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Welcome to the Murder Mile true-crime podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within one square mile of the West End.
Episode Forty-Four: Between Friday 22nd, Saturday 23rd, Sunday 24th and Monday 25th March 1850, at 25 Brydges Street, a baker’s wife called Susan Moir was literally beaten to death. And although this story is almost 170 years old, it remains just as relevant today
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Episode 44 – Susan Moir: The Brutal Life of the Baker’s Wife.
Thank you for downloading episode forty-four of the Murder Mile True-Crime Podcast.
As a word of warning, this episode contains shocking acts of physical, mental and emotional cruelty inflicted by a husband on a wife, and although these upsetting events will be depicted in a dramatized way, every detail of this incident is true, and - for far too many people - this kind of life and death is a daily occurrence. So if you have been subjected to, or have inflicted abuse against a loved one, don’t forget that help is only a phone call away. Thank you for listening and stay safe.
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 London’s West End.
Today’s episode is about Susan Moir; an East End pauper who escaped poverty to become a mother to two boys and the wife of a prosperous baker, and yet, her new life was a fate worse than death.
Murder Mile is researched using the original court documents. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details, and as a dramatization of the real events, it may also features loud and 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 44: Susan Moir: The Brutal Life of the Baker’s Wife.
Today I’m standing on Catherine Street, WC2; two streets east of baby-killer James Richardson Mills, two streets south of Dora Freedman (the West End prostitute supposedly slaughtered by the infamous maniac known as Soho Jack) and one street north of Waterloo Bridge where Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov was assassinated by the KGB, using an umbrella – coming soon to Murder Mile.
Wedged between the historic bustle of Covent Garden and the infamous theatre district of Drury Lane, being barely 800 feet long, Catherine Street is a short slightly sloped side-street which begins at the Theatre Royal, ends at The Strand and (with smog permitting) has stunning views of the Thames.
Laid out in the 1630’s, Catherine Street (originally called Brydges Street) and its surrounding area was – and still is – a vibrant hub, as being crammed-full of theatres, pubs and posh eateries, it’s here where the play’s patrons swig back a pre-show pint, quaff coffee whilst quoting comedy, guzzle down a swift gin at the show’s interval, or copiously weep over an entirely fictional character’s tragic plight, which (in an easily digestible two-hour instalment) is recreated, on a fake stage, off a script, by badly-paid actors, whilst the wobbly-lipped patron wolfs down a plate full of waffle.
Ironically, today it’s a place of happiness, laughter and joy, where loved one’s bond, where fear is a façade, and any tears are only temporary. And yet, there’s one truly heart-wrenching tragedy which played-out right underneath our feet, and it has remained untold, until today.
If you’re wondering why this section isn’t filled with my usual mix of wit, jibes and sharp barbs, that’s because – as this is a deeply tragic story about the horrors of domestic abuse - there’s nothing funny to say. And although this murder occurred almost 170 years ago, it’s a story which is just as relevant today. As it was here, at 25 Brydges Street, from Friday 22nd, Saturday 23rd, Sunday 24th to Monday 25th March 1850, that a baker’s wife called Susan Moir… was literally beaten to death. (INTERSTITIAL)
The most important moment in Susan Moir’s life was her death; as being a lower working-class woman of no historical importance living in an East London slum in the mid-1800’s, almost nothing is known about her sad and tragic life, except what happened in her final days.
Her birth name was Susan Hare. She was born sometime (although we can’t be certain) during the bleak winter months of 1811, somewhere amidst the ragged filth and festering squalor of Stepney (in East London), as one of either six, seven or eight siblings, half of which died before they could walk.
Like many off-spring raised to an East London pauper, Susan’s early life was tough, harsh and cruel.
Living a hand-to-mouth existence; some days she ate, some days she didn’t. With diseases like cholera and dysentery running rampant, medicine was only for the wealthy. With malnutritian having ravaged her immune system, even a common cold could be deadly. And a sickly child, who played amongst the rats in the faeces-splattered streets with no shoes on her feet, who drank water which lay stagnant near an open cess-pit, and – every day – breathed in the thick soupy air of the choking industrial smog which hung across the city like a looming cloud of death; with a third of all children dying before their fifth birthday, if she didn’t starve, freeze or succumb to disease, the longest that Susan could hope to live for was into her mid-to-late thirties. So her chance of survival was literally just that – chance.
And yet, for Susan, life was even worse; not just because she was poor, not just because she was lower working-class, and not just because she was sick, but because she was a woman.
Like most young girls; except for two hours a week at Sunday school, she was denied a basic education; except for unskilled peace-work, she was denied any training or trade; and with no vote, very few rights and almost no say in her own future, the best that Susan could hope for, was to escape the poverty of her own ragged family, by being married-off into another.
And so, it should have been the happiest day of her life, when in the spring of 1837, with her first baby boy on the way, 26 year old Susan Hare married a 31 year old a Scottish tradesman, with a steady income, an honest job, his own home and a prosperous bakers shop at 25 Brydges Street? He must have seemed like the answer to all of her prayers, as (with everyone needing bread) she’d never be cold, poor or hungry ever again. But her husband’s name was Alexander Moir, and when stated in his marriage vows that they’d be together “till death us do part”, he meant exactly that. (INTERSTITIAL).
By 1850, Brydges Street was on its last legs; some of the buildings had rotted away, others had been ransacked by robbers and rats, and what remained was just decades away from being demolished. And as a thick choking smoke drifted east from Bielefeld's papier-mâché works and every bankside furnace and toxic textile factory belched out great plumes of noxious fumes, being just six years before Soho’s deadly cholera outbreak and eight years before The Great Stink which (having no sewer system) saw the city main source of fresh drinking water - the River Thames - turned into a festering pile of floating turds, London was not only dangerous, it was deadly. But for Susan, it was home.
At 25 Brydges Street stood Moir’s Bakery; a rickety old two-storey building made of warped timber and crumbling stone. With the roof having caved in years earlier, only the front part of the upper floor was habitable enough to rent out to lodgers, so with the basement taken up by the bake-house ovens, and half of the ground-floor converted to a shop; the Moir family lived in the small back parlour, which comprised of a kitchen (where their children slept) and a simple bed for Alexander and Susan.
To the outside world, it looked like perfect family business, with Alexander baking, Susan selling and their sons Alexander Junior (age 13) and Jack (age 7) delivering. And as hordes of hungry punters peered in through the shop’s large sash window, to see shelves lined with golden loaves, baskets of soft buns and trays of biscuits, crumpets and hot cakes, as one of the few pleasant smells on the whole street, Moir’s Bakery must have seemed like a dream? But upon entering the bakery, that delightful image would be shattered by the sight of Susan, the sound of screaming and the smell of fear.
According to her autopsy, Susan Moir was 39 years old; she was five foot five inches tall; thin, pale and frail; with wiry brown hair, ruddy cheeks and callused hands. She walked with a stoop, but she wasn’t sick. She looked haggard, but she wasn’t old. She was always exhausted, but she never slept.
And with her sunken and bloodshot eyes ringed with dark circles, her uneven cheeks swollen with an unsightly mix of yellow, brown and purple bruises, two broken fingers, several missing teeth, her whole body covered in welts, and her jaw hung open and low so her ghostly white face looked as if it was perpetually stuck in the midst of a scream, even though – by those who knew her – she was a deeply devoted mother who would do anything to protect her boys; she was always scared, tired and broken, and – to combat this, it is said – she would drink.
And so, what follows are the last days of Susan Moir.
Friday 22nd March 1850 was bleak, wet and cold, as a bitter wind whipped down Brydges Street and washed an inch-thick torrent of rain towards the Thames. Times were hard, money was tight and sales were short, so with good bread going to waste, once again, Alexander tutted.
Having worked sixteen hours-a-day for seven days a week since Christmas, it probably never occurred to him that drink wasn’t the reason his wife swayed unsteadily on her feet, that a swollen jaw was why her speech was slurred, or that being bruised was why she moved so slow, but with business being bad, and as she ran the shop, he knew that she was to blame.
Alexander Moir was as 44 year old Scottish baker; a blunt brutish bully-boy who was short and squat like a bulldog, with an unkempt beard, unblinking eyes, a humourless grin, and – after a stint in the navy – he had arms like tree-trunks, fists like lump-hammers and a temper as short as his fuse. So why she loved him? Or whether she ever did? That we shall never know.
By all accounts it was a regular night; as – at a little after 11pm - Susan kissed goodnight to her two boys who shared a mattress made of horse-hair and straw, which was nestled beside the kitchen fire, and as she stood on the cold stone step by the sink, she washed-up the last of the bakery’s spoons, dockers and earthenware crocks, which were baked black with burned-on crumbs and crusts.
With the candles out, the shutters down and the door’s iron bolt slid tight, the shop was shut for the night, but before his bed (which – for most bakers – was just four hours a night, at best) Alexander trudged down into the dark basement. In the bake-house was 14 year old baker’s apprentice John Johnston; and with this being his first week, being eager to please his master, as well as being a little bit scared, John set about making the dough and promised to wake his employer at 3am sharp.
But that night, no-one would sleep.
It began just shy of midnight, as raised voices echoed through the thick oak beams of the bake-house ceiling; the man’s gruff bellow was furious, the woman’s timid squeak was terrified, as with repeated thumps and thuds, as furniture crashed, crockery smashed and a petrified woman was repeatedly dragged from wall-to-door-to-floor screaming "you'll kill me, you'll kill me", it was then that the man growled "I'll murder you before I am done with you". But fearing for his job, and his life, 14 year old John Johnston did nothing, as the violent beating of Susan Moir continued late into the night.
Susan hated her life, so she drank; because she drank, so her husband would beat her; and because he would beat her, so she drank. And yet, for Susan, there was no escape. As a devout Catholic, the Church had denied her any chance of a divorce. As a wife, legally she had no right to separate. As a victim, her only refuge was the dreaded workhouse. As a daughter, she was the responsibility of her spouse to feed, clothe and chastise. And as a woman, having promised before God to “love, honour and obey” her husband, being trapped in a violent marriage, Susan was stuck “till death us do part”.
By the crack of dawn, the only sound heard was the roar of the bake-house ovens, as - in a gruff silence - Alexander bundled the freshly baked bread into a wicker basket, and as John readied himself to make the morning’s deliveries, he noticed that his master’s fists were cut, scuffed and caked with blood.
Having climbed the stone stairs, the first time John saw Susan that morning was in the shop, as - in his own words - he would state in court “she looked a dreadful sight”. Being barely able to hold herself upright, a sixteen hour day ahead of her, as she unsteadily stumbled, Susan tried to prop herself up against the wooden counter, but every time she did, she would wince in pain, as her fingers, hands and forearms were black and swollen, having tried to protect her face from the onslaught of his fists.
But her face was unrecognisable; and being a mismatched puffy mess of lumps, bumps, scrapes and cuts, John could hardly to work-out where her nose stopped and her cheeks began, as with her right eye being too swollen to open, through her tears, Susan saw very little, and said even less.
By 3pm, being barely half-way through her working day, Susan’s cousin popped into the shop; and although the sight of black-eyes and the sound of screaming was a common occurrence in the bakery, for Mary Ann Bryant, this turbulent relationship had truly taken a turn for the worst.
Whether Susan staggered, stumbled and slurred her words owing to an excess of booze or a volley of beatings is unknown, as - having knocked her so insensible that she’d forgotten one-too-many bread orders that day - with Alexander being furious, as customers fled from the bakery, he pummelled the puffy swollen flesh of Susan’s ruptured face with his hard bloodied fists, and with the timid woman being too shattered to simply raise her blackened hands to shield herself, as roughly a dozen blows rained down, each fist struck her squarely in the face and back, again and again and again.
Having demanded that his lazy feckless wife quit her dilly-dallying and refill the window display with fresh stock, Susan tried to arrange a line of two-penny loaves, but as her world spun wildly and everything went black, she lost consciousness and collapsed; there was a hard thud as she landed face first on the hard wooden floor, ripping a one inch gash across her forehead as a trickle of blood wept from her swollen right eye. Shocked by the ferocity of his violence, Mary-Ann cried “get her up, she needs help”, to which Alexander – his sole focus being to bake a fresh batch of York biscuits – snorted “Let the drunken bitch wait there till she comes to herself".
And with Mary-Ann being too slight to lift the cataleptic woman up, there Susan stayed, slumped under the buns in the shop’s window, as customers came and went, crusty loaves in hand, chattering and gorping, as a battered and barely conscious woman lay in a crumpled heap.
A short while later, Susan slowly regained consciousness, and through bloodied and malformed lips which mumbled barely intelligible words as drool spooled down her chin, she begged Mary-Ann to ask her husband to let her lie down, to rest and to recover from her injuries, but Alexander said no.
Eager to aide her semi-comatose cousin - who struggled on, in the shop, for many hours more, serving breads to bemused customers - Mary-Ann set about covering some of Susan’s chores; like washing their clothes, cleaning the parlour and cooking the family’s dinner, as she tended to Susan’s cuts and swellings, but it would all be for nothing.
At a little after 8pm, on Saturday 23rd March, as their two boys sat silently at the kitchen table, their heads staring at their laps for fear of incurring their father’s fists, Alexander slapped Susan hard, having found a half-empty bottle of gin hidden in a nook. By now, being so used to his abuse and with her face being a bulging mess of tough puffy welts, she barely felt his hand impact, as her salty sobs mixed with blood making it seem like she wept pink tears, and yet still she screamed, as - to Susan – the misery and the pain of her daily beatings were as commonplace as breathing.
Moments later, Mary-Ann served dinner; and having said Grace, the family sat down to mutton chops, potatoes, carrots, peas and gravy. The aggrieved Alexander should have been moderately happy (given the day’s many disturbances) that his dinner was on the table, on time, and that Mary-Ann was actually a good cook, but still he sat there fuming about the failures of his drunken wife.
And as Alexander scooped an overloaded fork of food into his bearded gaping mouth, he spat a volley of peas as he shouted "This is more like gravy, not the watery soup you make", but as Susan was too tired to retort (which he took as insolence), he hurled half of a hard-baked loaf at her head, as its rough edges ripped open an old wound.
Through sheer agony, with every inch of her exhausted body being bloodied, beaten and bruised, as Susan tried to stand-up, her trembling legs barely held-up by two blackened arms, Alexander slammed her back into her seat, forcing her freshly bruised backside down onto the hard wooden chair, as – with a mashed mouthful of potato – he spat "If you don't finish your meat, I will send for a rolling-pin, and will force it down your throat”.
And like a dark shadow of death which loomed over the tiny trembling woman, there he stood; staring, seething and snarling, as her numb fingers struggled to raise the shaking fork to her swollen lips, but seeing her inability to eat, not owing to her injuries but due to her drunkenness and selfish petulance, as Susan’s broken fingers dropped the fork, Alexander exploded with rage.
The assault was sustained, vicious and swift as a flurry of heavy fists and booted feet flew into Susan’s legs, back and face. And as the man who had once sworn an oath, in Church and to God that he would always “love, honour and protect her”, as his wife cowered on the hard wooden floor, curled-up like a ruptured ball, as she screamed for him to stop, he savagely beat her until her body went limp.
But Susan didn’t die, not then, not yet. As even though her pummelled face was said to be “the colour of sheep’s liver”, her swollen lids had rendered her right eye blind, and her brown wiry hair was matted thick with congealed blood, she struggled on for the sake of her boys. And all the while, as Mary-Ann washed her cousin’s cuts with cool water, Alexander sat by the fire, his feet-up, smoking a pipe.
One hour later, as Susan unsteadily slumped against the sink, desperate to complete her nightly chores for fear of upsetting her husband further, as her aching fingers scrubbed the baked-on crusts of the earthenware pots, and as an irregular gush of blood thrummed and thumped through her aching brain, suddenly everything went black and – again - she collapsed.
The heavy thud should have alerted Alexander that his wife was in trouble. Her stillness should have rang an alarm bell that all was not well. But it didn’t. As seeing his lazy useless wife, lying down like an unruly mutt, her stupid head slumped against the cold kitchen step like the silly cow was spitefully defying him by taking a little nap, he bellowed “Get up you drunken bitch”, and when she didn’t, wearing hard leather boots, he repeatedly kicked her legs, her body and her head.
Susan didn’t fight back, she didn’t scream, and she didn’t even move, as being either so bruised, unconscious or beyond caring, she just lay there. And with Alexander, once again, refusing to pick her up, Susan lay slumped in an insensible mess on the cold kitchen floor, for the next two hours,
By Sunday 24th March, with Alexander having denied her the right to rest in her own bed, as her persistent bleeding would have soiled his sheets, Susan was moved to the horsehair and straw mattress that her children slept in, nestled on the floor, next to the kitchen fire, like a dog; and there she lay, silent, still and barely breathing except in low rasps gasps.
At 8pm. Mary-Ann returned, when she asked Alexander how Susan was, he huffed that she “was in a very bad state” and that he was “astonished that ‘it’ had lasted as long as it had done”. And when asked if he had sent for a doctor, he said “no, there was no need”, but Mary-Ann insisted.
Dr Joshua Watkins of nearby Chandos Street was called for and arrived at 25 Brydges Street just after 11am on the morning of Monday 25th March 1850, by which time, 39 year old Susan Moir was dead.
On Monday 6th May 1850, at The Old Bailey, Alexander Moir pleaded not guilty to his wife’s murder. Having heard the testimony, examined the scene and viewed the body, a jury of 15 men assembled to debate the case at the Two Spies public house on Brydges Street.
The evidence was overwhelming; every inch of Susan’s skin was covered in a patchwork of lumps, cuts, bruises and breaks; some were old, some were new, but all told a tale of terrified woman fearing for her life. And having removed six ounces of coagulated blood from her brain, the surgeon confirmed that Susan been beaten to death as she lay either unconscious or dying.
In his summing-up, Mr Justice Cresswell stated that if the jury felt it was Alexander’s intention to beat his wife to death, then he must be charged with murder. But that if by beating his wife, his intention was only to cause her pain, and that as a result she died, then he must be charged with manslaughter.
After a very short deliberation, for the brutal death and the physical, mental and emotional abuse he had inflicted on Susan, over two decades, the jury found Alexander Moir guilty… of manslaughter.
Alexander Moir was sentenced to life, but he served just twelve years. And although, as an East End pauper, Susan had escaped poverty, disease and malnutritian by becoming the wife of a prosperous West End baker, being beaten black-and-blue every day of her married life, the one horror she could never escape was her violent husband. Susan Moir was buried in a pauper’s grave, somewhere in East London, but her exact whereabouts are unknown.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
Don’t forget, if you’re a murky miler, to stay tuned for extra goodies after the break, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week; Wine & Crime and Affirmative Murder. (PLAY PROMO)
A huge thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who (following my previous advert) desperately wanted to have super perky sky-pointing tits and lethally-long dongs which dragged on the floor, and those lucky people are Taya Brendle, Ladislav Eichler, Amanda-Jayne Lamb, Debbie Halliwell, Robert Lee-Floyd Williams, Jason Aberchrombie and Ashley Shannon, although they will be easy to spot. Also a big thank you to Tom who came on my Murder Mile Walk and very kindly became a cash Patreon. And a special thank-you to Stacey Conover who as a mega-patreon not only gets gravity defying boobs for life and a man-trumpet so long it’s a trip-hazard, but also she will receive a very exclusive Murder Mile mug – only one of two currently in existence. Ooh! But – of course – my biggest thank you is to everyone who listens to Murder Mile. Thank you to you all.
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.
Thank you for listening and sleep well.
Credits: The Murder Mile true-crime podcast was researched, written and recorded by Michael J Buchanan-Dunne, with the sounds recorded on location (where possible), and the music written and performed by Erik Stein & Jon Boux of Cult With No Name. Additional music was written and performed by various artists, as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0. A list of tracks used and the links are listed on the relevant transcript blog here
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”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British podcast Awards 2018", 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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