The Victorian era brings forth visions of stiff-upper-lipped gentlemen in top hats, and unamused woman in bustles and petticoats. However, a quick trawl through the archives shows that the criminal underbelly was very much alive and well during the years 1837-1901. My book, The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and Other Victorian Scandals features dozens of murders, betrayals and bizarre stories. Here then is a little taster, of the stories you can find in the book…
The story of Sarah MacFarlane and Augustus Dalmas is shocking. They became neighbours in the early 1840s and shortly after the death of Dalmas’ wife in 1843, the two became lovers. Sarah was no angel but she made sure her partner’s daughters were cared for and even secured work placements for them when he ran off to Liverpool after a dodgy business deal. On his return, Dalmas promised to marry Sarah but when that fell through, he became insanely jealous – particularly of her association with other men. He also felt guilty about their sexual relationship and blamed her for seducing him.
In April 1844, Dalmas threatened to slit his own throat. “Don’t do it here,” Sarah replied. “It will make such a mess.” In the end it wasn’t himself he ended up killing. During a walk across London’s Battersea Bridge, Dalmas sliced Sarah’s throat and raced from the scene. She shortly after passed away in a nearby pub. Dalmas turned himself in and was sentenced to hang. However, after a fierce campaign by his family, the murderer was shipped off to Australia, where he lived for another thirty years.
Another so-called crime of passion came in 1860, when tailor Antoine Dhereng embarked on a grisly act of revenge towards his wife, Catherine. The couple had a fractious relationship, particularly when Dhereng fell in love with another women and Catherine found out about it. She threw the woman out of their home and Dhereng vowed to never forgive his wife for ridding him of, “this poor little woman with whom I was happy.” When Catherine took his keys after another dalliance, Antoine became physical and ended up in prison.
In June 1860, while living in rooms on Oxford Street, London, the couple got into a blazing row. Dhereng struck his wife so many times that her skull broke into pieces. He then slit her throat, cut her head from her body and threw it into the coal cupboard. Several days later, the man confessed to the death of the “poor, dear woman”, and then made his way to Hyde Park, where he committed suicide. A note was found on his body which read, “Mercy, mercy, my agony is extreme. I have suffered for what I have done. No mortal being can tell. Adieu, Adieu to all that is dear to me.”
One of the most tragic Victorian scandals happened in Weymouth, Dorset. Sarah Guy lived with her father, John – an abusive man who drank heavily, pawned Sarah’s belongings and had admitted his wife to the poor house. In order to raise money, Sarah Guy prostituted herself and this was how she met cab driver, Frederick Burt.
In July 1888, Burt invited Guy to his house, and locked her in his tiny garden shed. During the following eight months, he only visited to abuse the woman and feed her scraps of food. Sarah’s father was concerned enough to ask if anyone had seen her and when he approached Burt, the cocksure driver replied, “She was moving to London. I should think Jack the Ripper got hold of her.”
In mid-March 1889, Sarah Guy managed to escape and fled to a neighbour’s house. After eight months in captivity, the poor woman was in wretched shape and passed away soon after. Unbelievably, the authorities decided there was no concrete evidence to convict Burt and he walked away a free man.
In April 1891, brass dresser John Patchett and his wife Harriett were living a desolate life in Birmingham, but it hadn’t always been that way. When the couple married in 1881, the groom told family and friends that he was happily wed with a good wife. The couple had children but Harriett developed a taste for alcohol. She bought booze with the housekeeping money then pawned clothes and Christmas presents meant for her children.
By 1889, John was drinking too. Neighbours said he was, “driven to drink by the intemperate and dirty habits of the wife.” Disaster struck in 1891 when an injury led to John losing his job and the couple separated. On 2 April, a vicious row broke out in the marital bedroom. As Harriett held their baby, John pulled out his pocket knife and stabbed her in the throat. He then ran to fetch a policeman who found the dead wife at the bottom of the stairs, with her baby still in her arms. Their toddler son, meanwhile, was sitting nearby in a pool of his mother’s blood.
A similar murder happened in London, just two months later. William Else and his wife, Jane Maria, lived fairly happily with their five children. However, when William broke his leg in a terrible accident, he seemed to undergo a change of personality. Neighbours wondered if his head had been damaged in the accident; certainly he found it hard to cope with his sudden disability.
On the evening of 1 June 1891, William – for reasons unknown – slit the throats of his wife and daughter, Alice. When he tried unsuccessfully to murder another daughter, the alarm was raised and Else slit his throat in the outside toilet. The man was quite dead and the answer to why he had taken the lives of his wife and daughter, died with him.
The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones is available from all good book shops, and the publisher’s website… The book literally gave my friend nightmares when she read it, so be prepared for the possibility of some sleepless nights! 🙂
Until next time,