Murder in Spitalfields
An interesting contrast with this 'lower middle-class'
murder is the killing of 28 year old Mary Ann Austin in May
1901. She was stabbed to death in a common lodging-house in
Dorset Street, in the heart of Spitalfields, east London,
an area made notorious in 1888 by the Jack the Ripper murders.
Follow this link for more on Spitalfields.
Although married with two small children, Austin appears
to have been working as a prostitute or 'unfortunate' in the
language of the day. A number of women living in this area
are described in the 1901 census returns as 'unfortunates'.
At first, the local press seized upon the story, the Eastern
Argus and Hackney Times reporting it under the headline
'Horrible and Fiendish Murder in Whitechapel. Revival of Jack
the Ripper Scare'. Eventually her husband was arrested and
charged with the murder, but the case was dismissed for lack
of evidence. The police ceased their investigations and Austin's
murder was never solved.
There were 341 homicide cases in England and Wales in 1901
and 28 people, two of whom were women, were convicted of murder
and sentenced to death. Of these, 15 were executed, 1 was
sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum and the remainder,
including the women, had their sentences commuted to penal
servitude for life. Most murders, then and now, were committed
using a knife or blunt instrument.
By the 1970s, there were on average 467 homicides a year
in England and Wales, compared to an average of 389 in the
1870s. However, given the relative population sizes, this
shows a higher homicide rate in late-Victorian society than
in the late 20th century.