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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, all set within and beyond the West End.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FOUR:
Friday 31st July 1863. Wealthy merchant Frederick Chappell owned a small flat in a townhouse on the Marylebone Road. On the second floor, he secretly ensconced 24-year-old Emily Mitchell.
Once his maid, now his pregnant mistress, she lived the life of a lady… but she could never be treated as his wife, as she was not of the right class. With the baby, due to be born in secret, even though its conception was as much his fault as it was hers, living in a world dominated by men, the impending child would be seen as her sin… not his… and therefore death would come to Salisbury mansions.
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The location is marked with a yellow raindrop south of Regent's Park. To use the map, click it. If you want to see the other murder maps, access them by clicking here.
SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing on Marylebone Road, NW1; two streets west of the burglary of William Raven, one street north of the recruitment of Churchill’s favourite spy, a short walk west of the last sighting of Rene Hanrahan, and one street north of the boy who broke the rules - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Perched on the corner of Gloucester Place sits The Old Marylebone Town Hall, a large stone structure with Doric columns and an obelisk-like tower, made famous by the known faces who have wed there.
Sadly, as a registry office, marriages which begin there, tend not to last. As Paul McCartney got hitched (rather creepily) to two wives there, only to end up widowed and divorced. Stroppy Oasis grumbler Liam Gallagher married Patsy Kensit and Nicole Appleton there, only for both marriages to lose their “shee-iiiine”. And having wisely split from the second-best drummer in the Beatles, Ringo received his marching orders from ex-Bond girl Barbara Bach and - I’m sure, in his typically passive-aggressive way - stated that he was far “too busy” to sign the divorce petition, “with peace and love, peace and love”.
Although called The Old Marylebone Town Hall, it’s not that old, having only been built in 1920. Prior to this, once stood Salisbury Mansions, a set of three-storey townhouses for the city’s professionals.
One such flat was owned by Frederick Chappell, a wealthy merchant from Liverpool. Only residing in his own townhouse just a few streets away, this discrete and convenient little hideaway would be the home of his pregnant mistress – 24-year-old Sarah Emily Mitchell. Being once his maid, now the mother of his child, here she would live like a ‘lady’, and yet, she would never be treated as his wife.
This site is a place synonymous with unhappy unions, but only one of them would lead to murder.
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 184: A Woman’s Sin.
Were you to read any articles from this era about Sarah Emily Mitchell, you would see her tarred with the brush of “a wretched mother”, “a woman of sin” and “a harlot of no pedigree”. The world was against her, not because of who she was, but because of what she was - a woman of a lower class.
This unjust persecution is something that still happens today, hence why gossip mags and tabloid trash litter the shelves. Fixated on trivial tales of marital splits, cheating cads, bad bonks and how – bafflingly - a female celebrity we’ve not seen since the 1980s has got both fatter and older (gasp). Shock. But why people love them is that it shows someone of a higher status being brought down to a level lower than our own. We ridicule how far they’ve fallen, as no-one should rise above their own station.
Society dictates that we all know our precarious place on the lowly ladder of life…
…and once we slip from our slim little rung, our downfall should be our fault, and no-one else’s.
She was born Sarah Emily Mitchell in 1840, although her exact details are unknown, as – being of lower middle-class and a woman – her life wasn’t worth recording, except as an appendage to a man.
Raised in the bustling port city of Liverpool, she was blessed with a better life than most, as her father wasn’t burdened by the endless grind of manual labour, as being an accountant, he had a profession. Although only of lower-middle-class stock, this distinction afforded him and his two daughters more.
Along-side her sister Eliza, Sarah had just two choices in life; to marry a man and to bear his babies, or to go into domestic service. Born of ‘better stock’, she wouldn’t stoop so low as to work for pennies as a char woman to a destitute brood, but as maid to a family of means in a good part of town.
In 1859, aged 19, Sarah Mitchell went into service as the house-keeper to Mr Frederick Chappell, a wealthy merchant and a recent widower with two young daughters to care for, who lived in the affluent resplendence of Highton Hall, a large estate in the fresh smog-free outskirts of Liverpool.
Given a good wage, a kind family to attend to, and later joined by her sister as assistant housekeeper - with Frederick being a man of wealth whose business took him to many places – Sarah & Eliza lived at his second home, a small townhouse at 11 Seymour Street situated not far from the city’s port.
As a young fresh-faced girl, innocent of the world and inexperienced of its dangers, she was blessed to have fallen into such a pleasant life. It’s true that her hours were long and her chores were endless, but what made her days a pleasure was Frederick – her employer with whom she was deeply smitten.
Being as aged as her own father, a little lacking in follicles on top, and with a pot-belly as rotund as an upturned cauldron, Frederick may not have been the most handsome, but being blessed with a kind nature and a big heart, he was certainly the sort of man a lower-class girl would dream of marrying.
As happens, eyes met and lips followed. As a young impressionable girl and a grieving widower, their romance was mutual, and with chemicals fizzing and feelings a-plenty, basic logic made way for love.
Initially, Sarah kept this steamy little love-tryst with her boss a secret from her sister, but their longing looks and furtive fumblings couldn’t be kept quiet for long. Eliza would state “Mr Chappell visited daily; he would take his meals there, his breakfast and his coffee in the ‘noon”.
In a society where status was everything, and the class you were born in was the class you would die in, these two should never have been – and they knew it – so for the price of a piece of passion, they had let their hearts rule their heads… or maybe it was their loins… in a romance doomed to failure.
Had they seen common sense, their brief dalliance may have ended there. But on an undefined night in September 1861 - after two years of service as his paid domestic - in a secret rendezvous, Frederick and Sarah engaged in a wild night of nudity and naughtiness, from which a baby would bloom.
Given the era, neither party knew about this ticking timebomb of chromosomes growing in her womb, but - as eyes popped wide, tongues were clucked and gossip was gabbled - this undeniable evidence of their dirty doings would soon explode into the world, like a screaming firework of tears and shit.
The fuse was lit…
…it was just a matter of waiting, until it all went bang.
To our modern eyes and liberal sensibilities, it may seem quaint and almost idiotic that society would be so ‘up-in-arms’ about a man of stature carrying on – sexually – with a girl from ‘below the stairs’? It’s the stuff of those drivel-filled dramas about an 18th century singleton marrying for fear of becoming a dreary spinster… as if – by being a woman – she doesn’t exist unless a man ‘completes her’. Urgh!
But that attitude is no less scandalous today. How much ink has been blown on ‘news stories’ about a man of status and a woman of less; like the priest and the housekeeper, the Prince and the Hollywood actress and the Californian Governor and the maid? An affair is only an affair if the two parties are of equal class, but the second a man married to the Kennedy clan knobbed his cleaner? It was a scandal.
Over time, the text may have changed in the trashy tabloids and images may have been added to the gossip rags, but the stinky attitude still wreaks of a desire to see the classes put in their place has not…
…as all that’s missing next to the headline are these simple words; ‘women, know your place’
In May 1862, with her oversized clothes struggling to disguise eight months of pregnancy, still unable to admit to her own sister that a baby was on the way, they concocted a ruse to hide it from the eyes.
Born in secret at an undisclosed flat using a private nurse, on the 11th June 1862, Sarah gave birth to a little girl who she named Sarah Emily Adeline Mitchell. With peach-like skin and a loud set of lungs, it was clear that the baby was happy and healthy, and that its beaming mother was blissfully joyous.
Notified of its arrival, Frederick did the decent thing – which is more than can be said of some – and registered the child’s birth using his name as its father and shielding mother and baby from scandal.
It’s fair to say that – in the Victorian era – people feared the disease of how others perceived them, over actual illnesses. A sickness could come and go, but if someone cast aspersions over your homelife, your habits, or who the father was of the baby suckling at your breast, that could linger for a lifetime.
On paper, Frederick was the father, but even to silence their cruel words, he could never marry her. She was the wrong class, and should he let her in, she may pollute his status with the stench of poverty.
So endemic was this attitude that – even if his loved one’s overcame their revulsion – the aftermath of marrying a lower-class woman could risk his business and reputation, whether he liked her or not.
Seeing no-one but her baby and kept hidden in a lonely flat, from the baby’s birth until mid-July, Sarah began to experience side-effects of the pregnancy and (what we would term as) post-natal depression.
Needing family, Eliza was told of her confinement and was moved to London to be by Sarah’s side. But it was clear that her sister was not doing well – “I was very much distressed about her strange and odd manner, I was afraid of her doing something silly, as she was often quite dark and was not herself”.
With money no object, Frederick hired Dr William Cathrow, a respected and discrete practitioner who attended to Sarah’s black moods - believed to have occurred owing to a rather troublesome labour.
His diagnosis was ‘hysterical peritonitis’. Following a traumatic birth, the stomach sometimes suffers a reddening and swelling known as Peritonitis. Today we know it’s caused by bacterial infection in the blood or a rupture, but – in the 1800s – they believed it was caused by hysteria. Being a woman and therefore prone to extremes of emotions – with the wonder of penicillin not discovered for another 70 years - the cure he’d administer was not an anti-inflammatory, but something to quell her mood.
Marketed as ‘a woman’s friend’, Laudanum, a mix of opium and alcohol was used to treat all manner of female maladies (as they were termed) which these predominantly male doctors didn’t understand; such as menstruation, child-birth and – the very fashionable malady of its day known as - 'the vapours', which included such lady-like symptoms as hysteria, mood-swings, depression and fainting spells.
According to Dr Cathrow “I got her well by giving her large doses of opium”. Being drugged into silence, Sarah was discretely returned back to Liverpool where she lived in a pleasant flat funded by Frederick.
As a wealthy and generous man, she lived a better life than most; with a weekly allowance, her food and clothes on account, and no need to worry about work or paying the rent, but it was not a life.
Hidden from view like a dark secret, the baby rarely saw daylight and its mother barely saw people, as being kept under wraps for fear of ruining his reputation, this imprisonment only made her sicker. And when she got worse, they sedated her with more Laudanum. Only the problem was not her mind…
…but her situation she was in and the sin blamed on her.
On 11th October 1862, as the savage echo of Scouse tongues faded behind her, Sarah was moved from her hometown of Liverpool to her new home of London. It was to be a fresh start among strangers, as being a woman of no-known past, she could re-invent herself as a woman without scandal.
That day, at the newly opened Baker Street station, Sarah and Eliza were met by Frederick. In a cab, he escorted them to a presentable little lodging on Weymouth Street; replete with ornate drapes, soft furnishings, a cold store and every conceivable modern luxury like running water and gas lighting.
For Sarah, feeling rather regal living in such a grand place as this, she would often quip to her sister that she should call herself m’lady. And yet, she would be gifted a much grander title than that, as to the landlady, Frederick introduced Sarah as ‘Mrs Chappell’; with a gold ring on her finger, a townhouse in London, Eliza as her live-in maid and no-one to dare question her status as a gentleman’s word was enough. Given the circumstances, Frederick had done his best for her, himself, but also his business.
During her first month living life as a lady among the London elite, Sarah was in her element. With her mood rosy, her health spry, and her maternal affections to blessed baby Sarah without reproach, she had begun to become acclimatised to her new status. Only what plagued her mind daily was the sham.
On the public’s lips, they were ‘Mr & Mrs Chappell’. But on the papers which mattered, they were not.
In short, the marriage was a façade, her child was a bastard and she would forever be seen as a woman of sin, a dirty little secret hidden from view and swept under the carpet like an embarrassment of dust.
For now, she was a lady. But how long could the silence last in a land full of whispers and suspicions?
In society’s eyes, Sarah was nothing but a cocky queue-jumper, a whorish louse who had unleashed the perfume of her feminine wares to lure this wealthy widower into her lair, and – in his weakened state of grief – she had ensnared him with a baby of burden to wring his wealth dry for her own gain.
In truth, she hadn’t. But the second a fragment of gossip is either written or repeated – regardless of whether it is based on a shred of truth - its factual voracity is irrelevant in the court of public opinion.
Quite rightly, Sarah could not live with such dishonesty, and its torment made her mind a terror.
Of her sister, Eliza would state “she was once so lively, so vibrant, a girl of smiles and warmth”, and as a mother “she was always extremely kind to the child… she showed more maternal tenderness to it than I had ever known”. But gripped by depression and distress - although unable to sleep – her bed became her home, her pillow a prison, daylight was now an enemy, and her silence like a bitter wind.
For Frederick, he lived his own life in his own townhouse a few streets away, in a place it was best for the woman who was sort of ‘his wife’ to not pop by, otherwise tongues would wag -so he went to her.
Still both smitten, as often happens, the bed-sheets were warmed and a second baby would bloom.
In November 1862, requiring a much larger residence for this expending brood, Frederick moved Sarah his pregnant mistress, her five-month-old daughter and her sister Eliza as a live-in maid into a two-storey lodging at Salisbury Mansions on the Marylebone Road - a fresh start in yet another new home.
But from where this sin had begun…
…soon tragedy would follow.
Sarah’s second pregnancy was not a joyous one, as whether sensing its mother’s anguish, this restless baby had not given her a single night’s sleep since conception. Born on 13th April 1863, Frederick Chappell, son of Frederick Chappell was born, with his father’s name in life and on its birth certificate.
But being born a full three months premature, with its energy utterly spent and emerging in an excess of its mother’s blood, this undersized spawn had lived a little, but had lasted for just half an hour.
Her baby was dead, and inside her soul, so was its mother.
As before, diagnosed with ‘hysterical peritonitis’ by Dr Cathrow, a discrete an respected practitioner, who noted “she had a good deal of nerves about her, with pains in the abdomen that I could not account for - also pains in the head, and a very great restlessness”. Keeping her sedated, but failing to identify her situation as its cause, “she required large doses of opium, I gave her a very considerable quantity to enable her to get any rest at all”… but also to silence her tears and the neighbour’s gossip.
On the doctor’s orders - seeing how “excitable” they stated she was, as wailing with every ounce of her exhausted breath as the milky smell of her dead son still clung to her empty arms - her daughter was removed to a different room and it was decided that Frederick should no longer visit her as often.
What spurred this was she had made words to end her life and that of her child, unless Frederick and she could live as man and wife. And yet, for her sake - but more probably his – he had separated them.
In a brief moment in time, she had been a wife and a mother with a family, and now she had none.
Riddled with paranoia, from the confines of her lonely bed, Sarah saw things which were never real. On the bitter breeze she heard gossipy whispers which stabbed her ears. Through the walls walked faceless spirits whose cruel questions never quelled. At her feet stood a policeman to drag her to the asylum. And too terrified to sleep, a black river of beetles scuttled about her bed, body and head.
To give her peace, when her moods seemed less black, Eliza brought her baby daughter to Sarah. Sat in placid silence, this small act of mercy did more than any drug ever could, but it also exacerbated her greatest fear; “assure me dear sister”, Sarah said “don’t let Mr Chappell take her from me, please”.
Sarah lived in hope of a blissful end to her troubles and trauma… but it was not to be.
With three doctors, all specialists in their field, having determined that her declining mental state was proving to be a hazard to the welfare, business and reputation of their client – Mr Frederick Chappell - through Dr Cathrow - a man she trusted - a letter of importance was delivered to Eliza. It read;
Dear Elizabeth. I am very sorry to have to tell that I have written to your sister to say that a separation must take place between us. With this view, my solicitor will call tomorrow to confer with her as to my making a proper settlement for you all, for I am resolved neither your sister nor yourself shall ever want for anything. You and your sister, with baby, will be enabled to live wherever you like, though it should be somewhere where I should be able to see baby. I am sure you will never forsake poor baby, and that you will do your duty; give her a kiss for me, and believe me, yours sincerely, F Chappell”.
Being as good as his word, a generous annual allowance was made for Sarah, Eliza and the baby, and in his will - written prior to his son’s death – this was upheld, leaving a second nest-egg for life. She could live her life as a comfortable lady, but – as a woman of sin – she would do it alone.
Unhappy with this financial settlement, Sarah would reject his offer…
…and – once again - death would return to Salisbury Mansions.
Friday 31st July 1863 was a better day. With Sarah sleeping, eating and having been weaned off the Laudanum, a sense of normality had returned. In the morning, with the 13-month-old baby sat in its pram and its rosy cheeks all giggles, Eliza strolled it amidst the fresh crisp air of Regent’s Park.
Back at the flat, all was not well, as her doctors (who were really Frederick’s doctors) accompanied by his solicitor enthusiastically instructed Sarah of the medical benefits of taking his very generous offer; doing what was best for herself, the baby and – of course – Mr Chappell and his business interests.
In court, having previously declared her as ‘sane’, they would state “she was a very obstinate person, excessively so; I thought so by her not taking the advice I gave with the best intention”, and “I formed the opinion that she was labouring under insanity; I thought her of unsound mind”. All she had to do to make the pain go away was sign the settlement and “give up all annoyance of Mr Chappell”.
At 1pm, they left. Sarah & Eliza had lunch. And feeling a desire to enjoy a sumptuous peach, at 2:30pm, Sarah asked Eliza to buy them one both from Covent Garden market, as Sarah cuddled her daughter.
Again, sweeping their failures aside as if their expertise was never to be in question, as the case revolved around the motive of this loose woman’s morals, the doctors would inform the court; “the great cunning that she showed was another symptom of insanity”, “she threw us off our guard”.
For Sarah this was not a cunning plan to avenge her former lover…
…as in her eyes, this was the only way out.
Being alone in the sparse empty flat, Sarah laid out two neat piles of clothes on the bedside chair; a nightdress and stockings for herself, and beside them, a set for the baby. Although clean, neither would be worn just yet, as they were for the laying out their bodies when mother and baby were dead.
In her Bible, she marked up a few passages of prominence, and – with no will nor final words - clutching a sharp razor, she stabbed down deep into the baby’s chest, through the tiny thorax and its little lungs, as the pristine white of its woollen nightdress began to stain with a slow spreading red from within.
With nothing left to live for; no family, no marriage, no Frederick, her baby son dead and her daughter soon to join him, Sarah ripped the blade across her throat, sawing a jagged wound from ear-to-ear, and dividing her jugular vein, until her body was still, her skin was pale and her pulse was weak. (End)
Discovered when Eliza returned, although the baby clung onto life, it died two days later. Miraculously, although critical, Sarah survived and was found to be pregnant – once again - with Frederick’s child.
On 4th August 1863, in a coroner’s inquest held at the Buffalo’s Head Tavern on Marylebone Road, after five minutes, the jury returned a verdict of “wilful murder” against Sarah Emily Mitchell. Held at Newgate Prison, her visiting physician was Dr Cathrow who (as witness against her) attested that her eyes were vacant, her movement unsure and – being of unsound mind – he declared her as insane.
Having already lost a large amount of blood, a second physician (Dr Chowne of Charing Cross) decided it best to alleviate her hallucinations, her mania and her suicidal thoughts by bloodletting. Weakened more before the trial, not one doctor asked if it was the cruel situation, the pressure of society or the doctor’s insistence (paid for by the man she wished was her husband) which made her insane? But instead, it was ruled that – being a woman, of a lower-class – she was cursed by her emotions and sin.
Tried at the Old Bailey on the 26th October 1863, charged with the wilful murder of her bastard child and her attempted suicide, Sarah was found ‘not guilty’ on the grounds of insanity and was ordered to be detained until Her Majesty's pleasure be known. She died years later in Broadmoor Asylum.
Which begs the question; as a maid, had she fallen for a man of her own class, was it more likely that she would have lived? Maybe? Status is only relevant to those who fear losing it. Happiness is what’s important and not what someone we haven’t met thinks about the things we have or haven’t done.
None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, and we all try to better ourselves. So why do we find it so shocking when someone dares to do better, to achieve more, to be greater than life says we should?
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, which are freely available in the public domain, 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, and are always incomplete or full of opinion rather than fact, therefore mistakes and misrepresentations can be made. As stated at the beginning of each episode (and as is clear by the way it is presented) Murder Mile UK True Crime Podcast 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 to create a fuller picture. It is not a full and complete representation of the case, the people or the investigation, and therefore should not be taken as such. It is also often (for the sake of clarity, speed and the drama) presented from a single person's perspective, usually (but not exclusively) the victim's, and therefore it will contain a certain level of bias and opinion to get across this single perspective, which may not be the overall opinion of those involved or associated. Murder Mile is just one possible retelling of each case. Murder Mile does not set out to cause any harm or distress to those involved, and those who listen to the podcast or read the transcripts provided should be aware that by accessing anything created by Murder Mile (or any source related to any each) that they may discover some details about a person, an incident or the police investigation itself, that they were unaware of.
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 nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards".
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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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