During the late 19th century, the Metropolitan Police came in for a mixture of admiration and criticism from the Victorian press. Much of the criticism was politically motivated and originated with newspapers that were pushing a particular agenda.
This happened particularly with the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888 when, quite a lot of the negative press was both unfair and, in quite a few cases, totally inaccurate.
In other cases – such as the arrest of Miss Cass by PC Endacott in 1887, or the Constable Bloy case, of early 1888 – the criticism levelled at the police was. to an extent, justified if, at times, a little over the top!
A POLICE CONSTABLE MURDERER
However, in 1893, a murder occurred at Wormwood Scrubs, in West London, that certainly shocked both the press and the reading public when it was revealed that the perpetrator of the crime was, in fact, a serving police officer who had, apparently, committed the murderous deed whilst on duty.
By way of a spelling explanation, Scrubs – as in Wormwood Scrubs – is spelt either Scrubs or Scrubbs in different newspapers. I have left the spelling as it appears in individual articles.
A WORMWOOD SCRUBS MYSTERY
On the 7th of June 1893, the story of the murder appeared in newspapers across the country, albeit at that time little was actually known about it.
The Yorkshire Evening Post reported how:-
“Henry Kimberley. while crossing Wormwood Scrubbs, near the rifle butts, this morning, found the dead body of a woman with her head literally smashed in. He summoned the police, and Dr. Jackson, divisional surgeon, who was also called, expressed the opinion that death had taken place some hours before. The police have no clue to the murderer, or to the victims identity.”
A POLICE CONSTABLE ARRESTED
However, over the next 48 hours, the police were very busy and, by Friday the 9th of June, the London Evening Standard was able to report that considerable progress had been made in that, not only had the victim been identified, but a suspect had been arrested:-
“A Metropolitan Police-constable was arrested yesterday on the charge of having murdered the woman found on Wednesday morning on Wormwood Scrubs.
The dispenser at the Prison had informed the local Police Inspector that while he was crossing the Scrubs, late on Tuesday night or early on Wednesday morning, he met a policeman, whom he had previously seen on the beat, scuffling with a woman.
He was shown the body of the deceased at the Mortuary, and he identified it as that of the woman whom he had seen at the Scrubs.
The Inspector ordered the constable to be paraded, and asked him to account for his time on the night in question.
The constable gave unsatisfactory answers, and was then called upon to produce his truncheon.
He is said to have offered some excuse for not doing so, and a search at his residence was thereupon ordered.
The truncheon could not be found in the house, but on the garden being dug up in a further search, the weapon was found embedded in the earth in such a manner as to suggest that it had been pressed into the ground lengthwise by a foot.
The truncheon was smeared with what is believed to be blood.
GEORGE COOKE AND MAUD SMITH
The constable was thereupon placed under arrest.
His name is George Samuel Cooke; he belongs to the X Division, and is 27 years of age.
The woman was Maud Smith, alias Cooke, alias Crowcher.
The Prisoner, when apprehended, protested his innocence of the crime.
A prominent Police official has made the following statement to the representative of a News Agency:-
“We have ascertained that the deceased woman was formerly a barmaid, and that she has a mother, now residing somewhere in the neighbourhood of Holloway, although at present I am unacquainted with her exact address. The deceased appears to have abandoned her regular occupation about two years ago.
While she frequented the neighbourhood of the Strand, Police-constable Cooke made her acquaintance.
He was then a member of the E Division.
He will be brought up on Friday at the West London Police-court, and probably remanded, and it is possible the inquest may be opened later that day.
The testimony to be adduced is of a very sensational character.
Dr. Jackson has made a post-mortem examination of the body of the deceased, and it has been identified by several persons as the body of a woman who was known to visit Cooke.
The skull has been reduced to a frightful condition. It has been smashed in, and the jaw has been fractured. There are no marks of violence except upon the face and head; and at the spot where she was discovered there were no signs of a struggle.
The woman was attacked early in the evening, before the rain fell.
After we have given an outline of the case we shall ask the Magistrate for a remand: that is as far as we can expect to go.
Cooke bore a good character while a member of the E Division.
He has been in the Metropolitan Police about five years, and was, I believe, formerly a fisherman, but I know nothing more of his antecedents.”
Last evening it was reported that Cooke’s uniform had been found buried in the garden of the house adjoining that in which he has been living. They were much saturated with blood, and were at once taken to Latimer-road Police-station.”
CONSTABLE COOKE IN COURT
On June the 18th 1893, Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, carried the following report on the known facts in the Cooke case:-
“Police-constable George Samuel Cooke, 385 X, 27 years of age, whose address was given at 39, Silchester-road, Notting-hill, was brought up in custody, at the West London police-court, on Friday, charged with having unlawfully caused the death of a woman named Maud Smith, by kicking her on the head or striking her with some blunt instrument, between the hours of 10 p.m. on the 6th inst. and 5.45 a.m. on the 7th, at Wormwood-scrubbs.
Detective-inspector Morgan asked his worship to take just sufficient evidence to justify a remand.
The first witness would simply speak to finding the body.
Mr. John Haynes, solicitor, said he appeared to watch the interests of the accused.
The accused, who is very tall, entered the dock with a smile and a look of recognition towards some police officers in court.
HARRY KIMBERLEY’S TESTIMONY
Harry William Kimberley, of 44, Addison-road North, Notting-hill, said he was a night shepherd.
On Tuesday night he was engaged in watching sheep at Wormwood-scrubbs, and at a quarter to six in the morning, he was coming along from Old Oak-common when he saw the body of a woman lying about 10 yards from the path leading to Scrubbs-lane, about half a-mile from the bank. He was about 100 yards off when he first saw the woman. He did not know what it was until be came up. He could see distinctly that it was the body of a woman when he got close to it.
The Magistrate: Dressed?
Yes. One side of the face was literally covered with blood. I could not see one side; it was so smashed. I could see one eye – I believe it was the left – smashed in. Her head was lying immediately towards the range of the butts.
The Magistrate: How far from the rails ?
About 50 yards. Her dress was hardly disarranged, hardly at all. The bodice across the breast was split, as if it had been out.
The Magistrate: Did you touch the body at all?
Yes, I touched her hand. It was cold, very cold.
The Magistrate: Did you form an opinion that she was alive or dead?
I formed an opinion immediately – that she was dead. A hat, handkerchief, and sunshade were lying close together about six feet from her head.
DR JACKSON’S TESTIMONY
Dr. Jackson, the police divisional surgeon, said he was called to see the deceased about seven o’clock on Wednesday morning.
There were two fractures of the skull, the right eyeball was smashed, and the lower jaw had two fractures. The brain was lacerated. The injuries were caused by direct violence.
The body was removed to the Hammersmith mortuary, and he made a post-mortem examination.
INSPECTOR MORGAN’S TESTIMONY
Inspector Samuel Morgan said the prisoner was a constable and had been stationed at Notting-dale.
On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights he was on patrolling duty round Wormwood-scrubbs prison from 10 p.m. to six a.m.
A constable named Kemp accompanied him on Monday night, but not on Tuesday night.
The witness showed the prisoner at the police-station on Thursday afternoon a number of statements taken in writing from various persons, and said, “There are some suspicious circumstances in connection with your conduct in this case. I must ask you for an explanation,” adding that he would take it down in writing.
Witness said, “Miss Robinson, your landlady, and several constables have been to the mortuary and identified the body as that of a woman named Maud Smith, who visited you. Who is that person?”
The prisoner replied, “I have known her for about two and a-half years. I first met her in the Strand. The last time I saw her to speak to was on Saturday evening, when I met her with a soldier named Higgins. I don’t know his address or his regiment, but he wore spurs.
I heard from her on Tuesday, asking me what time and place I could meet her on Tuesday evening, and that she would come to the Scrubbs station. I did not see her that night. I burnt the letter. I intended to reply, but I did not do so.”
THE VICTIM HAD BEEN LOOKING FOR HIM
Inspector Morgan then testified that he had then said to the prisoner, “Constable Rosewarne has identified the body as that of a young woman who saw Rosewarne at Notting-dale police-station about eight o’clock on Tuesday evening, and asked what duty Police-constable 385 Cooke was on. She was told ‘Night duty.’ She said she knew where he lived.”
In reply the prisoner said, “A little girl called at my lodgings about nine o’clock on Tuesday night and informed me that a lady wished to see me near the Prince of Wales’ Feathers public-house. I went there, but saw no one I knew, and went to the station at a quarter to 10.”
Witness said at 20 past 10 Constable Harris was near the North Pole public-house and was spoken to by a young woman, who asked where 385 was on duty. She said, “I’m told he’s on prison duty.” He told her he had gone along the North Pole-road, and pointed the way. The woman then joined the prisoner. The woman was the deceased.
In reply to that the prisoner said:- “I did not see her that night.”
Witness further told the prisoner that a gentleman connected with the prison had reported that he saw and heard a constable and a young woman having an altercation at a quarter to 11 at a corner of the prison.
Prisoner was the only constable on duty there, and the witness asked him if he spoke to any woman there, but he denied having seen or spoken to any woman all night.
Witness then showed the prisoner a truncheon and whistle, and said, “You were seen to bury these in the back garden yesterday morning early.”
He said, “Yes; I was afraid the inspector was coming to visit the lodgings and would see them. I bought them from a constable in the A division three years ago.”
When shown the stained trousers and boots prisoner admitted he wore them on Tuesday night, but could not account for the stains, except that he cut his thumb on Monday night.
The facts were reported to the Commissioner of Police, and at six o’clock on Thursday evening he charged him with wilfully causing the death of the woman by kicking her on the head, or striking her with some blunt instrument.
He made no reply to the charge.
Mr. Haynes reserved his cross-examination, and said he would have a great deal to ask the inspector.
Mr. Curtis Bennett then remanded the prisoner, and at the request of Inspector Morgan certified for legal aid…”
At the inquest into the death of Maud Smith, Kate Robinson, the wife of Police-constable Robinson, of Silchester-road, Notting-hill, with whom PC Cooke lodged had this to say in her testimony which was reported in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper on June 18th 1893:-
“A woman, whom Cooke introduced as “Maud, his young woman,” came to the house on three occasions. He said she was a barmaid.
On Tuesday, the 6th inst., Cooke received a letter from Maud asking what time she could meet him at Wormwood-scrubbs.
On Saturday, the 3rd inst., the deceased came to the house at half-past 10 p.m., and said she wished to leave a note for Cooke.
She said she had had a disagreement with him about a soldier.
When Cooke came in shortly afterwards, witness gave him the letter, and he left at once.
Upon his return he said he had had a quarrel over an address he found in Maud’s pocket.
He said she had been in trouble with the manager of a public-house.
Witness told him she could not come to the house again.
On Wednesday witness noticed on his return home that he had nothing to eat.
Shortly afterwards witness went into the scullery and saw Cooke burying something in the garden.
Witness afterwards moved the earth, and saw the handle of a truncheon and a whistle.
She told her husband later in the day.
When Cooke came in he said his boots were wet, and he put them near the fire to dry.
Afterwards witness put them in the sun, and she noticed that the flies settled on one.
The deceased and Cooke seemed to be on good terms with each other when at her house.”
At the inquest Sub-Inspector Hatcher testified that Cooke had, in fact, made a full confession to him at the police station on the 9th of June 1893.
Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper carried a full report of the incriminating confession:-
“I suppose it is no use trying to get out of it?
When I got round the prison I saw her, and said, “What are you doing here?” and she said she was going to stop there until I went off duty. I said there would be another policeman round directly, and she said, “I would like to see him; I will tell him something.”
I said “Clear out,” and she said, “I shall not.”
We stopped arguing the point some time, and I went toward the Scrubbs, where she was found, thinking I should get out of her way, but she followed me, and going across I took my truncheon out, and put it up my sleeve.
When near the place where she was found I said, “Are you going”, and she replied, “No, I am going to stop and annoy you till Sunday.” She turned her head, and I drew my truncheon and hit her on the side of the head, knocking her down. She never moved, and I struck her again twice, and put my foot on her throat; but she never moved, but gave one gurgle, and I then made my way back to the prison and met Police constable Kemp, and said I had been round once. I thought nothing of killing her, and I have been happy since she has been dead. She was always annoying me, and I was in misery.”
THE ILLUSTRATED POLICE NEWS
In its issue of the 24th of June 1893, The Illustrated Police News presented its readers with a full front page tableaux that illustrated the events as outlined in Cooke’s confession.
The “sweetheart” shown weeping with Cooked during a visit, was Cooke’s fiance, to whom, according to subsequent press reports, he was due to be married in the coming October.
THE CORONER’S SUMMING UP
With all the inquest testimonies heard the Coroner, Mr Luxmoor Drew, proceeded to sum up.
His words were reported in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper on the 18th June 1893:-
“The coroner, in summing up, characterised the murder as an exceedingly brutal one, and said the alleged confession was a most damning piece of evidence against him.
The crime was evidently premeditated, and the proof of that was in the prisoner’s statement that he put his truncheon up his sleeve.
AN UNSATISFACTORY VERDICT
The jury, after one hour and 25 minutes’ deliberation, returned a verdict that the woman met with her death at the hands of Police-constable Cooke, and that such policeman was “Guilty of Wilful murder”; but several of the jury were of the opinion that it was under great provocation, and wished to return a verdict of “Manslaughter.”
This verdict the coroner said he could not accept, and the jury again retired.
After a consultation of 10 minutes they returned a verdict of “Wilful murder against Police-constable Cooke under very great provocation.”
HIS OLD BAILEY TRIAL
George Samuel Cooke went on trial at the Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey) on the 26th June 1893.
Despite the fact that the jury expressed some sympathy towards him, the evidence was overwhelmingly against him and they had little choice but to find him guilty, although they strongly recommended mercy “upon the ground of the provocation he received.”
You can read the full trial transcript here.
SENTENCED TO DEATH
The judge, Justice Hawkins, however, sentenced him to death and, on Tuesday July 25th 1893, he was executed at Newgate Prison.
The Illustrated Police News, helpfully provided its readers with a depiction of his last days and of his last night’s sleep as he awaited his appointment with the hangman:-
GEORGE COOKE’S LAST MOMENTS
Less sensational was the sober report of his execution that appeared in the London Evening Standard on Wednesday 26th of July 1893:-
“George Samuel Cooke, aged 27, late a constable of the X Division of the Metropolitan Police, who was convicted at the last Sessions of the Central Criminal Court, before Mr. Justice Hawkins, of the wilful murder of Maud Smith, alias Merton, was hanged yesterday morning within the walls of Newgate Prison.
Representatives of the Press were excluded from the execution by order of the High Sheriff for the county of London.
It is stated that Cooke got up a little before seven o’clock in the morning, and quickly dressed in the clothes which he wore at his trial.
Colonel Milman, the Governor of the gaol; Dr. Gilbert, the medical officer; and Mr. Under Sheriff Halse arrived at the prison before nine o’clock.
At three minutes to the hour Billington was introduced into the condemned cell, where, in the presence of the Governor, the Under Sheriff, and Dr. Gilbert, he proceeded to pinion the arms of the culprit, an operation which was quietly and expeditiously carried out.
Cooke offered no resistance, nor did he make any observation during the process.
On leaving the cell a procession was started for the scaffold.
The convict, who walked between two warders, is said to have borne himself with remarkable fortitude.
He did not falter in the least, but walked with a firm step to the scaffold, which is situated within a very few paces of the condemned cell.
PALE AND HAGGARD
The convict, who was pale and haggard, shook hands with the Chief Warder, Mr. Scott, and thanked him for what he had done.
The final preparations were very quickly carried out.
The convict stood nearly six feet, and weighed about 12st.
He was given a drop of nearly six feet.
Death was said to have been instantaneous, and the execution to have been carried out in all respects satisfactorily.”