Many of us find skeletons in the family history closet, and John Hancock from London is no exception. In his family, the name ‘Jane’ had been passed down for generations along with rumors of a murder, but nobody knew anything for sure. While doing his research, John discovered the murder of a Jane Maria Clouson from the 19th Century, confirming the truth of these claims. The crime, originally believed to be an early Ripper murder, is still shrouded in mystery. Here John shares in his own words the story of the event and what he’s found out about it.
Jane Maria Clouson, daughter of James and Jane Clouson (formerly Hancock) was born in April 1854 in Deptford. She had one older sister called Sarah who died of consumption in 1863, a younger brother called Charles, who died young and one younger sister called Maria. Jane’s mother died when she was 13.
At the age of 14, Jane began working as a servant/maid for Ebenezer Pook, who owned a printing business with connections to The Times of London. Pook had a number of children, one being only 3 years older than Jane. His name was Edmund Walter Pook. He said that he suffered from ‘fits’ and could not be left alone. He also claimed to be a music hall entertainer.
At some point Edmund began having a secret affair with Jane.
Early in 1871, probably early April, Jane was dismissed from the service of the Pook family, for reasons of being lazy and generally unpleasant. This would have been a shock to anyone who knew Jane because she had a reputation for being quite the opposite.
Jane was dismissed from service because Edmunds parents had found out about the affair, and, as one of Ebenezer’s other children had already ‘married below his station’ it would not have been fitting for another child to be seen in the same position.
Jane had gone to live with her Aunt Elizabeth Trott (formerly Hancock) and her daughter Charlotte.
Letters were sent back and forth between Jane and Edmund. In one of these letters Jane told Edmund she was pregnant with his child. Unfortunately, neither Jane nor Edmund kept the letters.
Edmund arranged to meet Jane near Blackheath. Jane had conversations with her Aunt and Cousin in which she said that Edmund was going to whisk her away and make an honest woman of her.
On April 25th 1871 Jane was discovered by a policeman, on Kidbrooke Lane, near-death; having been severely beaten. She managed to say the words “Oh let me die” before passing out. She was rushed to Guy’s Hospital but never regained consciousness.
Jane died on April 30th, two days after her 17th birthday.
A hammer was found, covered in blood about 1 mile from where Jane was found, and the shop that sold the hammer was quickly discovered with the shop owner identifying Pook as the man who had purchased it.
A man matching Pook’s description was seen fleeing Kidbrooke Lane. Police interviewed Edmund, who simply stated he was somewhere else and offered the Police the name of a person but the Police declined his offer. He then stated he wasn’t with anyone else, but he was running home, alone, because he felt a fit coming on. When asked about the clothing he wore on the night, it matched the description. The blood on the clothes was ruled out as being from biting his tongue during the fit. It did seem like a lot of blood for a tongue bite.
The case went to coroner’s trial first, and Edmund was found guilty of the wilful murder of Jane. This was then rushed through to the Central Criminal Court at The Old Bailey.
What followed was a farce. First, the judge ordered that Jane’s last words to her cousin Charlotte Trott, in which she identified Pook as the person she was going to meet, were inadmissible as they were hearsay. Secondly, the judge chastised the police, saying that they were after a quick arrest and hounded Pook with no real evidence.
Pook was found not guilty.
Public unrest followed. It was obvious to most people at the time that social class was what helped Pook get off.
A pamphlet was written which identified Pook as the killer. Edmund hired one Henry Pook, apparently no relation to him, to prosecute for slander.
This was a bad move on Edmund’s part because during the civil trial he had no choice but to answer questions that in the criminal trial were not allowed. Everything pointed to him being the murderer. Nevertheless Pook was awarded £50 in damages.
A committee was formed; part of their role was to raise the money to pay Edmund Pook the £50.
The funeral was a huge event. The road between Elizabeth Trott’s house in Deptford and the cemetery was lined with thousands of people. So many, that the police came out in force to control the crowds. Jane’s body was transferred by horse-drawn carriage. Many people threw flowers onto the carriage and in the path of the horses.
Unusually, the pall bearers were all woman dressed in maids uniforms. Jane was laid to rest on a plot of land not far from the place where her mother and older sister lie. This land was given by the local council.
The committee formed to raise the money for damages also raised money to have a statue erected on her grave in Jane’s memory.
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