Monday 3 January 2011

The Stoke Newington Murder

Here's one for Stoke Newington locals ...

A mysterious murder at New Year ... not the current dreadful events unfolding in Bristol, but an earlier case ... from 1884.

The 'Stoke Newington Murder', which took place on New Year's Eve, 1883/84, was big news. It was covered by all the national and local papers in depth. Until the horrors of 1888, it was one of the most talked-about crimes of the 1880s.

The victim, John Broom Tower of 109 Dynevor Road, was an apparently respectable clerk, returning from a very sober New Year's party with his intended and her family. He made a mysterious detour round the reservoirs at Green Lanes, and disappeared. His body was found in the water; his clothes torn; his possessions scattered around the bank; a few items missing - but not all his valuables.

Was it murder or suicide? The Coroner's verdict was murder; but later events would cast doubt on this, leaving the public and police baffled.

The full story (and it is quite long) is here

and it makes fascinating reading. The picture of the burgeoning middle-class suburb of Stoke Newington is strangely unflattering ...
"The whole story cannot but diffuse a sense of insecurity. Thousands of Londoners have from time to time legitimate reasons of pleasure or business for being abroad as late as the hour at which, it is probable, TOWER met his fate. Policemen are not always at hand, and there are plenty of spots in the suburbs quite as lonely as the neighbourhood of the Stoke Newington reservoir."
Times, 5 January 1884

"The neighbourhood of Green Lanes, like many other suburban localities, is pestered to no inconsiderable extent with fallen women, and there is no doubt whatever that the piece of ground on which the hat and great coat were found was used by them for their vicious purposes."
Manchester Times, 5 January 1884

Do have a look through the evidence and decide for yourself. A man confessed to the murder in 1886 - but managed to get every detail of the crime completely wrong, even relocating it to Islington. Naturally enough the confession was discounted.

The Victorians themselves, of course, took a great interest in 'true crime' stories ...
"During yesterday many thousands of people, mostly respectably dressed, visited the neighbourhood of the murder, though there was absolutely nothing to repay them for their trouble, the police preventing sightseers trespassing upon the piece of waste ground where the elm trees stand, and where the hat and other things were picked up. The bank has also been raked over, so that even the footprints are gone."
Pall Mall Gazette, 7 January 1884

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