In a previous article I presented the newspaper coverage of the murder of Annie Austin, which took place at a common lodging house, situated at 35 Dorset Street, Spitalfields, in May 1901.
You can read the previous article on this page.
At the inquest into the death of Annie Austin, her husband, William, had testified and he had revealed how his deceased wife had taken to drinking heavily and was working as a prostitute in Spitalfields, soliciting her clients from various hostelries in the locale.
WILLIAM AUSTIN ARRESTED
On 31st of May, 1901, the Daily News reported that:-
“A fresh and important development in the mystery surrounding the murder of the woman Austin at a common lodging house at Dorset Street, Spitalfields, last Sunday has taken place. The police have arrested the murdered woman’s husband at his lodgings at Battersea on suspicion of being concerned in his wife’s death.”
RECOGNISED BY MRS MOORE
On Saturday 1st of June 1901 The Gloucester Journal provided details on the circumstances that led to the arrest, albeit it cast some doubt on Mrs Moore as being a credible witness:-
“The man, William Austin, after giving evidence at the inquest on Wednesday, left his address with the police. who later in the day, on the information of Mrs. Moore, the wife of the deputy at the lodging-house, effected his arrest.
Mrs. Moore, at the coroner’s enquiry, described the man who accompanied the woman as short and dark, whereas Austin is a man of nearly six feet.
The woman, however, says that whilst the husband was giving evidence on Wednesday she recognised him as the deceased woman’s companion of Saturday night.
At present, however, the evidence against Austin lacks reliability, as Mrs. Moore’s information is contradictory to her sworn statement.”
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph was equally incredulous of Mrs. Moore’s identification of the husband as the man who had accompanied Annie Austin to the lodging house, observing in its edition of 31st May 1901:-
” A strange feature in the case is that, throughout the statements made by the deceased, she made mention of “the man who was with me” and never once mentioned her husband. Indeed, to Dr Ridge, at the London Hospital, not long before she died, the unfortunate woman said, “If I knew who he was I would give him over to the police.”
WILLIAM AUSTIN IN COURT
William Austin was charged with the wilful murder of his wife and, on the 30th May 1901, he appeared at Worship Street Police Court.
The Sheffield Daily Telegraph described him as, “a well built man of six feet, with a bronzed and not unpleasing face, [who] was wearing a suit of workhouse clothes.”
The only witness called at this first appearance was Mrs Maria Moore.
She informed the court that, on the night before her death, Mrs Austin and the prisoner, neither of whom she had ever seen before, had arrived at the lodging house, at 35 Dorset Street, at some time between half past nine and ten o’clock. She saw William Austin in the office, and he paid 1s and 6d for their night’s accommodation.
She showed them to the cubicle they were to occupy and, having done so, she went back downstairs and didn’t see the couple again that night.
The next morning, one of the lodgers had drawn her attention to the woman and, having seen that she had been seriously injured, she sent her husband for a doctor.
She had since seen the body of Annie Austin at the mortuary and she was certain that she was the woman who had come to the lodging house in the company of the Prisoner.
SHE SAW HIM AT THE INQUEST
At this point, her testimony was interrupted by the Court Clerk, who asked her when she next saw the man with whom the deceased woman had spent the night?
“At the inquest, yesterday,” was Maria Moore’s reply. “I turned to my friend and said, “that’s him, that’s the man, and I pointed him out to my husband.”
The Clerk then asked her if she had told the police.
“No, not at once,” she replied. “I went home to consider if it was the man.”
“When did you see the man next?” Asked the Clerk.
“Early this morning, at Leman Street Police Station,” Mrs Moore replied. “He was with nine other men, and I picked him out of the ten.”
“And you say he was the man who came with the woman on Saturday night?”
“Yes Sir,” was the witnesses reply.
According to The Sheffield Daily Telegraph:-
“The witness then went on to say that when she recognised him at the inquest on Wednesday, he was wearing the same ragged clothes and old cap as he had on when he hired the bed on Saturday night.”
PRISONER COULD QUESTION THE WITNESS
The magistrate then asked William Austin if he had anything to say, to which the Prisoner replied, “No, Sir. I’ve no desire to ask this woman a single question. Neither Will I make any statement.”
At which point the magistrate remanded William Austin in custody for a week.
THE INQUEST RESUMES
The inquest into the death of Annie Austin resumed on Tuesday June 4th 1901, with Coroner Wynne E. Baxter again presiding.
Several newspapers mentioned that William Austin was brought to the inquest by cab from Holloway Prison and they also stated that he was crying when he got out of the cab.
DANIEL SULLIVAN’S EVIDENCE
The first witness was Daniel Sullivan, who said that he was the brother-in-law of William Crossingham, the owner of the lodging house at which the woman had been attacked.
Again, Coroner Baxter was unimpressed with this witness who, according to several newspaper reports, “pretended to be deaf.”
The Coroner, though, was having none of it and curtly informed him that he did not think he was so deaf as he pretended to be.
According to Sullivan, his brother-in-law owned several lodging houses in Dorset Street and he [Sullivan] sometimes looked after them for him.
Questioned as to whether he had been at 35 Dorset Street on the Saturday night, he replied that he couldn’t be sure, although he was certain that he was there on the Sunday afternoon.
“Were you not there in the early morning?” Asked the Coroner.
“No, Sir,” Sullivan replied.
HIS MEMORY IMPROVED
“Take care what you say,” the Coroner persisted. “If you say what is untrue, you will find yourself in trouble. So, I warn you.”
At which point Sullivan’s memory improved slightly:- “Well, I may have been there in the morning,” he told the Coroner.
He then said that he went to 35 Dorset Street on Sunday, the 26th May, between 7 and 8 o’clock.
Henry Moore, the deputy, subsequently asked him to assist in carrying a woman downstairs to a cab.
This Sullivan did; but he had no knowledge of the reason why the woman was being removed, and he was not told to take her to any particular place.
A QUEER CASE
The Coroner said that the porter at the London Hospital had stated that Sullivan had said that he thought it was a “queer case.”
If the porter said that he had told him it was a stabbing case, Sullivan retorted, he would be telling an untruth.
“What did you do after leaving the woman at the hospital?” The Coroner asked.
“I did nothing, sir,” came the reply.
“Do you mean that you did not go back to 35 Dorset Street, and do your best to prevent the people there telling the truth?” pressed the Coroner.
“I did not do anything of the sort,” was the witness’s reply to the accusation.
At this point the Coroner asked William Austin to stand up and asked Sullivan if he had ever seen him prior to the first day of the inquest the week before.
Sullivan replied that he hadn’t.
THE TIMES REPORTS THE CASE
On 5th June 1901 The Times reported:-
“He then said that he went to 35 Dorset street on Sunday, the 26th May, between 7 and 8 o’clock.
Henry Moore, the deputy, subsequently asked the witness to assist in carrying a woman downstairs to a cab.
This the witness did; but he had no knowledge of the reason why the woman was being removed, and he was not told to take her to any particular place.
The cabman took them to the London Hospital, where the witness told the porter that he thought it was a “queer case.” If the porter said that he told him it was a stabbing case he would be telling an untruth.
PREVENTED WITNESSES FRO TELLING THE TRUTH
The witness went back to the lodging house, and took no further steps in the matter.
It was not a fact that he had been trying to prevent witnesses from telling the truth.
Three detectives called at the house on the Sunday afternoon, and asked to be shown the room from which the witness had taken the woman.
Although reminded by the Coroner that the police knew nothing of the matter until the Monday, the witness maintained that the officers called on the Sunday and he said he took them to cubicle No. 44 on the first floor.
NOT THE SCENE OF THE CRIME
He admitted that he would not be surprised to know that the injuries were not inflicted in No. 44.
He first heard that the woman was not injured on the first floor on Sunday. He did not tell the deputy to stick to it that the affair occurred in No 33. He was not aware that the deceased’s clothing had been destroyed. He did not know why she had been sent to the hospital in other people’s clothing.
The Coroner: Personally, I do not believe half you have said.
The Witness: You can please yourself. I am telling you the truth.
The Coroner: No, you are not. You may find you will suffer the consequences.
The Witness: I do not see where I have made a mistake.
The Coroner: You have run as close to the wind as you possibly could.
THE TRUTH BEING COVERED UP
Evidently, the Coroner had severe doubts about the witnesses who were appearing before him at the inquest into the death of Annie Austin, and he was coming to the conclusion that he was not being told the truth about what had actually happened on the day of the murder.
And, as we shall see in the next instalment of this story, it was rapidly becoming apparent that William Austin may well have been innocent of the crime that he found himself being accused of.