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On Friday 26th December 1947, Elizabeth Wakefield; an elderly widow who was desperate to remarry for fear of being left on the shelf, moved into the first floor flat at 46 Calthorpe Street with an angry drunken maniac called Frederick Cox who had been convicted of the attempted murder of his entire family. But who was worse – the widow or her killer?
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations (and I don't want to be billed £300 for copyright infringement again), to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
I've added the location of 46 Calthorpe Street, WC1 where Frederick John Cox murdered Elizabeth Henrietta Wakefield. It is marked with a red !. It's up by the words 'St Andrew's Gardens'. To use the map, simply click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, such as Soho and Paddington, you access them by clicking here
I've also posted some photos to aid your "enjoyment" of the episode. These photos were taken by myself (copyright Murder Mile) or granted under Government License 3.0, where applicable.
Ep69 – The Abominable Mr & Mrs Cox
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 Elizabeth Wakefield; an elderly widow desperate to remarry for fear of being left on the shelf, and when left with very few options, she moved in with an angry drunken maniac who had attempted to murder of his entire family. But who was worse – the widow or her killer?
Murder Mile is researched using the original police files. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details, and as a dramatisation of the real events, it may also feature 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 69: The Abominable Mr & Mrs Cox.
Today I’m standing on Calthorpe Street, WC1; two streets east of the square where the body-parts of Louis Voisin’s mistress’ were dumped, three streets south of the warehouse where the corpse hero Glyndwr Michael began his infamous second life and two hundred feet west of the hostel where Reg Christie spent his last night of freedom, as well as being just streets from the King’s Cross fire, the 7/7 bombing and the untold stories of the victims of the Camden Ripper – coming soon to Murder Mile.
Calthorpe Street is quiet residential street near King’s Cross between Grey’s Inn Road and the former Mount Pleasant postal sorting office, which is now being turned into posh flats (well, what isn’t).
With three-storey Georgian terrace-houses on both sides of a curved street, access to a basement flat instead of a front garden, white stucco on the ground floor walls, brown bricks above and shielded by wrought iron railings with a set of thick stone steps leading up to single front-door, where-as once these were pauper’s houses at a cost of £3 10 a week, now each flat sells for nearly £1 million-a-piece.
With almost no traffic, no people, no pets nor plants, being a one-way street leading from somewhere to nowhere, very little happens here. It’s the epitome of the modern middle-classes, where everything is about style over substance, and the only noise you’ll hear is the infuriating squeak of a vintage bike, the only smell is freshly baked bread (sprayed from an aerosol) and the only sound is the incessant whine of spoiled little bastards moaning “daddy I want a guava, kale and avocado demi-capu baby-chino”, as long lines of so-called “yummy mummies” dump their precious little sprogs onto a ragged au-pair, to torture their uptight tots with a strict rigorous regime of wanky pretentious pap like baby yoga, toddler Zumba and Latin for little ‘uns, all while mummy complains how “I simply have no time to myself” having engaged in ten hours of lunches and lithium, tiffin and tranquilisers, pampering and Prozac.
And although, the first floor flat at 46 Calthorpe Street seems like a nice little home for (what I hope is) a loving and happy couple, it was here on Friday 26th December 1947, in a fit of rage, where Frederick Cox ended the life of Elizabeth Wakefield, the woman who was to be his wife (Interstitial).
Elizabeth Henrietta Wakefield had a hard life from the day she was born until the day she died.
Born in a Hoxton slum in 1881, as one of six children raised by a housewife and a labourer who shared one house with three families, Elizabeth Henrietta Claxton - also known as Elsie - was impoverished, uneducated and unskilled. Living in fear of sickness, starvation or the pauper’s prison, and denied a career, Elsie’s only chance of survival was by marriage to a man whose babies she would bear. But as she was never the prettiest, the brightest or the wittiest, her choice of spouse would be strictly limited.
In 1898, aged seventeen, Elsie met Herbert Wakefield, a warehouseman in a Shoreditch tannery. After six months they were engaged, after twelve months they were married and after nine more months their first child was born, swiftly followed by five more. So with Herbert, Elsie, Bertie, Albert, Leonard, Doris, Gladys and Elizabeth, as well as two lodgers all squeezed into a single ground-floor flat at 15 Danbury Street in Islington, like many large families living off a single unsteady income - life was tough.
On 24th November 1926, after twenty-seven years together and having raised six children (all who had moved out), as a bloated, broke and exhausted alcoholic, Herbert died, having drank himself to death.
With no savings, no pension, no income and no home; as Herbert was her everything, now she had nothing. And where-as once, her big-bosom and child-bearing hips were her best features; as a five-foot two inch, 18 stone and 45 year old widow, with wiry grey hair, ragged clothes, a deeply lined face and her infertile body battered by eleven pregnancies, Elsie was no longer the woman she once was.
So having spruced herself up, brushed her hair down and shaved a full decade off her age, the new 35 year old Elsie Henrietta Wakefield set off to seek out a new man to fill her life. But who?
Frederick John Cox was born in 1895, fifteen years after Elsie’s birth, although he wouldn’t know that. Having been abandoned and raised by a Hackney couple who he called Mr & Mrs Cope; his birthday, his home-town and his biological parents were all unknown. All that was known was that having been the by-product of an unwanted pregnancy and a difficult birth, which left the bowling ball-shaped boy with stubby limbs, a conical head and a chronic stutter, from the day he was born, Fred was unloved.
Feeling very much like an outsider and seeking some kind of stability in his rotten little life, having left school with a basic education, on the 29th September 1912, aged 17, Fred married his first-love Eliza Mae Newby, in a union swiftly followed by two baby daughters – Amy and Cissie.
Described as a decent dad, a good husband and a solid provider, having built his own family, he should have been happy, but riddled with a fear of abandonment, Fred was moody, jealous and controlling.
That year, as a sturdy young man with rough hands, a thick neck and a solid knowledge of engines, Fred enlisted in the Royal Navy. Serving through the First World War as a stoker on-board a C-Class British submarine, although he took part in some truly dangerous missions whilst stuck in the dark and claustrophobic bowels of a submerged steel-can surrounded by fuel, fumes and the crushing pressures of the sea, Fred loved his job, his crew, his ship and – best of all – the boozy camaraderie.
Fred had two families, one at home and one at sea.
In April 1918, whilst submerged off the English coast, one of the submarine’s 4-stroke engines suffered a minor failure, it lost propulsion and the ship drifted deeper under the stormy sea. As a relatively new technology, breakdowns were common and accidents were often, but as the engineer sought to fix the fault, a fuel line snapped and the 150-foot ship swiftly filled with a toxic mix of deadly gases. Forced to resurface, having blown its ballast and popped the hatch to refill the noxious compartments with fresh breathable air, the ship was abandoned, the crew were rescued and thankfully no-one died.
But several of the crew were injured… one of whom was Fred.
In March 1919, after seven years’ service, Frederick John Cox was medically discharged from the Royal Navy, as although he was physically fit, from this point on, his brain would be plagued with headaches, nausea, memory loss and mood swings, all of which he would pacify with alcohol.
Granted a tiny compensation having risked his life for his country, Fred returned home to London, to his wife, to his daughters and to a new and uneventful life as a van guard for Great Northern Railway. As before, his work record was excellent, he was a loving husband and a doting father…
…but only when he was sober.
Drinking to dull his pain, the booze turned Fred into a very different person, and where-as once he was moody, jealous and controlling, the alcohol made him tearful, paranoid and angry. And having now been rejected by three families – his biological parents, his foster family and the Royal Navy – his fears of abandonment again came full circle, as he began to mistrust his job, his wife and his life.
After fifteen unhappy years together, on Thursday 3rd November 1927, their marriage took a dark turn.
That morning, Eliza Cox (Fred’s long-suffering wife) turned to her mother and said “I’m going to leave him. I cannot stand it any longer. He’s nagging me from morning till night. If you do not take me in, I shall take the kids and walk into the streets”. With no other option, Eliza and her two young daughters packed-up their few belongings, departed their tiny two-roomed lodging at 20 Cornwall Cottages in Islington and moved into her mum’s pokey little second-floor flat, a few doors down, at number 60.
Six ladies squeezed into one tight space; with Eliza, Amy and Cissie in one small room and Eliza’s 63 year old widowed mother Lily and her two spinster sisters Sarah-Jane and Florence in the other.
At 4:15pm, having finished a long night-shift at Haggerston Gas Works and popped to the pub to sink several pints to quell his throbbing head, being steaming drunk, Fred staggered home. Only his home was empty, and his wife and kids were gone.
Seething with rage, as Fred staggered up the cold stone stairs of Cornwall Cottages, stormed along the second floor balcony which circled the outside of the four-storey tenement block, and as he reached the wooden front-door of number sixty, he banged hard hollering “Eliza! Eliza!”
Spotting his wife, as he shoved Lily aside, a bitter slanging-match ensued in the kitchen, as Eliza and Fred screamed at each other; the fearsome mum shielded her sobbing daughters as their drunken dad ranted and stumbled, spitting venom and slamming his fist into a cabinet. And as tears streamed down his fuming face, he belligerently spat “give me my key back, if you want to stay here, you can stay here, see if I care”, Eliza tossed the key at Fred’s head and screamed “No! I am finished! We’re over!”
That was it! Thirty four years of abandonment had been boiled down into just two words, spat by an angry wife at her drunken husband in the heat of passion. Whether she meant it or not, we may never know. But as his fears of abandonment once again came full circle - with his reddened eyes glazed, his throat raw and his fists tightly clenched - with that, Fred snapped.
From behind, as he grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked it back hard, as she screamed, her head tilted back, stretching the pale muscles of her exposed neck. From his jacket pocket, Fred pulled out a white ivory handle, which looked innocent enough, but with a quick flick, out flipped his shaving razor, and as the six-inch blade buried deep into her flesh, he slit his wife’s throat from ear-to-ear, ripping open her wailing windpipe, as red bubbles of blood popped from the gaping wound in her neck.
And yet Fred wasn’t finished.
As Eliza slumped to the floor - wheezing, bleeding and struggling to breathe - with his frenzied attack having only just begun, Fred aimed his razor again at his wife’s throat. Only being desperate to defend her mum, as 12 year old Florence grabbed the razor and the super-sharp blade sheared off the top of her right thumb, she sprawled herself across the choking Eliza, using her own body as a human shield.
As the four remaining women frantically grappled with Fred, seizing his eldest daughter, as he slashed wildly, the blade sliced through Amy’s upper lip, split open her right cheek and narrowly missed the soft jelly of her right eye. Lily yanked Fred backwards, but spinning fast, Fred hit her hard in the face with the razor, knocking her to the ground and severing her facial nerve.
With blood splashed and splattered up the walls, door and the floor, as Sarah-Ann dashed out of the flat screaming for the Police, Fred grabbed her right leg, and as she tripped, as a single fast slice slashed off the top of her ear, it split apart her cheek and ripped open her nose.
And only then, with the neighbours alerted and as crowds converged, Fred’s frenzied attack suddenly ceased and shaking with panicked terror, as he surveyed his bloody aftermath, with six women screaming, both daughters bleeding and his wife now ghostly white and barely conscious, as his face flushed with shame and his eyes filled with tears, Fred stuttered “I’m sorry” and slit his own throat.
Seven people were rushed to the Royal Free Hospital. Lily, Amy, Cissie, Sarah-Ann and Florence needed nothing more than a few stitches. Although Eliza was listed as critical suffering a severed windpipe, and Fred having sliced open his superior thyroid artery, having lost several pints of blood, miraculously they both survived. For the rest of their lives, they each had their own scars. So whenever Fred looked at his wife and kids, or at himself in the mirror, from this day until the day he died, the man he would become would always be haunted by the man he once was.
On 28th November 1927, having been discharged from hospital and still distraught at the pain he had caused his family, Fred fully confessed to his crimes and was charged with the attempted murder of his wife, two daughters, the wounding of others and a failed suicide. And for the weeks that followed he wept for their forgiveness. He knew he didn’t deserve it…
…but as the saying goes, “The Lord works in mysterious ways”.
On 10th December 1927, with Eliza was still in a critical condition, although she was unable to talk and could only articulate in gestures, as a deeply religious woman raised as a good Catholic, bafflingly, the appropriately named Reverend Cocq convinced her not to give evidence against her husband.
On 2nd February 1928, Frederick John Cox pleaded guilty to all charges at the Old Bailey and was found guilty of attempted murder. But with his wife appealing for leniency, his daughters having forgiven him and with Fred promising to quit drinking, he was sentenced to just twelve months in prison…
…and he served only eight.
Released from prison just shy of Christmas 1928, Fred kept his promise and having quit the booze, he started work at the Gas & Coke Company in Stock Newington, moved back into the family home at 20 Cornwall Cottages and once again became a decent dad, a good husband and a solid provider. So much so, that they even added to their brood with a third daughter - Doreen.
And then, ten years later; with his headaches pounding harder, his anger slowly rising and the dreaded booze once again swirling about his blood, seeing the deep jagged scars across his family’s faces and throats which made him seethe, having threatened them all several times before, on 27th June 1938… Fred upped and left.
For the sake of their safety, to protect them from pain and defend them from death, as a violent and emotional drunk with no control over his actions, Fred walked out on his family. And although he paid her a weekly maintenance without fail, Eliza and her daughters never saw him ever again.
Fred was a broken man; drunk, lost and in pain, gripped by fears of abandonment which had plagued him since birth; being rejected by his parents, his foster family, the Royal Navy and now turning his back on his own wife and kids for fear of his rage (once again) coming full circle, Fred was alone.
What he wanted was love; but being a moody drunken boozer with a quick temper, an unsightly eight-inch scar slashed across his neck and a criminal conviction for the attempted murder of his entire family, who he had since deserted, what woman would actually want him? No-one would. Unless they were desperate… one woman was, and her name was Elizabeth Wakefield. (Interstitial)
Nicknamed Elsie, the last twelve years after her late husband’s death hadn’t been kind to her, as being in-and-out of a series of bad relationships, she was still a penniless widow with no trade, skills or income, who lived off her six grown-up children, as she struggled to find herself a new husband.
When she met 42 year old Fred, she said she was 47, but by then, she was nearer to 60. And with her portly frame several stone heavier, her wiry grey hair thinning and the deep lines of her reddened face bloated and ravaged by booze, Elsie looked a sorry sight.
Elsie & Fred were two broken people looking for love. Having found happiness together, they moved into a small single room on the first floor of 46 Calthorpe Street, at the back of King’s Cross. And with plans to eventually marry, the couple would refer to each other as Mr & Mrs Cox.
But life together was far from harmonious.
Ten years later, with Fred bringing in their only income to pay the rent and to support his former family whilst working as a Plant Attendant at the Gas & Coke Company in Fulham, with Elsie being unmarried and infertile - believing she no longer had a purpose in life - she had become a full-blown alcoholic.
Life was difficult, as living in one room, twelve feet deep by fifteen feet wide, with just enough space for a gas stove, a wash basin and a small horse-hair bed, lived a violent ex-convict and an angry boozer. And although their neighbour described Fred as “a pleasant man who was calm, loving and kind”, she described Elsie as “bad-tempered, aggressive and seldom sober”, with a Police record to prove it. In this sparse tiny space, the abominable Mr & Mrs Cox would live… and this is also where she would die.
Christmas Day of 1947 brought thick snow to Calthorpe Street, but no love, no happiness and no joy.
Rising at 4am, as 52 year old Fred trudged out to work an eight hour shift, Elsie (who claimed to be 57, but was now nearer 70 and looked every day of it) slept off another hangover. Arriving back at 4pm, Fred found the flat empty, the fire off, the festive food eaten and under a pitiful little Christmas tree, his present to her unwrapped and not a single gift left for him.
But then, that was Elsie – rude and selfish.
By the time Fred got to Grey’s Inn Road and squeezed among the swearing sweaty throng of wreaking reprobates at the Yorkshire Grey public house, having boozed heavily at the Mechanic’s Larder and the Pakenham Arms all day; Elsie was broke, blind-drunk and dressed in the fur-lined neck shawl he had brought her. Without so much as a “thank you”, having ponced a pound off Fred as she knocked back a swift succession of red-wines, whiskies and bitters, the more bladdered she got, the ruder, nastier and more abusive she became.
At closing time, being too blotto to stand, Fred carried Elsie the three hundred yards home, where he made her a cup of tea and put her to bed, and as sat alone by the fire, he nursed his throbbing head, unsure whether those familiar sharp pains were caused by her constant nagging, an ailment from his Navy days or the twenty years’ worth of noxious fumes he inhaled at the Gas & Coke Company.
And that was his Christmas Day.
Friday 26th December 1947 was more of the same; an early start followed by four hours of traveling, eight hours of working and six hours of nagging, as a fuming Elsie and her freeloading chums quaffed back several gins, all on his coin. And with his head royally pounding, at a little after 10pm, having had enough of Elsie’s selfish and abusive antics, Fred called it a night and headed home…
…all the while, yards behind him, Elsie staggered, seething and spitting.
And that was his Boxing Day.
Arriving back at their first floor flat, just shy of 10:30pm, with Fred now a moderate drinker who was so used to her abuse, throughout he kept his cool knowing she would pass-out soon enough. Only Elsie didn’t back down, as seeing his packed suitcases by the door, she was fired-up and furious.
“Elsie”, he stated “we’re over!”
That was it! Sixty-seven years of abandonment had been boiled down to just two words, and whether he meant it or not, we may never know. But as her fears once again came full circle - with her reddened eyes glazed, her throat raw and her fists tightly clenched - with that, Elsie snapped.
Lunging at Fred, as her tatty nails clawed at his face and her brown teeth teared at his skin; struggling, they slipped and thumped onto the floor, thrashing and screaming, with him on top of her. Her fists repeatedly pounding the throbbing head of a violent ex-convict.
And as all of his pain and pent-up rage boiled, instinctively he grabbed the fur-lined shawl which was draped around her neck, and with straining fists, as he glared into her bloated screaming face, he pulled the cords tighter. And with her screams muffled, her breathing weak and her swollen head turning from sickly pale to mottled red to ruptured purple, her lips went blue, her eyes went black and as her chunky little legs slowly stopped twitching, Elsie Wakefield – his wife-to-be - was dead. (End)
Shaking with panicked terror, as painful memories of how he had once tried to murder his family came flooding back, as his face flushed with shame and his eyes filled with tears, Fred stuttered “I’m sorry” and (once again) with his six-inch shaving razor, he slit open his own throat, and – to ensure he did it right this time – he slashed both wrists to boot. Weeping and destroyed, as a tearful Fred placed a pillow under the head of his slowly-cooling Elsie, he lay beside her, bleeding and awaiting his death.
Only, after almost a whole day lying next to his cold beloved, he didn’t die.
Wracked with guilt, at 11:50am on Saturday 28th December 1947, Fred handed himself in at Grey’s Inn Road police station, he made a full confession and gave a written statement. Having been dead for 36 hours and died of asphyxiation, Eliza’s birth records confirmed that she was 67 years old, although I’m sure she would be pleased to know that at least one tabloid newspaper, incorrectly listed it as just 52.
Frederick John Cox was tried at The Old Bailey on 9th February 1948. With Elsie being deceased, unlike with his ex-wife Eliza, she was unable to refuse to give evidence or to ask for leniency owing to an interfering priest, so having pleaded guilty to the charge of manslaughter by grounds of provocation, Fred was sentenced to seven years penal servitude, which he served at Pentonville Prison.
And by all accounts, prison was okay; it gave him a job, a uniform, a routine and – just like in the Royal Navy – a family, so with the camaraderie he craved, an alcohol-free diet and a steel gate separating him from the outside world, with no-one left to love and being sat in a solitary cell, never again would he be abandoned. Fred died in 1963 and - to the best of my knowledge – he never remarried.
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
For all murky milers, please stay tuned to hear about how sweaty this episode was to record in the latest riveting instalment of Extra Mile, but before that, here’s my recommended podcasts of the week. (PROMO)
A huge thank you goes out to my new Patreon supporters, who are Epenthesis and Emily L, I thank you, as well as a special thank-you to an unnamed friend of the podcast for treating me to a PayPal pint. Burp. I thank you too.
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And don’t forget, if you want to see what the murder locations look like, every Thursday I upload a blog for each episode, with a map, location videos, photos etc. There is a link to this in the show-notes.
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 as used under the Creative Common Agreement 4.0.
The music featured in this episode include:
Aerosol Spray - https://freesound.org/people/WeeJee_vdH/sounds/267709/
Rusty Bike – https://freesound.org/people/debsound/sounds/431472/
Underwater - https://freesound.org/people/Abolla/sounds/213914/
Submarine Klaxon - https://freesound.org/people/Timbre/sounds/203562/
SOURCE: The murder of Elizabeth Henrietta Wakefield by Frederick John Cox at Calthorpe Street, WC1 - http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C1258327
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
The Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast has been researched using the original declassified police investigation files, court records, press reports and as many authentic sources as possible including eye-witness testimony, confessions, autopsy reports, first-hand accounts and independent investigation, where possible. But these documents are only as accurate as those recounting them and recording them, therefore mistakes will be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile is a 'dramatisation' of the events and not a documentary, therefore a certain amount of dramatic licence, selective characterisation and story-telling (within logical reason and based on extensive research) has been taken. It is not a full representation of the case, the people or the investigation in its entirety, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity and drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, therefore it will contain a certain level of bias to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated.
*** LEGAL DISCLAIMER ***
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tor 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 50 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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