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EPISODE ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-NINE:
This is The Campanile, a 284-foot tower on the south-west corner of Westminster Cathedral.
Saturday 23rd February 1924 was an ordinary day for happily married mother-of-two Margaret Ann Davey; she made breakfast, she packed some sandwiches for lunch, and – at 11:30am – she climbed the steps to the top of The Campanile. Having purchased a ticket, the doorman had no suspicions that her mind was unbalanced, as she seemed happy and well.
But at 2:10pm, having jumped from the top, and plummeted 86 metres, she ended her life on the hard stone road of Ambrosden Avenue. But why was she so unhappy, why did she choose to die here, and did she choose to take the lives of two innocents, who were just enjoying their lunch?
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SOURCES: This case was researched using some of the sources below.
UNEDITED TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE:
Welcome to Murder Mile.
Today I’m standing outside of Westminster Cathedral, SW1; two streets south-west of the elderly bed-mate slain by Martha Browning, two streets west of the assassination of the war-criminal Sir Michael O’Dwyer and a short walk south of the last fling of the failed dancer - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Set beside Victoria Station, Westminster Cathedral is an architectural triumph swished among a sea of glass monstrosities. Completed in 1903, those who are only religious when chocolate is involved flock to this Roman Catholic place of worship; to mime to hymns that nobody knows, to ask God to solve a trivial spat as if he’s not busy enough, to act as if symbolically quaffing the blood and flesh of a man they claim to love isn’t weird, and to tell a stranger hiding behind an ornate glory-hole all their sins (which he forgives if they say Jesus’ mum’s name five times – although I doubt it’s legally binding).
Constructed of twelve million red and cream bricks, the most startling part of this wonderous building is The Campanile. Also known as St Edward’s tower, this 284-foot-tower reaches high to the sky rising 175 feet higher than the Cathedral itself, and from Ambrosden Avenue, it’s dizzying to look up at.
High up on the parapet, visitors stand in awe at its stunning views of the London skyline, with some struck with a sense of divinity being just one step closer to God. And yet, in one case in particular…
…that closeness would become all too true.
On Saturday 23rd February 1924 at 11:30am, 37-year-old Margaret Davey known as Maggie entered the cathedral like any other visitor; she bought a ticket, she ascended the stairs, she smiled and she didn’t make a sound. Almost three hours later, having climbed the railing, she hurled her body from the parapet and it smashed onto the hard stone road of Ambrosden Avenue, killing her instantly.
But why did she want to die? Why did she choose that moment? Why did she pick such a public place as The Campanile? And why did she take the lives of two innocents who were just eating their lunch?
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 189: Maggie’s Fall.
No-one can truly understand the rhyme nor reason why a seemingly-sane person would feel compelled to take their life. Even if they left a note explaining everything, it can still be a mystery…
…even to themselves.
Margaret Davey was born in 1887 as Margaret Ann Chisolm. Raised in the former town of Inverness in the highlands of north-east Scotland, Maggie’s upbringing was as loving as anyone could wish for.
As the third eldest of (ultimately) seven children born to James, a local blacksmith and Catherine, a working mum, the family were never without food nor warmth even amidst the harshest of winters. Snuggled in a small sandstone cottage in the heart of the town and nestled on the banks of the river Ness; by 1891, although all were under seven years old, Jemima, John, Margaret, William and Archie were protected by an extended family in Inverness, but also in the nearby village of Kiltarlity.
As the breadwinner, work remained steady, as with the never-ending flow of horses and barges up the length of the Caledonian canal, James would have a steady supply of business until his dying days, and – being an industrious working-class family – Catherine kept the coffers coming in as a seamstress.
Like so many others, their lives were hard but good, solid yet loving. They suffered the same hardships as their neighbours and they fought through their trials and tribulations by the closeness of their bond.
By 1901, mum and dad remained as tight as ever and with the family expanded by two more, Catherine and Christina; Jemima was working as a domestic servant, John assisted his dad on the docks, Maggie, William and her two younger sisters were both in school, but sadly, Archie had succumbed to TB.
Given the era, the sad demise of baby Archie was all too common and whether this trauma had played on Maggie’s mind up to the moment of her own is unknown. But by all accounts, the Chisolm’s were not a family plagued by alcohol, abuse, insanity or neglect. By 1910, of her own choice, Maggie left Scotland and moved to London seeking work and she remained in touch with her loved ones.
At this point in her story, you may expect Maggie’s life to fall apart, but it was not to be.
As the mirror of her mother – being petite but sturdy, and a big-hearted girl who was forever pleasant and polite – people often heard Maggie before they saw her, owing to her fondness for whistling little ditties to keep her spirits up while she worked or to keep the distant shadow of black moods at bay.
In the summer of 1913 in the borough of Fulham, Maggie married Edwin James Davey after a brief but loving courtship. As a man in the mould of her own father; he earned a decent living as an upholsterer, he was moral, he was kind, and - as a dedicated husband - he always put his family above himself.
In the summer of 1916, Maggie gave birth to Catherine who she named after her mother, and in the winter of 1921, Margaret was born who she named after herself. Both daughters were healthy and to accommodate their blossoming brood, Maggie & Edwin Davey moved into a ground-floor flat at 27 Bridge Avenue in Hammersmith, where they lived for the last three years of their ten-year marriage.
By 1924, The Davey’s were living a life as ordinary as any other family; a regular income ensured they were fed and warm with no debts, late rent or financial worries to trouble them; as a quiet couple it wasn’t in their nature to argue or to fight, and the future of this little family looked all calm and rosy.
With Catherine aged seven and Margaret having just passed two, as one daughter was at school and the other at home, Maggie was considering returning to work part-time, as she liked to be kept busy.
Only, this next step in their lives would never happen…
…as Maggie’s mind was fixated on death.
The inquest was held at Westminster Coroner’s Court on Thursday 28th February. Being just five days since Maggie had plummeted to her death from The Campanile, his last duty as a husband had been to formally identify the smashed and shattered remains of what they had scraped off the road below.
Stood alone before the coroner, Edwin’s face was ashen and his eyes red raw, as his throat croaked a smattering of croaky words to answer the question his dead wife had failed to answer. Why?
With a calm compassion, the deputy coroner Mr Douglas Cowburn enquired of this broken man about her history and homelife for any clue as to what had driven this good woman to do the unthinkable.
Barely able to contain his grief, Edwin spoke of Maggie as “a loyal wife” and an “exceptional mother”, who was the rock of what neighbours described as a “devoted couple with two adorable children”.
The coroner asked: “May we take it that generally your life has been a happy one?”. To which Edwin replied: “Sir, you ought to have been at my home to have seen it. Happiness was not the word for it”. Living an honest and decent life, together they had strived to keep everything as simple as possible, with a solid routine for their children and no need to spend beyond what they could afford. Described as bright and happy, Maggie was a mother “who was devoted to her children in every way possible”.
At the inquest, Edwin stated “she never suffered from delusions and had never threatened to take her own life”, such painful words he had struggled to speak as he wept an endless stream of lonely tears.
That day had begun like any other, and it had ended with his whole life smashed. He couldn’t fathom why Maggie had killed herself, and – in a fit of madness – had taken two innocents to their graves. Arriving from Inverness, her siblings were certain that this must have been a mishap or a slip…
…only the court knew that it wasn’t.
During the summer of 1923, just nine months earlier, (Edwin) “I noticed a change in my wife’s mood. She’d got neglectful of her household duties, but never towards the children. She would sit in a dazed state... she complained of pains in her head, getting gradually more depressed for the last six months”.
Across her decline; he had asked her what was wrong, but she said she was fine; he had begged her to see a doctor, but she had refused; and reassuring him her black mood would pass, sadly it did not.
And yet, if her homelife was good, why did she choose to end it?
The summer of 1923 was unremarkable in Maggie’s eyes; Stanley Baldwin had become Prime Minister, and although entitled to vote, she was neither a Tory nor political. In July, a dock workers strike hit Britain, but she wasn’t affected. And that same month, the Matrimonial Causes Act made adultery a sole ground for divorce by either a husband or a wife. But as their marriage was as strong as ever, a separation or divorce hadn’t been discussed and neither Maggie nor Edwin were having an affair. She hadn’t succumbed to any illnesses or diseases, and there was no known tragedies or traumas.
As with many women, the 1920s was a time of unprecedented change, which could have put undue pressure on this married mother-of-two, as although the horrors of the First World War were gone and the roaring twenties had begun, the Victorian morals and values still existed, and some still do.
In 1918, under the Representation of the People Act, women had won the right to vote, but it wouldn’t apply to the poorest women for another decade, and her right was based on her husband’s earnings. In 1919, the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act had given women access to greater jobs, but again, this required an education and training which was (and still is) denied too many women, especially in the working-classes, and it ignored the rights of women who had mad a career as a wife and mother.
Times were changing both too fast and too slow. By 1922, the Law of Property Act meant that women could hold and dispose of inherited property on the same terms as men. And by 1919, women could sit on juries and serve as a magistrate, although juries remained overwhelmingly male until the 1970s.
And yet, a woman couldn’t open a bank account, apply for a loan or hold a mortgage in her own name unless a husband or her father acted as guarantor until 1975. That same decade saw the Equal Pay Act become law which decreed that women should be paid the same as men for doing the same job, and yet, half a century on, that same battle is still being fought in British courts. And up until the 1980’s, 60 years after Maggie’s death, it was still a point of debate if a woman was seen wearing trousers or smoking a cigarette in public, and it was still perfectly legal to refuse to serve women a drink in a pub.
By the 1920’s, a woman’s freedom was emerging, but it was limited.
In Maggie’s era, access to contraception was strictly limited, an abortion on any ground was illegal and punishable by life in prison, and yet, rape was not considered a criminal offence within a marriage.
But again, as an unassuming woman who rarely expressed her gloom, we can never be sure how much (if any) changes in the 1920s affected Maggie or her mood, and - proud to be a wife and mother - she lived simply, quietly and - when stress arose - she whistled away her worries with a happy little tune.
Edwin would state she had never expressed a desire to end her life, but given her apathy and lack of self-worth, all we can assume is that she may have suffered from post-partum depression. In the 1920s, PPD was misunderstood, as experts of that era had theorised that “depression during childbirth had no relationship to the pregnancy” and they had even attributed it to “suppressed homosexuality”.
As we now know – if left untreated - it can be highly destructive to a woman’s mental wellbeing, and - in rare cases - postpartum depression can appear as postpartum psychosis, leading to self-harm, suicide and even infanticide. But as Maggie spoke to no-one, she took her motive to her grave.
And yet, whether by coincidence or not…
…her suicide had been foretold…
…just three years before her death.
(Radio) This is the British Broadcasting Corporation… (static)… Margaret Davey’s death had similarities to another. On the 19th January 1921, 42-year-old Portuguese Countess Di Ribeira da Grande was in convalescence for her nerves, under the 24-hour care of noted physician Sir Bruce Porter of Mayfair.
Watched day and night as the countess had expressed morbid desires, in a brief aberration of duty, she eluded her nurse’s care and fled to Westminster Cathedral. Last seen smiling by Mr George Crook, doorkeeper of The Campanile, he described her mood that day as pleasant as she ascended the tower.
Officials would state “safeguards (such as a three-foot railing) were in place to ensure that ‘falls’ do not happen”. Moments later, Mr Crook witnessed what he would describe as a “curious thud” as the countess leapt to her death. Her body was found on a balcony twenty feet above Ambrosden Avenue.
A verdict was returned by the Westminster coroner as ‘suicide whilst of unsound mind’.” (Radio off)
As a local story which featured in the borough’s newspapers, we can never be sure if Maggie had read about the countess’ tragic demise, but their suicides have too many similarities to be a coincidence; the dates, the place, the method and their moods, rising the tower like they hadn’t a care in the world.
And yet, one detail is immutable; as the countess plunged to her death, just a few miles away, Maggie was (or had) giving birth to her second child, whilst (possibly) struggling with post-partum depression.
So, whether the countess’ suicide was an inspiration or a coincidence…
…their deaths had one major difference.
Saturday 23rd February 1924 began as an ordinary day for the Davey family. Waking at the crack of dawn, Maggie had slept as soundly as any mother with two children, a husband, and a house to run.
At 7am, regular as clockwork, the family-of-four sat in their warm kitchen eating a breakfast of hot tea and buttery toast; their chatter was perfunctory and they spoke of their plans for the Sunday. Maggie’s emotions had been erratic, but the love of her husband and the beaming faces of her beloved babies had been the one constant which had kept her spirits high. That day, Maggie was bright and cheerful.
Edwin told the inquest: “she prepared breakfast in the usual way, I left for my business at 7:20am”.
Leaving his home in Hammersmith - as he had done each day without fail - he kissed his wife goodbye and said “see you later”, not knowing that it would be the last kiss he would plant on her lips, the very last time he would see her alive, and that – by the time he had returned – his life would be ruined.
With no school that day, Maggie washed seven-year-old Catherine and Margaret now two-and-a-half, and dressed both girls in the right clothes for a nice day out in the city. With a bitter winter wind biting and the ground crunching with a frosty snap, they donned their gloves, scarves and bobble hats.
Everything was as ordinary as any day prior; the girls were excited for a fun day out at a local landmark, Maggie had enough money in her purse for travel and sundries, she had written a note for Edwin and had left it by their bed, and – as kids are always hungry - she made ham sandwiches, cut into triangles.
Shortly after 10am, a neighbour saw Maggie and her girls leave home: “although she seemed to be pale, I did not notice that she was agitated. I thought she was going out shopping” - which she did. At 11am, they hopped on the District Line travelling seven stops east to Victoria and among a sea of locals and tourists, together they strode a short four-minute walk to the majesty of Westminster Cathedral.
Being a weekend, the piazza was a hive of gorping faces staring in awe at this relatively new cathedral whose architecture harked back to a more ancient time of Christianity, and a place where people could be at-one with God. Being free to enter, the inside was busier than out, as it was warmer and quieter.
For Maggie’s kids, the cathedral must have been a sight of wonder; a colossal red-and-cream bricked behemoth which emanated with a fragrant incense and echoed with a heavenly hum of pipe music, as a glimpse of winter sun shone through the stained-glass windows and sparkled this cavern of gold.
Like any other family, they blended in, as they smiled and pointed at these sights of awe. Only, they had not planned to go inside the cathedral that day, they had decided to go up. Craning their necks back as far as they could bend, The Campanile stretched skyward until it almost touched the clouds.
The time was roughly 11:30am.
For many, the day was too bitterly cold to ascend The Campanile and stand a full 284 feet into the sky, but wearing their winter woollens and clutching a paper bag of ham sandwiches, it didn’t seem strange for George Crook, the door-keeper who had witnessed a similar suicide here just three years before.
At the inquest, George spoke of how he had no suspicions of what Maggie was about to do: “they were smiling and happy, they wanted to see what London looked like from such a height. She paid 6d each for them, even asking half price for the kiddies, I let them in and I thought no more about it”.
No-one noticed Maggie that day, as although (to us) it was clear what her motive was; with no cries, no tears and no screams - only excitable chatter as they climbed the stone steps to the parapet – the only words heard was what sights they might see from the top, maybe their home, maybe their daddy?
At 11:40am, Maggie and her children reached the parapet…
…and there they stayed for almost two-and-a-half hours.
(Maggie whistles). On a clear day, you can see right across the city. Being so cold, Maggie and her girls were the only people on the parapet that day. With an iron railing in place, it was decreed as safe; “a place impossible to fall from”. And no-one was worried about where they had got to, as George Crook would later explain to the jury: “sometimes people go up for minutes, others go up there for hours”.
We have no idea what happened over those missing hours, as no-one saw them or heard them. With the half-eaten remains of some ham sandwiches found in a paper bag, we know they ate lunch, but we know little else. They may have hugged, they may have kissed and they may have cried…
…but one thing was for certain, Maggie had death on her mind.
At 2:10pm, beyond the silence of his office by the north door, George Crook heard a thud; a deep heavy thud as if something soft had smacked fast into something hard. Not a falling brick, not a piece of timber and not a sack of spuds, but something both unmistakably familiar and horrifying to him.
A silence followed, and then, so did the screaming, as below the tower – embedded between the path and the road of Ambrosden Avenue lay a barely recognisable mess of twisted limbs and broken bones. All bathed in a spattered wide sea of red blood and green gastric fluids, which sprayed up the tower’s wall and emanated a thick rising steam on the cold winter street, like a spirit escaping its pain.
We know it was once a body and we know it was once a female, but it was not Maggie.
Having thrown seven-year-old Catherine to her death, with her youngest in her arms, Maggie assailed the wrought-iron railing over the parapet of The Campanile. According to witnesses, there was no cry and no struggle, as this distraught mother released her grip to join her child who was already dead.
Falling at a quickening speed of 35 metres per second, having led go of her baby, Maggie’s fall lasted just two seconds as she hit the road at 90 miles per hour. But being a third of her mother’s size and a quarter of her weight, the toddler impacted the pavement made of crushed stone half a second later.
We can only hope that their hearts gave out during the fall, but we can never know for certain.
A lift attendant went to Catherine’s aid, but would state: “her head was terribly battered and the skull broken. When I reached her, she had ceased to breath”. Likewise, Maggie. And as a porter rushed to aid baby Margaret, he recalled: “I think that every bone in the poor little kid’s body had been broken”.
With every breath expelled from their bodies, their hearts ruptured and their skulls smashed, there was no hope of saving this tragic threesome, and their remains were taken to a mortuary. (End)
At 1:30pm, as per usual, Edwin returned home to have lunch with his wife and children, only the house was empty and his family were gone. Beside his bed, he found a note in his wife’s handwriting, it read; ‘Dearest Jack. Thank you for all you have done for me. You have been a good husband and father. I am taking the kiddies with me. Nothing seems to go right. Please forgive me. You have never kept me short of anything. Maggie” – it was a final note which said everything, but explained nothing.
And although, when he was reading it, his wife and children were still alive? With no idea where they had gone or how to find them, when he reported them missing, the police confirmed they were dead.
In the mortuary of St George’s hospital by Hyde Park, Edwin identified not only the shattered remains of his wife, but also of his children - two innocents who were enjoying a day out and eating their lunch.
Dr G R Mathews, house surgeon at St George’s said that death would have been “instantaneous”.
Held at Westminster Coroner’s Court on the 28th February 1924, Edwin Davey was described as “very much distressed” as he tearfully gave evidence as to how his wife had killed herself and their children.
With her suicide note being of little use and her past showing no clear history of depression, suicide, or a morbid desire to harm her loved ones, the jury returned a verdict that Maggie had “committed suicide while of unsound mind”, and that the “children were deliberately murdered by their mother”.
24 years later, Edwin Davey died of a heart-attack, he never remarried and had no more children.
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 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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