Ratcliff Highway murders

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Ratcliff Highway Murders

Postmortem sketch of John Williams, supposed murderer
Other namesJohn Murphy
LocationWapping, London, England
DateDecember 7 and 19, 1811
DeathsTimothy Marr, Celia Marr, Timothy Marr (3 mos.), James Gowan, John Williamson, Elizabeth Williamson, Bridget Anna Harrington
ResultDeclared guilty after committing suicide in his prison cell, December 28, 1811
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The Ratcliff Highway murders (sometimes Ratcliffe Highway murders) were two vicious attacks on two separate families that resulted in multiple fatalities. They occurred during a twelve day interval in December, 1811, in homes half a mile apart near Wapping in London.

Ratcliff Highway Murders

Postmortem sketch of John Williams, supposed murderer
Other namesJohn Murphy
LocationWapping, London, England
DateDecember 7 and 19, 1811
DeathsTimothy Marr, Celia Marr, Timothy Marr (3 mos.), James Gowan, John Williamson, Elizabeth Williamson, Bridget Anna Harrington
ResultDeclared guilty after committing suicide in his prison cell, December 28, 1811


First murders

The first attack took place on 7 December 1811, at 29 Ratcliffe Highway, in the home behind a linen draper's shop, on the south side of the street, between Cannon Street Road and Artichoke Hill. Ratcliffe Highway is the old name for the road now called The Highway, in the East End of London. One of the three central roads leaving London, it was a dangerous and run-down area, full of seedy businesses, dark alleys, and dilapidated tenements.

The victims of the first murders were the Marr family. Timothy Marr, whose age was reported as either 24 or 27, had previously served several years with the East India Company aboard the Dover Castle and now kept a linen draper and hosier's shop. He had a young wife, Celia; a 14-week old son, Timothy (who had been born on 29 August); an apprentice, James Gowan; and a servant girl, Margaret Jewell. All had been living there since April of that year.

Newspaper sketch of the Marr mercer shop and residence

The Marrs were in their shop and residence preparing for the next day's business when an intruder entered their home. It was just before midnight on a Saturday, the busiest day of the week for area shopkeepers. Margaret Jewell had just been sent to purchase oysters, a late night meal for Marr and a treat for his young wife, who was still slowly recovering from the birth of their only child. She was then to go to a nearby bakery at John Hill and pay an outstanding bill. Due to this errand, she escaped being among the victims. A lone report stated that as Jewell opened the shop door, she saw the figure of a man framed in the light.[1] As the entire area was usually busy after normal business hours, Jewell took no notice and went on her errand. Finding the oyster shop closed, she walked back past the Marr home, where she saw her employer through the window, still at work, and went to pay the baker's bill. Finding the baker closed, Jewell decided to go to another shop in a final attempt to find some oysters but after finding that shop shuttered as well, she eventually returned, empty handed.

Arriving at the shop at twenty minutes past midnight, she found the house dark and the door locked. Thinking that the Marrs had forgotten that she was still out, she knocked but received no answer. She first heard no movement inside, then a noise that sounded like footsteps on the stairs. Assuming that someone was coming to let her in, she heard the baby upstairs cry out. However, no one came to the door.

Hearing footsteps on the pavement behind her, she became frightened and rang the doorbell and slammed the knocker against the wood "with unintermitting violence," drawing attention to herself. George Olney, the night watchman who called out the time every half hour, came to find out who she was. Olney, who knew Marr well, knocked at the door and called out, while noticing that the shutters, while in place, were not latched.

The noise awakened John Murray, a pawnbroker and Marr's next-door neighbor. Alarmed, he jumped over the wall that divided his yard from the Marrs' and saw a light on and the back door standing open. He entered and went up the back steps, calling to the Marrs that they had neglected to fasten their shutters. He heard nothing. Returning downstairs and entering the shop, Murray beheld "the carnage of the night stretched out on the floor." The "narrow premises ... so floated with gore that it was hardly possible to escape the pollution of blood in picking out a path to the front door."[2]

First he saw James Gowan, the apprentice, lying on the floor approximately five feet from the stairs, just inside the shop door. The bones of the boy's face were smashed, with blood dripping onto the floor and his brains pulverized and cast about the walls and across the counters.

Murray went to the front door to let Olney in, but stumbled across yet another corpse, that of Celia Marr. She lay face-down, her head battered as well, her wounds still bleeding. Murray let in Olney; together they searched for Marr and found him behind the shop counter, battered to death. Murray and Olney rushed to the living quarters and found the infant dead in its crib, which was covered with blood. One side of his face was crushed and his throat was slit, with the head nearly severed from the body.

By this time, more people from the neighborhood had gathered outside; the River Thames Police were summoned. The first officer on the scene was Charles Horton. As nothing appeared to have been taken, money was in the till, and an additional amount of £152 was found in a drawers in bedroom, there seemed to be no motive. A thief might have been scared off before he finished his objective; the other possibility was some sort of revenge, which would indicate that the attacker knew Timothy Marr. Looking for clues, Horton first believed that the weapon used had been a ripping chisel. One was found in the shop, but it was clean. In the master bedroom he found a heavy long-handled iron shipwright's hammer, or maul, covered with blood, leaning against a chair. He assumed this was the weapon, abandoned when Jewell's knocking had scared the killer away. Human hairs were stuck in the drying blood on the flat, heavy end; the tapered end, used for driving nails into wood, was chipped.

Contemporary newspaper illustration of the pen maul used in the first murders, showing the initials "IP" or "JP"

Two sets of footprints were then discovered at the back of the shop; these tracks appeared to belong to the killers as they contained both blood and sawdust from carpentry work done inside earlier in the day. A group of citizens followed the tracks to Pennington Street, which ran behind the house, and found a possible witness who reported that he had seen a group of some ten men running away from an empty house in the direction of New Gravel Lane (now Glamis Road) shortly after the first alarm had been raised. Speculation now arose that the crime was the work of a gang.

Horton then brought the bloodstained maul back to his station, to find that three sailors, who had been seen in the area that night, were in custody. One appeared to have spots of blood on his clothing, but all had convincing alibis and were released. Based on witness reports, other men in the area were apprehended only to have those cases fell apart as well. A reward of 50 guineas was offered for the apprehension of the perpetrator.[3] and, to notify area residents, a handbill was drafted and stuck on church doors.

Reward notice for ₤50 for information regarding the Marr murders. James Gowan, Marr's apprentice, is misidentified as "Biggs".

The bodies, whose wounds were not sutured and eyes were not closed, were laid out on beds in the home. The penny press had ensured the sensational news had spread throughout London and the public came in droves to go through the house and view the corpses. This was not an unusual practice for the time.


Londoners were familiar with violent attacks in the street at night, and Ratcliffe Highway had a particularly bad reputation for robbery. Yet this murder shocked London and much of England, because the Marrs had been a hardworking family with no apparent ties to criminal elements. They seemed to be entirely random victims, and their brutal deaths violated the social ideal that law-abiding people who lived decent lives and worked hard had nothing to fear.

London was panicked by the idea that a stranger or a gang could enter homes and leave everyone dead. This was the ultimate fear: that one's own home was not safe.

The Investigation

On December 10, a coroner's jury was organized. Since it was an unusual occurance for Marr to send his servant girl out at that hour, it seemed evident that someone had been watching the shop and residence for an opportunity. The crime had been committed between 11:55, when she left and 12:20, when she returned. Murray stated he had heard bumping noises around 12:10, so it was decided that the killers had still been in the home when Jewell returned and began to knock, and had fled out the back door.

The Marr funeral procesion on Sunday, December 15, 1811.

An attempt was made to trace the maul by the chip in its blade. There was no blood on the chisel but since Jewell stated that Marr had been looking for one earlier that evening, it was thought that it was brought to use as a weapon, since if it had been in plain sight, he would have found it. Cornelius Hart, one of the carpenters who had worked in the shop that day was detained, but with no case against him, was released. Marr's brother came under scrutiny, since he was rumored to have had a disagreement with him, but after being interrogated for forty-eight hours, he was exonerated due to a firm alibi. A servant girl who'd previously been let go was also questioned, but she lacked motive as well as criminal companions, and was too small to have performed the murders by herself.

The four victims were given a memorial service, then buried beneath a tall monument in the local parish church of St. George's in the East, where they had baptized their firstborn child three months earlier.

When the maul was cleaned on Thursday, December 19, it appeared that some initials were carved into the handle, perhaps with a seaman's coppering punch: "I.P." or "J.P.". Those who were working on the case now had a way to try to trace the owner.

The Second Murders

The same night the initials were discovered on the maul, and twelve days after the first killings, the second murders occurred at The Kings Arms tavern at 81 New Gravel Lane (now Garnet Street). The victims were 56 year old John Williamson, the publican who had run the tavern for 15 years; Elizabeth, his 60 year old wife; and their servant, Bridget Anna Harrington, who was in her late 50's. The Kings Arms was a tall two-story building, but despite its proximity to the Highway, it was not a rowdy establishment, as the Williamsons liked to retire early.

Earlier that night, Williamson had told one of the parish constables that he had seen a man wearing a brown jacket sneaking around the place, listening at his door. He asked that the officer keep an eye out for him and arrest him. Not long after, that same constable heard a cry of "Murder!" As a crowd gathered outside the Kings Arms, a nearly naked man descended from the second floor using a rope of knotted sheets. As he dropped to the street, he was crying incoherently; it was John Turner, a lodger and journeyman who had been there for some eight months.[3]

Newspaper illustration of the escape of John Turner from the second murder scene at the King's Arms.

The crowd forced the tavern doors open, and once inside they saw the body of Williamson, lying on its back on the steps leading into the taproom, his head beaten and his throat cut, an iron crowbar lying at his side. While this bar appeared to be the weapon that had beaten him, a sharper implement had slit his throat and nearly hacked off his hand. Elizabeth Williamson and the inn's maid were found in the parlor, with smashed skulls and slit throats. Harrington's feet were beneath the grate, as if she were struck down in the act of preparing the fire for the next morning; her mistress's neck had been severed to the bone.

The crowd armed themselves and stormed through the inn in search of possible perpetrators. They discovered the Williamson's 14-year-old granddaughter, Catherine (Kitty) Stillwell, who lived with them, in her bed, alive and untouched. Given what had happened to the Marr family twelve days earlier, it seemed miraculous that she had slept through the entire attack and had no idea what had just occurred downstairs.

The bodies were placed on their beds and the surviving girl was taken to a safer home. Fire bells were rung to call out volunteers, while London Bridge was sealed off. Acting on eyewitness accounts that a tall man was loitering outside the tavern that night, wearing a flushing coat (a loose-fitting, hooded garment), several Bow Street Runners, an early City-based type of detective [see: "Police", below], were assigned to hunt down the murderer. In one report, John Turner, the lodger who escaped, claimed he had shouted for help, scaring the killer away.[4] He also stated he had seen a tall man in a dark-colored flushing coat near Mrs. Williamson's corpse, but he was also viewed as a suspect at this time and his report was not give its full weight. After-hours entry to the premises was found to have been gained by forcing open the cellar flap. An open tavern window with bloodstains on the sill was discovered, indicating the murderer's escape route; a footprint in the mud outside seemed to confirm this. The unknown assailant apparently escaped by running along a clay-covered slope, so it was assumed by the police that he would have gotten clay all over his clothing, making him easy to identify.

It was pointed out that this type of escape route was similar to the one taken by the person who had murdered the Marr family. There were no known connections between the two families, and there was also no apparent motive for this recent slaughter. As Williamson's watch was missing and both crimes had been interrupted, they might still have started off as simple robberies, but no one could be certain of this.

A haphazard sort of task force was assembled, composed of police officers from various parishes and a posse of Bow Street Runners. It quickly arrested a suspect who lived in the area who had recently purchased a gallon of brandy, and who also had recently cleaned trousers to get rid of what a local doctor claimed to be bloodstains. No forensic tests existed at this time to test this theory, but the man was detained anyway. Other witnesses claimed to have seen two men running up Ratcliff Highway that night, a tall man with a limp and a shorter man, but these clues were vague and did not result in any clear leads. Local magistrates convened and quickly offered another reward of 100 guineas, double the amount of the Marr reward, for information leading to the capture of the culprit, and handbills were drafted and posted within the hour. Rewards were offered by three different parishes for information, including two other offers of ₤50. With two horrific crimes so close in time and geographical area, London feared it had a mass murderer on its midst who might strike yet again. The public purchased locks at great expense to keep intruders out.

The Survivor's Testimony

Richard Ryder, the Home Secretary responded to public panic and pressure and appointed Aaron Graham, a Bow Street magistrate, to the enquiry. The city's newspapers focused on the crimes for some three weeks, and a coroner's inquest was called in the Black Horse tavern across from the Kings Arms. John Turner was now in a better state of mind to testify, and this time he was believed.

Turner claimed he entered the tavern around 10:40 that night and went to his room on an upper floor. He heard Mrs. Williamson lock the door, then heard the front door bang open "hard," and Bridget shout, "We are all murdered!" with Williamson then exclaiming, "I am a dead man." As he lay in bed, listening, Turner heard several blows. He also heard someone walk about, but so quietly that he believed their shoes had no nails. This was a significant detail, as the shoeprint outside was made by a shoe with nails. After a few minutes, he left his bed and went to investigate.

As Turner crept down the stairs, he heard three drawn-out sighs and saw that a door stood open, with a light shining on the other side. He peered in and caught a glimpse of a tall man, estimated at six feet tall, wearing a dark flushing coat leaning over Mrs. Williamson, going through her pockets. Turner saw only one man before going back up the stairs.

Rather than become a victim as well, he then tied two sheets together in his bedroom and lowered himself out of the house. He knew that Williamson's watch was missing, and described it, but could not recall there ever being an iron bar in the tavern like the one found next to the corpse. The conclusion was that it must have been brought there by the killer.

Those who had seen the corpses testified, the surgeon who had examined them also gave his report. The jury returned a verdict of willful murder by a person or some persons unknown.

The Suspect

The public demanded the perpetrators be caught immediately, and despite having no real police force, the crimes did appear to be quickly solved, although through very circumstantial evidence.

A principal suspect in the murders, John Williams (also known as John Murphy), was a 27 year old Irish or Scottish seaman, and a lodger at the nearby Pear Tree public house on Cinnamon Street off the Highway, in Old Wapping. His roommate had noticed that he had returned after midnight on the night of tavern murders. De Quincey claimed Williams had been an acquaintance of Timothy Marr's, and described him as: "a man of middle stature, slenderly built, rather thin but wiry, tolerably muscular, and clear of all superfluous flesh. His hair was of the most extraordinary and vivid color, viz., a bright yellow, something between an orange and a yellow colour." The Times was more specific: he was five-foot-nine, slender, had a "pleasing countenance," and did not limp. He had nursed a grievance against Marr from when they were shipmates, but the subsequent murders at the Kings Arms remain unexplained.[3]

The Shadwell Police office examined him as well as several other suspects. He had two pawn tickets on his person, some silver, and a pound note. His last voyage had been on the Roxburgh Castle, an East India Company trading ship, where he had narrowly escaped being part of a failed mutiny attempt. He was educated and had a reputation for being honest, as that he always paid for his rooms, and was popular with women. Williams had been seen drinking with at least one other man at the King's Arms shortly before the murders, so he was subjected to an intense interrogation. Williams was of medium height and slight build, his description in no way matched Turner's description a large man in a flushing coat of dark colour. Williams said he had never denied being at the Kings Arms that evening, but that the Williamsons considered him a family friend; Mrs. Williamson had even touched his face that night in a motherly gesture. What aroused suspicion was his earlier mention that he had no money, but that after the murders he was seen to have some.

Williams claimed this was because he had pawned articles of clothing afterwards, the pawn tickets were proof of this. After he'd left the tavern that evening, he claimed to have had consulted a surgeon about an old wound, as well as a woman with some knowledge of medicine. No one investigated his alibi, or checked the dates on the pawn tickets.

Despite his insistence he was innocent, Williams was remanded to Coldbath Fields Prison, also known as the Clerkenwell Gaol, where another suspect was also incarcerated. The police were still not sure how many men were involved, and confined both men, even going so far as to round up yet a third suspect as well.

A Break in the Case

On December 24, now more than two weeks after the Marr murders and five days after the Williamsons had been killed, the maul was finally identified as belonging to a seaman named John Peterson, who was away at sea. The information was volunteered by a Mr. Vermiloe, the landlord of the "Pear Tree" lodging house, who was incarcerated in Newgate Prison for debt. Police searched the premises and found Petersen's trunk, which was missing a maul. Vermiloe recalled that not only had the maul been in the chest, but that he, himself, had used it and was responsible for chipping it. That was a significant lead. It has been noted that the substantial reward money for information leading to the arrest of the murderers would have cleared Vermiloe's debts.

Before an open forum of witnesses that day, John Turner was asked if he could identify John Williams as the man he had seen standing over the deceased Mrs. Williamson. Turner could not, but stated he knew Williams from prior visits to the tavern. Williams' laundress was called on to see if she had washed any bloody clothing; two weeks earlier, she noticed that one shirt was torn, and another that had blood on the collar, as if from bloody fingers. She assumed Williams had been in a fight, and had not washed any clothing for him since before the Williamson murder.

Williams claimed the torn and bloodstained shirt was the result of a card-game brawl, but was silenced by the magistrates, and was returned to prison. The next day was Christmas.

The facts in evidence against John Williams were that he'd had an opportunity to take the maul, he had money after the murder but not before, he'd returned to his room just after the killer had fled the second crime scene, and he allegedly had a bloody and torn shirt. Although an attempt was made to identify the maul and ascertain whether Williams' shirt actually had bloodstains on it, the courts of that time gave greater weight to logic and eyewitness testimony than to any forensic evidence. The concept was that if a narrative fit the facts and made sense, then more than likely that person was guilty. Investigators did not even conceive of the possibility of processing and matching blood evidence, let alone possess the actual ability to interpret blood-spatter patterns, look for fingerprints, or make a soil analysis.

The Suicide

Williams never went to trial. December 28, three days after Christmas, he used his scarf to hang himself from an iron bar in his cell. No one discovered this until just before he was scheduled for another hearing before the Shadwell Magistrate, who were keen to question him about his torn and bloodied shirt and the extra money in his possession after the murder of the Williamsons. Instead, an officer announced to the court that the accused was dead and his body was cold. Williams' suicide surprised everyone who had spoken to him; several prisoners and a warden said that he had appeared in good spirits only the day before, believing that he would soon be exonerated and released. this led to later speculation that Williams had been murdered to prevent authorities from looking elsewhere.

The hearing continued despite the dead man's inability to defend himself, and this time many new, and seemingly damning, details surfaced. The Times reported that a secret prison correspondence had been discovered between Williams and one of the other suspects, "which clearly connects them with the shocking transactions." Another man who shared the room at the "Pear Tree" with Williams said that he had found his own stockings muddied and hidden behind a chest, and concluded that Williams had worn his stockings out that night and had gotten them dirty. When he confronted Williams, he immediately took them into the yard and washed them. Their landlady affirmed this and added that while the stockings were quite muddy, she had also seen blood on them. She explained that she had not told anyone about this prior to Williams' death because she feared he would murder her. A female witness who knew Williams well connected him with a chisel that was proved to have been taken from the same seaman's chest as the maul. The court finally declared Williams to be guilty of the crimes, and that his suicide was a clear statement of his guilt. The case against the other suspects collapsed, and although Williams had not been connected with the Marr murders, he was deemed the sole perpetrator of both.

Burial procession of John William[sic], showing the cart stopping before the King's Arms.

The Home Secretary was more than happy to agree with the opinion of the bench, and decided that the best way to end the matter was to parade Williams' body through Wapping and Shadwell so that the residents could see that while he had "cheated the hangman", he was indeed dead, and no longer a menace. The concern was that such a procession might provoke rioting and a breach of the peace, so he ordered the Thames Police, the Bow Street Mounted Patrol, and local constables and watchmen to oversee the event. On New Year's Eve, Williams' body was removed from the prison at 11, with "an immense concourse of persons", approximately 180,000 in all, taking the body in a procession up the Ratcliff Highway. When the cart drew opposite the Marr house, the procession halted for nearly a quarter of an hour. A drawing was made of the body, which is not that of the slender man described in newspaper accounts, but a stocky laborer. In his pockets is shown a piece of metal that he apparently ripped from the prison wall to stab himself with, in the event he was unsuccessful at hanging.

When the cart came opposite the late Mr. Marr's house a halt was made for nearly a quarter of an hour...The procession then advanced to St. George's Turnpike, where the new road [Commercial Road] is intersected by Cannon Street. Those who accompanied the procession arrived at a grave already dug six feet down. The remains of John Williams were tumbled out of the cart and lowered into this hole, and then someone hammered a stake through his heart.-De Quincey

Sketch of John Williams' corpse on the death cart, along with the murder implements of pen maul, ripping chisel and iron crowbar. This representation of a stocky laborer was published 4 years after the event and does not match his physical description, that of a slender man. The date of the first murder is also incorrect.

Burying a suicide at a crossroads was traditional for suicides at that time. Suicides were considered damned and could not be buried in consecrated ground; the stake was meant to keep the restless soul from wandering,[5] while the crossroads were meant to confuse whatever evil ghost that could arise from the grave as to which direction to take. The procession also stopped for ten minutes in front of the dark Kings Arms tavern as well, where it was reported that the coachman whipped the dead man three times across the face. In addition, the grave was deliberately made too small for the body, so that the murderer would feel uncomfortable, even in death. Quicklime was added, and the pit was covered over.

In August 1886, a gas company began to excavate a trench in the area where Williams had been buried. They accidentally unearthed a skeleton, reportedly buried upside down and with the remains of the wooden stake through its torso. "It was six feet below the surface of the road where Cannon and Cable Streets cross at St. George in the East."[6] The landlord of the "Crown and Dolphin" public house, at the corner of Cannon Street Road, retained the skull as a souvenir. The pub has since become derelict, the whereabouts of the skull are currently unknown.

Some Alternate Suspects

John Williams' arrest would have interested two other people involved: Cornelius Hart and William 'Long Billy' Ablass.

Puzzling Motivation

The motive for the Ratcliff Murders has remained a mystery and a cause for speculation for detectives and crime buffs. Colin Wilson theorized that Williams was syphilitic and harbored a grudge against humanity. Therefore, he was acting out against people in general and would have continued to do so; the fact that the murders stopped after his capture and death was further proof. Wilson concludes that Williams had told a friend who later reported that after the Marr massacre, Williams was out of sorts, indicating, "I am unhappy and cannot remain easy."

P.D. James and Critchley, however, believe that the proceedings were performed too quickly in order to close the case and appease the frightened public. An early eyewitness insisted that the two men seen on the road outside the Kings Arms tavern had spoken, and one had called out what sounded like a name — possibly "Mahoney" or "Hughey". Williams' name did not sound like that, but once he was in custody, that report was ignored. While Williams had misrepresented himself on occasion and could have been using an alias, following a lead about two men walking up the street together, who were not proven to have had anything to do with the murders, ignored the facts about the open tavern window and the footprint in the mud outside. They believe that it was possible someone else had perpetrated the assaults, making Williams merely a tragic and unfortunate pawn.

In January 1812, the authorities still felt a need to conclusively prove that Williams had committed the murders. The weapon, either a razor or knife, that was used to cut the throats of the victims, and clearly linked to Williams, became the sought-after piece of evidence. A police officer stated that he had originally found a knife like that in the pocket of Williams' coat, but had not seen it since. Newspaper accounts of this testimony shifted from calling the weapon a razor, which they took from the surgeon's reports, to claiming that the wounds had been clearly made with a sharp knife. Eventually a knife was indeed found, and was said to have blood on it, but whether it had actually belonged to Williams or had been planted in his room to confirm his guilt is still unknown.


The thriving cheap newspapers, or "penny press", spread the news round the country, as the gruesome details of the violence leaked out over the days after the two incidents. This became one of the first national shock stories to circulate in Britain. Speculation on who killed the innocent families, and why, kept the story alive right through to the burial of the eventually accused man.


In 1811, Britain had no formal police force and only a crude system of making arrests. Parish constables, magistrates, and coroners dealt with local crimes. "Thief-takers," a primitive breed of bounty hunters, had been replaced in 1749 with the City-based Bow Street Runners, whose remit was confined to the West End. The Marine Police Force, now known as the Marine Support Unit,[7] was founded in 1798 to protect ships and cargoes at anchor in the Pool of London and the lower reaches of the river. Based in Wapping High Street, the Marine Police Force station was only a few minutes walk from both crime scenes, but no one was trained in investigative procedures.

It would not be until 1829, almost two decades after the Ratcliffe Highway murders, that the Metropolitan Police Bill would be affirmed, giving London an organized, full time police force. And not until the 1840s would there be a separate organization of detectives.

Before modern approaches to crime detection had been developed, finding a culprit to account for a crime depended mostly on eyewitness accounts or character testimonies. Hence much factual information that could have excluded several suspects was ignored by the inexperienced decision-makers. In The Maul and The Pear Tree (1971), P.D.James and the late Dr. Thomas Critchley also noted that police services were not as yet professionalised and were highly fragmented in the early nineteenth century and the science of forensic pathology was yet to arise. Therefore, they argue that it is plausible that the Home Office, police and judiciary settled on the hapless Williams as a 'culprit' of convenience [8]


The murders provided the backdrop for the first two episodes of the third series of British television drama Whitechapel in 2012.


They were also given a fictionalised treatment in Lloyd Shepherd's first novel, The English Monster, in 2012.

See also


  1. ^ de Quincey, Thomas, "On Murder considered as one of the Fine Arts." No other contemporary accounts support this statement; it could have been dramatized to add flair to the essay.
  2. ^ de Quincey
  3. ^ a b c Thames Police Museum accessed 15 Feb 2007
  4. ^ deQuincey
  5. ^ Land and Gregg
  6. ^ unknown author of "Stepney Murders."
  7. ^ History of the Marine Support Unit (Met) accessed 24 Jan 2007
  8. ^ P.D.James and T.A. Critchley: The Maul and the Pear Tree: London: Faber and Faber: 1971

Further reading