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Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun

In 1889, there was outrage as the young American, Florence Maybrick, stood trial for the murder of her Liverpool-born, cotton merchant husband, James, at their home, Battlecrease House. Found guilty, and sentenced to death, this was later commuted to life imprisonment and, after many years of campaigning from her supporters, she was released. Kate Colquhoun examines the events leading up to the death of James Maybrick, the trial and the aftermath of what became a public scandal. Was Florence really the femme fatale as painted by many or was she simply a victim of an extremely biased justice system that clearly seemed to favour the male?

I first read this book when it was published as, being from Liverpool, this is a case that has always held a fascination with me. I decided to revisit it by listening to the audio book which is wonderfully read by Maggie Mash, even if her pronunciation of the word ‘Aigburth’ did frustrate me! (I daresay only locals would pick up on this!)

Kate Colquhoun does a superb job in providing an unbiased account of the life of the Maybricks, from their meeting, to their marriage and, ultimately, their deaths. It is clear how much research has gone into this book, and, even as someone who has read a lot about this ‘murder’, I learned a lot. It is clear that this was a completely mismatched couple, Florence looking for a man to provide her with the lavish lifestyle she felt she should have, and James wanting a younger wife he could show off to his colleagues at the cotton exchange.

The medical evidence in this case is particularly fascinating, Florence having been convicted of murdering her husband with arsenic. Doubt is cast as to whether there was enough arsenic in his body to kill him, especially when anecdotal evidence suggests that he actually took arsenic on a regular basis. Was evidence deliberately hidden in order to paint Florence in a bad light by a Victorian society who were outraged by her extra-marital relationship?

This is a well-written book that certainly makes you think about whether it was a safe conviction or whether she was tried on the basis of her womanhood. A fascinating look at the attitudes of late-Victorian Britain.

Inside 10 Rillington Place by Peter Thorley

The events that occurred at 10 Rillington Place in the 1940s and 50s have become the subject of numerous books, documentaries, television serials and films. How much of this, however, paints an accurate picture of what actually happened? This is something that the author has tried to answer, using his first-hand experience of the house to discuss the real personalities of the two convicted killers that lived there: John Reginald Halliday Christie and Timothy Evans.

Before I give my opinion of the book, a little background information is needed for those unfamiliar with the case. In 1949, Timothy Evans was charged with the murder of his wife, Beryl, and his young daughter, Geraldine, whilst the family were living at 10 Rillington Place. Evans was, the following year, found guilty and was hanged at Pentonville Prison. In 1953, a horrific discovery occurred at the house when the bodies of several more women were found hidden in an alcove. Christie was subsequently arrested, he too being hanged at Pentonville. How probable was it that there were two unconnected murderers living at the house at the same time? With much of Evans’ prosecution evidence coming from Christie, there were questions asked about the fairness of his trial. Consequently, in 1966, Evans received a posthumous pardon for the murder of his daughter although it was still deemed likely that he had killed his wife.

I have read quite a lot about this case over the years, but this was the first time I’d read something from the perspective of someone so personally involved. The author, Peter Thorley, was Beryl’s younger brother and was someone who spent a bit of time at 10 Rillington Place visiting his sister and young niece. His insights into Beryl and Timothy’s life was fascinating, painting a picture of a truly unhappy marriage, with Beryl being the victim of her husband’s anger on practically a daily basis. I had great sympathy for Peter who, as her younger brother, felt powerless to help and angry that no one else in the family would listen to his fears.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was Peter’s attitude towards Christie. The young Peter certainly didn’t see a murderous side to him, and he actually felt that he liked children. Could this man, therefore, really have been responsible for the death of young Geraldine or were the original charges correct and Evans did actually kill his young daughter? The author definitely gives food for thought.

While this is a comprehensive account of the events at 10 Rillington Place, for me this was more about getting to know Beryl. In everything I have read and seen, there has never been a focus on the victim, something which Peter Thorley has put right here. My heart went out to Peter who found himself on the other side of the world when the murder happened, unable to be there for his beloved sister.

If you have an interest in true crime, I can thoroughly recommend this book. It is a well-written account of an infamous murder case with a personal slant which takes you right into the heart of 10 Rillington Place. I commend Peter Thorley for telling Beryl’s story.

With thanks to Net Galley and Mirror Books for my copy.

**PUBLICATION DAY PUSH** Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel by M K Wiseman

The famous consulting detective Sherlock Holmes has been tasked by Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard to assist in the hunt for the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper. Initially reluctant to join in the investigation, Holmes has to go it alone due to the recent marriage of his faithful partner, John Watson. The case takes a sudden turn, however, when the detective identifies a possible prime suspect – none other than Watson himself…

As someone who has a huge interest in the Jack the Ripper case and is also a big fan of Sherlock Holmes, this book ticked all the boxes for me! Over the years, I have read many takes on the identity of the Whitechapel murderer, and thought that everything that could have been written on this subject has already been done. I was pleased therefore, to see a new slant and was intrigued to see how the author would mix fictional characters with such a well-documented case.

This is a well-written pastiche of Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories which could almost be written by the author himself. The style and language took me straight back to the likes of A Study in Scarlet with one difference – this case is penned by Holmes himself, the usual scribe, Dr Watson being the subject of much of the detective’s musings.

We discover quite early on that Holmes has suspicions about his friend and I really like how the author keeps you waiting until near the end to discover whether these suspicions are well-founded. Like Holmes, I could not believe that Watson could possibly commit such heinous crimes, but the evidence definitely seemed to fit… You will have to read the book yourself to see the outcome!

Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper of Whitechapel is quite a short book so if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes who is looking for a quick read with an engaging plot, then this could be the book for you. Thoroughly enjoyable.

With thanks to M K Wiseman and to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources.

 

Purchase Link

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sherlock-Holmes-Ripper-Whitechapel-Wiseman-ebook/dp/B088P92XWC

US – https://www.amazon.com/Sherlock-Holmes-Ripper-Whitechapel-Wiseman-ebook/dp/B088P92XWC

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Poisoned at the Priory by Antony M Brown

In 1876, disaster struck the London area of Balham when Charles Bravo, a newly-married lawyer, was found to have ingested an unknown poison, ultimately killing him. Initial evidence seemed to show that it was a case of suicide, an inquest ending with an open verdict. Such was the interest in the case, however, a second inquest returned a verdict of willful murder, with no guilty party ever brought to justice. Poisoned at the Priory, the fourth in the Cold Case Jury series, examines the evidence, inviting the reader to draw their own conclusions – was it suicide and, if not, who did kill Charles Bravo?

I really enjoyed the previous Cold Case Jury book, Move to Murder, and so I was delighted to see that the author had decided to tackle an unsolved crime that I have, for a long time, been intrigued by. The main players in the story are like characters straight out of a Victorian crime novel: the young, wealthy wife with a dubious past, the controlling husband, reliant upon his wife’s fortune and the lady’s companion, keen to keep her position, whatever the cost. In Poisoned at the Priory, Antony M Brown gives a complete picture of the lives of these characters, his extensive research being apparent.

The thing I like most about these books is that all theories are presented to you, the evidence for each one being given to help you make up your own mind as to what actually happened. I think that this is a great idea as in other books of this genre, what you generally get is an overview of what happened, the presented evidence pushing you towards the author’s way of thinking. Instead, we are presented with four theories, some more plausible than others, and we are even treated to the opinion of the great mystery writer Agatha Christie. I have always had my own theory about this case and after reading Poisoned at the Priory, it has not changed. I will let you decide for yourself though!

Although this is the fourth in the series, you do not need to have read any of the previous books as each one is a self-contained case. If you have an interest in true crime, then this is a series I can highly recommend and you won’t go far wrong by starting with this one.

With thanks to Net Galley and Mirror Books for my copy.

 

 

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims by Robert Hume

People all over the world are familiar with the name ‘Jack the Ripper’, the infamous serial killer who, in 1888, slaughtered at least five women in the Whitechapel area of London. Interest in the case has never waned, with detectives and amateur sleuths determined to work out the identity of the man who instilled terror in the women forced to ply their trades on the streets. But what about the identities of the victims? Their names, Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly are well-known, but what of their lives? Robert Hume aims to show us that these women were more than just the victims of the Whitechapel killer.

Ever since watching the TV mini-series ‘Jack the Ripper’ starring Michael Caine and Lewis Collins, I have had an interest in the serial killer and, as a result, have developed a penchant for Victorian crime fiction and non-fiction. Whereas a lot of real-life crime books devote much of their content to the victims, the early lives of those taken by the Whitechapel killer have been shrouded in mystery. Earlier this year, I read the brilliant The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold, and so I was pleased to discover that another author has taken on the task of bringing these unfortunate women back into the public eye.

Although there are brief discussions about the crimes and some statements from eye-witnesses, the focus is placed firmly on the women and their lives prior to their untimely deaths. This is done in a very readable way and it was easy to picture the squalid streets and the circumstances the destitute found themselves in. Robert Hume paints a very vivid picture of Whitechapel with its crime-ridden passages where the only refuge for most people was in one of the numerous public houses. It is hard to feel nothing but sympathy for these women who, often through no fault of their own, found themselves selling themselves on the street just to find a bed for the night.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was the many photos that accompanied each woman’s story, whether it be images of the victims themselves or of the area in which the crimes were committed. It is good to see the women in happier times instead of just in the mortuary photos that feature in most other books about the subject.

The Hidden Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims  is a very readable book for anyone interested in finding out a bit more about the five canonical victims or, indeed, for anyone interested in the social history of the poor in the Victorian era.

With thanks to Pen and Sword History and Net Galley for my copy.

 

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries is the identity of the Victorian serial killer known as Jack the Ripper. Ever since the murders of 1888, there have been countless books, films and documentaries, all giving their opinions of what really happened. How much do we actually know about the victims, however? In The Five, Hallie Rubenhold aims to right this wrong by painting a picture of Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly, focusing not on their death, but on the lives they led before they met their untimely end.

The crimes of Jack the Ripper have always intrigued me and I have read countless books, each author giving their own take on who the culprit actually was. Over the years, though, I have read very little about the victims and their lives before they became known throughout the world. What we do know has mainly come from witness testimonies from the time and also from the numerous contemporary news reports. It became apparent quite early on in the book that although the author has certainly used these sources of information, she has gone far beyond this, her research being thorough and highly informative.

It is always thought that the five canonical victims were murdered by a man intent on killing prostitutes, but one of the first things that Hallie Rubenhold does is make you question this. Could some of these women have been homeless, sleeping in the yards where they were found? This idea has certainly given me a new take on the crimes and made me look at these women in a completely different way.

It was fascinating reading about the early lives of the women, and wonderful to be able to build up a bigger picture of who they actually were. I found it incredibly sad to read how most of them could have had completely different lives but for the circumstances they suddenly found themselves in. Despite the murders happening over 130 years ago, I could see the parallels in the lives of too many people today, finding themselves homeless due to bereavement, addictions or unemployment. My heart really went out to these women who were trying everything they could to survive.

The Five provides a respectful, moving portrait of the women we have come to know as Jack the Ripper’s victims. If you have any interest in the Victorian era, social history or true crime, then I cannot recommend this book highly enough. A superb read.

 

Move To Murder by Antony M Brown

Keen to make some commission, insurance agent William Wallace makes the journey across Liverpool to meet the mysterious Mr. Qualtrough who has sent a message intimating that he would like to do some business. Meanwhile, back in Anfield, his wife, Julia, is being bludgeoned to death at her own home by an unknown assailant. With the police convinced that Wallace has engineered the ‘perfect’ alibi, he was soon arrested and tried for murder. Move to Murder examines the evidence, putting forward alternative theories as to what really happened that fateful evening in 1931.

The murder of Julia Wallace is a mystery that has always interested me and, over the years, I have read many books about the puzzling case. In brief, a telephone call was received at the Liverpool Central Chess Club asking for a message to be passed on to Wallace. The caller, R M Qualtrough, was keen to take out an endowment policy on his daughter, and wanted Wallace to visit him at his home, 25 Menlove Gardens East, the following evening to discuss it. Travelling across the city on several trams, Wallace discovered that the address did not exist and after trying several similar-sounding addresses, he returned home to find his wife beaten to death and a small amount of money stolen.

Wallace was soon arrested, tried and convicted of the murder of his wife, the death sentence being passed. An appeal saw the conviction overturned, however, and nobody else was ever found guilty of the crime. Move to Murder examines five possible theories as to what could have happened: Could Wallace have been the perpetrator after all, did he arrange the murder or was he completely innocent? Other names have been put forward with accompanying evidence to try to sway your opinion.

I have always been of the opinion that Wallace was the victim of an elaborate set-up but Move to Murder is the first book that has made me actually question my version of events. I liked how each theory was backed up by evidence, asking you to take on the role of the jury in deciding who you would find guilty. I also enjoyed reading extracts from Wallace’s personal journal, something which is not included in other books on the subject.

I really enjoyed the format of this Cold Case Jury book and would definitely read more in the same series.

With thanks to Mirror Books and Net Galley for my copy of Move to Murder.

The Mile End Murder by Sinclair McKay

61dkqcjG65LIn 1860, Mary Emsley, a 70-year-old widow of substantial means, was found bludgeoned to death at her home in London. Although she lived a fairly simple life, Mary was a wealthy woman due to the numerous houses she rented out around the London area, but this wealth brought its own problems. Seemingly disliked by many of her tenants, she employed a few trusted men to collect rents on her behalf although it was not unknown for her to venture into the roughest parts of town to receive the payments herself. Was her death at the hands of a disgruntled tenant or was the cause much closer to home?

With the body remaining undiscovered for several days, clues were limited. It was thought, though, that due to the woman’s distrust of strangers, and there being no evidence of a forced entry, the killer must have been admitted to the house by Mary herself. The police struggled to find a culprit until someone known to the murdered woman came forward with some information. On investigating this tip-off, the police found that there case had suddenly opened up – they now had a firm suspect for the first time.

The Mile End Murder sees Sinclair McKay re-examining the evidence (or lack of) and coming to the conclusion that a huge miscarriage of justice led to the execution of an innocent man. This was a view shared by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the infamous consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. He would, some years later, write his own thoughts on the case, The Debatable Case of Mrs Emsley. Miscarriages of justice were not uncommon in the Victorian era, but it is still shocking to see how a man could be sentenced to death on a small amount of circumstantial evidence. The author has come up with another possible culprit although, again, lack of evidence would not see a modern jury find them guilty.

Victorian crime is something I have always enjoyed reading about and Sinclair McKay has written a very readable book dealing with not just the murder but also the social history of the period. The Mile End Murder has been well-researched and will appeal to anyone interested in historical crime of the Victorian period in general.

With thanks to Net Galley and Quarto Publishing Group – Aurum Press for my copy of The Mile End Murder.

 

 

 

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane by Paul Thomas Murphy

In April 1871, whilst on his beat near Greenwich, a police constable found a young woman dying in the mud, her head displaying horrific injuries. The woman, Jane Clouson, would manage to live for a short time but was never able to reveal the identity of her attacker. A ‘maid of all work’ who was pregnant at the time of her death, it was not long before someone was arrested and charged with her murder. With the police struggling to build a case, however, did they get the right man?

I enjoy reading about real-life Victorian crime and this book has been on my TBR pile for a while. Like the author, this was not a case I had previously heard of and so I was intrigued to see how the investigation would unfold and what the outcome would be. What I found was an incredibly flawed investigation and a suitably flawed outcome.

From the moment witnesses began to come forward, the police had only one suspect in mind – Edmund Pook. Clouson had been the maid at the Pook family home and it had been alleged that Edmund, the son of her employer, was the father of her unborn child. Although this was fiercely denied, the police were not convinced and hastily arrested Pook. This became their first problem. Although there were no serious contenders for an alternative suspect, the speed at which Pook was arrested meant that the police did not have time to build up a convincing case.

Public opinion played a huge part in the case, with newspapers keen to report everything that was happening. As a result, crowds gathered at the court and at the Pooks’ home, all keen to voice their opinions. Witnesses were unreliable, leading to a frustrating trial for the police.

To avoid spoilers, I will refrain from divulging the outcome of the trial, but what I will say is that I agree with the author’s opinion as to what really happened. Paul Thomas Murphy has written a fascinating book about a little-known case in British history, one that kept me engrossed until the end. If, like me, you enjoy reading about long-forgotten murder cases, then this book could be for you!

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