Who, after committing a series of horrible murders, in 1811 escaped the gallows by hanging himself in Prison
THE metropolis -- indeed the whole nation -- was never so completely horror-struck at any private calamity as at the daring and inhuman murders perpetrated, in the very heart of the City of London, at the close of the year 1811.
On a dark evening in the beginning of the month of December, about the time when tradesmen were shutting up their shops, Mr Marr, a respectable draper, sent his servant-maid to purchase some oysters for the family supper. Mr Marr was in the act of replacing goods which had been exposed to the view of customers on the counter upon their shelves. The girl left the shop door ajar, expecting to return in a very few minutes; but, unfortunately, the nearest place of sale for oysters had disposed of the whole, and she therefore went farther on her errand. Meantime two or more ruffians entered the shop, shut the door, knocked down Mr Marr, and cut his throat. Next they seized his shop-boy, and murdered him. Mrs Marr was in the kitchen, hushing her babe to sleep on her lap. Hearing an extraordinary noise and scuffling above, as was supposed, she hastily laid the child in the cradle and ran upstairs, where she was met by the bloodthirsty monsters, and seized and instantly murdered in the same way that they had dispatched Mr Marr and the boy.
The child, disturbed with being hastily laid down, cried aloud, and the villains, doubtless apprehensive that it would cause an alarm, descended and, more horrible still to relate, cut its innocent throat so as nearly to sever its tender head from its body.
By this time the girl returned with the oysters, and finding the shop door shut rang the bell; but no person answered. At this instant a watchman, passing on his round, asked what she did there; and, being answered, he pulled the bell with violence. This so much alarmed the villains that they made a precipitate retreat through a window in the back part of the house, across some mud, and along an intricate way, which no one that had not previously reconnoitred the situation could have readily found.
The watchman, finding the bell still unanswered, went to the next- door neighbour, and gave an alarm. Some three or four men collecting together, it was determined to scale the wall which divided Mr Marr's back premises from those of the adjoining house. This was done without much loss of time, and there was presented the most woeful scene that, perhaps, ever disgraced human nature: the bodies of Mr Marr and his shop-boy, the latter of whom appeared from evident marks to have struggled for life with the assassins, near each other; that of Mrs Marr in the passage; and the infant in its cradle -- all dead, but yet warm and weltering in their blood. The horrible scene for a moment petrified those who first entered; and they naturally feared the murderers might still be in the house plundering the property therein. They opened the street door and called out an alarm of murder, which spread with such rapidity that the neighbourhood was very soon in an alarm. The nightly watch mustered, and the drum of the melancholy beat to arms -- in fine, though now near midnight, so great a crowd assembled that it was necessary to shut the doors while someone explained the cause of the alarm to those in the street.
The coroner's jury, sitting upon the inquest of the deaths of this unfortunate family, brought in their verdict -- "Guilty of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown."
The interment of Mr and Mrs Marr and their infant son took place on Sunday, the 15th of December, 1811, at St George's Church in the East.
The procession entered the aisle of the church in the following order: -- the body of Mr Marr; the bodies of Mrs Marr and infant; the father and mother of Mr Marr; the mother of Mrs Marr; the four sisters of Mrs Marr; the only brother of Mr Marr; the next in relationship to the deceased; the friends of Mr and Mrs Marr.
After the church ceremony the corpses were conveyed into the burial-ground, and deposited in one grave. An immense crowd attended, but the utmost decorum prevailed.
Would that our sad tale of blood ended here! It is our painful task to record another instance of human atrocity, and, in universal belief, committed by the same relentless monster -- another family doomed to the same horrid death; and they resided a very short distance from the spot where lived the late unfortunate Mr Marr.
Scarcely had the horror excited by the mysterious and barbarous destruction of those unfortunate persons subsided than the neighbourhood in which they resided became again a scene of confusion, horror and dismay; and, by the spectacle which was presented on Thursday night, the 19th of December, 1811, a new and irresistible feeling of alarm pervaded all the inhabitants, lest some of their domestic circles should next become the object of midnight assassination.
The circumstances of the horrid event to which we allude -- as far as we have been able to collect them, from the most minute inquiry and investigation -- are as follows.
On Thursday night, the 19th of December, 1811, shortly after eleven o'clock, the neighbourhood of New Gravel Lane was alarmed by the most dreadful cries of "Murder!" Opposite the King's Arms public-house, at No. 81 Gravel Lane, numbers soon collected, and immediately it was ascertained that the cries which had excited such general alarm came from a man who was seen descending, almost in a state of nudity, by a line formed by the junction of two sheets, from the two pair-of-stairs window of the house in question. On reaching the extremity of the sheets, which was nearly eight feet from the ground, he was assisted by the watchman, who caught him in his arms, when he cried out, in the greatest agitation: "They are murdering the people in the house!" These words were no sooner uttered than a short consultation was held by the people assembled and it was at once resolved that an entry should be forced into the house through the cellar flap. This was shortly accomplished, and a man named Ludgate, a butcher, living in Ashwell's Buildings, Gravel Lane, and Mr Hawse, and a constable, entered; and almost at the same moment a gentleman, named Fox, obtained an entrance through some wooden bars at the side of the house, with a cutlass in his hand. On looking round the cellar, the first object that attracted their attention was the body of Mr Williamson, which lay at the foot of the stairs, with a violent contusion on the head, his throat dreadfully cut, and an iron crow by his side; they then proceeded upstairs into the parlour, where they found Mrs Williamson also dead, with her skull and her throat cut, and blood still issuing from the wounds, and near her lay the body of the servant-woman, whose head was also horribly bruised, and her throat cut in the most shocking manner.
The following is a correct account of the examination of the witnesses before the magistrates of Shadwell Police-office; and the most satisfactory information we could obtain of this melancholy event.
Mr Anderson was first examined: he deposed that he was a constable; he knew Mr and Mrs Williamson; they were characters highly respected in the neighbourhood, and for the space of fifteen years kept the King's Arms public-house, which was the resort of foreigners of every description. At eleven o'clock every night they invariably closed up their house. On Thursday night, the 19th December, 1811, ten minutes before eleven, witness called for a pot of beer. Mrs W. drew the beer, and said to him, 'You shall not carry the beer home, I will send it.' During the time she was drawing the beer, Mr W. who was sitting by the fire, said to Mr Andrews, 'You are an officer, there has been a fellow listening at my door, with a brown coat on; if you should see him take him into custody, or tell me.' Mr A. answered, 'He certainly would, for his and his own safety.' These were the last words Mr A. mentioned, and then retired. Witness lived next door but one to the deceased; between twenty and thirty minutes after he left the King's Arms, he intended to go for another pot of beer; as soon as he got out of his house he heard a noise, when he saw the lodger lowering himself down into the street by the sheets. He ran into the house for his staff and proceeded to the spot. The watchman caught the lodger in his arms, when witness and others broke the cellar-flap open; they all then entered, and began to look round the cellar; on coming to the staircase, they saw Mr Williamson lying on his back, with his legs upon the stairs, his head downwards; by his side was an iron instrument, similar to a stone-mason's crow, about three feet long; in diameter three quarters of an inch; it was much stained with blood. Mr Williamson had received a wound on the head, his throat was dreadfully cut, his right leg was broken by a blow, and his hand severely cut. From these marks of violence, witness supposed Mr W. made great resistance, being a very powerful man. While witness and others were viewing the body, they heard a voice crying, 'Where is the old man?' At these words, they proceeded up into the sitting-room, when they saw Mrs Williamson lying on her left side; her skull was fractured, and her throat cut, and bleeding most profusely; near to Mrs Williamson was the servant-woman, lying on her back, with her head under the grate; her skull was more dreadfully fractured than that of her mistress, her throat most inhumanly cut, and none of the bodies were cold. Witness then stated that the premises were afterwards examined, and it was discovered that the murderers had made their escape from a back window looking into a piece of waste ground belonging to the London Dock Company. The sill of the window was stained with blood, and the sash remained thrown up. The distance which the villains had to jump did not exceed eight feet, and the ground beneath was soft clay, so that they could sustain no injury even had they fallen. From the waste ground in question there was no difficulty whatever in escaping, as it communicated with several bye-streets.
John Turner, the man who escaped from the window, and who was a lodger in the house, deposed as follows: 'I went to bed about five minutes before eleven o'clock; I had not been in bed more than five or ten minutes before I heard the cry of "We shall all be murdered," which, I suppose, was the cry of the woman servant. I went downstairs, and I saw one of the villains cutting Mrs Williamson's throat, and rifling her pockets.
'I immediately ran upstairs; I took up the sheets from my bed and fastened them together, and lashed them to the bed-posts, I called to the watchman to give the alarm; I was hanging out of the front window by the sheets; the watchman received me in his arms, naked as I was: a great mob had then assembled opposite the door: as soon as I got upon my legs, the door was forced open; I entered, and found the bodies lying as described. There was nobody lodged in the house but myself, except a grand-daughter of Mrs Williamson. I have lived in the house about eight months, and during that time I have found them to be the most peaceable people that could keep a public-house. The man whom I saw rifling Mrs Williamson's pocket, as far as I could see by the light in the room, was about six feet in height, dressed in a genteel style, with a long dark loose coat on. I said nothing to him; but, terrified, I ran upstairs and made my escape as already mentioned. When I was downstairs, I heard two or three very great sighs, and when I was first alarmed, I heard distinctly the words, "We shall all be murdered!"
Turner further deposed, that, at the time he went to bed, Mrs Williamson was on the stairs taking up a silver punch-ladle and watch, which was to be raffled for on the Monday following, into her bed-room for security.
The grand-daughter alluded to in Turner's evidence, was so affected that the magistrates asked her but few questions.
It further appeared from general report, that Mr Williamson had been robbed of a watch, but whether any money had been taken from him was not known. The maker's name of the watch is said to be James Catchpole.
Two persons were taken into custody on suspicion, one of whom was discharged, but the other, an Irishman, who was apprehended with a jar of spirits in his possession, was remanded for a second examination, not however from any suspicion that he committed the foul deed, but on account of his prevaricating in his statement, as to the mode in which the spirits came into his possession.
The wounds on the heads of the unfortunate sufferers were evidently inflicted by an iron bar; and from their position, as well as from the cuts on the throat, one of the murderers appears to have been left-handed. The under part of the house is a skittle-ground, next to the entrance of which is the cellar door, by both of which entries it seems that the villains attempted to escape, as marks of blood were discovered upon them. During the time the horrid deed was perpetrating, a public-houses almost adjoining, was filled with people drinking, and a few doors on the other side is a rendezvous for seamen, all of which look into the waste ground alluded to.
On the first alarm being given, a picquet of the Tower Hamlets militia, and several volunteers, assisted by the inhabitants and the constables, made a most minute search in all quarters for the offenders, but without finding any person to whom they could fix suspicion.
The churchwardens and overseers of Shadwell parish held a meeting, and immediately advertised a reward of one hundred guineas for the discovery of the villains.
The magistrates of Shadwell continued sitting the whole day, and the concourse of spectators before the office was equally numerous to that on the spot where the fatal murders happened.
The deceased Mr J. Williamson was about fifty-six years of age; his wife, Mrs C. Williamson, about sixty; and Bridget Harrington, the servant-woman, fifty years of age.
The coroner's jury brought in the same verdict as upon the bodies of the Marrs; and their interment was conducted in a similar manner to that of the first unfortunate family.
The police-officers, who had been already on the alert, but had not as yet, overtaken the murderers, were all required, by order of the magistrates, to aid in the search, and many persons were apprehended on suspicion, against whom nothing could be brought to criminate them.
Of the many examinations which took place at the Shadwell Police-office, the investigations of Mr Graham of the Bowstreet office, and many other active magistrates, we shall select such as fix these most dreadful crimes upon a man of the name of John Williams, said to have been an Irishman, who evaded justice by committing the additional sin of SUICIDE!
This man, at length, was apprehended as one of the murderers; and, on his examination, John Frederic Ritchen, a Dane, also a prisoner under suspicion, as an accomplice stated, that he lodged in the same house with Williams for about twelve weeks and three or four days, but knows little of him, except as a fellow-lodger. On being minutely questioned, respecting his knowledge of two persons, a carpenter and a joiner, acquaintances of Williams he said, that about three or four weeks ago, he saw them drinking at the Pear Tree public-house with Williams, and since that time has seen them there without Williams. On the night of the murder of the Marr family, a few minutes before Williams came home, there was a knock at the door, and he went down to open it, when he found the key had been taken from the inside of the lock, and he called to the mother of Mrs Vermillee, the landlady, to come down and open the door. Hearing her coming down he went up to his own room; and, when there, heard her in conversation with a man, whose voice, he thinks, was that of one of the two men before- mentioned. A few minutes afterwards, Williams himself came in. This was almost half past one o'clock. One day last week (he believes three or four days before Williams was taken up) he observed that the large sandy-coloured whiskers which had before formed a striking feature of Williams's appearance had been cut off. About eleven o'clock of the day after the murder of the Marr family, he went from curiosity to examine the premises, which he entered, and saw the dead bodies. From thence he returned to the Pear Tree, where he found Williams in the back yard, washing out his stockings, but he did not tell Williams where be had been. On being asked by the magistrates, why he did not tell Williams, he answered, 'He did not know -- be could not tell.' He was then questioned respecting his knowledge of the maul, and also the iron instrument, which is a round bar about an inch in diameter, between two and three feet in length, flattened at the end into the shape of a chisel, but not with a cutting edge, being apparently a tool for caulking. The maul, he said, resembled one he had seen about the Pear Tree public-house, but he could not identify it. A pair of blue woollen trousers, and also a pair of canvass trousers, were then produced, which had been found between the mattress and the bed-clothes of the hammock in which the examined slept at the Pear Tree. The legs of the blue trousers had evidently been washed, for the purpose of cleaning them from mud, of which the appearance was still perfectly visible in the creases, that had not been effectually cleansed. These trousers were damp at the time of the examination; the canvass trousers were also damp, but they presented no particular appearance. He stated, that both these pairs of trousers had formerly belonged to a person since gone to sea, and he had since worn them himself.
Mrs Orr stated, that on the Saturday before Marr's murder, about half past one o'clock in the morning, she was getting up linen, when she heard a noise about the house, as if a man was attempting to break into the house. She was frightened, and asked, 'Who was there?' A voice answered, which she knew to be Williams, 'I am a robber!' She answered, 'Whether you are a robber or not, I will let you in, and am glad to see you.' Williams entered, seating himself down till the watchman was calling the hour of past two o'clock; Williams got up from his chair, asked the landlady if she would have a glass? she assented, but as he would not go for it, she went to the Pear Tree public-house, and could gain no admittance. She returned, when Williams enquired how many rooms there were in her house, and the situation of her back premises? She replied there were three rooms; and that her back yard communicated with Mrs Vermillee's house. The watchman came into Mrs Orr's house, which Williams resisted for some time. The watchman told Mrs On that he had picked up a chisel by the side of her window. Williams run out unobserved at this information; soon afterwards he returned; the watchman was going, when Williams stopped him, and desired him to go to the Pear Tree, and get some liquor. The house was then open. While the watchman was gone for the liquor, Williams took up the chisel, and said, D--n my eyes, where did you get this chisel!' Mrs Orr did not part with it, and retained the instrument till the Monday following. Hearing that Williams was examined, she went to Mrs Vermillee's, and shewed her the chisel. -- Mrs Vermillee looked at it, and compared it with the tools in Peterson's chest, when it was found to bear the same marks, and declared that it was taken out of her house. Mrs Orr instantly delivered the chisel to the magistrates of Shadwell street office, as being a further trace to the villainy. Mrs Orr says she knew Williams for eleven weeks; he frequently nursed her child, and used to joke with her daughter, and once asked her whether she would be frightened if he came in the dead of the night to her bedside? The daughter replied, 'No, if it was you, Mr Williams, I should, not.' Both the mother and daughter thought Williams an agreeable young man, and of a most insinuating address, and never thought he could be the man who would attempt to rob or murder.
Sylvester Dryscoll was brought up, and informed by the magistrate that the enquiries respecting the liquors found in his possession turned out to be correct; therefore, upon that charge be was exonerated; but, till he gave some account of the bloody breeches found in his possession, he considered it his duty, as a magistrate, to commit him till the Tuesday following, which was accordingly done.
The magistrates ordered the publication of the marks on the note found in the possession of Williams, for the purpose that any person having had such a note, or can at all trace the private marks, may apply immediately and give every information thereon. ONE BANK OF ENGLAND, 1811. No. 16755. To pay to Mr Henry Hase. No. 16755. on demand the sum of One Pound. 269 - Goodwin.
ONE 1811, Aug. 23, London, 23, Aug. 1811. For the Gov. and Comp. ŁONE of the Bank of England. T. FROGGAT
And indorsed on the back of the note,
Golding to J.D. - 7/l2 11.
Mt Capper, a magistrate of Shadwell office, attended on Mr Vermillee in Newgate. Mr Alderman Wood waited on the magistrates in the morning, and stated information, which was of great importance.
The ripping chisel which was found in Mr Marr's house was conveyed to Newgate, in order to be identified by Mr Vermillee. The conference was private, and continued until four o'clock in the evening. Mr Vermillee gave testimony to the instrument, called a ripping hook, being among the chest of tools deposited in his house. We must here remind our readers that the said ripping book, about two feet in length, was found by the side of Mrs Marr, and it is the same which Mr V. has deposed that he knew perfectly well. The unfortunate person in confinement has likewise given information of another man, whom he conceives must be concerned in the late inhuman murders.
The magistrate immediately forwarded directions to the different officers to go in pursuit, and every exertion was used to find out the man alluded to.
Williams, previous to the murders, had large red whiskers, which seem to have been cut off very recently before his apprehension, and his hair is cut in a different manner to what it was before; he is about five feet nine inches in height, of an insinuating manner and pleasing countenance, and is not lame, as stated in some of the papers.
Vermillee, the landlord of the Pear Tree public-house, at which the supposed murderer lodged, will be liberated from the debtor's side of Newgate, and will be further examined.
John Williams was heavily ironed and confined in Coldbath-fields house of correction.
For a considerable time after the perpetration of these sanguinary atrocities the magistrates devoted, without intermission, the whole of their time, from an early hour in the morning till midnight, to the incessant pursuit of the murderers. The number of persons dispatched in different directions greatly exceeds what is known to the public; and the private intimations received, so numerous as to justify a hope, that, by the laudable exertions of the magistrates and officers, the wretches who had thus outraged the peace of society would be speedily brought to justice and condign punishment.
When the gaoler went to the room in the house of correction in Coldbath-fields, where Williams was confined, in order to call him to his last examination before the Shadwell police magistrates, his body was found dead, hanging to a beam; thus adding to his supposed crime that of self-murder!
On the 31st December, his remains were privately removed, at eleven o'clock at night, from the cell in Coldbath-fields prison, where he committed suicide, and conveyed to St. George's watch- house, near the London Docks, preparatory to interment. Mr Capper, the magistrate, had an interview with the secretary for the home department, for the purpose of considering with what propriety the usual practice of burying suicides in the nearest cross-roads might be departed from in the present instance, and it was then determined that a public exhibition should be made of the body through the neighbourhood which had been the scene of the monster's crimes. In conformity with this decision, the following pro cession moved from the watch-house, about half past ten o'clock on Tuesday morning:
Several hundred constables; with their staves, clearing the way
The newly-formed patrole, with drawn cutlasses Another body of constables
Parish officers of St. George's, St. Paul's, and Shadwell, on horseback
Peace officers, on horseback
The high constable of the county of Middlesex on horseback
THE BODY OF WILLIAMS
Extended at full length on an Inclined platform, erected on the cart, about four feet high at the head, and gradually sloping towards the horse, giving a full view of the body, which was dressed in blue trousers and a white and blue striped waistcoat, but without a coat, as when found in the cell. On the left side of the head the fatal mall, and on the right the ripping chisel, with which the murders were perpetrated, were exposed to view. The countenance of Williams was ghastly in the extreme, and the whole had an appearance too horrible for description.
A strong body of constables brought up the rear.
The procession advanced slowly up Ratcliffe-Highway, accompanied by an immense concourse of persons, eager to get a sight of the murderer's remains. When the cart came opposite to the late Mr Marr's house, a halt was made for near a quarter of an hour. The procession then moved down Old Gravel-lane, along Wapping, up New Crane-lane, and into New Gravel-lane. When the platform arrived at the late Mr Williamson's house, a second halt took place. It then proceeded up the hill, and again entered Ratcliffe Highway, down which it moved into Cannon-street, and advanced to St. George's turnpike, where the new road is intersected by Cannon-street. There a grave, about six feet deep, had been prepared, immediately over which the main water-pipe runs. Between twelve and one o'clock the body was taken from the platform, and lowered into the grave immediately after which a stake was driven through it; and the pit being covered, this solemn ceremony concluded.
During the last half hour the crowd had increased immensely; they poured in from all parts, but their demeanour was perfectly quiet. All the shops in the neighbourhood were shut, and the windows and tops of the houses were crowded with spectators. On every side, mingled with execrations of the murderer, were heard fervent prayers for the speedy detection of his accomplice or accomplices.