I don’t want to go on about it, but some parts of this article are somewhat gruesome reading. A small measure of reader discretion is advised.
The year was 1897, the city London. Railways really were nothing new at this point, and the capital of the British Empire had many, stretching out into the up-and-coming suburbs. The Underground network that Londoners would come to know and love was already well on its way, with the Metropolitan railway having been running trains for over 30 years.
The railways of London, then as now, were incredibly busy places. However, unlike now, the coaches of the trains were laid out in compartments, rather than the open saloons preferred by modern travellers. This provided a bit of privacy for the Victorian passenger, and separated them from those of other classes with whom they may not wish to rub shoulders. Today, one can still ride in a compartment on a heritage railway, but most carriages that survive have corridors, so you can go to other compartments, or the toilet, while the train is moving. Most carriages of the day had no corridor, so once you were in, you could not move from the compartment until the train stopped.
For some passengers, this could be a nuisance. If one found oneself in a compartment with a mind-numbingly tedious bore, one could be in for a long journey indeed, particularly with no good excuse to leave. Equally, a crowded compartment could be an unpleasant experience, as the quarters were very close. I can only imagine what it would have been like on a hot summers’ day, in bulky Victorian dress, with no respite until the train stopped.
Some would use the confines of a railway compartment for nefarious purposes, however. One could not see what was happening in other compartments to one’s own, and thus, a dastardly crime could be committed with very few, or even no witnesses. In an attempt to provide some security to the fairer sex, the railway companies introduced “Ladies Only” compartments. Unfortunately, this somewhat backfired, as if there was one place a potential sex pest could guarantee female company, it was here. It was also not unknown for prostitutes to ply their trade in otherwise empty Ladies Only compartments on quiet trains. Strangely, these compartments would not be completely abolished until the 1970s.
Crime was not be limited to this kind of compartment, however. Which is where the young, attractive Elizabeth Camp comes in. Elizabeth, aged 33, was a successful manageress of a pub in Walworth, South London, and engaged to Edward Berry, a fruiterer, also in Walworth. 11 February 1897 had, by its evening, proved rather busy for Elizabeth, who had visited her younger sister in Hammersmith that morning, before travelling on to Hounslow to have tea with her elder sister. She had found time to squeeze in some shopping, in anticipation of her wedding, and was thus rather encumbered with parcels. This had not prevented her from having a quick drink in a pub near Hounslow station with her sisters, and a friend of the family, before boarding the 7:42 pm train for Waterloo.
Her day was not to be over, however, as her fiancé was waiting for her at Waterloo, where he intended to go with her to a music hall that evening. Typically, he was early for the trains’ booked arrival at 8:23 pm. Edward was rather protective over Elizabeth, which, being an intelligent and independent woman, somewhat irritated her.
The 8:23 arrived 2 minutes late (delays are nothing new) and a throng of passengers surged towards the gate. Mr Berry began to worry – Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen among them. A myriad of thoughts flashed through his mind. She could have been lost in the crowd, somewhere in the station, looking for him, but this was unlikely since she was used to the business of London, and this was far from the busiest time at Waterloo. She also could have missed the train, and may well have got the last train, but again, being a very intelligent woman, this was unlikely.
During this period, the London & South Western Railway (no relation to the modern South Western Railway) ran the train to Hounslow, and owned Waterloo station. The LSWR would have the train from Hounslow cleaned before it once again journeyed into the suburbs of South West London. These cleaners set about servicing the train as usual.
Edward noticed that a crowd of railway workers had surrounded the door to one of the compartments of the 8:23. They looked tense. They were soon joined by two railway police officers, who made their way briskly to the scene. One of the cleaners had found the body of a woman on the floor. Both legs were spread wide, and the majority of the head and torso was under the seat on one side. A pool of warm blood oozed across the second-class floor.. More blood had been spattered across the carriage furnishings. Though it was abundantly clear that the woman had met a gruesome end, it was difficult to see any reason as to why, or any details.
To ascertain what had gone on, the corpse was lifted somewhat unceremoniously onto the platform. Clearly, the woman had sustained a brutal attack with a blunt instrument. Her skull had been viscously set upon with a blunt instrument, and had been smashed and staved in. She also showed signs of having tried to resist her attacker. In addition, her pockets had been rifled through. The body was taken to the morgue at St. Thomas’ hospital.
Hot on the heels of the remains was the extremely anxious Edward Berry, who feared the worst. He had not so far seen the body up close, or had any contact from Elizabeth, as, after all, it was difficult to do either given the conservatism of society and the lack of telephones. At St. Thomas’, he asked to see the body. Horrified, he confirmed that the body was that of his fiancé.
Immediately, an investigation was begun, led by Superintendent Robinson of the LSWR Police, and Chief Inspector Marshall of Scotland Yard. Unsurprisingly, the medical report reported the victim had died from heavy blows to the head with a blunt instrument, and, less surprisingly, the compartment yielded few clues as to how the murder had taken place. The only articles of interest recovered from the compartment were a pair of bone cufflinks and a broken umbrella, which turned out to belong to Camp. Missing items included a green purse which Elizabeth had been carried, and her train ticket, which may well have been in the purse.
Many interviews were carried out to source information. Camp’s elder sister reported that she had been positive the compartment was empty when Elizabeth had entered it, which was confirmed by a porter working at Hounslow, who had helped the sisters to move their packages. Marshall had noted that, when the body had arrived at St. Tomas’, the blood was still warmed, which suggested she had died towards Waterloo, rather than Hounslow. Staff at the stations on this end of the line were interviewed. It was hoped that, since these stations were relatively quiet at the time of the murder, the staff may have seen something, perhaps even someone in blood stained clothing. These interviews turned up nothing.
Frustrated, Marshall decided to order an investigation of the track on the route the train had taken, no mean feat on a busy railway. On the embankment between Putney and Wandsworth, officers found a chemist’s pestle, usually used for pounding chemicals into powders. It was stained with blood, and had hairs stuck to it – hairs which matched Elizabeth’s. Doctors opined that the injuries Camp had sustained could have been inflicted with said pestle. Unfortunately, as the science was in its infancy, it was not tested for fingerprints.
Next, Police appealed to anyone on the 7.42 train from Hounslow to come forward. The only useful lead came from a pastry chef by the name of Burgess, who boarded the train at Chiswick and reported seeing a man leave the train in a hurry at Wandsworth. He described a man of medium height, about 30 years of age, wearing a top hat and frock coat and sporting a dark moustache, a description confirmed by two porters. However, with little else to go on, the man was never traced.
All this time, the Victorian press had worked themselves into a frenzy, as they were wont to do when a murder, especially a murder on a train, had occurred. The more gossip-oriented publications speculated that the motive of the murder was sex, which played right into the hands of the cheap fiction of the time, which contained much about the imagined happenings of lonely maidens in train compartments. Those in this business were almost disappointed when it was established that Elizabeth had not been sexually assaulted.
In the more reputable press, there was growing concern that a murderer had not been found, and more generally at the slow progress of the investigation. It was this concern that had in part led to the searching of the track between Hounslow and Waterloo, but as is so often the case, the press and public lost interest over time and began to focus on the other horrors of Victorian London.
Police enquiries, however, continued. They say that you are most likely to be killed by a person, or people, you know, and so many more people were interviewed, this time focusing on people who knew Elizabeth. All proved to have cast-iron alibis, but it emerged that, given her shrewd financial management, Elizabeth had taken to lending money to people who knew her., including the family friend that had joined Elizabeth and her sister for a drink before she boarded the train.
This friend went by the name of Stone, and he explained to Police that he had had urgent business to attend to, and had left Hounslow, not returning for some hours. Crucially, he knew which train Elizabeth intended to take. It seems unlikely that he regularly carried around a chemist’s pestle, though I suppose it is possible he had carried one on that fateful day. In any case, with no further evidence, the Police could not hold Stone for questioning, and the lead went cold.
The murder of Elizabeth Camp was never solved, and is unlikely ever to be solved. It is one of the few railway murder investigations to end in this way, given that railways, especially in London, are public places. The line from Hounslow was not short of stations, and given the short time available between stops, the complete lack of witnesses seems almost inconceivable.
If you are interested, it is worth reading the British Transport Police article on the matter, which can be found here. Greater detail can be found in the book Blood on the Tracks: A History of Railway Crime in Britain by David Brandon and Alan Brooke.