Orsam Books

The Big Coroner's Inquiry Inquiry

According to Jervis on the 1887 Coroner's Act, after the jury is sworn in and views the body, the coroner's officer:

'makes proclamation for the attendance of witnesses'

The precise way of making this 'proclamation' is not set out but Jervis tells us:

'It is the duty of all persons who are acquainted with the circumstances attending the subject of the coroner's inquiry to appear before the inquest as witnesses'.

Jervis then says:

'The coroner, being guided by the information he has received, usually sends a message to those witnesses whom he thinks material.'

There are sanctions for those who ignore the message.  Hence:

'Should they neglect or refuse to attend, the coroner, as incident to his office of judge of a court of record, has authority to issue a summons to compel their appearance where he has been credibly informed that they are able to give evidence, and he may if necessary issue a summons to the constable to bring them to court.' 

What we see from this is that it does not appear to have been normal for witnesses to be routinely summoned (or summonsed) to appear at the inquest.  A summons would only, apparently, be issued if they were reluctant and the coroner particularly wanted them to attend. 

But how did the coroner decide which witnesses he wanted to send a message to in the first place?  That is an interesting question and here the role of the coroner's officer seems to come to the fore.

The coroner's officer (also known as the summoning officer) was a police officer assigned to assist the coroner in his duties.  He seems to have been involved at the very outset of a suspicious death, liaising with the police but carrying out his own investigation.  According to Walter Schroder, then coroner for Central London, giving evidence at the trial of George Joseph Smith:

'Before commencing an inquest it is the practice for the coroner's officer to make enquiries and report to me.  In that way I get a general knowledge of the case.'

So, if that was the universal practice, it would seem that an investigation, independent of the police (albeit by a police officer), was carried out into suspicious deaths giving the coroner a source of information separate from the police. 

In the case of the Whitechapel murders, we find Wynne Baxter saying to Inspector Chandler, after John Davis had spoken of two unidentified men who he had spoken to in Hanbury Street after finding Annie Chapman's body:

'The witness must find them, either with the assistance of the police or of my officer' (LDN, 11 September 1888).

Thus, the coroner's officer was being included in the investigation to trace what was thought to be a couple of potentially key witnesses. 

In fact, when Baxter spoke of one of his typical cases, he didn't even mention the police.  Thus, to a reporter in January 1890, he said that what would typically happen is that when someone is found dead, 'My officer is notified and makes inquiries' (Pall Mall Gazette, 10 January 1890).

We find at an inquest in Worcester of a man who shot himself in 1891, the coroner's jury expressed a desire that two or three individuals who saw the body before the police arrived should be called to give evidence, to which the coroner said that:

'it was not known who they were, but he would ask the press to mention the matter, and request those persons to communicate with the coroner's officer' (Worcestershire Chronicle, 17 January 1891).

So, in this case, the police were not even in the picture. 

A similar thing had happened in what was referred to as 'The New Cross Mystery' in August 1890 after the death of a Mr Hart in New Cross.  The following appeared in the press:

'The coroner's officer has not been successful in his endeavours to trace the cabman who was alleged to have conveyed to Mr. Hart from No. 14, Park-road, New Cross to No. 442, New Cross-road, on the night of the 24th June. It is supposed that he was a London cabman, as the men on the rank at New Cross deny all knowledge of the affair.   It was only three or four minutes' drive past the South-Eastern Railway Station.  The cabman, whoever he is, is requested to communicate with the coroner's-officer, Police Station, Blackheath-road, Greenwich.'  (Pall Mall Gazette, 22 August 1890)

There are numerous references in inquest reports of witnesses giving statements to the coroner's officer (in addition to the police).  Here, for example, is the evidence of Lizabeth Charlotte Barnett giving evidence at the Old Bailey murder trial of Charles Turner in March 1889:

'...it was on the Sunday that the police took my statement, and on Monday I made a statement to the coroner's officer - on Tuesday, the 22nd, I  gave evidence before the coroner.' 

In a 1935 inquiry into the death of Thomas Duncan in Leicestershire, in circumstances where a witness had refused to provide a statement, the coroner said:

'witnesses must give statements to the police officer acting as Coroner's officer.  A witness who refused to make a statement to the Coroner's officer must appear before the Coroner and give a reason for his refusal'. 

To my mind this makes sense of the statements held at the London Metropolitan Archives for the witnesses who testified at the Mary Jane Kelly inquest.  They are not, I think, statements provided by those witnesses to the police, but statements separately provided to the coroner's officer. 

Did the coroner even see statements provided by witnesses to the police?  It's hard to say.  Obviously, there must have been some co-operation.  In an 1877 Old Bailey murder trial of Louis Staunton and others, for example, Police Sergeant Bateman, stationed at Penge, stated that, after making inquiries into the murder of Harriet Staunton, 'I reported to the Coroner the following morning the result of my inquiries - there was then an inquest held at Penge'.  But the exact process in which a Metropolitan Police officer would report to a coroner is somewhat shrouded in mystery. 

I suggest that what would normally happen is that the police would speak to the witness and either say that they would be required to attend the inquest - this is something that I have commonly seen referred to as a 'warning' to attend - or they would be directed to provide a statement to the coroner's officer who would tell them that they needed to attend at the inquest. In both cases the 'warning' would be a verbal, not a written one.

As this might be a controversial statement, let me provide some examples. This is from the Fleetwood Chronicle of 27 September 1935 reporting on an inquest held in Fleetwood into the death of Gordon Blacklidge in a road accident:


There we have an example of a police officer warning a witness to attend a witness but doing so via the man's landlord.  The coroner wasn't happy about that and said that the warning either needed to be a verbal one direct to the witness or they should be served with a summons.  So it's one or the other (and, in this case, one assumes that the coroner hadn't actually issued a summons).  As we can see, it was the police tasked with warning the witness.

We can see a clear example of a witness (actually a nun!) first being warned and then being issued with a summons in the Batley Reporter of 14 September 1889, reporting the inquest in Manchester into a suicide by Michael Kileen:

As we can see, the Sister of Mercy (who didn't attend because she didn't want her name published in the press) was first warned by the coroner's officer to appear and give evidence but, when she refused, the coroner issued a summons.  Despite her appearing in response to the summons, she was fined 40 shillings for not having obeyed the warning.  One wonders about the legal basis on which this fine was issued but one can only assume that the coroner felt that a warning from his officer carried sufficient legal weight. 

In this 1816 case - from the Hampshire Chronicle of 29 July 1816 - a man appears to have been taken to the Quarter Sessions and fined for failing to attend a coroner's inquest, having been warned by the coroner's officer to do so (with no mention made of a summons having been issued):

The distinction between a warning and a summons can be seen from this next report in the Cheshire Observer of 27 August 1927:


Here we have a coroner saying it was the first time in his experience that someone had been warned to attend his inquest who did not attend.  We can see that it was Police Sergeant Jones who called at the hospital to warn a nurse in person to attend at the inquest.  The coroner then talks about his power to issue a warrant (summons?) to compel attendance (the implication being that a warning alone wasn't sufficient). 

Now, here's one from the Yorkshire Post of 12 October 1888:


You can see it is stated that, 'The landlord, of the house, S. Firth was warned to attend the inquest, but said he could not find the time'.  You can also see that a police officer went out to find Firth but was unable to because the man had left home that morning.  The jury then gave its verdict and the inquest concluded without ever hearing from Mr Firth.

Although this was in Huddersfield, it was an inquest held in the very same month in 1888 as the Stride inquest.  Can you imagine the reaction if I suggested that Schwartz had sent word that he couldn't find the time to attend Stride's inquest?  I'd be laughed off the internet, but here we find that exact thing happening! 

Here's another one from Yorkshire.  It's from the Bradford Daily Telegraph of 5 January 1888:

You can see that we have another witness who was 'warned to attend the inquest by the Coroner's constable'.  We might also note here that the warning was to attend the inquest but, by attending, that did not necessarily mean being called to give evidence.

Next is one from the Barnsley Chronicle of 2 April 1887 reporting Police Court proceedings in the case of Isaac Hazlehurst, charged with the murder of his wife, Mary.  A witness, John Guest, was cross-examined by Defence Counsel, Mr Rideal, as below:


We can see that Guest said, 'I first mentioned my evidence to the police on the Monday after the affair.  I was not warned to attend the inquest'. An example, then, of a witness, called to give evidence for the prosecution at the Police Court, who wasn't called at the inquest, and, in fact, was not 'warned to attend' the inquest.

This next one is from the Daily Herald of 28 January 1926.


We can see that a Belgian man called Robert Hustin had 'been warned to attend the inquest, but failed to do so'.  Consequently, the coroner appears to have issued a subpoena (warrant/summons?) to force his attendance.

From the Daily Mirror of 2 April 1914 reporting on the inquest into the death of young Willie Starchfield we find this:


The key part here is that Richard White says he was first spoken to by police on 27 January and 'was warned to attend the inquest on January 29'.  He doesn't expressly say who warned him nor does he say how he was warned but in the context of the other reports one imagines it was a verbal warning from the police.

The next example is from the People of 28 June 1896: 


We see there that Perrin had been ordered by the police to attend the coroner's inquiry.  

Now this is from the Weekly Dispatch of 12 October 1902:


An example here of someone being 'warned' to attend an inquest but not heeding the warning, with the jury returning a verdict regardless (while asking for a severe reprimand for the non-attending witness).

A surprisingly lax approach is shown in this next cutting from the North London News of 19 August 1882: 

We can see that several people who had been 'warned to attend the inquest' told the officer who warned them that they would not do so and, indeed, they did not.  All the coroner offered in response was that, in future, such people would be fined the full amount for their non-attendance.

This next cutting is from the South London Press of 18 September 1900, reporting an inquest held at the Clapham Coroner's Court into the death of Frederick Mayes who was said by the newspaper to have been found shot dead on Clapham Common 'under very mysterious circumstances' with the coroner quoted as saying that while it looked like a suicide there was a 'suspicious circumstance' in the way a revolver was found very lightly clasped in his left hand 'as it might have been that the man was shot by some one and the revolver then hurriedly pushed into the man's hand.'  Detectives from Scotland Yard were present at the inquest for the police.


Here we have an example of witnesses to a suspicious death all giving their names to the police, 'but were not warned to attend the inquest'.  Why not? Did the coroner think they were all lying so didn't summon them?  Or did the police not inform the coroner?  Unthinkable surely.  But here's the answer:

I dread to think of the scorn that would have been poured down upon me had I suggested that the reason these witnesses hadn't been called might have been because the Police Constable to whom they spoke, and gave their names, omitted to mention their existence to the coroner.  But that's exactly what happened.

We find something similar in the Shepton Mallet Journal of 9 September 1904 regarding an inquest involving a road traffic accident:


Another cock-up here but this time on the part of the coroner's officer who had failed to warn witnesses that their evidence would be required. 

I could post more examples but I think I've given enough to show that witnesses could be warned by the police to attend an inquest without, apparently, any input from the coroner.

Here is an illuminating example from one of Wynne Baxter's inquests.  Giving evidence at the inquest into the death of Alice McKenzie, Inspector Reid said this:


'I have since made enquiries at 54 Gun Street, and have ascertained from the deputy, Ryder, that Mog Cheeks, the woman who was mentioned yesterday, stayed with her sister all night.  I saw the deputy this morning, and she said she would try and get Mog Cheeks here'.

Mog (Margaret) Cheeks was the next witness after Dr Phillips so she must simply have turned up at the Coroner's Court, not having apparently spoken to either the police or the coroner's officer beforehand, on the basis of a message given to her by her lodging house deputy that same day.  This kind of informal message passing seems to overturn everything that has previously been believed about how witnesses were called to inquests.

To this extent, I would modify what I have said previously about it being a decision for the coroner alone as to which witnesses would attend at the inquest.  While it is strictly true that the coroner would have the discretion about whether to examine any witness (subject to his legal obligation under the 1887 Act to examine those who tendered evidence about the facts and circumstances) and he was (one imagines) the only person who would normally issue a summons for attendance, it does seem that in many cases it would be for the police to issue a warning to the witness to attend and only if the witness failed to turn up would the coroner become involved. 

In fact, I've read some newspaper reports where there was confusion and dispute about whether the police had actually warned a non-appearing witness to attend, with the coroner trying to get to the bottom of it.  See for example the report of an inquest held in Blackburn in 1931 reported in the Lancashire Daily Post of 3 March 1931. I won't reproduce it all here but a witness, who was an agent for contractors, said he had been told by the police that two of his workers need not attend the inquest.  The coroner's officer said that he had asked the local police to warn those witnesses to attend but the agent flatly denied that this message had been passed on to him or his workers causing the coroner to adjourn the inquest in order for the two witnesses to be found and to question the local police officer in the witness box about the matter before further questioning the agent.  The coroner said he didn't believe the agent and disallowed his expenses.

So the police could warn witnesses to attend and, equally, the coroner's officer could do so. It's not entirely clear, however, if he would do so after discussing with the coroner or, as I rather suspect was more likely, on his own initiative.  

I can conceive that it's entirely possible that some witnesses would simply turn up at the inquest, not having spoken to anyone beforehand, saying they wished to give evidence.  Should they wish to have done so for the Stride inquest, that would have been perfectly possible because it was announced in the newspapers on 1 October that the inquest had been fixed for 11am on 2 October at the Vestry Hall in Cable Street.  In that case, I imagine that the coroner's officer would have taken a statement from them which would be provided to the coroner who would then (almost certainly) call the witness.  Under the Coroner's Act 1887, the coroner appears to have been obliged to call anyone who tendered their evidence as to the facts and circumstances of the death in question.

It is certainly worth noting a statement which appears in a 1911 textbook by George Glover Alexander entitled 'The Administration of Justice in Criminal Matters (in England and Wales'.  In a section of the book relating to the Coroner's inquest, it is stated that (underlining added):

'Most witnesses attend voluntarily, but the Coroner has power to summon persons to give evidence and they are bound to do so, subject to the right of any witness to refuse to answer an incriminating question.' 

This would suggest that the issuance of a summons by a coroner was not the normal procedure, and witnesses would be expected to turn up to an inquest (and did normally turn up) without a summons having been issued to require their attendance.  

But if a witness was warned by the police to show up at the inquest and they didn't appear, what would have happened?  In theory, of course, they could  then have been summoned and, if they still didn't show, fined.  As we've seen, there are examples of people being fined for failing to obey a warning to attend, even though they obeyed a subsequent summons (although the legal basis for such a fine is a little unclear to me). But would the coroner have bothered to do that if the witness wasn't an essential one?  If, in the case of Schwartz, he had simply not shown up, after the police or coroner's officer had told him he was required to attend, would any action have been taken? Might it just have been let go?  It's very difficult to say one way or the other. But if there was a certain indifference on the part of the coroner because that witness' evidence wasn't essential, it could explain why some witnesses attended at inquests but not others. 

Here is an interesting appeal by a coroner from the Evening Standard of 13 November 1909:

'At Paddington, Mr Walter Schroder held an inquest concerning the death of Charles Sergeant, aged 41, a conductor on the District Railway, of Church Street, Chelsea.  The inquiry was adjourned for evidence to be given by an expert electrical engineer, and the coroner asked the Press to circulate an appeal to any the passengers in the train who might have seen the deceased fall that they should attend the adjourned inquest.' 

So here witnesses were being asked to directly attend the inquest.  Not to speak to the police but just to show up at the Coroner's Court.

An interesting exchange at an inquest held in Dublin in September 1886 on the body of John Cox (from the Cork Daily Herald of 6 September 1886):

'Mr. J Cox, nephew to the deceased, observed that the witnesses were not in attendance; he thought they would have been summoned by the coroner.

Coroner - Who are the witnesses?

Mr Cox said - Dr Sandham, Miss Wood and Mr Clarke.

The Coroner said it would be impossible for him to summon witnesses whose names he now heard for the first time, and asked why Dr Sandham had not been requested to come.

Mr Cox said that he asked Dr. Sandham to come, and that he refused unless summoned by the Coroner.

The Coroner said he understood the nature of the refusal.  The doctor was looking out for his fee, and he (the coroner) would put the city to no expense, if he could avoid it.' 

A couple of points worthy of mention here.  In this case, the coroner claims not to even have been aware of the existence of two presumably important civilian witnesses who the deceased's nephew believed should have been present.  Secondly, we see that in the case of the doctor he wouldn't get his fee unless summoned while the coroner wanted to avoid paying unnecessary fees.

Now, normal witnesses got a small fee for attending at an inquest (plus travel expenses).  A summons from Wynne Baxter, the wording of which was reproduced in Lloyds Weekly News of 30 September 1888, said:

'All fees and expenses are required by the Act of Vic., cap.68 sec. 1, to be advanced and paid by the coroner immediately after the termination of the inquest to such witnesses as the coroner may think fit to allow.' 

A witness did not need to be summoned to receive a fee. The rules which applied in Middlesex (and thus Whitechapel) since 1839 stated that (underlining added):

'To witnesses summoned, giving material evidence, and to witnesses not summoned, giving material evidence, for one hour's attendance, each witness - 1 shilling.  And for succeeding hours, 6d per hour, not exceeding in a whole, for a day's attendance, 3s, 6d.' 

However, the rules also stated:

'These allowances are to be paid only to such witnesses and constables who it may appear to the coroner have suffered by loss of time, or by expense, in attending the inquest, and are not to extend to medical witnesses...nor to domestic servants nor to constables in the metropolitan police force'.

So it is unlikely that someone who was unemployed, for example, would receive any money for showing up to an inquest.

Now let's look at some examples of actual inquests.


Mary Stowell, an elderly woman, was found murdered by PC Battersby at her home at 40 Adam Street, Marylebone, on Wednesday, 2 June 1847 after a resident at that address, Mary Ann Hunt, was seen behaving suspiciously.   Ann Smallborne also lived at 40 Adam Street and had heard Mary Ann Hunt quarrelling with Stowell two days before her body was found.  She last saw Mary Stowell alive on 1 June and delivered a letter to Mary Ann Hunt on the same day.  She told a police superintendent everything she knew on 2 June.  She was a witness at the trial of Hunt but wasn't called by the coroner, Mr Mills, at the inquest held on 4 June.  This is what she said at the Old Bailey when cross-examined by Defence Counsel:

'Q. You never were examined before the Magistrate about this, I believe? A. No, nor before the Coroner—I was first questioned on the morning that the deed was discovered—that was by Superintendent Hughes—I believe he took down from me in writing what I had to say—I was summoned to attend before the Magistrate, and was called into the witness-box, but then the old lady's daughter was called, and I was not required to speak—I was examined at the office of the Solicitor of the Treasury, at Whitehall—that was some two or three weeks since.' 

No explanation seems to be available as to why the coroner didn't call her.


On the morning of 30 June 1860, the body of 4-year-old Francis Savill Kent of Road Hill House was discovered in a privy with his throat cut.  The inquest, conducted by George Sylvester, the coroner, was held on 2 July.  The seven witnesses called by the coroner were as follows:

1. Sarah Cox, housemaid

2. Elizabeth Gough, nurse

3. Thomas Benger (found body with William Nutt)

4. William Nutt (found body with Thomas Benger)

5. Stephen Millet, parish constable,

6. Joshua Parsons, surgeon

7. Superintendent Foley, police

That was it.  Those were the only witnesses the coroner wanted to call.  He didn't wish to call a single family member who had been in Road Hill House at the time of the murder.  These were the parents, Samuel and Mary Kent, and their siblings, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Constance and William (the other children were too young to give evidence).  Mary Ann was 28 and Elizabeth was 26 while Constance and William were 16 and 14 respectively. The cook, Sarah Kerslake, was also not called.

The coroner's decision to conclude the inquiry after hearing these witnesses caused a furious debate amongst the jury members.  After saying to the jury, 'I believe you have heard all the evidence I think it necessary to take', the foreman of the jury responded, 'Mr Coroner, there is a feeling amongst the jury that they wish to hear other witnesses.'  The coroner demurred, not because he didn't think the other witnesses were going to tell the truth, but because, in his own words, 'I cannot see the slightest utility in doing it: and if you can do anything to spare the feelings of the family you should do it.'  He added, 'If anything practical were likely to arise from the examination of those children it would be proper to examine them, but I cannot myself see that any such result would be arrived at.  You would be inflicting a great deal of pain upon the family by doing so.'

The majority of the jury were having none of it and insisted that it was 'highly proper' that the two teenage children (upon whom suspicion appears to have quickly fallen because they had attempted to run away together two years earlier) were examined, hence Constance and William were both called to testify.

Yet, none of the other potential witnesses, including either parent, were called to give evidence and the jury produced a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown that same day.  For the coroner, that was all they needed to do because it wasn't for them to solve the murder. Thus, he said, 'I have no doubt in my mind but that sooner or later the mystery in which this crime is at present enveloped, will be cleared away, and the author or authors of it be brought to light.'


I mention in Lord Orsam Says...Part 15 that, in the Currell case, the Treasury called a number of new witnesses after the inquest.  I also revealed that Wynne Baxter himself stated that he would only be calling essential witnesses in order to get to the verdict as soon as possible because there were various matters 'in connection with the course of justice' which rendered it desirable to do so.


The fact is that a mere 9 witnesses in total were called at the inquest (held over two days by Wynne Baxter) whereas 21 witnesses were called to the Police Court proceedings. A number of those additional witnesses were people who knew Currell, but Currell had been identified as the likely murderer from day one, and the coroner's jury on 11 February 1887 returned a verdict of wilful murder against Thomas Currell based on the evidence of the 9 witnesses.

Following the Police Court proceedings, on 25 March 1887, the Treasury gave notice to the Defence that a further 15 witnesses, who had not given evidence at the Police Court, were to be called at the trial.  By my count, a total of 46 witnesses gave evidence for the prosecution during the trial compared to 9 at the inquest, making an excess of 37 witnesses not called at the inquest for various reasons. 

Amongst those 37 witnesses was Rebecca Fenn, who lived in 8 Baches Street where the murder was committed (and could have given evidence at the inquest if desired).  She was one of those 13 required by the Treasury to attend the trial.  Other residents of 8 Baches Street required to attend the trial were William and Caroline Sinclair, the latter of whom said she was woken by a sound at about 7.10am on the morning of the murder which was about the time when Currell was believed to have shot Lydia with a revolver. She said 'the reverberation shook the house, and I heard the land-lady screaming out in an excited manner for her daughter'.  Could this woman have been called by Wynne Baxter at the inquest? For sure, but Mrs Sinclair was telling her story for the very first time at the Old Bailey. 

John and Matilda Day were also residents of the house summoned to the trial.  John Day heard a noise at a quarter past seven in the morning of the murder 'as if the children on the first floor were jumping down stairs'.  Mrs Day said that at about 7.30am she heard 'a noise like a bang' and she went downstairs five minutes later to see Lydia Green lying dead on the floor.

Emma Day was the niece of John and Matilda, living with them on the day of the murder, and she said she 'heard a noise as if someone was jumping downstairs'.  At the trial she said, 'I did not know I was going to give evidence till Mrs Wright and my sister came to me to-day when I was at work - I had never thought about it till then...Mrs Wright said "Make haste and come to the Old Bailey, a detective has come after you" and when I got into the street I saw the detective - he told me I  had better come with him to the Old Bailey, he did not say what for - I came with him, I don't know his name - my statement was taken in a room, they asked me questions and I said yes and no - I hadn't thought about the matter till then'.  She wasn't, incidentally, one of the 15 witnesses in the Treasury's list of 25 March. 

For all these witnesses, there's no actual evidence that the police spoke to any of them before the conclusion of the inquest on 11 February 1887, but Wynne Baxter, had he been so minded, could have insisted on examining everyone who lived at 8 Baches Street.  He didn't do this and only examined four people who lived there, all but one of whom were relatives of Lydia.  That was obviously felt sufficient for Baxter's jury to reach a verdict about the murder.  He didn't need the non-essential witnesses, some of whom who may well have been at the Coroner's Court expecting to be called but weren't.


Henry Glennie was tried at the Old Bailey on 29 October 1888 for the murder of an elderly lady, Frances Maria Wright, in her home at 19 Canonbury Terrace, Islington, on 16 May 1888.

Witnesses had seen two men running out of Mrs Wright's house in what was evidently a failed burglary.  Mrs Wright was found dead.

The inquest was held the day after the incident, on 17 May, by the coroner, Mr Danford Thomas. Eight witnesses were called in total at the inquest.  These witnesses comprised two police officers, two medical witnesses, the husband of the deceased (who hadn't been in the house at the time) and three eye-witnesses who saw the men enter/exit Mrs Wright's house, of whom two were female neighbours and one a schoolboy.  The verdict of the coroner's jury was this:

'That deceased was found dead and did die suddenly from the mortal effects of syncope when suffering from disease of the heart and from the shock following an injury over the eye; and the jurors are further of the opinion that the said inquiry was inflicted at a time when two men were in the passage of 19 Canonbury Terrace for some illegal purpose.  And the jurors further say that two men, at present unknown, are guilty of the murder of the said deceased'.

It wasn't until September that one of the alleged murderers was arrested (having been turned in by a female acquaintance).  His name was Henry Glennie. 

Now, here's the thing.  When it came to both the Police Court proceedings and the trial in October, there were FOUR additional eye-witnesses called, none of whom had testified at the inquest, all of whom had seen a man running from the direction of 19 Canonbury Terrace on the day of the murder.  These witnesses were:

John Jones

George Wilson

Johanna Rowe

Arthur Amos

Now, with the inquest having been concluded very quickly, the day after the alleged murder, it could be said that the coroner didn't know of the existence of any of these witnesses.  That's possible but Arthur Amos actually picked up a bag dropped by the man running from the house and gave it to Sergeant John Somers of 'N' Division on 16 May, the day of the alleged murder. So the police certainly knew Amos existed at the time of the inquest (although whether they had taken a statement from him is unclear).  George Wilson said he gave a description of the man he saw running from the house to the police 'a day or two afterwards'.  So it's possible that this was after the inquest.  Johanna Rowe said that she didn't give a description to the police until September so the police wouldn't have known of her in May.  In respect of John Jones, it's unclear at what point his existence was known to the police.  As soon as they arrested Glennie (on 19 September), they brought Jones to the police station (on 20 September) to identify him so they presumably were aware of Jones before that, although he hadn't been called on to identify any other men who had been arrested earlier in connection with the crime.

I suppose one could develop a convoluted theory as to why Amos (at least) wasn't called by the coroner and fret about whether the coroner didn't believe his evidence.  As for the others, the coroner could have adjourned the inquest if he had wanted to give the police time to track down further eye-witnesses.  But, of course, there was no need.  There was enough evidence to satisfy the jury that Mrs Wright's death had been caused to some extent by the invasion of her home.  There was no need, nor indeed any point, for the coroner to call additional eye-witnesses.

One eye-witness who testified at at the Coroner's Court - a schoolboy called Frederick Meale - wasn't called at the Police Court or at the trial.  He couldn't say much about the man he saw.

I might add that there were a lot of other prosecution witnesses called during the Police Court proceedings and at the trial who were not called at the inquest (there were 20 witnesses called at the Police Court for example) and this is to be expected.  Most of these additional witnesses were acquaintances of Glennie.

In the event, Glennie was acquitted, possibly because the eye-witnesses had trouble positively identifying him (although he had confessed to friends to being at the crime scene) and also because he received good character references, while the deceased had been suffering from heart disease and might have died anyway.

Although not relevant to the issue of how coroners called their witnesses, there is more of interest from the Glennie case regarding the addresses of the witnesses.  If you were reading the Times report on 13 October 1888 of the Police Court proceedings from the previous day you would have seen that Johanna Rowe's address was given as 'Astley-row, Canonbury'. Does that mean she didn't give her full address to the court?  No, because her deposition reveals that she said she lived at 23 Asteys Row (not Astley).  In his deposition, Arthur Amos said he lived at 50 Langthorne Street but the Times omitted the door number to say only that he lived at Langborne (sic) Street, Stratford.   You would also have read in the Times that there was a witness called 'George Wilson' who was 'a milk carrier employed by Messrs Laycock, of Liverpool Road'.  His deposition, however, tells us that he lived at 151 Liverpool Buildings, Islington.  Was the press reporter trying to hide his address?  I don't think so somehow.

But, hey, let's say you're a sophisticated reader and you understand perfectly well that these pesky press reporters don't always give the full addresses of witnesses, just the street in which a witness lived, so you don't start thinking that the witnesses were withholding their full address from the court.  In which case, what would you have made of this report of the evidence of a witness called Henry Brand?

Surely, Mr Brand withheld his address from the Police Court, otherwise why else would it not have been reported? Indeed, if you look at the report in the Times of 13 October 1888, Brand is the only civilian witness for whom no address whatsoever is stated.  So Brand OBVIOUSLY didn't reveal his address in court did he?  He must have just said he was employed by the Eagle Range Foundry Company.

Well, of course, you would think that if you clang, but, if one looks at Henry Brand's deposition, he certainly did state his address in court.  Here is the relevant extract:

As we can see, he said he lived at 1 South Molten Lane, New Bond Street.  This wasn't included in the press report but, like I've said before, there is an inconsistent approach to these things and it would be ridiculous to draw conclusions from it, such as that Brand must not have been required to state his address in open court. Just ridiculous.

Even better is that we can see that Brand adds, "I was in the employ of the Eagle Range Foundry Company from November 1886 till June 1886".  So if you wanted to contact Mr Brand after reading the report in the Times of 13 October 1886 (or indeed any report of his evidence in any newspaper) you wouldn't have found him at the Eagle Range Foundry Company!

So how does the Clanger explain it?  No, seriously how does the Clanger explain it?  It doesn't seem to fit in with the strange clanging way he views the world.  Perhaps his head will explode trying to compute it.   

While I haven't carried out a full analysis of every report of court proceedings, I would suggest that addresses of witnesses were far more likely to be included where those witnesses lived near to where the incident they were describing had taken place so that it was relevant to the reader to know the precise address.  Where, as in the case of Brand, he lived nowhere near Canonbury Terrace, the scene of the murder, it really didn't matter, so there wasn't much point of including it in the report.  The same, I would suggest, would be true of Charles Cross in both inquests he attended.  While his address was tangentially relevant to the Nichols inquest in showing his route to work (and was reported in the Star), it was completely irrelevant to the 1876 inquest.

While we're talking about addresses, it's also somewhat instructive to look at the reports of the inquest proceedings into Mrs Wright's death.  The Standard of 18 May 1888 gives the partial address of one of the female eye witnesses who gave evidence at the inquest, Olivia Chefdeville, of Alwyne-villas, which was opposite 19 Canonbury Terrace.  It also gives the partial address of one of the medical men, Dr Greenwood of Canonbury Square and, of course, the address of the husband of the deceased. The only other civilian witness included in the report was a boy, aged eight, called Frederick Meale whose name was reported in the Standard as Frederick Mills.  His address wasn't stated and, you might think, this was deliberate policy to protect a young boy.  Well maybe but Lloyds Weekly News two days later didn't have such qualms, correctly reporting the boy's address as being 37 Norfolk Street. The Clanger will explain the reasons for this discrepancy between the two reports in his next public statement on the issue.


In a murder committed during the evening of 16 December 1891, known as 'The Shoreditch Tragedy', Abigail Sullivan was murdered by her boyfriend, James Muir, who stabbed her with a knife causing an internal hemorrhage which killed her.  

Muir was arrested near the scene of the crime later that same evening carrying the bloody knife he had used.

During the evening of 16 December 1891, Muir and Sullivan had been drinking in a pub with a friend and workmate of Muir's called Joseph Norton.  Muir and Abigail had an argument because Muir would not treat her to a drink and Norton heard Abigail say that 'she would put her two fingers up his nose' while making an attempt to do so.  Abigail left the men and, when the men had finished drinking at about 10.15pm, Muir told  Norton he would give her a shilling to put things right.  Muir murdered Abigail about 75 minutes later. 

Muir was charged with murder at Worship Street Police Court on Thursday, 17 December 1891. The inquest, presided over by a familiar coroner, Roderick MacDonald, was held on Monday, 21 December at Bethnal Green Vestry Hall.  You would think that Norton would have been examined by the coroner at the inquest but he was not.  He first gave evidence at the Police Court proceedings on 31 December.

The coroner's jury somewhat curiously returned a verdict of manslaughter, but Muir was committed on a charge of murder at the Police Court and found guilty of this at the Old Bailey in February 1892.

Norton wasn't the only witness not called to the inquest who gave evidence at the trial. Alfred Cook, for example, was the potman at the Dolphin Public House, just around the corner from Nichol Street, which was visited by Muir at 11.30pm, after he had committed the murder, and the publican saw a knife drop to the floor while he was drinking.  Muir seemed to threaten Cook with the knife, rubbing it against his chest and telling him he would show him how to use it.  Cook persuaded Muir to leave the pub and after this he was arrested by a constable outside the pub.  Despite this, the coroner didn't seem to want to hear from him.


Alfred Chipperfield murdered his newly married wife, Maria, by cutting her throat in a cab in Islington on 18 December 1895. He then attempted to take his own life but failed and was arrested. The inquest was held by George Danford Thomas on 21 December, and 8 witnesses were called.  At the Police Court proceedings, there were eleven additional witnesses (including two police officers) who hadn't given evidence at the inquest. 

None of the missing witnesses actually witnessed the murder or its immediate aftermath so there's no big point I want to make about that but the inquest is of interest because - as readers of Crossing the Line might recall, the report of the inquest in the Islington Gazette of 23 December 1895 gives addresses for every civilian witness except one. Thus, whereas the address for Mary Ann Gray, mother of the deceased, was stated to be 10 Moreton Terrace, the address of Mrs Alice Stroud, aunt of the deceased (not godmother!), was stated to be 22 Rochester Street, Westminster, the address of Thomas Brown, a public house manager, who was a witness to the murder, was given as 86 Moreton Road and the address of a carman, Alfred Griffiths, who also witnessed the murder was stated to be 13 Queensbury Street BUT when it came to the cabman within whose cab the murder took place, John Stanley, there was no address stated, as below:


There's no discernible reason for this.  He certainly did state his address during the inquest as being 57 King Street, Camden Town; Lloyds Weekly News had already reported this in its own coverage of the inquest on 22 December, showing that there was no secrecy attached to it.

A big CLANG to the Clanger at this point. 


John Wingfield, a chaff cutter, murdered his wife Mary with a knife in a Kilburn street shortly before 11am on 27 January 1880.   He was, apparently, upset that one of his former work colleagues at Saxby & Farmer had taken his wife to the Metropolitan Music Hall.   

Immediately after committing the murder, Wingfield ran into the premises of Saxby & Farmer in order to seek out the man who had taken his wife to the music hall. He there spoke to the foreman, William Relf, while still holding the knife he had used to commit the murder.  According to Relf, Wingfield appeared to be excited but, saying he wouldn't hurt him, he offered the knife to Relf who took it from him.

Acting on information, a policeman, Detective Samuel Cluny, then came along and took the knife from Relf.

Wingfield was taken into custody and charged with murder at Marylebone Police Court on the same day.  During that hearing, a witness who had seen the murder take place (Jesse Potter) mentioned that Wingfield had given the knife to his foreman.

At the inquest held over two days before William Hardwick on 30 January and 6 February a total of 13 witnesses were called but William Relf was not one of them. He only gave evidence at the Police Court on 3 February 1880 and then at Wingfield's trial in March. 

I might add that Detective Cluny, who took the knife from Relf, was also not called as a witness at the inquest but did testify at both the Police Court and the Old Bailey. 

Why was the man to whom Wingfield personally handed the murder weapon within minutes of murdering his wife not called by the coroner to be examined at the inquest?  Just ask Varqm or Wickerman from the Casebook Forum who will be able to give you the answer.


Robert Plampton stabbed his wife Emily Maria in the neck in their Southwark lodgings during the afternoon of 28 December 1884.  Emily ran away bleeding.

At about 5pm on that day, Mary Ann Roffey, a friend and neighbour of Emily's, heard knocking at her window and, when she went to investigate, she saw Emily lying on the window ledge 'smothered with blood'.  She tried to pick her up but Emily fell to the ground.  She was taken on a barrow to hospital where she was dead on arrival.  Plampton was charged with her death at Southwark Police Court on 29 December 1884.  Roffey gave evidence at the Police Court on 12 January and at the Old Bailey trial in February.

Was Roffey an essential witness for the inquiry into Emily's death?  Mr Payne, the coroner, doesn't seem to have thought so.  At the inquest held on 1 January 1884, he did call George Cook, Emily's uncle, who had run after Emily to Roffey's residence, and assisted Roffey in summoning a doctor, but not Roffey herself.

Varqm and Wickerman will again be able to assist as to why this decision was made.


In Lord Orsam Says...Part 15, which accompanies this article, I mention Schroder's evidence at the trial of Albert Bridgeman.  At the inquest into the death of Catherine Ballard, murdered by Bridgeman on 4 March 1905, the coroner, George Danford Thomas, didn't feel the need to call Alice Elizabeth Cooper who was told by Bridgeman on 3 March that he wanted to murder Mr and Mrs Ballard and that his life was a misery to him, nor did he call George Mills a pawnbroker who sold Bridgman a razor during the morning of 4 March.  He also didn't call Martha Palmer, Bridgman's landlady, who said Bridgeman came home 'very excited' during the morning of the murder and who had spoken to Inspector Walter Dew shortly after the murder. Perhaps he didn't think their evidence was essential for the questions the jury had to answer.  


James Joseph Dowling was shot outside the Green Gate Public House in Shoreditch on 13 April 1891 by Arthur John Haseler.  Violet Hunt, the barmaid in the Green Gate, saw Haseler in the public house and then heard shots after he left.  She gave evidence at the Police Court proceedings and trial but was not called to the inquest before Samuel Langham on 16 April.  


This witness I'm about to discuss was mentioned in Kattrup's 'Cross/Lechmere Name Issue' post (and briefly in my response in 'A Look Under the Barnett').  He's quite interesting so I'd like to look a bit closer at him.

Twenty-one year old Arthur Edgar Brown was walking along Brownlow Street in Dalston accompanied by 'a young woman' at shortly after 11pm on Tuesday, 10 September 1895, when he saw an altercation involving a 52 year old man being pushed to the ground by a younger man.   The man who had fallen, William Wythe, cracked his head and was knocked unconscious. 

The Wythe family immediately pressed charges against George Beck, the man who had knocked Wythe to the ground, and Beck was charged with assaulting Wythe (who remained insensible) at the North London Police Court before the magistrate, Paul Taylor, on Wednesday, 11 September.   The Wythe family's solicitor called one witness: Arthur Edgar Brown.  But Brown, in the witness box, said his name was Arthur Dyer (or Dayer).  He also said he lived off King's Cross Road, whereas, in fact, he lived in Brunswick Grove in Holloway.

This wasn't Brown's first appearance in a court room.  The Islington Gazette of 3 May 1893 had reported:

'Arthur Edgar Brown, aged 18, brass finisher of Brunswick Grove, Holloway, was charged with being drunk and disorderly at St John-street-road...Brown used bad language.  Fined 10s.'

Returning to the events of 1895, on the Wednesday night, Wythe died and the coroner, Wynn Westcott, held an inquest at the Shoreditch Coroner's Court on Tuesday, 17 September 1895.  Brown was again the key witness but, once more, he represented himself to be Arthur Dyer.  He falsely gave his address as 23 Cromer Street, King's Cross, and said he was a glass cutter whereas he was, in fact, a brass finisher.

The coroner's jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure but the magistrate wasn't satisfied and Beck was charged by the magistrate on 20 September 1895 with causing the death.  Brown again testified at the Police Court as 'Arthur Dyer' but he now gave his correct address as 9 Brunswick Grove, Holloway, having told the police, by way of explanation, that he had moved since the previous week. He now correctly said he was a brass finisher.  Beck was committed for trial at the Old Bailey.

When Brown testified at the trial, he continued to claim his name was Arthur Dyer.  The Defence Counsel, Mr Geogahan, however, had discovered the truth and extracted an admission from 'Dyer' that his real name was Arthur Brown, but not before he tried to claim that he really was Arthur Dyer.  Hence the record of his evidence at the Old Bailey under cross-examination went like this:

'Before the Coroner I gave my address as 23, Cromer Street—before the Magistrate as 9, Brunswick Road, Holloway—I never lived at 23, Cromer Street—I never went there—my real name is Arthur Dyer—I have gone by the name of Brown—my real name is Brown—when I gave my evidence before the Magistrate I was living at 9, Brunswick Road, 'Windsor Road, Holloway—and before that—I said, "I have changed my address"—I changed it in my own mind, because I gave a false address at first—I was on my oath when I gave my name and address.'

It's very interesting to see what explanation Brown gave for stating a wrong name (and address) in court.  He said:

'I gave the wrong name and address because I did not want to be brought into the case; I did not intend to turn upwhen I did turn up I stuck to the name I had given'.

Then, during re-examination, he stated:

'I gave a false name and address because I did not want to lose my work—you do not get paid too much for expenses for coming here, and I did not intend to turn up—I did not want to be mixed up in the matter.'

We can see here a perfectly 'innocent' explanation for Brown having given a false name and address to both the coroner and to the magistrate in the assault case.  There was no suggestion that he had assaulted Wythe.  He just didn't want to get involved as a witness but, after having provided a false name, decided that he would testify.

One can therefore, perhaps, see why a witness might give a false name for innocent reasons but, of course, if we are comparing this situation with that of Charles Cross, the key factor here is that Brown had no right whatsoever to call himself Dyer.

Arthur Edgar Brown was born in 1874 to William and Eliza Brown.  His mother's maiden name had been Ticktum.  Dyer was a purely false name.  And, as we have seen, unlike Cross he did not give his real address initially.  By the time he decided to give his true address (which he explained due to having moved in the interim) it was too late for him to change his name and he was stuck with it.

But perhaps the most interesting thing to emerge from this story is that, despite having given a false address of 23 Cromer Street, he still appeared as a witness at the coroner's inquest which suggests that he had not been personally summoned to appear. 

While we can't say for sure that Brown didn't know the residents of 23 Cromer Street, so that they might have passed a summons, or notice of hearing, on to him, this doesn't appear to be the case.  It would seem that he voluntarily appeared at the inquest, presumably having discovered about it either from notices being posted or from the police or more likely from the Wythe family who he did not know prior to the assault but with whom he appears to have been in contact after it occurred, hence appearing as their witness in the police court on 11 September.

See Crossing the Line for more on this topic.


It may be worth posting this editorial from the London Evening Post of 13 November 1888 to show that there was a feeling that Wynne Baxter had gone beyond what he was supposed to do with his inquests (underlining added):

'There is no reason to regret that the duty of holding an inquest in the Dorset-street tragedy devolved upon Dr. Macdonald. In as many hours as the other coroners have taken days, he managed to satisfy himself and the jury as to the “how, when and where” of the unfortunate woman’s death. Dr Macdonald is to be complimented on his expedition. Nothing is to be gained by the prolongation of such an inquiry, and the nauseating of the public by the iteration of unsavoury details. No one but morbidly minded people, whose tastes are best left unministered to, wants to know in exact scientific language the brutal manner in which the body of the victim was gashed and mutilated. Experience has shown that the reading of such details has resulted in imitations of these crimes, and the less the public appetite for unwholesome detail is fed the better it is for the community. The duty of the coroner and his jury was a simple one. They satisfied themselves as to the identity of the woman and the manner of her death. Unhappily, no evidence was forthcoming to enable them to incriminate anyone, and for the seventh time, this unsatisfactory conclusion had to be recorded – “Murdered by some person or persons unknown.'


Anyone who thinks we have sufficient information about how decisions were made as to which witnesses were called to an inquest in 1888, let alone how decisions were made by Wynne Baxter, is deluding themselves.  We just don't know enough.

While there is evidence from a newspaper report that Baxter issued a summons to require the attendance at his inquest of Robert Paul (a man who was dragged out of bed by police in the middle of the night suggesting a reluctance on his part to be involved) we don't know if the other witnesses had been issued with summonses or whether they were warned to attend the inquest by either the police (with no input from the coroner) or by the coroner's officer (also with no input from the coroner). 

It's certainly true that Baxter's inquests into the Whitechapel murders were quite thorough - and he was criticized for this - but only up to a point.  The newspapers tell us that the police interviewed lots more people than were called to the inquests. WE certainly know of a number of witnesses Baxter didn't call to his inquests. Kozebrodski for example.  We don't know why not and can only speculate.   Eagle testified that he was told about the murder 'by a member named Gilleman'.  But how did Gilleman know about it?   We have to speculate that he was told about it by Diemschitz but there's no evidence to that effect and, for all we know, he independently discovered the body (and could therefore have touched it).  Baxter didn't seem bothered.  

Morris Eagle said at the inquest that he saw 'Jacobs and another going for the police in the direction of Fairclough Street'.   If we assume the man he was with was Diemschutz (which may not be correct), who the hell was Jacobs?    Baxter didn't seem interested in extracting more information about this man, let alone having him found and brought to the inquest.  In contrast, the two men, James Kent and James Green, who Davis called to fetch the police after he discovered the body of Chapman were tracked down at Baxter's express request and both were examined at the next hearing even though neither could add anything material, albeit that Kent was able to describe the appearance of the body.  Green didn't even do that and the contrast between Green being called and Kozebrodski not testifying is stark. 

Then what about Leon Goldstein?  He admitted to the police at Leman Street that he had been walking along Berner Street with a black bag at 1am.  Exactly the time of the murder.  Why call William West who seemed to have nothing to offer the inquest, and who went home at 12.30, but not Leon Goldstein? I suggest that this whataboutism gets us nowhere because we just don't have enough information to answer these questions.

Most inquests in the nineteenth century followed the same pattern in terms of witnesses.  One or two close relatives of the deceased to identify the body.  One or two people who either witnessed the death or discovered the body.  One or two medical men (who were often the most important witnesses).  Then the rest of the witnesses being police officers.  It wasn't very complicated to work out who would be giving evidence at the inquest and I imagine the coroner usually left it to either the police or his officer (a policeman) to warn the relevant (and obvious) people that they needed to attend the inquest.  Perhaps the coroner would, on occasion, not bother to call some witnesses who had turned up, thinking they weren't necessary, but we really don't know much about this.

Did the coroner review the statements of witnesses taken by his officer prior to the inquest to filter out certain people from testifying?  We really don't know.  He might have done but he might not have done.  He might just have examined everyone who showed up.  He had discretion to withhold fees and expenses, so if anyone showed up whose evidence wasn't relevant but who nevertheless testified he simply didn't need to pay them. 

We've already seen that Baxter didn't call every single available witness in the Currell case.  There had to be a line drawn somewhere as to who it was necessary to hear from.  In many cases there must have been certain witnesses who could easily have been called as not.  At the same time, the murders in 1888 were of an unusual type.  Firstly, all but one of them were committed in the street with more than the normal number of witnesses passing the scene of the crime around the time of the murder.  Secondly, they were committed by someone completely unknown, whereas most murders were committed by someone well known to the deceased.  If you have someone under suspicion, or under arrest, it makes it a lot easier to work out who is relevant to an inquiry and who is not.  Thirdly, there was a massive police investigation with, one imagines, hundreds of people interviewed and many statements taken.  All of this makes it difficult to find similar types of inquests for comparison.  Many inquests, of course, didn't involve murder at all and would have been far more standard cases of accidental death, illness or suicide.

At the end of all this, it remains pure speculation as to why Schwartz wasn't called at the inquest. There isn't sufficient information available to answer the question with any degree of confidence.  When I was a member of the Forum, I avoided discussions about this like the plague for that reason.  Where there is a lack of information, there is always rampant speculation, usually by people who think they know far more about the subject than they really do.

In Lord Orsam Says...Part 15, I've suggested a number of possible reasons for Schwartz's non-attendance, none of which can be ruled out.  We can, however, pretty much rule out the possibility that the coroner decided he didn't believe Schwartz.  That just doesn't make sense in circumstances where Swanson of Scotland Yard and Abberline of Leman Street Police Station and Scotland Yard were not expressing such doubts. It's not credible to think that the coroner could have formed an adverse decision on his own and, in any case, we really don't quite know who made the decision as to which witnesses should be told to turn up at the Vestry Hall in Cable Street.  We might also ask why the coroner would not have wanted to have heard from a man claiming to have been at the very spot of Stride's murder within minutes of her death whom he believed to have told lies to the police about what he had witnessed

Wynne Baxter was perfectly capable of cross-examining a witness he believed was lying to him as he did, for example, in an inquest into the death of Mary Ann Austin in 1901 when he closely questioned William Crossingham's brother-in-law who had spoken to police before the inquest and had presumably given them a statement.  The St James's Gazette of 5 June 1901 reported that, 'the Coroner told the witness that he did not believe a word he had said'.   To another witness on the same day, he said, 'You have already said a lot that is untrue, so you had better take my advice now and tell the truth.'  Two further witnesses who were recalled by Baxter then admitted to having lied in their earlier evidence. At the end of the day's hearing, Baxter said 'that the whole afternoon had been practically wasted through the lies and mistakes of the witnesses' (East London Observer, 8 June 1901). Clearly, being an untruthful witness was not a disqualification!


22 May 2021