The Camden Town Murder
On the morning of September 12, 1907 the body of Emily (known as Phyllis) Dimmock was found in her rented rooms in Camden Town, North London. Her throat had been cut, almost to the point where her head was severed from her body. The murderer has never been found.
This is the story of Emily’s life; along with an account of the times in which she lived and the circumstances surrounding her death.[/two_third_last]
After almost four years of research into all aspects of the case including hitherto unpublished letters and correspondence, contacts with other writers and journalists; and with the benefit of modern forensic knowledge, a solution to this mystery may now have been found.
Robert Wood, a designer and artist was tried and acquitted of her murder. It is generally acknowledged that his life was saved following a brilliant defence conducted by Edward Marshall Hall QC.
It is never easy after almost one hundred years to be able to state with absolute certainty that the murderer can be identified beyond any reasonable doubt. My new book presents all the background and the evidence sufficient for a conviction in 1907.
I am forever in the debt of Alan Stanley for introducing me to this case. He emailed me in April 2002 as a result of reading an article I had written on the Old Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town. ‘You seem to know a lot about the history of the area. I am researching my family background and hope you might know something about the Camden Town Murder’.
As a result of this chance enquiry I began an investigation that was to take up a large portion of my time over the next four years and lead to the identification of the person I now believe to be the real killer.
This page guides you through the main points which are discussed more fully in my book.
The story begins in 1907 when a young prostitute known as Phyllis Dimmock was found with her throat cut in St Pauls Road, North London on the morning of 12 September. It became known as the Camden Town Murder.
Phyllis was not her real name. She was born Emily Elizabeth Dimmock (which is what I will call her) on 20 October 1884 in the Hertfordshire Village of Standon which is on the A120 road to Bishops Stortford. Her father William ran a beer house called the Red Lion.
By 1905 at the age of 21, Emily was lodging in a house at 1 Bidborough Street, off Euston Road and close to Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston stations. The house was owned by a John William Crabtree. He was arrested on and off during the next two years on charges of running a brothel.
By 1906 Emily was living with a common law husband, a man named Bertram Shaw. Bert was himself only 19.
When Emily and Bert first lived together they rented rooms in Great (now Royal) College Street. They moved and in 1907 Bert and Emily were living as Mr and Mrs Shaw in St Pauls Road. By day Emily was a dutiful housewife; once Bert had left for work she returned to her previous calling, apparently missing the entertainment provided by the many public houses in Euston Road, particularly the Rising Sun.
On Friday 6 September 1907 Emily met Robert Wood in the Eagle in Royal College Street.Wood pulled a postcard out of his pocket which he had brought back from a holiday in Bruges and wrote on it: ‘ Phillis darling. If it pleases you to meet me at 8.15 at the (and here he drew an artists impression of a rising sun). Yours to a cinder.’ He signed it Alice so as not to arouse Bert’s suspicions.
This postcard was to be central to the prosecution’s case. It was not posted until the early hours of Sunday morning – Monday 9 September. Bert was still working his night shift on the trains.
Emily had taken another man home for three nights, a ships cook by the name of Robert Percival Roberts.
On the night of Wednesday, 11 September he was in the Rising Sun with a friend named Frank Clarke expecting to meet Emily again. She was in the Eagle, again with Robert Wood. It was the last time Emily was seen alive.
Mrs Shaw knocked and couldn’t raise Emily. The landlady Mrs Stocks allowed her to sit in the passage to await Bert. When he arrived home he had to borrow a key from Mrs Stocks.
The three of them discovered Emily’s bloodstained body.
The rooms had been ransacked, her postcard collection had been wrecked and someone had also cleaned their hands of blood in the wash basin.
The police soon pieced together Emily’s life without Bert. The postcard was found by Bert when he moved rooms and was clearing out their belongings. It was published in the News of the World and other newspapers. Robert Wood was identified as its author and charged with murder.
The Camden Town Murder – Evidence
It must be remembered that these events occurred in 1907, long before the introduction of forensic science, fingerprinting and certainly DNA testing. Emily had been killed by having her throat cut from left to right. By examination of her stomach contents and time of discovery of her body, death was said to have occurred between 3.00am and 6.00am on the morning of 12 September 1907.
The last person to have been seen with her was Robert Wood as they left the Eagle pub on the evening of 11 September. Wood was seen there by several of Emily’s friends and also Joseph Lambert, a bookseller from Charing Cross Road.
The latter had not seen Wood since the previous February, something on which Lambert had remarked.
It was not until he was clearing out Emily’s possessions that Bert Shaw found the postcard from Robert Wood.
It had been posted on the Monday morning. Believing this to be a vital piece of evidence the police had it reproduced in many daily newspapers and then in the News of the World on Sunday September 30 1907
The postcard was seen by amongst others Ruby Young, a past girlfriend of Wood’s. Realising how dangerous this could be he met her the next day and asked her to agree that they had been regular partners and always saw each other on Mondays and Wednesdays.
At first Ruby agreed but could not keep it a secret. She told a friend who had a friend who worked in Fleet Street. Ruby was contacted by the police and identified Robert Wood as he walked down Grays Inn Road, close to his home in Frederick Street.
Wood was the last person to have been seen with Emily at the Eagle and was charged.
Robert William Thomas Cavers Wood
Robert William Thomas Cavers Wood was one of a large family that had moved south from Edinburgh when his recently widowed father George Wood found employment and a house at 12 Frederick Street, off Grays Inn Road, near Kings Cross.
Wood was defended by Edward Marshall Hall QC., a master of the criminal courts, no less revered than a pop star of modern times. His style of oratory was quite often bizarre but the popular crowd loved him and followed his every word.
The public gallery of the Old Bailey was filled with the great luminaries of the day; actors, writers and artists jostled for the reserved seats. The general public filled the streets outside and before them paraded some of the most defiled sections of society to give evidence in the trial of Robert Wood.
The case for Wood’s defence was varied. He had gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that he had an alibi for the evening or September 11. Marshall Hall’s view was that if he was guilty and knew when Emily had died then why try to set up an alibi for a time some eight or nine hours before he needed one.
After deliberating for only fifteen minutes the jury returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’.
The Camden Town Murder remains a landmark in English Legal History in that it was the first time since the passing of the Criminal Justice Bill of 1905 that an accused man in a murder trial was acquitted after giving evidence on his own behalf.
The question remains – if not Robert Wood – then who did kill Emily?
The case against Walter Sickert
In her documentary broadcast in the UK on 30 October 2002, Patricia Cornwell admits to having examined a painting by Walter Sickert (as opposed to a mass slaughter of many paintings as has been reported) in order to extract some of his DNA. She hoped to prove that not only was he Jack the Ripper but the Camden Town murderer as well.
Sickert lived in Camden and he painted a series of pictures called the Camden Town Murders, supposedly based on the Ripper victims. Another subject for many of his paintings was the Old Bedford Music Hall in Camden High Street of which I am sure Emily must have known.
Sickert lived close to the shadowy underworld that was Camden Town at that time and that was what fascinated and inspired him. He was living at No.6 Mornington Crescent in 1907, a stones throw from the Old Bedford Music Hall which he painted so often, and could not fail to have known of Emily’s murder.
To the best of my research Sickert had no connection with Emily before or during her association with Bert Shaw. Bert and Emily lived quite a distance from Sickert’s circle of influence and his name is never mentioned in any of the family recollections or by any of her friends. Neither is Walter Sickert’s name mentioned by any of the contemporary biographers of Edward Marshall Hall.
The Camden Town Murder – solved
Once Bert Shaw’s alibi had been verified the list of suspects was eventually narrowed down to just one – Robert Wood.
As has been stated earlier the police case was flimsy. Wood admitted to meeting Emily and sending the postcard but apart from that his movements on the night of the murder were inconclusive.
The police case rested on Wood sending a letter to Emily arranging a meeting, being the last person to be seen with her whilst alive and of being the person seen leaving St Pauls Road in the early hours of September 12.
Who then, did kill Emily Dimmock?
Therefore must the suspect continue to be ‘ person or persons unknown’?
It may well have been but for a forensic pathologist making contact with me.
His examination of the evidence was the outcome of his own investigation into the canonical five ‘Jack the Ripper’ killings but gave me a new insight into this case and provided evidence to name the real killer.
I am not claiming to have solved this case – but I believe there is now enough new evidence to name the prime suspect. The full story is contained in my book with more illustrations and contemporary writings.
For preview and to download from Amazon go to top of page.