6 crimes that scandalized Victorian England. Part 2

The Thames Torso Killer

Whilst Jack the Ripper was making the streets of Whitechapel an all around unpleasant place to be in 1888, another serial was also roaming the streets of London and its time he got his share of the praise well it’s not, because he did horrifically murder several people but you get my drift…)

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In May 1887 workers along the Thames river valley pulled a bundle from the river bank. Upon opening the bundle they discovered a woman’s torso. Throughout May and into June more body parts washed up onto the banks of the Thames, once put together doctors confirmed that the limbs were from the same woman. Doctors were eventually able to piece together the body, with only the head and upper chest missing. However the bodies dismemberment had been so cleanly carried out and the corpse so water beaten that no cause of death or clue of the woman’s identity could be uncovered.

Almost a year later in September 1888 Scotland Yard were desperately trying to solve the murder of Mary Ann Nichols, the second prostitute in as many days who had been found murdered and mutilated in Whitechapel. Then a woman’s arm washed up in Pimlico, followed by its partner on Lambeth Road.

What came next can only be described as a ballsy move by the killer – on 2nd October the same woman’s torso was discovered by builders in the construction site of New Scotland Yard. The murder had been bought straight to the Police and they now had a torso, two arms, two serial killers on the loose and no clue – it was then that a journalist’s terrier dug up the woman’s leg from the grounds of New Scotland Yard (after police dogs had failed to find any further remains).

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Doctors concluded that the limbs found under New Scotland Yard had been buried there for weeks and had perhaps been buried by someone with easy access such as a workman or builder. However, the cuts that had been made to dismember the victim were once again clean cut and surgical, and yet again no cause of death could be found and no clue to the woman’s identity made. The murder was filed as ‘found dead’.

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In June 1889 a woman’s body parts started to wash up on the shores of The Thames. A leg and thigh in Battersea, liver in Nine Elms and a foot and leg in Wandsworth. A body part was even thrown into the estate of Percy Shelley, whose mother, Mary Shelley had written Frankenstien; a book about a monster pieced together out of human body parts.

Though once again the victims head was missing, the police managed to identify this victim thanks to a fragment of clothing found of the body. Elizabeth Jackson had been missing from her Chelsea home since just before the first body parts were found. Jackson had been 7 months pregnant at the time of her death. A verdict of ‘Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed; though no cause of death was ever discovered.

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By the 10th September 1889 the police were no closer to finding who the killer was when a cryptic telegram was sent to all police stations in London:

‘Whitechapel again’

Police scrambled suspecting another Ripper murder. However they were to be foiled, yet again. When walking his beat on Pinchin Street Police Constable William Pennett discovered a woman’s torso.

Once more doctors were stumped and unable to work out the victim’s identity or cause of death. As in the case of Elizabeth Jackson a verdict of ‘wilful murder against some person or persons unknown’ was passed. In an effort to preserve the torso (should any other clues be discovered) the unknown women was buried in a cast coffin filled with spirits.

Possible links were discovered to a murder in Paris in 1886 (where a woman’s torso and several limbs were found on the steps of a church) and two other murders in London in 1901 and 1902, but none truly fit the Thames Torso Killers method.

The victims heads would never be discovered, nor would the victims breasts or uteruses, which the killer also took. The case went cold, with no clear motive, no evidence and not even a cause of death, there were next to no clues leading police to the killer.

The Thames Torso Murders remains a mystery.

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Well they can’t do worse than the Metropolitan Police did…

The tragic case of Eliza Fenning and the devilish dumplings  

Ok so full disclosure this crime does just miss the Victorian era, taking place in 1815, BUT I couldn’t not include it. That’s how good this one is, your gonna love it!

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And it’s only slightly incredibly bleak- yay!

Fun fact: I actually used to work on London’s Chancery Lane, where the crime took place, and took great pleasure in telling this crime to friends when meeting for after work drinks- truly I am a joy.

Aaaaaand onto the crime:

Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Fenning entered the employment of Robert Turner and his wife Charlotte in early 1815. The house in Chanchery Lane looked to be a step up for 20 year old Eliza, she had been hired as a cook, a promotion after working 6 years as a lower level domestic servant in other households.

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Eliza’s first two months in her new post went well and she started to fall into the pattern of day to day with the Turners’. On the night of the 21st March 1815 Roberts Turner’s Father was due to come round for dinner. Eliza prepared a dinner of beef and dumplings for the family. Just before she finished cooking Robert Turner came into the kitchen and ordered Eliza not to leave the room until the meal was finished- strange, but she complied. The dinner was served and the family tucked in, along with two of Roberts apprentices and a housemaid. Shortly afterwards everyone at the table collapsed onto the floor.

The police arrived to find Eliza curled up on the stairs in crippling pain, the rest of the household were in a much worse state and close to death. An investigation was started. Foul play was suspected for the sudden sickness that had torn through the house and the line of suspicion led straight to Eliza.

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Forensics expert John Marshall was bought in. The art of forensics was very much in its infancy but Marshall had a theory; he thought that the nights dinner must have been subject to arsenic poisoning. He searched the kitchen for traces of the stuff and came up with a small half teaspoon of ‘white powder’ which had been found in water used to wash up Eliza’s mixing bowl. Marshall carried out tests to see if this powder was indeed arsenic, this included heating the powder over a flame to see if it emitted a garlicy smell (this was obviously not 100% foolproof test…) when Marshall put the powder on a halfpenny over a candle the room was quickly filled with a pungent garlic aroma (surprisingly food sometimes smells of garlic-gasp!)

Things were not looking good for Eliza. To make matters worse witnesses came forward claiming that Eliza hated her employers who had recently threatened to fire her after she was seen coming out of the bedroom of an apprentice at night.

Within several days everyone who had eaten the potentially poisoned dumplings started to get better. Still, Eliza was arrested and was quickly put on trial for attempted murder.

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The evidence against Eliza was strong, the forensic expert had evidence of arsenic and witness testimony gave a motive for the attempted murders. However, it was pointed out that it would not have been possible for the arsenic to have been mixed into the dumplings- the amount the forensic expert claimed to have found would have been enough to kill 120 people per serving, the Turners couldn’t have survived! For the dumplings to have been poisoned they would have to have been sprinkled with the poison after being cooked. A deed which could have happened in the kitchen or in the dining room- a room Eliza had been banned from.

To add more fuel, witnesses came forward alledging that Robert Turner had a history of violent and ‘mad’ outbursts. Further more a chemist clamied that Robert Turner had tried to buy arsenic from him just months earlier. The forensic evidence was also shown to be lacking as there was no evidence that this mixing bowl had indeed been used to make the poisoned dumplings and Marshall had failed to test any other substance found in any other of the cookware or ingrediants that had been used to make the dumplings.

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Cover of Eliza Fennings case file

Sadly this was all no was no use to Eliza and she was found guilty. The public rallied to her side and campaigned against the courts decision. Petitions were made and the press even came to her defense. On the day of her execution the home office held a meeting to look over the case.

It all proved fruitless. Eliza was hung alongside William Oldfield who was convicted of rape and Abraham Adams a homeless man who was sentenced to death for ‘unnatural crimes’ (translated to sodomy) on the 26th July 1815. Eliza’s last words with of her innocence.

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Broadsheet of Eliza Fenning’s execution

Following her death The Turners became public hate figures and John Marshall a laughing stock. The misuse of forensics in Eliza’s trial was held up as a prime example of legal misconduct and several medical societies put in place measures that anybody studying for a license with them take a three month course in legal medicine (or medical jurisprudence) to ensure what happen to Eliza Fenning would never happen again.

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