Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Ratcliffe Highway Murders

The Lodger

Escape of John Turner, sketch
Escape of John Turner, sketch

Police officers arrived even as fire bells called out volunteers. The bodies were collected from their moribund positions and placed on beds, while the surviving girl was taken to a safer home. London Bridge was sealed off and several Bow Street Runners were assigned to hunt down the culprit. Witnesses insisted that a tall man was loitering outside the tavern that night, wearing a Flushing coat.

The best witness was John Turner, the lodger who had scaled down a sheet from the second story. He had seen a tall man, he said, near Mrs. Williamson's corpse. Yet he himself was a suspect, possibly caught in the act of fleeing from his own crime. A tavern window was discovered to be open and proved to have bloodstains on the sill, indicating the perpetrator's escape route. A footprint in the mud outside affirmed this, and according to de Quincey, Turner said that he had shouted for assistance (other accounts say he remained silent), scaring the killer away before he could harm anyone else. Nevertheless, the unknown assailant did get away, apparently by running along a clay-covered slope. The good thing about that, surmised a police officer, was the fact that he would have gotten clay all over his clothing, which could make him an easy person to spot.

Marr reward poster
Marr reward poster

Then someone pointed out that his escape route was the same one taken by the person who had slaughtered the Marr family. Yet the motive for these crimes still eluded people. Williamson's watch was missing and both crimes had been interrupted, so it might still be simple robbery, but no one could be certain. There were no known connections between the two families, so speculation in that direction proved fruitless. Still, they had to catch the perpetrators before another such act. Those men who held local offices convened and quickly offered another reward, 100 guineas (105 pounds), for information leading to the capture of this offender. Within an hour after the discovery of the crime, the handbills were drafted and posted.

A primitive sort of task force was arranged, comprised of police officers from various parishes and a posse of Bow Street Runners. They held a conference and arrested a suspect who lived in the area who had recently purchased a gallon of brandy, and who also had recently cleaned trousers to get rid of what a doctor said were bloodstains. At the time, forensic tests to test this theory did not exist, but the man was detained anyway. Also, witnesses claimed to have seen two men running up Ratcliffe Highway that night, a tall man with a limp and a shorter man. Yet all of these clues were vague and difficult to interpret for clear leads.

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