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  1. #1
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    Mar 2009
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    200 years ago today, Ratcliffe Highway Murders shocked London

    200th Anniversary Of The Ratcliffe Highway Murders (Londonist)
    In late 1811, decades before Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim, London’s East End was gripped by a series of murders that caused panic amongst the local population. Seven people were killed, and though a suspect was eventually apprehended, he died before he could be properly questioned, and the murders were never conclusively solved.

    They occurred in Ratcliffe, a name that has now long disappeared but, in the early 19th century, was one of the many insalubrious pockets of crime along the banks of the River Thames
    So....what exactly happened?
    In the early hours of 8th December, 1811, in a small home at 29 Ratcliffe Highway, 24-year-old linen draper and hosier Timothy Marr, his wife Celia, their three-month old son and the shop assistant, a young man by the name of James Gowan, were found dead; the three adults each had their skull caved in with a blunt instrument, while the baby’s throat had been cut. A fifth member of the household, Margaret Jewell, had been out on an errand to buy some oysters. It was Jewell, alongside the local parish night watchman, George Olney, who discovered the gruesome scene and raised the alarm.
    [much more, including map, pictures, and a video of author Iain Sinclair talking about the murders, at Londonist link above]
    Twelve days later, the second incident, on 19 December, was at The Kings Arms in New Gravel Lane (now Garnet street). The victims of the second murders were John Williamson, a publican, 56 years old, who had been at the Kings Arms for 15 years, Elizabeth, his wife, aged 60 and Bridget Anna Harrington in her late 50s, a servant. Williamson's 14-year-old granddaughter, Catherine (Kitty) Stillwell, slept through the incident and was thus not discovered. John Turner, a lodger and journeyman, discovered the murders and escaped out of an upper window, using a knotted sheet to climb down to the street below.
    And....did they catch who did it? Well, it was thought so at the time, though even today, two centuries later, doubts persist:
    [John] Williams was arrested, but committed suicide by hanging himself, in Coldbath Fields Prison. His corpse was dragged through the streets, in a cart, that paused by the scene of the murders. His body was pitched into a hole and was buried, with a stake through its heart, at the junction of Commercial Road and Cannon Street Road. In August 1886, the skeleton of John Williams (with a stake driven through it) was discovered during the excavation of a trench by a gas company.
    [more at Wiki link above, and at other internet sites]

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