Today, I am continuing my series of blog posts on the investigations of Detective Chief Inspector George Clarke of Scotland Yard.
On the evening of Saturday 28th October 1876, Henri Dieudonnee Perreau de Tourville was arrested at his London home by George Clarke, accompanied by Detective Sergeants George Greenham and Charles von Tornow. De Tourville, born in France, but now a naturalised Briton and a qualified (but non-practising) barrister, was charged on an extradition warrant with the murder in Austria of his second wife. However, this was not the first time that Clarke had encountered de Tourville.
Back in April 1868, just as the Clerkenwell Explosion trial was about to start at the Old Bailey, London’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Richard Mayne, sent Clarke to Lymm, Cheshire, to investigate the suspicious death of a rich widow, Mrs Elizabeth Brigham, who had died in her breakfast room at Foxley Hall from a shot to the head from a revolver.
Scotland Yard had not been called in to investigate this incident until after an inquest jury had already delivered a verdict of accidental death. However, rumours had emerged that Mrs Brigham had been killed by her son-in-law, Monsieur Henri Perreau, to gain access to her substantial estate. Despite their verdict, the inquest jury had criticised Perreau for his ‘great carelessness’ in demonstrating his new revolver to his mother-in-law. Perreau’s claim had been that, while showing her how his gun was loaded, he had handed it to her at her request and at that point the revolver had been accidentally discharged at such an angle that she had been shot in the head. Clarke’s investigations were hampered by the accidental death verdict, as he would need to find significant new evidence to take the case any further. In fact, he returned from his visit to Lymm expressing the view that there was insufficient new evidence to contest the verdict….and there matters rested until August 1876.
On 15 August 1876, Jonathan Oldfield, one of the trustees of Mrs Brigham’s estate wrote to Clarke to ask if he had heard the news of the suspicious death in July in Austria of Madeline de Tourville (another rich woman), the wife of ‘Henri de Tourville’. Oldfield believed that ‘de Tourville’ was in fact, the man known to both Clarke and himself as Henri Perreau.
Madeline de Tourville had been found dead on the Stelvio Pass in the Austrian Tyrol in July 1876. The Austrian authorities had investigated her death, and had held Henri de Tourville for questioning for several days. However he was freed by the Austrians after a Commission (effectively a Magistrate’s court) had accepted de Tourville’s argument that his wife had fallen accidentally from the road to her death while they were out walking.
Armed with the information from Oldfield, Clarke remorselessly pursued ‘de Tourville’, who indeed proved to be the same person as ‘Henri Perreau’. After conducting his own investigations, Clarke persuaded the Austrian authorities that there was a strong case to be answered by de Tourville for the murder of his second wife and, after some weeks, Clarke obtained their agreement to re-arrest de Tourville and to apply for his extradition for trial in Austria.
De Tourville employed two of the most able Victorian barristers, Harry Poland and Montagu Williams in his defence, but they failed to block his extradition. (In his autobiography, Williams commented that de Tourville ‘was certainly not a very pre-possessing person’). The prosecution case was also assisted by the forensic interpretations of Dr Thomas Bond, later to become best known for his association with the ‘Jack the Ripper’ inquiries, and one of the first individuals to attempt offender-profiling.
The extradition of de Tourville was delayed by a few days by poor weather but early in January 1877, Clarke arrived in Hamburg and handed his prisoner over to representatives from Austria. Later that year, Clarke and Sergeant von Tornow attended de Tourville’s trial at Botzen, Austria. Amongst the items in Clarke’s luggage was a section of the skull of Mrs Brigham which he produced as an exhibit when giving evidence in the Austrian court about the earlier death of de Tourville’s first mother-in-law at Lymm! A guilty verdict with regard to the murder of Madeline de Tourville was delivered on 2 July 1877 by the Austrian jury with an 11 to 1 majority.
So was de Tourville a serial killer? Very probably. It seems pretty certain that he killed his second wife, and his first mother-in-law at least. It is also clear from Clarke’s original 1876 case notes (still available at the National Archives at Kew) that he was convinced of de Tourville’s guilt in these two suspicious deaths. In the early 1900s, some popular true crime authors contended that de Tourville may have murdered, or attempted the murder of, up to eight people. However, most of those accounts contain a great deal of misinformation, including, for example the incorrect name of de Tourville’s mother-in-law, the wrong location for the Lymm murder and the wrong name for the investigating detective, amongst other inaccuracies. Thus for my full, and hopefully accurate, analysis of the case, please see pages 106-108 and 187-198 of my book ‘The Chieftain‘.