The Cannon Street Murder

Superintendent Adolphus 'Dolly' Williamson, Head of the Scotland Yard Detective Department in 1874

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On 28 November 1874 (the day after the trial of the Tichborne Claimant had re-started after a prolonged adjournment; see 'The Chieftain' pp. 150-159) Clarke received a report from ‘C’ Division (St James) about new evidence provided by a woman, Eliza Cross, concerning a murder in Cannon Street that had taken place some 8 years previously.1

On 11 April 1866, Sarah Milson a widow and housekeeper who lived on the premises at Messrs. Bevingtons, furriers and leather-dressers, in Cannon Street had been murdered.  Another member of staff, the cook Elizabeth Lowes, had heard the sound of a doorbell which was answered by Milson, but realised after some 30 minutes or so, that she could hear no further noises.  Going downstairs, the cook had found Mrs Milson dead a few feet from the front door, the victim of a violent attack.  The City of London police within whose territory the murder had been committed had handled the investigation.  It soon became clear that Mrs Milson had previously borrowed money but had been slow in paying it back.  Letters found amongst her possessions referred to a ‘George Terry’, who had been tracked down to St Olave’s Workhouse.  He had arranged for a letter to be sent to Sarah Milson, on behalf of a Mrs Webber who had lent Milson some money.  As Terry was illiterate, the letter had been written for him by a friend, William Denton (also known as William Smith).

Within a short time, the City police thought they had got their murderer, as William Smith was identified, by a servant in the property next door to Messrs. Bevingtons, as the man she had seen emerging in the dark at a time consistent with the murder. Smith was sent for trial at the Old Bailey but was acquitted as he had a watertight alibi, supported by several witnesses, that he had been playing cards in a public house in Windsor at the time of the murder.2 There matters had rested, until new evidence from Eliza Cross was forthcoming late in 1874.

On 4 December 1874, Clarke travelled to Smith’s Yard, just south of the Thames at Erith, Kent, (some 12 miles east of central London), to speak to Eliza Cross at her lodgings.  During the interview, it became clear why Eliza was only now providing her information. According to her account, one of her uncles on her mother’s side, Edmund Pope, spent much of his time in an impoverished state, and often lodged with family members.  During one of his visits, when Eliza was still living at home in  Cobham, Kent with her mother (Mary Ann Gardener neé Pope), she had heard her uncle Edmund say something in his sleep that suggested that he was the man who had committed the Cannon Street murder. At the time, her mother and uncle had begged and threatened her not to say anything. Recently pressured by her uncle for money, she had sent some to him addressed to ‘L.S.’ at a poste restante address in Ashford but, to raise the cash, she had pawned some of her husband’s clothes.  When her husband had discovered what had happened to his possessions, her story had come out and her husband had insisted that she must tell the police. 3

Eliza did not know where her uncle was living and Clarke now attempted to track Edmund Pope down.  On 7 December Clarke visited Ashford and spoke to the postmaster there who had some recollection of a letter arriving but could not recall who had collected it.  He then travelled on to Folkestone where Eliza had told him she had another Uncle, John Pope, only to find that Pope and his wife, Martha, who was a sister of the Cannon Street cook, Elizabeth Lowes, had died twelve months previously.4 However, he learnt that they had a son, Richard, who was a serving Police Constable in E Division in the Metropolitan Police.  Richard Pope referred Clarke to another uncle, Edward Pope, in Newchurch, Romney Marsh who was most likely to know of Edmund’s whereabouts so, on 10 December, Clarke travelled to that remote and sparsely-populated area on the borders between Kent and Sussex, only again to find that Edward had also died. However, his luck then improved up to a point, as he reported on the following day:

“I proceeded yesterday to Romney Marsh and made enquiries at Ham Street, New Church, Ivy Church and other places.  I found the accused Edmund Pope in the employ of Mr Giles, Farmer of Ivy Church.  In the course of conversation he admitted that in the year 1866 he was in the employ of Lord Darnley at Chobham [sic] and at that time saw his sister Mary Ann Gardener who was living in that neighbourhood…..but from the length of time which has elapsed and the absence of any evidence beyond that of Cross I deemed it prudent not to apprehend the accused”.5

At this point Clarke's boss, Superintendent Williamson suggested that Clarke should inform the City police, and he duly met with Inspector Bailey of that force.  There, it seems, the investigations  ended anti-climactically. As Clarke indicated in his report “the statement of the woman ‘Cross’ is so far true…”, but it seems that the Detective Department and the City police decided that the case had gone too ‘cold’ and that, short of receiving a confession to the crime by Edmund Pope, they would not be able to find sufficient corroborative evidence to pursue the case further. Indeed, if modern forensic techniques had been available, a different outcome may well have resulted.

The tame ending to the investigations does rather beg the question as to why Clarke and the City police did not push matters somewhat further, not least because of the family connection that existed between the Popes and the cook at the scene of the murder.  Indeed P.C. Richard Pope had both an aunt (the cook, Elizabeth Lowes), and an uncle (Edmund Pope) who had been linked to the murder-scene by the new evidence. It is possible that some additional enquiries were pursued (though Clarke was heavily-engaged on Tichborne case enquiries at the time). If any further action on the Cannon Street Murder had reached court, the contemporary newspapers should have contained reports, but no such articles have been found.

Notes: 1. The National Archives TNA:PRO MEPO 3/81; 2. Adam, H.L.(1932) Old Days at the Old Bailey. Sampson, Low, Marston & Co.Ltd. pp. 119-121; Reynolds' Newspaper 22 April 1866. The Times 14 and 15 June 1866; 3. TNA:PRO MEPO 3/81 Clarke's report 4 December 1874; 4. Ibid. Clarke's report 9 December 1874; 5. Ibid. Clarke's report 11 December 1874.

Readers of this page may also be interested in another online report of the Cannon Street Murder dealing with the original 1866 City police investigation