Murder Maps–Life and Crime in London

imageI just stumbled across an interesting series from the History Channel – Murder Maps, which chronicles some nefarious crimes that took place in London right after it’s dark period of the Jack the Ripper murders. As you may recall, conditions in certain parts of London were pretty atrocious, with poverty and crime running rampant. Also keep in mind that the police force was almost a volunteer service with little training, no budget and no real tools for solving and cataloging crimes.

What we see from these grim tales is more of an effort put into the police force and their methods. We begin to see pathology and science playing a larger part in solving murders. We have the beginnings of using and recording fingerprints as well as the beginnings of forensics. In many ways we see Scotland Yard go from bungling the crime scenes of Jack the Ripper to a highly trained organization that would bring together its resources to capture criminals. The order and method of Sherlock Holmes is becoming a reality.

Listed below are the four episodes from this series and even by today’s standards, they are devious crimes. These stories also showcase how hampered the police force was in capturing criminals. Unlike today, you can’t simply post a picture and it’s seen by millions. There was no way to easily alert neighboring towns to be on the lookout. You couldn’t consult security cameras or have people standing around with their cellphones recording every minute of an event. Social media and newscasts didn’t exist. The best you could do was have someone render a sketch, transfer it to the newspaper and hopefully it looks close enough fora citizen to send a letter or come down to the station to make a comment about it. The public really had to go out of their way to help. Bit of a different mindset back then wasn’t it?

The Bermondsey Horror
In 1849, a man suddenly disappeared in Bermondsey. The discovery that he had been brutally murdered enraptured the press and the public. Even Charles Dickens was totally engrossed in the story of the sinister Marie Manning.

A couple has a gentleman over for dinner, then he disappears. They begin by saying they have no idea where he is, but soon it all goes wrong and his body is found under their kitchen floor. The couple ends up going their separate ways to stay ahead of the law, but ultimately turn against each other when facing the gallows. And it is indeed the gallows. As noted, Charles Dickens witnesses the hanging and makes note of the vulgar mob mentality it inspires.

In the Shadow of Jack
At the time of Jack The Ripper, London was home to some of the most terrible individuals the city has ever seen. One of the very worst was the elusive Borough Poisoner, George Chapman.

George Chapman comes across as the respectable owner of a public house. But there is something else going on as his wife gets sick for reasons the doctor can’t explain. When admitted to the hospital, she gets better, but when back in George’s care, she’s back to being sick. In a departure from the norm, we have a man doing the poisoning and for reasons that are shockingly mundane.

Finding Dr Crippen
Having killed his wife and buried her in the basement, Dr Crippen believed he had escaped on a ship to Canada. But the police managed to hunt him down and bring him to account for his terrible crime.

Dr. Crippen is at odds with his wife. He’s looking to change careers and perhaps make a new man of himself. His wife plods along as no-talent opera singer. But then fortunes change as Mrs. Crippen disappears. At first she has gone on holiday, then she’s taken sick, then she’s believed to be dead in America, then finally Cripped admits he made up the whole story because he was embarrassed over his wife leaving him.

Enter the young woman who moves into his recently vacated house under the guise of a new housekeeper. But everyone is getting suspicious and soon Crippen and his companion are on the run. It’s time to hit the high seas for boat chase to Canada and some clever use of the on-board telegraph.

The Brides in the Bath Killer
George Smith had many aliases. He needed them for his many wives who he would soon murder in order to claim the inheritance. Catching this chameleon would be a gargantuan challenge.

George Joseph Smith seems like a very good catch to ladies that are falling outside the prime of their marriage years. But instead of marital bliss, they are treated to a hot bath that ends in their death. One wife dies on her honeymoon, another a few weeks into the marriage. And there is a third drowning victim with the same MO as the first two. Same man? Terrible coincidence?

The police force has become much more savvy and has more resources at their disposal. They’re able to investigate and deduce with greater accuracy and are soon on the trail. When they have their man, they come to trial with a slew of evidence that mystify and astound the court and the public.

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