Elizabeth Camp

The Puzzle of the Pestle

Of the four murders in railway trains recorded in English criminal annals, the victims in two instances were women, and in each case the assassin escaped and the police were completely helpless. Dark rumours in connection with the most recent of these mysteries​—​that of Miss Money in the Merstham tunnel on the South Eastern Railway​—​were hinted at in connection with another mysterious tragedy which happened some months afterwards, but it may be that such rumours were based on conjecture, and on nothing else. In the latter case, the veil so tightly drawn, due either to the cunning or the good luck of the murderer, remains exactly as it was, despite the gruesome exhibit in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard, which exhibit, at the time it was found, was thought would prove to be a certain clue.

One February day towards the end of the last century, Elizabeth Camp went out of the Good Intent, a public house in East Street, a well-known market thoroughfare of Walworth, in the south of London, where she was employed as barmaid, on a visit, first to her sister, a Mrs. Skeat, living at Hammersmith, and thence to see another sister, a Mrs. Haynes, who resided at Hounslow.

The girl carried out her programme, arriving at Hounslow some time in the afternoon. She had not much money with her, and of what she had she gave to her sister at Hounslow thirty-eight shillings, taking the money out of a green purse and saying as she did so:

“I’ve three shillings left.”

She wore no jewellery to excite the cupidity of the evil-disposed; she had even left her gold watch and chain at her home in Walworth, and when she set out with her sister to walk to Hounslow station, that she might be robbed was about the last idea likely to enter her head.

The girl intended to catch the 7.42 train to Waterloo, and on taking a second-class ticket Mrs. Haynes asked her why she travelled second-class.

“Oh,” said she, lightly, “there are fewer and nicer people.”

“Ah!” objected her sister, “but the third-class affords better protection to women.”

Elizabeth bade her sister good-bye and took her seat in an empty second-class compartment. If her sister’s warning dwelt in her mind, it was probably accompanied by the reflection that if she were attacked she could defend herself. Elizabeth Camp was a stout, well-built young woman, weighing something like fourteen stone.

The 7.42 train was a slow one, due at Waterloo at about half-past eight, and stopping at all stations excepting Queen’s Road, Battersea, the station nearest Vauxhall where tickets were collected. When at Vauxhall the collector went along the train, but he did not trouble about the second-class compartment at the rear end. It seemed to him to be empty.

In the meantime, a young man was at Waterloo terminus anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 7.42 train from Hounslow. His name was Berry; he was in business in East Street, and was Elizabeth Camp’s sweetheart. Some mysterious foreboding of danger was oppressing him, and when the train slowed into the station he asked to be allowed to go on the platform to meet the person he expected. This request, however, was not granted, and he had to remain outside the barrier.

The passengers passed through the gate, but Elizabeth Camp was not among them. Then a little group of officials gathered round a carriage at the end of the train, and by and by it leaked out that something terrible had happened. Berry waited about for some time, and then learned that a young woman had been found dead in the train and had been taken to St. Thomas’s Hospital.

Instantly Berry’s dark forebodings took form, and jumping into a cab he hastened to the hospital, arriving there soon after the body had been taken into the hall.

One glance told the poor young man that his strange fears had been only too truly realised. It was indeed his sweetheart who, terribly bruised and battered, was lying dead before him.

“That’s enough!” he gasped, and kissing her icy forehead he staggered away, overcome with emotion, as well he might be.

The discovery was made after the passengers had cleared out of the train at Waterloo, a carriage cleaner having commenced his customary duty, and in the course of his work coming upon the sight.

The position of the body was this: the head and upper portion were pushed some way under the seat and the legs projecting across the floor under the opposite seat. The body was close to the door, and this, no doubt, was why it was hidden from the ticket collector at Vauxhall, and he did not trouble to look into the compartment.

According to the first impression of the railway officials, there were signs of a struggle, blood was on the cushion and on the mat on the floor. Her clothes were much torn, her pockets were empty, a green purse from which the contents had been abstracted was near the body, her umbrella was lying on the floor. A brooch was still upon her​—​either the miscreant had not time to take it or thought it was of no value, which, indeed, was the case. A pair of bone cuff links were afterwards found, but to the assassin there was not the slightest clue. He had done his work too well.

A close and systematic search of the up-line on which the train had travelled was made at early dawn, and close to Wandsworth station, on the Putney side, a singular discovery was made in the shape of a pestle covered with blood and hair. This pestle was a formidable weapon, weighing as it did fifty ounces. It was of the kind of earthenware known as “iron stone china”; it was not new, and had on it the figure 6 or 9, according to the way it was looked at.

The greatest excitement was caused by the discovery, and the weapon being of such an unusual kind, it was thought that the capture of the girl’s unknown assailant would soon follow. But, unhappily, this did not prove to be the case.

Meanwhile, any number of rumours were in the air as to the motive for the murder, and stories as to possible clues which might lead to the identification of the guilty man began to be circulated.

One of these stories was that on the night of the murder, about half-past eight, a tallish man, wearing a long, dark macintosh with red lining, went into the Elephant and Castle just outside Vauxhall station, and hurriedly asked for brandy. His face was pale and haggard, so the barmaid said, and he was “all of a tremble,” so much so, he could hardly lift the glass to his lips.

Another story was that a man got out of the train at Clapham Junction with one of his hands bound up in a handkerchief. The Clapham Junction story was soon explained, and that from Vauxhall received no credence.

A third story from Wandsworth at first seemed to have some probability in it, and if the statement made were correct, the circumstances were certainly rather curious.

It was said that a man was noticed leaving the train at Wandsworth station in a terribly excited condition, rushing out before the other passengers and jumping down the stairs three or four at a time. He was described as wearing a long black coat, and being otherwise well dressed. He then seems to have entered a public house called the Alma, and hastily drank two “goes” of brandy. It was noticed that his dress was in disorder, and that his tie was wholly out of place. On someone calling his attention to his necktie he hurriedly adjusted it, and running out of the house, jumped into a passing cab.

This story appears to have been thought good enough to be embellished with further details, and these were soon forthcoming. The man seemed to be flush of money, said more than one witness, and insisted upon treating the customers at the bar. Then one of the group exclaimed suddenly, “What have you been up to? You’re all over blood!”

“It’s not blood,” the man replied, “it’s furniture polish. Can’t you tell the difference?”

Another of the group passed his hand down the front of the man’s waistcoat, and on finding his hand stained, said:

“That’s not furniture polish​—​it’s blood. Your waistcoat’s saturated with it.”

The landlord also noticed blood on the man’s shirt-front, and on his waistcoat, but as nothing was then known of the murder, nobody thought of detaining him, and after more talk he departed.

This tale was full of improbabilities. That a man, after committing a cold-blooded murder and after succeeding in escaping, should go into a public house which, if the hue and cry were raised, would be certain to be visited, and should fling about his money and exhibit his bloodstains, savours of lunacy. However this may be, the story was regarded seriously.

In view of the fact that the poor girl had so little money and no valuables upon her, it was at first assumed by some that the motive could not have been robbery. Miss Camp’s history was investigated: it turned out to be thoroughly uneventful and reputable. She had no questionable acquaintances, and though there was a former sweetheart, nothing could be said against him.

People, however, persisted in talking, and on the strength of a woman’s idle gossip, a perfectly innocent and respectable resident of Hounslow was taken to the police station and detained for some hours while enquiries were made, and the thing having been found to be a mare’s-nest, he was released.

Shortly after this episode the coroner opened the inquest, but the only evidence submitted was that of the surgeon who made the post-mortem examination, and who also inspected the carriage immediately after the crime was discovered.

From this evidence we learn that the impression made by the unfortunate young woman’s body showed she was seated with her back to the engine on the near side of the carriage. Above this impression on the woodwork, even above the hat rack, was to be seen the result of the first blow with the pestle in the splashes of blood. On the opposite seat were the remains of a pool of blood, showing “that the woman had attempted to struggle with her assailant.” (This statement was, however, afterwards contradicted.) Under the seat at the other end of the compartment, and opposite where the woman had been sitting, was a pool of congealed blood, while the thick fibre rug also bore marks of blood.

All this went to indicate that the murderer, after committing his fearful deed, must himself have been blood-stained, especially as he must have dragged the body where it was found, so as to hide it from the view of the ticket collector.

The inquest was adjourned for a month, and about a week after its opening sitting the police arrested a man at Reading named Marshall. They were put on the scent by a railway porter at Paddington seeing a resemblance between a man who was leaving by the last train for Reading, and the description of the mysterious person who flourished his money and his bloodstains at the Alma public house. But no charge was made against Marshall, and he was only kept under surveillance.

When the inquest was resumed, a little mystery was caused by the coroner handing Mrs. Skeat slips of paper with names written upon them, and asking her if she knew them. Mrs. Skeat said she did, and there the mystery ended. At least, nothing more was heard of it.

The coroner devoted himself chiefly to probing into the family affairs of the deceased, and her movements on the fatal day. No result, however, followed. One curious thing may be noted. In the mouth of a speaking tube at Waterloo station communicating with the kitchens a handkerchief bearing the name of Camp was found stuffed. The writing did not resemble that of Elizabeth, nor was any explanation of the coincidence ever given.

Nor was curiosity satisfied in regard to the evidence produced relating to the man who was seen to dash out of the train at Wandsworth. One passenger who saw him said he wore a top hat and a frock coat, and that he had a dark moustache. The porter on the platform did not notice anyone in a hurry, nor could he remember what any of the passengers (there were only six) who got out of this particular train were like. Another porter saw a man come down the stairs two or three at a time, but, according to this witness, the man was wearing a bowler hat and a top coat.

An odd thing was that the ticket issued to Miss Camp could not be found. Of course, it might have been in her purse and carried away with the shilling or two which was all the plunder with which the murderer enriched himself.

Much more important was the question of the spot where the murder was committed. As the pestle was found on the Putney side of Wandsworth station, it was no doubt thrown away when the deed was done, the murderer getting out at Wandsworth. Maybe he was the man in a hurry. The murderer certainly would escape at the first opportunity, and would not wait until the train reached Vauxhall, where the chances were against him.

How was the murder done? According to one surgeon, the blows must have been inflicted while the deceased was sitting upright. Afterwards, she must have fallen forward on to the floor on her left side. The injuries were on the top and across the head, and there were no other marks of violence, nor were there any signs of a struggle. The opinion, therefore, of the railway officials on this point was shown to be incorrect.

The surgeon’s evidence was corroborated by that of Dr. Bond, of Westminster Hospital, who did not think the deceased could have cried out or resisted after the first blow was struck. Dr. Bond also made the strange statement that it was quite possible a woman could have inflicted the wounds. Of course, had there been any woman who had jealous hatred of poor Elizabeth, a motive might have been supplied, but this was not the case.

Dr. Bond added, what indeed was pretty evident, that the assassin must have been splashed about the face and clothes with blood, while all the wounds might have been inflicted in less than a minute​—​by a shower of blows. It is but four minutes’ ride from Putney to Wandsworth, so that the murderer had to be swift in his deadly work.

Arthur Marshall, the young man who was arrested on suspicion at Reading, was brought up to give evidence, and a more unsatisfactory witness could hardly be imagined. Apparently he was of weak intellect, and by his answers he made himself an object of suspicion, while his doings about the time of the murder were altogether unaccountable.

Marshall seems to have left home on the day of the murder, and he returned three days afterwards, about three o’clock in the morning. His mother said he was subject to delusions, and that he left home to “list for a soldier because he could not bide it any longer.” He had a notion “the police were after him,” and this notion he had for eighteen months.

The evidence given by those who had seen the blood-stained man in the Alma was quite unconvincing. The potman could not identify Marshall as being the man, but the manager thought he could. Another witness also picked him out, but admitted there was a “difference.” A fourth witness was sure the man in the Alma had side whiskers and a moustache, but Marshall had none, nor had he ever had any.

As for Marshall, he burst into tears when he stood before the coroner, and so contradicted himself and prevaricated, that at last the coroner lost his patience and told him to “stand down.”

Then came the summing-up, after which the jury returned the only verdict possible, “Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.”