Victorian London - Crime - Violence, murders and assaults - Double Murder at Hoxton (Sarah Squires, Christiana Squires)

The Times, Thursday, Jul 11, 1872

DOUBLE MURDER AT HOXTON

Yesterday afternoon it was found that two murders had been committed at 46, Hyde-road, Hoxton, the victims being a mother and daughter named Squires, aged respectively 76 and 48, who have for some time past carried on business as stationers at the above address. It seems that the two women lived alone in the house, which was a leasehold property belonging to the mother, and the shutters were taken down as usual yesterday morning by the daughter, who was seen outside the shop at various times between 9 and 11 o'clock, one person stating positively that he saw the mother standing at her door as late as 12.30. Be that as it may, about 1.30 p.m. a little boy went into the shop to purchase a newspaper, and seeing no one there leant his arms upon the counter waiting till he could be served, when he observed blood and hair upon the counter and sprinkled over the papers. He rushed out of the house into the coffee-shop next door and told the proprietress what he had seen. The latter forthwith proceeded to the house, and, looking over the counter, saw the bodies of the two woman, dreadfully mutilated, lying in a pool of blood. The police were communicated with, and Mr. Hawthorn, a surgeon, pronounced life in each case to be extinct. On arrival of Inspector Ramsay, of the N Division of Metropolitan Police, a minute examination was made of the premises. Mrs. Squires lay behind the counter, with her head frightfully battered, and resting on her right arm; while the daughter was found, with her head dreadfully injured, lying in the shop parlour, her body in the room, and her legs towards the shop. The whole of the drawers and boxes had been broken open and ramsacked, evidently with the intention of robbery. In several rooms the furniture was out of place. A clock which stood in the parlour had been knocked down or otherwise moved from the peg on which it usually hung, and as it had stopped at 12 o'clock, and was in good order and wound up, the presumption is that the murders were committed at that time. The murderer evidently used some heavy blunt instrument, such as a hammer or iron bar, but no trace of the weapon has yet been discovered, notwithstanding a minute search by the police. It was stated in the last night's evening Papers that a lunatic brother of the younger victim was seen at or near 46, Hyde-road yesterday morning. It has been ascertained, however, that this man had been confined in the lunatic ward of the Shoreditch Workhouse, that he had not left the building the whole day, and that he would receive no benefit from the death of his mother. There seems to be little doubt that robbery was the object, but the police stated late last night that they suspected no one as yet, and had no clue. The case has been placed in the hands of two experienced detectives. From the position in which the bodies were found it is believed that the elder woman was first attacked and knocked down, and that as the daughter ran to her mother's assistance she was met on the threshold of the room and instantaneously killed.
    Up to a late hour last night no clue, as far as we could learn, had been obtained.
    The bodies now lie at the parish mortuary to await the coroner's inquest, which will be hold tomorrow afternoon by Mr. Humphreys.

The Times, July, 1872

The Times, Saturday, Jul 20, 1872

The ghastly story now slowly unravelling itself it the Coroner's Court at Hoxton is rich in horrors. The ferocity of the murderer appears to have been united with a business-like method which appals while it compels attention. In addition, a certain mystery about the life of the victims, hardly less than about their death, exercises an unwholesome fascination over the public mind. A hundred wild theories are being concocted daily to explain the crime; nor can we wonder at the ingenuity which dwells on the details fo the murder, and invents emulous and equally illusive interpretations of the facts. At the present moment, the supply of horrors may be thought fully equal to the demand. Some, however, of the most notable are scarcely ripe for consideration. The pitiable condition of the woman accused of poisoning at Chelmsford has caused a sensible feeling of relief at the suspension of the prosecution; while it is still possible that death from his self-inflicted wounds may save the chief actor in the tragedy at Bermondsey from a Criminal Court. But the elements which at once repel and attract in the Hoxton Murders may satisfy the most ardent lover of sensation. The audacity of the criminal in attempting a deed of violence so desperate in an open shop, in a public street, and at noon-day, has indeed, sometimes, though but rarely, but paralleled. Nor is the mystery which surrounds the event great than envelopes some other famous murders. It is the combination of audacity with the apparent success in escaping which gives an exceptional interest to this attack on two lonely and helpless woman.  . . . What is known may be briefly told. SARAH SQUIRES, an aged widow of eccentric habits, with her daughter, CHRISTIANA, a woman of thirty eight, kept a small print-shop in Hyde-road, Hoxton. Both women seem to have been peculiarly averse from society; they had no inmates, few visitors; they hardly ever accepted assistance in their business or in their domestic affairs, and it was rumoured in the neighbourhood that they were saving money.

The Times, July, 1872

[-518-] ON THE THRESHOLD OF THE HOXTON MYSTERY.

ANOTHER tragedy in Hoxton! The newspaper placards last month only stimulated my remembrance of Wednesday, July 10. The new incident of Hoxton history occurred within call of the shop where, in the middle of a bright summer day, Mrs. Squires and her daughter were done to death with a plasterer's hammer. And the murderer is still at large. The latter fact has made me shudder whenever I have found myself even as near to Hoxton as Clerkenwell Green. This terrible crime has been allowed to drop out of public memory with a calm resignation which does not add to one's peace of mind. When the Marrs were assassinated in Ratcliff Highway, in 1812, all England thrilled with the horror of the scene. The murderer left no clue behind, and the police were helpless; but London was wild with fear. The subject was never allowed to rest. The knowledge that the criminal was at large made the very heart of the nation beat with anxiety. When the "great artist" (as De Quincey called him in that marvellous essay, "Murder as a Fine Art ") followed up his first awful stroke of bloody business by a second crime, the populace of London seemed to arise en masse against him. Are we in these days becoming callously accustomed to foul deeds, or is the business of life so much more engrossing than it used to be, that we see criminal after criminal slipping away from justice, without some stirring protest? The police of London do the duty of keeping order, regulating the traffic, and catching ordinary thieves; but as a detective force dealing with artists in crime they are notably deficient. There is something singularly like the Marr murders in the Squires tragedy, only that the latter was done in the daylight, and in an open shop. A hammer was used by the modern assassin; a mallet served Williams's purpose. The Ratcliff villain inflicted unnecessary injuries upon his victims; the Hoxton murderer beat his after they were dead. Williams got clean away and beyond suspicion after his first work; the Hoxton tiger is still abroad. Where? A half-witted fellow told one of the police magistrates the other day that he knew him, and was continually on his track. Once he had nearly caught him. Did the murderer [-519-] smile sardonically as he read this statement in the papers? Is he in London, or has he escaped beyond the seas? Perhaps he is living in Hoxton. He may occasionally visit Hyde Road to contemplate the scene of his awful labours. If he is a student of De Quincey, he will grow cynical over the importance which this street has assumed since his great performance in July. Painting and plastering, and patching up of broken shutters are going on all around the closed blank tenantless shop. The street has received so much public recognition that it has grown ashamed of its dirt. The shops of Mrs. Squires and her three commercial neighbours were the tidiest places in the locality. The well-known stationer's store stands out now like a rebuke to the rest; the name of the dead stares at you from the doorway as if the letters were traced in blood; the blinds are closed against the daylight; the dumb windows seem still to shut in the scene of blood; the whole house pleads to the passer by for vengeance. If the Hoxton tragedy were a chapter in fiction, the son of Mrs. Squires would devote his life to tracking down the culprit; but we are in real life, and Mr. Pritchard (he is the son of her first husband, and a musician) is going to take the shutters down, and open the shop as a music warehouse!
    But to the raison d'étre of this article. The "other tragedy in Hoxton" induced me to visit that part of London, the atmosphere of which would seem to engender foul deeds. The only feature in which the Northport Street business differs much from that of Chelsea, is in the fact of Augustus Elliott being jealous of Ellen Moore. Jealous! This strange passion seems equally strong, whether the object of it be Traviata or Desdemona. Elliott had spent his money, and he could not endure his "fair acquaintance visiting another man This is the police theory of the story, and there is every reason to believe it is the correct one. Elliott declines to speak about the circumstances. When Ellen Moore thought she was dying, she said, "Gus did it." The pair were carried fearfully mutilated to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, the woman much more desperately injured than the man. Let the young gentlemen who hang about the haunts of Circe lay this and the Chelsea lesson to heart. A life of immorality must end miserably.
    Northport Street and Hyde Road lie in the very midst of that dense quarter of London called Hackney, like a district apart. Northport Street is the outcome of a shabby locality of dirty houses and fifth-rate shops; and it leads to nowhere-I beg its pardon, it leads to the very street of all others which should hem it in and stop its free current of air; it leads to Hyde Road, where Mrs. Squires and her daughter were murdered at noon in presence of the [-520-] miscellaneous traffic of that very miscellaneous district. No. 9, Northport Street is a freshly-painted one-story house, with suspicious reddish moreen curtains at the bedroom windows. With the exception of the next house, the other houses are dingy-looking, poverty- stricken places. The street is macadamised and dusty; dusty with last month's dust, "nubbly" with last year's repairs. Nothing is so demoralising as badly kept thoroughfares. Foul paths extend their influence to doorsteps, from doorsteps to' windows, from outsides of houses to their insides. Dirt is the offspring of crime and misery and death; it would be easy to charge it with murder.
    "Is that the house in which the affair of Monday took place?" I asked a painter who was at work on the other side of the street.
    "Yes," he said, resting on his ladder.
    "Is it a lodging-house ?"
    "It is, and something more, and has been this two year."
    The man laughed, as he eyed the quiet-looking house.
    "Queer neighbourhood this ?" I suggested.
    "Some of it," he said, laughing again. "Lodgings is easily found here."
    "These poor people are likely to get better, I am told."
    "Yes, they say so; the young fellow is getting on fast; that man yonder" (pointing to a man in his shirt sleeves on the other side of the Street) "is the man who went in first; he held the fellow, and he can't get the blood off his arm now."
    "Is that so ?" I asked of the other person.
    "Yes," he said; "won't wash off; and he exhibited some stains on his flesh.
    I have done Northport Street another injustice; I intimated that No. 9 was the best painted house in it. The street has its Bar or Gin Palace, which towers up above the dirty surroundings with plate· glass, showy sign, and polished lamps. It is the only really clean-looking thing in the shadow of the Hoxton tragedies. Working men's wives who wish to keep their husbands at home should compete with the Gin Palace on the score of cleanliness and civil words.
    For cleanliness and a look of prosperity, the Bar in Northport Street might have been in the sunshine of Mayfair instead of the shadow of Hyde Road. The landlord, a courteous, merry fellow, served us promptly with a foaming tankard of stout, and commenced to chaff a slippered slovenly woman who was taking her morning nip.
    "Got a paper? No, he said. "These exciting scenes in Hoxton seem to drive people mad for papers."
    [-521-] "I wanted to see the Hackney Gazette," said the woman.
    "Ain't got it; you must wait for the Police News, that's the paper for you."
    " Yes," said the woman, her eyes expanding with anticipation; "I do like that paper ; ain't it a good on? sich pictures, lor! there ain't nothin' to come up to that."
    "It almost makes one ready to commit a murder for the sake of having one's portrait a-doing of the deed," I said in a reckless sort of way, secure under my slouch hat.
    "Lor it do!" said the woman in a maudlin fashion; while the landlord laughed heartily, and said that was looking at it in a new light ; "but it is an interesting paper, mind you."
    A plasterer entered here, evidently an intelligent working man, followed by a couple of lazy-looking fellows, to all appearance having no particular calling.
    "They're getting better, I hear," said the plasterer.
    "Don't know, don't care," said the landlord.
    " Oh," was the reply, "this is becoming a nice neighbourhood these murders and things have taken a hundred a year off the value of your house."
    The landlord laughed, and served several customers in "The Bottle and Jug Department."
    "It don't matter to me what such cattle as them comes to; they may all shoot themselves if they like."
    "Rubbish shot here," said the plasterer; and the company laughed loudly.
    One of the other fellows said he wouldn't mind shooting some people; he did not want to commit murder, but he should have nerve enough to do it ; whereupon he went into a rambling criticism of men who are afraid "to go in and stop a murder."
    "Alexander, as went into No. 9, wasn't afraid," said the landlord.
    "I shouldn't be afraid," said the Sloucher, "though I were once asked to do a thing; it was in Moorgate Street, four o'clock in the morning; a bobby, he found a door open, and says he to me, 'There's something wrong here,' says he, 'come in with me,' he says. 'No, thankee,' says I. 'But you must,' says he. 'I'm going to my work,' says I. 'Then I charges you in the Queen's name,' he says. So says I, 'If that's it, go in,' and in he goes, and I follers. When he gets halfway upstairs, I follers three steps ; and then, when he thinks I was a goin up three steps more, I was a going three steps down, and I bolted into the passage, out into Coleman Street, and goes home."
    [-522-] Thereupon the Plasterer commenced to chaff the Sloucher as to the probability of the policeman wanting him for other reasons than the door being open. "That bobby got dismissed for letting a prisoner escape," he said. "He had an eye to your going up some other stairs."
    The Plasterer climbed an imaginary staircase that revolved. The Sloucher joined in the general laughter at this very personal joke, and I left them ordering "another go of gin and bitters."
    "And it was a plasterer's hammer that killed the women in Hyde Road," I thought, as I betook myself to the scene of the tragedy of July, which, for various reasons, I found well worthy of a visit.
    It is curious to note, in spite of its general accuracy, the small exaggerations and mis-statements of the London press. The scene of the latest Hoxton tragedy is described as within fifty yards of the house where the Squireses were murdered. The distance is at least two hundred yards, about "within call." When the first tragedy was enacted, the reporters described the business of Mrs. Squires as a news-agency. It had always been in my mind that the boy who discovered the murder went in to buy a paper. I had often wondered in a half- morbid, half-curious way, whether it was Bow Bells, the Boys of England; the Police News, or "Jack Sheppard" that he wanted, building upon this some fanciful ideas of the impression of the scene on the boy's mind, and connecting the crime by a very fine hair-link with the literature of the shop. But Mrs. Squires and her ill-fated daughter did not sell newspapers at all. This discovery had a singular effect upon my previous notions of the quality and character of the murder. But what astonished me more than anything was the generally busy aspect of Hyde Road. It is hard to believe that in the middle of the day a murder could be committed in an open shop situated in a public street, and that, being committed, no one should know anything about it until the criminal had done his work, plundered the house, and escaped. This Hoxton tragedy is a mystery which becomes all the more startling and appalling the more it is looked into.
    Turning to the right out of Northport Street you come into Hyde Road. On your left are four respectable-looking shops. The fourth is closed. Over the door is painted "S. Squires, Wholesale Stationer, Printseller. The Trade Supplied." Even now there is an evidence of cleanliness about the place. The windows of the two stories over the shop are furnished with green Venetian blinds ornamented with brass rods. Adjoining the shop is a row of smaller houses. On the other side of the way the street has a more shambling look [-523-] than on this side, where I contemplate the scene, standing on the door-step of the fatal house. The road is not more than thirty-five feet wide. Directly opposite is the greengrocer's shop mentioned in he sad, familiar story; a small shop partly overflowing into the street with potatoes and greens. Then there is a thoroughfare, flanked on the other side by a butcher's shop, which is adorned with placards of the "East London Theatre" and the "Cambridge Music Hall." Farther on is a flaring sign announcing "Carte de Visite, 3s. dozen," and on the other side of the greengrocer's is a tumble-down little house, which rejoices in the following announcement- "Gent's Boots Soled and Heeled -- Unitarian Christian Worship held here." As a rule the Unitarians are a well-to-do denomination. They are in very low water here, at all events. Beyond the house which so strangely combines "Gent's Boots" and " Christian Worship" is "The Flint House," a " Public" well known, it seems, in the district. It will be remembered that a drayman said he saw a man run out of Squires's on the day of the murder. When I first stood on this doorstep awe-struck and wondering, it occurred to me what sort of a van could be passing along Hyde Road, when there trotted past a dray loaded with oil casks and empty oil-cans. A huckster's cart plunged after it, a watercress man passed me, and after him came a vendor of groundsel. Other persons passed by; two customers went into the greengrocer's, the butcher came to his door, a half-drunken fellow lounged out of the Flint House, a woman looked at me from the "Gent's Boots" establishment, and there were other indications of life in the street which makes the event of three months ago all the more strange and mysterious. The murderer, I should say, lived close by; he not only knew the habits of the women, but he knew Hyde Road well. Darting over the way by the greengrocer's he would soon be lost in the great tide of London. But not to be heard, not to be seen, to leave no trace, except the inference that he did his work with a plasterer's hammer!
    I dare say Hyde Road was busier than usual during my visit. Everybody seemed to be painting and mending houses. Even "Gent's Boots" was having his shutters repaired. He might at the same time have cleaned his windows. What does all this polishing mean in Hyde Road? Has the murder added a new dignity to the locality? Do the inhabitants feel that they owe something to fame? Have the visitors to Hyde Road grown so numerous that poor Mrs. Squires's neighbours have become a little ashamed of their dirty doors and shutters? Mrs. Squires got nothing, poor soul, by being clean and tidy. Her bright windows and neat blinds only made her [-524-] envied. Clean linen in such a district as this is a rebuke to so many that it must always be dangerous, and the more so when it is coupled. with the boast that you have always £20 in your till.
    If the murderer visits the scene, the closed, dark, dismal, ghost-haunted shop must be a terror to him, unless he is of the Williams type. Williams used to go out at night in a fashionable coat, carrying his mallet and knife, with a cynical smile on his face. He was a mild, cold-mannered man, with yellow hair, and his face was pallid. De Quincey, in his wonderful " Postscript," tells us that one gentle sort of girl (Williams was a beau in his way), whom he had undoubtedly designed to murder, gave in evidence that once, when sitting alone-with her, he had said, " Now, Miss R., supposing that I should appear about midnight at your bedside, armed with a carving-knife, what would you say?" To which the confiding girl replied, "Oh, Mr. Williams, if it was anybody else, I should be frightened; but, as soon as I heard your voice, I should be tranquil." If she could have heard his real voice, and seen his real face, she might have been ready for a home in St. Luke's madhouse, where a pale, wild face looked out upon us as we came through Old Street, on our way to stand for a short time in the shadow of this modern Williams, this. bold, mysterious murderer of 1872, who defies all our police organisation, and counts his blood-money at his ease.
    The sun began to give token of setting as we took our last glance at Hyde Road. A few hazy glares of red struggled through the dun atmosphere above, as if reflecting back, in a dark, dirty, wretched. sort of way, the marks of Cain at our feet. The shop fell back into the growing darkness; the lamplighter hurried by "Flint House" with his wand; "S. Squires" became more and more indistinct; my thoughts were beginning to get a little confused with comparisons of the Ratcliff Highway artist and this new tiger of Hyde Road. I could not restrain a smile of pity at the sight of a helpless policeman who passed me; a little puff of wind came sighing tip the ghostly area of the closed shop; I shuddered, and at once retraced my steps beyond the shadows of Hoxton.

The Gentleman's Magazine, Jul-Dec. 1872