Whitechapel, throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, could be a dangerous neighbourhood for the unwary stranger, who might submit to the numerous temptations that were to be found in the pubs and on the streets of the district.
The Scotsman, on Wednesday, 17th March, 1909, featured a story that showed the dangers that could befall any visitor to the East End:_
MARINE ENGINEER’S FATE IN WHITECHAPEL
FOUR PERSONS CHARGED WITH MURDER
“A murder was discovered in Rupert Street, Whitechapel, in the early hours of this morning.
An engineer of the steamship Dorset, subsequently identified as William Sproull, was found lying on the pavement partly within a low double doorway, with a small punctured wound in his heart. Bloodstains were traced to a house close-by, and a police investigation led to the detention of two girls and two men.
The deceased and a shipmate met the girls on Monday night and went home with them.
When the body was discovered Sproull’ s pockets were inside out, and nothing whatever of value was upon him.
TRACED BY BLOODSTAINS
It appears that a watchman while going on his rounds saw a man lying in a huddled-up position in a doorway. He soon found that he was either dead or badly hurt, and he summoned the police from the Leman Street Station, which is only a hundred yards from the scene of the murder.
Life was found to be extinct, there being several wounds, including one close to the heart.
The body had been found in Rupert Street, at the back of Leman Street, and the police inspector was able to trace bloodstains along the pavement to No. 3 Rupert Street, a large tenement house. There were bloodstains on the door itself, and the impression of a hand thereon.
Inside, the police found several men and women, and an examination of the rooms resulted in the discovery of more bloodstains in a room on the ground floor.
After cross-examination by the police, all the men and women were taken to the police station.
STATEMENTS BY THE PRISONERS
At the Thames Police Court, Morris and Marks Reubens, both residing at 3 Rupert Street, and Emilv Allan and Ellen Brooks were charged with the wilful murder of William Sproull, and with the theft of a watch and chain from him.
It was stated by the police, in evidence, that in the front room on the ground floor at 3 Rupert Street Brooks was found asleep.
When roused she said that she came in there last night with a man.
In the corner of the room, there was an overcoat which had been identified as belonging to the deceased. On the floor was a stick, evidently newly broken.
Morris Reubens, when seen upstairs, said:- “I was going to give myself up. I do not want to cause these people any trouble. The two girls brought a couple of fellows home last night, and they would not part. Me and my brother had a row with them. They threw a glass at one of the girls, so we set about them. I ran up here with mv missus. I don’t mind telling you I robbed the fellow who was lying on the ground over there – I hope he is not dead. There was only me and my brother there.”
Emily Allen, also seen, said:- “Me and my friend brought two men home, and my husband and his brother had a row with them. I was frightened and came up here. My husband came up afterwards.”
The accused were all remanded.”
THE MURDER OF AN ENGINEER IN WHITECHAPEL
Following several court appearances, the accused were committed to trial at the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey) and their trial commenced on Thursday, 22nd April, 1909.
The Scotsman, in its edition of Friday 23rd April, 1909 carried the following report of the proceedings:-
“At the Old Bailey yesterday, the trial was commenced of Morris Rubens, Marks Reubens, Emily Allen and Ellen Brookes, otherwise Stevens, for the wilful murder of William Sproull, a steamship engineer, at Whitechapel last month. All pleaded not guilty.
No evidence was offered against the two women, and they were discharged.
Counsel, in outlining the case, said that the deceased and a shipmate, named M’Eachern, met Allen and Brookes, and went to a house in Rupert Strcct with them.
According to M’Eachern, the two Reubens brothers entered the room, and there was an immediate attack on Sproull. M’Eachern went to his friend’s assistance, and the former was struck on the head.
Later, said counsel, Sproull was found in the street fatally stabbed; his trouser pockets were inside out.
The case for the prosecution was that it was Marks Reubens who stabbed the deceased.
M’Eachern gave evidence, and, during the cross-examination of the witness, the prisoner, Morris Reubens, cried and sobbed – and so violent did his paroxysms become that the case was stopped for a few minutes to allow a doctor to see him.
The case for the Crown had not nearly ended when the Court rose for the day.
About half a dozen witnesses remain to be called.”
PAINFUL SCENE FOLLOWS PASSING OF DEATH SENTENCE ON WHITECHAPEL MURDERERS
On Friday, 23rd April, the trial of the brothers having concluded, The Dundee Courier, Saturday, 24th April, 1909, carried the following report on the verdict at the brothers’ reactions to the verdict:-
“At the Old Bailey yesterday, the trial was concluded of Marks Reubens and Morris Reubens for the murder of William Sproull, steamship engineer, who was fatally stabbed in Whitechapel.
The jury found both prisoners guilty, and they were sentenced to death.
There was a painful scene after the prisoners were convicted.
Morris sobbed, “Is there no recommendation for me?” while Marks shrieked, “Let me go,” and struggled to leave the dock.
On hearing the death sentence passed one of the prisoners cried, “God curse everyone in this Court,” and Morris moaned, “Oh, mother, mother, dear, help me; set me free.”
They were carried out of Court, and their cries could be heard for some time in the passage beneath the court”
THE MURDERERS EXECUTED
The Northampton Chronicle And Echo, on Thursday, 20th May, 1909, carried the following report on the execution of the two brothers:-
At Pentonville Prison, this morning, Morrie Reubens and Marks Reubens were executed for the murder of William Sproull, a ship’s engineer, at Whitechapel.
Sproull and a companion met two women and accompanied them home.
The Reubens came into the room and attacked the two men, and Sproull was subsequently found dead in the street, having been stabbed.
Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens lived with the women, who were acquitted at the trial, when, it will be remembered, the condemned men behaved like pitiful cowards.
The condemned men were called at six o’clock this morning, and later breakfast was served but was practically untouched.
When the pinioning process was performed, both men appeared to be on the point of collapse, but stimulants were at hand, and, with warders on either side, they were escorted to the scaffold.
Pierpoint was the executioner, and death was instantaneous.”