The murder of Elizabeth Camp, 1897
A gruesome discovery
On Thursday 11 February 1897, Edward Berry, a fruiterer living in East Street, Walworth, waited on the platform at Waterloo for the 7.42pm train from Hounslow.
He was expected to meet his fiancée off the train and they were going to discuss arrangements for their wedding. At 8.25pm the train arrived and passengers alighted. Berry saw no sign of the lady.
He was turning to leave the platform when he saw a commotion outside a compartment some distance down the train. Porters, various railway officials, and finally some police officers arrived and, curious, Berry asked what was going on. He was told that a body had been found underneath the seat of a second class carriage.
A carriage cleaner, walking along the train, had seen some legs protruding from beneath a seat and found the body of a woman. It was found to be the body of Berry’s future wife, Elizabeth Annie Camp, housekeeper of the Good Intent public house at Walworth.
The body was taken to St. Thomas’s Hospital and a little later, Berry formally identified it. The cause of death was plain enough; the woman’s head had been badly smashed and there was blood all over the furnishings.
A murder investigation was taken up immediately by Superintendent Robinson of LSWR Police and Chief Inspector Marshall of Scotland Yard. The medical report concluded that the victim had been killed by heavy blows to the head with a blunt instrument.
There were no signs of sexual interference but Camp’s pockets had been rifled and the motive was therefore considered to be robbery. Reconstruction of the circumstances suggested that she had put up a brave fight for her life.
Camp, a well-built woman, 33 years old, has paid a visit to her sisters in Hounslow earlier that afternoon.
She stayed at Hounslow for two hours and then went to the station, where she boarded a second class compartment on the 7.42pm train. Her sister, who accompanied her to the station, said afterwards that she was positive the compartment was empty when Camp entered it. This was confirmed by a porter who had helped them with some packages.
A search of the compartment after the discovery of the crime did not help a great deal. A broken umbrella belonging to Camp and a pair of bone cuff links were the only objects found. The articles missing, and never found, were a green purse containing a small sum of money, and a ticket, which Camp was known to have had when she boarded the train. The primary task of the police was to search the line from Hounslow to Waterloo.
Discovery of the weapon
This was done patiently and methodically. On the embankment between Putney and Wandsworth, the officers found a chemist's pestle, an implement for pounding chemical substances. The pestle was stained with blood and there were hairs adhered to it. The doctors said that the injuries could have been inflicted with it. It was not tested for fingerprints because at this time this science was in its infancy.
The case caused something of a sensation as railway murders usually do and there was a crop of rumours including one which proclaimed that a man had been seen running from Vauxhall station with blood dripping from his hands.
As the police continued with their enquiries, Elizabeth Camp’s brother-in-law was asked to give a detailed account of his movements on the night of the murder. Some significance seems to have been attached to the fact that Camp had been lending her relatives money.
Witnesses were found who could give a clear picture of Camp’s private life. Enquiries about the origin of the pestle also proved unsuccessful.
A mystery unsolved
The police were not without a description of a suspect. A pastry-cook named Burgess had joined the train at Chiswick and told the police that at Wandsworth a man had left very hurriedly. The man was of medium height, aged about 30, with a dark moustache, and wearing a top hat and frock coat. Two porters confirmed this description but the man was never traced.
Despite questioning a number of suspects, and following severally lines of enquiry, the police were unable to find the perpetrator. On the final day of the adjourned inquest on 7 April, 1897, the jury returned a verdict of: “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.” The police had their suspicions but they could not connect any of the suspects with the weapon or with the train.