Murder of William Pearson, 1901
A robbery in a train compartment had tragic consequences
for train passenger William Pearson.
Murdered for money
It is not a pleasant experience to sit in a compartment on an
express train in the company of a dead body and a cold-blooded
murderer, armed with a revolver.
That was the situation Rhoda King found herself in when she
travelled on the 11.20am train from Southampton to Waterloo on
Thursday, 17 January, 1901.
King was travelling to London to visit a sick relative and
joined the train at Southampton where she entered an empty
third-class compartment. At Eastleigh a young man entered and at
the next stop, Winchester, an elderly gentleman joined them in
The passengers did not speak to each other. The gentleman read
his newspaper for a while and King sat looking out of the window.
Time passed and when the train was near Surbiton the young man
entered the train lavatory, the old gentleman was asleep and King
was still looking out of the window.
A few moments later two shots were fired. King felt blood
running down her face and realised she had been hit. She saw the
young man rifling the pockets of the third passenger and cried out:
“My God, what have you done?” The man replied: “I did it for money.
I want some money. Have you got any?”
King, bleeding from a wound in the cheek, rummaged in her
handbag and handed him a shilling. She saw that the old man had
been shot in the head. It was a ghastly sight and she told the
murderer to put a handkerchief over the face, which he did.
Disposal of the weapon
The victim was William Pearson, a Winchester farmer. The
murderer was George Henry Parker, aged 23, an ex-soldier. He had
never seen Pearson or King before.
Having killed Pearson and taken his purse and other property,
Parker left King in no doubt that he would kill her too if she did
not keep quiet. She pleaded with him not to shoot her.
He waved the gun at her and said: “I must not keep it about me.
I have a good mind to put it in his hand and then they will think
he did it himself.” King, to humour him, told him it would be
better to throw it out of the window. He went to do this but saw
some men working on the line and decided to wait. Later, urged
again by King, he threw out the gun and the remaining rounds. By
this time the train was approaching Vauxhall, where it was due at
1.29pm, and as it slowed down Parker climbed out on to the running
He told King not to say anything about what had happened and as
the train pulled into the platform, he jumped off and ran away as
fast as he could. King was in a state of collapse, but when the
train stopped she stumbled out of the carriage and shouted to some
railwaymen: “Stop that man. He has killed someone in that
carriage.” Parker ran down the steps, rushed past the collector on
the gate, and out into the street, followed by four or five
A failed escape
Near Vauxhall Bridge he was headed off by a constable on point
duty and he turned into the gas works. After a hectic pursuit round
the works he was cornered behind some trucks, arrested, and taken
to Larkhall Lane Police Station by PC Thomas Fuller. To this
officer, Parker said: “I wish I had killed that woman, then I
should have got away.”
Meanwhile Platform Inspector Goodey and other railway staff
examined the carriage. Pearson was beyond human aid but King was
taken to St. Thomas’s Hospital for treatment. Railway and
Metropolitan Police were soon on the scene and Superintendent
Robinson of the London and South Western Railway Police took
The line was systematically searched and the revolver was found
near Wandsworth Bridge. At the police station, Parker was searched
by Sergeant Thorley and found in possession of a purse and other
items which were the property of Pearson. He was charged with the
murder of Pearson and the attempted murder of King.
The medical evidence showed Pearson had been shot at point-blank
range and King had escaped death by an inch. She recovered quickly
and gave evidence at the inquest and the subsequent criminal
proceedings when she was strongly, and deservedly, commended for
the courage she had displayed.
On Friday, 1 March 1901, Parker appeared before Mr. Justice
Phillimore at the Central Criminal Court. He pleaded not guilty on
the advice of his lawyer who attempted to persuade the court that
his client was insane as a result of alcoholism. He was found
guilty, however, sentenced to death, and executed three weeks
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