In British Criminal History the year of real blood and horror is probably 1888, with the infamous "Whitechapel"/Jack the Ripper Murders in London's East End. Certainly that series of murders are progressively more horrible until the one usually credited as the worst (that of the vivisected Mary Jane Kelly). But there were other horrors of cut up bodies in British history. Some, like the Waterloo Bridge Mystery of 1857, remain unsolved to this day. Others, like the Crippen and Voisin murders in the early 20th Century were solved, and the criminals punished.
One of the most terrible ones is the murder of Mrs. Thomas of Richmond (south of London on the Thames) in 1879. It is bloody, and grotesque, and the perpetrator was definitely one whom should have been avoided - but circumstances threw the victim into the arms of Ms Kate Webster.
Kate was a violent woman who had a prison record. She answered an advertisement for a servant that Mrs. Thomas had put out. Unfortunately the two women were not likely to get along. Kate, from her personality, was prone to resent authority and willing to show her resentment. Mrs. Thomas was fully aware that she was the upper middle class lady who paid the salary. But Mrs. Thomas was in her aged years, and somewhat frail. If it was a normal servant she probably would not have been in trouble. With the likes of Kate she was facing destruction.
Kate was also noticing the valuable furniture and clothing of her employer. It was an added inducement to her slowly determined plan to destroy her boss.
One can sense that the situation of the two women must have gotten more and more frightening for Mrs. Thomas - she was seen looking increasingly nervous by neighbors. She was last seen returning from church, and every inquiry only met with Kate's curt replies that Mrs. Thomas was visiting relatives. But the neighbors noticed that moving vans were taking away furniture. Kate explained Mrs. Thomas was planning to move.
Kate was also seen around the neighborhood selling some "drippings" from some cooking she'd been doing - boiling meat. Later on there was some inquiries about this, but few people were willing to discuss the matter.
Kate finally left the house which had a "for sale" sign up. About this time a large box was found in the river near Barnes (not too far from Richmond), and it had the remains of an elderly woman in it. Forensics was still in its infancy, and it was noticed that the remains had been cut and cooked. Reports of the disappearance of Mrs. Thomas had come to the police's attention. So the evidence mounted (some charred fragments and a chopper at Mrs. Thomas' residence), and when Kate was finally found she was arrested.
She was not a stupid killer - apparently she prepared her defense a little bit. She had been seeing a fellow named Porter, who helped her to move, and a publican named Church had purchased some of the belongings of Mrs. Thomas (thinking Kate owned them). Kate tried to cast suspicion on them. Fortunately they were able to prove they had nothing to do with the murder. So Kate was convicted, and eventually hanged.
Again I can't tell what this episode was like, so I can't vote on how good it was. Certainly it was the type of story that would have made a dandy Hammer film two decades previous, but nobody thought of doing it. There has been (aside from accounts in criminal history books, or the volume on Kate's trial in the "Notable British Trial" series) only one treatment of the story: John Cashman's "The Cook-Master General", written about one hundred years after the murder. Possibly a cinematic horror classic is there for the taking in some future production of this tale.
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