Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Old sins and buried skulls

A grisly Victorian murder reappeared in today's newspapers, after the head of the victim was finally officially identified over 130 years after her death.

Julia Martha Thomas, a widow living in Richmond, made a bad choice when she employed Kate Webster as her maid. Webster had previous convictions and a fondness for drink; unsurprisingly, her behaviour did not endear her to her devout employer, who gave her notice. Matters came to a head on 22 March 1879, when the two women got into an argument and Webster pushed her employer down the stairs.

Thomas did not actually die in the fall, but a panicking Webster strangled her so that she could not get Webster in trouble. However, that created a new problem: what to do with the body. She chopped off the head with a razor, then dismembered the body with a meat saw and carving knife. The body parts were boiled in a laundry copper and most of them put in a cardboard box. Helped by an unknowing neighbour, Webster took the box to the Thames and dropped it in; the 'mass of white flesh' was later discovered at Barnes Bridge. A foot was dropped in an allotment.

Most gruesomely of all, Webster gave some of the remains to local boys. In the words of ADI David Bolton at today's inquest, 'A few days after the murder some boys said that Kate Webster had offered them some food and said ‘ere you lads I’ve got some good pigs lard which you can have for free’. The boys ate two bowls of lard which was unfortunately Mrs Thomas.’

However, the head was not found. It was probably carried away in a Gladstone bag; only when David Attenborough (yes, that David Attenborough) decided to build an extension and the builders excavated the site of an old pub in his garden was the skull discovered. Today the case finally reached a conclusion when the inquest identified the skull as that of Thomas.

As for Webster, she was convicted of the murder and hanged at Wandsworth Prison.

1 comment:

CharmedLassie said...

So bizarre that this should finally be solved. Does make you slightly apprehensive about where the bodies of other Victorian killings may be hiding though. *Shudder*