal, but was considered to be a very dangerous patient.
Charles Redfern, attendant at the asylum, stated that the behaviour of Matthews was very violent.
He frequently struck people after his admission, but became perfectly tractable before he was discharged.
Dr. Jones (recalled) stated that after the first fortnight Matthews was considered to have sufficiently recovered to work upon the farm and to be entrusted with the necessary tools.”
THE TESTIMONY OF LIZZIE GRIGGS
One witness, whose testimony many of the newspapers omitted from their reports on the inquest, Lizzie Griggs, gave evidence that illustrated the type of disorderly house that the Matthews’s were running behind the facade of their coffee shop.
The Illustrated Police News, however, had no qualms about reporting her evidence in its edition dated the 8th of December 1894:-
“Lizzie Griggs, of Thrawl Street, stated that she was in company with a man named Sullivan about 12:20 a.m. on the morning of 17th November and they visited number seven Thomas Street.
Matthews was in the shop alone.
They engaged a room.
Matthews directed them to go through the shop to the top room, and to shut the door at the foot of the staircase.
After getting upstairs, the witness heard Matthews “rowing” with his wife. She could not hear what was said. The “rowing” lasted about fifteen minutes.
There was no door to the room the witness was in.
Immediately afterwards, Mrs Matthews called out twice, “Is there anyone upstairs?”
The second time the witness replied, “Yes.”
Mrs Matthews afterwards called out a third time, “Good, come downstairs; there is a woman dying.”
The witness went down directly to the kitchen. The gas was still alight, but went out almost immediately. Witness caught sight of the body.
Mrs Matthews, who was partially undressed, was holding the body up. She then left the witness and went to the front door and shouted “Police!” One policeman came almost immediately, and the others followed.
The street door was open when the witness came downstairs. It was not possible for anyone to have come downstairs and passed her while she was in the kitchen with the body.
The witness was not the worse for drink. Sullivan had had enough. He was asleep all the time. He got up when the police came.
The witness remained in the kitchen until 6 a.m. She never heard anyone come downstairs during that time, except the police, the doctor, and two lodgers.”
HE WAS CARRYING ON AGAIN
According to The Illustrated Police News, the next witness was Police-constable Charles Buck, 9JR, who deposed that :-
“…At 11.30 p.m. on the night of the 16th November his attention was attracted to a crowd outside 5 and 7, Thomas Street.
Mrs. Matthews then said that her husband was carrying on again; and she thought he “had gone the same as he did twelve months ago.”
The witness said he would pay attention during the night.
About 12. 40 a.m, the witness was in Thomas Street, on the opposite side of the shops, and then saw Matthews turn the corner from Whitechapel Road. He moved quickly by the witness, who called out, “Matthews, where are you going to? ”
He answered that he was going to his brother’s, and passed on by the house.
At that time there was a light in the coffeehouse.”
THE BLOODSTAINED COLLAR
One of the final witnesses to be called at the inquest was Inspector John Pryke, who, according to the St James’s Gazette, testified that:-
“On Saturday, November 17, he received information of the murder and went to the house, where he found a collar with blood-stains on it. Mrs. Matthews said it belonged to her husband.
A search was made for the instrument with which the deed had been done, but none could be found.
The witness proceeded to Wick-road, Homerton, where he found Matthews lying on a bench in his sister’s shop.
He was asleep and was at once arrested.
His clothes were thoroughly searched, but no bloodstains were noticed.”
DID THE POLICE KNOW?
The jury were, apparently, interested to know how much the police knew about what was going on behind the seemingly respectable facade of the Matthews’ coffee shop; and, to that end, according to The Illustrated Police News:-
“A juror enquired whether the police knew the purpose for which the houses at 5 and 7, Thomas-street, had been used, and the inspector replied that the police were fully aware of what was going on, but two of the inhabitants had to take action before anything could be done.
By the Coroner: Both Mr. and Mrs. Matthews had been convicted for keeping a disorderly house.”
THE INQUEST VERDICT
The jury returned a verdict of Wilful Murder against some person or persons unknown.
BEFORE THE MAGISTRATE AGAIN
On 30th November 1894, George Henry Matthews made another appearance at Worship-street Police Court, and the St James’s Gazette contained a report on the proceedings in its next day’s edition:-
“At Worship-street Police Court yesterday, George Henry Matthews was brought up on remand, before Mr. Bushby, on the charge of murdering Marie Damyon or Martin, aged fifty-three, a widow, lately residing at 46, Thomas-street, Bethnal-green, on Saturday, the 17th November.
Mr. F. G. Frayling prosecuted for the Treasury. Mr. Searle appeared on behalf of the prisoner.
When Matthews stepped into the dock he was crying bitterly.
While Mr. Frayling was stating the facts of the case the accused had to be supported.
A police-sergeant, while giving evidence, was interrupted by the prisoner, who said the woman fell downstairs when drunk, and that she was not murdered. He further stated that six women were fighting in his shop that night, that he took the knives away from them.
The prisoner became violent during the course of the hearing of the evidence, and had to be held down.
A police constable gave evidence that he had heard there was a disturbance in No. 5, Thomas street, and he kept observation upon it.
The prisoner again interrupted, stating that he was at “the Australian” at the time when the murder took place, that his wife was dead and deserved to be dead, as they were all a bad lot.
During the hearing of further evidence the prisoner broke out again in incoherent talk.
The magistrate told him he would be obliged to adjourn the case until tomorrow.
The prisoner continued his interruptions, on which the magistrate adjourned the case for a week, Mr. Searle, the prisoner’s solicitor, asking that a dose of quietening medicine should be given to him before he was brought up. The magistrate assented, providing it would not interfere with his intellect.”
Following a final court appearance on the 7th of December 1894, at which he was merely remanded for a further seven days, George Henry Matthews was pronounced insane.
The St James’s Gazette reported on the decision in its edition of the 13th of December 1894:-
“The prisoner, George Henry Matthews, who stands remanded for the wilful murder of a woman in a coffee house in Whitechapel, was, by the desire of the Secretary of State, examined yesterday by two justices of the peace and two medical practitioners, who pronounced Matthews to be a dangerous lunatic.
The Home Secretary will, in due course, order his removal to the Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Broadmoor.
The hospital accommodation at Holloway Gaol is in a very imperfect state for a house of detention, not having been remodelled since the gaol was used for convicts only, and therefore it would have been unsafe to have detained Matthews there to go before the jury at the January sessions at the Old Bailey, as is usual in such cases.”
THOMAS STREET TODAY
And so, George Henry Matthews was taken to Broadmoor Asylum, where he remained until his death in 1906.
Today, his coffee shop – and the scene of the murder, is a textile shop on a short stretch of road that runs from Whitehapel Road through to Durward Street.
However, you will not find Thomas Street on a modern map of London, since its name has been changed to Fulbourne Street.
But, the house still stands and serves to remind us – if we wish to be reminded, that is – of another long ago crime committed by a local lunatic who was considered by his family and friends to be a little “odd” and whose real danger to those he encountered was not realised until it was too late – at least for Mrs Maria Damyon.