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Full Transcript - Episode #14 - William Stoltzer and the stabbing of Peter Keim
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode fourteen of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast.
And an especially big thank you to everyone who listened, rated and reviewed my two-part special on British serial-killer Dennis Nilsen and the terrifying tales of the men he unsuccessfully attempted to murder. As you liked it so much, you can expect a few more little known stories about Dennis Nilsen soon. As well as an upcoming episode on the infamous murderer known as “Soho Jack”, who it is said, supposedly murdered four Soho prostitutes including Russian Dora and Black Rita, as well as Murder Mile’s very own Ginger Rae and Margaret Cook.
If this is your first-time listening to Murder Mile, don’t worry, you don’t have to play the episodes in any particular order as each story stands alone, but (as regular listeners will know) the further we go through this series, the more that familiar places, faces and names will crop up again and again. So if you want to listen to Murder Mile from episode one first, please do… but it’s not essential.
And if you fancy seeing lots of photos, videos and maps associated with each case, check out the Murder Mile true-crime podcast on Twitter, Facebook and my website Murder Mile tours.com / blog. Thank you. Enjoy the episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk featuring many of London’s untold, unsolved and long-forgotten murders, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is the murder of Peter Keim by his close friend William Stoltzer. And even though there’s no mystery over who killed who, the events which precede and follow it are truly baffling.
Murder Mile contains grisly details which won’t be suitable for delicate daisies, as well as realistic sounds, so that no matter where you listen to this podcast, you’ll feel like you’re actually there.
My name is Michael, I am your tour-guide and this is Murder Mile. Episode 14: William Stoltzer and the stabbing of Peter Keim.
Today, I’m on Beak Street in Soho; a one-way street which runs parallel with Broadwick Street (the home of Ginger Rae and Soho’s deadly dentist Isidor Zeifert), passed Carnaby Street (site of the Blue Lagoon where Margaret Cook was gunned down) and leads to London’s infamous Regent’s Street.
Although an innocuous little road which is eternally shrouded in dark shadows owing to a tangled mess of terrifyingly tall flats, shops and town-houses, which ominously loom on either side of this tight single-lane street, Beak Street is the kind of place where tourists don’t go and most locals don’t know. But centuries ago, Beak Street was one of the West End’s busiest city highways which linked Piccadilly and Oxford Circus; so prominent was this street, it was one of the first to be paved in stone and was named after Thomas Beake, the personal messenger to Queen Elizabeth I.
Although largely forgotten today, except by delivery drivers desperate to avoid the choking snarling chaos of Oxford Circus, this three hundred and twenty metre long stretch of road is the only surviving section of this ancient highway – which was known up until 1883 as Silver Street – and is still dotted with a hodgepodge of late 17th and early 18th century grade 2 listed buildings which were once packed full of famous painters, writers and composers.
But by the 1840’s, where our story begins, Silver Street (like most of Soho) had already descended into squalor; a place famed for drink, drugs and debauchery, packed full of tumble-down workhouses, hardly habitable lodging houses, home to one of West London’s largest plague pits riddled with rotting corpses buried ten layers deep, a festering water pump so rancid that – just thirteen years later – it killed one sixth of Soho’s population, as well as the seedy side street where Peter Keim’s guts, gizzard and innards were ripped at the hands of his good friend William Stoltzer. (INTERSTITIAL)
William Stoltzer is an enigma, whose life is as mysterious as the murder he committed, and yet, had he not stabbed Peter Keim to death, William – like so many millions of long-forgotten commoners– would have disappeared into unrecorded obscurity, the unremarkable life of an unimportant pauper lost in the mists of time. And although all we know is that William Stoltzer was born Wilhelm Stoltzer in either Hamburg or Cologne sometime in 1815, he had no known criminal record, medical history nor immigration papers; he was an unmarried man with no surviving parents, siblings or children, who by 1843 was living a hard, cold and often hungry hand-to-mouth existence in the slums of Soho. So what we do know about the mysterious life of William Stoltzer (and maybe even the reason why his sole goal that night was to stab, slice and slop-out onto Silver Street the warm steamy guts of Peter Keim) is gleaned solely from the tantalising titbits documented in court transcripts about those fateful days prior to the murder.
On Wednesday 20th September 1843, ten days before he filleted his faithful friend, 28 year old German native William Stoltzer, an uneducated part-time cobbler entered the shop of Nicholas Dherry, a boot-maker on Silver Street who over the last five years had hired William to mend shoes. At first, William was a shy, quiet but conscientious worker who although a little bit odd was more-than-adequate at providing simple repairs to shoes for an agreeable price. But slowly, as his moods got blacker, his eyes wilder and his demeanour more aggressive, his workmanship slowly became sloppy, slipshod and shoddy, and this day was no exception, as having been given three pairs of boots to repair, William Stoltzer had returned with just two, having sold a pair for a bottle of gin.
William was well known in the community as a laughable harmless buffoon who was prone to humble brags, little white lies and outright bullshit, such as claiming he was Prince Albert and Napoleon Bonaparte – even going so far as to accessorize his tatty threadbare rags with a wild flourish like a handmade crown or a French military bicorn hat to accentuate his deeply deluded tale – some of which he’d do whilst streaking naked through the streets of Soho. But during this final year, even brief stints in the local insane asylum had done little to exacerbate his eccentricity, as with a toxic mix of “street gin”, malnutritian and an undiagnosed mental illness flooding his booze-addled brain, the harmless buffoon was gone, only to be replaced by a volatile beast who was much darker.
Having been fleeced too many times and still a slew of unpaid debts, the boot-maker Nicholas Dherry who was William’s sole employer sacked him on the spot and ordered him to leave. Describing William in court as a fidgety, feeble and weak-minded weirdo who people always laughed at, Nicholas demanded "You had better go, or I shall make you", to which William – his eyes wild, a clenched fist in the pocket of his leather apron - threatened "I shall make you pay you that, and kill you very likely". And although William was not big, strong or well, Nicholas had already experienced William’s volatile side, and shouting at him "I do not care about you, you are a coward, mind yourself, and do not come here like this again", Nicholas wisely grabbed William’s right arm, twisted his clenched fist behind his back, and ushered the madman out of his shop… forever.
Or so he thought. On Tuesday 26th September 1843, just four days before William Stoltzer would spilt the contents of Peter Keim’s stomach, William returned to Nicholas Dherry’s cobblers shop; and stood silently, his teeth gritted, his eyes glazed and unblinking, as his twitchy right hand fiddled in the pocket of his leather apron. But being a scrawny feeble man who could hardly cut a sinister figure, instead of being scared, Nicholas’s sister just laughed, as she always did into William’s face and joked "what is it my sweetheart, have you anything else the matter with you?", to which William, saying nothing, slowly approached her, and sidling up to her eyeball-to-eyeball, he removed a boot-maker’s knife from his apron pocket, held the six-inch wood-handled blade inches from her face and goading her to taut him some more he muttered “I wonder what you would say, if I stabbed you?”. Fearing for his sister’s life, Nicholas ducked into the backroom to find something sharp or heavy to arm himself, a chair, a poker, anything, but by the time he had returned, his sister was safe and William had gone.
That evening, having borrowed a large stone bottle off Bartholomew Mauritius - his impoverished, terrified and rather reluctant flat-mate who shared not only a small cramped one-roomed bedroom with William Stoltzer but also his flea-ridden bed – William staggered to The Blue Posts public house on the corner of Broadwick Street and Berwick Street (a pub which still exists today), and needing his lethal fix, filled the stone bottle with a gallon of gin and gulping back great glugs of booze, he unsteadily stumbled back to his tumble-down lodging at no 4 Bentinck Street (now Livonia Street), a dead-end at the back of Broadwick Street, consumed the full eight pints of liquid death, and went to bed.
Had Bartholomew Mauritius not been so broke he wouldn’t have had to share a coarse horsehair bed in a dank dark hovel with a wildly unstable alcoholic who’d regularly drink himself into a deathly drunken stupor, only to spend the night ranting, raving, fitting, frothing and sleeping with his feted feet raised a full foot off the bed, as he slept.
It’s probably not surprising to learn that a few months prior to this, William Stoltzer had – not for the first time in his life - been committed to the Saint Marylebone Hospital, the local insane asylum.
With a primitive understanding of mental health, the insane asylums of the 1800’s were less a place where the insane were cared-for and cured, and more a place where the insane were hidden from view by shamed families who’d committed an unruly relative for such medical misdemeanours as depression, anxiety, imbecility, claustrophobia, epilepsy, nymphomania and even masturbation, where the quality of the patient’s care was entirely dependent on their social status, class and income.
As an impoverished alcoholic with no funds nor family, William Stoltzer’s committal at St Marylebone asylum (which was designed for 300 patients but often housed 1300) was basic; with no heating, light, colour or joy, the patients were forced into a rigorous routine of hard work, plain food, solitude and religion, with the belief that strict discipline would return them to sanity. And although many patients were trained to brew, make bread and (in William’s case) mend boots; the bare walls, the flea-riddled sheets and the daily beatings, having been left naked, starved and chained to their bed in a cell barely 8 feet by 6 feet, it’s not surprising that many patients came out worse than when they went in. And just like today, there was very little (if any) support when they were released back into the community.
The next four days in the story of William Stoltzer are a mystery as nobody knows where he was, what he was doing or who he was with, but what’s obvious is that he was broke, angry and unstable. Over those missing days, William apparently pestered his few remaining friends for funds to fuel his booze binge, one of whom was Peter Keim; a fellow German bootmaker who – over the sixteen months they’d know each other – had helped William as best he could, but being married with three children and struggling financially, Peter was broke. What was said between the two men was neither witnessed nor recorded, but whatever happened, would change their lives forever.
On Saturday 30th September 1843 at roughly 10pm, PC William Merryfield (C44), a police constable assigned to the Vine Street police station was patrolling the west end of Broadwick Street when he heard a terrified voice scream “Murder!”. From the direction of Carnaby Street, sprinting down Marshall Street, PC Merryfield saw 30 year old Peter Keim running for his life, his hand was clutched to his stomach, as just three yards behind him William Stoltzer gave chase, a glint of hatred in his eyes, a maniacal grin on his face and boot-maker’s knife balled-up in his fist.
With PC Merryfield pursuing both men along Marshall Street, they quickly scurried right at the Silver Street Coffee Shop and cut down Silver Street. But with Peter Keim having quickly ducked left onto Upper James Street and safely ensconced himself amidst the bushes in Golden Square, as William Stoltzer had lost sight of his breathless and bleeding victim, Stoltzer stopped, stood silently and smoked his tobacco pipe which – throughout the entire chase - had remained in his mouth.
As PC Merryfield slipped onto Silver Street, Stoltzer unsuccessfully tried to hide himself in a small dark alley between numbers 45 & 41 (the former home of artist Antonio Canaletto), but with his breathing labored, his shoes squeaky, great plumes of smoke billowing from his puffing pipe and worse still, Marie Nelson, a witness to the entire event pointing directly at him and loudly stating to the constable “there he is”, PC Merryfield quickly apprehended William Stoltzer. And with a firm Policeman’s hand perched on his collar, and seeing the broken-tipped blade of the bootmaker’s knife balled-up in his fist, the constable queried “my dear man, what are you going to do with that you have in your hand?".
Shaking, twitching and sweating, but seeming neither drunk, sober nor reeking of booze (as being too poor to drink, it is suspected that he was in the depths of alcohol withdrawal), William bluntly stated how with malice on his mind he’d wanted to run the full length of the six inch blade deep into Peter Keim’s belly, bowel and even his boy-bits, but had it not been for the rough leather which had lined Peter’s bootmaker’s trousers, he would have (to quote William Stoltzer) “ripped it all out of him”. Suggesting that at some point during the night, he had attempted to cut Peter’s cock off.
William Stoltzer was frog-marched to the Vine Street police station (over Regent’s Street and just shy of Piccadilly Circus) where he was cautioned, searched and questioned. But with him not being drunk, his blade being clean, his knife being a perfectly legal tradesman’s tool and – even though he’d openly confessed to a policeman to the brutal stabbing of Peter Keim – as no victim found, William Stoltzer was released. He was escorted back to his squalid lodgings at 4 Bentinck Street and left in charge of William Henry Bolton (a fellow lodger who had no had no legal authority to hold him) until the Police could ascertain what, if any, crime had been committed.
At roughly 11pm, an hour after William Stoltzer had attempted to gut, kill and castrate his close friend Peter Keim, William Henry Bolton stood in the parlour with PC Merryfield questioning the state of Stoltzer’s mind, as just a few weeks earlier - fearing for the safety of his wife and young children who also lodged at 4 Bentinck Street – Bolton had unsuccessfully tried to obtain a parish doctor’s certificate to have Stoltzer committed to an asylum, believing he was not in a fit state to be at large. But with this being Saturday night and nothing being open till Monday morning, William Henry Bolton knew he was stuck, and as he waved goodbye to the Constable, he was left in the company of a madman.
Desperate to pacify this possible psychopath whose face was a mad mix of strange and vacant, Bolton thought it best to appear cheerful, bright and jocular, hoping that this good mood would rub off on the silent and staring Stoltzer, and invited him to take a light supper of bread and cheese with him. And even though beer was offered, unusually for an alcoholic he drank nothing but water.
After ten minutes of stilted silence, long sighs and glazing glares, with Bolton having trod the careful balance between being caring, casual and cautious, Stoltzer finally spoke. And with a dark brooding gloom having descended across the baggy tired lines of his weary face, he politely muttered “may I have a candle?” and having bestowed his fellow lodger with a light, Bolton watched as Stoltzer slunk outside into the darkness of the yard and entered the solitude of Bentinck street’s communal toilet; the flickering glow of candle light illuminating the cracks between the wooden walls of the shithouse.
Moments later, Bolton heard a loud knock at the door and there stood PC Jesse Jeapes (the Constable from the Vine Street police station who just thirty minutes earlier had booked in and just as quickly dismissed William Stoltzer) with the news that – although gravely ill - Peter Keim had been found alive.
Desperate to dispense with his duties as the guardian of a homicidal maniac, Bolton exclaimed "You must get him into custody”, and with all the subtly of an axe-wound, PC Jesse Jeapes exclaimed "I should be very happy to do so, or he will stab you, or some of your family". Wasting no time, both men dashed across the pitch black yard towards the candle-lit crapper, and although from inside the wooden walls they heard the echo of an ominous groan, this was not the typical exhale of a grunting man expelling a gassy yet satisfying dump, but a deathly groan, followed by a heavy thud.
Fearing the worst, PC Jeapes yanked open the toilet door, only to find William Stoltzer; his face purple, his tongue swollen and a silken handkerchief tightly tied around his neck, as a trickle of blood oozed from the bloody gash on his forehead, as he lay slumped on the floor in a festering pile of piss, as above him, hung a rusty broken pipe, which moments earlier, he had used to hang himself.
Although barely conscious and hardly breathing, PC Jeapes revived Stoltzer, escorted him back to the Vine Street police station, where he was held over the weekend and charged him with the attempted murder of Peter Keim, to which, the only words that William Stoltzer uttered were “I would like my pipe?”, and then sat there, smoking his tobacco, and never once uttering another word.
But the charge of attempted murder would not stick, not through a lack of evidence, confessions nor witnesses, but because by four pm on the Monday afternoon, Peter Keim was dead.
Having been stabbed at 10pm on Saturday 30th September 1843, although the six-inch bootmaker’s knife had penetrated just two inches into the left-hand side of his belly, the surgeon saw no hope for Peter Keim as – although his leather trousers had saved his manhood from a more horrific injury – the blade had penetrated his bowel in two places, piercing the intestine and spilling a caustic mix of stomach acid, blood and human waste which sloshed about his belly, as – over the next forty-two hours – Peter’s innards grew more bloated, swollen and inflamed, as riddled with a toxic infection, his last days alive were spent writhing in agonising pain, until finally his life ceased.
On Monday 23rd October 1843, just three weeks after the excruciating death of Peter Keim, 28 year old William Stoltzer was tried at the Old Bailey on the more serious charge of murder.
During his four hour trial, William Stoltzer was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, and although he was present throughout the court proceedings, he never made a statement in his own defense.
No prior grievance nor feud was established between Peter Keim and William Stoltzer. No motivation was given as to why William Stoltzer would want to kill Peter Keim. And although he’d confessed to the murder, no-one had actually seen William Stoltzer fight, argue or stab Peter Keim. There was no blood found on his clothes, his hands and even on the knife itself; a theory which the prosecution’s own surgeon explained away by stating that when a knife is retracted from a human cadaver, as the blade rubs against fat, skin, hair and clothes, that it often wipes itself clean, and yet whether or not this theory is even correct, never once was it rebutted by the defense.
What is clear is that William Stoltzer was mentally unwell; he was a deeply deluded hopeless alcoholic with suicidal tendencies who was regularly hospitalised in the local insane asylum having been deemed “unfit to be at large” and he was seen as simply a harmless buffoon who’d streak naked, sleep with his feet one foot above the bed and truly believed he was Prince Albert and Napoleon, there was no denying that he had a darker side and inner demons which were only assuaged by drink.
And although an insanity plea was put forward by his defense, no physician was called to comment on his mental state, no doctors gave evidence as to why he’d been committed to an insane asylum, and although he was deemed unfit to stand trial, he was deemed fit to be punished for his crimes.
Having deliberated for five whole minutes, the jury returned, satisfied that it was William Stoltzer who had inflicted the fatal wound which had killed Peter Keim and he was found guilty of murder. Donning his black cap, Mister Justice Maule passed sentence, “William Stolzer, you have been found guilty the crime of willful murder, which is one of the few offences punishable by death. It appears you inflicted a wound upon the unfortunate deceased, of which he died. The weapon which you used was one of a very dangerous nature. It appears you pursued the unfortunate man, that you declared your intention to stab him, and death was inflicted under these circumstances. Your counsel set up in your defense the plea that you were not of sound mind, and that you did not know what you were doing. The jury have not been of opinion that there was not any ground for the supposition, or that there was evidence to show that you were incapable of judging for yourself. Under these circumstances, therefore, it only remains for me to put upon you the sentence of the law, which is, that you be taken back to the place from whence you came, and from thence to a place of public execution; that you be there hanged by the neck until you are dead, and that your body be afterwards buried within the precincts of the gaol, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul!”
Throughout his trial, William Stoltzer uttered no sounds, made no movements and – even upon the reading of his death sentence – he exhibited no emotion. And although he was clearly insane, the gallows outside Newgate prison were hastily readied, as a rabid public eagerly awaited the yank of the pulley, the drop of his body, the snap of his neck and the cheer of the crowd in a very public execution.
But as mysterious as the life of William Stoltzer was prior to the murder of Peter Keim, the death of William Stoltzer is even stranger. One week before his execution, the Court of Appeals - with no reason given - commuted his death sentence to transportation, meaning although he clearly was mentally ill, instead of being killed, he would serve a total of seven years as a forced labourer in the Colonies, after which he would be freed to live the rest of his days in lovely sunny Australia.
And yet, of the eighteen ships that set sail for Australia at the end of 1843 and all of 1844, such as Equestrian, Greenlaw, Blundell, London, Cadet, Maria Somes, Angelina, Agincourt, Lord Auckland, Royal George, William Jardine, Tasmania, Phoebe, Hyderabad and Sir George Seymour, all of which landed in either Port Phillip (New South Wales) or Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), there never was a William Stoltzer on-board. And after 1843, there are no medical records, no prison files, no death certificate for William Stoltzer, and no evidence that he was ever transported to Australia.
Once so, as an undocumented man of mysterious origins, who didn’t seem to exist on any record before 1843, by 1844, once again William Stoltzer… had simply disappeared.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to Murder Mile. And a special thank you to those who have posted reviews on iTunes and other podcast platforms, it is very much appreciated, really means a lot to me and makes me feel very warm inside, so thank you. Don’t forget to check out my blog for more photos, videos and maps surrounding this case and all other episodes, by going to my website – murdermiletours.com / blog, or check out the Murder Mile podcast on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the main musical themes written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Next week’s episode is… The (Almost) Double Deaths of the Dish Washer. Thank you and sleep well.
Central Criminal Court Annual register - link
As well as the British Newspaper Archive, Soho Museum and the National Archive.
With additional music used under a Creative Commons License 4.0 (Attribution) via Free Music Archive, with all additional tracks written & performed by Kai Engel, Chris Zabriski and Sergey Cherimisinov
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster & tour guide of Murder Mile Walks, hailed as one of the best "quirky curious & unusual things to do in London".
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