- World Articles
London, England October 1888
Day 1, Monday, October 8th, 1888
(The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, October 9th, 1888)
Yesterday [8 Oct] Mr. John Troutbeck, coroner for Westminster, opened an inquest on the remains of the woman discovered in a vault of the new police office on the Thames Embankment on Tuesday last.
Frederick Wildborn was the first witness examined, and he said: I live at 17, Mansell-road, Clapham Junction, and am a carpenter employed by Messrs. Grover and Sons at the New Central Police Office at Westminster. On Tuesday last I was at the buildings, and my work took me to all parts of the place during the day. At six o’clock on the morning of the previous day I had occasion to go to the vaults to find my tools, my labourer having taken them there on the Saturday. I then noticed what I took to be an old coat thrown on one side. It was lying in the corner of a recess. It was very dark there, even in the middle of the day. I could not find my tools - my labourer having, in fact, already removed them. In the evening at 5.30 I went once more to the vaults, and I then noticed the parcel again. There was no smell, not in the least. I drew my mate’s attention to the parcel, and struck a wax vesta to look at it.
Assembling at the mortuary in Millbank-street, the jury were sworn, and viewed the remains there, afterwards adjourning to the Sessions House, Broad-sanctuary, where the evidence was taken.
The Coroner: Was that the first time you had noticed it particularly? - Yes; but we did not know what it was, and came away.
[Coroner] Did you report the circumstance? - Not then. I saw the parcel again the next morning. About one o’clock Mr. Brown, the assistant foreman, came down to where I was at work, and I then informed him of what I had seen. We both went and looked at the parcel, and we thought it seemed curious.
[Coroner] Was it opened in your presence? - No.
[Coroner] Were you in the vault on the Saturday? - I was not there for a week before.
[Coroner] When you were last there did you perceive anything unusual? - No.
[Coroner] Did your labourer say anything to you about it? - No. I heard of the discovery of a body about three-quarters of an hour after Mr. Brown had seen the parcel.
[Coroner] Did the parcel remain in the same position from the Monday until you drew Mr. Brown’s attention to it? - Yes; when I lit the match was the first time I had noticed anything particular. There was some débris in the place.
[Coroner] Has this vault been used for putting your tools in for any length of time? - For some weeks until the last three weeks. I always placed my tools there from Saturday to Monday, because I considered them safer there than in the locker. I have not noticed any similar parcel before.
[Coroner] No one carrying such a parcel? - No.
[Coroner] Is there any difficulty in getting to the vault? - Yes, to a stranger.
By the Jury: There is a hoarding all round the buildings. Each time I had to strike a match in order to see the parcel. I got to the vault not by means of a plank, but of a compo floor. I was not at the works at all from the Saturday to the Monday. When I saw the parcel first I thought it was a workman’s old coat.
George Budgen deposed: I live in Salisbury-buildings, Walworth, and am a bricklayer’s labourer, in the employ of Messrs. Grover. I was in this vault last Tuesday afternoon, just before three o’clock. I went there because my foreman, Mr. Cheney, told me there was a parcel there, and I was to examine it. I looked at it, and found that the top was bare, and the rest wrapped in some old cloth, but could make nothing of it. I thought it was some old bacon at first. I took hold of the strings around it, and dragged it into the light and cut the strings, three or four in number. On opening the old wrappers I saw that the parcel contained part of a human body.
[Coroner]How long before had you been in the vault? - Not for a long time. I had no occasion to go there.
[Coroner]Had you ever seen the parcel before? - No. I took a lamp down; without it I should not have been able to see anything. It was as dark as the darkest night. The police afterwards took charge of the remains.
[Coroner]What was said to you when you were sent to the vault? - The foreman only asked me to go and see what the parcel was.
Thomas Hawkins, detective, A Division, said: About twenty minutes past three on Tuesday afternoon last Mr. Brown came, to the King-street police-station, and from what he told the inspector I was despatched to the new police buildings. In one of the vaults I observed some human remains, wrapped in a piece of dress material and tied with string. I went to where the men told me the parcel had been found, and saw two pieces more of dress material. I left a constable in charge of the body while I went to the station, and also reported the discovery to Dr. Bond, who soon arrived at the spot. I directed all the witnesses to come to the station, where their statements were taken down. I fetched Detective-Inspector Marshall, who came at five o’clock and took charge of the body.
[Coroner]What did you notice about the vaults? - They were very dark, so dark that it was impossible for a stranger to reach them without artificial light. The body was lying across a trench.
Frederick Moore, being sworn, stated: I live in Great Peter-street, and am a deal porter. About a quarter to one on Sept. 11 I was standing outside the gates of No. 113, Grosvenor-road - a deal wharf where I work - when my attention was called by a few workmen looking over the Embankment to something which was lying in the mud of the river near the sluices from Millbank Distillery. The men said they thought the object was an arm, but I did not think it was. However, a ladder was obtained, and we then found that it was an arm.
[Coroner]Was it wrapped in anything? - Nothing.
[Coroner]Was there any string round it? - Yes, round the upper part. I put the arm on the timber, and gave information to the police.
[Coroner]You had not seen the arm before? - No.
[Coroner]And you do not think it was there the day before? - I could not say.
William James, Constable 127 B: About 12.45 on Sept. 11 I was on duty on Grosvenor Embankment, when my attention was called to the arm by the last witness, and I conveyed it first to the police-station, and subsequently to the mortuary.
[Coroner]Did you find any other remains? - No. I was on special patrol on the Embankment for a week afterwards, but saw nothing else on the mud.
Charles William Brown: I reside at 5, Hampton-terrace, Hornsey, and am assistant foreman to Messrs. Grover, at the new police offices, Whitehall. The works are shut off from the surrounding streets by a hoarding about 7ft high.
[Coroner]How many entrances are there? - Three; two in Cannon-row and one on the Embankment. There are gates at the entrances as high as the hoardings.
[Coroner]How long have these vaults been completed? - Three months.
[Coroner]Who was admitted to the works besides workmen? - No one, unless they had business.
[Coroner]Was any one kept at the gates? - No.
[Coroner]So that any person who chose could walk in? - There was no one to prevent them. On Saturdays, all the gates are locked up, except a small-one in Cannon-row.
[Coroner]Is there a watchman there? - No.
[Coroner]Who are left on the premises at night? - No one. The small gate in Cannon-row is secured by a latch, and it is not everybody who can undo it.
[Coroner]Is there any watchman outside? - No.
[Coroner]What were the approaches to the vaults? - A road made of planks laid two abreast. Once down in the vaults it is very dark. The floors have to be laid there and the drains put down. Carpenters were at work there the week before the discovery.
[Coroner]Did you observe anything about the state of the locks on the following Monday morning? - No.
[Coroner]Did they look as if they had been forced? - I did not notice.
[Coroner]Do you think previous knowledge was required to get to the vaults? - Yes, I do. I first saw the parcel about half-past two o’clock on Tuesday afternoon. I had been in the vaults on the Monday, but had not noticed any smell. I was there in the dark. On Tuesday the first witness called my attention to the parcel. He struck a light, and I saw in the corner what looked like an old coat with a piece of ham inside. I procured a lamp, and the parcel was afterwards got out and opened.
By the Jury: Tools have been stolen on the works. I do not think it possible that any one could have lowered the parcel from Richmond-mews.
Mr. George Cheney: I live at 23, Berwick-street, Wandsworth Bridge, and am a foreman of bricklayers at the new police buildings. On Tuesday afternoon last Mr. Brown led me to this parcel, and on our striking a light we examined it, but could not make out what it was. We obtained a lamp, and removed the parcel to daylight, when we saw the remains of a woman.
[Coroner]How long before that had you been in the vault? - Not since it was finished three months ago.
[Coroner]Had you seen the parcel before anywhere else? - No
Ernest Edge, a general labourer, living in Peabody’s-buildings, Farringdon-road, deposed: I was in this vault on Saturday week at twenty minutes to five in the evening, going there to get a hammer to nail the door of a locker. I struck a match, but nothing was in the vault then. I went across the trench, where we were measuring on the Friday. On the Saturday I was in the very corner where the parcel was discovered on the Tuesday.
[Coroner]There was no parcel there on the Saturday? - No. I might have been near the vault on the Monday; I certainly was on the Tuesday.
[Coroner]The vault leads to nowhere? - No.
[Coroner]Are workmen constantly in the vault during the day? - Almost every day they go there to look for things. On the Saturday I locked up after everybody had gone, and left everything secure. As to the gate, which opens with a latch, I left that in the usual way. I am sure it was shut. To open the gate it was only necessary to pull the string.
By the jury: The string would not attract the attention except of persons who knew about such buildings.
Mr. Thomas Bond: I am a surgeon, and reside at the Sanctuary, Westminster Abbey. On Oct. 2, shortly before four o’clock, I was called to the new police buildings, where I was shown the decomposed trunk of a body. It was then lying in the basement partially unwrapped. I visited the place where it had been discovered, and found that the wall against which it had lain was stained black. The parcel seemed to have been there for several days, and it was taken to the mortuary that evening, and the remains placed in spirits. On the following morning, assisted by my colleague, I made an examination. The trunk was that of a woman of considerable stature and well nourished. The head had been separated from the trunk by means of a saw. The lower limbs and the pelvis had been removed in the same way. The length of the trunk was 17 inches, and the circumference of the chest 35½ inches and the waist 28½ inches. The parts were decomposed , and we could not discover any wounds. The breasts were large and prominent. The arms had been removed at the shoulder joints by several incisions, the cuts having apparently been made obliquely from above downwards, and then around the arm. Over the body were clearly defined marks, where string had been tied. It appeared to have been wrapped up in a very skilful manner. We did not find marks indicating that the woman had borne any children. On opening the chest we found that the rib cartilages were not ossified, that one lung was healthy, but that the left lung showed signs of severe pleurisy. The substance of the heart was healthy, and there were indications that the woman had not died either of suffocation or of drowning. The liver and stomach, kidneys and spleen were normal. The uterus was absent. There were indications that the woman was of mature age - twenty-four or twenty-five years. She would have been large and well nourished, with fair skin and dark hair. The date of death would have been from six weeks to two months, and the decomposition occurred in the air, not the water. I subsequently examined the arm brought to the mortuary. It was the arm of a woman, and accurately fitted to the trunk; and the general contour of the arm corresponded to that of the body. The fingers were long and taper, and the nails well shaped; and the hand was quite that of a person not used to manual labour.
[Coroner]Was there anything to indicate the cause of death? - Nothing whatever.
[Coroner]Could you tell whether death was sudden or lingering? - All I can say is that death was not by suffocation or drowning. Most likely it was from haemorrhage or fainting.
[Coroner]Can you give any indication of the probable height of the woman? - From our measurements we believed the height to have been 5ft 8in. That opinion depends more upon the measurements of the arm than those of the trunk itself.
[Coroner]Was the woman stout? - Not very stout, but thoroughly plump; fully developed, but not abnormally fat. The inference is that she was a tall, big woman. The hand was long, and was the hand of a woman not accustomed to manual labour.
[Coroner]Did the hand show any sign of refinement? - I do not know that a hand of that kind is always associated with any refinement of mind or body, but certainly it was a refined hand.
Mr. Charles Alfred Hibbert, assistant to Mr. Bond, deposed: I examined the arm on Sept. 16. It was a right arm, and had been separated from the shoulder joint. It measured 31in in length and was 13in in circumference at the point of separation, the wrist being 6½in round, and the hand 7½in long. The arm was surrounded at the upper part with a piece of string, which made an impression on the skin, and when it was loosened there was a great deal of blood in the arm. The hand was long, and the nails small and well shaped. It was the hand of a female. There were no scars or bruises. The arm had apparently been separated after death.
[Coroner]Did the arm seem to have been separated easily? - The operation was performed by a person who knew what he was doing - not by an anatomist, but by a person who knew the joints.
[Coroner]Had the cuts been done by a very sharp knife? - They were perfectly clean. I found that the skin cuts of the arm corresponded with those of the trunk, and that the bones corresponded likewise. The same skill was manifested in both instances. The work was not the work of the dissecting-room - that was obvious. A piece of paper was shown to me as having been picked up near the remains, and it was stained with the blood of an animal.
[Coroner]Was there the mark of any ring on the finger? - No.
Inspector Marshall, of the Criminal Investigation Department, said: About five o’clock on Oct. 2 I went to the new police buildings on the Thames Embankment, and in the basement saw the trunk referred to by previous witnesses. The corner from which it had been taken was pointed out to me, and I saw that the wall was a great deal stained. Examining the ground I found the piece of paper alluded to by the last witness, as well as a piece of string, apparently sash-cord. Dr. Hibbert handed me two pieces of material which had come from the remains. I at once made a thorough search of the vaults, but nothing more was discovered. On the following morning, with other officers, I made a further search of all the vaults, but nothing more was found nor anything suspicious observed. The piece of paper spoken to forms part of an Echo of Aug. 24. Dr. Hibbert handed me a number of small pieces of paper found on the body. They are pieces of the Chronicle, but I cannot yet establish the date. It is not of this year’s issue. With respect to the dress it is of broché satin cloth, of Bradford manufacture, but a pattern probably three years old.
[Coroner]Is it a common dress? - It is made of common material. There is one flounce six inches wide at the bottom. The material could probably be bought at 6½d per yard. I have examined the hoarding round the works.
[Coroner]Is it possible to get over it? - There is a place in Cannon-row where a person could easily get over, but there is no indication of anybody having done so. The latch which has been referred to is not likely to have been noticed except by a person acquainted with buildings. The string with which the parcel was tied was a miscellaneous lot. One piece is of sash-cord, and the rest is of different sizes, and there is also a piece of black tape.
[Coroner]Did you form any opinion as to how long the parcel had been where it was found? - From the stain on the wall I certainly thought several days, but the witness Edge told me he was sure it was not there on the previous Saturday.
[Coroner]Edge being recalled repeated his assertion that the remains were not in the vault on the Saturday, as they were discovered in the very place where he looked for the hammer.
The Coroner: Do you think it possible that the parcel was there without your seeing it? - I am sure it was not there.
The inquest was adjourned for a fortnight [22 Oct].
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Day 2, Monday, October 22nd, 1888
(The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday, October 23rd, 1888)
At the Westminster Sessions House, yesterday [22 Oct], Mr. Troutbeck resumed the inquest on the human remains which were discovered in a vault at the police offices now being erected on the Victoria Embankment, on Tuesday, Oct. 2.
Mr. Thomas Bond declared that the leg and foot must have been lying among the débris for several weeks, decomposition having taken place there. The upper part of the leg was in a good state of preservation, but the foot was decomposed. Mr. Hibbert and himself made a careful examination of the limbs at the mortuary. The leg had been severed from the thigh at the knee joint by clean incisions, and he had no doubt that the limbs belonged to the trunk discovered a fortnight before.
Evidence was given by Mr. Brown, foreman of Messrs. Grover, the builders of the new offices, and several men connected with the works, that in their opinion the remains were not in the vault on the Friday or Saturday before the discovery.
The coroner, in summing up the evidence, remarked that after the verdict had been found the police would be left to make inquiries, and, if possible, elucidate the mystery, for it most certainly was one. Most probably the other parts of the body would turn up some day, for, so far as he could see, the aim had been to destroy the possibility of identity rather than to destroy the body.
The jury returned a verdict of found dead.
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Many THANKS to the people who have contributed to this page:
The Daily Telegraph transcriptions - Courtesy of Alex Chisholm.
Whitehall image - Courtesy of Illustrated Police News via Alex Chisholm.
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