THE LEA MYSTERY.
On Monday afternoon Mr. Coroner Wynne Baxter conducted an inquiry at the Manor Assembly Rooms, Hackney, on the body of Elizabeth Annie Smith, aged 25, who lived at Hoxton, and whose body was found in the Lea, Clapton, at the latter end of last week, deceased having been missing from her home since the preceding Saturday. Mr. V. Young appeared for Anthony (one of the persons accused of being concerned in causing the young woman's death), and Mr. Romaine watched the proceedings on behalf of Cantor, who also was arrested by the police.
The inquest had been fixed to be held at the Earl Amhurst Tavern, Amhurst-road, but the accommodation there was found quite inadequate for the people who attended the inquiry, and the Coroner declined to do more than swear the jury at that house. He stated that he had tried to get Shoreditch Town Hall, and had been all over the parish seeking a place sufficiently commodious to hold the inquiry. Opinion was freely expressed by the jurors that it was not at all creditable for a parish like Hackney to be without a proper Coroner's Court. After the jury had been sworn, the Court adjourned to the Manor Rooms. The first witness called was
Albert Dennis Smith, living at 33, Hemsworth-street, Hoxton, who identified the body as that of his daughter, Elizabeth Annie. Deceased was one of a family of ten, and was a machinist, working for a Mrs. Rawling, of Hoxton-street. Witness last saw her alive on Friday afternoon, April 20th. On Saturday morning she was not present when he breakfasted between eight and nine o'clock. About 6:15 p.m. he went home to tea, and he then understood deceased had gone out. He did not expect her back again until about half-past eleven or twelve o'clock, she generally being out late on a Saturday night. Deceased had not returned home on Sunday morning, and about ten a.m. her sister Amelia went in search of her, but returned three hours later without being able to glean any tidings of her. On Monday most of the family were out searching for deceased. Witness on Tuesday inquired at the Kingsland Police Station concerning his missing daughter, and found that they had had the circumstances of the case reported to them from the Hackney Division. Nothing transpired until the 27th April (Friday), when between eight and nine o'clock witness was fetched to the Hackney Mortuary, and there saw the body of his lost daughter. Witness knew his daughter had been to a dancing-place, near Lea Bridge-road, called the Greyhound. He believed she had been there once before this year. She was engaged to a young man named William Stead, of 37, Hemsworth-street, and had kept company with him between five and six years. After deceased had been missed witness saw him, but he said he had not been with her. In answer to the Coroner, witness said deceased drank a little at times. He had seen her the worse for drink. Witness used to advise her as well as he could, but she was very self-willed. She had never threatened to take her life.
A Juror: Was she really actually at work from day to day?
Witness: Most decidedly.
Another Juror (addressing the Coroner): Is it the custom to have these cases brought before the police previous to their coming before the Coroner?
The Coroner: No, that is a matter to which I shall draw your attention.
In reply to further inquiries, witness stated that he could not say whether deceased went from Hoxton to the Greyhound by herself.
Mr. Young: You did not appear to be uneasy when you found your daughter was absent on Sunday morning?
Witness: Decidedly I was uneasy.
Mr. Young: Had she been absent on any other occasion?
Witness: She had sometimes been out all night without informing me that she would be out, but she afterwards told us where she had been. She used to stay with friends.
Mr. Young: How often has that been the case? Not more than two or three times. Witness, in reply to further interrogatories, stated that deceased's addiction to drink had increased latterly. She earned 14s. a week when in full work.
By Mr. Romaine: Deceased gave her mother 5s. a week for her support, and kept the remainder of her earnings for herself. As far as witness was aware, deceased was sober when she left home on Saturday, the 21st April.
Ann Smith, mother of the deceased, said: On Saturday, April 21st, deceased was up by half-past eight. She had her breakfast, and left the house in time to be at business by nine o'clock. She returned about half-past two, and remained at home until 5 o'clock or 5:30 p.m. She gave me two half-crowns and said her wages only amounted to 9s. 4d., she not having worked full time. Before she went out I asked her where she was going, and she said, "The Greyhound, mother." I knew where the place was, and that dancing was carried on there. I did not try to persuade her from going. She had been there in previous years, but not this year. She was generally out late on Saturday evening, returning very often after we had retired to bed. She never went out with other members of the family on a Saturday evening, but sometimes did with William Stead, her young man. I used to get up to let her in when she came home late. She did not return on the night of the 21st April. In the night I went to her bedroom, and found she had not returned. I did not think her absence was serious. She had been absent before, but had always been able to give a good account of herself. I first made inquiries about her on the Sunday morning. My daughter Amelia went out to look for her. My eldest son is 20 years old, but he didn't offer to go out. Amelia returned about one o'clock without any tidings. On Wednesday I went to Worship-street Police Court, and mentioned the case to the magistrate. To my knowledge deceased was not in any trouble. She had never threatened to commit suicide. I have seen her the worse for drink when she has returned home on Saturday nights. I don't think she had had any trouble with the young man with whom she kept company. She had no watch or jewellery upon her when she left. She wore a pair of common earrings. In answer to a juror, witness said she did not know what sort of a place the Greyhound was. Deceased was very self-willed, and witness considered she had no control over her. In reply to Mr. Romaine, witness said deceased used to be hysterical when in a passion. By the Coroner: Deceased had stopped out occasionally all night unexpectedly, but she had always said where she had been, and when witness inquired she always found her statements to have been correct.
Eliza Heming, wife of a silversmith, living at 5, Great Chart-street, Hoxton, stated that she saw deceased, with whom she was acquainted, on Saturday night, April 21st, about ten o'clock, at the Greyhound Gardens, Lea Bridge-road. Dancing was going on there. Deceased was sitting on a seat with her bonnet in her lap, and had a crowd of people round her. She seemed as though she had had a "drop" to drink. Witness spoke to her, but could not understand her reply. Witness stood there about ten minutes, and then went away. She did not see deceased's young man, but the people said he was there. Deceased could not stand up long. Around deceased there were about two dozen people. The garden was lit up. Witness did not notice any scratches on deceased's face.
William MacGill, of No. 1, Bird-street, Wapping, said on Saturday, 21st April, he was acting as manager for a coffee-house called the "Carman's Rest," at the corner of the entrance to the Greyhound Dancing Grounds. He had seen deceased's body. He did not know her, but recognised her by her dress and features as a young lady who, on April 21st, was in the Greyhound gardens with a young gentleman. They were the first two who were in the grounds, and went in about half-past seven o'clock. She did not seem to be the worse for drink at that time. The young man was about 18 or 20 years old, about 5ft. 4in. in height, wore black felt hat, cutaway black coat, light grey trousers, and a silver chain. So far as witness could see from the coffee-house, they danced together. About 8:45 that night witness' attention was called to the young lady lying insensible outside the coffee-house door. Mrs. Martin, the proprietress of the coffee-house, had hold of her at the time, and told him to take her inside, which he did. He administered some water to her. She was unable to speak. After sitting for about a quarter of an hour she seemed to revive somewhat, and had some more cold water, after which she again became unconscious, but revived again, and was given some strong tea. She afterwards vomited, and then witness found that she smelt strongly of snuff and brandy. Witness, after wiping her face, was called to the door by somebody, who said her young man was outside. Witness went outside, and he walked away from the shop to the Greyhound. Witness went up to him and said, "Why don't you come inside and see to your young lady?" He said, "I don't know anything at all about her." Witness said, "Why, you've been with her all the evening; surely, if you've any feeling towards the girl, you would come and see how she was getting on." He answered, "I don't know anything at all about her, I tell you." Witness then returned to the shop, and found she had revived, but not quite regained consciousness. Mrs. Martin afterwards took her into the scullery and bathed her face. While there deceased noticed the young man in the grounds, and she went out of the shop into the grounds. Witness about five minutes afterwards followed and saw the young fellow and her sitting right at the back of the grounds, "cuddling" one another round the neck. They were there for about half-an-hour, when she fell into a kind of fit, and the young man ran away from her amongst the crowd. There were some young ladies standing by at the time, and witness asked them to go and see to her, which they did, seeming to know her. At that time there were
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umbrella, and the young man had a cane. About a quarter to eleven witness saw her leave the grounds alone. She went towards the Greyhound public house. Directly she reached there two young men got hold of her and took her inside. Witness did not know those two young men. He then closed the shop, and whilst standing outside a few minutes later, he saw deceased leave the public house, it being shutting-up time, and go across the road, accompanied by the two men, and they proceeded up the Lea Bridge-road toward London. In answer to inquiries, witness said deceased, when he last saw her, seemed drunk. The two young men who had hold of her were rather respectably dressed in dark clothes. When witness took her into the shop he thought she was suffering from a fainting fit, the result of dancing. In reply to Mr. Young, witness did not think either of the young men he had mentioned was a bargeman. By Mr. Romaine: When deceased left the Greyhound about eleven o'clock she was going in the direction of the Ship Aground beerhouse. That place was closed. [Cantor and two other young men were brought into the room, but witness could not identify the former as one of the men he had seen on the night.] Witness also stated that the deceased had a pair of earrings on when in the gardens.
Mrs. Heming was recalled, and said she did not at any time see deceased with a young man. When she said there were about two dozen persons there, she meant there were that number around the deceased. There were a large number in the grounds.
At this stage the inquiry was adjourned until the following afternoon at two o'clock.
At the resumption of the inquiry on Tuesday afternoon there was again a large attendance of the public.
Detective-Sergeant W. Vagg, J Division, stated that on Wednesday night last, in company with the deceased's aunt and uncle (Mr. and Mrs. Dewnard, High Gladnor-terrace, Stoke Newington), he made inquiries about deceased. He called on George Hoggs, 5, School Nook, close by the Lea Bridge-road, and he handed witness the umbrella produced. The handle was broken off, and the umbrella was partly covered with mud. He said he found it open underneath the bridge, in the water on Sunday night, the 22nd instant. The Ship Aground was close by the bridge.
Sergeant Hatley, J 20, stated that from instructions from Detective Bond, he, in company with Police Constable (J 295) Yates, commenced searching the river Lea on Friday morning at a quarter to four. They first searched the canal from Lea Bridge to Homerton Bridge. They then went to the rear of the waterworks to the river Lea, walking along the west side. When they got within 150 yards of the White House beerhouse, they saw on the east side what appeared to be paper and rags on the top of the water, entangled in bushes which were growing on the banks of the river. They went over old Ferry Bridge to the east side. On reaching the object they found a number of rats around it. Assisted by Yates, witness got down to the water's edge, put his arm under the water, and got hold of what proved to be the left arm of the body, which was lying on the stomach, the right arm being entangled in the bushes. The dolman was over the head. The dress bodice was opened in the front, and one side of the dress was torn; the other clothes were not torn. Deceased had neither gloves, hat, nor bonnet on. Witness pulled the body to the bank and searched it, finding the handkerchief and brown kid glove, produced, in the pocket. There was nothing else in the pocket. The pocket handkerchief was quite clean. The brooch produced was fastening the dolman round the neck, and an earring was in the right ear, but there was not one in the left. No money was found. Witness then sent the constable for the ambulance, and in the meantime made a fruitless search for the hat or bonnet. The body was subsequently conveyed to Hackney mortuary to await identification. Blood ran freely from a hole in the left cheek, which appeared to have been gnawed by rats. The right arm also appeared to have been gnawed by rats. There were no footprints near the spot where the body was found. Witness should think the body had been in the water for several days. It might have floated down to the place where it was found. The body was about a mile from the place where the umbrella was found under Lea Bridge.
Dr. C.T. Aveling deposed that between nine and ten last Friday morning he saw the body of the deceased at the Hackney mortuary, he being called in by the police. He made a cursory examination of the body, and a further inspection in the evening of the same day.
The Coroner remarked that no information had been given to him until after the body had been examined, which was quite contrary to precedent.
Witness stated that he had orders from Mr. Baxter's predecessor, whether he received direct instructions or not, to make post-mortem examinations on bodies when he thought the interests of justice would be served by so doing, and being so accustomed to act, he had quite forgotten that he had not received such power from the present Coroner. He sincerely apologized for having done anything which might at all be interpreted as disrespectful.
The Coroner said it was not the matter of disrespect that he cared for, but it was a most unheard of proceeding for a post-mortem examination to be made whilst the Coroner was quite ignorant of the case. It placed him in a very awkward position, because by Act of Parliament he could not pay him. He only lived about a mile and a half away, and could easily have been communicated with. Besides, in certain cases he should perhaps have selected some expert.
Witness stated that his only object was to elicit the truth, the case being rumoured to be one of outrage, and perhaps murder. Continuing his evidence, witness said he made his examination in conjunction with Dr. White and Dr. Oliver. The dress was wet and draggled; the upper part of it and trimmings were torn, but the rest of the clothing remained in its usual state. There was no evidence, so far as the clothes were concerned, of any struggle having taken place. There were no marks of blood, or any discharge, on the clothing. The face had been gnawed by rats and blood oozed from the wound, and the right arm had been also considerably gnawed. The mouth was open, but the tongue did not protrude. Witness found no marks on the body of bruising or violence, nor was there any fracture or dislocation of any bone. There were no signs of recent outrage. The lungs were gorged with blood of a black colour. The heart was healthy. Witness could not smell in the stomach any alcohol, drug, or snuff. In his opinion the cause of death was drowning, but he did not think deceased struggled much in the water after immersion. In answer to Mr. Young, witness stated that the absence of struggle might have been accounted for by her being under the influence of drink. If she had drank snuff in liquid, there would no doubt have been some trace of it in the stomach.
Minnie Smith, sister of the deceased, corroborated her mother's evidence with regard to deceased's departure on Saturday afternoon, the 21st April. Witness knew that deceased and the young man with whom she kept company had quarrelled, but she did not know the reason. Deceased left home on Saturday without an umbrella. The umbrella produced witness had never seen before. Stead used to go occasionally to the Greyhound.
William Henry Stead, 39, Hemsworth-street, stated that he had kept company with deceased for the last six years. They were engaged to be married. He did not know where deceased was going on Saturday, April 21st, but on the previous Monday evening he accidentally met her in a public-house called the Duke of Gloucester, St. John's-road, Hoxton. They used to go there together sometimes. Witness smacked her face for being in there alone, and left the place. She was the worse for drink. That would be about eight o'clock at night. Witness never saw her again alive. The last time witness was at the Greyhound Dancing Grounds was Easter Tuesday. Deceased accompanied him then. Witness had never seen the umbrella [produced] before.
Minnie Smith, recalled, stated that on Monday, the 16th April, Stead called at their house, and told them that deceased was in the Duke of Gloucester. Witness fetched her home. She was the worse for drink.
M'Gill, recalled, was shown Stead, but he said he had never met him before.
Charles Cantor (one of the persons accused of being concerned with causing the death of the deceased), living at 2, Warren's-terrace, Lea Bridge-road, was then called.
Mr. Romaine stated that he advised Cantor not to answer any questions.
Mr. Young asked Cantor whether he saw Anthony with deceased, but to this he did not reply.
Sarah Martin, single woman, said she lived at the "Carman's Rest" Coffee-house, Lea Bridge-road, which was kept by her father. On Saturday, the 21st April, about 7:30 p.m., she saw deceased in the grounds of the Greyhound, in company with a young man. About 8:45 p.m. witness saw deceased in a shop, kept by a Mrs. Brown, leaning up against the counter. Mrs. Brown gave deceased a glass of water. The latter seemed to be intoxicated. Witness' mother asked Mrs. Brown to take deceased into her coffee-house, and when they got deceased inside she threw her bonnet off. When witness asked deceased to "try and pull herself together a bit," she replied, "You don't know, I'm sick of it; I wish I was settled." She afterwards began to cry, and witness told her to leave off or she would make her head ache, and deceased replied, "My heart aches, not my head." Deceased was given some tea, after drinking which she
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house close upon ten p.m. she appeared to have revived a great deal. Witness was sure deceased had an umbrella when first she was in the grounds, but she did not have it when she left their coffee-house. There was a young man standing outside the door whilst deceased was inside, and he had an umbrella and a stick. He was the young man whom witness saw when first they went into the grounds.
M'Gill, recalled, was shown the umbrella which had been found under the Lea Bridge, and he said it was something like the one he saw in possession of the deceased on the night of the 21st April.
At this stage the Court again adjourned until Thursday afternoon.
Source: The Mercury, Saturday May 5, 1888, Page 7