The West Ham Murder

Amelia Jeffs disappeared in West Ham on the evening of 31st January, 1890. Two weeks later her in an upper room of a house at 126 Portway, West Ham. You can read a full article on the murder of Amelia Jeffs in this previous article.

On Saturday, March 1st, 1890, The Penny Illustrated Paper published the following article about the murder and about the funeral of the murdered girl.

THE WEST HAM MURDER

“Since the series of terrible murders of women in squalid parts of Whitechapel shocked and alarmed the town, London has been moved by no criminal occurrence so deeply as it has been by the brutal murder of poor little Minnie, or Amelia, Jeffs, whose photograph we have the privilege of printing from the portrait taken by Mr. T. Waltenberg, 339, Bethnal Green-road.

A photo of Amelia Jeffs.
Amelia Jeffs. Copyright, The British Library Board.

HANGING NOT GOOD ENOUGH

A P.I.P. Artist presents us with a few more Sketches in connection with this lamentable tragedy at West Ham, and gives a likeness of the public-spirited resident who was the first to offer a reward for the discovery of the atrocious assassin, for whom hanging would be far too slight a punishment.

THE GIRL AND HER FAMILY

Poor little Minnie Jeffs, a girl of whom everyone who knew her speaks in the highest terms, would have been fifteen years old had she lived till March 12.

She had been for short time at service as a nurse-girl at a Mrs. Harvey’s in West Ham.

Her sorrowful father, Charles Albert Jeffs, machine-man in the employ of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway, at their Plaistow Works, explained at the inquest that Minnie only left school about a twelvemonth ago, and after her short term of service as nurse-girl went on a visit to her aunt at Weston-super-Mare, from April to September last.

HER LAST NIGHT

She was last seen alive by her parents on Friday evening, the 31st of January last, when she was quite well and in good spirits.

On that fatal evening, she was sent from her home at 38, West-road, Wed Ham, to buy some fish at the shop in Church-street; and she was never seen alive again by her father and mother.

Between the hours of six and seven, however, on the evening in question, another little girl, Elizabeth Harner, met Minnie Jeffs carrying her basket in the West-road, when Minnie said she was “going up by West Ham Church.”

Amelia Jeffs going on her final errand.
Copyright, The British Library Board.

THE BODY FOUND

Though inquiries were made by the distressed father, the police, and neighbours, and a partial search was made in some of the empty houses, why did not the authorities at once see that every empty house was thoroughly ransacked?

The dead body of the missing child, who had been outraged and then murdered, was not found in the cupboard of an empty top-room at 126, Portway, till Friday morning, Feb. 14th.

Had but an exhaustive search been instituted in every empty house in West Ham, the discovery would, in all probability, have been made the night of the murder; and the police might instantly have been put on the track of the ruthless assassin.

The two detectives looking at the body of Amelia Jeffs in the cupboard.
Police Find The Body Of Amelia Jeffs. Copyright, The British Library Board.

THE CAUSE OF DEATH

When Dr. De Grogono, the Divisional Surgeon of Police, examined the body of the poor girl lying on the floor of the cupboard in the top front room of 126, Portway, he noticed, besides evidence of the outrage, a mark of constriction round the throat. There was a scarf round the throat, folded, and not tied. There was a slight bruise on the left knee. The face was swollen, the pupils of the eyes dilated; the tongue was swollen, being pressed tightly against the teeth. In the constriction round the throat were particles of wool from the woollen scarf.

The cause of death was suffocation from strangulation. Her appearance was consistent with death having taken place on Jan. 31.

This was the pith of the evidence forthcoming at the Coroner’s inquiry at the King’s Head Tavern.

REWARDS OFFERED

Mr. Foden, the public-spirited juryman who subscribed £25 towards the reward offered for the apprehension of the murderer, from the first interested himself in the discovery of the fugitive from justice.

One of the public at the coroner’s inquest offered £5 5 shillings, and a juror, taking advantage of the absence of the Rev. Canon Scott, who had been present during the inquest, said that gentleman was entitled to their warmest thanks for the action he had taken.

A portrait of Charles Foden.
Charles Foden. Copyright, The British Library Board.

THE FUNERAL OF THE VICTIM

No wonder that extraordinary public interest was taken on Feb. 19 in the funeral of Amelia Jeffs.

Some thousands of people followed the coffin to the grave.

At an early hour, the body was removed from the mortuary to the porch of the West Ham parish church, and placed on tall trestles in the centre aisle.

At half-past one, the bell was tolled and the gates were thrown open, and in a short time the whole of the building, including the gallery, was thronged with men, women, and children, many of whom pressed around the bier to read the inscriptions upon the beautiful wreaths which had been sent by many ladies and gentlemen of the locality, with expressions of sympathy and of condolence.

The local branch of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, the West Ham Junior Temperance Society, and the workmen of the Plaistow establishment of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway Company also sent floral tributes, the railway employes adding to their cross and wreath the text, “Vengeance is mine ; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

A few pews were reserved for the mourners, of whom the principal were the father and mother, the uncle and aunt, and other relatives of the deceased, and space was allotted to the girls of the Rev. Canon Scott’s day-schools, which Amelia Jeffs attended until a year ago.

Many of the children present had known poor Minnie intimately, and spoke of her in the highest terms.

She seems to have ingratiated herself with everyone as a particularly quiet, well-conducted girl.

Her schoolfellows contributed a beautiful wreath, which was placed upon the polished oak coffin.

Canon Scott read the first portion of the burial service in the church, and after the reading of the Scripture he added a few words which were spoken with much emotion, and many sobs were heard in all parts of the church as he proceeded.

THE SERMON

The rev. gentleman said:-

“I hardly like to run the risk of spoiling the effect of these glorious words from the Bible by adding any poor, weak words of my own; and yet, on such an occasion as this, it seems impossible not to say something, if only to express the grief and shame which I am sure we all feel – grief that one so young should have been carried away by an end so terrible and horrible; shame to think that in a Christian land like ours, in a place close to our own doors, crime, which would have been a disgrace to a savage, should have been committed.

It is a shame, I say, as well as a grief. May God protect us, and not lay the blame on this Christian land!

You know how I loved the schoolchildren, and how the schools were the very centre of my interest and attachment; and now that one, although not up to the last moment attending the day-schools, but a member of the Sunday-schools, whose character was perfectly pure and unsullied – an honest, good Christian girl – should have been treated as the deceased has been, and made away with in a manner so shocking, redoubles the grief of us all.

It is as utterly perplexing and as mysterious, and is as altogether beyond the comprehension and imagination, as it well can be.

I am sure we are all baffled to conceive how it could have happened.

We do hope that God in His providence may unearth the mystery, and – if it be not wrong in God’s house to say it – that He may bring the perpetrator to justice.

It has been very pleasant to me to notice what deep sympathy this terrible event has excited. From the north, south, east, and west I have received letters, and from among the neighbours close at home there have been received these beautiful wreaths, one of them being a tribute from the deceased’s schoolfellows.”

After expressing condolence with the parents the rev. gentleman concluded, and the schoolchildren sang the hymn, “Brief life is here our portion.”

The funeral procession.
The Funeral Procession. Copyright, The British Library Board.

THE COFFIN TAKEN TO THE GRAVE

As the organ played the Dead March in Saul, the coffin was borne out of the church and placed in a glass-panelled hearse, which was followed by four mourning-coaches.

The route to the East London Cemetery was along the Portway, past the house where the murder is supposed to have been committed, and down West-road, where the Jeffs live.

Crowds of people were assembled at every point, and large numbers awaited the procession in the burial ground.

Mr. M. Murray, the superintendent, had made every necessary arrangement, and no time was lost in forming, with the aid of the police, a way through the great gathering to the grave.

The coffin was followed by the father and the other mourners, all of whom were deeply affected.

The Rev. Canon Scott concluded the burial service without adding to hid previous observations.”

RELATED ARTICLES

The Murder Of Amelia Jeffs.

The Missing keys.

The Inquest Summing Up.