Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Ratcliffe Highway Murders


When Margaret returned, she found the house dark and the door locked. That seemed odd to her. She knocked, thinking that they had forgotten that she was still out, but no one answered. "With the astonishment," writes de Quincey, "came creeping over her an icy horror." She heard no movement inside whatsoever. But then, reports James and Critchley, she heard a noise that sounded like footsteps on the stairs. That noise reassured her that someone was coming to let her in. She heard the baby upstairs let out a little cry, and that, too, was heartening. But no one came to the door.

Then, behind her, she heard footsteps on the pavement. Frightened now, she rang the doorbell again, harder. Still no one responded. She slammed the knocker against the wood "with unintermitting violence," drawing attention from people outside. Among them was George Olney, the night watchman who called out the time every half hour. He came to find out who she was. Margaret explained her situation, so he knocked at the door himself. He'd noticed that the shutters, while in place, were not latched, so that was a concern. He called out several times to Timothy Marr, whom he knew very well, but received no response.

All this noise roused John Murray, a pawnbroker and the next-door neighbor, from his sleep. He came to find out what the ruckus was about, so Margaret explained that she had been locked out. Murray grew concerned, so he vaulted over the eight-foot wall (James and Critchley say it was a small fence) that divided his yard from the Marrs' and saw a light on and the back door standing open. He entered and went up the steps, calling softly to the Marrs that they had neglected to fasten their shutters. He heard nothing. In fact, the house felt preternaturally quiet. A chill gripped him, but he was uncertain how much more forceful he should be.

According to de Quincey, returning downstairs and entering the shop, Murray beheld "the carnage of the night stretched out on the floor." The "narrow premises" were "so floated with gore that it was hardly possible to escape the pollution of blood in picking out a path to the front door." First he saw young James Gowan, the apprentice. He was lying on the floor a man's height from the stairs and just inside the shop door. As Murray approached, he could see that someone had smashed the bones of the boy's face, pulverizing his brain and causing it to be cast about around the walls and even across the counters. Gowan's blood was dripping onto the floor.

Murray turned to go to the front door to let Olney in, but stumbled across yet another corpse. He saw that Mrs. Marr lay facedown, her head battered as well, and blood still dribbled from her wounds. Murray ran to the door, and with Olney he searched for Timothy. Behind the shop counter, they found him battered to death. With three people dead inside the residence, concern turned to the baby. Murray and Olney rushed to the living quarters in the basement (or upstairs) and found the child. Whoever had violated the others had finished young Timothy as well. The boy was still in his bed, clearly wounded from a blow to the head that had cut open his mouth. One side of his face was crushed and his throat was slit, with the head nearly severed from the body. The crib itself was covered with blood from the attack. Those who found him were stunned by these foul deeds.

By this time, more people from the neighborhood had gathered outside, and some of them entered the home. They held candles high, looking for a weapon, even as one person ran to the River Thames Police Office to summon assistance.

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