The Murder Of Mary Ann Moore

Murder was a commonplace occurrence in Victorian London, albeit today we tend to only focus on a handful of homicides, such as the Jack the Ripper atrocities.

Drink, or at least drunkenness, lay behind many of the crimes reported in the 19th-century media, but a good percentage of the murders were carried out by people who were mentally unstable.

Many of the cases ended up being heard at the Old Bailey, and the perpetrators were held at Newgate Prison before and during their trails.

A photograph showing the exterior of Newgate Prison.
The Exterior of Newgate Prison


The Roscommon Journal, in its edition of Saturday the 3rd of December 1859, carried the following article:-

A murder of a most frightful character has been committed at a house situated in King’s Head Court, Finsbury-market, London.

In a first-floor front room lived a man named James Moore, and a woman, believed to be his wife, with a child about two years and a half old.


Some months since Moore was charged with assaulting a female by biting her in the hand, and was sentenced to imprisonment; but, during his incarceration, he betrayed symptoms of insanity, and was removed to Miles’s Madhouse, in Hoxton.


Last Friday the room in King’s Head-court was taken by Moore, and on Monday morning the landlord beard quarrelling between his lodgers.


Nothing, however, transpired during the day to warrant suspicion of any particular violence having been committed, but in the afternoon Moore, who had, it was believed, been out for hours, called the landlord to the room, where a horrifying sight presented itself – a woman, in an almost nude state, being on her back on the boards of the room, and near her, on one side, placed upright in a white handbasin, was her head; while on the other side, equally as near, sat a child, quite satisfied, apparently with the position of itself and mother.

A long wound was seen on the woman’s abdomen, and a pail in one corner of the room contained a quantity of blood, with wearing apparel, and the floor had apparently been washed up, for smeared marks and the presence of water were manifest.


Moore disclaimed all knowledge of this frightful scene, saying that he had made the discovery on returning home, and coolly went with his landlord to the Worship-street Police Court.

His conduct there excited suspicions, and, in a few minutes after this, the house where the victim lay was in the possession of the police, while an officer conveyed the supposed murderer to the station-house.

Moore has two children besides that mentioned, but they were away from home.

It is believed Moore escaped from the asylum.


The Flintshire Observer, published an update in its edition of Friday, 9th December 1859:-

On Monday, the coroner for the eastern division of Middlesex resumed the adjourned inquest at the Castle Tavern, Long-alley, Finsbury. London, relative to the death of Mary Ann Moore, aged 27 years, who was found brutally murdered on Monday afternoon last, her head having been completely severed from her body.


Evidence having been given of the facts of the case, the jury unanimously returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against James Moore for killing and slaying Mary Ann Moore.”

The Coroner then made out his warrant for the committal of the prisoner to Newgate to take his trial at the next sessions of Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey.


On the same afternoon, Moore was brought up on remand at the Worship-street Police-court, on the charge of murdering his wife under the horrible circumstances detailed.

He looked wild and excited and was evidently labouring under great apprehension.

Evidence was given relating to the murder, but the only important testimony was the production of a blood-stained razor belonging to the prisoner.


Dr. Dixon, surgeon to the Hoxton Lunatic Asylum, said that the prisoner had been under his charge since the beginning of August, 1858, at which time he was an inmate under the care of Dr. Ellis, now at Hanwell.

He believed that he was first an inmate on January 20th, 1858, and was discharged on the 23rd of February, perfectly sane.

He examined him every day.

The prisoner was subject to mania, with delusions of a similar character.

He heard the prisoner say that he had an engine in his inside, and he believed that he had previously said he had been electrified by wires passed round his cell.

He exhibited indications of violence, and was easily excited. He had not exhibited indications of insanity for two months past.

He worked in a mat-factory, with others, and he frequently spoke of his wife affectionately and expressed a wish to work for her.


A brother of the murdered woman declared that she had always been an exemplary wife and mother, and that the prisoner was a tolerably good husband, but the acknowledged that he had not seen him since he had left the asylum.


The magistrate ordered a remand, for the purpose of completing the depositions, on hearing which the prisoner insisted upon applying for bail, and there was some difficulty in assuring him such an application would be useless.

He was very excited at times, and the double examination, at the inquest and at the court, in one day had obviously increased, if not caused it.


James Moore’s trial for the murder of his wife took place at the Old Bailey on Monday the 12th of December 1859.

The jury found him not guilty on the grounds of insanity, and the judge sentenced him to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.