A sudden noise above their heads startled Philip and Susannah Beard awake, early in the morning of 31 July 1860.

The Old Bailey in 19th Century via Wikimedia Commons

As Philip hurried upstairs to the third floor of 16 Manor Place, he heard a scream.

At first, he saw only a spot of blood on the stairs, then as he climbed higher, he found the body of an 11-year-old boy lying dead on the landing. His throat had been cut. “Murder!” Philip cried.

There was more horror beyond.

Next to the young boy lay a woman, lying on her face. A second woman lay on her left. In the next room, on a bed, lay another young boy or around 7 years of age.

Family
John Youngman, a tailor, lived in 16 Manor Place, Walworth in 1860 with his wife and two young sons, Thomas and Charles, in the rooms above. An older son, William, had been there for a week, after giving notice to his employer, Dr Duncan. William had worked for Dr Duncan as a footman.

Mary Wells Streeter, William’s sweetheart, came to stay on 30th July 1860. She and William went out for the evening, returning on good terms at 10 pm. That night, William slept in a bed with Thomas, with their father in the same room. Mary and Charles spent the night in the next room, with Mr Youngman’s wife.

July 31st
at 5 o’clock in the morning of July 31st, Mr Youngman left home to go to work with another son, John, at the tailor’s workshop.

At 6.20 he was called home to the horrific scene.

His wife, his two sons and Mary were all dead. Mary and the two boys had all been stabbed and had their throats cut, while his wife had died just from stab wounds. There were two adult footprints in the copious blood in the room.

William, present at the time, with blood on his hands and feet and a torn nightshirt, told the police, “My mother has done all this, she has murdered my two brothers and my sweetheart and I – in self-defence – I believe I have murdered her.”

Evidence
William owned the knife used in the attacks, claiming he used it for food. The point was broken off by the violence of the attacks.

Wiiliam’s family had a history of insanity, with his maternal grandmother dying in a lunatic asylum and his father’s father having spent some time in an asylum.

The most damning evidence in the case came in the form of letters.

Letters
William had asked Mary Streeter to marry him. The police found a series of letters kept in a box to which William had the key. The letters were long and full of expressions of love and arrangements for the marriage.

July 13th
We will be married at St Martin’s Charing Cross on Saturday Aug 11th next….

You need only wear your black clothes, my dear girl, at our wedding….

I have published the banns of our marriage …

After marriage you will have all you wish for: the clothes you have will do for the present …

I want to assure your life when you come up on Monday week …

July 16th
In this letter, William explains that he has given notice to leave his post in order to get married. He says he will,

Give Mrs Duncan a good talking to …when I hope the doctor will tell me to go at once …

He says this will enable him to leave early, but still have his wages paid until 11th August.

He tells Mary to send him details he needs for the life assurance policy, including her birth certificate and the ages of her parents. He also needs her to state that no one in the family has died of any one of a list of diseases, including consumption. Although her sister had succumbed to this disease less than twelve months earlier, William was at pains to explain that Mary must say all were healthy.

The policy will be for £100.

The next letter William sends to Mary is undated. He writes:

I am very much hurt to find you state in your note that you do not wish to have your life assured…

He refers to her parents.
You can do has you like without them preventing …

If Mary continues to refuse to allow him to take out life assurance, William tells her,

I cannot think you would love me …

On 19th July, William wrote again. Mary has clearly agreed to go ahead with the life assurance policy.

Do not say anything to your mother about what you are going to do …

By 21 July, Mary must have changed her mind again, for William writes,

I am very much hurt to find you say you will not have your life assured …

I cannot believe you love me unless you do …

You have promised me, now if you love me do this.

28 July
The business clearly settled, William writes to Mary, now calling her My beloved Polly.

He gives instructions for Mary to meet him on Monday 30th July at London Bridge Station. She is to bring or burn all her letters.

Life assurance policy
The policy, for £100, effected by William Godfrey Youngman on the life of Mary Wells Streeter, commencing on 25th July, was produced in court. It contained Mary’s untrue response, No to the question Has any member of your family died of consumption?

Verdict
Given the chilling evidence of a motive, it is no surprise the jury brought in a verdict of guilty. It took less than half an hour for them to reach their decision.

Sentence
William Godfrey Youngman was sentenced to death. He was hanged on 4 September 1860 at Horsemonger Lane Gaol, in front of an audience of 30,000. He refused to admit to the offence even at the gallows.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes a highly embellished account of this affair in the strand Magazine of 1901, calling it The Holocaust of Manor Place.

The transcript from William’s trial is on The Old Bailey Online

Victorian crime is endlessly fascinating. Please leave a comment if you can point me to more!

 

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