The Death of Sarah Jane Roberts on 7th January 1880 - The Harpurhey Murder.
Sarah Jane Roberts was born in Denbighshire in 1860, the daughter of Elizabeth (nee Sides) and Hugh Roberts.
In the 1861 Census, Sarah Jane was at her Grandad’s (Thomas Sides) home along with her mother and 2 brothers, Hugh and William. Her father, Hugh, was from Chirk in Denbighshire but in 1961 it isn’t clear where dad Hugh, her brother Robert and her sister Elizabeth Ellen were.
By the time of the 1971 Census the family were together at Crickhowell in Breconshire. Sarah was living with her mum, dad and, by now, 6 brothers. However, her sister Elizabeth Ellen was not with the family - by 1881 she was living in Yorkshire. The family, however, graduated to Pembrokeshire and it is said that Sarah Jane went from here to the Manchester area.
The Events of 7th January 1880
At this time Sarah Jane Roberts was in service at 115 Westbourne Grove, Harpurhey, Manchester and a brother and his wife lived close by. Her employers were an elderly couple, Richard and Mary Greenwood. Richard had made his money from property and lived off that income. Mary was very frail and spent most of her time upstairs in her room. Mr Greenwood had rarely been away from home after five or six o’clock in the evening but had received a mysterious letter regarding a plot of land off Queen’s Road and requesting a meeting at a pub called The Three Tuns on the evening of 7th January 1880. There was, in fact, no meeting but whilst he was away from home, the murderer struck. Clearly, the murderer knew not only that Mrs Greenwood was invalided upstairs, but that her husband was also in the habit of remaining at home and only by this method could an evening visit be made to his servant without his knowledge.
The visitor’s knock at the front door was not a loud one and as far as Mrs Greenwood could judge, by the closing of the door, immediate access appears to have been granted by Sarah Jane Roberts. There was no light in the lobby and the nearest street lamp was too far away to illuminate the scene. Therefore, Miss Roberts must have been familiar with the visitor’s features and recognised him. Mrs Greenwood said that the girl had naturally a rather heavy footstep, but on this occasion both she and the person admitted walked along the lobby into the kitchen with a light tread.
Mr Halling, the Officer of the Crumpsall School Board, lived just behind the Greenwood’s house and stated that at the time of the murder, he was sitting on a chair in his kitchen when he heard a piercing scream which was also heard by his wife and servant. All listened anxiously as the sound of heavy footsteps passed hurriedly along the street and a splash in the pond opposite caught their attention. Other screams immediately followed. A nearby servant of a Mrs Cadman knocked on their door and cried “For God’s sake, do come; someone’s got into Greenwood’s house and nearly murdered their servant”. When he entered the Greenwood’s kitchen, the girl was lying on the floor with blood oozing freely from the wounds in her head. Efforts were made to restore the girl to consciousness but without success. It was whilst Mr Halling was holding her head in his arms that Mr Greenwood returned home from his fruitless appointment at the Three Tuns.
Five wounds had been inflicted on the victim’s head and she had received three other less severe injuries, one on the chin and the cheek and a third on the right forearm. The assumption was that she had been first struck on the chin and cheek and next received a heavy blow above her right eye causing a 1.5 inch wound. In trying to protect herself from this she received the injury to her arm. The remaining wounds on her head were sustained after she had fallen. The battered appearance of the corpse indicated great power on the part of the assailant.
Sarah Jane Roberts was buried at Christ Church in Harpurhey on 10th January 1880. At the churchyard a large body of spectators had gathered and, as their numbers were swelled by those who had come from the house, the crowd assumed considerable proportions. Upon the coffin was the following inscription “Sarah Jane Roberts; died 7th January 1880; aged 18 years. In Adam all die; in Christ shall all be made alive”. The inquest returned a verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown.
No obvious Ripper connection you would think – the victim could never be described as a loose woman and was very religious as well as being a good worker coming recommended by her previous employers. The case remained a mystery, though a number of men were questioned – at one time suspicion fell on a local milk man. As time ensued, the usual crop of letters and cranks raised their heads. One of these in particular grabbed my attention……
Richard Blake was born in Manchester early in 1855. His parents were Amos, a cabinet maker from Chester, and Anastacia nee Tracey, born in Ireland.
In 1861, the family were at 16 Orion Street in Hulme, Manchester. Living there were Amos and Anastacia with Richard and his sister Maria. In the following years, his brothers George and Henry and sister Agnes were born but in 1867 their father Amos sadly passed away.
By the time of the 1871 Census, the Blake family had fragmented, with Richard’s siblings residing at Chester Union Workhouse. Where their mum Anastacia was is a mystery, but Richard himself was an inmate of Cheadle Union Workhouse (Staffordshire) and a farm labourer.
The Whitechapel Connection
Richard Blake married Elizabeth Reed on 14th October 1874 at Christ Church with St Mary & St Stephen in Spitalfields, Whitechapel. Their addresses were given as Dorset Street. Following this, they seem to have spent time in that area including at 48 Flower & Dean Street. Later on they moved to Kensington and by 1880 lived at Notting Hill. But something appears to have gone horribly wrong.
Richard Blake’s Confession to the Harpurhey Murder
Well reported at the time, “on the 10th March 1880, Richard Blake aged 25, a licensed pedlar giving his address as 99 St Catherine’s Road, Notting Hill, was charged at Marylebone Police Court on his own confession with wilfully and feloniously murdering Sarah Ann Roberts at Harpurhey Manchester on or about December 29th, 1879. Inspector John Jowel of the X Division stationed at Paddington, said that at 1:30 that morning the prisoner came to the station and said that he wished to see the Inspector as he had committed murder and wanted to give himself up. Witness asked him what murder he had committed and he said that on Dec 29th, he was in Manchester and had murdered Sarah Ann Roberts. Witness told him to be careful what he was saying and asked him how he had murdered her and he said he struck her with two knives and beat her with a hammer until she was dead”. Having been charged with the murder on his own confession, at 3am that morning he was visited in his cell by Jowell and Blake said that he had told a lot of lies and had made a great fool of himself. Nevertheless, he was still brought before the Magistrate that day and was remanded until the following Thursday whilst further enquiries were made. In the end, his confession was believed false and made in drink.
Richard and Elizabeth Blake resided at 99 St Katherine Road, Notting Hill, along with Robert Hobbs a greengrocer, Fanny Howell and her daughter Catherine Horrigan. Richard Blake certainly seems to have been fond of drink and probably split from his wife as a result. I’m not yet clear what became of Elizabeth Blake (nee Reed). Richard seems to have taken to the life of a vagrant.
On Tuesday May 17th 1887, a Richard Blake aged 33 was admitted to the Stepney Workhouse due to epilepsy, he gave his occupation as Groom and said he had walked from Romford – he was discharged on 21st May.
1888 Another Confession at Wellington, Shropshire.
On 27th September, a Richard Blake was brought before the Wellington Police Court (Shropshire) after confessing to the Whitechapel murders. At this date, only Polly Nicholls and Annie Chapman of the Canonical 5 were dead. “At the Wellington Police Court on Thursday, before J Beattie, Esq., a man who gave the name of Richard Blake, a stranger to the town, but who is supposed to be on tramp, was brought up in custody charged with drunkenness at Wellington – PC Perry stated that on the previous evening he was on duty in the Market Square when he was accosted by the prisoner who was drunk. Prisoner said “I am the Whitechapel murderer. I have killed seven women, and I intend to kill seven more”. Witness then took the prisoner into custody – Prisoner said that he was ashamed to be in the position he was. He did not remember making such remark as the officer stated. A fine of 5/- and costs was inflicted, and in default of payment, Blake was committed to prison for seven days with hard labour”. The Richard Blake from Manchester/Chester was known to have had family in the Shropshire area. He would have been incarcerated at the time of the Whitechapel double event.
Could Richard Blake be the same person as George Hutchinson?
We know that some folks favour Topping as the most likely Hutchinson – the arguments have been well rehearsed though not proven and are probably not necessary for the purpose of this thread. I do believe “George Hutchinson” was the same person who on October 30th 1885 is shown in the Mint Street Register of Vagrants as being a groom who, the previous night was “walking about”.
There are similarities between George Hutchinson and Richard Blake. In my own mind I see Hutch as a kind of fantasist who is fascinated by the murders, but not necessarily a murderer. Richard Blake seems to have been of the same ilk. The groom connection, the Whitechapel connection and the willingness to associate themselves with the murders provide similarities between the two. There are similarities between Blake’s signature (from his marriage certificate) with a couple of common letters in Hutch’s signature on one of the pages of his Police confession - the small “r” of Richard and George; the small “i” of Richard and Hutchinson and, to a lesser extent, the “e” common to both names.
There is one other thing – early on in my research I came across a newspaper snippet on-line which I cannot re-locate currently. I have the feeling it was in either an Illustrated Police News or a Police Intelligence section of a normal newspaper. The article was to the effect of George Hutchinson (alias Blake) was on his way to London from Manchester or not too dis-similar.
So What Now?
As usual, from the records it’s not always possible to be absolutely precise in identifying people from the cast of thousands. Many have tried to positively identify Hutch and I’m not claiming to have done so. I would simply hope to open up a discussion and invite the esteemed researchers from this forum to help fill in some of the gaps in information which could go some way to dis-proving (or heaven forbid proving) a connection here. Of course, the research may have already been done especially if none of the above is new to anyone.
Last edited by MysterySinger : 11-12-2017 at 12:17 PM.
I had done some research on this George Hutchinson about a year or so ago.
I believe he was put into care in Southwark at a very young age and spent time in and out of workhouses throughout his life., I will try and put in a link if I can find it.
Anastasia was in the 1881 census as Hannah Blake aged 50, with her daughter Maria Corrigan in Spotland, Lancashire. She died in Oldham in 1890.
Very interesting, MysterySinger. I noticed at once the mention of "walked from Romford", and wondered about our old friend George H.
But the difference in occupations between the Blake who confessed to killing Roberts (licensed pedlar) and the one who confessed to being Jack the Ripper (groom, like George)-- these make me wonder if Hutchinson was just using the alias "Blake."
Perhaps both his names are aliases? People of the area seemed to change names frequently. Maybe we don't really know George's real name.
--------------- Von Konigswald: Jack the Ripper plays shuffleboard. -- Happy Birthday, Wanda June by Kurt Vonnegut, c.1970.