A MURDER, equal in atrocity, and somewhat similar in its circumstances to those of Mr. Bird and his housekeeper at Greenwich, was committed on the night of Monday, 1st January, 1828, upon the body of a woman seventy-five years old, named Elizabeth Jeffe, who had the care of an unoccupied house belonging to a respectable gentleman named Lett, and situated at No.11, Montague-place, Russell-square.
It appears that Mr. Lett resided at Dulwich, and the house in Montague-place, which he had formerly occupied, being to let, he had placed the unfortunate Mrs. Jeffe in it to take care of it, and to exhibit its rooms to any person who might be desirous of renting it. On the evening of Monday, the 1st January, she was last seen alive by Gardner, the pot-boy of the Gower Arms public-house, Gower-street, who delivered a pint of beer to her, and then she was in conversation at the door with a young man, dressed in a blue coat, and wearing a white apron. On the following day the house remained closed contrary to custom, and some suspicion being entertained that something serious had occurred to cause this unusual circumstance, information was conveyed to Mr. Justice Holroyd, who resided in the same street, whose butler, with the porter of Mr. Robinson, an upholsterer, proceeded to the house. Some difficulty was at first experienced in obtaining admittance; but the back area door having been forced, the unfortunate woman was found lying in a front room on the basement story, with her throat dreadfully cut and quite dead. Mr. Plum, a surgeon of Great Russell-street, was immediately sent for, and on his arrival, he proceeded to an examination of the person of the deceased. He found that she had been dead during several hours, and that her death had obviously been caused by the loss of blood occasioned by the wound in her throat, which extended through the windpipe and gullet, and the large vessels on the right side of the neck. The handkerchief of the deceased had been thrust into the wound, but from the appearances which presented themselves, it became obvious that the foot and not the hand had been employed to place it in the position in which it was found. On the left collar-bone there were some bruises, as if produced by some person's knuckles, and upon the thighs there were similar marks, as well as some drops of blood, but no wound was discovered besides that in the throat, to which death could be attributable. Upon a further inspection of the deceased's clothes, it was discovered that her pockets had been rifled; but although the kitchen drawers were open, and bore the bloody impress of fingers, and a work-basket was similarly stained, there was nothing further to show that the object of the murderer, which was evidently plunder, had been attained. The neck-handkerchief and cap-ribbon of the wretched woman were cut through, apparently in the effort to inflict the wound, and independently of the opinion of Mr. Plum, that the deceased could not have cut herself to such an extent, the fact of her death being caused by the hand of another was clearly shown, by the absence of any instrument with which the wound could have been inflicted, although part of a razor-case was found lying on the floor. Upon an examination of the house being made, it was found that the hall door was merely on the latch, and the furniture in the parlour presented an appearance which showed that the murderer had gone into that apartment after the death of his victim. A publication headed "The State of the Nation" was found there smeared with blood, and a doe-skin glove for the right-hand, on which marks of blood were also visible, was discovered lying on the floor.
From circumstances which came to light, the officers who were employed to endeavour to trace out the perpetrators of this atrocious murder, were induced to suspect that Charles Knight, the son of the deceased, was in some measure implicated in its commission. By direction of Mr. Halls, the magistrate of Bow-street, who throughout the whole case exhibited the most unremitting desire to secure the ends of justice, therefore, he was apprehended at his lodgings in Cursitor-street; but upon his being questioned, he gave a clear and unembarrassed statement of the manner in which he had been engaged during the night of the murder, and inquiry having proved this to be true, he was ordered to be discharged.
The police were now completely at a loss to fix upon any person as being open to suspicion. The man who had been seen in conversation with the deceased at the door of her house, however, appeared to be pointed at by common consent, and an accident soon pointed out a person named William Jones as the individual suspected. It was learned that he had been in the habit of calling upon the deceased at her master's residence, and that he was a seafaring man; but beyond these circumstances, and that he had been living in Mitre-street, Lambeth, nothing could be learned of him or his pursuits. On inquiry being made at his lodgings, it was discovered that he had absconded, and the suspicion of his guilt, which was already entertained, was greatly strengthened by this circumstance. A reward of 10l. was offered for his apprehension, and by a remarkable accident on Monday the 13th January he was taken into custody by a city officer, on a charge of stealing a coat. He was then taken to Guildhall office, but Salmon, the Bow-street officer, having claimed him on this charge, he was delivered over to his custody, and by him conveyed to Bow-street. He there most strenuously denied that he was at all implicated in the murder, although he admitted that "he had done other things" but he was remanded for the production of further evidence. From subsequent inquiries, it was learned that he was the son of Mr. Stephen Jones, a gentleman well known in the literary world as the author of a dictionary called "Jones' Sheridan Improved," and as the editor of a journal published in London. This gentleman, who died only a short time before the Christmas preceding the murder, left two sons, who possessed considerable talents, but who were too much inclined to habits of dissipation. William Jones had gone to sea, but latterly, on his return, being so much straitened in his circumstances as to be sometimes in actual want, he had occasionally visited Mrs. Jeffe, who was a kind-hearted woman, and who, from the respect which she bore his family, had often relieved his necessities. At the time of his apprehension he was twenty-five years of age, and was dressed in a blue coat, as described by Gardner, the pot-boy, by whom he was seen talking to the deceased. Upon his subsequent examinations, the material facts which were proved against him were, that he had been living with a young woman, named Mary Parker, who generally went by the name of Edwards, in Wootton-street, Lambeth; but that on the 27th of December, he suddenly removed with her to Mitre-street. During the latter part of his residence in Wootton-street, he was in extremely bad circumstances, and on the 31st of December, he and his paramour were entirely without food or money. On that night he quitted Parker in Fleet-street, and appointed to meet her at the same place at half-past twelve o'clock, and at that hour he came to her, as she was standing near Serjeants' Inn, in a direction from Shoe lane. He then had money and treated her to something to drink; and on the following morning he went out for an hour, but returned, and now produced a considerable quantity of silver money, with which they were enabled to redeem some clothes, which had been pawned, and afterwards to go to the Olympic Theatre. In the course of the ensuing week, the prisoner was observed to be anxiously endeavouring to prevent the discovery of his new residence, by going home by circuitous routes, and other means, and was heard to declare his apprehension that some officers were in search of him; but the most important circumstances proved were, first, that of the prisoner having a severe cut on his left thumb, when he was taken into custody, which appeared to have been recently inflicted; and secondly, that the razor-case, which was found lying near the body of the deceased woman, had been lent to the prisoner, on the Sunday before the murder, with a razor, by Mrs. Williams, with whom he had formerly lodged. Upon proof of these facts, the prisoner was fully committed for trial; but strong as the suspicion was against him, it proved to be insufficient in the minds of the jury, before whom the case was tried, to warrant them in returning a verdict of guilty.
The case came on at the Old Bailey sessions, on Friday the 22nd of February, when considerable curiosity was exhibited by the public. The court was crowded to excess at an early hour, and its avenues were thronged until the conclusion of the proceedings. The prisoner was put to the bar at ten o'clock, and pleaded Not guilty, to the two indictments preferred against him; the first for the murder, and the second for stealing a coat, the property of George Holding. Having been given in charge to the jury in the first case, the evidence which we have given in substance, was detailed by the various witnesses. The prisoner on being called on for his defence read a paper, in which he complained of the prejudices which had been excited against him, and solemnly asserted his innocence of the crime imputed to him. He entered into a long argumentative statement, contending that no grounds whatever existed for believing him guilty of the murder; and witnesses having been called on his behalf, who swore that his disposition was both mild and humane, the trial terminated at twelve o'clock at night, when the jury returned a verdict of Not guilty.
The prisoner was arraigned on the next day upon the second indictment, when he withdrew the plea which he had put on the record, and confessed himself guilty. At the following sessions, held in the month of April, he was sentenced to be transported for seven years; in pursuance of which, he was sent to Van Diemen's Land. Some surprise was excited at his having escaped thus easily from the hands of justice, as it was known that there were charges of forgery to a considerable extent pending against him; and it was suggested that some persons of respectability and good standing had interested themselves in his behalf.
It has been reported, that he has been executed in Hobart Town, for bush-ranging, and that before his death he confessed himself guilty of the murder for which he was tried; but although the idea gained currency at the time of its being thrown out, we have no means of ascertaining the degree of credit to which the story is entitled.