The Murder Of Sarah Jane Roberts

Throughout January, 1880, the nation as a whole was both shocked and enthralled by the murder of a servant girl, which took place on Wednesday, 8th January, 1880, in Harpurhey, an inner-city area of Manchester in North West England.

The victim’s name was Sarah Jane Roberts. an eighteen-year-old girl (early reports gave her age as 19), who hailed from Pembroke in South Wales.

A portrait of the murdered girl, Sarah Jane Roberts.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 7th February, 1880. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The Manchester Evening News broke the story of the brutal killing in its editions of Thursday, 8th January, 1880:-

“Last night a brutal murder, the leading facts of which are enveloped in mystery, was perpetrated in Harpurhey.

The victim is a girl named Sarah Jane Roberts, who for some time has been a domestic servant in the employ of Mr. Richard Greenwood, of Westbourne Grove, Harpurhey.

Mr. Grenwood’s house, which is semi-detached, is in the lonely thoroughfare.

The other house under the same roof occupied by Mr. Cadman, a Unitarian minister.


Yesterday afternoon, Mr. Greenwood received a letter, which was put into the box in the front door, in which he was requested to meet the writer at a certain hour in the evening at a public-house in order to arrange for the purchase of some land of which he is the owner.

Mr. Greenwood left his house in order to keep the appointment, but in the public-house named in the letter, he found no person whom he recognised or who made himself known to him as the writer of the letter.

A facsimile of the letter.
From The Illustrated Police News. Saturday, 31st January, 1888. Copyright, The British Library Board.


After staying some time in the house, Mr. Greenwood returned home to find that a shocking tragedy had been enacted in his absence.

Mrs. Greenwood is in bad health, and had been obliged to keep to her room. Soon after Mr. Greenwood’s departure from the house, the girl Roberts went into Mrs. Greenwood’s bedroom, and after doing some slight service said that she would go down into the kitchen to “wash up.”

She left the room, and, in about ten minutes afterwards, Mrs. Greenwood heard a knock at the front door, which was opened immediately, and the steps of some person passing into the kitchen. The door was closed, and Mrs. Greenwood, thinking that some acquaintance or neighbour had gone in to see the servant, thought nothing of the matter.

In a few moments, however, she was startled by hearing a terrible scream from some person in the kitchen. Terror gave her strength, and she ran to the top of the stairs, and called “Jane”, but got no answer.

Mrs. Greenwood then ran downstairs to the front door and shrieked “murder.” She was under the impression that the servant was in a fit, or that her clothes were on fire.


Mrs. Cadman heard Mrs. Greenwood’s cries, and went into the house.

Going into the kitchen, Mrs. Cadman was horrified to see the unfortunate girl Roberts lying on the floor.

She was bleeding from two terrible wounds on the head, and was dying, – in fact, in two or three seconds she expired without being able to utter a word. A terrible wound over the right eye and another on the back of the head had caused her death.

Mr. Pinder, the surgeon, was called in, but life was then extinct.

Sketches showing the discovery of the murder.
From The Illustrated Police News. Saturday, 24th January, 1880. Copyright, The British Library Board.


The news of the dreadful crime spread rapidly, and the police officer in charge of the county station, Inspector Bourke, went to the house. Mr. Superintendent Bent was on the spot in a short time, and directed the efforts of his men to discover the assassin.

One theory of the murder is that the poor girl was murdered by some person with whom she had formed an acquaintance, and who had reasons for putting her to silence.

Another is that the letter sent to Mr. Greenwood was merely intended to decoy him from home, and that the writer or his accomplices intended to rob the house in his absence.


The murder of the girl was perhaps not premeditated, but the robbers were prevented by her screams, which alarmed the neighbours, from completing their work.

In the next room to that in which the murder was committed, a considerable sum of money had been left by Mr. Greenwood.

Nothing, however, had been removed from the premises, and there was no appearance of anything having been disturbed.


The murder, attended with circumstances of a singularly shocking description, has, wherever it has become known, excited feelings of the deepest horror. Its occurrence was officially reported to the magistrates at the County Police Court, Strangeways, this morning by Mr. Supt. Bent.

The stipendiary (Sir J. Mantell) suggested the immediate calling of a meeting of magistrates, in order that a reward may be offered for the apprehension of the murderer.

It is probable that the meeting will be held tomorrow morning.

The inquest on the body of the unfortunate girl will also be held tomorrow morning, at a quarter past ten o’clock, before Mr. Price, the coroner.


The police, it need hardly be said, are doing their utmost to discover the perpetrator of the murder, but so far their efforts have not been attended with success, and indeed it is scarcely expected that any arrest will be made for some days.

The probabilities as to the motive for the crime continue to be generally discussed.

The theory which appears to find most acceptance is that the girl has met with her death at the hands of some person whom she knew, probably a sweetheart, and in support of this theory of the case, it is said that some minutes elapsed between the opening of the door to admit the supposed murderer and the actual commission of the crime, so that, it is urged, she had ample time to raise an alarm.

The girl Roberts, who was a native of Wales, had been in Mr. Greenwood’s employ for several months, and, prior to that time, she was in service in Cheetham Hill. She had two brothers living in Manchester.”


The Derby Telegraph, on Friday, 9th January, 1880 published the latest particulars on a case which had shocked the nation:-

“A careful investigation of the circumstances attending the murder of Sarah Jane Roberts at Harpurhey, near Manchester, on Wednesday evening, removes somewhat the mystery with which the crime was surrounded, but robs it of none of its terrible features.

It is clear that, whatever was the motive – and upon that point we shall have something to say by-and-by – the murder was planned deliberately, and was carried into execution with a success only too complete.


The scene of the occurrence a house in Westbourne-grove, Rochdale-road, occupied by Mr. Richard Greenwood, an elderly gentleman, and his wife.

The house, which is semi-detached, is about two hundred yards down the Grove; the situation open, and the immediate neighbourhood is but little frequented.

Being beyond the city boundary, the distinct is under the surveillance of the county constabulary.

The facts of the case appear to resolve themselves into the form given below.

A back view of the house.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 31st January, 1880.


About noon, on Wednesday, Mr. Greenwood received a letter, which was dropped through tho box in the front door, to the effect that the writer, who signed himself “W. Wilson, Oldham-road,” desired to meet him that evening at the Three Tuns Inn, Churnett-street, Rochdale-road, respecting some property belonging to Mr. Greenwood in Queen’s-road, adding, “Not knowing your address is the reason why I have not sent this letter by post.”

The letter is in a clerkly hand, without any apparent effort disguise the writing – a fact of importance to the police, if, as there is every reason to believe, the design was simply to decoy Mr. Greenwood from his house during the perpetration of the crime.

A sketch of the Three Tuns pub.
From The Illustrated Police News. Saturday, 31st, January, 1880.


The letter was first observed by Mr. Cooper, of Moston, who has business relations with Mr. Greenwood, and frequently visits the house.

On calling about noon, he saw the letter in the lobby, and gave it to the servant, jocularly remarking, “Jane, here is a love letter for you,” but the girl, on looking at the address, saw that it was for her master, and handed it to him.

In order to beep the appointment Mr. Greenwood left home about twenty minutes past five o’clock in the evening, but in the public-house named, a good distance from Westbourne-grove, he did not find the writer of the letter, and returned home, arriving about seven o’clock.


He then found that, in his absence, a tragedy had been enacted which had startled the whole neighbourhood.

The author of the crime had gone about his business in a strategic manner.

Having induced Mr. Greenwood to leave home, he appears to have gone to the house about three-quarters of an hour afterwards and knocked at the front door. At this time the only inmates were Mrs. Greenwood and the servant girl, the former of whom has been bedfast for several weeks, and will probably be obliged to keep to her room for some time longer.


About quarter past six o’clock, the girl Roberts was heard to go to the front door, presumably in answer to the knock, and admit some person, whose footsteps, Mrs. Greenwood says, were so light as to resemble those of a woman.

The person admitted, with the servant, passed through the lobby into the kitchen, the door of which Mrs. Greenwood heard closed, but, thinking that some acquaintance had called to see the servant, she took no further notice of the matter, especially as for five or ten minutes – she states that it was nearly ten – quiet prevailed.

It is thought, therefore, that the person admitted must have been known the servant, or else he had in a most unaccountable manner succeeded in allaying suspicion.


In ten minutes’ time, Mrs. Greenwood heard a piercing scream from some person in the kitchen. Ill as she was, she ran to the top of the stairs and called “Jane” several times.

Receiving no answer, she ran to the front door and cried “Murder,” though at this time she had no notion of what had occurred.

Mrs. Cadman, the wife of a Unitarian minister living next door, heard the cries, and went into the house with Mrs. Greenwood.

On an entrance being made into the kitchen, the door of which was closed against them, a ghastly scene presented itself.

The girl Roberts was lying on the floor, her head, which was in a pool of blood, was wounded in several places, and she was breathing her last.

On the arrival of Mr. Pinder, the surgeon, a few minutes afterwards, she was dead.


The kitchen itself showed not the slightest evidence that there had been a struggle.

In the adjoining room also nothing had been disturbed.

The back door, which had been bolted by Mr. Greenwood before left home, was unfastened. It is supposed that the murderer must have made his exit that way, though Mrs. Cadman’s servant, who ran to the back immediately on hearing the first screams, saw no person leave.


The unfortunate girl, who was in her 19th year, and was a native of Wales.

She came to Manchester about two years ago. She went to reside with a brother in Charlestown, Blackley, but soon succeeded in obtaining a situation as a domestic servant, and has since then been at two or three places.

About ten months ago she went into the service of Mr. and Mrs. Greenwood, by whom she was held in high regard, and only a few days ago her mistress took occasion to speak of her to some visitors in most affectionate terms.

Her personal appearance is described as having been pleasing. She was rather stout, well built, and fresh complexioned, and had a head of beautiful black hair. In manner, she was reserved, and persons in the neighbourhood with whom she had dealings state that it was long before she put herself on familiar terms with them.

Her conduct was everything that Mr. and Mrs. Greenwood could desire in servant. Mr. Greenwood is not aware that she had any sweetheart; if she had, he did not visit the house.

The girl, however, appears to have reposed confidence somewhat in her mistress, and had told her that she had suitors, none of whom she would accept, she used laughingly to declare, until she had “tried” them.

It is certain that she was accustomed to receive letters very frequently, the postman having on more than one occasion delivered two in a day.

Her boxes have been searched, and some letters have been found, but they are not of an amatory character.


With regard to the motive that prompted the commission of the crime, the theory which now finds most general acceptance is that the murder arose from jealousy, and, in support of this view of the case, it is urged that the girl must have destroyed the love letters she continually received, and rejected the addresses of the writer.

It is remarked also, on the authority of her mistress, that she had latterly betrayed unwillingness to leave the house, having declined during the past month to take her usual leave. The reason the girl assigned was that she would not go away whilst her mistress was unwell.


The South Wales Daily News, on Saturday, 10th January, 1880, gave an update on the case, and also published details of the inquest into the murdered girls death, at which there were some testy exchanges between the Coroner, and the surgeon, Mr Pinder:-

“The Harpurhey tragedy is still an unsolved mystery. It has created a great deal of excitement in Manchester, and this morning a curious crowd was gathered opposite the house in which the crime was committed.

The police have been prosecuting a diligent search for the murderer, but up to the present they have not obtained any information which throws any light on the affair.

The Chief-Constable of Lancashire (the Hon. Capt. Legge) arrived from Preston this morning, and the inquiries of the police are being continued under his direction.

The police and everyone else are utterly unable to imagine what must have been the motive of the murder; but the explanation which finds most acceptance is, that she was the victim of an amour, which she did not wish to encourage.

The whole neighbourhood has been scoured, and the lodging-houses have been searched, but no apprehension has been made.


This morning a sister of the deceased arrived in Manchester from Halifax.

The sister, who is in service, was not made acquainted with the outrage, but was simply requested by her friends to come to Manchester at once.

She went to the station, and while there she purchased a newspaper. She then became aware of what had occurred. The poor girl wept bitterly, and a very pitiable scene was presented.

It appears that about a month ago the deceased sent a letter to her sister, stating that two young men wished to pay addresses to her, but that she intended to have nothing to do with them.


Mrs Greenwood, in a further statement, says she heard the man who committed the crime come into the house, and also distinctly heard his knock at the door.

Deceased, in going from the kitchen to the front door, walked with her usual tread, but in returning, like her visitor, walked so that her footstep could scarcely be perceived.

This fact deposes of the suspicion that the person who committed the crime obtained admission to the house by practising some deception upon her.

It is if clear that she recognised the man as soon as she opened the door, and that she allowed him to enter.

Although very few letters have been found in her box, it is known that for some time she had been carrying on a considerable amount of correspondence, and that she had formed the acquaintance of more than one young man.


The body of the deceased still lies at the residence of her late master, at Westbourne-grove.

Her parents, who reside at Marlin’s Cross, Pembrokeshire, South Wales, are expected to arrive this evening, and, until their appearance on the scene, no arrangements will be made for the funeral.


The inquest on the body of the deceased was opened this morning at the New Inn, Rochdale Road, Blackley, before Mr F. Price, district coroner.

Mr George Needham was appointed foreman of the jury.

The chief constable of the county (Captain Legge) was present during the inquiry, as were Superintendent Bent and Inspector Bourke, of the Manchester County Police Force.

Robert Roberts, stonemason, brother of the deceased, was the first witness, and gave evidence of identification. He stated that the deceased was 18 years old, and the last time he saw her alive was on Sunday, the 14th December last, when she paid a visit to his house at Charlestown, Blackley.

The New Inn where the inquest was held.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 31st January, 1880.


Eliza Jane Cadman, wife of the Rev. W. G. Cadman, Unitarian Minister, said she resided in the house adjoining that occupied by Mr Greenwood, in Westbourne Grove, and knew the deceased well as Mr Greenwood’s servant.

The Coroner:- “You were alarmed by hearing a scream on Wednesday evening?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “About what time?”

Witness:- “It would be about half-past six 0’clock. I had been away from home with my children, and returned about 25 minutes past six o’clock.”

The Coroner:- “By what door did you enter the house?”

Witness:- “By the front door.”

The Coroner:- “Did you observe Mr Greenwood’s front door whether it was closed or not?”

Witness:- “It was shut, and there was a light in bedroom where Mrs Greenwood would be.”

The Coroner:- “On entering your own house, where did you first go to?”

Witness:- “Straight into the kitchen.”

The Coroner:- “And were you there when you heard the scream?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “Then your kitchen adjoins that of Mr Greenwood’s house?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “How long had you been there when you heard the scream?”

Witness:- “Just about five minutes.”

The Coroner:- “Was it the scream of a female?”

Witness:- “Yes. I could not distinguish exactly where the scream proceeded from. Thinking it was from my own little girl, Dora, aged 8, who had gone into the yard, my servant, Mrs Hannah Gillow, who was in the kitchen at the time, ran, along with myself, into the yard, to the assistance of my child, as I thought, but we found she was all right.”

The Coroner:- “Did you come back again into the house?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “What happened next?”

Witness:- “Immediately on returning into the kitchen, I heard a second scream, which I am certain came from Mr Greenwood’s kitchen.”

The Coroner:- “What happened next?”

Witness:- “I said, “The sound is in Mr Greenwood’s kitchen. Jane’s in a fit,” and I called on Mrs Gillow to follow me.”

The Coroner:- “I presume all this time Mr Cadman was not at home?”

Witness:- “No.”

The Coroner:- “Did you go out?”

Witness:- “Yes, I went to our front door and opened it, and there found Mrs Greenwood calling for me. She said, “There is something wrong in our kitchen. Mr Greenwood is out,” I called for a light, which my son brought, and my servant and I went into Mr Greenwood’s house.”

The Coroner:- “Did you enter by the front door?

Witness:- “Yes Mrs Greenwood following us. We walked down the lobby into the kitchen.”

The Coroner:- “Was the door between the lobby and the kitchen opened or closed?”

Witness:- “It was closed.”

The Coroner:- “And on the door being opened you saw the deceased, I suppose, lying on the kitchen floor?

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “In what position?”

Witness:- “On her face, lying across the floor.”

The Coroner:- “Her feet being to your right hand under the dresser, and her head towards the window?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “Was there any light in the kitchen?”

Witness:- “Yes, a pendant in the centre, which gave a good light.”

The Coroner:- “Seeing the deceased in this position what did you do?”

Witness:- “I went to her and asked her to tell me who had done it. I stooped down and saw blood about her head.”

The Coroner:- “What did you then do?”

Witness:- “I sent Mrs Gillow for Mr Allen, who lives in the neighbourhood, and, with his assistance, we turned the deceased over on her face.”

The Coroner:- “Was she then dead?”

Witness:- “No, she lived for five minutes. A doctor was sent for, and Mr Pinder came. ”

Captain Legge said he should like to know whether there were any traces of a struggle in the kitchen.

Witness:- “All was straight and orderly – nothing whatever apparently out of its place.

Captain Legge:- “Did you notice a jug?

Witness:- “Yes, at the end of the dresser, with a newspaper over it.”

The Coroner:- “Did you notice the door leading from the kitchen into the yard?”

Witness:- “Yes; it was closed.”

Captain Legge:- “You are sure it was closed when you entered?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:– “Did you hear any footstep in the yard?”

Witness:- “No; Mrs Gillow went into the yard from the kitchen, but saw no one.”

The Coroner wished the jury to understand that he was only taking evidence formally at present, and it was not desirable to ask any unnecessary questions.

If there was anything the jury wished to ask he would ask the witness, providing the question was a proper one.

At the request of a juror, the coroner asked the witness whether she heard any door closed after entering the lobby of Mr Greenwood’s house.

Witness:- “No.”

The Coroner:- “Did you see any instrument which would be likely to cause the wound you saw?”

Witness:- “No.”

On the suggestion of another juror, the coroner asked whether the witness saw any person loitering about the premises on her return home?

Witness:- “No.”

A Juror:- “What time is supposed to have elapsed between the witness hearing the scream and seeing the deceased’s body in the kitchen?”

Witness:- “There would only be two or three minutes.”

The Coroner:- “Just the time that would elapse whilst you did what you have told us?”

Witness:- “Yes.”


Mr J. B. Pinder, surgeon, residing in York. place, Harpurhey, said that on Wednesday evening he was summoned to Mr Greenwood’s house, Westbourne-grove, and saw the deceased lying on the kitchen floor on her back. She was dead. He examined her head, and found several wounds upon it from which blood had flowed.


On Thursday he made a post mortem examination of the body, assisted by Dr Skinner.

On examining the head he found a contused wound, an inch and three-quarters in length, over the right eye; a second contused wound, an inch-and-a-half in length, on the upper and back part of the head; a third contused wound, two inches long, behind the left ear a fourth small contused wound, about an inch higher up than the third wound; and a fifth contused wound, two inches long, on the upper and back part of the left side of the head.

They had all penetrated to the bone, and, underneath the fifth contusion, the skull had been fractured. There were no marks of injury on the body or limbs.

A sketch of the scene at the post mortem.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 31st January, 1880.


The answers which Mr Pinder gave, on being asked what he found on removing the scalp, were such as to lead the Coroner to remark that the witness was causing him a deal of unnecessary trouble, and that he ought to have better prepared himself.

The witness said he found a compound fracture of the skull.

There was very little extravasation, except at the seats of the wounds.

On removing the skull cap, he found very little extravasation on the brain.

The Coroner:- “Now, I want you to give a description of the injuries, of the fracture of the skull, and of the cause of death.”

Witness:- “I should think it would be more from shock than anything else.”

The Coroner:- “No, no, you must give me a description of the fracture of the skull.

At this point, the witness asked to be allowed to see some notes of the post mortem examination which he had previously handed to the coroner.

The Coroner:-“Will you tell me where the skull was fractured, please?”

Witness:- “I think I have told you before.”

The Coroner:- “Where was it? Please do get on. I am anxious to get away.”

Witness:- “So am I.”

The Coroner:- “Well, you should have prepared a proper report of this case.”

Witness:- “What is it you want to know?”

The Coroner:- “I want to know everything. You should not require me to ask you a single question. I wish you to tell me the nature of the fracture of the skull, and the extent.”

Witness:- “Well, so far, you have got all down here (referring to the notes of the post mortem).”

The Coroner:- “No, I have not, indeed.”

At the request of the witness, the Coroner read over his deposition so far as it had proceeded.

The Coroner:- “I think we had better adjourn; this is absurd.”

Witness:- “What more do you want?”

The Coroner:- “I want you to describe in the ordinary way, as a surgeon ought to know how to describe, the nature of the injuries the deceased has sustained.”

Witness:- “I have told you, there was a compound fracture of the skull.”

The Coroner:- “Where, where, where? I want you to tell the jury, not me.”

Witness:- “Where the bone had penetrated into the brain.”

The Coroner:- “But where was that?”

Witness:- “Where this compound fracture was.”

The Coroner:- “And where was that?”

Witness:- “You have it in my evidence there, my dear sir.”

The Coroner:- “I think this is monstrous, gentlemen.”

A Juror:- “Quite so.”

The Coroner:- “I am only surprised that a surgeon should come here and not be able – I am very sorry indeed, that I have given Mr Pinder the post-mortem examination, that is all I can say. We had better adjourn for the purpose of having Dr Skinner’s evidence. Will you give me that paper, air ? (The witness returned the notes of the post-mortem.) You see this is not your own writing. It is Dr Skinner’s writing.”

Witness:- “Yes, just so. You know I got him to help me.”

The Coroner:- “If you did not feel competent to do it, you should have transferred it to him entirely, and not come here and take the responsibility.”

Witness:- “Were you a medical man, you could not make an examination of a head yourself; not a proper one.”

The Coroner:- “Well, you ought to be able to give a proper description of what you saw.”

After a pause and a reference to the notes of the post mortem, the Coroner continued.

The Coroner:- “Now, corresponding with the contused wound on the left side of the head, did you find a depressed fracture of the skull?”

Witness:- “There was.”

The Coroner:- “That is to say, the fifth described wound?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner (reading from the notes):- “Four inches.” What does it mean? Four inches by one and a half inches. Four inches what? By one and a half-inch in what?”

The notes were handed to the witness.

Witness:- “That would be the depression, I suppose.”

The Coroner:- “We must have no supposition. We must have facts.”

Witness:- “The depressed fracture would be that.”

The Coroner:- “Would be what?”

Witness:- “Would be 4 inches by one and a half inch.”

The Coroner:- “But I want you to describe what you mean by that.”

Witness:- “The depressed fracture.”

The Coroner:- “We are wasting time sadly.”

The notes of the post-mortem were again referred to by the Coroner.

The Coroner:- “Extending from behind the left ear to the upper and back part of the head.” Is that so?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “Also extending in three transverse fissures through the base of the skull.” “Is that so?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “There was no wound on the dura mater.” Is that the membrane covering the brain?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

The Coroner:- “But a considerable amount of diffusive blood at the seat of the fractured bone. Is that so?”

Witness:- “Yes.”

In further examination, the witness said that the deceased was not enciente but in the opinion of both himself and Dr. Skinner, she was not chaste.

She had died from a shock to the system, consequent upon the wounds and fracture of the skull, which could not have been caused by a fall.

The Coroner:- “Must they, in your opinion, have been inflicted by some heavy blunt instrument, used by some other person?”

Witness:- “Yes, the blows must have been given with very great violence and force.”

The Coroner:- “We had better stop now, and reserve any further questions. I think there is sufficient evidence now to warrant an adjournment.”

It was accordingly decided to adjourn the inquiry for a fortnight.


After the inquest, a further examination of the remains was made by the medical men, and the result of that examination is a decided opinion that the girl was virgo intacta, and that, therefore, the opinion given at the inquest that she was not a chaste woman, was not supported.

There is no doubt, however, that she was acquainted with several young men, but, strange to say, no female friend can be found who can give any information on this point.


As may be imagined; various supposed clues have been suggested, or have presented themselves to the police, but investigation has invariably shown them to be worthless.

One of the rumours afloat is that, at about 20 minutes past six on the night of the murder a boy, who was with the milkman who supplied the Greenwoods, saw standing near a lamp, and, not far from, Greenwood’s house, two men.

The same men had, it is said, been previously seen by a young man walking along near the toll bar, on the Rochdale-road, which is in the same neighbourhood, and at the time one of them was endeavouring to dissuade his companion from persisting in some purpose.

It is also said that a man, corresponding in appearance with one of these men, was observed by some ladies loitering about Westbourne Grove on the afternoon of the same day.


The letter by which Mr Greenwood was decoyed from his house whilst the murder was committed is in the hands of the police, who have failed to discover the writer.

The address given by him was a fictitious one, and probably, also, the name was assumed.

No reward has yet been offered for the apprehension of the murderer, but it is expected that one will shortly be announced.”

The police examine the letter.
From The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, 7th February, 1880.


The Manchester Courier, on Friday, 16th January, 1880, reported that the police were examining the victim’s eyes in the hope that they might be imprinted with an image of the murderer:

Yesterday afternoon, the Hon. Captain Legge, Chief Constable of Lancashire, visited Mr. Superintendent Bent, at the Old Trafford Police-station, with reference to the brutal murder of the servant girl, Sarah Jane Roberts, at Harpurhey.

As day after day transpires without the discovery of the slightest link in the chain of facts necessary to warrant the apprehension of anyone, the police authorities are naturally more and more perplexed.

Every suggestion which may tend to the mystery is attentively listened to and carried out as well as they possibly can be.

The chief constable has consented to have the letter that was sent to Mr. Greenwood lithographed and largely circulated, and no doubt in the course of today lithographed copies of the letter will be exhibited in various parts of the city and district.

Mr. Superintendent Bent, we understand, purposes making a microscopic examination of the eyes of the murdered girl from the portrait which was photographed shortly before her interment.

The portrait, as stated in yesterday’s Courier, has already been examined the electric light, but although the eyes were each magnified to the size of half a sheet of ordinary notepaper, there was nothing visible which would furnish the slightest evidence as to the features of the murderer.


The final day of the inquest into the death of Sarah Jane Roberts took place on Friday the 23rd of January 1880. Having heard evidence from several more witnesses, the jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.

The police, so it seemed, were no nearer to catching the perpetrator of the crime than they had been three weeks previously.


But then, as the following report, which appeared in The Leeds Mercury Monday, on 26th January, 1880, detailed, a seemingly important breakthrough was made:-

“Our Plymouth correspondent, telegraphing last evening, states that the local police, assisted by two Manchester policemen, yesterday arrested two men, one of whom, so named Robert Hill, alias Wait, is charged with the murder of the servant girl Sarah Jane Roberts, at Harpurhey, Manchester.

Wait, who is a coal dealer in a small way of business at Manchester, had tramped to Plymouth in order to emigrate.

Several days ago, the Plymouth police received a communication from the Manchester police giving a description of a man who was supposed to be about to emigrate from Plymouth for Australia, and who was wanted for perjury.

It appears that the warrant held by the police charged the man with perjury, which consisted in having given his name in the emigration papers as Robert Hill, whereas his real name was ascertained to be Thomas Wait.


The Plymouth police kept a strict watch on the emigrant ships, and as the result Sergt. Wallace, of the Manchester police, and a private constable arrived at Plymouth last night and were conducted by the Plymouth police to a lodging-house, where they found Hill, alias Wait, in company with a man named Laycock.

They were in bed, but got up and were taken to the police station.

It had previously been understood that, although nominally wanted for perjury, they were really suspected of complicity in the murder of the girl Roberts.


Two men answering to their description had been seen loitering in the neighbourhood of the house where the murder was committed.

When taken to the station and the warrant read out to Wait, he said he supposed they wanted him for the Manchester murder, but it was all a mare’s nest, as he had never heard anything about it until Saturday night, when he read it in the papers.


Letters in his own handwriting were found on Wait, the writing of which corresponds closely with that of the letter sent to decoy Mr. Greenwood.

The landlady of the lodging-house where the arrest was made, states that she washed a pair of trousers and a shirt for Wait. They were stained, but she does not know whether they were blood-stains or not.


The men had both tramped down from Manchester to take a passage in the  Government emigration ship Queen of Nations, but they found that she was filled, and, therefore, they were waiting for the next ship, the Silver Eagle, which is shortly to sail for Melbourne.

The men were both sent to Manchester by the eight o’clock train last evening – the one in custody, and the other under surveillance, nominally as a witness required as against Wait.

It seems that Wait is a dealer in coal and coke, having a small shop and horse and cart, near Manchester, and that he has had dealings with Mr. Cooper, whose name is well known in connection with the murder.

Leycock is a smithy striker near Manchester.

Both disappeared soon after the murder, stating that they were about to emigrate.

The original clue of the Manchester police is believed to have been the handwriting of the letter. The particulars are being kept n very secret.


The men state that it took them eleven days to tramp from Manchester to Plymouth.

There is a story as to Wait having endeavoured to entice a girl at Manchester to go with him to Australia under a false name, stating that he had previously been in the colony for eleven years.

The handwriting of the letter sent to her is said to resemble closely the letter by which Mr. Greenwood was drawn away from home.


The men who arrived at the Plymouth lodging-house a week ago, gave the names as Robert Waite and Thomas Laycock.

Waite’s real name now appears to be Hailes.

Laycock is of dark complexion, 5ft. 9in., and clean shaved, but this appears to be recent. His clothes are very scant and poor.

Waite is light-complexioned, end wears very poor clothes. He has a moustache.

The Lancashire county policemen, on arrival at Plymouth on Saturday, were informed of the whereabouts of these two tramps, on whom the Plymouth police had had their eyes for some days, and proceeded to arrest Waite, charging him with obtaining a passage to Queensland as a Government emigrant by means of a false statement.

When in it custody he said, “I suppose you are going to take me back about this Manchester murder? You are in a fog.”


Waite is stated by the police to be an assumed name, as he had been living in Harpurhey for a considerable time under the name of Thomas Hailes. He was a coal dealer living with his wife and child.

Laycock was going to work out his passage.

A servant girl named Edison supplied the Manchester police with a letter similar in handwriting to that sent to Mr. Greenwood, which had been sent to her in reference to her emigrating to Queensland, which she had consented to do.

Hailes appears to have left all his ordinary clothing at Harpurhey with his wife.”


As it transpired, the case against Hailes was not proven, and, despite the fact that several other people were either arrested or else confessed to the crime, the murderer of Sarah Jane Roberts was never brought to justice.

Superintendent Bent was convinced that he knew the killer’s identity, but the police lacked sufficient evidence to charge and convict him, and the murder of Sarah Jane Roberts remains an unsolved case to this day.