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Welcome to the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast and audio guided walk of London's most infamous and often forgotten murder cases, set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND ONE:
On Saturday 7th November 1908, at 11:40am, John Esmond Murphy walked into the bank of Cartmell & Schlittle at 84 Shaftesbury Avenue. Overwhelming evidence pointed to the fact that he bungled a heist, pulled a gun, shot and stabbed the manager dead, and was then captured, arrested, convicted and executed. But did he actually do it?
As many photos of the case are copyright protected by greedy news organisations, to view them, take a peek at my entirely legal social media accounts - Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
The location of Cartmell & Schlittle at 84 Shaftebury Avenue is where the purple triangle in the middle between Soho and Chinatown is. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, such as Soho, King's Cross, etc, access them by clicking here.
Here's two little videos to aid your enjoyed / understanding of this week's episode; on the left is the murder location at 85 Shaftesbury Avenue, and on the right is a little video showing you what a typical petit mal seizure looks like. This video is a link to youtube, so it won't eat up your data.
Credits: The Murder Mile UK 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.
This case was researched using the original declassified police incvestigation files from the National Archives and form the Old Bailey.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF 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 and beyond the West End.
Today’s episode is about a very ordinary robbery, as the overwhelming evidence pointed to the fact that John Esmond Murphy walked into a bank, bungled a heist, pulled a gun, shot and stabbed the manager dead, and was then captured, arrested, convicted and executed. But did he actually do it?
Murder Mile is researched using the original police files. It contains moments of satire, shock and grisly details. And as a dramatization 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 101: The Fatal Seizure of John Esmond Murphy.
Today I’m standing on Shaftesbury Avenue, off Chinatown, W1; one street north of the fiery death of Reginald Gordon West, one street west of the hushed-up shooting at the Rose n Dale club, a few yards from the first failed assassination on Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko and one street south of stabbing of Savvas Demetriades and the Cypriot code of silence - coming soon to Murder Mile.
This bit of Shaftesbury Avenue lies on the border between Soho and Chinatown, only being little more than a busy road from Piccadilly Circus to Holborn, it has all of the traffic but none of the footfall.
With nothing to see here and nowhere to go, the tourists pass through this West End wasteland as it’s a bit of a cultural dead zone, as there are no theatres, pubs, or sights of historical interest, just two long lines of very grey, very vague buildings and a lot of exhaust fumes. And with the bustling theatres deliberately keeping their distance, it’s as if this bit of Shaftesbury Avenue is an architectural leper.
Of course, to anyone who loves staring blankly at some obscure arty subtitled twaddle, losing a shirt (and a hand) in a not-so legal Chinese casino, paying £3 for a warm flat can of Kosher Cola, wasting a night being yah-d at (“yah-yah-okay-yah”) in a pretentious club by some TV tossers, or overcharged by a Chinese herbalist for an extract of tiger anus to cure your piles, then this is your promised land.
A high point is at 84 Shaftesbury Avenue; a five-storey mansion block with red-brick and cream colour pillars, built in the late 1800’s, which is now home to Olle – a Korean barbeque, where many satisfied munchers (like myself) have gorged themselves silly on a wide array of mouth-watering delights. And although, this is a fabulous place to fill your belly - as it was once the bank of Cartmell & Schlitte - it is also the site of a bungled robbery, an unfortunate death and a very strange miscarriage of justice.
As it was here, on Saturday 7th November 1908, that John Esmond Murphy would be fatally seized with an uncontrollable urge to steal and kill for the very first and the very last time. (Interstitial)
But did he actually do it? Well, yes, he did and the evidence was irrefutable.
(Dizzy sounds) It’s a fact that on Saturday 7th November 1908, at 11:40am, twenty-one-year-old John Esmond Murphy of Paddington – having purchased a four-inch sheath knife and a .455 calibre Webley Fosbery revolver one day prior – entered the bank of Cartmell & Schlitte. Being penniless, he shot the manager once, stabbed him six times in the hands and chest, a struggle ensued, Murphy fled, and in his desperation to escape, he stabbed a van-driver and a police constable, who wrestled him to the ground, and he was swiftly arrested within sight of the bank and just a few seconds after the robbery.
The incident occurred in broad daylight, on a busy city street, he wasn’t wearing a disguise and he was positively identified without hesitation by several eye-witnesses who all gave detailed statements. His fingerprints were found in the bank, on the gun, on the knife and the blood had stained on his clothes.
Seven weeks later, being deemed medically fit to stand trial, although he pleaded his innocence by claiming that he had no memory of the event, with his insanity plea rejected and his laughable defence being down to a dose of malaria, two bouts of sunstroke and a hereditary form of epilepsy – as the robbery was clearly premeditated - he was found guilty in a court of law and executed for his crimes.
If ever there was an open-and-shut case of robbery and murder, it was this.
But did he actually do it? Well, no. I don’t think he did.
John Esmond Murphy, known as Jack was born in Calcutta (India) in the summer of 1886, as the second of two siblings to British parents; his mother was a housewife, his father was a sergeant-major in the Army and he had one sister called Kathleen. Originating from Ireland, the Murphy’s were a loving but ordinary lower-middle-class family seeking a better life, as the British Empire expanded across Asia.
Being a sensitive little boy, with a small thin frame, brown wavy hair and a beak-like nose, Jack was neat and clean, polite and calm, quiet and meek. He didn’t shout, cry or cause a disturbance, and being an intelligent lad with a love of engineering and poetry, he had a bright future ahead of him.
But sadly, the Murphy’s were a family who were cursed with bad luck, illness and tragedy.
In 1896, when Jack was aged ten, the Murphy family were struck down with Malaria; a deadly disease of the blood carried by mosquitos resulting in shivers, fever and death. And although not a cure, a lifelong course of Quinine would prove an effective treatment, sadly his father would not survive.
As a small sickly boy, Jack would battle typhoid, scarlet fever, cholera and severe bouts of sunstroke which would almost take his life, and even though he bravely soldiered on, his life was to get worse.
In 1902, when Jack was aged sixteen, having contracted pleurisy, his mother died of a brain fever. Jack & Kathleen were two grieving teens, all alone in India and four thousand miles from their nearest living relative. Anyone else would have struggled and failed, but being educated, hard-working and fluent in Bengali, gifted a small inheritance in their parent’s will, they would thrive for two more years.
Only, unbeknownst to them, both parents had bequeathed them something more than money and a home, as the biggest inheritance the two siblings would receive was the hereditary curse of epilepsy.
Initially Jack & Kathleen didn’t know they were epileptic, as with its onset often occurring in puberty, to the best of their knowledge they had never had a seizure. But then, there are two very distinct types of epileptic seizure; one which affects the whole body and the other which affects the brain.
Commonly known as ‘grand-mal’ seizures, these attacks have familiar symptoms like a rigid stiffening of the body, a frothing at the mouth, a loss of bladder control, consciousness, and sometimes the ability to breathe, and (most noticeably) the violent uncontrollable spasm of the whole muscular system, which can last for seconds, take hours to recover and may require medical assistance.
And although both types are caused by a violent electrical disturbance in the brain, ‘petit mal’ seizures are incredibly subtle, so subtle that sometimes even the sufferer and those around them are unaware that a seizure has taken place. Known as ‘absence seizures’, although symptoms vary, often being triggered by moments of emotional stress, an ‘absence seizure’ is typically denoted by a vacant look in the eyes, a slight fluttering of the eyelids, the ceasing of a conversation mid-sentence and - being physically unharmed - they often return to normal with no memory of those missing seconds.
But sometimes, an atypical ‘petit mal’ seizure may be preceded by mood swings, aggression and (like a Jekyll & Hyde) a severe shift in personality. And although during a seizure they can still walk, move and interact with the world, unlike the people around them, they have no control over their actions.
Thankfully, suffering intermittently from typical ‘petit mal’ seizures, neither Jack nor Kathleen let their disability stop them from leading an active and productive life, which would make their parents proud.
In 1903, aged seventeen, Jack & Kathleen returned to the UK, first to Glasgow, and then to London.
Having served eighteen months as a conscientious and dedicated Private in the British/Indian Army, being trained as a mechanic, Jack earned a good reputation as "reliable, trustworthy and hardworking engineer". In 1904, he trained as a driver and mechanic for the Automobile Market on Oxford Street where the manager praised him as “an asset to the company” and “quite a gentleman”. In 1905, he became a sub-station attendant for the Underground Electric Railways Company, responsible for the power supply at Ravenscourt Park tube station, where his supervisor said he was “steady, reliable and intelligent”. And remaining in employment until March 1908, as assistant to a civil engineer, Jack was only laid-off owing to an engineering strike, where his last employer hailed him as “a very well-trained engineer, perfectly sober and the meekest and quietest individual I have ever met”.
He rarely drank, he didn’t do drugs, he didn’t lead a lavish lifestyle and had no expensive tastes; he never swore, shouted or stole, he didn’t have a bad bone in his body and he had no criminal record.
And as a quiet lad with few friends – outside of engineering and poetry - his one passion was target practice. Once a week, having trained as a keen and careful marksman in the Army, he enjoyed the thrill of shooting at paper targets at the King’s Rifles shooting range in nearby Oxenden Street.
Keen to develop a solid career, to live a good decent life and to aid his sister who had been diagnosed with a brain tumour, Jack had never taken a day-off sick. In fact, although an epileptic would never have been hired for such roles, his petit mal seizures were so infrequent, his colleagues barely noticed.
On rare occasions he appeared forgetful, distracted,tired and sometimes had a glazed and vacant look about his eyes, and one time - having loaned the boss’s bike – whilst cycling, he fell off, and was found wandering aimlessly, unaware of how he’d got there, or where the bike was… but that was it.
Six months later, a court of law would conclusively prove that John Esmond Murphy had robbed a bank, inflicted two violent assaults and brutally murdered a man for money. But did he? (Interstitial)
It is said that atypical seizures are often triggered by moments of great stress.
By the middle of October 1908, having eked-out a meagre existence in a series of part-time jobs, even though he had moved into a modest basement flat at 145 Shirland Road in Paddington, having pawned off his personal possessions, Jack couldn’t afford to pay his six shillings-a-week rent, or even to eat.
Having deliberately moved one street away to be near his only surviving relative – his beloved sister, three times-a-day Jack would visit Kathleen. Having married well, she lived in a pleasant mansion block called Delaware Mansions in Maida Vale, but living apart from her husband and with a three-year-old daughter, Kathleen required constant care as she awaited an operation on her brain tumour.
Burdened by no work, no money and no purpose, with the threat of homelessness looming, no bright prospects on the horizon and his last surviving family member knocking at death’s door, although Jack was still his usual self – a meek, placid and thoughtful boy - all too often, a cloud would descent over his head, as he morphed into someone else; someone darker, more depressive and unusually angry.
Over the weeks, as his frequent seizures grew stronger and longer; his eyes were cold and dead, his face was vague and distant, and his lids fluttered almost imperceptibly, as if he was on auto-pilot. And yet, now there were new symptoms; as sometimes he would scratch his left wrist until it was red-raw and bleeding, often he’d rock back and forth on his feet muttering in an incoherent mumble, as waves of epileptic attacks came one-after-the-other, and then there were his dark and violent moods.
In an instant, having been the epitome of meekness and compassion, who (just seconds earlier) had been supping his tea whilst reading poetry to soothe his sister, Jack would suddenly snap and change into someone unrecognisable; who was aggressive, violent and threatening. And then, just as quickly as it had begun, it would end; he would return to his normal self, unaware that time had passed, that an incident had occurred, and unable to apologise for his actions, as he had no idea what he had done.
As the rapidity of his petit-mal seizures escalated, as Jack became physically and emotionally drained by the persistent electrical assaults on his brain, it became almost impossible to work-out where old Jack ended and new Jack began. And yet, just two weeks before the robbery and the murder of the man who Jack had never met, something very sinister and out-of-character would happen.
On Monday 19th October 1908, at 12:45am, Kathleen and her live-in carer called Stella Lynne had been out to Rayner’s bar in Haymarket and had returned by taxi to Delaware Mansions. Just as they had left it a few hours earlier, the door was locked, the fire was out, the lights were off and the flat was empty.
Or so they thought.
Having heard an odd noise; a creaking then a breathing, as if inside Kathleen’s bedroom someone was waiting, opening the door, they saw no-one but the sounds didn’t cease. And with no stranger hidden behind the door or inside the wardrobe, there was only one last place to check - underneath the bed.
Striking a match, as Stella peered into the dark recess beneath, with his beak-like nose touching the bed-springs, Stella saw Jack; semi-clad, motionless and grinding his teeth, almost catatonic (as if he was asleep), but with his open eyes fluttering, and tightly gripped in his hand was a cutthroat razor.
Stella was rightly terrified, as – barely a few days earlier – whilst sharing a cab into the West End with Jack, as another black mood descended, he had muttered “I am sick of this world. I am going to find my sister and end her life, and mine, and her child's". He didn’t. In fact, seconds later, he was fine and had forgotten everything he had just said, but Stella had forewarned Kathleen of this threat.
That night, as Stella snatched away his razor, in an instant Jack snapped out of his strange slumber, wrapped both of his bloodied hands around his sister’s throat, and as Kathleen screamed in terror, he strangled her; his mouth wide and silent, his eyes vacant and dead, as if it meant nothing. Kathleen’s death was only stopped by Stella. And as swiftly as this attempted murder had begun, it had stopped.
The incident was reported to the Police, two constables (PC Sanders and PC Hammond) attended the scene, a statement was made, but as Kathleen did not wish to press charges and Jack was now calm and unthreatening, the matter was dropped. For the next three days, although Kathleen’s throat was bruised and she couldn’t swallow, he refused to apologise, as (in his eyes) nothing had happened.
This incident only formed a small part of Jack’s defence, as it was deemed irrelevant, but according to the prosecution, what happened next would clearly constitute premeditation of the robbery.
On Friday 6th November 1908, at 9am, Jack reassured his landlady that he would pay his outstanding rent the very next day, only he had no money and no job. At 2pm, having loaned £4 off his sister to pay his back-rent, instead he went to the King’s Rifle gun range on Oxenden Street and bought a .455 calibre Webley Fosbery revolver, twenty-five bullets and a black handled four-inch switchblade knife. At 8pm, he sat with Kathleen, gave her a Quinine pill, took her temperature and read her Indian poetry to soothe her, as although the operation to remove a brain tumour was due the next day, being five guineas short of the full fee, her treatment looked unlikely. At 10:30pm, as she slept, he kissed her goodnight and assured her that everything would be okay, but that night, the cancer almost took her.
The next day, for the first time ever, this timid boy would rob a bank and commit a brutal murder. All of the evidence proves that he did it. But was this Jack acting out of desperation in a moment of high emotional stress, or – as a ‘petit mal’ epileptic - was he caught in the grip of an absence seizure?
At 84 Shaftesbury Avenue, on the corner of Macclesfield Street in Chinatown was Cartmell & Schlitte, a bank and foreign currency exchange, ran for fifteen years by George Cartmell and Fredrich Schlitte.
Being barely twelve feet square, it was small and practical, but undeniably a ‘Bureau de Change’, as with large black lettering above, although impossible to see inside owing to its lightly frosted glass on both sides, in the windows (behind a locked screen) sat thirteen bowls of foreign notes and gold coins.
Inside, through a thin wooden door, in an even smaller foyer was a large wooden counter with a heavy brass grille above, which kept the staff, the customers and the money at a distance. Across the counter was a neat array of banker’s books, paper bags, weights and scales, a cheque perforator and a till. And beyond an unlocked inner door to the left, behind the counter were rows of currency drawers and two safes. In total, the bank held almost £2000 in coins, notes and gold (roughly £250,000 today).
With co-owner George Cartmell on leave and the manager George Calderwood heading out, the bank was left in the very capable hands his partner, 47-year old Fredrich Schlitte, a married father of two.
Witnessed on the corner of Dean Street - dressed in a plain brown suit and a dark overcoat but nothing to disguise his face (not a mask or a hat) - Jack stood silently, rocking on his heels, as a trickle of blood ran freely down the red rash of his left wrist. But when questioned later, Jack could recall none of this.
At 11:40am, as Benjamin Goodkin, the bank’s last customer exited the door, being unphased by any sound or sight, as if in a trance, Jack calmly crossed the busy street, a loaded gun by his side, and entered Cartmell & Schlitte; a place he had never been to before, nor had any reason to visit.
The robbery was unlike any other; as with the gun outstretched and poking through the brass grille at the chest of Fredrich Schlitte, Jack never once shouted “hands up”, “this is a robbery” or “give me your money”, he didn’t utter a single warning or instruction, instead – with wide fluttering eyes – he fired.
This sweet-natured and sensitive boy who had never fired a single bullet in his life at anything but a paper target, had – without provocation, emotion, words or sounds – shot Fredrich above his heart, and having fallen to the floor, as the bespectacled banker tried to defend himself with the hefty bulk of the cheque perforator, Jack – who had no history of sadism or violence – pulled out a black handled switchblade knife, and plunged the four-inches of steel into his chest, slashing at the terrified man’s hands, as the blade pierced his stomach, his bowel, his intestines, his shoulder and his left lung. And although Jack’s teeth were bared, Jack didn’t seem to be grinning with glee, but grinding his teeth.
Desperate to raise an alarm as the pale boy with the vacant expression plunged the knife deep into his torso, having grabbed a brass weight, with all of his might, Fredrich hurled the half kilo lump and having smashed the locked screen and frosted front window, it landed with a thump on Shaftesbury Avenue, scattering shattered glass and almost hitting Benjamin Goodkin who’d forgotten something.
Seeing Fredrich in an ever-increasing crimson pool of blood, Benjamin screamed “Police! Murder!”, alerting a constable, but the second he looked back, Jack had fled. And although the floor was strewn with almost £200 worth of paper money and gold coins, he didn’t steal a single penny.
Instead, he fled down Shaftesbury Avenue towards Piccadilly Circus, at the corner of Wardour Street, he stabbed van-driver George Carter and Police Constable Albert Howe, but having his short pursuit cut-short by several passers-by, Jack was swiftly arrested, just yards and seconds after the robbery.
In his cell, this small meek boy didn’t seem like a robber and a knife-wielding maniac, but having seen it all unfold with their own eyes, there was no denying that he was. Even as the constable commented that “he looked perfectly cool and calm, as if he had been out for a walk”, and yet, when questioned this placid young man always looked bemused, as he had no memory of the incident, what-so-ever.
Two days later, Fredrich Schlitte died of his injuries and Jack was charged with murder. (End)
The investigation was simple. Conducted by Inspector Fogwill, the robbery was conclusively proven to have been pre-meditated as Jack had purchased both weapons. His motivation was money for his rent and his sister’s operation. And although there was an abundance of irrefutable evidence to prosecute Jack – such as the gun, the knife, the fingerprints and multiple eye-witness statements from PC Howe, George Carter and (before his death) Fredrich Schlitte – there was very little evidence to defend him.
Having apologised for his actions, although many colleagues testified to his placid character, they all admitted he had unusual quirks, ticks and (in recent weeks) was prone to unnatural violent outbursts.
With an insanity plea dismissed, on 8th December 1908, at the Old Bailey, the medical experts (none of whom had any direct experience of absence seizures or petit mal epilepsy), all dismissed his claims. Dr Phillip Dunn, the Police surgeon stated “in my opinion, his condition was perfectly consistent with nervousness arising from his situation”. Dr James Scott, medical officer at Brixton Prison said “he was conscious of his acts and he knew whether they were right or wrong”. And with the judge deeming his sister’s deposition into his mental and physical health as inadmissible, having pled ‘not guilty’ to all charges, a unanimous jury found him guilty of murder, and on 6th January 1909, Jack Esmond Murphy was executed at Pentonville Prison for a crime the evidence proved that he did commit. But did he?
OUTRO: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for listening to Murder Mile.
After the break, I go blah-blah blah, slurp-slurp-slurp, munch-munch-munch, and then we all switch off, if you haven’t already. Before that, a big thank you to my new Patreon supporters who are Christine Klassen and Beverley Cadel, I thank you. With a special thank you to Damian Twarogowski for the very kind donation. I thank you. Plus everyone who has recently left a lovely review of Murder Mile on your favourite podcast app’, it is hugely appreciated.
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.
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", one of The Telegraph's top five true-crime podcasts 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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