Murder of Issac Gold, 1881
In 1881 a man behaving suspiciously attracted the attention of
railway staff in Brighton. After an intriguing
investigation, Percy Lefroy was found guilty of the
murder of Mr Gold, a fellow passenger.
A suspicious man
When the 2pm train from London Bridge arrived at Preston Park
Station just outside Brighton on Monday 27 June 1881, a ticket
collector saw a man step unsteadily on to the platform from a first
He was covered in blood, hatless, without a collar and tie, and
very distressed. Mr Percy Lefroy told the collector he had been
attacked just before the train entered Merstham Tunnel.
He gave a description of two men who had travelled in the same
compartment and said that after receiving a blow on the head he
remembered nothing more. The collector saw nobody else alight from
the compartment but observed that a piece of watch chain was
hanging from the man’s boot.
He pointed this out and the passenger remarked that he had put
it there for safety. Lefroy, was sent to the local police station
with the platform inspector, while the collector was sent to advise
the railway police.
Lefroy made an official complaint at the police station and was
then taken to the county hospital for his injuries to be treated.
The doctor wanted to detain him but Lefroy insisted upon returning
to London where he had an important engagement, even though he had
only just arrived in Brighton. However, he returned to the police
station first and was interviewed by several officers, including
the chief constable.
Lefroy made a statement and offered a reward for the capture of
his assailant. He then went to Brighton station. Here, he aroused
suspicion of local officials, and was taken into an office and
searched. Two counterfeit coins were found in his possession. He
denied all knowledge of these.
The crime scene
Meanwhile, the carriage where Lefroy alleged the assault took
place was examined. Three bullet marks were found and there was
blood everywhere – on the footboard, mat, door handle, and also on
a handkerchief and newspaper left in the compartment. There was
every sign of a fierce struggle.
In spite of obvious inconsistencies in his story and of the highly
suspicious circumstances, neither the Brighton Police, nor the
railway police considered it necessary to detain Lefroy. But they
were uneasy and although Lefroy was permitted to join a London
train, arrangements were made for him to be accompanied by a
detective named George Holmes.
Discovery of the body
While Lefroy and Holmes were travelling back to London, the line
was searched. In Balcombe Tunnel, railway staff found the body of
an elderly man, later identified as a retired corn merchant named
Gold, who lived in Brighton. Gold had been shot and stabbed. A
knife smeared with blood was found near his body. He had been
robbed of his watch and chain and a considerable sum of money.
News of the discovery was passed along the line and at Three
Bridges the station master told Holmes what had happened. Holmes
was also instructed by telegram from Brighton not to let Lefroy out
of his sight.
By this time, Lefroy was complaining that he wanted to change
his clothes and talked Holmes into accompanying him to an address
at Wallington, Surrey where a relative kept a boarding house.
When they arrived, Holmes waited outside. He waited a long time
and, with his attention otherwise engaged, Lefroy left the house
A countrywide search was made for Lefroy and his description was
published in all the papers. The Daily Telegraph made newspaper
history by publishing the portrait of a wanted man for the first
The inquest on Gold was opened on 29 June and a verdict of
wilful murder against Lefroy was returned. The railway company
offered a substantial reward for information leading to his
Great interest was taken by the public and Lefroy was at last found
on 8 July at a house at 32 Smith Street, Stepney. He had kept the
blinds down in his room all day and gone out only at night.
Bloodstained clothing was found in his room and since he had
already been identified as a man who had exchanged some counterfeit
coins and also pawned a revolver, the evidence against him was
Lefroy was tried at Maidstone Assizes before Lord Chief Justice
Coleridge. The jury found him guilty after a retirement of ten
minutes. Evidence was given by a number of railway witnesses
including Holmes, the booking clerk who issued a ticket to Lefroy,
the guard of the train, the ticket collector at Preston Park, and
also by a woman living at Horley who saw two men struggling
violently in a train as it passed her cottage.
Lefroy (whose real name was Mapleton) was hanged at Lewes on 29
November, 1881. At the time of the murder he was desperately short
of money and went to London Bridge for the purpose of robbing a
passenger. He had hoped to find a lady who would yield to threats
but he met a courageous old gentleman who compelled him to