LifestyleMemories

Jane was 16, pregnant and brutally murdered

She was poor but she was honest. But Jane Clouson should have realised it was “not done” for the son of the house to marry the parlourmaid. Here, on the 150th anniversary of her death MIKE GUILFOYLE tells her tragic story which remains one of the most iconic unsolved murders of 19th century Victorian London.

Arguably the most evocative memorial in Brockley and Ladywell cemeteries is the one dedicated to the memory of Jane Maria Clouson.

The 17-year-old maid servant was brutally murdered in Kidbrooke Lane, Eltham in April 1871.

A monument, paid for from public subscriptions for the pitiful teenager, depicts a praying child on top of a pillar.

On the inscription are the words: “A motherless girl who was murdered in Kidbrooke Lane, Eltham aged 17 in 1871.”

Her last words were: “Oh, let me die.”

Jane’s body was conveyed to be interred in Brockley Cemetery, alongside her mother (also called Jane who died in 1867) on Monday, May 8, 1871, in the pouring rain.

Thousands lined the streets. The 150th anniversary of Jane’s untimely death, which falls at the end of this month has a sadly contemporary resonance with concerns around women and girls’ safety much in the news.

The tragic events surrounding her murder and the subsequent acquittal of the accused confound the modern-day reader.

Jane Maria Clouson

How did such a brutal murder ever go unpunished and how was it that justice was never done for Jane?

The circumstances of Jane’s tragic death and the criminal trial at the Old Bailey of the alleged perpetrator, Edmund Walter Pook, proved nothing less than sensational, attracting local and national press interest.

Thousands visited the murder scene, aided by the passing of the 1871 Bank Holiday Act.

When the defendant appeared at Greenwich Police court, he was greeted by angry baying crowds awaiting his arrival from Maidstone prison.

The case first went to a coroner’s court for a hearing, where Edmund Pook was found guilty of the wilful murder of Jane.

It was then committed for trial to the Central Criminal Court at The Old Bailey before Chief Justice Sir William Bovill.

The background to the murder begins after 24-year-old Edmund Pook began having a secret affair with Jane, then aged just 16, while she was a domestic servant working for his father, Ebenezer Pook, who ran a printing business in Greenwich.

Edmund Pook

She was summarily dismissed from the service of the Pook family when details of the relationship were uncovered.

Her supposed “slovenly habits” were cited as the reason for her dismissal.

She went to live with relatives. But it was when Jane revealed she was pregnant that Edmund Pook arranged to meet her near Blackheath on the night of Friday, April 26.

Jane had many conversations with her cousin and shared plans of her intention to elope with her lover to start a new life.

Such hopes were soon to be horribly dashed.

PC Donald Gunn, walking his beat near Greenwich, found a young woman gravely injured “moaning piteously” on a deserted muddy footpath on Kidbrooke Lane.

Jane fell into a coma and died from her injuries on April 30 at Guy’s Hospital.

Much of the police evidence was dismissed at the trial as either circumstantial or inadmissible as hearsay.

A hammer was discovered, covered in blood a mile from where Jane was found, and the shop that sold the hammer was located, but the shop owner was unable to remember the man who had bought it.

A man matching Pook’s description was seen fleeing Kidbrooke Lane.

Edmund stated he was somewhere else and offered them the name of a person of interest.

He then stated he was not with anyone else, but was running home because he felt a fit coming on.

When asked about the clothing he wore on the night, they matched the description of Jane’s assailant.

It was stated that spots of blood on his clothes were most likely due to him biting his tongue during one of his epileptic seizures or even of mammalian origin.

What originally seemed like an open and shut case began to unravel.

On July 15, 1871, after a four-day trial, the jury acquitted Pook following just 20 minutes of deliberation.

The acquittal was greeted with anger and dismay. It was widely viewed as due not only to multiple police blunders, but class-based judicial bias owing to the family’s social standing and connections.

Pook and his family fled London, changing their identity.

Pook had been represented at the Coroner’s Inquest into Jane’s murder by Henry Pook, a solicitor – not related to Edmund’s family.

Henry Pook successfully represented Edmund Pook in two subsequent libel cases, where Edmund was accused in pamphlets of being the murderer, despite his acquittal.

He died a widower aged 70 in Croydon in 1920 and was buried in Greenwich cemetery.

Jane’s headstone and tragic tale are often featured in guided walks by members of the Friends of Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries group and recalled in other events where wreaths are laid.

Jane’s tragic story and that of the controversial criminal trial of her accused is vividly recounted in the critically acclaimed book Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane by American author Paul Thomas Murphy, nominated for an Edgar award for best crime Non-fiction in 2017.

Jane Clouson is also remembered in a 2019 podcast – London Epitaphs 1. narrated by Mike Guilfoyle (produced by Tempest Productions).

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