Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Ratcliffe Highway Murders

Public Reaction

Marr funeral, illustration
Marr funeral, illustration

The bodies were laid out on beds in the home and the public was allowed to go through the house and look at them. The news had hit all of London, and people came in droves to gawk at the corpses, whose wounds were not sutured and eyes were not closed. As James and Critchley say, there were "no restrictions." They also point out that such a practice was not unusual. No one in those days thought about preserving a crime scene or respecting the dead. Crime victims were fair game and the public had a strong appetite for scandal and gore.

The four victims were given a memorial service, also attended by many gawkers, along with genuine mourners, and they were then buried beneath a tall monument in the church of St. George's-in-the-East, where they had proudly baptized their firstborn three months earlier. A long poem was carved into the stone, including the lines, as quoted by James and Critchley:

Life is uncertain in this world.
Oft in a moment we are hurled
To endless bliss or endless pain;
So let not sin within you reign.

St. George's-in-the East, sketch
St. George's-in-the East, sketch

Even Marr's brother came under scrutiny as a suspect, since he was rumored to have had a disagreement with Timothy. He was interrogated for 48 hours, but he, too, was exonerated because he had a firm alibi.

London was panicked by the idea that a stranger or a gang could enter homes and leave everyone dead. This was the ultimate fear — that one's own home was not safe. While the Ratcliffe Highway area was far from genteel, the Marrs had been a hardworking family with no apparent ties to criminal elements. They seemed to be entirely random victims, and their demise violated a social ideal that people who lived decent lives and worked hard had nothing to fear.

Then someone took a closer look at the maul and brought an interesting point to the police's attention. If blood was wiped away at a certain spot, it appeared that some initials were carved into the handle, as if with a coppering punch: I.P. (or, according to some accounts, J.P.). Those who were working on the case realized that they now had a way to try to trace the owner. This discovery occurred on Thursday, December 19, an otherwise ordinary day. That is, until that evening.

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