Thames Police: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders
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The murders took place outside of the geographical jurisdiction of Thames Magistrate, John Harriott. However, his officer was the first on scene and he had possession of the murder weapon. He obviously considered these facts quite sufficient to appoint himself as the investigating officer and he visited the crime scene on the Sunday morning. By then news of the terrible events of the preceding night had spread and the pressure was on for early arrests. Bills and leaflets requesting witnesses and any other person with possible information regarding the murders to come forward were circulated. Harriott himself issued such a bill offering a reward for information leading to an arrest. This was to leave Harriott in decidedly hot water when Home Office officials decided that he had overstepped his authority by acting inappropriately and in contravention of their rules regarding the offering of such rewards. Harriott had to tread cautiously as he had only recently been accused of impropriety on a separate and unrelated matter, yet this still did not prevent him from replying in a sarcastic manner when he wrote to the Home Office explaining his actions...
"I feel vexed with myself that I should suffer my zeal for discovering the atrocious murderers to run me into an error." Having explained his actions he ended his letter... "I will take special care to keep my zeal within proper bounds."

For the next fortnight the investigation continued but little real progress appears to have been made and perhaps life was beginning to return to normal. Many people had been arrested and questioned regarding the murders but the case was no closer to being solved. Then, on December 19th the investigation at last moved forward. A rather belated examination of the shipwright's hammer or maul revealed a set of initials (JP) stamped into the metal head. Harriott lost no time in circulating yet another bill once again describing the suspected murder implement and the newly discovered identifying marks. That same evening Wapping was once more thrown into turmoil when yet another gruesome murder scene came to light. Publican, John Williamson, his wife, Elizabeth and their barmaid, Bridget Harrington, were found murdered at the King's Arms tavern, New Gravel Lane, now called Glamis Road. The murders were discovered when a patrolling watchman found a man (John Turner, a lodger at the tavern) scrambling semi naked down knotted sheets from an upper floor and shouting that murder was being committed within the house. Entry was gained to the premises by forcing the cellar flap and a rapid search revealed the body of publican, John Williamson hanging from a ladder in the cellar and the bodies of his wife Elizabeth and Bridget Harrington in the kitchen area. All three had been brutally battered and murdered. It also appeared that their throats had been cut in what appeared to be almost a carbon copy of the recent atrocities involving the Marr family. There were further similarities to the Marr murders in the supposed method of escape, which appeared to be across open land at the rear of the premises. Only one person (other than Turner) survived the attack, Kitty Stillwell, the Williamson's fourteen-year-old granddaughter had slept through the incident and had thus escaped being found by the murderers.

The escape of John Turner from the Kings Arms tavern
The escape of John Turner from the Kings Arms tavern

Continue to the next page (4) to learn more about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

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