Thames Police: The Ratcliffe Highway Murders
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Following his death then, the authorities were only too eager to heap all of the blame on to Williams. They were delighted to come to the official conclusion that Williams was not only guilty of all seven murders but also, that he also acted alone. This was, of course, not only a very convenient assumption for the authorities, who were keen to draw a line under the events which had dominated the news during Christmas of 1811. It was also wonderful news for anyone else who might perhaps have themselves been involved in the murders.

The investigations into the murders did not entirely end with Williams' ritualistic burial. There were a few loose ends which needed tying up.In January 1812, a thorough but some might say belated search was made of the Pear Tree tavern and in the course of the search further evidence came to light... A pair of blood stained trousers said to be warn and hidden by Williams were found in the privy. The search also revealed a blood stained 'French' knife, which may have been used during the murders as well as a pocket watch, said to have been stolen from Mr Williamson.

One of the remaining mysteries surrounding the murders is the lack of obvious motive. There was a substantial amount of cash left at the scene of the Marr's family murder, although, it may have been that the untimely arrival of the serving girl, Margaret Jewell, scared the burglars away before they had a chance to steal anything. It has also been suggested that there were links and possibly old scores to settle between Timothy Marr, John Williams and William Ablass. Evidence emerged that they had all served together as seamen prior to Marr's going into business on his own.

In their book on the subject, 'The Maul and the Pear Tree,' P.D. James and T.A. Critchley examine 'The Ratcliffe Highway Murders' and consider the question of Williams' guilt or otherwise. They quite rightly state that all of the evidence against Williams was circumstantial. Today it would not even see him prosecuted, let alone convicted. However, modern murder investigation teams would be able to apply any number of forensic and tests, particularly to the maul itself. I suspect that modern scientific analysis would reveal that John Williams was indeed connected with the murders, although he most certainly did not act alone. Williams was a man of medium height and slight build, he was said to be something of a ladies man and, as far as we know, he had no history of violence. On the face of it he would not appear to be a good candidate for seven of the most brutal murders ever to be committed in the capital. On the other hand, he did have some particularly unsavoury drinking partners. He also seems to be the recurring theme, linked as he was with both Timothy Marr and John Williamson. Lastly, residing at the Pear Tree, he would most certainly have had easy access to John Peterson's tool chest and therefore to the maul itself.

The procession halts outside the Marr's shop
The procession halts outside the Marr's shop

Continue to the next page (8) to learn more about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

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