The period of the actual occurrence of the murder for which this woman was executed, was antecedent to that of the crime of Bishop and Williams; but the inquiries which took place in reference to her case, rendered the delay of her punishment necessary until after those atrocious malefactors had expiated their offences on the gallows.
The discovery of this murder took place in the month of November 1831, when a young woman, named Baton, made a statement at Lambeth-street Police-office, which induced a supposition that her grandmother, an aged woman named Elizabeth Walsh, had been unfairly dealt with. An investigation was ordered to be commenced by Lea, the officer, into the affair; and he succeeded in making discoveries which excited the strongest presumptions of the guilt of a woman named Cook, alias Ross, of the crime of murdering the old woman. Mrs. Walsh, it was elicited, was aged and decrepit, and was reduced to obtain a livelihood in the streets by the sale of bobbins, stay-laces, and other similar trifling articles. Mrs. Ross was known as a "cat-skinner," and collector of hare-skins; and she lived with a man named Cook, in Goodman's-yard, Minories, who had obtained an equally unenviable notoriety as a "body-snatcher." Mrs. Ross, having become acquainted with old Mrs. Walsh, had been known to express a strong desire that she would go to lodge with her; but Mrs. Walsh, whose connections were somewhat respectable, had been repeatedly cautioned to have nothing to do with a person whose pursuits and associations were so disreputable. The poor old woman, however, was over-persuaded by the specious arguments of her wily friend; and at length, on the 19th of August 1831, she took up her abode with the supposed Mr. and Mrs. Cook, at their residence. Mrs. Cook occupied only one room, which formed the habitation of herself, her paramour, her son (a boy about eleven years old), and her new lodger. Mrs. Walsh was observed to go out only once after she took up her residence in Goodman's-yard -- and after that she was never seen alive. The circumstances of the case were thus far known when the grand-daughter of Mrs. Walsh made her statement to the magistrates; but the inquiries of Lea soon brought other facts to light, which amply proved the guilt of Mrs. Ross of the crime imputed to her. Lea, as a preliminary step, took Cook, Mrs. Ross, and their son, into custody; and, on Wednesday, the 2nd of November, they were conveyed to Worship-street Police-office. During the period which elapsed between the apprehension of the boy and his examination at the police-office, he was observed to be exceedingly agitated and uneasy. The master and mistress of the parochial school at Aldgate, which he had attended for two or three years, were, in consequence, sent for; and he made a statement to them upon the subject of the death of Mrs. Walsh, the substance of which he subsequently detailed before the magistrates.
On the same afternoon Cook and the female Ross were placed at the bar; and their astonishment, on perceiving that their own child was about to be admitted as a witness against them, was quite apparent.
The magistrate asked the boy if he was quite willing to make a full disclosure of what he knew as to the disappearance of the old lady, Elizabeth Walsh? And, having answered in the affirmative, he was sworn, and made the following statement:-- He recollected the old lady, Elizabeth Walsh, coming to his father and mother at No.7, Goodman's-yard, Minories, about ten o'clock on a Friday morning. She brought some bread in a basket, a part of which she gave to him for his breakfast; she went away shortly afterwards, and returned about tea-time in the evening, when she, as well as his mother and himself, had some coffee; his father was not present at the time, though he was when she came in the morning; they had coffee about half-past nine on the same night for supper. He (witness) took part of it, and it made him sleepy, but not sick; the old woman also took some of it, and it seemed to make her drowsy, as she shortly afterwards stretched herself on his father and mother's bed, and placed her hand under her head. She did not at the time complain of illness; on the contrary, she appeared in good health. Sometime afterwards he saw his mother go towards the bed, and place her right hand over the mouth of the old woman, and her left over her body [the boy here burst into tears, and said he was sorry to be obliged to state such things against his own mother]. When his mother placed her hand on the old lady's mouth her arm fell down, and she lay flat on her back on the bed, and his mother continued to keep one hand on her mouth and the other on her person for at least half-an-hour; the old woman did not struggle much, but her eyes stared and rolled very much. He (witness) stood by the fire at this time, and his father, who was now in the room, stood looking out at the window; his father stood so all the time, and he was sure he never once turned round to see what was going forward, and that he had nothing to do with it. In about an hour afterwards his mother raised the body of the old woman from the bed, and carried it down stairs, but where to he did not know; the body was not undressed at the time; he and his father went to bed some time afterwards, and he could not say what time his mother returned, as he did not see her again on that night, after she left the room with the body in her arms. On the following morning he got up about seven o'clock; his father and mother were then up, and in the room; he had occasion, previous to going to school at eight o'clock, to go into the cellar to the privy, and while searching through the cellar for some ducks which he was told were there, he saw the body of the old woman in a sack, which was placed underneath the stairs; a portion of the head was out of the mouth of the sack, and the body appeared to be partly bent, and reclining against the stairs; there was sufficient light in the cellar for him to discern the colour of the hair on the head; it was partly grey and black, but he could not say whether or not the body was dressed or otherwise; the sack in which it was, was one belonging to a person named Jones, with whom his father worked; he had frequently seen it in their room, and he thought it was there on the night before. He went to school shortly afterwards, and never mentioned a word then or since about what had occurred, or his seeing the body in the cellar; on returning home at twelve o'clock in the day, he found his father beating his mother; he thought the cause to be, that the latter had been out drinking with a young woman, the granddaughter of the old lady, who had called to inquire after her; his mother, he believed, while his father was beating her, called him a villainous murderer, but he had no recollection of her threatening to give any information of him. He (witness), after getting his dinner, went out to play, and did not come home until late; himself, his father, and mother supped together on the Saturday night, and at about ten o'clock his mother left the room; in about half-an-hour afterwards he was standing at the window, and saw her go past with the body in the sack on her shoulder; it was in the same state as he saw it on that morning, except that the mouth of the sack was tied; the body appeared to be partly bent. –[The female prisoner, in an audible voice, exclaimed, "Good God! how could I have borne a son to hang me!"]-- The lad again burst into tears, and said he could not help it -- that he was telling the truth. He then proceeded with his statement. He did not know at what time his mother had returned on Saturday night, as he and his father, who remained in the room, went to bed, and he was asleep when she came in; on the Sunday morning his mother told him that she had taken the body to the London Hospital. The boy here, as in many parts of his statement, said his father had nothing whatever to do in the business. The magistrates examined him very minutely as to what had taken place on the Friday night, and what conversations (if any) had taken place between his father, mother, and himself, previous to and after the horrid deed had been perpetrated. He said that no words or quarrel had taken place; the old woman and his father and mother were on good terms, and nothing particular had occurred during the evening, until his mother placed her hand, as he had before described, on the mouth of the old lady; nor did she say a word to him or his father while she so held her hand on her mouth. He recollected she had been saying something to him about taking the body to an hospital. He did not see his father lay a hand on the old woman.
The magistrates expressed some surprise that the prisoner should, for a whole day, leave the body in the cellar of the house, which was accessible to all the inmates; but this was satisfactorily explained by the landlady, who said, that in consequence of its being so dark, and so infested with rats, the lodgers very seldom indeed entered it.
This was the substance of the boy's statement, and in many particulars it was distinctly and amply corroborated by the concurrent testimony of other witnesses. In some points, however, he was contradicted. It will be observed, that he stated that the body was carried away by his mother alone; but a man named Barry, whose evidence appeared to refer to the same transaction, declared that he had seen the boy in company with her, and assisting to carry the sack; while another negatived the possibility of the truth of one of his declarations -- that his mother had carried the body in her arms, and with great facility -- by stating that the deceased was a very tall woman.
The prisoners, upon the proofs which had been adduced, however, were remanded, and subsequent inquiries terminated in the production of further evidence of the guilt of Mrs. Ross. This consisted of the declarations of several persons that she had sold articles of clothing to them in Rag-fair, which were identified as having belonged to the deceased; and, more especially, that she had actually disposed of the stock-in-trade of the poor old woman. All exertions to discover the body of the deceased, however, proved unavailing; and, after several examinations, the prisoners, Edward Cook and Elizabeth Ross, were, on the 24th of December, committed for trial upon the charge of murder.
The intermediate occurrence of the case of Bishop and Williams, the details of which we have already described, and the violent alarm created in the public mind by the frequent reports of mysterious disappearances, and "burking" murders, excited a great degree of prejudice against these unfortunate prisoners, and it was not until the 6th of January 1832, that their case came on for final investigation at the Old Bailey. Ross was then indicted for the wilful murder of the deceased, while the charge made against her paramour, Cook, was that of having aided and abetted his fellow-prisoner in the commission of the offence.
Mr. Adolphus conducted the case for the prosecution, and Mr. Barry and Mr. Churchill appeared on behalf of the prisoners. The defence set up was,-- Perjury on the part of the boy, and the possibility that Mrs. Walsh was still living, arising upon the non -discovery of her body. The jury, however, returned a verdict of "Guilty" against Mrs. Ross, but acquitted Cook.
The convict was immediately sentenced to be executed on the following Monday: her body to be given over to the surgeons for dissection.
On Monday, the 8th of January, the wretched woman was hanged, in pursuance of her sentence. After her conviction, as well as before, she persisted in the strongest declarations of her innocence. Her statement was, that she had left the old woman with Cook on the night of her supposed murder, and that having then gone out, she did not return for several hours. On her going back she was told that the old woman had quitted the house. She maintained an extraordinary degree of firmness of nerve; and, up to the last moment of her existence, continued uttering protestations that she was not guilty, and ejaculations of her misery at quitting her own country (Ireland) to be hanged. She mounted the scaffold without assistance, and was turned-off at the customary signal.