Was he blind or was it murder?

Former soldier Arthur Meader was adjudged not fit to serve after his sight began to deteriorate amid the First World War. He was helped by a blind charity and married – but his wife led a double life in the West End. When he found letters from her admirers, he strangled her, despite his blindness, writes JAN BONDESON. In the days when infidelity was almost unthinkable, was he able to get off using those letters?

Arthur Alfred Meader, a young London labouring man, enlisted in the Devonshire Regiment and fought in the trenches in 1914 and 1915.

His eyesight was becoming affected, however, and he was invalided home.

There were differing accounts how Meader had been blinded.

He had been gassed (unlikely), had mud sprayed into his face by a ricochet (possible), or suffered from some kind of degenerative eye disease (favoured by the doctors at the time).

It is unlikely he was a malingerer, since the army doctors were alert to such tricks, and since competent ophtalmologists in London agreed he was no longer fit to serve.

He was admitted to St Dunstan’s Hostel for the Blind, where he was taught mat-making.

At first, Arthur seemed content back in London, away from the horrors of the Western Front.

But he was out of the frying-pan and into the fire when he decided to marry, after a short acquaintance, young Mabel Merry.

In late 1916, she persuaded him to apply to the St Dunstan’s authorities to set up a mat-making business in Highbury.

The Meaders then quickly sold the business and went to Brighton, where Mabel went off with a cabbie.

By 1920, when Arthur Alfred had found a little house at No 21 Boundaries Road, Balham, the wicked Mabel moved back in with him.

They seemed reasonably happy and had a daughter, Irene, presumed to have been fathered by Meader.

The house in Boundaries Road had been let to Meader, on favourable terms, by St Dunstan’s, despite him selling the mat shop and pocketing the money.

But Meader’s habitual dishonesty continued.

He and Mabel lived in the ground floor and basement of the house, and illicitly sub-let the top floor to a needy tenant – and was badly in rent.

As for Mabel, she stole money from her husband, spent lavishly on clothes and jewellery, and set up a secret identity for herself as a party girl in the West End.

As Maisie Carter, she posed as a single woman, and led a very immoral and vicious life, with many dodgy boyfriends.

A habitué at varous sleazy Soho night clubs, she caught venereal disease from one of her ‘gentleman friends’ and passed it on to Meader.

Not long after, ‘Maisie’ swallowed her false teeth during a drinking binge, and nearly choked to death.

For the remainder of her days, her ‘snappers’ were in her stomach.

But her sins were catching up with her fast. From time to time, the dismal Alfred Meader tried his best to win his wife back, but she just laughed at him.

He tried to spy on her to catch her ‘in the act’ with some bloke – not easy with his partial blindness.

But he found a thick bundle of letters addressed to Maisie Carter from various male admirers.

The very next day, July 12, 1922, Mabel came to No 21 Boundaries Road, hoping to extract some money from her husband.

There was a furious quarrel about the letters, and Mabel struck her husband a glancing blow on the head.

Meader seized hold of her and strangled her to death. After pondering his options for a while, he went to the Balham Hotel, where he had a few drinks, before pulling out the razor and cutting his throat.

But Meader did not die. When the police arrived at the hotel, they found that his injury was quite superficial.

Of his wife, he said: “I hope she is dead! I shan’t hang for it!” Handing the bundle of letters to another policeman, he said: “There is enough in there to justify me doing her in!”

No 21 Boundaries Road

The letters were of a very graphic description of Mabel Meader’s descent into depravity.

Several newspapers, including the News of the World, openly supported him on the Old Bailey trial, the blind war hero, whose wife had behaved so abominably.

Had Mabel Meader not been ‘the modern woman’ and and old-fashioned family man’s worst nightmare?

Meader was ably defended in court, by a legal team instructed by the solicitors of St Dunstan’s.

Several witnesses attested to his intolerable situation in life, and ‘Maisie’s’ letters were read from at length.

Medical experts attested Mabel had had a particularly large thymus gland, making it easy to strangle her.

Meader suffered from neuritis, he said, and the blow on the head had exacerbated this condition.

The only ‘inconvenient’ testimony came from Mabel’s mother, who said Meader had often tried to spy on Mabel, and he had been able to see well enough when it suited him!

The verdict was “not guilty” of murder. Meader admitted the second charge of attempting to commit suicide, for which he was bound over.

He disappeared into obscurity, dodging genealogists by using names Alfred, Arthur and Robert interchangeably.

An Alfred A. Meader married a woman named Chapman in Islington in late 1923, but there are no clues as to his later activities.

Arthur Alfred Meader was a very lucky man. At the Balham Hotel, he admitted to the police that he had deliberately murdered his wife, and his ‘suicide attempt’ was not a particularly impressive one.

There were varying opinions concerning his eyesight – he might he have been clever enough to have hoodwinked the doctors, and securing a place at the St Dunstan’s Hostel through exaggerating the symptoms of his eye disease.

There is no doubt that Meader was a work-shy, drunken fellow, who repeatedly defrauded St Dunstan’s, the charity that had done so much to help him.

And why was he using three different first names?

It was Meader’s good fortune that his wife was many times worse than him.

There was no sympathy at all for the murder victim.

The News of the World thought the verdict just about right – the immoral Mabel Meader had died as miserably as she had lived.

This is an edited extract from Jan Bondeson’s Murder Houses of South London (Troubador Publishing, Leicester 2015).

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