From Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC | Police | Criminal Justice

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From Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC
  ONEImagining Murder ‘Pleasant it is, no doubt, to drink tea with your sweetheart, but most disagreeable to find her bubbling in the tea-urn.’ So wrote Thomas de Quincey in 1826, and indeed, it is hard to argue with him. But even more pleasant, he thought, was to read about someone else’ssweetheart bubbling in the tea urn, and that, too, is hard to argue with, for crime,especially murder, is very pleasant to think about in the abstract: it is like hearing blusteryrain on the windowpane when sitting indoors. It reinforces a sense of safety, even of  pleasure, to know that murder is possible, just not here. At the start of the nineteenthcentury, it was easy to think of murder that way. Capital convictions in the London area,including all the outlying villages, were running at a rate of one a year. In all of England and Wales in 1810, just fifteen people were convicted of murder out of a population of nearly ten million: 0.15 per 100,000 people. (For comparison purposes, in Canada in2007–08 the homicide rate was 0.5 per 100,000 people, in the EU, 1.8 per 100,000, in theUSA 2.79, while Moscow averaged 9.6 and Cape Town 62 per 100,000.)Thus, when on the night of 7 December 1811 a twenty-four-year-old hosier named Timothy Marr, his wife, their baby and a fourteen-year-old apprentice were all found  brutally murdered in their shop on the Ratcliffe Highway in the East End of London, thecosy feeling evaporated rapidly. The year 1811 had not been kind to the working classes.The French wars had been running endlessly, and with Waterloo four years in the future,there was no sense that peace – and with it prosperity – would ever return. Instead hunger was ever-present: the wars and bad harvests had savagely driven up the price of bread. Inthe early 1790s wheat had cost between 48s. and 58s. a quarter; in 1800 it was 113s.The murder of the Marrs, however, was more dramatic than the slow deaths of so manyfrom hunger, or the faraway deaths of soldiers and sailors in unending war, and the storywas soon everywhere. The Ratcliffe Highway was a busy, populous working-class streetin a busy, populous working-class area near the docks. At around midnight on theevening of his death, Marr was ready to shut up shop. (Working-class shops regularlystayed open until after ten, to serve their clientele on their way home after their fourteen-hour workdays. On Saturdays, pay day, many shops closed after midnight.) The hosier sent his servant, Margaret Jewell, to pay an outstanding bill at the baker’s, and to buy thefamily supper. After paying the bill she looked for an oyster stall. Oysters were acommon supper food, being cheap, on sale at street stalls and needing no cooking. Thefirst stall she came to had shut up for the night, and looking for another she lost her  bearings – before gas lighting streets had only the occasional oil lamp in a window toguide passers-by – and was away for longer than expected, returning around 1 a.m.*Sheknocked; knocked again. She heard scuffling, someone breathing on the other side of thedoor, but no one opened it. She stopped the parish watchman on his rounds, telling himshe knew the Marrs were in, she had even heard them, but no one was answering thedoor. He had passed by earlier, he said, and had tapped on the window to tell Marr thatone of his shutters was loose. A man had called out, ‘We know it!’ Now he wondered who had spoken.  Their talking attracted the attention of Marr’s next-door neighbour, a pawnbroker. Fromhis window he could see that the Marrs’ back door was open. With the encouragement of the neighbours and the watchman, he climbed the fence between the houses and entered (some reports say it was the watchman who entered). Whichever man it was, once insidehe found a scene from a horror film. Marr and his apprentice were lying in the shop, battered to death. The apprentice had been attacked so ferociously that fragments of his brains were later found on the ceiling. Blood was everywhere. Mrs Marr was lying dead halfway to the door leading downstairs. The pawnbroker staggered to the front door,shouting, ‘Murder – murder has been done!’ and the watchman swung his rattle tosummon help. Soon an officer from the Thames Division Police Office appeared.Meanwhile Margaret Jewell rushed in with a group of excited bystanders, looking for the baby. They found him lying in his cradle in the kitchen, his throat cut. Some money wasscattered on the shop counter, but £150 Marr had tucked away was untouched. On thecounter lay an iron ripping chisel, which seemed not to have been used; in the kitchen,covered with blood and hair, was a ship’s carpenter’s peen maul – a hammer withsharpened ends. A razor or knife must have been used on the baby, but none was found.Outside the back door were two sets of bloody footprints, and a babble of voices reported that a couple of men, maybe more, no one was quite sure, had been seen running awayfrom the general direction of the Marrs’ house at more or less the right time.In the morning, a magistrate from the Thames Division Police Office took over the case.An officer from the Thames Division Police Office had responded the night before, and therefore the magistrates at the Thames Office were now in charge. A magistrate ordered the printing of handbills offering a reward, and visited the site of the murder, where the bodies lay where they had fallen the night before.He was not the only one. What might be termed murder-sightseeing was a popular  pastime, and many went ‘from curiosity to examine the premises’, where they entered ‘and saw the dead bodies’. Inquests were held as quickly as possible after the event,usually at a public house or tavern near the scene of the crime. The bodies were left insitu for the jury to view. Until they had been, visitors traipsed through the gore-spattered rooms, peering not only at the blood splashes and other grisly reminders of the atrocity, but also at the bodies themselves.For those who wanted a tangible souvenir, there were always broadsides, which wereswiftly on sale on street corners. Broadsides had been around since the sixteenth century, but modern technology made their production easier, cheaper and quicker, and their distribution more widespread. A typical broadside was a single sheet, printed on one side,which was sold on the street for ½d. or 1d. Broadsides had their heyday before the 1850s,when newspapers were expensive. Most commonly, sheets were produced sequentiallyfor each crime that caught the public’s imagination: the first report of the crime, withfurther details as they were revealed; the magistrates’ court hearing after an arrest; thenthe trial; and finally, and most profitably, a ‘sorrowful lamentation’ and ‘last confession’,usually combined with a description of the execution. These ‘lamentations’ and executiondetails were almost always entirely fabricated for commercial reasons: they found their readiest sale at the gallows, while the body was still swaying. For those who could not  find a penny, pubs and coffee houses pinned up broadsides of popular crimes, to be read  by customers as they drank. Other broadsides appeared in shop windows, frequentlyattracting crowds of bloodthirsty children.One broadside, published before the Marrs’ inquest, which opened three days after themurders, reported that ‘the perpetrators are foreigners’, which could have done little toreassure readers in this dockyard area of town, filled with sailors from across the world.Another spent less time on the possible murderer, and more on the gory details and therumours that were prevalent: that Mrs Marr had, several months before, discharged aservant for theft. ‘Words arose, when the accused girl is said to have held out a threat of murder. Mrs. Marr … gently rebuked her for using such language’; later Mrs Marr ‘remonstrated with her on her loose character and hasty temper’. Anyone with a penny tospare would get a fair idea of the crime and the latest news of the search for the murderer.Those with a few more pennies could buy a pamphlet on the subject. These wereavailable nearly as swiftly as the broadsides. One covered all the details of the inquest, soit was probably on sale within five days of the deaths. While the pamphlets looked moresubstantial at eight pages, much of their information was identical to that in the broadsides. In some, such similar wording is used that either they must have shared anauthor, or one was copied from the other. Mrs Marr again sacks her servant, who ‘is said to have held out a threat of murder. Mrs. Marr … gently rebuked her for using suchlanguage’; later she again ‘remonstrated with her on her loose character and hastytemper’. Now, however, we get the additional detail that the servant was leading a‘prostituted life’. This is reinforced by a description of her clothes: ‘a white gown, black velvet spencer [jacket], cottage bonnet with a small feather, and shoes with Grecian ties’. No servant could afford such fashionable items: they were signs that her money wasearned immorally.Another way to savour the thrill of murder was to attend the funerals of the victims.Many people did so out of respect, as friends or as members of the same community. Butfar more did so out of curiosity. Still more read about them afterwards. Even four hundred miles away the Caledonian Mercury gave a detailed account of the funeral of themurdered apprentice: its readers were able to follow the precise path of the cortège as ittravelled ‘from Ratcliffe-highway, through Well-close-square, up Well-street, to Mill-yard’. In Hull too newspaper readers followed the crowds that turned out for the Marrs’triple funeral: ‘The people formed a complete phalanx from the [Marrs’] house to thedoors of St. George’s church.’ The church itself was so crowded that the funeral procession could only enter ‘with some difficulty’. Then the paper gave the order of the procession, as was normally done for royal weddings and funerals, or the Lord Mayor’s parade:The body of Mr. Marr;The bodies of Mrs. Marr and infant;The father and mother of Mr. Marr;  The mother of Mrs. Marr;The four sisters of Mrs. Marr;The only brother of Mr. Marr …The friends of Mr. and Mrs. Marr. Newspapers churned out stories, handbills circulated, witnesses were questioned. Butnone of this got any closer to finding the murderer or murderers. Then, like a recurringnightmare, twelve days after the Marrs’ deaths it all happened again. On 19 December awatchman found John Turner, half-dressed and gibbering with fear, scrambling down New Gravel Lane, a few hundred yards from the Ratcliffe Highway. He had gone to bed early at his lodgings above a public house. After closing time he heard screaming and hewent part-way down the stairs, where he saw a stranger bending over a body on the floor.After a panicky attempt to leave via the skylight (he was so frightened he couldn’t find it), Turner tied his bedsheets together and slid out of the window into the yard, shouting,‘They are murdering the people in the house!’ The watchman was quickly joined byneighbours, and they broke in through the cellar door to find, yet again, bodies lying withtheir heads beaten in and their throats cut. The body of John Williamson, the publican,was in the cellar; his wife Elizabeth had been in the kitchen with their servant Bridget.Only the Williamsons’ granddaughter, asleep upstairs, had escaped. Once more, moneywas scattered about, but little of value had been taken; once more, the escape was via the back door and over the yard fence.The funeral of the murdered Marr family as it processed through the East End. Thefuneral mutes with their staffs and the coffins topped by plumes were watched byresidents lined all the way along the route, which had been publicized by the newspapers.The newspapers covered the story widely, but the information they gave was not terriblyhelpful. The Edinburgh Annual Register described John Turner as being ‘about six feet in
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