Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Delusions & Grandeur

The Lambert Tragedy

Symbol of Red Lion Brewery
Symbol of Red Lion Brewery
On February 17, 1872, at about 2 a.m., George Merrett, 34, left his home on Cornwall Roadin Lambeth, London, and headed off in the dark toward the Red Lion Brewery. There he shoveled and stoked the coal that brewed the barley malt. It was a labor-intensive job that required him to wake up at unusually early hours and work long shifts, often in hot conditions. Although the work was demanding and paid a pittance, he was able to feed his family -- if just barely.   

George and his wife Eliza had six children ranging from 12 months to 13 years old and another child on the way. They lived in utter poverty in what was one of the most undesirable areas of London. However, the Merretts were grateful that they at least had a steady, if meager, income. They made the most of the little they had.

That cold morning, George walked his usual route to work. He headed down Belvedere Roadtoward the entrance of Tennison Street. As he made his way to the wall that encircled the brewery, he heard piercing shouts that cut through the dark silence of the winter morning. The shouts grew louder, closer and angrier as George walked on. When he looked back to locate the source of the noise, he realized they were coming from a man running toward him.

George turned to run away. He may have heard the first gunshot zing past him. The bullet just missed, but the next ones would find their target. Within seconds, two bullets ripped through Georges neck.

Several officers on duty overheard the gunshots and ran to the scene, where they found George lying in a pool of blood. He was taken to St. Thomass Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The authorities didnt have to look far to find the murderer.

One of the officers at the scene saw a suspicious man nearby and asked him where the shots had originated. According to a South London Chronicle article from 1872, the stranger exclaimed that he had shot him. The man was immediately taken to the Tower Street police station.

During questioning, police learned that the assailant was unlike any criminal they had ever dealt with. The murderer, 37-year-old William Chester Minor, was an American who had recently moved to Lambeth several months earlier. To their surprise, they also learned that he was an army surgeon of considerable means with a record of mental instability.

Minor claimed that he accidentally mistook George for someone else. He believed that George was one of the many Irish militants who came to him nightly from his bedroom ceiling and from under his bed to assault him. Clearly, Minor suffered from delusions.

The police were troubled by Minors mental state and began to wonder whether he was fit to stand trial. Scotland Yard detectives decided to dig deeper into Minors past. They soon realized that he was a complex individual with a tragic history.

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