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Gaslight Villainy: True Tales of Victorian Murder

Gaslight Villainy: True Tales of Victorian Murder

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Gaslight Villainy: True Tales of Victorian Murder

4.5/5 (3 valutazioni)
313 pagine
5 ore
Sep 1, 1909


Hot on the heels of A Mix of Murders, Gaslight Villainy forms Grahame Farrell’s second volume of gripping true-murder cases. But where A Mix of Murders covers the Twentieth Century, Gaslight Villainy treats the reader, in exquisite detail, to a selection of fourteen crimes committed during the Victorian period. Founded, as with A Mix of Murders, on meticulous research, Farrell presents these cases with an equally clear, readable and articulate style that demonstrates the author’s fine command of his subject.

In one case, Gaslight Villainy educates us in the techniques of execution, and the methods of specific executioners – not, it is clear, an always-professional process performed by ever-adept professionals. In another tale, Farrell shows that lingering abhorrence towards dissection of human cadavers held great sway over resolution of the crimes of the time, and yet shows still how a jury used other lines of reason to find the perpetrator in question guilty.

In Voyage of Death, as with the other cases, the reader enjoys excellent characterisation: shipboard existence and the very feel of the vessel itself come to life vividly, thus forming a backdrop to a most intriguing case. Most murders occur on dry land, over which the perpetrator may flee a great distance following their ungodly deed, but murder at sea changes this parameter, and the concomitant effects thus frame this particular case tightly, where one pressing-question is ever to the fore: who exactly was the guilty party?

Farrell characterises the times superbly in this book, painting a detailed picture of a culture that relished public executions, where the remoteness of rural murders – counter-intuitively – did not lend a greater chance of escape from the law, and where good-old-fashioned policing was the public’s strongest weapon in the face of malice aforethought. As with A Mix of Murders, the intelligent analyses in Gaslight Villainy give more than enough to satisfy the reader, but the rich context this book gives to its descriptions make it a must-have for true-crime aficionados. If you like your true crime served up with style, clarity and a sense of the times, you owe it to yourself to buy this book post haste.
Sep 1, 1909

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Gaslight Villainy - Grahame Farrell

Gaslight Villainy

True Tales of Victorian Murder


Grahame Farrell

Published by Kembra Publications Ltd.

ISBN 978-0-9928356-3-7

All content in this publication is copyright © K G Farrell 2012 all rights reserved.

First Publishing Date: December, 2012.

Second Impression: January, 2013.

Beyond the scope of fair-use, and without the express written consent of the author, this publication may not be reproduced, transmitted or stored in whole or in part by graphic, electronic, or other means.

Cover art, copy-editing and e-book file-generation by Richard Vaughan of Dodeca Technologies Ltd., for which the author is grateful.

Cover-art text set in Roman Serif by Manfred Klein, and in Cordia New Bold.

Please note that older e-readers/e-reader-software may not align correctly the text that follows the illumination device used at the start of each chapter (the lamp-post graphic).

Also by Grahame Farrell

A Mix of Murders: Fifteen Historic English Cases from the Twentieth Century

Dedicated to Lyn and Daniel of Clapham

Table of Contents


The Lothario of Portland Town

Secret Poisoning

Species of Madness

The Stoic’s Tale

The Fickle Waters of the Arran

Unservantlike Behaviour

The Two Bakers of St. Luke’s

Insured for Murder

A Drop Too Much

Drink, Drugs and Doctors

The Home Improvements of Frederick Deeming

The Late Mrs. Anderson

Incident at Ardlamont

Voyage of Death


nyone who leafs through a copy of the ‘Newgate Calendar’ (the compendium of summaries of convicted felons held in that prison to await their execution) will see at a glance that the majority of its early, Eighteenth-Century, cases are relatively simple affairs involving hungry people who stole or murdered in order to avoid starvation.

Although this continued to be the case in the early decades of the Nineteenth Century, it soon becomes apparent that the Victorian era represents some kind of a change. To begin with, there is something new for the murderer to confront, namely a police force organised on professional lines; and perhaps in response to this, there is, secondly, a far greater degree of subtlety in the planning and execution of Victorian murders; witness for instance the convoluted scheming of Andrew McRae in 1892, the simple efficiency, almost as in a production line of murder victims in a case I call ‘Insured for Murder’ from the early 1880s, or the devious machinations of a not-so-gentlemanly aristocrat in ‘Incident at Ardlamont’ in 1893.

Thirdly, we can begin to see the fruits of breakthroughs and advances in forensic science on the part of the great Spanish chemist Orfila and others, particularly in the toxicological analysis of poisons, and the means of detecting them. Examples are the cases of Catherine Wilson, Dr. William Pritchard, and the afore-mentioned life-insurance murders (all found in this book), and Dr. George Henry Lamson in 1872.

But to return to our first major development, namely the rise of police expertise, it is apparent that this, more than any other innovation, is what sets the Victorian era apart from previous centuries. Two notable examples are the Manchester hansom cab mystery (detailed in this collection) and the case of Thomas Orrock (to be featured in my next book), solved as they were by patient and persistent legwork and clever deduction of a kind that was seldom employed before the 1840s. In fact, the legal authorities of preceding centuries usually failed even to consider a crime as solvable and therefore did not endeavour to apply to a murder case the deductive strategies introduced by their Nineteenth-Century successors.

As with so much else, the Victorians brought a rationality and a scientific perspective to the solution of crime that laid the foundations for the tremendous advances in crime detection, forensic and otherwise, of the Twentieth Century. And yet forensic science was still a new and undeveloped tool in the Nineteenth Century, and the several unsolved cases in the present collection have been chosen partly to illustrate the primitive state of forensics in this era; one wonders whether these cases would remain unsolved for long if they belonged to the present day.

As stated earlier, Eighteenth-Century murderers were largely uneducated and impoverished people who killed for reasons of survival. There are notable exceptions, such as Mary Blandy, but it is the Victorian period that exemplifies the rise of the middle-class murder, several of whom are featured in the present collection along with a selection from lower down the social scale, chosen because their cases too (as well as being fascinating in their own right) exemplify those very Victorian aspects that I have outlined, and which are a recurring theme in this collection.

The Lothario of Portland Town

he move from the relatively liberal sexual attitudes of the Regency period to Victorian prudishness was in many respects a surface transformation only. It had a certain legal enforcement, but was more frequently sanctioned by overwhelming social disapprobation against anyone who went in defiance of the code. Of course, many people did defy it, including the two main characters of our first case.

The transgressors represented all classes of society, and all Victorian parish registers (which recorded births, marriages and deaths) included the term ‘bastard’ against the name of many a new-born child (in an early and justifiable example of political correctness, it began to be replaced by ‘illegitimate’ in about the 1860’s). It is hardly surprising, in such a male-oriented society, that one of the most common manifestations of illicit sex was the surreptitious encounter between upper- or middle-class male and servant girl.

The girl’s consent or otherwise was seldom taken into account (witness the unwelcome predations of the anonymous ‘Walter’, author of the Victorian sex-odyssey ‘My Secret Life’), and many girls submitted only reluctantly, knowing that refusal to co-operate might prejudice their chances of keeping their job. Such liaisons were, nonetheless, probably the least-frowned-upon of Victorian sexual indiscretions, and in the country houses of the ruling classes, the teenage sons of the family were often actually encouraged to try their luck with the prettier servants.

To thirty-three-year-old James Delarue and his younger friend Thomas Henry Hocker, all females were fair game, but their conquests were in practice restricted to a blend of domestic servants and abysmally-paid female casual workers balancing on the edge of prostitution. Delarue, a somewhat overweight music teacher, and the much slimmer Hocker, a teacher of English and occasional violin tutor, both had enough of the manners of ‘young gentlemen’ to impress girls from a lower social class, and their reward for providing this rudimentary social cachet was a fairly regular supply of bed-partners.

The members of this steadily-growing harem were, however, not all pushovers. Casual sex, had they wanted that and nothing more, could be had just as easily from men of their own class, of course; in contrast to Hocker and Delarue themselves, what many of the girls in their circle hoped for ultimately was commitment. Sometimes, therefore, a ruse or two was required to coax a girl into the bedroom, and, since all’s fair in lust and war, the rules of engagement devised by the two brothers-in-arms did not preclude the inevitable false promises of marriage, the insincere blandishments, the occasional bit of emotional blackmail, and the offering of trinkets as an unspoken bribe.

There was also a tendency on the part of both men, when dating, to go under an assumed name – a nom de guerre, if you’ll forgive the laboured metaphor – as an exit strategy in the event of, say, an angry parent, or worse, an unwanted pregnancy. Young Hocker’s aliases have been forgotten, but it is known that Delarue often used the pseudonym ‘Cooper’, and not just to potential and actual lovers but also, curiously, and significantly, to Thomas Hocker’s family.

The two friends saw each other sometimes twice a day on four days out of seven, and although girls were far and away the main topic of conversation, it is clear from the large amount of time they spent together that a genuine affection, based on far more than this one shared interest, existed between them. They came from similar stations in life, and had similar educational attainments. Both their fathers were skilled craftsmen – Delarue’s as an upholsterer and Hocker’s as a maker of lady’s shoes at 17 Charles Street, between Regents Park and Primrose Hill in London.

Hocker senior (also named Thomas) was actually fairly badly off, and lived with his wife in rented accommodation so cramped that there was no room in their home for their two unmarried sons, 22-year-old Thomas (whom we now know) and James, the younger by two years. The two brothers therefore lived in a shared bedroom at 11 Victoria Terrace, Portland Town, close to their parents’ home; the rent for Victoria Terrace was paid, at great personal sacrifice, by the father, since, of his two sons, only James Hocker had a regular job.

As for James Delarue, he lived in comfortable lodgings at 55 Whittlebury Street, close to Euston Square. He too had a younger brother, Daniel by name.

The seedy underbelly of Victorian prudishness and moral rectitude took several forms. Prostitution was one of them, the sexual exploitation of children another; a third was pornography, a phenomenon which made its first appearance at the end of the eighteenth century, but which grew substantially in the Victorian era, much of it being surprisingly explicit and imaginative. Delarue and Hocker were avid collectors, Hocker’s collection of smutty prints and books running into the hundreds.

Set against this catalogue of similarities between the two young men, was one significant difference: James Delarue had prospered in his tutoring career – only modestly, perhaps, but sufficiently to enable him to live in spacious accommodation and to venture out with money in his pocket when entertaining young females. He could afford occasionally to replenish his wardrobe – for instance, with new waistcoats (items to which both he and Hocker, as a pair of young dandies, were extremely partial).

Hocker, on the other hand, was up against it financially. He too had at one time made a tolerable living, as a teacher at the Christ Church District School in St. Marylebone. That post had come to an end, however, and Thomas was now earning his living as a freelance tutor. Unlike his friend, however, he was not finding much work, nor did he make anything more than a token effort to find any; he was, in fact, not doing very much of anything except to chase girls, and consequently he was completely without an income. He lived on handouts from his father, a decent but unassertive man whose financial support for his son was continued despite his having been physically attacked by Thomas junior several times during the latter’s ongoing period of self-inflicted poverty.

All of which left, of course, one consolation for young Hocker in his otherwise aimless life: the regular addition of new notches on his bedpost, which, bearing in mind his almost permanent lack of funds, was no mean achievement. For this active sex life he could thank his good looks, his dandyish bearing, his educated conversation, and his plausible manner. He certainly had no reason to be envious of James Delarue in this respect; the large gap in their incomes, however, was a different matter…

The year was 1845, and the irreversible destruction wrought by speculative builders on the countryside surrounding the City of London was only just beginning. It was a process made possible by the introduction of cheap public transport in the form of the railways; but in 1845, railways were still relatively new, and very little encroachment had as yet taken place. As a result, Delarue and Hocker, those two very urban men-about-London, actually lived within walking distance of unspoilt countryside. Hampstead, a short enough walk from the homes of both, bordered Belsize Park, at the time a country estate whose high boundary walls were skirted by fields, farms and woods. There were no other houses within half a mile of Belsize House.

At about 7 o’clock on the evening of Friday, February 22nd, 1845, this now-lost tract of countryside, less than a mile from Regents Park, suddenly had its rural tranquillity shattered by piercing screams of ‘Murder!’

A local baker, Edward Hilton, was doing the rounds of his customers when he heard the cries for help. Ensconced in his cart outside a house in Haverstock Terrace, his first conclusion was that they were the cries of a woman; he also judged them as being about half a mile away. They continued for three or four minutes while Mr. Hilton turned his cart around and drove with urgent speed towards Hampstead Road where, seeing a policeman, he related what he had heard, then drove on.

Following Hilton’s directions, Police Constable Jeremy Baldock (commonly known as ‘Jem’) made straight for Haverstock Terrace and crossed into an adjacent field. Finding nothing suspicious, he emerged via a narrow passage onto Belsize Lane and subsequently onto Hampstead Road again. Here he encountered Sgt. Thomas Fletcher, who was patrolling the adjacent beat. Together they made for the same field, approaching it from a different direction this time.

In the far corner, just beyond a stile and next to a fence enclosing the fields of Belsize Park, they found a body, not of a woman but of a rather plump and ostentatiously dressed man, his bloodstained head so severely battered that his brain protruded through the broken skull.

The officers undertook a cursory examination of the murder scene, noting a kid glove that lay a few feet from the body, and a hat (crushed by a blow) lying by the dead man’s right foot. The hard, frosty ground yielded no footprints, but inside the coat pocket of the deceased, Fletcher found a letter addressed to a Mr. Cooper and signed ‘Caroline’. The gist of this missive was that the unfortunate lady, finding herself pregnant, sought certain assurances from Mr. Cooper and requested a meeting with him at their usual spot.

Sgt. Fletcher went in search of a stretcher and some civilian assistance, his intention being to have the body carried to what the Victorians quaintly called the ‘dead house’, a building designated for the examination of a corpse by a physician – in effect, a makeshift mortuary. Constable Baldock was left with the less-enviable job of remaining alone in the wooded darkness to guard the body.

After several minutes of this macabre sentry-duty, PC Baldock suddenly found himself intrigued, in a policemanlike way, by the casual whistling emanating from the woods and which became more distinct as the whistler, still unseen, drew nearer along the path that ran through the trees.

A more nervous man than Baldock (or one who had not been alerted to the approach of a stranger by the whistled fanfare) might have been momentarily spooked by the sound of approaching footsteps.

Hello, called out the constable inquiringly.

Halloo, policeman, an unseen voice replied nonchalantly. What have you got there?

A fashionably dressed young man, resplendent in a smart black cloak, stepped forward from the woods and was informed that a body had been discovered.

Hmm. It’s a nasty job, policeman said the stranger, frowning. My parents always told me not to go this way at night. I often do, though, but I’ve never been attacked.

He looked at the dead man. Are you sure he’s dead? he asked, as he bent over the corpse to feel the pulse. He then offered the constable the use of his flask of brandy by way of insulation from the freezing night air, but which Baldock declined with the regulation ‘Thank you, not while I’m on duty, etc.’ This was immediately followed by the offer of a shilling (it was common knowledge that policemen received only a meagre salary in those days; neither had they yet been totally accepted as necessary or desirable in the eyes of the public, so the offer of a shilling, like the supercilious greeting of Halloo, policeman, may have had a sardonic intent); Baldock dutifully declined this second offer, but after insistent badgering from the newcomer, he finally took the coin and put in his pocket, if only to put a polite stop to the other’s increasingly irritating solicitations.

Several more minutes passed, during which the constable did his best to refrain from answering questions without giving offence, before he was reprieved by the sound of approaching footsteps and voices; Sgt. Fletcher was returning, carrying a stretcher and accompanied by a group of local men who had volunteered their help.

This band included a young man by the name of Thibblewaite, who happened to be the nephew of the landlord of a local pub, the ‘Yorkshire Grey’. Seeing PC Baldock and the man in the cloak, Thibblewaite ran ahead of the group to join the two sentinels. He looked at the body in the grass and, turning to Baldock’s companion, asked Is he dead?

Oh yes, he’s quite dead, replied the other man casually. I felt his hand and he’s got no pulse. He then gave each volunteer stretcher-bearer a few coins, which, notwithstanding their embarrassment, they did not refuse.

The body was placed on the stretcher and the entire troupe, corpse and all, headed for the ‘Yorkshire Grey’, one of whose outbuildings served as the local dead house. A modern detective would wince at such desecration of the murder scene by the unfettered movements of civilian volunteers and the removal of the body prior to forensic examination, but the Metropolitan Police, having been in existence for barely fifteen years, was still undergoing a sharp learning-curve. En route, the erstwhile whistler approached young Thibblewaite, who was carrying an oil lamp, and asked if he could use it to light his cigar. As the stranger held the lamp to his face to take a light, Thibblewaite got a good look at his features. Both men then left the group, but in separate directions, Thibblewaite turning off to the right and the other man heading in the direction of the ‘Swiss Cottage’ public house.

At the ‘Yorkshire Grey’, the body was examined by Hampstead surgeon Mr. Richard Rogers Perry, who ascertained that the dead man had been felled by a blow high on the back of the skull, then battered about the head whilst on the ground. A four-inch wound to the scalp was the direct cause of death. No such wound could have been self-inflicted; this was murder beyond a doubt.

The body remained unidentified throughout the whole of the following day, Saturday, but at 8 o’clock on the Sunday morning Daniel Delarue, acting on rumours circulating among various of his friends, arrived at the ‘Yorkshire Grey’ to identify the body as that of his brother James.

Word reached the police that three dodgy-looking characters had been seen in the vicinity on the night in question. They had accosted two separate individuals (one of whom had been on horseback) and had, with menaces, offered them some useless item or other for sale, but with no success. No physical retribution had been taken by the three in response to being rebuffed, but the gang remained the prime suspects for several days.

There was also the mysterious Caroline to be investigated. She was clearly a spurned lover, and pregnant with it. Had she, in desperation and anger, killed James Delarue when he refused to marry her? The police could find no trace of her.

Several weeks passed with no further leads; but while the police searched for phantom muggers and the elusive Caroline, a Mr. William Watson was beginning to harbour grave suspicions about an acquaintance of his by the name of Thomas H. Hocker.

The first note of unease was sounded when Watson, who was landlord to Hocker’s parents, called at their flat for a neighbourly visit. The Hocker family, including the sons, had been having domestic quarrels lately, occasioned in large part by Mr. Hocker’s money worries. Sympathetic towards the Hockers, Mr. Watson was therefore delighted to see the family-members enjoying each other’s company for once. Over a glass of rum, he happened to mention the recent unsolved murder in Hampstead, going into rather grisly detail about the shattered state of the victim’s skull. Thomas junior’s reaction was anything but the typical one of sympathy for the victim, or even morbid curiosity; instead, he quickly tried to change the subject:

Don’t talk about that; let’s talk about something else.

To emphasise the point, he immediately broke into a song while Mr. Watson, ruminating on the young man’s odd reaction to the mention of the murder, quietly sipped his glass of rum.

Having thanked the family and congratulated them on the restoration of domestic peace, Mr. Watson was preparing to take his leave when the younger Thomas, for no apparent reason, insisted on showing him his shirt wristband, which was torn and bloody.

You’ve met with some rough usage, commented Watson for want of anything better to say, and Thomas’s father worriedly agreed. Putting on a roguish smile, young Hocker put their minds at rest by declaring that he had, as he put it, been romping with a girl.

At that point, the younger brother, James, came in, and his first words were Dear me, there’s talk all over the place about a gentleman being murdered, and a love-letter found in his pocket. No one said anything in reply, and shortly afterwards Mr. Watson bade the family farewell and left.

Once alone, he thought the matter over. His suspicions, initially seeded by Thomas Hocker junior’s dismissive over-reaction to reference to the murder, had, while Watson was still at the Hocker residence, been fed and watered by the normally-impecunious Hocker senior proudly producing a sovereign from his pocket. The money had been given to him by the younger Thomas as part-repayment of a loan. But Thomas junior, as Mr. Watson knew, did not as a rule have two brass farthings to rub together. How, wondered the landlord, did the young man suddenly come to have money to spare?

Later that weekend he called at his local pub, the ‘Prince of Wales’, where he voiced his suspicions to the landlord, Mr. Battersby who, in turn, passed this gossip on to another acquaintance, Sgt. Scotney of the Metropolitan Police.

William Watson now decided to do a little investigating of his own. This entailed a visit to another pub in order to read the newspaper accounts of the murder. A description of the dead man, and his identification as James Delarue, convinced Mr. Watson that his suspicions were well-founded: the name ‘Delarue’ would, of course, have meant nothing to Thomas Hocker’s parents and brother, since they knew him as ‘Cooper’; Mr. Watson, on the other hand, was fully aware that Thomas Hocker had a close friend called Delarue, and indeed he had met the young gentleman twice through Hocker. He decided it was time to go to the police.

No sooner had he put down his newspaper than the landlord, who knew him, spotted him and called him over to tell him that the aforementioned Sgt. Scotney of Hammersmith police station was at that moment sitting in the ‘Prince of Wales’ hoping to speak to him. Watson left for that pub straight away.

Sgt. Scotney’s quest was for the name and address of the person (i.e. Thomas Hocker) who had been the subject of the conversation between Watson and the landlord Battersby. Armed with this information, Scotney reported to his superior, Inspector Partridge, who immediately went to interview the Hocker parents. Scotney himself, accompanied by PC Beckinson, went to 11 Victoria Terrace, the home of Thomas and James Hocker, arriving there at about 1.30 the following (Wednesday) morning. Scotney knocked on the door. It was opened by young

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