Victorian London - Crime - Violence, murders and assaults - Great Coram Street Murder (Harriet Buswell)

The Times, Thursday, Dec 26, 1872


Yesterday afternoon about 3 o'clock, a shocking discovery was made at No.12, Great Coram-street, Russell-square. The second-floor back room was occupied by a girl named Clara Bruton, said to be connected in some way with a theatre. As she did not come downstairs, and as no answer was returned to calls, the landlady had the door broken open. The girl was then found to be quite dead, her throat having been severely cut. Spots of blood were detected in different parts of the room, the bed exhibiting a dreadful appearance. The door had been locked on the outside and the key removed, but no marks of blood could be seen there. On the forehead of the deceased there was an identation apparently caused by a thumb and a little further down the print of a hand. It transpired that on the previous night the deceased was visited by a German, who left the house after other occupants had gone to bed. Inquiries are being actively prosecuted by the police.

The Times, Friday, Dec 27, 1872


   The tragedy in Great Coram-street, mentioned in The Times of yesterday, proves beyond doubt to be a most atrocious murder. The facts are given in a few words. The victim appears to have eked out a living on the stage as a member of the corps de ballet by aid of prostitution, and her murderer is supposed to be a man described as a "German gentleman" who met her in the street, and accompanied her to her lodgings. The girl's name is Clara Boswell (not Burton or Buswell), and she was 27 years pf age. She was a good-looking girl, and what is known is that she came home late on Christmas-eve and went direct to her room on the second-floor back of No.12, Great-Coram-street. She returned to the lower part of the house and said that she had brought a gentleman with her, and gave the landlady a half-sovereign from which to take 9s. rent. She received a shilling change and then went back to her room. Nothing more was heard until the morning, when the man was heard to go out early. The tenant of the room not moving hour after hour, the room was on Christmas afternoon burst open, and the woman was found in the bed with her throat cut. The murderer stabbed the poor girl under the left ear, and there is another wound on the left of the wind-pipe large enough to put a man's fist in. The object of the murderer was evidently to possess himself of what trinkets and money the girl possessed, for earrings which she had borrowed to wear were not to be found; and a purse into which she was seen to put the shilling change was also missing. The murderer might have supposed that a person living in so respectable a locality would have some booty, hence the crime. Superintendent Thomson, who has had much experience as a detective officer, is in charge of the district in which the murder was committed, and he at once set upon the task of tracking out the murderer. It is believed that this will be accomplished, for the man is said to have gone into a fruit shop with the girl, and must have blood upon his garments, for the wounds inflicted are very awful. Death must have quickly followed, for the body is drawn up as from the convulsion of the sinews caused by pain. The murderer washed his hands, and, locking the door after him, took the key. The appearance of the person who left the house after the inmates had gone to bed is thus described:- "He is about 23 years of age, 5ft. 9in. high, with neither beard, whiskers, nor moustache, but not having shaved for two or three days, his beard when grown would be rather dark. He has a swarthy complexion, and blotches or pimples on his face. He was dressed in dark clothes, and wore a dark brown overcoat down to the knees, billycock hat, and rather heavy boots." The body was yesterday removed to St. Giles's Workhouse, and was identified by the deceased's brother, who comes from Berkshire, of which county it is said the girl was a native. The inquest will be held today.

The Times, Saturday, Dec 28, 1872


   Yesterday afternoon the coroner's inquiry was opened relative to the atrocious crime committed on Christmas morning in Great Coram-street. Up to the end of the sitting nothing was known in regard to the movements of the police, or whether they have or have not any clue to the whereabouts of the murderer; but it was hoped that as a description had been given of the man believed to be the one who left the house a track had been established. With regard to the murdered woman, the confusion which prevailed as to her name is now cleared up. The name of "Burton" is that by which she passed, and it is believed to be the name of the father of her child. The name of "Boswell" was signed for her brother by a parish official on his identifying the body at the workhouse, and her right name is Harriet Buswell; as, indeed, was given in evidence yesterday.
. . .
   The next witness called and questioned by the Coroner was Mrs. Harriet Wright, of 12, Great Coram-street, Russell-square, who said - The deceased lodged with me four weeks last Monday. She took the room for one week. When she came after the room she asked me if I had apartments and I said, "Not for a lady." She asked me to let her have the room for a week, as she had left her landlady with whom she had lived for two years, and this only after a few words. She did not tell me what she did for a living, but she let me know she had a "friend" who partially kept her, and that she formerly lived with him. In fact, she said that she was visited by two friends, one of whom only came about money. One of these two was an Italian, and she told me her friend gave her about 30l. at a time when she wanted money. Deceased had no key to let herself in, and I always opened the door to her. She was more generally at home than out.
. . .
   I did not know her before she took my lodgings. I did not know or think whether the man she brought home was the "friend" she had mentioned. The deceased never told me she was engaged at a theatre; but her child told me her mother danced at the Alhambra in silk "tights." I did not ask deceased about this, for I thought she would be leaving every week. Deceased was a very superior kind of woman, or I would not have taken her as a lodger. She never asked for a key, and never had one. She was to pay me 12s. a week for lodging, attendance, and washing, and after the second week she had board, with beer, for 15s. a week, beyond the 12s. a week. One gentleman, a veterinary surgeon, used to see her, and another was a "tallyman." On Tuesday night, after she came in, she asked for a little stout, and she took half a glass of it up with her. When I took to boarding her I used to send up her breakfast, and hers was generally the last breakfast sent up. She used to go out of an evening at a time when it might seem she went to a place of amusement.

The Times, Tuesday, Dec 31, 1872


   Yesterday it was generally reported in town that a passenger bound by the Great Eastern route for Rotterdam had been arrested at Harwich. This proves to be untrue, for up to last night at a late hour no arrest had been made. The fact is that Harwich, as well as the other ports, is strictly watched, and among the mass of information, anonymous and open, forwarded to Mr. Superintendent Thomson, who, as the chief of the Bow-street Division, has charge of the matter, was a statement that a person answering the description of the murderer had gone that way out of England. Unless the man got from Great Coram-street to Shoreditch on the morning of the murder in half an hour, and went off at once, he could not have got away by this route, for by Christmas night a watch was set upon every station and port.
   Though an arrest has not yet been made, the police are not without hope, and it is evident that clues are being strengthened hour by hour. It is now ascertained that the woman, when she left her lodging on Christmas Eve at 10 o'clock, went direct to the Alhambra in Leicester-square. The police have evidence of this, and they have further evidence as to the woman's further movements in the company of "the" man before the arrival of the pair in Great Coram-street. How this is known may be told, as its telling will not interfere with the ends of justice or obstruct the police in their inquirues. The police have found two barmaids who knew the murdered woman, and they went in an omnibus with her from the Regent's-circus, Piccadilly, to Hunter-street, and with her was a man. She descended at the corner of Hunter-street, her "friend" with her.

The Times, Wednesday, Jan 01, 1873

   As stated yesterday in The Times, the woman left Great Coram-street shortly before 10 o'clock on Tuesday, and went to the Alhambra Theatre. Before she started she borrowed a shilling of her fellow-lodger, Mrs. Nelson. The deceased is supposed to have walked to the Alhambra, and the police are earnestly searching for information as to her movements there. She was dressed in a manner to attrat attention, wearing a black silk dress, black velvet jacket, and a dark green brigand hat, with a red feather. She was next seen at Regent-circus at 12 25, waiting for the omnibus, and she then rode to the corner which leads to Hunter-street with her murderer, in the last Islington and Brompton omnibus, in which there were seven passengers. Two of them, who are barmaids, and who knew her, spoke to her. These have come forward. None of the other seven passengers have yet given any information, and the police are looking to some of them to aid the cause of justice by volunteering their testimony. The conductor of the omnibus has made a statement. It is apparent from this that the time stated by the landlady at the inquest as that at which the deceased came home is inaccurate, she having stated that is was a little after midnight, when it must have been 1 o'clock or later, if the pair waited, as the deceased told the landlady they did, to hear the "waits."

The Times, Wednesday, Jan 22, 1873

   At Bow-street yesterday afternoon, Dr. Gottfried Hessel was placed at the bar before Mr. Vaughan charged with the wilful murder of Harriet Buswell, at 12, Great Coram-street.

Times, December/January, 1872