The West Ham Vanishings
Between 1882 and 1899, a number of young females disappeared in and around the West Ham area of East London. Some of them were found, their bodies dumped in public ground. Clearly, a serial killer was at large here at the end of the Victorian era. However, while the police had their suspicions, nobody was ever charged with the slayings. What’s more, the crimes have largely vanished into obscurity, unlike those of Jack the Ripper, whose handiwork in Whitechapel, just a few short miles away, has become the stuff of dark legend.
The first girls started going missing in the early 1880s. Both Mary Seward and Eliza Carter disappeared without a trace, leaving relatives and detectives baffled. A dress was found in West Ham Park, and witnesses even came forward claiming to have seen the girls being dragged through the streets of not just London but a number of other places, including Portsmouth, many miles away. But it wasn’t until 1890 when police thought they had made a breakthrough. This time, 15-year-old Amelia Jeffs vanished – and then her body was found in an empty house in the Portway area.
The police turned their attentions to Joseph Roberts, the builder who had constructed the new terrace houses at Portway. Additionally, his father, the nightwatchman for the site, was also a prime suspect. However, there was nowhere near enough evidence to link either men to this murder or to any of the other six âvanishings’. In 1899, children suddenly stopped disappearing off the streets of West Ham. Could it be that the serial killer moved away? Or had he died himself?
These days, the house where Amelia Jeffs’s body was found is still standing and remains something of a macabre local landmark. Apart from that, the West Ham Vanishings have largely been forgotten about, with the Jack the Ripper killings hogging the limelight. One reason for this could be the fact that children vanishing was hardly uncommon in Victorian London. There were often stories of gangs luring children and young adults away for lives of slavery (or worse) in other cities, or even across the Channel in France or Belgium. It seems highly unlikely, then, that this spate of crimes will ever be solved or explained.