The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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The Other Whitechapel Murders

If you like romantic or soothing trips down memory lane try not to break down on the crossroads of Cable Street and Cannon Street or you may be in for a big surprise.
John Williams Murderer

John Williams - a tad upset that he has blood on his jacket.

I was greasing along the Commercial Road in Whitechapel on my way to Essex to visit some friends. The roads were murky and slippery with rain. It was the first time I had ever gone this way. My usual route is around the North Circular but there had been scoffers. Through the City to Aldgate Pump and then down the A13 past Canary Wharf was the way to go. So I did. It was different and the traffic jams gave me lots of time to think of things, gruesome and wonderful, that had happened along the route in the past. There was Tyburn where the crowds would gather with a picnic hamper and flagons of ale to watch the ritual murder of scallywags who had done dirty to the city’s inhabitants. Now the actual site of the gibbet is lost and deserted on a traffic besieged island, more cut off than the one that Tom Hanks was cast away on in Castaway. I tried to imagine the horrors that must have been acted out there. And along Oxford Street. Only a couple of hundred years ago the wretched condemned were dragged up this road to be hanged by the neck until dead. Along the river bank a happy thought. A restaurant called the Nell Gwyn used to be down one of the side roads leading to the river. I think it’s gone now. Either that or I’ve forgotten exactly where it was. It was supposed to be just the way it was in the seventeenth century. Saw dust on the floor and buxom serving wenches serving food like they used to. Pity the attention to seventeenth century detail didn’t extend to the price. Newgate was away on the left somewhere as I edged fitfully past the Aldgate Pump and duelled with the opposition to get into the right lane for a foray down Commercial Road. By this time the thought of Wat Tyler leading the revolting peasants up the Mile End Road for his fatal confrontation with Richard ll had taken second place to the mesmerising effect the water temperature gauge was having on me.

The rain enhanced traffic was now wrapped in a cocoon of spray and mist, set alight by thousands of car headlights. Whimsically I thought the splintered light looked as if it were reflected off a gigantic diamond. Just as I had that daft thought the engine lost power and it was only by massively over-revving I kept it alive. There was a road right opposite me that appeared to have less traffic. It wasn’t where I wanted to go but it was Hobson's Choice and I took it. My relief was short lived. The engine signalled a muffled farewell as I reached the next intersection. Right in the middle of a cross roads. I thought about jumping out and pushing the car to the side. But not very hard. I just sat and listened to the cacophony of hooters hinting that I should move over and acted the helpless female. It always works. Soon a couple of brawny blokes braved the rain and risked life and limb to push me to the side of the road. I thanked them prettily and felt just a little guilty that they were so wet. Then I thought again and decided better them than me. I called the AA and told them of my plight. The receptionist wanted to know where I was. I rolled the window down and was just able to see the street signs. “The cross roads at Cannon Street and Cable Street” I said. Even as I spoke I thought there was something familiar about the names. I gave the rest of the details and settled down to wait. The traffic crisscrossed each other in front of me . The familiarity of the names came back. Cannon Street and Cable Street. Then it hit me. John Williams! Right in front of me, where the traffic was sploshing along, at the centre of the cross roads, John Williams had been buried. Not just buried but also staked. Not that there was any evidence that he might have been a vampire, just a final strike at a murderer who had committed crimes so heinous that it was felt something had to be done to show that the State had done its best by its citizens. Especially as Williams had cheated the hangman and topped himself in his cell shortly before he was due to be hanged.

Hanging Scene

The scene Williams was keen to miss.

John Williams made his mark in criminal history less than a mile from where, 75 years later, Jack the Ripper would let loose his reign of terror. In many ways John Williams crimes were far worse than the Rippers’. The actual sites of Williams crimes were all within half a mile of the junction where he was buried. Williams was a bit of a Jack the Lad.. He was short, skinny and pock marked but thought he brought a certain style to his apparel which made up for any physical shortcomings. It was the dandy side of his nature that brought him in touch with Timothy Marr. Marr had an haberdashery in Radcliffe Street. (renamed The Highway). An ex-seaman, he had invested his savings in the shop when he retired from active service. He considered himself a self-reliant man, well able to look after himself in the dockland community. He was married to Celia who had borne him a son, Timothy Jnr. They also had a live-in maid, Mary, and an apprentice James Biggs, Business had been good and Marr was considering selling up and moving his family west where the air was cleaner and the neighbours classier. John Williams called around for a new silk neck tie. Between comparing the powder blue one with the yellow spots and the mauve one with the green stars, he let Marr know that he had decided that what Marr needed a partner. And from that moment on he had one - John Williams. He didn’t intend to pay for his share. What he was offering was protection. Protection from the hard men who operated the docks and ran a bit of a protection racket on the side. Marr was furious. He grabbed Williams by the scruff of the cravat and threw him out into the street.

In preparation for the sale of the property Marr and his family set about getting the books up to date and doing a bit of stocktaking. It was getting late and they were hungry so they sent Mary out to get some oysters. A few minutes after she left there was a banging on the shop door. Timothy Marr went to see who it was. John Williams!Williams suggested that Marr thought over his proposal. Marr grabbed him by the throat. This time Williams was prepared. In his hand he had a spiked maul hammer. He caught Marr a terrific blow between the eyes. Marr slumped forward onto Williams. Blood spurted onto his murderers’ finery. Outraged, Williams thrust him aside and rubbed at the blood adding lurid patches to his embroidered jacket. He stopped when he heard the voice of Biggs calling. Biggs had heard the scuffle and come down the stairs to see if his Master wanted any help. As he turned the corner into the shop Williams struck again. He was getting panicky now. All he had wanted to do was give Marr a bit of a tap so that other shop keepers in the area would know that he meant business and then be on his way. The stupid shop keepers weren’t playing the game according to Hoyle. Making him ruin his suit. Biggs was dead but a new sound came to Williams. The sound of a baby crying. Hysterically Williams screamed at it to shut up. It didn’t. In a fury Williams stormed through to the back. And bumped into its mother, Celia, coming to see what all the noise was about. He grabbed her by the hair and threw her into the kitchen. The baby was lying in one of those old fashioned cots, made of wood, with a little canopy over the baby’s head. Irritably Williams smashed the wooden canopy with a blow from his maul hammer. Celia screamed and launched herself at him. He hit her on the side of the head with his weapon. She slumped to the floor, stunned but still conscious enough to see what her attacker was doing. Williams picked up the baby by the leg and buried the point of his maul hammer in its brain. Celia tried to rise but she couldn’t move. Laughing, Williams held the dead baby in front of her, its blood dripping onto her upturned face. Slowly he produced a chisel from his pocket and, when he was sure that he had the mother’s attention, slashed the sharp blade across the baby’s throat, nearly severing the head. Celia forced herself towards him. He tossed the little body aside, thrust his face close to hers and slowing forced the chisel through her throat. It must have been a welcome release after the horrors she had witnessed. Williams now turned his attention to his clothes, ruined by the blood that had gouted over them in those few frenzied moments.

A sound at the door attracted his attention. It was Mary returning with the oysters. Williams didn’t know what to do. He crept to the door. Mary knocked again. Williams stood behind the door in silent panic. Mary had a premonition that something was wrong. She called out a neighbour who forced an entry through the back of the shop. By the time they got in and discovered the horrors in the kitchen, Williams was long gone.

Williams Murders Nellie Escapes

Nellie escapes out of the window.

The Bow Street Runners were at a loss. There were no witnesses and forensic evidence was two hundred years in the future. Williams was a suspect because Mary claimed she had seen him near the shop when she went out but he was able to produce half a dozen witnesses who swore he was at a bare knuckle boxing match with them in Mile End. Williams would have probably got away Scot free but he now considered himself above the dictate of the common man. When a local publican , Williamson, threw him out for molesting his niece, Nelly Burnett, and, in doing so, ruined yet another jacket Williams lost all control. He waited until the publican and his wife retired for the night and then broke in through the back of the pub.. George and Catherine Williamson were in bed. Catherine awoke to find Williamson standing beside her. Her scream was cut off as the spike of the maul hammer crashed into her eye socket. George reared up but was disorientated . Before he could gather his wits, the lethal hammer hit him in the chest and then dealt the death blow into his brain. Blood was everywhere but the now demented Williams didn’t care. He took out his chisel and ripped out Catherine’s throat. He was doing the same to George when the door opened and Nelly, drawn by the scream, stood there holding a candle. Transfixed by the scene of horror she could only stand and stare. Williams, chisel in hand, leaped across the room and slashed across her windpipe. She collapsed with a last little shriek. Williams was not content to let her lie. He swung his hammer and buried the point in her collar bone. It was his undoing. As he struggled to pull the hammer free of the bone a door further down the passage opened and a lodger, John Turner, came out to see what the commotion was all about. He could hardly believe his eyes. He quickly ran back into his room, locked the door, opened the window and started screaming blue murder. Williams was forced to abandon his hammer and make his escape.

This time the Runners were not to be denied. They had a witness and they had evidence. The hammer was identified as belonging to Williams, They arrested him in his lodgings at the nearby Pear Tree Inn. He was so exhausted from his gruesome night’s work that he was still in his blood soaked clothes. Williams knew he was for the chop and didn’t fancy waiting for the public show. The night before he was to be taken to the gallows he hung himself in his cell at Newgate prison. His body was paraded through the streets on a little handcart before being tossed into the hole at the cross roads of Cannon Street and Cable Street. The crowd, denied the delights of a public hanging, watched as one of the Bow Street Runners jumped into the hole and pieced Williams fancy shirt front with a dirty big wooden stake. He took the bows as the crowd applauded.

I was very happy when the cheerful orange light of the AA van pulled in behind me. In the dazzling light reflecting from the rain washed road I could swear that a couple of times I saw the little hump in the middle of the bisecting roads move. He might be coming to get me but my name ain’t Barbara.

Shivers 96

The Writings of Ingrid Pitt