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!