Victorian London - Crime - Violence, murders and assaults - Wife Murder (Emma Coppen)

Friday, Aug 28th, 1874


    A deplorable wife murder, the evident result of a ebullition of tempter on both sides, was committed at Camberwell yesterday morning. The murderer - for there is no question about the deed - kept a coffeeshop in Church-street, a short distance from Camberwell-green, and midway between that place and St. Giles's Church. His name is John Walter Coppen. Yesterday morning, before 10 o'clock, he went to a neighbouring butcher's shop, and saying that he had broken his knife, a knife used by butchers to cut up meat, which proved to be a fact, asked to borrow one. A knife was given to him, and he asked to have it sharpened. It was sharpened accordingly, and he returned to his house.
    What occurred afterwards is briefly told. He employed himself in cutting up meat with which to form the beef-steak puddings sold at coffee and eating-houses to artisan classes, and while at this work his wife and he had what is a termed "a few words." The upshot of the few words was that she said she would go out, and went upstairs and put on her outdoor dress. He must have heard her come down the stairs, for he went to meet her at the foot, when the ill words were renewed, and he, armed with the sharp butcher's knife, stabbed her under the left breast.
Cries of alarm were raised, and it would seem that the man was as much frightened at the deed as any one else, for he made not attempt at escape, and remained with his wounded wife, giving her brandy and trying to staunch the blood. Dr. Pinder, the medical officer of the district, attended, and saw at once that the wound was fatal; but the unhappy man stood by the woman he had killed until she breathed her last, which was about half an hour after the fatal blow. On the death of the poor woman, Sergeant Pearman, who had been called, took the man into custody, and Coppen made no demur, but when taken to the police cells he strongly objected to the preliminary searching, but he ultimately gave in.
    The Coppens, it seems, have been in the coffeeshop where this tragedy was enacted only since January last, and they are said to have been married less than 12 months. They are stated to have come from Penge, and the man has followed the trade of a butcher. Coppin is about 32 years of age, and is described by his neighbours as a man who would "drink freely," and was said to have been somewhat in drink overnight. His wife was about 30. A sister lived with tem, and her statement is that the pair, though they had a "few words occasionally," yet lived pretty comfortably together.
    The body awaits a coroner's inquest.
    The prisoner was in the afternoon taken to the Lambeth Police Court, and charged before Mr. Ellison with the murder of his wife, Emma Coppen, by stabbing her with a carving-knife, at 37, Church-street, Camberwell.
Mr. Ody appeared for the prisoner.
    The first witness called was Charlotte Berry, who said - I live at 37, Church-street, Camberwell. I am a single person. I was at the prisoner's house to-day. I am servant to him. He keeps a cookshop. About 10 o'clock this morning I was in the kitchen with prisoner's sister, Miss Coppen. I saw Mrs. Coppen about that time come downstairs into the kitchen. She had her bonnet and shawl on. She was going out, and would have had to come through the kitchen to do so. I heard her cry out in about seven minutes afterwards, I should say. I ran and found her at the bottom of the stairs. She was standing up. She was bleeding from the side. She walked upstairs and lay on the sofa. A doctor was sent for. There is nothing else that I know of. We undressed her and the doctor tried to do all he could for her. The doctor said she was cut on the side. I did not notice prisoner at the foot of the stairs. I first noticed him when he came into the room where we took his wife. He came up soon after we had taken her there, and I think she was alone at the foot of the stairs when we found her. I did not notice where he was. Mistress in the room said "I am sorry for him, but I aggravated him to do it." The prisoner was present when she said this. He seemed to be attending to her, stood beside her, and gave her some brandy. I was down in the kitchen when she died. . . . . . Sergeant Pearman said - As soon as I entered the room prisoner said "I am in your custody; I shall not leave." I asked the deceased if she had anything to say, and she said "I aggravated Walter to do it. I pray the Lord to have mercy on my soul." I asked the constable if he had got the weapon. The prisoner said, "You will find it down-stairs. It is a knife I borrowed from Mr. Gold, a butcher, opposite." I went down and found the knife (a long-bladed knife) lying beside some meat partly chopped up. I took it upstairs and prisoner said, "Yes, that's the one." He added afterwards, "Take me away; I'm the murderer." I took him to the station, and when the charge was read to him he made no reply. On the way to the Court I asked him if he had any family, and he said, "No, or this would not have taken place."

Times, August, 1874

The Times, October 14th, 1874

"THE CAMBERWELL MURDER." Yesterday John Walter Coppen, the coffee-house-keeper of Church-street, Camberwell, who was convicted at the last Old Bailey Sessions of the wilful murder of his wife, expiated his crime with his life at Horsemonger-lane Gaol. In this instance the recommendation to mercy of the jury was disregarded as was the memorial of a body of tradesmen and others in the Camberwell district, who had petitioned that the life of the convict should be spared on the ground that the act was done in a passion to which all men and women were liable.

Times, October, 1874