The county of Essex has rolling arable farmland, Epping Forest, sleepy villages, busy market towns and secluded backwaters – a wide variety of settings for murder. This selection of crimes uncovers not only famous cases, but also previously unpublished dramatic and tragic tales. The accounts included here come from a time when murder was a capital offence, carrying the ultimate penalty for the perpetrator, and when the difference between a verdict of innocence or guilt rested on a single piece of evidence, or the skill of the barrister in defence.
Linda Stratmann has used original trial transcripts, material from local and national
archives, contemporary accounts and the memoirs of pathologists, police and those in the legal profession in the course of her extensive research into crimes that have shocked the county. The killings explored date from as far back as the eighteenth century when the smuggler ‘Colchester Jack’ shot a confederate in the stomach in a row over stolen goods.
They also include the case of a nineteenth-century female poisoner from Clavering and the brutal murder of a taxi driver in 1943 by two US servicemen at Birch. Supported by contemporary illustrations, “Essex Murders” reveals that behind the county’s peaceful facade lies a murky criminal heritage.
Essex is a county of contrasts – rolling farmland, sandy beaches, salt marshes, quiet rural villages, and busy market towns, and all of these can provide a backdrop to murder. In this book I have selected ten cases, ranging in date from 1744 to 1944, many of which have never been anthologised before. All have moments of high drama, and remarkable personalities, and many have unexpected twists in the story.
1. Colchester Jack (1744-6)
The story of a notorious eighteenth century smuggler who came to a bad end.
2. One Night in Walthamstow (1751-2)
A shot in the dark – a wealthy man murdered in his bed – but whose finger was on the trigger?
3. The Dagenham Outrage (1846-58)
A young policeman is savagely murdered and mutilated. As the investigation proceeds a scandal breaks which throws suspicion in an unexpected quarter.
4. The Clavering Poisoner (1845-51)
The story of a callous poisoner who very nearly escaped justice.
5. Sweet Lass of Buckhurst Hill (1867-8)
Frederick Watkins stabbed his lover, but at his trial the chief prosecution witness was unaccountably missing.
6. The Man at Witham Station (1893-1901)
As flames die down a blackened corpse is found, and the search is on for an escaped murderer.
7. Tragedy at Southend (1922)
Two lovers head for the seaside, and an unusual murder charge.
8. The Beast of Hornchurch (1939)
Every parent’s nightmare – a missing child, found dead. As the police collect fragmentary clues, suspicion falls on a quiet family man, but his loyal wife conducts her own investigation.
9. Explosion at Rayleigh (1943)
An invalid is blasted to fragments by a mine placed under the seat of his wheelchair.
10. Last Taxi to Birch.(1944)
A taxi driver is murdered by American soldiers, which leads to a unique trial.
Published 13th May 2004 by Sutton Publishing Ltd.