although the jack the ripper murders are almost the only homicides that are associated with the year 1888, there were, of course, many other murders that took place in 1888, albeit many of them didn’t attract the widespread press sensationalism that the whitechapel atrocities did.
one murder, which took place in isleworth, in the borough of hounslow in west london, in april 1888, was the murder of charlotte whale by her friend sarah proctor.
the sheffield evening telegraph, broke the news of the crime in its edition of tuesday, 17th april, 1888:-
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“on sunday night two young women, named sarah helen proctor, of windmill end, near dudley, staffordshire, and charlotte whale, who came from worcestershire, took lodgings at a cottage at warton road, isleworth, middlesex.
early yesterday morning, the landlady found the latter lying on the bed on her left side in a pool of blood, her brain protruding from the right side.
the landlady went downstairs, and informed proctor of her discovery, and she admitted having inflicted a blow on the head of the deceased with a hand jug, causing her death.
she was arrested, and was taken before the brentford magistrates this morning.
when charged with causing whale’s death, she said that she owed the deceased a grudge for having struck her on the head with a nail bag four years ago, from the effects of which she was still suffering.
she was remanded.”
shocking murder at isleworth
a woman’s revenge
the middlesex county times, on saturday, 21st april, 1888, gave details of sarah proctor’s court appearance:-
at the brentford police-court, on tuesday, before c. c. shepheard, esq. (in the chair), and e. m. nelson, esq., sarah helen proctor, 35, of windmill end, near dudley, staffordshire, described as a nailmaker, was charged with wilfully and feloniously causing the death of charlotte whale by striking her on the head with a hand jug at no. 1, mitchell’s cottages, worton road, isleworth, that (tuesday) morning.
ellen callow’s evidence
ellen callow was the first witness called, who deposed as follows:-
i live at no. 1. mitchell’s cottages, and my husband is a labourer.
the dead woman and the prisoner came to my house to lodge on sunday night, they having come up for the fruit season to work in the market gardens. they occupied the same room.
mr. nelson:- “where did they come from?”
witness:- “they came from staffordshire.”
she found her dying
continuing, the witness said:- i came downstairs this morning at about eight o’clock. i had washed the children and sent them to school, when i went upstairs for a clean pinafore for the little girl, and i saw charlotte whale in bed, lying on her right side. she was bathed in blood, and her brains were beaten out. she was not dead, but she did not know anyone; she was insensible.
i at once went into our room and called my husband.
the jug produced was in the same room as the deceased, in a basin at the foot of the bed, with blood on it as it is now.
i came downstairs and asked the prisoner what she had done it for. i saw her at the bottom of the stairs.
she was not in the room when i went in; she had gone down to wash herself.
she had a spite against her
i said to her, “whatever have you done?” and she replied, “i meant doing it.”
i said, “what for?” and she said, “i had a spite against her when i was down home.”
i said, “why didn’t you stop down in your own country and do it down there. what did you want to bring it up here for. i have troubles enough of my own.”
i then sent out for my stepmother, and she came.
during this time the prisoner was indoors.
when the police came, she said she knew she did it.
the magistrates clerk:- “did you, while they were in the house before this, hear any quarrelling?”
witness:- “no, sir.”
resuming, the witness said:- the prisoner has not been out of bed since sunday night till this morning.
while she was sitting in the chair in my downstairs room, after the occurrence, she said she heard charlotte whale talking about her yesterday.
i said, “if you had any spite against her why didn’t you tell her, and not go and do what you have done?”, and she said again, “i meant doing it,” she said that two or three times.
the chairman asked the prisoner if she had anything to ask the witness, and she muttered, “no, sir.”
police constable pierce testifies
p.c. pierce, 393 t, was then examined, and said:- this morning about nine o’clock i was at the station when, from information received i was sent to no. 1, mitchell’s cottages, where i saw a woman lying on the bed covered in blood in an upstairs front room.
on the right side of her head, the brains were coming through. she was not quite dead then.
i came down, and the prisoner was pointed out to me.
she said “i did it with the jug. i meant doing it.”
the magistrates’ clerk:- “did you see this jug?” (pointing to the jug used by the prisoner.)
witness:- “yes, in the bedroom where the injured woman was.”
the constable added that he then took the woman and the jug to the police station.
the prisoner had no questions to put to the witness.
the chairman:- “was the injured woman dead before you left the house?”
witness:- “yes, i saw she was dead about three minutes after i got there.”
asked on which side the deceased was lying, the witness replied on the left side, and this led to the first witness being recalled, who admitted she had made a mistake in saying the woman was lying on her right side.
the doctor’s evidence
dr. day was next called, and deposed as follows:- i was sent for this morning, about 9 o’clock, to go to 1, mitchell’s cottages. worton-road, isleworth.
i went, and, on going upstairs, i saw a woman lying on her left side on a bed, in the front upstairs room, dressed. the right side of the head was beaten in, and some of the brains were oozing out, and there had been great loss of blood. she was quite dead then.
i saw the jug produced, there was blood on it just as there is now.
the magistrates clerk:- “is that capable of inflicting the injury?”
witness:- “yes. i should think so, but i should almost have thought it would have broken. i suppose, however, it is very strong but it must have taken a very hard blow to have smashed the skull as it was.”—
mr. nelson:- “the jug is not broken.”
witness:- “i do not see that it is, sir.”
the magistrates clerk:- “did it appear to have been caused by more than one blow.”
witness:- “i should think one blow might have done it, though it might have been repeated.”
the chairman:- “did you see the prisoner?”
witness:- “i saw her sitting downstairs.”
the chairman:- “did she say anything to you?”
witness:- “no: i did not speak to her.”
remanded in custody
upon this evidence, the police asked for a remand.
on being asked by the chairman if she had anything to say as to why she should not be remanded, the prisoner said that the deceased gave her a blow “0n the same place” about four years ago with a nail bag, and she had not been in her right senses since.
the magistrates remanded the prisoner.
the young woman who has met with her death in such a cruel manner has worked in the locality during the fruit season for some years past, and last year was charged at the brentford police-court with an assault upon emily broad, a fellow workwoman.
the result of the action, however, was that the prosecutrix was subsequently convicted at the middlesex sessions of wilful and corrupt perjury, and, with her principal witness, sentenced to a term of imprisonment.
the prisoner is stated never before to have visited isleworth.
the latter is of medium height, of meagre build, with a narrow face, bearing an expression of strong individuality, the nose large, and the cheek hones rather high.
a description of the deceased
the deceased was of tall and shapely figure, and is said to have been of generous, lively, and affectionate disposition, and appears not to have had any ill-feeling against the prisoner, but, on the contrary, to have expressed her intention of doing all she could to obtain employment for her.
nothing was heard
the young women occupied the front bedroom. and it is remarkable that, although a man was sleeping in an adjoining room at the moment when the foul deed must have been committed, he appears to have been entirely ignorant of the terrible tragedy that was being enacted.
identified by her brother
the deceased’s brother, a soldier stationed at the tower, was telegraphed to immediately on the tragic event becoming known, and he and the young woman’s lover speedily visited the cottage, both being deeply affected by the shocking scene which met there view.
the inquest upon the body of the murdered woman was held at the london apprentice, isleworth yesterday (friday), by dr. diplock, with a jury of fourteen gentlemen.
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james whale’s evidence
the first witness called was james whale, who stated that he was a soldier in the 3rd battalion grenadier guards, and his home was at windmill end, near dudley.
he identified the deceased as his sister, who was a chainmaker.
he went to the brentford railway station on sunday night to meet her, when she arrived in company with helen proctor and another woman.
by a juror:- helen proctor was in the habit of visiting their home, at dudley.
continuing, the witness said that the deceased and proctor quarrelled about four years ago, but had been friendly since.
the deceased had a child by proctor’s brother, and proctor said that if her brother was married to charlotte whale she would kill him.
he had never heard proctor say anything which would lead him to think that she would murder his sister.”
having then taken evidence from the witnesses that had already testified at the police court, the coroner adjourned the inquest.
another court appearance
the yorkshire post, monday, 23rd april, 1888, provided a brief update on the case:-
“sarah ellen proctor, of windmill end, near dudley (staffordshire), was charged on remand at brentford on saturday with murdering her companion, charlotte whale, on tuesday.
the prison doctor certified that the accused was of impaired intellect, and she was again remanded.”
the inquest verdict
at the resumed inquest, which took on monday, 23rd april, 1888, the jury, having heard further medical evidence about the cause of death, returned a verdict of wilful murder against sarah proctor.
on saturday, 28th april, 1888, proctor was committed to stand trial at the central criminal court (old bailey) charged with the wilful murder of charlotte whale.
the isleworth tragedy
her trial at the old bailey was on thursday, 31st may, 1888, and the eastern evening news reported the outcome in its edition of later that day:-
“at the central criminal court, london, today, sarah proctor was charged with the wilful murder of charlotte whale at isleworth.
when the prisoner was called upon to plead she replied: “i did kill her.”
justice stephen told her to plead “not guilty,” which she accordingly did..
not criminally responsible
the facts of the case, which have already reported, justify the belief that the accused was in such a condition of mind at the time as to have rendered her not criminally responsible.
this was confirmed by medical testimony.
the jury expressed themselves satisfied with the medical evidence, and found a verdict;- “that prisoner committed the murder, but that she was insane at the time and not responsible for her actions.
“the usual order was made that she should be detained in safe custody during her majesty’s pleasure.”