Jane Maria Clousen

The Eltham Tragedy

The police have made many mistakes arising out of their habit of propounding a theory and twisting facts to support it, but never did they make such a blunder as in what is known as the Eltham Tragedy.

At ten o’clock on the night of April 25th, 1871, Policeman Gunn, of the E Division, went on duty in Kidbrooke Lane, leading to Eltham. He saw nothing unusual, and he tramped the length of his beat, which was a long one, returning to Kidbrooke Lane about a quarter to two on the following morning. Again all seemed well. A third time he passed through the lane and noticed nothing. But on returning he found a woman sitting on the right-hand side of the lane (some twenty feet broad), half insensible.

The poor thing was moaning piteously, and exclaiming, “Oh, my poor head!”

“What’s the matter?” asked Gunn, turning his bull’s-eye upon her. She made no answer, and then he saw that her right cheek was covered with blood.

“Pull yourself together!” said the constable, seizing her by the shoulder and giving her a slight shake, according to the regulation mode of bringing a person to his or her senses. “How did you come by this?”

She raised her left hand and asked the policeman to take hold of it, turning at the same time her head, which enabled him to see the other side of her face. It was terribly battered.

Gunn now became alarmed, and asked what he could do.

“Let me die!” said the poor creature. She fell forward on her face and never spoke again.

She was eventually removed to Guy’s Hospital, where she died within a few hours without regaining consciousness. The wounds upon her head were of the most terrible description, and evidently inflicted by some blunt instrument. On the arms were some clean cuts.

Not far from the spot was found a bloodstained hammer, and this, it was pretty evident, was the weapon with which the murder was committed.

The action of the police was from the first most extraordinary. There were plenty of footsteps round the spot where the woman was found, but it never occurred to the detective to preserve an impression of them, or even to measure them. Bloodstained stones were noticed, but it was not thought necessary to trouble about them. Indeed, the police examination of the place where the murder was committed was of the most casual character, and beyond saying that there was a little blood, not one of the police witnesses could say definitely whether there were signs or not of a violent struggle.

The motive of the murder was, however, not robbery, for a purse containing fourteen shillings was found in the pocket, together with a locket.

She was but seventeen, and a pretty girl, and these two facts excited the interest and the sympathy of the public. Naturally, there was an outcry for the police to exert themselves and discover the murderer.

And discover him they made certain they had. So certain that, having made up their mind that a young man named Edmund Walter Pook was the murderer, they did not trouble to seek any further.

It was soon established who was the murdered girl. Her name was Jane Maria Clousen, and she had been in the service of Mr. Pook’s father. Edmund Walter Pook had, like hundreds of other young men of his age, a tendency towards flirtation. It was a harmless weakness, but in the hands of the police it became the foundation stone of the charge which, with much labour and a minimum of conscience, they bolstered up.

Inspector Mulvaney, accompanied by Superintendent Griffin, paid a visit to Mr. Pook’s house in Greenwich, and their own evidence makes it pretty plain that if they left undone a good many things which might have assisted them in the discovery of the real murderer, they did much they ought not to have done in trying to fix the guilt on Edmund Walter Pook.

“Haven’t you written a letter to Jane Maria Clousen?” asked Mulvaney insinuatingly to Pook.

“No,” said the latter emphatically; “I’ve never had anything to do with the girl.”

Mulvaney’s question was simply a chance shot, but it failed.

“Well, people say you have. What about that locket you gave her?”

“I never gave her any locket. I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Mulvaney then went on another tack.

“Where is the shirt you were wearing on the night of the 25th?” (It was now the 1st of May, a week afterwards.)

“I believe it’s gone to the wash; but I’ll go and see.”

He went away and returned, bringing with him a shirt, on the right wristband of which were marks of blood. Mulvaney pointed this out, whereupon Pook said it most likely had come from scratches on his arm.

“Oh,” said Mulvaney, delighted at having found out at last something suspicious, “but the scratches are on your left arm, and the marks are on your right wrist.”

“Well, I can’t account for the marks in any other way. The blood may have dropped from one arm to the other when I was washing my hands.”

“What were you doing on the 24th April?” (This was the night before the murder.)

“I was about the town here. My brother will tell you the same thing.”

The suit of clothes he wore on the night of the murder was then produced. The coat and trousers were dark, and the hat was a soft felt one.

The two officers looked at the clothes very eagerly; but there was nothing very suspicious about them.

“I should have expected to find the hat more crumpled, and with blood on it,” admitted Superintendent Griffin subsequently, though he didn’t say so at the time.

Anyhow, they took the clothes away and took Walter Pook into custody.

“Very well,” said he, when told he must go to the station. “I will go with you anywhere.”

Pook certainly did not behave like a guilty man. He showed neither callous indifference nor fear​—​the two characteristics of most murderers. He simply exhibited common sense. Asking for pen and ink and paper when he reached the police station, he wrote a letter to a Miss Dwinford, with whom he was keeping company, informing her that he had been taken into custody for the murder of “that Eltham girl,” but that the charge was “almost too ridiculous to mention.” On that account he could not keep an appointment he had made with Miss Dwinford, but hoped to be out by Tuesday to do so.

It did not occur to him that the police were going to “work up a case” against him. Neither at the inquest nor at the magisterial examination was the police evidence very convincing; how disingenuous it was the trial at the Old Bailey proved.

One little point must not be omitted. On the 26th April, a few hours after the discovery of the wounded woman, a metal whistle was found sticking in the mud, and as it was asserted that Pook was in the habit of carrying a whistle, with which he used to make signals to Alice Dwinford, this “find” was deemed of great significance.

Of course, it was of the highest importance to trace the hammer into the possession of Pook, and to do this the police used every means, worthy and unworthy. They managed to find an ironmonger named Sparshott, who remembered that on the evening of April 24th a young man entered his shop and asked for a chopper, which he wanted to use in some private theatricals. Mr. Sparshott showed him a chopper, which he said was too heavy and too expensive, and he left without buying. This young man was seen by Mrs. Sparshott and her son, and they agreed in saying that the man who asked for the chopper wore light trousers.

On the same evening a young man went into the shop of Mrs. Thomas, also an ironmonger, and purchased a plasterer’s hammer. Mrs. Thomas found the entry in her book, but could not remember the customer. She was utterly unable to identify Pook as the man who bought the hammer, and thereby incurred considerable odium, and received anonymous abusive letters in consequence. Mr. Sparshott, on the contrary, though somewhat hazy as to the appearance of Pook, managed to pick him out in the prison yard of Newgate, though something like twenty days had intervened. But in the meantime the illustrated papers had published portraits of Pook, so that Sparshott’s identification was not very remarkable.

Meanwhile, Dr. Letheby, the famous analytical chemist, had examined Pook’s clothes and found some spots of blood on the trousers and a hair six inches long adhering to the knee. This, of course, told against the accused, though not so heavily as it might appear at first sight; for, surely, whoever murdered poor Maria Clousen must himself have had his clothes marked with big bloodstains, and not with small blood-spots.

There were also other fragments of evidence which might mean something or nothing. The proprietress of a confectioner’s shop some two and a half miles from Kidbrooke Lane said that, about nine o’clock on the evening of the 25th, Pook entered her shop a little out of breath and with his face red, as if he had been running. He asked her for a clothes brush to brush his trousers, and she lent him one. Neither she, nor a young woman who was in the shop at the time, noticed that there was any mud on his trousers.

A man named Lazell also came forward and said that he was in Kidbrooke Lane about ten minutes to seven, and that he heard screams in a woman’s voice. It did not strike him, however, that the screams were like those of a woman in danger, but more as if larking was going on. At all events, he was not alarmed.

This was about all that the inquest and the magisterial examination revealed, and it did not amount to very much; but thanks to what the police suppressed, and the colouring that was given to the case, the public at first took the official view. But before the trial came on at the Old Bailey, opinion outside was beginning to be shaken. The police themselves, no doubt, felt they had a weak case, and they proceeded to strengthen it after their own fashion, as will be seen.

By the time the trial came on, before Chief Justice Bovill, public excitement rose to a high pitch, and opinion was strongly divided on the question.

The Solicitor-General, Sir John Coleridge, prosecuted, and in his opening address went over the case as the police had presented it. Their theory was that the murder had been committed between seven and nine o’clock on the evening of the 25th, and that the prisoner purchased the hammer at the shop of Mrs. Thomas the night before. The motive for the murder, in their opinion, was that Pook had compromised the girl; but the Solicitor-General did not venture to theorise on this point.

One omission in Sir John Coleridge’s speech was noticeable. He said nothing about the locket to which the police, in the early stage of the affair, had attached so much importance. The reason for this was afterwards made evident​—​the police had discovered that the locket was not given to Maria Clousen by Edmund Pook, but by a young man named Humphries. As this fact told against their theory, they coolly suppressed it; and it had to be brought to light by Mr. Huddlestone, the prisoner’s counsel, and led to the judge inflicting a rebuke on the Solicitor-General for keeping back so material a piece of evidence in favour of the prisoner.

Then Inspector Mulvaney and Superintendent Griffin went into the box, and when they were cross-examined, a pretty exhibition they made of themselves. First of all, they were made to contradict what they had stated before the coroner and the magistrate; then they had to confess that they had not the slightest ground for their insinuation that Pook had written a letter to Maria Clousen, nor that he had any particular acquaintance with her. Lastly, it was shown they had carefully omitted to give Pook’s denials to the roving questions they had put to him in the hope that he might say something they could lay hold of.

This must have been an unpleasant dose for Mulvaney and Griffin, and there was another in store over the “additional evidence.”

One witness who was brought forward stated that he had found what he had at first called a pocket-handkerchief about half a mile away from the scene of the murder. This “handkerchief” he now called a “duster,” and a police witness described it as a portion of the lining of a woman’s dress.

Then it turned out that the police were aware of this discovery, but had said not a word about it to the coroner or the magistrate. It did not tally with their “theory,” therefore they had held their tongues.

This curious perversity, together with their contradictory evidence, made Chief Justice Bovill lash out. He did not mince matters as to the stupidity of the police authorities.

They also dropped the matter of the whistle. No evidence as to its alleged discovery was offered. It was admitted to be of the commonest description, and what was still more important was that two whistles were found to be in Pook’s possession.

But their worst blunder was the production of a witness named Perrin, a comic singer, who had already served two terms of imprisonment, who swore that he was well acquainted with Pook. Perrin declared he saw Pook go into the shop of Mrs. Thomas on the evening of the 25th and purchase a hammer, and that he fixed the circumstance in his mind. He bought some nails the same evening at the same shop.

It was rather awkward for Mr. Perrin when it turned out that these nails were not bought of Mrs. Thomas at all, she swearing positively that she had never kept nails of the kind produced. It was also odd that Perrin, knowing, as he asserted, Pook so well, should be taken by the police to the prison yard to identify him.

The jury promptly took the matter into their own hands and refused to accept Perrin’s evidence; they also discarded the matter of the whistle.

The defence brought forward a number of witnesses who accounted for the way in which Pook spent the 24th. As for the 25th, it was proved that he did not leave his work till past seven,, and though there was no evidence as to his particular occupation between a quarter-past seven and nine​—​he could not, of course, open his mouth on this point himself​—​there was presumptive evidence that he was at Lewisham. The blood on his clothes was fully accounted for; but even this was scarcely needed, for Dr. Letheby could not tell whether the blood he detected was that of an animal or human being, nor could he say if the hair was that of a man or a woman.

Mr. Huddlestone’s contention was that, from the evidence of Constable Gunn, the murder was perpetrated between half-past two and four o’clock in the morning, when he discovered her on his beat; and this seems reasonable.

The summing-up was distinctly in favour of the prisoner, and when the jury found him not guilty, which they immediately did, there was such a scene of enthusiasm as is rarely witnessed in a court of justice.

The inhabitants of Greenwich raised a fund of £200 to pay for Pook’s expenses, and a prosecution for perjury was commenced against Mulvaney and Griffin, but the grand jury threw out the bill.

The “Eltham mystery” was a subject of controversy for a long time. A pamphlet was written, and a public meeting held to discuss the matter, but nothing came of it.