Thames Police: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders
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The Ratcliffe Highway Murders
December 1811

by PC Bob Jeffries

On Saturday 7th December 1811 at around 1130pm, Timothy Marr, the owner of a drapers shop at 29, Ratcliffe Highway, was preparing to close his business for the night. Inside the premises were four other people apart from himself: his wife Celia and their three and a half month old baby, also called Timothy, and two non-family members-their apprentice, James Gowan and Margaret Jewell, their serving girl. Within the hour, Jewell alone would remain alive; all of the others would lie brutally and horribly murdered. They would be the first victims in a series of murders that would both grip and terrify the entire East End of London.

At about 1150 pm Timothy Marr dispatched Margaret Jewell on a double errand. She was first to go to a shop and purchase some oysters, a late night snack for the hard working owner of the drapery store and a treat for his young wife who was only slowly recovering from the birth of their only child. She was then to go to a nearby bakery at John Hill and pay an outstanding bill. Although the hour was late, this would not have been seen as unusual, businesses tended to remain open late into the night particularly on a Saturday which would have been the busiest trading day of the week. Jewell arrived at the oyster shop only to find it shut for the night. She returned to Marr's store at approximately midnight and saw her master still working in the lights of the shop. She then went to the bakery, but again found it closed. Jewell decided to go to another shop in a final attempt to find some oysters but again, she found the shop closed and she eventually returned home empty handed arriving at the store at around twenty minutes past midnight. This time the building was in darkness and she rang the bell. When Jewell could not get any response from anyone inside she continued to ring the bell. As she rang the bell she could hear noises from inside the premises, she heard footsteps... she heard the baby give a low cry... ...then she heard nothing more. Once again she tried to attract the attention of those inside, ringing the bell and kicking the door so vigorously that she received abuse from a passing drunk. Not wishing to attract any more unwanted attention she stopped trying to gain access at around half past midnight and waited outside, doubtless in a state of some confusion.

Some thirty minutes later George Olney, the parish night watchman was calling the hour at 1am. Jewell explained her problem to him and Olney must have been suspicious. He had checked the shutters of the shop an hour earlier and had found them closed but unlocked. He had called to those inside that the shutters were still insecure and had heard a voice (which he failed to recognise) telling him that they were aware of that fact. Olney thought no more about the matter and continued on his round. Now, he too attempted to rouse those inside. His efforts alerted John Murray, a pawnbroker who was the Marr's neighbour. Murray had heard some unusual noises at about midnight through the walls of the terrace where they livedů.but had thought little of it. Now his suspicions were also aroused and he too decided to lend assistance. Murray went to the rear of the block in Pennington Street and approached the shop from the back. He found the back door open and entered the house calling out as he went. He stood outside the Marr's bedroom door but decided not to enter. He went downstairs and there found the body of James Gowan, the apprentice. His skull had been smashed by repeated blows from a heavy object, his head reduced to a bloody pulp. Murray stood transfixed, completely petrified by fear. Then, by the dim light of his candle, he saw the body of Celia Marr. She was lying face down on the floor, blood still coming from her battered skull. At last Murray was able to open the front door and raise the alarm. "Murder, murder. Come and see what murder is here!" By now a small crowd had gathered and as light came into the shop the body of Timothy Marr was discovered. By now Margaret Jewell was screaming and everybody present must have been in severe shock at the sheer horror of the scene... Only then did someone shout "What about the baby?" They ran downstairs to the living quarters and there found the child, still in its cradle... ... Its throat had been cut and its head had almost been severed from its body. Also, the baby's head had been severely battered on its left side.

As the frightened group struggled to leave this Hellish scene they found a 'ripping chisel' close to the body of young Cowan. The chisel did not appear to have been used in the murders.

Continue to the next page (2) to learn more about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

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