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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 TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE:
On Monday 27th of August 1923 at 12:45am, 18-month-old Dorothy Kaslofski drowned in the river Thames having been thrown from Westminster Bridge. Only she didn’t fall, she was thrown by her mother in an act of mercy, having been given some devastating news by a doctor that her daughter’s life wouldn’t be worth living.
But was he wrong, had she misheard, or did was this a lie?
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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 on Westminster Bridge, SW1; three streets west of the assassination of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, four streets east of Thomas Meaney being mistaken for a tailor’s dummy, four streets west of the odd excuse Martha Browning used to murder her elderly bed mate, and one street north of the cruel ship’s Captain who couldn’t fathom why he was going blind - coming soon to Murder Mile.
Spanning the River Thames from Waterloo to Big Ben, Westminster bridge is an 820 foot long, 85 foot wide, seven arch cast iron structure completed in 1862. Supposedly, painted green to match the seats our politician’s bone-idles bums are perched on at the House of Commons, if that’s true, I’d expect to see the bridge fiddling its expenses, banging rent-boys, hoofing blow, sexing up WMD dossiers, and voting to pump 50 million tonnes of raw shit into our waters, having first sold their river-front mansion.
Seen as the epitome of calmness, the River Thames belies its dangerous side, as under its vast expanse of brown silt (in which visibility is zero), sits a muddy bed of thick sludge (impossible to wade through) upon a 9-mile-an-hour tide with deep undercurrents which can drag the strongest swimmer under.
With a dead body recovered from the River Thames roughly every six days, some die by suicide, some fall by accident, and some lives are lost as a good Samaritan dives in to save those from their deaths.
On Monday 27th August 1923 at 12:45am, 18-month-old Dorothy Kaslofski became the latest casualty to this treacherous water. Only she didn’t fall, she was thrown by her mother in an act of mercy, having been given some devastating news by a doctor that her daughter’s life wouldn’t be worth living.
But was he wrong, had she misheard, or did was this a lie?
My name is Michael, I am your tour guide, and this is Murder Mile.
Episode 223: “A Cripple for Life”.
(heavy river sounds) In court, Mr Justice Swift would ask the medical expert: “have you heard anything in the evidence inconsistent with a sane strong-minded woman, passionately fond of her baby, taking its life because she was convinced it was the best thing for the baby?”, Dr Morton replied “that would be a very uncommon view for a mother to take”, and although the judge heartily agreed, “but unfortunately, we know of cases where people think the best way to benefit a child is to destroy it”.
Ada was one such woman, but what would drive a mother to do the unthinkable?
Ada Elizabeth Street was an ordinary girl born on the 12th of February 1897 amidst the bustling hubbub of King’s Cross. As a working-class family squeezed into a tumbledown two-room dwelling like over-ripe fruit in grocer’s bin, the lives of this family of eleven were not without poverty or tragedy.
Of her surviving three brothers and five sisters to Ada Attaway, her mother and her father Thomas, a painter, Ada began life as one of twin sisters. As the mirror image of the other, dressed in matching dresses and never far from each other’s side, the first tragedy to strike took that half of her young life, as barely into her infancy, although she had no history of epilepsy, her twin sister died of convulsions.
Whether Ada witnessed this in her crib - the rolled terrified whites in her sister’s eyes, the forming froth around her rictus grin, and her tiny body twitching in a fevered shake as her colour drained from a peachy pink to a pale white with deathly tinges of blue - is uncertain, but as the first great grief to grip her, a worry which may have plagued her for her short sad life could have been if it was hereditary.
It’s no surprise, living her life as half-of-the-person she once was, that many described Ada as “a happy sort of girl, but erratic, excitable and troubled”, especially as the family tragedies continued. Aged 16, her young father died of a heart attack. As was expected, her mother remarried, and although William Street, a harness maker was a good provider for the family, like Thomas, he died of an aneurism. And as if poverty and grief wasn’t enough to burden this family, World War One brought terror to London.
From this broken little home at 34 Litcham Street in Kentish Town, death rained down as – unlike the ceaseless cacophony of screaming bombers and doodlebugs which draped London’s skies in a choking cloud of fiery reds and doom-ladened blacks – Germany’s fledgling air-force unleashed this first blitz on this city by airship, as a fleet of monstrous balloons drifted silently, looming like the Reaper himself.
Life was hard for Ada, as it was for many who were sparely educated and barely skilled. And as a short dumpy girl, with freckled cheeks, a vague grin and a brown bob as ragged as a fox dragged backwards out of a bush, she hadn’t got the benefits that her more attractive contemporaries would unfairly get.
When she could, she earned a living as a domestic servant for middle-class women, aged 19 she was imprisoned for 21 days for stealing blankets, and being prone to making rash decisions as too often her emotions fuelled her depression, she was mostly teetotal, as drink would cloud her judgement.
Ever since she could remember, Ada’s life had been plagued by loss and tragedy.
What she wanted was a happy marriage and a healthy child…
…but – spurned by fate - it was not to be.
On the 28th of April 1920, Ada Street married Alexander Kaslofski known as ‘Alec’, a Jewish cabinet maker who was born and raised in Hoxton to a German mother and a Russian father. Living with his mother at 13 Kent Street, for the first two years they lived happily enough, but with Ada having told an odious lie from the start (which no-one ever spoke of), soon enough, their marriage unravelled.
Conceived on their wedding night, although they were both thrilled at the impending arrival of a pink bundle of joy, five months into her pregnancy, Ada miscarried, bled copiously and almost lost her life.
Many couples bounce back from such a painful tragedy, but for Alec & Ada, with the seeds of mistrust having been sown so early into their relationship, it didn’t make them stronger, but more distant.
Around this time, a frantic and depressed Ada wrote her mother a letter, in which she said that “Alec was treating her badly… he had knocked her about many times… he denied her money to eat or live…” and that seeing no way out of her dire and desperate situation, “she said he wanted to drown herself”.
But when her mother came to her door, although denied access by Alec’s mother who disliked her, “I didn’t see any bruises. As far as I could tell, she hadn’t been badly treated. I never saw anything in her husband to complain of… she complained of being hungry but there was always food in the house”.
Talking to Alec, she heard that Ada had pawned his suit and some blankets to make money for herself, and that when she had told her mother that “she had got consumption and that a doctor had told her she’d only got three months left to live”, she couldn’t find any evidence to back any of it up. But was this a symptom of Ada’s depression, her grief at losing the baby, or was she making it up for attention?
In December 1921, Alec & Ada moved into 105 Cambridge Street in Westminster, a small room in a three-storey dwelling, hoping that a fresh start would do them good, as again, Ada was pregnant.
The last few months had been an anxious time, as every time her stomach buckled with cramps, Ada’s nerves frayed at the thought of another baby ending in a miscarriage. Only this time, with fate (for once) smiling on her, on 2nd February 1922, a baby girl was born, who she named after her dead sister.
A little under-weight but blessed with a healthy pinkish hue, dark hair like her mum, and all her fingers and toes, Dorothy Catherine Kaslofski was a happy and healthy baby, who – all the neighbours in the street who once loved sleeping would agree - had oodles of energy and a very strong set of lungs.
It should have been the epitome of perfection, as Ada had everything she had ever wanted…
…but with the relationship in tatters, the stresses of a baby, only made it worse.
On the 7th of June 1922, four months after Dorothy’s birth, Alec & Ada separated. With both of them moving back in with their parents, Ada obtained a Separation Order and although Alec was required to pay maintenance of £1 per week for the upkeep of his family, Ada’s mother looked after the child.
Whether it was through need or neglect, Ada restarted her job as a parlour maid, first to Mrs Hogg at 22 Radington Road, Hampstead, and later to Mrs Lillian Richardson at 45 Haverstock Hill in Chalk Farm.
Working long hours for little pay, she saw very little of Dorothy across the next few months, so when she had to, Mrs Richardson let her bring the baby to work. But this was as infrequent as it was brief, as – more often than not – if Ada wasn’t off sick, it was clear from her demeanour that she was unwell.
Elsie Botting, a butcher’s girl who made deliveries to Ada’s work would state “she told me her husband was an awful villain, he treated her badly and that she had left him”. Although in truth, he had left her, so no-one really knew whether he was a nasty piece-of-work, or she was fond of spinning stories.
Her employer, Lillian would state “once or twice, when she had received a letter from him, she said she would drown herself and the baby in the river, but I laughed and did not think much about it”.
And who would? As a habitual liar, who had told tales to her husband, her mother, her closest friend and also her employer, even the doctors couldn’t tell if Ada was sick, struggling or just flat-out lying,
Later examined by Dr Morton, the medical officer of Holloway Prison “she admitted she was depressed and dazed…”, that over the last few months “she’d had some very severe headaches, suffered from insomnia, and had a feeling at the back of her head which she described as ‘the dripping of water’... the sound of running water in her ears and unrecognisable voices telling her to ‘finish it off’.”
Gripped by paranoia, anxiety and depression, with Ada separated from her husband, seeing her child very little and with the unresolved grief of a dead father, a dead twin and her first child also dead, how much of that statement she gave - after the murder - to Dr Morton is true, only Ada would know?
Either way, it can’t have been easy, as plagued by the worry of hereditary illness…
…when Dorothy got sick, her anxieties flooded back.
On 12th March 1923, finding the funds himself, Alec’s mother took Dorothy to see Dr Lennox Broster, a clinician at The Children’s Hospital in Hackney. Examined, the 11-month old child wasn’t in any pain and she was eating and sleeping well, but when she raised her arms, “it was clear she had a weakness down the left side of the body, which I thought was due to some injury during birth”, Dr Broster would state, “I had the child x-rayed”, which ruled out anything sinister, “and I ordered her to wear a splint”.
Over the next five months Dorothy was examined, and as Alec confirmed “she seemed to improve”.
Only, the relationship between Ada and Alec did not.
As their resentments simmered, things came to a head when Alec was unable to keep up the payments as his work had dried up, and – under Ada’s care - the weakness in Dorothy’s left arm hadn’t got better, but worse. As the best solution to a bad situation, Ada had her daughter handed over to Alec’s mother, with Ada calling by “a day a week, often Tuesdays and alternate Sundays” to kiss and cuddle her baby.
For the next few months, although they lived apart, the sparks often flew between this waring couple, as their child was used as a rope in an emotional tug-of-war, between the father who wanted to see his child well and the mother who wanted to see her child more. With trust broken, lies spilled, anger seething and tempers erupting, often the child cried, and on occasions, the police were called.
With Ada given permission by her employer (Lillian Richardson) to bring her child to work with her, as she had no child-care, on Monday 13th August, Alec paid her a visit at 45 Haverstock Hill in Chalk Farm. He would later admit it was a stupid thing to do, as he was angry, upset and he wasn’t thinking straight.
As their hurtful words spawned into abusive curses and the baby screamed, Ada would state “he struck me three times in the chest. Mrs Richardson tried to get him out of the house, he pushed her away”. Being witnessed by a neighbour, Alec confessed “I lost my temper with my wife for telling me a lie”, what it was we don’t know, “I pushed her once or twice and Mrs Richardson threatened to shoot me”.
With no-one hurt, it only seemed like a little fight…
…but that minor spat had big ramifications for Alec, Ada and Dorothy.
Two days later, backed up by Mrs Richardson, “I wrote to my husband”, Ada said “and told him I was going to have the baby. On Wednesday 15th August, I fetched her, a policeman with me, as I thought my husband might assault me. My husband was there. He said he was sorry the baby was going”.
With the cogs of law churning, Alec was summoned to Old Street Police Court for Ada’s assault. Having been charged, the magistrate varied the Separation Order, Ada was given full custody of her child, and as the toddler tottered away from 13 Kent Street, that was the last time that Alec saw his daughter.
In the eyes of the court, Alec was a violent man unfit to be a parent, and yet Ada was not a well woman. Just days before, still plagued by anxiety and depression, she told her mother “suppose I done myself in mum?”. Only her mother dismissed it, “don’t talk foolish” as Ada had always been a habitual liar.
But by the end of the week…
…Dorothy would be dead.
On Friday 24th August, Ada took Dorothy to The Children’s Hospital. Dr Lennox Broster stated “I believe that was the first time I had seen the mother”, so although she had been told everything the doctor had already said by her mother and Alec’s mother, he was obliged to go through it all again with Ada.
“The child was unable to raise the left arm above the shoulders and there was some weakness in the left leg. I had the shoulders x-rayed and there was an ill-defined upper paralysis for which I ordered a splint to be worn. I told her it was probably a birth injury and that it would take time to get quite well”.
As a fit and healthy toddler, Dorothy was still growing, and like many children with a minor disability, they had caught it early enough and were able to do something about it. But sometimes, in moments of crisis, we don’t always hear everything what we should, and how we interpret those words is key.
Dr Broster stated in court “I told the mother that the injury was probably due to birth-paralysis. I did not use the words infantile paralysis”, a much more serious disability, of which there is little recovery.
Only Ada would claim “I was told by the doctor that she had infantile paralysis. This distressed me, as several people told me there was no cure”. And having cried her eyes out, as she told her loved-one’s that Dorothy had a “tubercular spine” and was likely to “be a cripple for life” - maybe with the memory of those she had lost before still haunting her – “it made me decide to destroy myself and the baby”.
Nobody believed her story…
…as nobody ever had.
Sunday 26th August began like any other. Having dressed Dorothy in a pink woollen coat and hat, Ada fed the little tot, popped her in a pram, and they both headed off to Regent’s Park to feed the ducks. To anyone watching that day, Ada looked like any other woman doing her duties as a loving mother.
But underneath, she was a swirling torrent of depression, as – according to Ada – inside her tired brain, the relentless dripping of water flooded her mind, and a voice slowly uttered ‘finish it, finish it off’.
That day, she quit her job, she handed her mother the keys to her trunk, she drank a whiskey (which was strange, as she had always been teetotal), and she wrote several letters to her loved one’s.
To her mother: “This is just a goodbye forever. I hope by the time you receive this my baby and I are dead. I cannot face any more, it broke me up when I was told that baby is cripple. So goodbye to all. From Ada & Baby”, in which she left 10 shillings to pay her debts and asked for her clothes to be sold.
To her friend, Mrs Gilbert: “I thank you with all my heart for the pleasant times you have given me, but I could go through no more, so have taken baby with me where we shall know no more pain”.
And to her husband, Alec, she enclosed their marriage certificate, daughter’s birth certificate and their separation papers, as well as a letter, as grammatically terrible as it was chillingly cold. It read “I shall never hear from you again, and you will never see Dorothy alive. I can never see my child grow up a cripple… I shall never know, but the day will come when deep in your heart you will be sorry! I have kiss Dorothy for you. I shall never be taunted by you anymore. So goodbye. From Dorothy’s mother”.
But by the time he had received the letter, it was too late. (voice ‘‘finish it, finish it off’)
Having caught the omnibus to Victoria Embankment, Ada was seen pacing along the north side of the Thames, her baby in her arms. Spotted at 12:35am by two men - John Puffer and Albert Arch – they would state “she looked at us… she was walking quickly and seemed worried… so we followed her”.
At that time of night, Westminster bridge was deathly quiet and ominously dark, as a still wind howled through the cold steel structure. With no buses, no boats, no cars and very few people, Ada was little more than a shadowy spectre amid the dull yellow haze of several streetlights and the face of Big Ben.
As she cradled her baby on the first parapet, forty feet below, this dark and dangerous river ran. On top, its flat brown expanse belied a fast greedy rapid of swallowing currents, a thick sludge which no-one could wade through, and – being high-tide – it sped West, faster than many could swim or run.
(Sounds of the river waters, and the voices increasing - ‘finish it, finish it off’, ‘drown her’).
Albert would state “…when we got to 20 yards from her, she turned and threw the baby into the river”. Sprinting fast as the baby vanished under the bridge and into the murky darkness beyond, as they got close, “she attempted to get over the parapet. She had got over with the exception of one leg. I and my friend got hold of her, pulled her back and we held onto her, and a pal sent for a Police Constable”.
When apprehended, Ada was said to be “quite calm”. When asked why she had done it, she said “the doctor has given up all hopes of my baby, it is a cripple”. At one point, she did ask the PC to save it, but with the baby gone, swept away and submerged into the silty blackness of the River Thames…
… only a fool with a death-wish would even try to save her.
Detained at Cannon Row police station, Ada was charged with the murder of 18-month-old Dorothy Catherine Kaslofski and the attempted suicide of herself. She was cautioned and replied “I did what I did as it was for the best, and I wanted to go with her. I couldn’t see my child grow up a cripple”. (end)
Giving a full statement of her actions, her demeanour was described as cold and unemotional, with her later stating “I am not a bit sorry, because it is for the best. I should have been at the bottom of the river with my baby, if those men had not got me. I am prepared for the penalty”. And then asking, “has my baby been found?”, and hearing that it hadn’t, she replied “I wonder where she has got to?”
Five days later, the body washed up on the foreshore by Barnes Bridge, seven miles west, and it was taken to Mortlake Mortuary. Examined by Dr Parry, “the body was well-nourished with no marks of violence… death was by asphyxia from drowning…” and as for her disability “there was no disease in the arm or elbow… most likely, an irritation in the spinal cord had caused this clenching of the hand”.
Declared sane, on 19th October 1923, Ada was sentenced to death at the Old Bailey. But later proven to be insane at the time of the murder, although without an ounce of sympathy, Mr Justice Swift had declared “one must look with horror on any claim of a parent to take a child’s life”, the jury were sympathetic to her plea, as was the Home Secretary who later commuted her sentence to life in prison.
After two years as an in-patient at Broadmoor Criminal Asylum, Ada was released on 28th September 1925, and having served her time, she returned to her family, and the rest of her fate is unknown.
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 of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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