Murder on a train: the murder of William Pearson

By spetty on 5 Feb 2016
Court room sketch of George Parker

Court room sketch of George Parker © Museum of London/The Metropolitan Police’s Crime Museum.

By Jackie Keily, curator of The Crime Museum Uncovered

This sketch by the courtroom artist William Hartley links us to a particularly cold-blooded murder on a train, but also to a story of amazing bravery. The sketch shows 23-year-old George Parker, also known as George Henry Hill, in the dock at Westminster Police Court where he was charged on 18 January 1901 with the murder of William Pearson and the attempted murder of Mrs Rhoda King. The latter, a 54 year old mother of two, was a witness to the incident and was injured during it.

On Thursday 17 January 1901 all three were passengers in the same third class railway carriage on the 11.20am London and South-Western train from Southampton to Waterloo. King got on first, in Southampton, and sat in the then empty carriage. Her husband was a printer in Southampton and she was on her way to London to visit a sick relation. Parker got on at Eastleigh and Pearson, a well-to-do farmer in his 40s, boarded the train when it stopped at Winchester. Near Surbiton, Parker went into the lavatory, which was situated towards the back of the compartment. By this time Pearson was sleeping and King stood up to look out of the window. She was startled to hear gun-shots and felt blood on her face. She had been shot in the cheek and the bullet was lodge below her jaw. Pearson had been shot in the head and appeared to be dying. She asked Parker what he had done and he replied: ‘I did it for the money. I want some money. Have you got any?’ She gave him a shilling from her purse, which he took. Her face was bleeding heavily and she used two handkerchiefs to wipe the blood. Seeing this, Parker gave her one of his. Parker searched Pearson’s pockets and removed a cigar case and a purse, offering King a sovereign from Pearson’s purse, which she refused. She urged him to cover Pearson’s face with a handkerchief, which he did. King pleaded with him for her life and tried to calm him by talking to him and he told her that he was going to Liverpool and from there to South Africa. He then began wondering what he should do with his gun, saying he might place it in Pearson’s hand to try to make it look as if Pearson had killed himself. King suggested he throw the gun out of the window, which eventually he did. As the train approached Vauxhall, Parker climbed out and jumped onto the platform, telling King to remain quiet. Once the train had stopped, and on the verge of collapsing, she opened the door and shouted to some railwaymen to follow Parker as he had killed someone. He had already got through the ticket barrier as he had taken Pearson’s ticket to use. He was pursued and eventually cornered in the South Metropolitan Gas Company’s gas works nearby. He was taken to Larkhall Lane Police Station, where he stated, referring to Rhoda King: ‘I wish I had killed the woman, and then I should have got away had I have killed her.’

King was taken to St Thomas’ Hospital for treatment where she remained for eight days. Pearson was pronounced dead, he had been shot through the left eye from close range. The railway line was searched and the murder weapon recovered. When Parker was searched at the police station, items belonging to Pearson, including the purse, were found on him. He was then charged with the murder of Pearson and the attempted murder of Rhoda King.

Parker, originally from Birmingham, was an ex-soldier and a heavy drinker. He had started a relationship with a woman, Elizabeth Rowland (whom, unbeknownst to him, was married to a soldier serving in India) in Portsmouth. Before going to London in January 1901 he had purchased a revolver. He later claimed that on his return to Portsmouth he was going to kill Elizabeth and himself. He also claimed that Pearson was someone who held a grudge against him from his army days, but no evidence was found to suggest that the two men had ever met. Parker was in need of money and indeed did not have sufficient on him to pay the full fare to London (which is why he took Pearson’s ticket in order to make his escape at Vauxhall).

On Friday 1 March, Parker appeared at the Central Criminal Court. He pleaded not guilty, his barrister pleading that his client was insane due to alcoholism. He was found guilty and was executed at Wandsworth Prison on 19 March. The Evening Express reported that he rose at 7am on the morning of his execution and ‘betrayed no fear at his approaching doom’. He was executed by James Billington, assisted by his son, Thomas Billington.

The remarkable and brave Rhoda King, who gave evidence at the trial, lived to the age of 89, dying in Southampton on 1 June 1935.

For more information on this case, see:

Murder of William Pearson, 1901 

Old Bailey online

See more court sketches by William Hartley in The Crime Museum Uncovered, at the Museum of London until 10 April 2016.

Tattoo London: Lal Hardy of New Wave Tattoo

By spetty on 4 Jan 2015

The museum’s upcoming exhibition, Tattoo London, will reveal four contemporary tattoo studios in the capital, as well as offering some insight into the history of professional tattooing in London. Over the next few weeks we will be introducing four tattooists from the studios featured in the exhibition. Today we introduce Lal Hardy of New Wave Tattoo.

Tattooist Lal Hardy © Kate Berry

Lal Hardy © Kate Berry

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Tattoo London: Mo Coppoletta

By spetty on 31 Dec 2015

The museum’s upcoming exhibition, Tattoo London, will reveal four contemporary tattoo studios in the capital, as well as offering some insight into the history of professional tattooing in London. Over the next few weeks we will be introducing four tattooists from the studios featured in the exhibition. Today we introduce Mo Coppoletta of The Family Business.

Exterior of The Family Business © Kate Berry (crop)

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Penny Toys and Poverty: Christmas in Edwardian London

By beverley cook on 15 Dec 2015

Christmas always provides us with an excuse to dig out from the stores objects relating to the festive season. This year, on display in our temporary Show Space until the beginning of January, are a few of our favourite Christmas things. These range from items related to the traditional Christmas entertainments of the pantomime and ballet to a collection of humble tinplate toys. Every one of these was imported from Germany and sold on London’s streets for a penny in the early years of the 20th century. Let’s see what’s inside the Museum of London stocking…

Penny toy from 1906- sweet container in the shape of Santa Christmas.

Penny toy from 1906- sweet container in the shape of Santa Claus.

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Drawing on the collection: Illustration student Sam Bushaway

By spetty on 4 Dec 2015

In September, Sarah Castle (Higher Education Programme manager at the museum) was approached by BA (Hons) Illustration student Sam Bushaway, studying at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham, who was about to start a project where she was required to spend time drawing on location. Sarah was interested in seeing how illustration might allow us to look differently at our collections, and what inventive interpretations might materialise. As well as working to a project brief which asked for work that was ‘visually unusual’ Sarah also asked Sam to consider whether illustration can change our perception of objects.

Here’s what Sam has to say about her time at the museum…

BA Illustration student Sam Bushaway from UCA (right) and Sarah Castle Higher Education Programme Manager at the Museum of London. © Museum of London

BA Illustration student Sam Bushaway from UCA (right) and Sarah Castle Higher Education Programme Manager at the Museum of London. © Museum of London

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Written in Bone

By Dr Rebecca Redfern on 26 Nov 2015

Skeleton on display at the Museum of London's Written in Bone exhibition.

This is the skeleton of a girl who was 14 years old when she died. She had blue eyes. She was born in north Africa, and lived in London for at least four years before her death and burial, on what is now Lant Street in Southwark. In her short life, she had suffered from rickets and gum disease, but she was healthy enough to grow to 5′ 3” by the time she died. We don’t know her name or exactly what she looked like – but that’s understandable, given that she lived in the Roman city of Londinium, over 1500 years ago.

Ground-breaking scientific research at the Museum of London has, for the first time ever, created a detailed “picture” of the inhabitants of Roman London. Using evidence “written” in their teeth, bones, DNA and burial, we’ve uncovered the extraordinary diversity of these ancient Londoners.

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Sounds of the City, Kids in Museums Takeover event

By spetty on 20 Nov 2015

This weekend the Museum of London will be celebrating another children’s Takeover event, organised in partnership with the Kids in Museums charity. This national event offers children and young people brilliant opportunities to get actively involved in organisations, take on museum roles and have their thoughts and opinions heard by cultural organisations across the country.

Young people using iPads to create their soundscapes.

Young people using iPads to create their soundscapes.

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