Thames Police: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders
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On December 24th the maul was finally identified as belonging to a seaman named John Peterson. That information was volunteered by a Mr. Vermiloe, landlord of the Pear Tree Tavern, Wapping. At that time Vermiloe was incarcerated in Newgate Prison for debt. He must have welcomed the opportunity to claim the substantial reward money for information leading to the arrest of the murderers and thereby clear his debts.

Interviews were carried out at the Shadwell Magistrates office on Boxing Day and on December 27th John Williams was due to be produced from Cold Bath Fields prison to answer further questions. The courtroom was packed as there were strong suspicions that Williams, who resided at the Pear Tree, was indeed connected to the murders even though the evidence against him was purely circumstantial. The magistrates were particularly keen to question Williams about his torn and bloodied shirt and also about the extra money he had in his possession after the murder of the Williamsons. However, instead of the prisoner entering the room it was an officer from the prison who entered and informed the magistrates that Williams was dead, having apparently taken his own life by hanging himself in his cell. Following a brief discussion the magistrates decided to go ahead and hear the evidence of the other witnesses.

By the end of the day, having heard the rest of the evidence the magistrates were plainly leaning towards the opinion that Williams was indeed the murderer and that furthermore, he had acted alone in committing all seven murders. All of the evidence that pointed towards others being involved seems to have been pushed conveniently to one side. That evening the Shadwell magistrates communicated their view to Mr Ryder, the Home Secretary, that John Williams was indeed the murderer of the Marrs and the Williamsons and that he had cheated the hangman by taking his own life in prison rather than face the consequences of his actions.

The Home Secretary was more than happy to agree with the opinion of the Shadwell bench and decided that the best way to end the matter was to parade Williams' body through Wapping and Shadwell so that the residents could see that the foul murderer Williams was indeed dead and no longer a menace. Ryder was concerned that such a procession might provoke a breach of the peace and a degree of public disorder so he ordered the Thames Police, the Bow Street Mounted Patrol as well as the local constables and watchmen to oversee the occasion.

Continue to the next page (6) to learn more about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

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