In the spring of 1871, a young servant girl was found in the middle of the night, lying on the ground following a brutal attack that would eventually prematurely end her life. Following a series of fantastic police blunders, a suspect was arrested, tried and promptly acquitted. As far as the police were concerned, the murder had been solved, but the culprit had escaped the hand of justice and as such, the case was closed and eventually buried, slipping into eventual obscurity. Almost 140 years later, that is where the case remains, but had the police been right in their suspicions of the suspected attacker? Or did the murderer remain completely anonymous, escaping justice due to the tunnel vision of a ham fisted police department?
Murphy, Paul Thomas (2017) Pretty Jane & The Viper of Kidbrooke Lane. Pegasus, UK
Higgs, Edward (1983) Domestic Servants and Households in Victorian England. Social History, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp 201-210. Taylor & Francis Ltd. UK
Farrah, Frederick (1871) The Eltham Tragedy Reviewed. F. Farrah, London, UK
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The Murder of Jane Clouson: The Eltham Mystery
In the spring of 1871, a young servant girl was found in the middle of the night, lying on the ground following a brutal attack that would eventually prematurely end her life. Following a series of fantastic police blunders, a suspect was arrested, tried and promptly acquitted. As far as the police were concerned, the murder had been solved, but the culprit had escaped the hand of justice and as such, the case was closed and eventually buried, slipping into eventual obscurity. Almost 140 years later, that is where the case remains, but had the police been right in their suspicions of the suspected attacker? Or did the murderer remain completely anonymous, escaping justice due to the tunnel vision of a ham fisted police department? This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Eltham, 1871, Jane & The Pooks
Throughout the 19th Century, domestic maid was the second largest role of employment in England, only behind agriculture in employment figures, though these numbers can be, and most certainly were skewed, it is still true that maid and servants living amongst their middle class masters were a feature of the era. Glamorised in shows like Downton Abbey, romanticised in fiction or demonised in gothic horror as scheming murderers, subtly poisoning their employers and escaping into anonymity, the true role of the domestic maid was far more mundane in reality and a role that consisted of incredible levels of hard work, for little reward and little hope of social advancement, with only the promise of marrying into the life of a housewife on the horizon. Embedded deep within the family unit, whilst always relegated to the peripheries, the maid performed a difficult balancing act, with great threats to those that slipped.
The product of a rigid class system, working out the true status and average wage of a domestic servant in the 19th Century is not entirely straightforward. There were no unions and the labour force was vast and separate across the country. Efforts have been made by historians to estimate a wage, often quoted as around £10 per year, with data taken from newspaper advertisements, anecdotes and vastly differing records of household expenses. One of the most often mistaken stereotypes is that the master and household were of the rising middle classes and the servant a member of the working classes. In fact, not everyone who hired maids and servants were middle class in the traditional sense. For many households, especially those of new money with certain aspirations towards gentility, the cost of domestic labour was only the loss of a small storage room, given that if one so chose to look, labour could be found for close to no wage at all, if not entirely free. Scooped out of the workhouses, many women who found themselves down and out and on the bottom rung societies underclasses were picked up by households to perform the role of maid and given nothing more than a small closet room as board. These figures are further distorted by the number of women who placed their role of work as domestic, however were, in fact, normal members of working to lower middle class families, living with relatives and performing average household tasks as part of their duty to the household and more than a few were simply housewives. Overwhelmingly, however, the existence of an unrelated maid or servant in a household was seen within the public sphere to denote a certain social status throughout the 19th Century and even, to a certain degree, the early 20th Century, right up until the First World War. Furthermore, census records, though not entirely reliable, do show a rise of the middle classes in Victorian England holding a distinct correlation to the boom in the domestic servant workforce, whether they be paid or not. As such, the general public perception of a maid or servant in the Victorian household was undeniably one of status for the household owner and both the employer and employee were expected to act in certain ways to one another, denoted by their class.
For the domestic maid, the Victorian perception of women embodying the “feminine ideal” was no laughing matter. This unhealthy expectation of women and their perceived role in society included the running of the household and the execution of domestic work, from the preparation of food, and the rearing of children, right down to the minutiae of the cleanliness of the skirting that bordered the Victorian Living Room. For a domestic servant, the importance of keeping up both the visage of idealism whilst respecting the class divide was of utmost importance for their success and respectability. Living amongst the family and closely within their personal space whilst ensuring one did not cross the line or stray from a strong sense of professionalism was one of the most important balancing acts a maid had to ensure they carry out, all the while under the ever-watchful eye of the masters wife, the household matriarch that no doubt owned or had read at least one manual that instructed her on how to properly scrutinise the servants. Every piece of work done should be expected by the domestic servant to be checked over, whilst any sense of privacy could be largely forgotten about, with even their possessions routinely inspected to be sure that they weren’t stealing from the house, nor partaking in any unwanted behaviours. To be seen and not heard was a saying often directed at children, but it was a far more important mantra for a domestic servant, who in anything but the very best conditions, were never considered as part of the family unit. It was, for the vast majority, an unbreachable hierarchy that ensured the class divide was never threatened. It wasn’t until 1860 that beating a servant became illegal and even after that, affairs and sexual harassment was commonplace, with the victim often pressured into silence and unlikely to be trusted, even if they did speak out.
The consequences for those who failed to keep up with these intense societal pressures could be grave. Seen as a “fallen woman”, those who slipped into alcoholism, unemployment or homelessness were written off and quickly sunk to the bottom of society with little hope of gainful employment or any other way out of the doss houses and workhouses, other than to be scooped up by a household looking for free labour, More often than not these women were seen by society to be on an inevitable path towards disease and a slow, inescapable death. A workplace romance and even worse, an illegitimate pregnancy, whilst heavily romanticised in fiction, was viciously treacherous, creating scandal and sensation that inevitably cast suspicion and blame towards the female of the situation and could often end in punishments by law. The pressures of domestic life were nothing short of intense and often sat atop the shoulders of young women, often in their early teens, who were experiencing independent, adult life for the first time and trying to get to grips with a society that was relatively unforgiving in its views.
Life wasn’t always doom and gloom, however. For some domestic servants, the life of the maid had some benefits. One could expect to live in a better house than they were probably used to. With severe inner-city overcrowding in London at the time, even a closet or attic room in a grand terraced house might be seen as somewhat luxury. On top of that, a responsible employer would extend the protections of his family, either through class, wealth or reputation, to his servants and in the best cases, employers could play the role of surrogate families to their household staff.
The list of occupancies for domestic servitude is long and diverse, most common amongst upper-working class and middle class households through the 19th Century was that of the “maid of all work”. The maid of all work was, as the name implies, expected to do all the work of the house, a never-ending series of tasks that could range from nursing children to cleaning, washing and cooking. On top of all of this, the general running of household matters, stocks of coal, food and even the oil for the lamps would have to be tracked, stored, organised and bought. Lighting the fires in the morning would lead them on to preparing and cooking breakfast, ensuring the coffee was stocked, sweeping the floors, washing the hearths, cleaning the grates, shaking out the curtains, dressing the beds, dusting the house, preparing lunch, dinner and supper, looking after the children and on and on. It was, without doubt, one of the toughest positions available to any domestic servant and one in which 16 year old Jane Maria Clouson found herself working for the Pook family in the spring of 1871. The Pooks were, like many, a well to do and well respected middle class family that lived above their successful printers shop in Greenwhich, London.
Jane Clousons father had been a labourer, working at the Deptford docks, on the Thames in South-East London. Married to Jane Elizabeth, the pair had three daughters, the eldest, Sarah Anne had died of tuberculosis in 1863, survived by Jane Maria and her younger sister, Maria Cecilia. Three years after her sisters death, her mother too succumbed to tuberculosis, which prompted her father to abandon his two living daughters two years later in 1868. It had been a harsh start to life for Jane, who had started work as a domestic maid at the age of 12, two years prior to her fathers walking out and was only now coming to grips with working adult life. After their father left, the Trott family, Janes Aunt and Uncle on her deceased mothers side of the family, took over parenting duties to a degree, acting as a surrogate father to Jane and taking in the two girls, though for the most part, Jane had been working as a live in maid and as such, lived independently from the trots. In 1869 she took up service with the Pooks at 3 London Place, in the heart of Greenwhich.
Ebeneezer Pook was a printer whose work had seen him make a success of business. Living above their printers shop just South of the River Thames, in Greenwhich, South-East London, The Pook family consisted of Ebeneezer Pook, his wife, Mary Pook and their son Edmund. Edmund, aged 20in 1871, was the youngest of two sons and still lived at home, whilst the elder, Thomas had already married and moved out. Suffering from epilepsy, a condition poorly understood at the time, he lived close to his family and was referred to his by his mother and father, who watched him throughout the day and nursed him through his sporadic seizures, as something of a homebody. For Jane, it was probably a rather middling position of work. Not too overbearing and a relatively small, quiet household, she worked there for two years without incident and in complete anonymity. This, however, would all change over the coming months as Spring turned to Summer and the tragic story, of which she was to take a starring role, would unravel in the streets of Greenwich, spilling over to the national press.
Attack on Jane Coulson
It was around 4:15am on the morning of Friday, April 26th 1871 when Police Constable Donald Gunn stumbled across the pile of rags lying in the middle of the footpath whilst walking his beat through Kidbrooke Lane. The Lane was a muddy, rarely used footpath than ran from Well Hall in the South-East and carved through fields to Kidbrooke Green, on the border of the City of London in the North-West. Lined with hedgerows, it was pitch black at 4:15am, the sun not rising for another 30 minutes, with no moon in the sky and the sun not rising for another 30 minutes. Constable Gunns beat had taken him along Shooters Hill, South-West to Eltham and then back North, passing along Kidbrooke Lane. He had passed the same spot two hours prior and not noticed a thing, though on such a dark night, he couldn’t be sure if the pile of clothing had not been there, or he had just walked right past. As he drew closer, he saw that what he thought were a pile of discarded clothing, or rags was, in fact, the body of a young woman, lying on her front, “moaning piteously.” Expecting it to be that of a drunk, he called out to see if she was okay and when no reply came, he reached down to turn her over and asked her what she was doing. This time a frail voice broke the silence of the dark lane, “Oh my poor head” the woman repeated, over and over, her voice breaking. As he turned her over, Gunn noticed that she had blood on her cheek and as his focus sharpened and he inspected the girls face more closely, he realised the true extent of her injuries. There were deep gashes in her head, her left cheek was split open, whilst her right eye socket was entirely smashed, giving way to a hole in her head above what should have been her right eye, that exposed her brain. As the horror of the situation dawned on the officer, the woman asked him to take her hand before falling forwards back onto the muddy footpath, her voice slipping off into silence. Gunn picked her up and placed her by the side of the path before running off to the nearby farmhouse of Manor Farm to call for help. Once he reached the farm, Gunn came across a stroke of luck, when he bumped into his Seargeant, Frederick Haynes, who had been running surprise inspections of the local beats and just so happened to be there to check in on Gunn. After Gunn told him of his discovery, Haynes went to the location of the injured woman, whilst Gunn went on to the station in Eltham to organise for a stretcher crew to carry the lady to hospital.
When Haynes arrived, he noticed a large pool of clotted blood, four feet from the woman, as well as a series of footprints in the soft ground that seemed to show signs of a recent scuffle. Laying on the ground around the area, he found a pair of women’s gloves and a black bonnet, embroidered with red roses. Assuming they belonged to the injured victim, he took them as evidence and then waited for Gunns return. With the clotting of the blood, Gunn theorised the attack must have taken place four or five hours previously, at least before midnight. When Gunn returned with a crew of officers, Haynes led the group, who carried the woman on a stretcher, to the home of the Police Surgeon in Eltham, whilst Gunn took over guard duty, waiting at the scene. The police surgeon, Dr David King, didn’t have to spend much time examining the woman’s injuries before realising that there was little he could do at home, and instead directed the woman to be taken to the local hospital, which Haynes arranged via a cab. Upon her arrival at Guys hospital, the House surgeon, Michael Harris and the house physician, Fredric Durham did all they could to clean her wounds and make her comfortable. Throughout they noted defensive wounds on the backs of her hands and arms, and counted over a dozen wounds to her head, most of which were situated on the front of the girls head, whilst there were a few on the back. Under the surgeons light and with the wounds cleaned, the true extent of the injuries became tragically clear. She had suffered from a large blow that had smashed her temporal bone and lacerated her brain, a 3 inch gash above her right eye, with the skull and eye socket broken inwards. Her upper lip was sliced and her jawbone broken in several places. She had recent bruising on her right thigh, though there were no signs of any sexual assault. As they removed the shattered skull front eh wounds, the surgeons theorised that she had suffered a brutal, frontal attack and then once collapsed onto the ground, had then been hit about the rear of the head several more times. Once the wounds had been cleaned and dressed as best they could be, the woman was placed into a hospital bed, though realistically, neither surgeon had much hope in her recovery. They told police all the info they could deduce about the attack, including that they estimated the woman’s age to be between 23-25 years old. A police guard was placed in her room, just in case she roused enough to give any information on her attacker, though she had been in an unconscious state since her journey to the hospital, where she had only awoken once, calling out “oh save me!”, before falling back into silence and slipping off into a coma. Whilst in the hospital, Sergeant Haynes catalogued her clothing and possessions, she had worn a dark chocolate dress with off-white petticoats and a black woolen jacket, trimmed in mohair and lace. She had a common looking brooch pinned to her jacket and in her pockets, Haynes found a small blue purse containing 11s 4d, two small keys, a handkerchief and a small, empty, silver locket. Whilst the possessions didn’t include any form of ID and nothing much for the police to go on, they did at least rule out random robbery as a motive. Haynes arranged for the clothing to be sent to the chief station in the neighbouring borough of Lee, where they could be displayed for the purpose of hopefully finding an ID for the victim, whilst the rest of the effects were taken to the station in Eltham before he returned to the scene the following lunchtime.
Back at the scene of the attack on Kidbrooke Lane, Haynes found a much more active landscape than he had seen the previous night. The entire vicinity had been swarmed by local officers, who, in their hurry to help, had destroyed any likelihood of making casts from the footprints in the mud. Doing his best to find out all he could from the fading prints, he followed a deeper series of prints Northwards towards Little Kid Brooke, a small river that ran alongside the lane, where he found a few small drops of blood on a stone by the bank, though for some reason, he failed to mention this in any official reports at the time and the evidence was never collected. The cluster of officers who had begun searching the scene further confused matters by collecting evidence that they then went on either mislay entirely or hand in to various officers at the station, with some being entered into the evidence book, whilst others were just dumped in cupboards or drawers, quickly to be forgotten about. Once example of this that would later prove to be reasonably important, was the discovery of a small, metal dog whistle found by PC Edwin Owens, partially buried in mud 15 yards from the attack. Unsure of its importance, he handed it in to Sergeant Willis at the station at Lee, however Willis failed to ever enter into the evidence book and placed it into a cupboard, where it would be promptly forgotten, until Haynes later retrieved it once learning of the find from Owens. That night, Willis would do the same with a stained rag, brought into Eltham station and forwarded to Lee by Thomas Lazell, a resident of Kidbrooke Lane, who had been handed it by a farm labourer earlier that morning. He had taken it to the officers at the scene of the attack earlier in the day where he told them how he had came to possess it. The previous night, Lazell had been visiting his father, who had been suffering from gout, in Greenwhich. Upon his return home, he bumped into a farm labourer by Kidbrooke Lane, though Lazell knew the labourer to look at, he was unsure of his name, but the man had told Lazell about the attack and handed him a small square of blue cloth that he had found on the ground. The cloth was roughly torn and though the labourer had assumed it was a hand made handkerchief, Lazell himself though it was perhaps a simple dusting rag. Blue in colour, it was covered in stains that both men thought to be bloodstains and so, Lazell endeavoured to hand it in to the police. After the officers at the scene had shown little interest in the dirty rag, he took it to Eltham station after he finished work, where it was then sent to Lee, only for Willis to once again assume it was reasonably innocuous. Just like with the dog whistle, he tossed it into a cupboard and didn’t bother himself with the trouble of entering it into the evidence book.
By the next day, the brutality of the crime had deemed it important enough to involve Scotland Yard. Detective Inspector John Mulvany took charge of the case, along with local officer Superintendent James Griffin. That evening, Thomas Brown, a gardener working at Morden College, visited his neighbour with a curious find he had picked up from his flowerbeds that afternoon. Morden College was a care home for residents of Blackheath, was a large, brown brick building that sat adjacent to Kidbrooke Lane. Built in the late 17th Century by philanthropist Sir John Morden, the Manor House was established as a home for poor merchants who had suffered work accidents and were since left unable to generate a living. Brown had been watering his flowers when he had chanced upon a 16” plasterers hammer lying amongst in one of the beds and having heard of the attack and seeing signs of blood on the handle, he immediately assumed its importance. His neighbour was Thomas Hodge, the sergeant of the Greenwhich Division of the Met police, but when Brown had visited, he was told that Hodge was sleeping and so he handed the hammer over to Hodges wife, who passed it on at 9pm that evening. The hammer looked to Hodge as though it had been washed, but he too saw the bloodstains on the handle and decided to take it to Lee station immediately, where Mulvanny took care of it, along with the dog whistle, which he had since uncovered, without the help of the evidence book.
Just as Brown and Hodge had initially presumed, the hammer was an important find for the investigation. There was a group of plasterers working only a quarter of a mile from the scene of the attack who would need to be questioned, however, it looked to Mulvany to have not ever been used and so, of more importance to the inspector was to find out where it had been purchased. Luckily the hammer had been stamped with the makers name, “J. Sorby,” which meant that the police could track the suppliers, find which shops sold them and then hopefully they could at least get a description of the buyer, if not a complete record of the sale. As it turned out, only a single shop in Greenwhich sold tools made by J. Sorby, a small independent store named “Samuel Thomas’s Mechanical Tool Warehouse” on the Deptford high street. Officers visited the shop, owned by Samuel Thomas and his wife Jane, though neither of the two remembered selling the hammer. The ledger was checked by the police, who found an identical hammer had been sold on the 22nd April, but knowing the date did nothing to trip the memories of the shopkeepers, who both maintained they knew nothing of the sale. Reaching a dead end after such a promising lead led the police to print posters on Sunday, which they pasted throughout the Greenwhich district.
“On the Evening of Saturday 22nd April, a man purchased a lathing hammer at the shop of Mr. Thomas, High Street, Deptford. At the time he did so, two or three persons were in the shop, one of whom purchased a spoke-shave. These persons are requested to communicate at once with Superintendent Griffin, Police Station, Blackheath Road, Greenwhich.”
Pasting the posters throughout Greenwhich that Sunday was timely, given that thousands of visitors who had read of the attack in the papers had chosen to visit the scene of the crime, flocking to view the grisly blood stains and strip the site bare of any souvenirs they could, at the same time rendering it entirely useless to the police as a crime scene.
Throughout the weekend the story of the attack slowly filtered out across the local papers. That same weekend, the body of a young woman had been found in the same vicinity. Much easier to identify, it was quickly confirmed to have been that of Ann Surridge, a 27 year old servant girl from London. She was found floating in a small pond in Lee and though at first the newspapers had a field day linking the two women together with fantastical stories, the inquest quickly found that she had drowned herself due to temporary insanity. Around the pond where Anns body had been found the police found a series of letters addressed to her, strewn across the ground. Deducing from the letters, it appeared the girl had suffered a heartbreak and decided to take her own life. The story, whose mystery was soon resolved, only sought to further enhance the interest in the battered victim of the second “Eltham Mystery”. The comatose attack victim was put on display in the hospital in the hopes that someone might be able to make a positive ID, but though people came and the papers churned out rumours, with several house owners, matrons and business owners speculating the victim could have been their servants, none came to any fruition and no positive identification was forthcoming. The early rumours in the papers did dovetail to a certain degree with the police investigation, which focused ont eh nearby Woolwhich Arsenal. The army base had something of a reputation and though a soldier was arrested, he was quickly released when it became apparent he had no link to the crime whatsoever. The papers took it a step further, printing articles that suggested a Sergeant from the Scotch Regiment had been seen walking along Kidbrooke Lane with a young woman on the night of the attack and went as far as saying the battered victim had woken in hospital several times, screaming “Don’t murder me Ned” though the physicians on duty all swore on oath that she had not uttered a single word during her stay.
That Sunday night at 9pm, the beaten woman succumbed to her injuries, which had, as always suspected by the surgeons, been far to grave for much to have been done to save her life. A post-Morden was carried out where a new twist to the tale was discovered. The woman had been two months pregnant at the time of the attack. With the investigation turning into a murder case and with no leads to follow, the police placed an official description in the papers in the hopes that someone may, at least, be able to recognise the clothing of the young girl and lead them to a positive identification.
“Aged about 25 years, Hair brown; 5 feet 3 inches in height. Dressed in a. Chocolate ribbed barged dress, black cloth jacket trimmed with black silk braid, crochet work round neck; Black lace bonnet, with three red roses in it.”
The description was read by William Trott the following day, who recognised the description instantly. The clothing, he thought, was surely that of his niece, Jane Maria Clouson, however the description stated the victim to have been 25 years old. His niece was most definitely not that old, she had in fact turned 17 just days before. Jane, he knew, had worked as a servant in Greenwich, but he soon found out that she had left her place of work abruptly, three weeks prior to the attack. He had last seen Jane the week before, on Sunday when she had came round for tea. During her visit, she had told Williams daughter, her cousin, that she was planning to alight with her lover, the son of her ex-employer, Edmund Pook and soon marry. She had been seeing Edmund Pook for some time, she told them and he had given her a small silver locket, which she had carried with her in her pocket. Though the ages did not match up, the description of the clothing had been uncanny and so William, along with his wife, visited the station to ID the body that midnight. They took with them recent photos of their niece along with a strip of lace that had been sewn into her jacket collar. When they arrived they informed the police of her address and officers were dispatched to 12 Ashburn Road, where Jane had been living since leaving her position as servant, though they found that she had been missing since the Tuesday prior. No one in the house had felt much concern, as Jane had often gone to stay with her Aunt and Uncle and so no alarm had been raised. The next morning, Monday 24th April, Mulvanny and Griffin took the trots to the hospital where the grim line of coincidences was confirmed for the Trotts. Though her injuries made the identification difficult, it was unmistakably the body of their 17 year old niece, Jane Maria Clouson. Their niece had a birthmark which was checked and quickly found. The bad news for the Trotts, did at least, give the police something tangible to follow up and before they left the hospital, they handed a recent photo of Jane to the police to assist them in the investigation.
The polices first step was to visit the home of Jane Clouson, where they interviewed all the other residents. This line of enquiry dug up several important pieces of information. Foremost was the news that the landlady, Fanny Hamilton, had spent time with Jane on the evening of her attack, when Jane had accompanied her on errands. Jane had left Fanny at 6:45pm that night on account of her having plans to meet Edmund Pook, the son of her recent employers at 7 on Crooms Hill. The meeting was important, she had told Fanny, Edmund and her were meeting to make “big plans”, though what these plans were, she was unsure. The police, who had heard from the Trotts previously that Jane had been planning to alight with her lover, immediately put two and two together, rocketing Edmund Pook to the top of their suspect list.
Before the newspapers could print Janes name as the victim of the Eltham Attack, Mulvanny and Griffin decided it best to visit the Pooks and speak with the family. If they could treat the matter sensitively, they thought it may be possible to get Ebeneezer Pook on side to aid in a confession from Edmund. Their hopes were quickly dashed, when upon their arrival, Ebeneezer, who had been shocked to discover the victim of the Eltham Mystery he had read about in the news was his ex-servant, went on to deny outright that his son could have had any connection to the murder at all. Edmund suffered from Epilepsy, he told police and as such was under constant watch from himself and his wife. He was quite sure that his son could simply not have been involved without their knowing. Jane, he told police, was a “slovenly” girl, a point he had told her outright the day that she had left her position. This was an opinion shared by Edmund, who, once police questioned the young man regarding the attack, told them that far from planning to alight with Jane, he thought her a “dirty girl”. On the night of the attack, Edmund told police that he had left work at 7 and then walked to Lewisham to meet a lady. Unable to meet with her in the end, he told police he stayed in Lewisham to watch the home of the woman he had gone to meet for forty minutes before returning home to Greenwich at around 9pm. It wasn’t the most solid Alibis, though it was confirmed by the eldest Pook son. Though the police had no warrant for an official search, Ebeneezer did allow them to check Edmunds clothes and they asked him to show them all the clothes he had been wearing that night. Edmund showed the police his trousers, but could not find his shirt, which he assumed had been sent to wash. The maid was summoned and the shirt soon found, where police found a small bloodstain on the right cuff, this Edmund explained, had come from a cut on his left hand and must have gotten onto the cuff as he had crossed his hands at some point. It was very little to go on, but still, the police decided it was enough and they arrested Edmund on suspicion of murder. The entire time he had been questioned and then arrested by the police, Edmund had remained totally calm and willingly agreed to be taken into custody.
The Sensational Trials of Edmund Pook
The arrest of Edmund Pook had been a bit of a stretch by the police. At this point int eh investigation, the only shred of real evidence they had on the young man was the blood stain on his shirt cuff, but it had yet to be analysed in any way and was of such small quantity, it was somewhat tenuous. All other evidence had revolved around little more than gossip and hearsay. Stories of Edmunds womanising were, apparently, plentiful, as the police heard from Janes Aunt and Uncle of how he and Jane had planned to marry, but also from others that Edmund had been seen walking with other girls of a similar class to Jane. It appeared that despite what Edmunds family had told police, that Edmund was a homebody under their close scrutiny due to his epilepsy, was perhaps not entirely truthful.
For the investigation into Edmund to continue, the polices first port of call was to arrange a lineup and call for Jane and Samuel Thomas of the tool shop to see if they could trip their memories into remembering selling the hammer to Edmund. It was perhaps, too high a hope. Jane walked out of the room after not making any identification at all and promptly fainted, whilst Samuel too gave no positive ID of Edmund. The Pooks on the other hand, outraged by the treatment of the police for taking their son into custody fo the back of such flimsy evidence, employed the services of lawyer Henry Pook, who by sheer coincidence shared their surname, despite being of no relation. The following day, the magistrates court saw just how flimsy the police evidence had been. In the hearing the prosecution was woefully under-prepared, whilst the police laid bare their lack of evidence. They had a bloody shirt, or maybe they didn’t, they had no analysis as yet, maybe if it was blood, it had come from a. Cut on Edmunds hand. All their witnesses had been told various rumours about Edmund and Janes relationship, but was any of it the truth and did anyone actually know anything for certain about the pairs meeting? Maybe not. Henry Pook jumped on the back of the police immediately, declaring the entire affair a “sensational drama.” The magistrate, who tended to agree with outraged lawyer, decided that the police had “no evidence whatever” to link Edmund with the crime and gave them five days come up with something more solid. Following the hearing Edmund was taken to Kent County Jail in Maidstone, 30 miles away from Greenwich and given no bail.
It had been a woeful start from the police and matters were not about to get any easier for them. Among the rumours that had circulated and found there way to the police through the witnesses was the story that Edmund had been seeing another young maid at the same time as Jane named Mary Smith. Mary, as it turned out had also apparently gone missing, however, police soon found her in Tottenham where she had returned home to live with her family after growing tired of her domestic position. During her questioning, she told the police she knew nothing whatsoever about Edmund, nor his relationship with Jane.
The inquest into Janes murder was held two days later on the 4th May, at Guys Hospital. The police were forced to awkwardly trot out the same old lack of evidence they had previously during the magistrates hearing, at least, until Jane Prosser took the witness stand and gave testimony that she had been told three months prior to the attack by Jane that she was pregnant with Edmund Pooks baby. The post-Mortem had found Jane to be pregnant and rumours had all pointed int eh direction of Edmund being the father, but it wasn’t until Jane Prosser gave her testimony that anyone had anything concrete linking the two. As bombastic as it was, it was still however, only more hearsay. Further witness testimony came from Thomas Lazell, the man who had turned the dirty rag into police, who swore he saw Edmund Pook walking between Kidbrooke Lane and Morden College on the night of the attack with his arm around the waist fo a young woman. Henry Pook was, as usual, furious at the evidence, which he deemed as more rumour and guff, though he must have known that despite being right on it being only hearsay, it was incredibly damaging for Edmunds case.
The inquest next heard the results from the blood analysis that had been conducted by Dr Henry Letheby, the chair of chemistry at the London Hospital and medical officer of health for the city of London. Dr Letheby had used stereoscopic analysis on the stains both on the clothing of Edmund and the hammer and concluded that the stain on the shirt sleeve was that of mammal blood, the limit of the distinctions able to be made for the time, and that the same was on the hammer. He also had found strands of hair on the hammer, which he found closely resembled those cut from the head of Jane. Damning for Edmund, Dr Letheby had made one more discovery in the form of a single strand of hair on Edmunds trousers, which resembled both previous samples, however he was later forced to admit that the hair could well have been on the clothing for up to a month. Henry Pook then brought to attention an article in “The Lancet” a well known and respected medical publication, that had published an article doubting the confidence of spectral blood analysis, though the article itself was rejected as evidence. The inquest was remanded for a week and at the end of the day, Henry Pook met with Mulvanny and Griffin to introduce to them a man named Henry Humphreys. Humphreys, he told the police had given Jane the silver locket, not Edmund Pook. This news was a serious derailing for the police investigation and proved just how flimsy the evidence they held surely was, relying as it did on so much hearsay and rumour.
A week later on Thursday 11th May the inquest resumed. The police trotted out three new witnesses, all of which claimed to have seen a man and woman in or near Kidbrook Lane on the night of the attack, however, none of the three new witnesses had been given the opportunity to ID Edmund, given the fact that Edmund had not been permitted to attend the inquest so no ID could even be gained at the hearing, their testimonies were all but useless. The only other point of note was that Henry Pook challenged the blood analysis by Dr Letheby, attempting to downplay the importance of it given that it could do little more than confirm that the blood was that fo a mammal. He then went on to explain that the blood had gotten on the sleeve from when Edmund had had an epileptic fit and bitten his tongue a few weeks before the attack. With little else discovered, at the end of the day, the inquest was once more delayed. The following week saw more blunders on behalf of the investigation. Firstly, the Thomases back in the tool shop found a second entry in the sales ledger that showed another hammer that matched the one found in the flowerbed had been sold at an earlier date, however, since neither Jane nor Samuel Thomas had been called to the inquest, the police failed to learn of this new information. A lineup was organised for the new witnesses, but two gave no identification at all whilst three further witnesses did claim to identify Edmund Pook. The problem was, that by now, the Illustrated Police News had published a portrait of Edmund Pook alongside an article on the murder case and one witness knew Edmund Pook previously anyway.
The inquest resumed fo the third time on the 16th May and this time Samuel and Jane Thomas were called to give testimony, where they unveiled the news to the police that they had discovered a second sale of a matching hammer in their ledger. This outraged just about everyone involved. The prosecution demanded to know more, warning the Thomases to “be careful” as the police had been operating their investigation under a false lead entirely of their making, whilst the defense rumbled their complaints that the police were brow-beating witnesses. Unfortunately, Thomas knew little more about the sale than he had the first, other than it sold for 2d more than the second hammer, though he was unsure why. Perhaps, he guessed, his wife had sold it. Jane was then asked and she was, once more, entirely clueless about the sale. The next witness was Alice Durnford, Edmunds supposed sweetheart and the woman he had told police he had gone to see ont eh night of the attack, though he been unable to actually meet her. Alice told the hearing that Edmund had often stood outside her house and called to her using a dog whistle, though when she had last seen him, two days after the attack, he had not had the whistle. Mulvanny promptly unveiled the whistle found at the scene of the attack, much to the surprise of the defense, who had not seen any whistle in the evidence book, which lead them to accuse the police of making the entire story up and of coaching witnesses. At The end of the day, the magistrate summed up the hearing for the jury, suggesting that although he thought it all flimsy, the evidence of the hair on the hammer and the strand found on Edmunds trousers, along with the perception that the Thomases were not unable to speak of the hammer, but rather refusing to speak on the matter was enough to take the case to court. The jury exited the hearing for 35 minutes, whereafter they returned a majority of 16 to 8 that Edmund should be tried for the murder of Jane Clouson, committing him for trial.
After the inquest, Edmund was moved to Newgate Prison, adjoining the Old Bailey, where he would attend court via an underground tunnel to avoid the baying crowds that swarmed the courtroom. In the days running up to the trial, Edmund Pook suffered an epileptic fit whilst in prison. Henry Pook promptly fed the story to the press in the hopes that it might bolster Edmunds explanation of the bloodstain on his shirt, a ploy which was successful enough, as articles were published that suggested Henry Pook would use the fit as evidence in Edmunds defense. On 7th June, Edmund attended court in the Old Bailey to oversee a date being set for his trial. The police, who still had little more evidence than they had shown at the inquest, sought to push back the date on account of a series of witnesses they had lined up that they needed to seek out, one of the most important of which was Walter Richard Perren. Perren was a talented chap, alongside managing his mother’s livery stables, he drove a cab and was the master of ceremonies for the Golden Lion Music Hall in Sydenham. He claimed to have known Edmund Pook as a colleague, when Edmund had tried his hand as an entertainer. As a witness, he told police that he had been buying a pack of nails in the Thames tool shop on the night the hammer had been sold and he had bumped into Edmund Pook outside, he stopped to chat to Edmund and then shortly after, witnessed through the shop window, Edmund actually purchasing the hammer. Edmund disagreed categorically, claiming that he had never met Perren in his life and certainly not outside the tool shop. In an effort to straighten it out, police later asked to see the nails that Perren bought that night and when he produced them, it turned out that they were a brand that the Thomases did not even stock. Still, this was all to be discovered at the time and so police granted an extension to the police of 6 weeks and the date of the trial was set for July 12th. The six weeks was not wasted by the Pooks, who spent the time seeking out their own witnesses for Edmunds Alibis, of which they claimed to have found three who could all testify to have seen Edmund waiting outside the home of his sweetheart at the time he was claimed to have been meeting Jane Clouson. As the trial approached, public fervour for the entire affair reached its peak when Sunday May 29th saw over 20,000 people visit Kidbrooke Lane, making it the country’s third highest tourist attraction, behind only the Crystal Palace and the International Exhibition at Kensington.
The trial of Edmund Pook opened as scheduled on the morning of the 12th July, 1871 to great public interest. The trial was deemed exciting enough that it even attracted the attention of the Lord Mayor of London who was in attendance, along with great throngs of the public, who being unable to fit into the court room, stood outside, waiting for news. The trial lasted for four days, and focused mainly around the hearsay evidence gathered by the police. In their opening, the prosecution pushed a line that although the evidence held against Pook was largely circumstantial, it should be considered as a whole by the jury, the greater picture, they suggested, was damning enough. Obviously this allowed an opening for the defense who capitalised on this weakness, playing it all drown as little more than idle gossip. The trial did not fair particularly well for the prosecution from the start. At first they attempted to paint Edmund as something of a woman ire, pointing out all the witness testimony that seemed to suggest he had been seeing several young women at once and they read letters to the court written by Edmund to his cousin, who he was proposing marriage. Later however, Constable Gunn, the beat officer who found Jane Clouson on the night of the attack admitted that he had not seen earlier on in the night due to the fact that he had not actually followed his regular beat earlier that night and gone off on a completely different path, leaving the lane completely empty for several hours. The prosecution was also forced to admit that the locket that they had been led to believe had been given to Jane by Edmund, was in fact, given to her by a completely different suitor. The first day closed with the most crushing blow to the prosecution when the witness testimony of Fanny Hamilton, who had told police she had been with Jane before the attack and had been told that she was to go and meet Edmund that night, was thrown out as evidence for being inadmissible gossip. The second day saw the police trot out over 30 witnesses, all who tenuously linked Edmund Pook with the murder, the weapon or the scene, though as each one came out, the prosecution were forced to admit, one by one, that only four of them had actually been able to give a positive identification of Edmund, one of which had seen his portrait in the Illustrated Police News prior to carrying out the police lineup. Perren was then next to take the stand, where his testimony of meeting Edmund outside the tool shop was promptly torn apart by the defense in cross examination, when they pointed out that not only did his entire tale seem to be a complete fiction and hold no hard evidence, his own timings were completely off in comparison to all other witness testimony. The defense then brought in a witness who told the court that Perren had told him in a pub one night that he had not actually met Pook at all and as now understood by all in the court room, his story had been a complete work of nonsense. He was eventually removed from the dock after the defense declared to the court that “it was a farce to ask this man any more questions.” The dog whistle was then brought into the fray and so too was the fact that it was not entered into evidence for three weeks until after it had been found, which the defense claimed to be due to police manufacturing evidence. With that, the second day closed and once again, the prosecution and police were forced to leave with their tale between their legs.
The third day opened as the first two had ended and saw the evidence brought up of the dirty handkerchief handed in to the the police station on the morning after the attack by Thomas Lazell. Since the rag had never been entered into the evidence book, it was naturally understandable that no one in the court room had heard of it, much to the anger of the defense and the judge, who called for Lazell to be summoned immediately to explain the situation. The entire Greenwhich division of officers was then dragged into the courtroom for Lazell to piquant out who he had spoken to ont he morning he had handed over the rag and that policeman was then put into the witness stand himself, where he told the court that he just hadn’t thought the rag to be of any importance. Furthermore, the stains on the rag had never been analysed, as far as he was concerned, he thought the rag to be unconnected to the crime entirely and just “a dirty piece of rubbish.” All told, it had been another damning day for the prosecution.
The closing speeches of the prosecution once more reiterated the blood evidence found on the clothing, which was really their strongest and only real piece of evidence. As strong as the police thought it was, Edmunds brother stated that the blood could have come from any number of places. Firstly, he suggested Edmunds epileptic fits, though it was questioned how blood had gotten on the rim of his hat from a bite to his own tongue whilst staying at home. Evidence was then given that Edmund had dressed the wound of a customer in the shop earlier that week who had injured themselves on their premises and of his own cut on his left hand, all three examples, the defense suggested did not go against evidence supplied by Dr Letheby in his examination, that the blood could have been from just about anyone and anywhere. Before their own closing, the defense brought out three witnesses, all of whom claimed to have seen Edmund at the time of his supposed meeting with Jane, though in finding said witnesses, it turned out Henry Pook had not been so shy at cutting corners himself, as all three had identified Edmund via a makeshift lineup that saw the lawyer produce a photograph of Edmund Pook, mixed in with a series of older photographs of random people for them to make their selection.
At 8:40pm on the fourth day of the trial, their jury were let out to make their deliberations, which lasted for 20 minutes, before they returned to make a confident decision of Not Guilty. As news of the outcome spread outside the court, people in the streets cheered whilst those in the courtroom itself applauded the outcome. It was the end of a disastrous investigation and trial for the police and the papers made sure that everyone knew as such. Articles lambasted the police for their sloppy work, whilst the characters of witnesses were assassinated left, right and center. Given the cheering outside the courtroom and the tone in the newspapers, one might think that public opinion was on the side of Edmund Pook, however, the situation was far more complicated and as usual, found itself divided down class lines. Crowds of working class protesters made their way to the Pooks house, jeering and shouting at the family for evading justice and they continued unabated for several nights running. Ebeneezer and Henry Pook saw fit to vent their anger at the police for doing nothing to halt the situation, whilst police largely watched on unconcerned, all the while the protests did not lead to violence or destruction of property. The aftermath of the trial saw both sides of the argument see themselves as victims, with those wanting justice for Jane Clouson turning their anger towards the Pooks. On the other side, those that stood firmly with the Pooks, thought only that the police were to blame for a rushed, single-minded arrest and a ridiculous trial supported only by gossip and hearsay. For Henry Pook, the end of the trial saw the start of a lengthy series of legal battles where he sought damages against witnesses and police, though he rarely won, with many of the cases being thrown out entirely and those that did reach fruition paying meagre sums. One of Pooks primary targets was Frederick Farrah, a publisher who had quickly produced and published a pamphlet on the case titled “The Eltham Tragedy Reviewed” after Edmunds release which contained a narrative heavily suggesting that Edmund had gotten away with murder. Henry Pooks heavy handed lay attempted to shut the publication down and charged all those involved with libel, but eventually the lawsuit fell through.
All the while this was happening, the police largely forgot the crime. As far as they were concerned, the case was closed. They knew had committed the murder, but Edmund Pooks had escaped justice and so, there was little more to be done. In the public sphere, the “Pook Defense Fund” raised £200 reward for the capture of the real killer, whilst the “Farrah Defense Fund” countered with raising their own £200 reward. All this drama and litigation on behalf of the Pooks, however, saw public opinion begin to shift away from the side of the Pooks, who were, as one paper put it, “becoming a nuisance”.
Aftermath & Conclusions
Slowly but surely, the murder of Jane Clouson drifted off into obscurity, only to revived periodically when people came forward to confess to the crime. This happened on several occasions, ther first being just months later, in November of 1871, when a homeless man named Robert Sessions entered a police station and put himself up for the crime. Mulvanny investigated the confession, however, and quickly found that the man had been recently discharged from the army on the grounds of insanity after he had attempted suicide and the investigation was promptly dropped. This confession was repeated by a second serviceman in 1873, when soldier George Bingham confessed to the crime in writing. Police investigated the claims but found the story did not connect with Jane Clouson whatsoever and later, Bingham admitted that he had concocted the story in an effort to get kicked out of the army. Once more, in 1880 the case was dug up again, this time 7 years after Mulvanny had retired from the force, when Walter Thomas, a drunk confessed to the murder one night after a drinking session, however, he quickly recanted his confession he next morning once he had sobered up. One last confession came from the other side of the world in 1888, when an Australian man named Michael Carroll confessed to the murder. His claims were investigated once more, but found to be a complete fiction and the case was, for the last time, dropped into obscurity.
Edmund Pooks went on to marry in 1881, four years after the death of his father, to a woman named Alice. The pair had a son in 1882, though he died aged only 3 an da half years old and they had no more children following the tragedy. Edmunds mother died at the ripe age of 75, in 1899 and Edmund and Alice moved away from London in 1911, settling instead on the island of Guernsey, where they stayed until 1915, after which they moved to Jersey. Shortly after their island hopping move, however, Alice died and eventually Edmund Pook wound up back in London where he lived as a widow until his own death, in 1921, aged 70 years old.
With the murder solved as far as the police were concerned, the case of Jane Clouson was never officially seen as cold or unsolved. But were they correct in their assumptions, or was the anger of Henry Pooks for the police mistreatment of Edmund justified? The only hard evidence for the murder continues to be, until this day, the existence of the small spatters of blood on Edmunds clothing. Was it enough, combined with the hearsay, gossip and conjecture to commit Edmund to the gallows? Either way, one way or another, we can only really say that in respect to Jane Clouson, justice was never done. Who that justice should have come down upon, however, is a debate that is left to those who dig the story up, 140 years on and mull over the details before leaving it once again to slip away into obscurity.