The Oliver Twist, 90 Church Road, E10 (1902)
A couple of days before Christmas 1902, Edgar Edwards, who had a reputation as a shrewd if small-scale businessman, arranged to meet John Garland for a drink at his local on the corner of Church Road and Oliver Road. They were there to discuss a takeover of the latter’s grocery firm, and after visiting the business premises they returned to the pub before continuing their negotiations at 89 Church Road, where the 44-year-old Edwards was then living.
Within minutes Edwards had launched a vicious attack on Garland, which the victim subsequently described to an Old Bailey jury as ‘absolutely unprovoked. He gave me a very severe blow, it almost knocked the senses out of me, and it was followed by a number of blows rained upon me while I was on the ground.’
Edwards soon found himself facing a charge of malicious wounding, but before this case could be heard he was under suspicion again. This time it was not for any violent altercation but rather for twice attempting to pass himself off under the name Darby: once in connection with the purchase of a small business dealing in stationery and tobacconists’ supplies, and then while pawning some small valuables. Police decided to investigate further, and a search of no. 89 revealed further pawn tickets in the name of Darby, as well as some business cards. The latter led officers across the river to Camberwell and 22 Wyndham Road, the premises of another grocery business that Edwards was also apparently interested in buying. The owners this time were John and Beatrice Darby, but neither they nor their 10-week-old baby daughter were anywhere to be seen. Instead, on the mantelpiece in the back parlour, detectives found a lead weight of the sort used to counterbalance sash windows. This was covered with a quantity of blood and matted hair, and looking up they found more blood oozing through the floorboards above.
On 30 December a workman was brought in to dig up a section of Edwards’ garden back in E10. He quickly uncovered six sacks and a small bundle, which were examined by the local divisional police surgeon, the splendidly named Dr Jekyll. He reported that the contents were ‘the dismembered bodies of a man and woman, the heads and limbs had been cut off. I also saw the body of a child, which was intact. The heads were quite recognisable, the cause of death was due to injury to the heads in the cases of the man and woman, and in the case of the child to strangulation.’ Extensive fractures to the adults’ skulls, and evidence of blows to the front and rear of their heads, seemed to match the description of the type of furious onslaught inflicted on Garland. There seemed little if any doubt that Edgar Edwards was responsible, and that, having taken a liking to their grocery, he had decided to take their lives as well as their business in order to avoid having to pay for the latter.
The following morning Edwards was duly charged with the wilful murder of William John Darby, Beatrice Darby and Ethel Beatrice, their child, on or about 29 November. This time he was taken into custody and remanded to Brixton Prison, with the hearing scheduled for 9 February. Edwards refused to plead so the court ordered a plea of Not Guilty to be entered for him, the prisoner himself presumably hoping for a judgement that he was insane. Although the prison medic, James Scott, rather oddly felt the need to advise the court that, having examined the prisoner, ‘the shape of his head is somewhat peculiar’, he found no evidence of actual insanity, and restricted his diagnosis to ‘mentally weak’.
Thereafter, with an abundance of evidence – some of it circumstantial but plenty of it forensic – there was little question that Edwards would hang. Having shown himself to be both brutal and mercenary – court papers indicated that his rent on no. 89 was paid using the £7 raised by pawning Mr Darby’s gold watch and chain – in the event he accepted his fate calmly. When a death sentence was passed, he told the court, ‘Now get on with it, as quick as you like.’