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Family Trees From The Garden of England

  • A Shocking Discovery

    A random search in the National Archives catalogue led to a shocking discovery whilst researching the Pearson family of Sheerness. Whilst looking at the 'hits' I received when typing Peter Pearson into the catalogue led to an entry for a Metropolitan Police file for the murder of a man of the same name. "That's interesting" I thought especially as the murder happened in the same year as 'my' Peter Pearson died.

    I decided to try and find details of the case in the online newspapers that are available. When the article appeared on my screen stating that the murder had occurred at 2 Russell Place, Poplar a shiver went down my spine. The family had been living in Poplar at the time and the address was ringing bells in my head. I went back to my research to see where the family had been living in 1861 and I gasped when my growing suspicions were confirmed. The Peter Pearson murdered in 1869 was my client's ancestor.

    The newspaper report was quite upsetting when imagining the scene. Peter was an old man by this time and quite blind. His daughter and her husband had both gone out leaving Peter and his 26 year old grand-daughter, Sarah Ann, and her husband, John Cooper, in the house. An argument ensued between Sarah Ann and her husband which resulted with her being cut across the throat by Cooper. Peter was heard by a neighbour calling out his grand-daughter's name. All three were in the kitchen and Peter would have heard the fight but been quite powerless to help. Cooper then turned the knife on Peter, cutting his throat also. Cooper made an attempt to wash the blood from his hands but he fled the house.

    Peter's daughter then arrived home from visiting her sister but could not get any answer at the front door to be let in. She went back to her sister's and returned with her brother-in-law, who, along with another man climbed over the back wall. There the terrible sight met them of Sarah on the floor with Peter holding on to the back of a kitchen chair and slipping from it onto the body of his grand-daughter. Both were quite dead.

    The police were alerted at 9.10pm and the hunt began for Cooper. The newspapers had reffered to a family photo album as Cooper had torn his picture from it in a vain effort to hamper the police hunt for him. As a family historian my thoughts were, I wonder what happened to the rest of the photos!

    The Metropolitan Police file detailed the hunt for Cooper. A reward was offered for his arrest and there were a number of sightings that had to be followed up. Eighteen days after the murder a suicide note was found written on the door of a water closet at the London terminus of the South Eastern Railway. It was dismissed because the police felt the handwriting did not match that of a letter written by Cooper.

    "My name is John Cooper the murderer No 2 Russell Place, if you will look in the East India Dock you will find I have been sleeping in the inside of one of the iron tanks, but this night I am going to drowned myself and put an end to all my sorrows. I hope my mother is quite well. John Cooper, Murderer, Poplar".

    The hunt for Cooper continued but the suicide note was proved correct for his body was found by a lighterman near the entrance of the Shadwell Basin in the London Docks on the 5th of March.

    So a sad end to the life of 86 year old Peter Pearson and that of his young grand-daughter and her husband. Cooper was not known to be violent but he did not get on with his wife and her family and was unemployed at the time. The papers stated that he had been living a 'dissolute and reprehensible life' for some time past. Who knows how the family coped with such a violent end to their loved one's lives and the ghoulish onlookers who gathered round to look at the property where the event took place. The family, unsurprisingly, left the Poplar area. My client's own father did not know about this dark chapter in his family's past even though his own grandfather was a teenager at the time of the murder (Peter was his grandfather) and would obviously have known about it. With the separation of time we can now look back at such events as something that 'livens up' our family tree and makes for an interesting dinner party tale. It just goes to show that speculative searches can sometimes throw up the most unexpected results.

    1 Comment

    • 1. Dec 13 2012 12:24PM by Ann Peters

      Really interesting article - gruesome stuff!

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