Thursday, July 7, 2011

wrapping up a victorian murder case

It's not everyday that a skull is discovered in someone's backyard.  But that's exactly what happened to David Attenborough, a British TV naturalist last October.

It's even rarer that such a skull belongs to a murdered and dismembered Victorian.  But as an article published in yesterday's Daily Mail reported, a coroner has identified the skull as that of widow  Julia Martha Thomas, 55, who was murdered by her Irish maid Kate Webster in 1879 at her home in Richmond, south west London:
Kate Webster. image source: Mail Online
On March 22, 1879 Mrs Thomas returned home from church when she and Webster became embroiled in a fight and in a ‘fit of rage’ Webster pushed her down the stairs.

Acting Detective Inspector David Bolton told the coroner: ‘Realising she had injured her she proceeded to strangle her to stop her from screaming and getting her in trouble. Webster decided to do away with the body and used a razor to chop off the head. Having decapitated her she used a razor, a meat saw and a carving knife to cut the body up.

‘The dismembered body was put into a copper laundry vessel and she proceeded to boil up the body parts of Mrs Thomas.’...

Having completed the task Webster put most of the body in a box which she tied together and enlisted an unwitting Robert Porter, the son of a former neighbour, to help her carry the box to the Thames.

As he walked away he heard a splash, but thought nothing of it until the ‘mass of white flesh’, at first believed to be butcher’s off-cuts, was discovered in the Thames at Barnes Bridge, leading to the murder being dubbed the ‘Barnes Mystery’.

Webster dumped a foot in an allotment and assumed the identity of her former employer, taking her money, her jewellery and even her false teeth which were in a gold plate....
ADI Bolton said: ‘A few days after the murder some boys said that Kate Webster had offered them some food and said ‘ere you lads I’ve got some good pigs lard which you can have for free’. The boys ate two bowls of lard which was unfortunately Mrs Thomas.’

I wonder what could possess someone to a) murder  their employer and b) feed parts of them to little boys.  I know it was just the fat, but still...

Webster was eventually arrested, found guilty of murder and executed.  But the location of her victim's skull had remained a mystery until last year.  The only mystery left to solve in this case is the burial place of the rest of Mrs. Thomas's body so all of her remains can be united in death.

In other news, there's a line of Disney princess inspired wedding dresses out there to complete that little girly girl dream of a fairytale wedding.  Check them out here.


  1. Of all the people to discover a skull in their backyard, David Attenborough!
    Having worked as a nanny to spoiled rich people, and can see what might possess someone to be-head their employer, but she loses me on the rendering into lard and feeding to little boys part.
    Also, I admire your shift from grisly murder to Disney Princess dresses.

  2. Wow! So much for asking "what's happening to the world THESE days..." People have always had their gruesome side, I guess.

  3. @ Sabayon- Thanks. I try hard to transition from morbid to innocence and vice versa as much as possible. It throws people off, especially my mom. :)

    @ Sophistique Noir- I agree. Jack the Ripper was a Victorian byproduct, after all. And H.H. Holmes hails from the same era as well. He had a basement lair for his murders/ bodily mutilations.