The Eltham Murder
In the early hours of April 26, 1871, 17-year-old Jane Maria Coulson was found bleeding and barely conscious on a street in Eltham, south-east London. She had been bludgeoned with a hammer. The weapon was found nearby, but, more puzzling than that, so too had her purse. It still contained a nice sum of money. Clearly, robbery was not the motive. Nor was there any suggestion of a sexual motive for the attack. Coulson was taken to hospital and died four days later. But before she succumbed to her wounds, she made a revelation: her killer was Edmund Pook.
Pook was a 20-year-old printer, living and working in nearby Greenwich. It turned out that Coulson had been working as a maid for the Pook family and had become romantically involved with their son. What’s more, Coulson claimed that she had fallen pregnant but, determined not to anger his father by marrying below his social status, he refused to do the honorable thing and wed. Instead, Coulson was dismissed from her maid’s job and Pook had ended their relationship completely. This combination of class, sex and murder inevitably caught the public’s imagination and the story became front page news right across London.
The evidence against Pook began to mount: As well as his victim’s dying testimony, a local shopkeeper claimed to have sold Pook the hammer used to kill Coulson. What’s more, witnesses said they had seen a man matching Pook’s description running from the scene on the night in question. A conviction looked highly likely, and a large crowd gathered outside the courthouse to see justice was done. But then the judge ruled that Coluson’s deathbed revelations could not be admitted as evidence. In the end, Pook was acquitted – and the public were indignant with rage.
According to some press reports, Pook’s high social class allowed him to get away with murder. Others claimed that the judge and the accused’s father were close and this could have swayed his judgement. Despite his acquittal, the accusations wouldn’t go away, and the whole Pook family were forced to change their name and move away. While London’s newspaper readers got a lot of enjoyment out of the case, young Jane Maria Coulson never did get justice. In fact, it’s still said that her ghost haunts the quiet street where she was killed and some Londoners refuse to walk down there after dark.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:
“Head found in David Attenborough’s garden was murder victim.” The Telegraph, July 2011.
“Richard Dadd: The art of a âcriminal lunatic’ murderer.” BBC News Magazine, November 2015.
“Dismemberment in Victorian London: The Thames Torso Murders.” The University of Leicester, May 2016.
“The West Ham Vanishings.” Richard Jones, Jack the Ripper Walking Tours, February 2016.
“The grisly Victorian murders you’ve never heard of.” Rory Tingle, The Daily Mail, January 2018.
“The Murder of Mrs Sarah Millson at Cannon St.” The National Archives.
“The true story of Jane Coulson, by her cousin.” Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries.