No announcement yet.

1873 Thames Torso Mystery (aka 'Battersea Mystery')

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • 1873 Thames Torso Mystery (aka 'Battersea Mystery')

    Hi, everyone. I've recently come up with some very detailed articles regarding this case which I don't think have been posted before,
    so I decided to start a thread dedicated specifically to the 1873 Thames Mystery.

    This murder is known by several names, including The Battersea Mystery and The 1873 Thames Torso Murder.

    The following article is from The Lancet, 1873.
    It is quite detailed in its description of the terrible mutilations which were performed on the body of the victim.

    The article also discusses and adamantly rejects any notion that the corpse might be a medical students' prank using a body stolen from the dissection room.

    >I believe that Debs and Mike and several others have further material on this 1873 case, some of which is located on other Torso threads.
    Maybe we can work on grouping all the info relating specifically to the 1873 Torso Murder here in order to create a convenient resource for those interested in this case? I'm hoping that Rob will come along with some nice newspaper illustrations.

    Thanks and best regards, Archaic
    Attached Files

  • #2
    Text of 1873 'Thames Mystery' Lancet Article

    Here is the text of the article as I transcribed it for my own use.

    "THE LANCET, 1873


    The public has, happily, in the course of thirty years learnt to dissociate the medical student from the Burker, who may now be fairly said to be extinct. But, as recent events seem to show, there is still a tendency to make the student the scape-goat of any horrid murder or frightful mutilations. This is to be regretted for more reasons than one, but chiefly because it interferes with the course of justice, by leading it off its proper track.

    To those who know the workings of the Anatomy Act, and the severe legal restrictions on obtaining bodies for purposes of dissection or operative surgery, it must appear absurd in the highest degree to suppose that the recent mutilation was a hoax of medical students. There is very strong evidence that the woman met with a violent death, and that in the first instance severe blows were dealt on the right side of the head with some heavy, blunt instrument; but, in the absence of the skull, it is impossible to determine positively the extent of the injury.

    It would appear that after the victim had thus been stunned the body was immediately deprived of all its blood by a section of the carotid arteries in the neck, since there were no clots in any of the veins of the body. The tissues were, moreover, divided while they still preserved their vital contractibility, for, according to the evidence of Mr. Kempster, the muscles in the portions of the body that were first examined were fresh and retracted, so that death must have occurred within a very few hours.

    The scalp and skin of the face were probably next removed by making, a longitudinal incision through the scalp at the top of the head and a horizontal incision behind. The skin and peri-cranial tissues were then forcibly drawn forward and the skull thus laid bare, occasional touches of the knife being necessary to remove the skin of the face. Where the integument was thin or firmly adherent to the subjacent tissues, it was "buttonholed," and large portions thus remained attached to the bones. The face has in this manner—accidentally, perhaps rather than purposely—been rendered incapable of identification. The upper part of the nose is absent, as well as the inner part of the right cheek and the lower lip and chin, all of which would have required some time for their complete removal.

    Contrary to the popular opinion, the body has not been hacked, but dexterously cut up; the joints have been opened, and the bones neatly disarticulated, even the complicated joints at the ankle and the elbow, and it is only at the articulations of the hip-joint and shoulder that the bones have been sawn through. In the trunk the sections have all been made in the most favourable parts. This is clearly shown on the left side of the trunk, for after the body had been divided longitudinally, the right side was severed into three portions, а thoracic, an abdominal, and a pelvic. To make these divisions, an incision had been commenced too high, and the knife coming in contact with the lower part of the costal arch, a fresh incision was therefore made lower down, in order to clear the ribs.

    Notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Haden has skilfully adjusted the various parts of the body that have up to the present time been found, we fear that identification is next to impossible, except to those who are accurately acquainted with the very few marks which the body presents—namely, a scar as of a burn on the thorax, which, however, is very common in girls and women ; a small prominent fibroma, which in the official description of the body is said to be a pale mole, on the inner side of the right nipple; and the cicatrix over the inner condyle of the right femur. It is not a little remarkable, however, that although the right leg between the knee and the ankle is perfect, on the left side the leg has been sawn in two, and only the upper part has been found. It is possible that there may have been some mark on the lower portion of this leg, which the murderer has taken the precaution to destroy. The hands also are, unfortunately, missing.

    It appears that much importance is attached to the evidence of the woman having recently had a child or not ; and although the uterus is very small and firm, and the areolœ around the nipples are pale, it would be well to have this part of the question carefully reconsidered.

    It is clear, then, that this is not a practical joke, and such an hypothesis must appear preposterous if, in addition to the evidence that the death was a violent one, it is borne in mind that the body bears no trace of dissection, or of having been used for operative surgery; for although we have said that the bones have been skilfully disarticulated, it is in a manner different from what obtains in the performance of any operation, for there are no flaps.

    Further, there is the distinct statement of the Inspector of Anatomy that no body was given out by him for anatomical purposes during the week in which the mutilated remains of this woman were discovered ; so that no recent body could have been obtained from any of the dissecting rooms, all of which are indeed at present closed."

    Best regards, Archaic


    • #3
      Link to Gerard Spice's Dissertation On Torso Murders

      Here's a link to the very helpful 'Thames Torso Murders of 1887-1889' Dissertation by Gerard Spicer.

      Its topics include the 1873 Thames Mystery, the 1877 Rainham Mystery, the 1888 Whitehall Mystery, and the 1889 Elizabeth Jackson Murder.


      The following is excerpted from the 'Thames Torso Murders' Dissertation by Gerard Spicer.:

      Thames Mysteries of 1873 and 1874

      On September 5, 1873, a Thames Police patrol near Battersea, picked out of the water the left quarter of a women's trunk. Soon after, other discovers were made including: a right breast at Nine Elms, the head at Limehouse, left forearm at Battersea, pelvis at Woolwich, and so on, until an almost complete body was found. As in the Rainham case of 1887, there was an almost daily report in the press, during the month, of body parts being found.

      On the advice of the Acting Chief Surgeon, Metropolitan Police, Dr. Bond, the corpse was "built up" by sewing together the parts. The face was more of a challenge, as the nose and chin had been cut off, and the head had been scalped. The skin on the face of the victim was fitted "as naturally as possible" over a butcher's block. Even though this early attempt at forensic reconstruction was carried out with "ingenuity and skill," the body would only be recognizable by those "intimately acquainted with the physical characteristics of the deceased."

      Naturally, the police had to turn away many people who had a "morbid curiosity" to view the body. This included "dealers in horrors" who were trying to obtain a sketch of the remains. Anyone the police believed had reason to see the remains were first shown a photograph.

      Commenting on the injuries, the Lancet reported that, "Contrary to the popular opinion, the body had not been hacked, but dexterously cut up; the joints have been opened, and the bones neatly disarticulated, even the complicated joints at the ankle and the elbow, and it is only at the articulations of the hip-joint and shoulder that the bones have been sawn through."

      A verdict of "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown" was reached by the jury. The government offered a reward of 200 pounds, and a free pardon to any accomplice who could lead them to the actually murderer. No one came forward, no arrests were made, and the case remained unsolved.


      • #4
        I've only come across this one from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday 20 September 1973.
        It's not a very good copy though.



        • #5
          Hi Arch, I have over 130 newspaper clippings on the 1873 Thames Torso alone, these would take days of scanning and cropping.
          Regards Mike


          • #6
            Hey, you guys are QUICK! Thank you.

            Rob, what a scary illustration of them lifting the head out of the water; it must have been very sensational in 1873.

            Hi, Mike. OK, I'll let you off, you don't have to post all 130... maybe if you get time you can pick out a few of the more interesting ones and post them?

            I have some more articles coming, so I better get back to work.

            Cheers, Archaic


            • #7
              Sept.1873 Annual Register: 'Suspected Murder & Mutilation'

              This article was published in the September 1873 Annual Register.

              What really caught my attention is that it says the remains were photographed before burial. I believe they mean after the corpse was re-assembled, in the hope of identifying the victim. What a ghastly photo that must be!

              I can't recall what year they started photographing victims found drowned in the Thames, etc; perhaps someone can tell me.

              Here is my transcription of the article. I skipped the part at the end about the '1857 Waterloo Mystery' as I think you can read it in the article scan below.

              Best regards, Archaic

              September 1873 Annual Register

              "Suspected Murder And Mutilation Of The Body.—It is believed that an atrocious murder of a woman has been perpetrated on or near the Thames, the body hacked to pieces, and the pieces distributed over the river. A Thames policeman on this date (the 5th) found in the mud off the Battersea Waterworks the left quarter of a woman's trunk. The discovery was immediately made known, and the mutilated part taken to the Clapham and Wandsworth Union Workhouse, where Dr. Kempster, the divisional surgeon, saw it, and pronounced it to be the portion of a body which had not been in the water more than twelve hours.

              The police at once commenced a minute search of the river, but the next discovery was made by a policeman in the employ of the South-Western Railway Company, who, without knowing of the previous discovery, found the right side of the trunk off Brunswick Wharf, near the Nine Elms station. This part corresponded with the first part found, and the headless trunk, it was apparent, had been severed with a very sharp knife, and a saw had also been used. Soon after a portion of the lungs was found by Inspector Marley, of the Thames Police, under an arch of old Battersea bridge, and the other part near the Battersea railway pier.

              The search was now continued for the other parts of the body, and on September 6 the face, with the scalp of a woman attached, was found off Limehouse. It was evident at a glance that the murderer or murderers had taken revolting precautions to prevent identification, for the nose was cut from the face, but still hung attached to the upper lip. There was the mark of a bruise on the right temple, evidently caused by a blunt instrument, and this blow, it is thought, was the cause of death.

              On September 9 two more portions of the same body were found, the right thigh being picked up in the river off Woolwich, and the right shoulder, with part of the arm, off Greenwich, the latter part being smeared with tar. The left foot, measuring ten inches and three-quarters in length, and ten inches across the instep, has also been picked up near the bank of the Regent's Canal, off Rotherhithe, and the right fore-arm near the Albert Embankment.

              Surgical skill has been employed to unite the fragments found, in order that they may have a better chance of identification,
              and the remains were photographed before interment.

              The piece picked up at Woolwich is the only one which has found its way below the entry to the canals having London traffic; and another remarkable fact is, that each piece has been brought to light on an ebb-tide, each lower and lower down the river. This would seem to indicate that the heavier portions at least were committed to the river not very far from the place where the Wandle enters the Thames, and had washed down with the tide to where they were found—one to Battersea, which is about a couple of miles from the Wandle, and the other part a little below that, at a few hours later.

              Medical opinions agree that the body was cut up but a short time before it was committed to the water; that death was caused by a blow on the right temple—a blow, the scalp shows, hard enough to have crushed in the skull, and so to have caused instant death, and that the parts first found had been in the water but a few hours.

              A belief for a time obtained that the murdered woman was a Mrs. Cailey, who was missing from her home at the time, and several people swore to the body as hers; but on the 17th she was found living.

              The papers of the 20th reported : Government has given its direct aid towards discovering the murderer or murderers of the woman whose mutilated body has been found in the Thames by offering £200 reward, and what virtually amounts to the certainty of free pardon to any accomplice, not the actual murderer, who gives the information which will bring the crime home to the murderer. The dredgers of the Thames will now feel that more interest attaches to their work, and clothing or anything else which may prove a means of identity will now be more likely to find its way into the hands of the authorities than it otherwise would.

              The coroner's jury has decided on the evidence that wilful murder has been committed; but the clue to the murderer, as well as to the murdered, seemed as far off as ever. All question as to Mrs. Cailey being the person whose mutilated remains were discovered was soon put an end to, she having been found on September 17 walking along one of the streets near the King's-road, Chelsea. Of course, the mystery is thus heightened.

              Those parts of the body which have been found have been skilfully arranged and " built-up," as far as possible, by Mr. Hayden, the medical officer of the large union workhouse where it lies, preserved in spirits of wine. The most anxious search is being made for the skull, for from that it will be seen whether the blows on the head as shown on the scalp really proved fatal, or whether they only stunned the victim, whose head, while she was insensible, was cut from her shoulders. A further part of the body was found on September 15, a piece of the right arm, and this was picked up near Hungerford bridge.

              All corresponded and were easily pieced together as portions of the same body. The head had been severed with a sharp knife, but a saw had also been used. The face half of the head had floated down below Limehouse and was there picked up, although mutilated beyond all recognition. Limbs and portions of limbs were found at Woolwich, Greenwich, Rotherhithe and near the Albert Embankment. It was a curious fact that the pieces below the Bridge had all been picked up on the ebb tide, each piece lower and lower down the river.

              The cadaver was reconstituted by Mr. Hayden, the medical officer of the Battersea Union, and was proved to be that of a female. The face, although much battered, bore evidence of a wound on the right temple, which had crushed the skull and had undoubtedly caused instantaneous death. The dismemberment had been done subsequently and only a short time before the pieces were thrown into the river.

              Attention was at once directed to the reported cases of missing persons, and for some time the body was believed to be that of a Mrs. Cailey, of Chelsea. As this woman was soon afterwards found alive, walking in the King's Road, Chelsea, this theory was exploded. No other hypothesis offered and up to the present time no one has been suspected for this crime."
              Attached Files
              Last edited by Archaic; 12-15-2009, 10:33 PM.


              • #8
                "Association of Escaped Lunatics NOT Responsible For Thames Mystery"

                This article from the September 27, 1873 BMJ is worded rather oddly.

                Upon first reading the phrase "the Association of Escaped Lunatics",
                I thought "Why in the world would escaped lunatics want to form an organization????"

                Anyway, I thought it was funny. It would make a wonderful Monty Python skit.

                I'm still not sure why the BMJ capitalized those words, unless it was copied directly from a Times headline and was simply an editing oversight.
                Or they wanted to make us laugh.

                Best regards, Archaic
                Attached Files
                Last edited by Archaic; 12-16-2009, 03:42 AM.


                • #9
                  1873 Philadelphia 'Burking' Case; Murder For Dissection & Thames Mystery

                  Here's a bizarre story. This article is from The London Medical Record, 1873, and the original story is from the Philadelphia Medical Times.

                  It discusses a recent case in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in which a man newly arrived in the city is pulled dead from the Schuykill River, having ended up there for reasons unknown. His corpse is subsequently robbed of even its spectacles by the driver of the Coroner's wagon, and then his body is immediately dumped into a vat for dissection at the University of Pennsylvania!

                  The article implies that this was all due to graft on the part of the coroner, the medical school, etc.

                  Best regards, Archaic

                  >The London Medical Record, 1873:

                  The Thames Mystery.—The circumstances attending this yet unfathomed mystery and the suspicions which were aroused that it might be connected with the irregular disposal of a body intended for dissection, give special interest to the finding of the body of a man named Thomas Munce in the dissection vats of the University of Pennsylvania, under circumstances which have aroused a storm of excitement and indignation.

                  The following are some of the leading facts as described in the Philadelphia Medical Times.

                  Thomas Munce was a well-known, highly respectable, elderly bachelor farmer of Washington count; a man of means, worth from $75,000 to $100,000 of somewhat impaired intellect (result of an injury to the head sustained some years ago), and erratic as to his times and ways. He left home unexpectedly, and was last seen on July 2, or early on the 3rd at the Union Depot, Pittsburgh.

                  Later on the same day, whether as the result of accident, design, or of his own motion, his dead body is found in the Schuylkill and taken to the Morgue. In less than forty-eight hours from the time of his arrival in this city he is— minus watch, spectacles, and money—within the walls of the University of Pennsylvania, injected, and, with other victims, consigned to the vats to await the coming 'lecture season' with its hungry 'clubs of five.'

                  His spectacles fall a prey to one; his watch to another,—the driver of the coroner's wagon, who, after the excitement has somewhat died away, 'spouts it' at the pawnbroker's shop, and thus a clue is given, which, followed up, ends with the body in the University vats and the driver under arrest.

                  Well for Munce and his family that he journeyed eastward in the summer time; a little later in the season, and, despite the friendly watch in the pawnbroker's shop, the deep damnation of his taking off would have remained a mystery till 'the crack of doom.' The coroner gets his eight dollars for burial (which our learned district attorney endorses as proper and right, for the coroner's horse must be fed, whether the man be buried or not). The superintendent of the city burial grounds buries him—on paper— and gives his certificate to that effect.
                  The tax-payers pay the burial-fees and for the coffins—the same old coffins which, a professional tells me, 'have done this sad service and been sold over and over again to the city for many, many years.'

                  The whole scandalous farce, it is added, is a burning, blistering disgrace to our city; but we leave that to the law.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Rob Clack View Post
                    I've only come across this one from The Illustrated Police News, Saturday 20 September 1973.
                    It's not a very good copy though.


                    I have given it a box blur and a quick unsharp mask.. Like you say Rob its not a good copy.


                    • #11
                      Is there a medical report that estimated how long the victim was dead?
                      Clearly the first human laws (way older and already established) spawned organized religion's morality - from which it's writers only copied/stole,ex. you cannot kill,rob,steal (forced,it started civil society).
                      M. Pacana