The Barnes Mystery: A Twisted Tale of Maids, Murder, and Mistaken Identity

In the late 1800s, Park Road was a peaceful part of Richmond on the outskirts of London. Julia Martha Thomas, a retired schoolteacher, produced her dwelling there in the still left part of a semi-detached villa known as 2 Mayfield Cottages. It was a standard English property, two tales high and surrounded by a backyard garden. For the most component, Thomas lived there alone sometimes, she took on servants like the Irish-born Kate Webster, whom she employed in January 1879.

3 months afterwards, Thomas was nowhere to be discovered. But her servant had seemingly appear into a wonderful deal of prosperity.

The Every day Telegraph would afterwards describe Webster as a “tall, strongly-manufactured female … with sallow and significantly freckled complexion and large and outstanding tooth.” Unbeknownst to Thomas, her new maid’s resume was much from great: She’d initial been imprisoned for larceny in her indigenous Eire at 15 a long time aged, and experienced lived a lifestyle of petty criminal offense at any time due to the fact. By the time she was 30, in 1879, she’d served several sentences for theft.

All through a single of these sentences, an 18-thirty day period stretch at Wandsworth jail in West London, Webster experienced put her younger son in the care of Sarah Crease, an acquaintance and charwoman who labored for a Overlook Loder. When Webster filled in for Crease a person day, Loder advised her to Thomas, who she realized was hunting to hire a servant.

Webster obtained the task on the spot, but the romance amongst Thomas and the young girl rapidly grew to become strained. “At 1st I assumed her a pleasant old woman,” Webster would later say. But Thomas’s cleansing specifications were being strict—too strict—and she would “point out locations where by she explained I did not clear, demonstrating evidence of a nasty spirit towards me.” Webster’s appreciate of consume, which she nourished frequently at a nearby pub, The Hole in the Wall, also failed to impress Thomas.

On February 28, after all over a month of function, Thomas wrote in her diary that she “gave Katherine warning to leave.” When Webster questioned Thomas to increase her work through Sunday, March 2, Thomas begrudgingly agreed. It was a fatal blunder.

Sundays have been 50 %-days for Webster, who was expected at 2 Mayfield Cottages in the late afternoon. Dawdling way too extensive at the ale household, Webster arrived late and Thomas went to church agitated. It was the previous time she was viewed in public.

That evening, Thomas’s landlady’s mom Jane Ives, who lived in the other 50 percent of the villa, heard a seem “like the drop of a large chair.” Ives and her daughter also observed housework currently being completed quite early the upcoming morning.

The subsequent two Sundays, Mrs. Thomas—a devout Christian—failed to clearly show up for church. Webster, nevertheless, seemed to have a new lease on lifetime. She soon fulfilled with Henry Porter, a former neighbor from when she had lived in Hammersmith, to share some information. Indicating she had married a guy named Thomas and spinning a tale of a rich dead relative who had remaining the contents of 2 Mayfield Cottages to her, Webster said she was hunting for a broker for the objects.

She wined and dined Porter and his son Robert at a neighborhood pub, leaving briefly to go to a pal who lived close by. When she returned, both of those Porters seen the significant bag she experienced carried into the pub was nowhere to be witnessed. Robert Porter later on helped her carry a major box from 2 Mayfield Cottages to a close by bridge, exactly where Webster claimed that a friend was coming to arrive decide on it up. As Robert walked away he heard a faint splash, but as Webster caught up with him she confident him that her mate experienced picked up the container, and he ongoing on his way.

Numerous times later, Henry Porter introduced Webster to John Church. In the current market for new furniture for his pub, Church made available Webster 68 lbs . for an assortment of furnishings. They scheduled supply vans for March 18.

The splash the young Porter had heard was in truth the large box he’d served Webster have as it strike the river. But it did not commit extended in its watery grave. A coal porter who uncovered it around the Barnes Railway Bridge on March 5, a few miles downstream along the Thames from in which Webster experienced allow it slip, was horrified to learn the mangled contents: a woman’s torso and legs, minus 1 foot.

The reasonably primitive forensic tactics of the day couldn’t determine a system with no a head, and an inquest failed to establish a lead to of death. That a woman’s foot soon turned up in the close by suburb of Twickenham was small assistance law enforcement readily concluded that it belonged to the exact same body, but whose? The unknown remains were buried in a neighborhood cemetery, and the push started buzzing about the “Barnes secret.”

Meanwhile, by the time Church’s delivery vans arrived on March 18, Thomas had not been noticed for two weeks—and her neighbors experienced grown suspicious. The more youthful Skip Ives went to look into the vans, and was informed that a “Mrs. Thomas” was selling her home furniture. When “Mrs. Thomas” was summoned, it was none other than Webster, who Ives knew was Thomas’s servant. Webster explained to Ives that Thomas was absent somewhere—she couldn’t say in which, exactly—but the match was up. Webster panicked and fled with her son, traveling by teach to her family dwelling in County Wexford, Ireland. In the meantime, the police were summoned.

When authorities searched 2 Mayfield Cottages, they found out a grisly scene: There have been blood stains all over the place (some showing indicators of cleansing), charred bones in the kitchen grate, and a fatty compound guiding the laundry boiler. They also discovered Webster’s tackle in County Wexford. The criminal was hauled again to Richmond, and a trial commenced on July 2, 1879.

The trial turned into a big spectacle, and crowds gathered the two inside and exterior the courtroom. Webster’s social placement manufactured her crime especially salacious—not only experienced she dedicated a grotesque murder, but she had attacked her betters. And she was a lady. In accordance to Shani D’Cruze, Sandra L. Walklate, and Samantha Pegg in Murder, “Victorian ideals of femininity envisaged gals as moral, passive, and not physically strong adequate to get rid of and dismember a human body.” Webster’s crime experienced place the lie to those beliefs.

Initially, Webster accused Church and Porter of the criminal offense. However law enforcement did discover Thomas’s possessions at Church’s pub and property, equally men experienced good alibis and have been cleared. Webster then claimed an ex-boyfriend, a “Mr. Strong”—whom she once in a while claimed was the father of her child—had pushed her to crime. But even with her makes an attempt to change blame on to other individuals, Webster was eventually convicted of killing her employer.

The night just before her execution, she finally confessed to the priest: “I by itself committed the murder of Mrs. Thomas.”

According to Webster, she and Thomas had argued when the latter returned property from church. The argument “ripened into a quarrel,” and Webster “threw [Thomas] from the major of the stairs to the ground flooring.” Then, Webster “lost control” and grabbed her sufferer by the throat in an try to silence any screams that could alert the neighbors and mail her again to jail. Right after choking Thomas, Webster “determined to do away with the body” by chopping up the limbs and boiling them in the laundry tub.

Legend says Webster tried to provide the fats drippings from Thomas to the proprietress of a regional pub, and even fed them to two local boys, but neither rumor has ever been substantiated. But Webster did burn some of Thomas’s continues to be in the fireplace, and divided substantially of the rest in between the heavy bag she experienced carried into the pub and the box. Working out of area, she also disposed of one particular of Thomas’s ft in the close by suburb of Twickenham. She never ever discovered exactly where she hid Thomas’s head.

Webster was executed on July 29, 1879. “The executioner having drawn the cap over her deal with, retired from the scaffold,” read a broadside detailing Webster’s sentencing and execution. “The unsatisfied felony was released into eternity.”

The Execution of Catherine Webster at Wandsworth Gaol, The Illustrated Police News
The Execution of Catherine Webster at Wandsworth Gaol, The Illustrated Police Information / Wikimedia // Public Domain

Thomas’s tale has a strange modern-day twist. In 2009, English broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough acquired the vacant pub subsequent doorway to his home. The making was the former dwelling of the Hole in the Wall, Webster’s favored watering hole, which experienced closed a few a long time previously.

As contractors were being excavating the web-site to create an extension on Attenborough’s house, “they noticed a ‘dark circular item,’” in accordance to The Telegraph. That item turned out to be a human skull—one missing its tooth and with “fracture marks dependable with the fall down the stairs and minimal collagen concentrations steady with it remaining boiled,” an investigating officer advised West London Coroners Courtroom. In accordance to a nearby coroner, there was “clear, convincing and compelling evidence” that the cranium belonged to Julia Martha Thomas.

The discovery came much too late for the murdered female, even so: Due to the fact data of her body’s exact place in Barnes Cemetery ended up lost, her head wasn’t laid to rest along with her (its exact whereabouts are fairly unclear). Although a disappointing ending for a girl who appreciated issues neat and tidy, the Barnes Secret, at past, was totally solved.

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