Full Transcript - Episode #6 The Deadliest Dentist in Soho
INTRO: Thank you for downloading episode six of the Murder Mile true-crime podcast. A special thank you goes to everyone who has listened to this podcast, subscribed, left feedback and posted reviews on iTunes. Thank you. It really does mean a lot to me.
As always, this is much more than just a podcast, as on my website murdermiletours.com, you’ll find a dedicated blog for each episode, which contains photos, videos, a full transcript and even an interactive murder map. But before we start, a warning: this episode contains graphic descriptions of physical distress and death, and is not suitable for those who have a phobia of dentists. (DRILL SOUND) If you haven’t passed-out yet, please enjoy this episode.
SCRIPT: Welcome to Murder Mile; a true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London’s most notorious (and often forgotten) murder cases, all set within one square mile of the West End.
Today’s episode is a guided walk of the little known death of Jane Farvish; a humble Soho resident with a simple problem to solve, and yet her agonising, lingering and painful death is not the most shocking element of this case, and although this isn’t a murder (as such), the actions of the man who killed her and the outcome of this story is certain to make your blood boil.
Murder Mile contains vivid descriptions which may not be suitable for those of a sensitive disposition, as well as photos, videos and maps which accompany this series, so that no matter where you’re listening 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 6: The Deadliest Dentist in Soho.
Today, I’m standing on Broadwick Street, W1; a heavily renovated part of Soho that is unrecognisable from the grotty, crumbling, tumble-down slum that it once was, a place where no-one would choose to live unless their life took an unfortunate turn for the worse. And yet hints of its former self still exist as much of this partly pedestrianised street is covered in cobbles, speckled with grade 2 listed buildings and dotted with an occasional Victorian street light or bollard, but the rest is all new, bright and shiny.
Looking supremely clean, neatly sculpted and painfully cosmopolitan, although barely the length of a football field, Broadwick Street today consists of two one-way streets which converge in the middle and confuse the hell out of every motorist who has stupidly turned off Wardour Street (to the east) and is either stuck in a rabbit’s-warren of impossibly tight side-streets, or has come-a-cropper at Carnaby Street (to the west) which only a local would know is a dead-end.
Being a very modern part of the metropolis, the pace of life on Broadwick Street is slow; here you can sup a posh coffee in the Nespresso café, sample a feta & red pepper pitta in London’s first vegetarian Pret-a-Manger, hobnob with the celebs at the exclusive Ivy restaurant, slink off for a snooze in a teeny tiny boutique apartment as well as queueing up for an hour to be suspiciously glared at by a steroid-fuelled security guard in a super snotty shoe shop which has literally ten pairs of shoes for sale. Here everything is calm, sedate and serene; which strangely, is exactly how Jane Farvish was… after her swollen and bloody face has stopped twitching. (INTERSTITIAL)
On the corner of Broadwick Street, situated at no’s 15-17, sits a five-star rated contemporary Chinese restaurant called Yauatcha (yow-ee-char) which specialises in dim-sum, cocktails and handmade sweets. But it’s brightly coloured, pristine clean and supremely stylish glass-fronted façade is a far cry from the hideous hovel it once was, and so difficult was this location to find, it’s almost as if someone has deliberately and repeatedly attempted to erase it from history.
In the early 1900’s, on this site stood a three-storey dilapidated townhouse from the early 1700’s. It was in such a sorry state of disrepair, that the house (and most of this street) was entirely demolished, rebuilt, renamed and renumbered in the 1930’s, then decimated by two Nazi bombs in the 1940’s and rebuilt again in the 2000’s, with the latest phase of rebuilding continuing right up until today. But by 1908, in the final year of Jane Farvish’s life, this building was numbered 54A Broad Street.
Broad Street was a festering pocket of urban decay, where much of the city’s poorest were crammed into the crumbling remains of the slum housing; daylight was obscured by the belching fumes from the Lion Brewery, the stench of open cess-pits full of human faeces stung their nostrils, an infected water pump which (just fifty years earlier) had caused a Cholera outbreak so severe that 1/6th of Soho’s population had died, and under their feet stood a plague pit; five hundred feet wide, six hundred feet long, and packed with rotting corpses ten bodies deep, all whom had died of the dreaded Black Death. It’s safe to say that, unless they really had to, Broad Street was a place where no-one wanted to work, and no-one wanted to live.
And although he wasn’t a resident of Soho, having wisely decided to live in the more affluent Shepherd’s Bush (roughly 4 ½ miles to the west), by 1908, the ground floor of 54A Broad Street was a simple two-room premises, which went by the name of Soho Drug Stores; a chemists and a dentist’s shop with a wooden sign on the door which read “teeth extracted”. It was owned by Isidore Zeifert. (INTERSTITIAL).
Born in Moscow in 1875, Isidore Zeifert was a five-foot four inch Russian Jew of slender build, who – although he came from a relatively privileged background, and was blessed with a higher than average intelligence and a burning desire to succeed – he would always struggle to achieve the goals he felt he deserved, owing to an air of arrogance which surrounded him.
Having supposedly studied medicine in Vilna (which is now Vilnius in the former Russian republic of Lithuania) for seven years, all prior to his 22nd birthday, Zeifert was forced to flee during the Pogrom of the late 1800’s, when thousands of Russian Jews were persecuted, hunted and murdered for their religious and political beliefs.
With very few provable qualifications, Zeifert enrolled 300 miles away at Red Cross hospital in Warsaw (in the former Russian republic of Poland), where he undertook what he would describe as “a special course of medicine and surgery”, prior to studying for a bachelor’s degree in medicine. Sadly, having spent five years at Warsaw University, prior to his final examination, Zeifert was arrested on an unspecified charge for (what he would later refer to as) “political reasons”, and yet again, Zeifert was forced to flee, this time leaving his home country behind forever.
By 1902, 27 year old Isidore Zeifert had arrived in London, over 1000 miles from the border of his native Russia, with very few belongings, very little money and almost no medical credentials. So being unqualified, partially trained and woefully inexperienced, the best employment that Zeifert could get was by assisting a variety of medical practitioners in a strictly junior capacity; including Dr Glixman for just over 1 year, Dr Harvey for almost 3 years and another unspecified doctor for 2 years (where he helped administer a variety of powerful anaesthetics to their patients), before setting up his own chemists and dentists shop at 54A Broad Street.
And yet, during his trial, when questioned about his woeful lack of qualifications and experience, Isidore Zeifert, the 33 year old, slightly cocky but equally nervous prisoner, who had no medical degree, no chemists licence and who was not and would never be registered as a practicing oral surgeon, would later state in court “For about 13 years, I have been in constant practice as a dentist”.
Dentists today are heavily regulated, routinely tested and highly qualified, but up until 1879, Britain had no compulsory registration nor qualification for dentists, meaning anyone (whether a doctor, a teacher, a butcher or even a barber) could set-up shop as a dentist. Thankfully, with the British Parliament passing the first Dentist Act in 1878 and establishing a Dental Register in 1879, it was decreed that only qualified professionals who could prove they had practiced dentistry for the past five year were eligible to register. But somehow, Isidore Zeifert slipped through the net?
By 1908, Soho Drug Stores at 54A Broad Street had been open for less than a year and yet business was busy, as the poor condition of the average person’s teeth had begun to take its toll.
Most households had just one toothbrush per family (made from soft feathered twigs), which they all shared, but many families had none. And so, as the average person’s diet got sweeter, combined with a severe lack of fresh fruit to eat and clean water to drink, many of the poorest people by their early twenties, didn’t have a set of teeth, so much as they had a misshapen collection of swollen painful stumps, brown jutting shards and infected rotten holes.
Although Broad Street was a filthy rancid slum, by situating himself in the dead centre of Soho, Isidore Zeifert had truly found a niche for himself. As with many Russian Jews who’d escaped the horrors of the pogroms having settled this area, and being rightfully fearful of any outsiders, Zeifert was one of the few Russian Jewish dentists in this tight-knit community. And although he was inexperienced and unqualified; he was cheap, trusted, local and – best of all – he was one of their own.
For three painful days and three sleepless nights, 41 year old Jane Farvish of Church Street, Soho (now Romilly Street, near Old Compton Street); a woman who would be unflatteringly described as being “of generous proportions” had been suffering with chronic toothache, which had left her tired and weak. So much so that her constant moaning, groaning and writhing in agony had meant her husband (Nathan) and her daughter (Annie) were unable to sleep in the tiny one-roomed lodging they shared.
Like most people, Jane Farvish had never visited a dentist in her life and nor did she plan to do so, as although her toothy yellow stumps and red swollen gums were excruciatingly painful, a trip to the dentist was a notoriously unpleasant experience, especially if you were poor. As not only were many dentists unskilled, untrained and often unqualified, the instruments they had to work with were crude metal tools like the infamous “extractor”; a barbaric primitive stick with a sharp metal claw at the end, which (like a set of plyers) would wrench, twist and pull the rotten tooth out of its swollen hole, as blood poured down the patient’s face. Of course, you could always pay for an anaesthetic to dull the pain; such as gas, chloroform and nitrous oxide, but only if you could afford to? Where-as if you were poor, you’d have to be held down and hope you passed out before the pain got too bad.
Luckily for Jane Farvish, Nathan (her husband) had asked around and her closest friends in this tight-knit Jewish community had recommended a local dentist, situated just a few streets away, and had reassured her that “Isidore Zeifert, he is a good man, a good dentist, he’s one of us, you can trust him”. And with that, Nathan, Annie and Jane made that fateful six minute walk.
The icy winter wind blasted their frozen faces as they trudged through the knee-deep snow, along Old Compton Street and turned right into Wardour Street, but it wasn’t the blistering cold which slowed Jane’s pace to a crawl. As being too tired to eat and too weak to sleep owing to her chronic toothache, Jane was also riddled with rheumatism, wracked with headaches, as her lungs wheezed, her heart palpitated and her exhausted organs struggled to cope under the enormous pressure of her plump round body, meaning three times on that short journey, they had to stop so Jane could rest.
On Saturday 18th January 1908 at 3:20pm, all three members of the Farvish family entered Soho Drug Stores at 54A Broad Street which consisted of two wood-lined rooms; a chemist’s shop upfront featuring a rear-wall full of small wooden drawers and a long wide counter complete with a till, pills, a pestle & mortar and vials of potions, lotions and poisons. And behind the shop was the dentist’s surgery, which was staffed by Isidore Zeifert.
Being barely able to speak through her tiredness and pain, Jane Farvish let her daughter Annie do most of the talking. "My mother is very weak; she is suffering from rheumatics; she was up all night suffering from the toothache", she said, as her weak wheezing mother was led into the surgery and slowly sat in his hideously cheap dentist’s chair, which was made from an odd mix of wood and wicker.
As Jane lay back, her weight supported by the chair, her aching limbs no longer struggling and her frozen toes slowly soothed by the roaring log fire, Zeifert opened his patient’s mouth and instantly he was hit by the smell of rotten meat from the two impacted yellow stumps which – once upon a time – had been a tooth.
“I’ll need to remove those two stumps”, Zeifert huffed; something clearly on his mind as his eyes switched from his patient to his clock (although even today no-one quite knows why?), as she lay there, the pain causing her head to pound, her face to throb and her heart to erratically pump.
Seeing his wife’s agony grow and her body weaken, her husband Nathan requested she be given an anaesthetic so those two infected stumps could be removed without any pain, and asked the dentist for “gas”; a cheap and common pain-killer which although effective, often caused temporary oxygen starvation of the brain, which although not fatal (if done correctly) would result in the patient suffering from sickness and headaches for weeks… but then again, Zeifert was out of “gas”.
And so, although very poor but not wanting Jane to suffer any more, Nathan (her loyal and devoted husband) stumped up half a crown for the best anaesthetic his modest income could afford. That pain-killer of choice… was cocaine.
Before it became a favourite recreational drug for the middle-classes in the 1980’s, Cocaine had been in medical use in England since 1884 and although it was still in use in 1908, by then it was listed under the 1905 UK Poisons Act meaning it could only be prescribed by a licenced chemist. And although it worked fantastically fast as a pain-killer which left you with a wonderful feeling of euphoria, cocaine has a few small side-effects, such as sweating, fever, high-blood pressure and an erratic heart-rate, which for an average healthy person wouldn’t be too problematic, but for a person of “generous proportions”, like Jane Farvish, who was already at an increased risk of a stroke, lung disease and heart attacks, Cocaine could be deadly.
Sadly, Soho Drug Stores no longer had a licenced chemist (let alone a qualified dentist), as just two months earlier Dr Sellers had left following a heated argument with Isidore Zeifert over unpaid wages and “a matter of medical ethics”. And so, with his patient in pain; her face sweating, her chest wheezing and her heart pounding, Zeifert popped into the shop to prepare the pain-killer.
From one of the small wooden drawers, Zeifert pulled out a small glass syringe, a pipette of water and a brown bottle marked with the words “Poison” (which legally cocaine was) and prepared a solution of 10 drops of water and half a grain (roughly 90 milligrams) of cocaine. With her husband holding her head back, the syringe’s needle poked into her red swollen gums causing her to wince, but within seconds, her pain had gone.
A sense of calm descended over the dentist’s surgery, as (for the first time in three days) a small smile crept over Jane’s face, as she slowly relaxed and her moaning ceased… but moments later, she began to sweat, her pulse was heavy and her breathing was erratic. Naturally Nathan was concerned, as was Annie, but Zeifert reassured them this was simply a side-effect of the cocaine, and began preparing his tools to extract her rotten tooth.
The last words that Jane would ever utter, as she stared into a mirror at her strangely distorted face was "Look what he makes my face like; it is all crooked", she said, her speech barely audible and slurred. Yet again, Zeifert reassured them both how perfectly normal this was and replied "When the tooth is out, it will be all right again" and proceeded to painlessly wrench, twist and pull the first of the rotten yellowy stumps free with the metal claw of his trusty extractor.
But as Zeifert started to twist the second stump free, Jane’s mouth began to billow with a mix of red blood and white froth, suddenly her muscles tensed, her back arched, her eyes rolled and her whole body began to violently convulse; it shook so fiercely, she almost snapped the leg of the wooden chair she was sitting in, until eventually (drenched in sweat and physically exhausted) she passed out.
With no faith in his ability, Annie dashed into the street to find a doctor, as Jane was laid on the couch; her swollen face contorted and her lips bubbling with a reddening froth as a constant trickle of blood poured from the open wound in her gums onto the cold-stone floor. Under her nose, Zeifert pointlessly waved a small bottle of smelling salts, his nervous hands shaking, his voice quivering. And yet again, he protested his innocence and reassured Nathan how normal this all was, and said "Don't be afraid, your wife will be like this for about 10 minutes, no more". But after three quarter of an hour… Jane was silent, she was still, and was cold to the touch.
41 year old Jane Farvish was officially pronounced dead at 6:40pm. At 8pm, Isidore Zeifert was taken to Marlborough Street Police Station and charged with unlawful manslaughter, to which he replied "I only administered half a grain; it was in 10 drops of water; I have done it hundreds of times; no harm has ever resulted… till now".
Dr Ludwig Freyberger conducted a post-mortem on the deceased and stated “her heart was small, fatty, pliable between the fingers and the mitral valve was thickened” and that the cause of death was “failure of the heart and respiration”. Given her size and age, a cursory examination of her heart would easily have indicated that she had a diseased mitral valve, as when it is listened to using a stethoscope, the valve makes a very distinctive sound. And with a fifth or a sixth of a grain of cocaine being a more than a sufficient dose as an anaesthetic, not a half a grain as Zeifert had administered, the pathologist concluded that “In my opinion, her death was caused by cocaine poisoning”.
Following his pre-trail at Westminster Coroner’s Court, he was tried at The Old Bailey on the 3rd March 1908, and even though Zeifert pleaded not guilty, he called no witnesses to his defence. After a short deliberation, the jury concluded that not only had Isidor Zeifert injected his patient with more than double the safe dosage of cocaine, but also having only checked the gums of this 41 year old woman of “generous proportions”, who’d arrived at his shop; too weak to stand, too tired to stay awake and too breathless to walk unaided, he had failed to check the state of her heart, which was standard practice when administering such a dangerous poison.
When the jury returned their verdict, for the unlawful manslaughter of Jane Farvish; Isidor Zeifert, the untrained, unqualified and woefully inexperienced dentist and chemist was found… not guilty. And even though the jury confirmed that he was guilty of “reckless and criminal negligence”, Zeifert was discharged “without hesitation” and allowed to walk free. The judge recommended that “in future, when administering cocaine, that he be more careful”.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile. This series is available on almost all podcast platforms (such as iTunes, Stitcher, Libsyn, Otto Radio, Tune-In, Acast, Soundcloud and Podbean, to name but a few), and if you click “Subscribe”, the very latest episodes are downloaded to your device as you sleep. How amazing is that? If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate us and “like” and “share” us with your friends. And, if you fancy some exercise, treat yourself to Murder Mile Walk, my guided walk of Soho’s most infamous murder cases, featuring 12 murderers, 15 locations and 75 mysterious deaths over one mile, in just two hours. Tickets are available via www.murdermiletours.com
Murder Mile was researched, written & performed by myself, with the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Next week’s episode is entitled: The Identikit Murder at the Old Curiosity Shop. Thank you and sleep well.
#1 - Court transcript from The Old Bailey -link
#2 - British Journal of Dental Science - link
#3 - Journal of Dental Science Art and Literature, Volume 28 - link
As well as National Archives at Kew, National Newspapers Online, Westminster Coroner's Court and Ancestry.com.
With additional music used under a Creative Commons Licence 4.0 (Attribution) via Free Music Archive, with all additional tracks written & performed by Sergey Cheremisinov.
With additional sounds used under the Freesound.Org Creative Commons agreement, provided by various artists, their details and links available below:
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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