In early 1909, Mr Ernest Harvey Blundell, an insurance agent living at 27 Alexandra Road, Croydon, was very ill with what was
diagnosed as influenza and ‘neuritis’.
His eyes were chronically inflamed, and it was feared that he might lose his eyesight.
Not at all unreasonably, Blundell became depressed and despondent, and worried that he would no longer be able to work and support his wife and children.
There was already a lodger in the little terraced Croydon house: an elderly lady named Miss May Hope Jay, who occupied two rooms on the first floor.
Mrs Blundell confided in her that since her husband could no longer work due to his headaches, the family had to economize.
On February 11 1909, after the Blundells’ 13-year-old daughter had gone off to school, Miss Jay was alarmed to hear gunfire and screams from the Blundells’ bedroom.
She went up to the door and said ‘What is the matter, Mrs Blundell? Can I do anything?’
Since there was no response, Miss Jay boldly opened the door. She saw the nine-year-old boy Graham Blundell lying dead on the floor, blood pouring from a gunshot wound in his chest.
His father was lying not far away, bleeding profusely from the head. When the terrified Miss Jay asked what had happened, he just said ‘My poor wife! I wish I were dead!’
Miss Jay ran out of the room, looking for Mrs Blundell, who was nowhere to be found.
Had a gang of armed robbers broken in, intent on gunning down the entire family?
The terrified old lady ran out of the house, screaming ‘Murder! Murder!’ all the way to the surgery of Dr J.H. Thompson, the local practitioner.
She managed to describe the bloodbath she had witnessed, and the doctor sent a boy for the police and accompanied her back to the murder house.
He found young Graham Blundell in a small bedroom, dead from a revolver shot to the chest.
Ernest Harvey Blundell had one bullet wound to the forehead, and one to each temple, but remarkably, he was still alive.
A small-calibre revolver was lying on the floor next to him. He explained that he had murdered his wife and son, and then shot himself in the head three times.
Surprised and dismayed that he was still alive after this determined attempt at self-destruction, he had tried to cut his throat and wrists with a blunt old pen-knife, but with as little success.
He urged the doctor to “give him two or three more shots to finish him off” but Dr Thompson’s respect for the Hippocratic oath did not allow for such rash actions.
In the meantime, Miss Jay and a police constable went in search of Mrs Blundell.
They heard groans emanating from the coal cellar and in there, they found Mrs Blundell, still alive but bleeding profusely from a bullet wound just below the ear.
Both the Blundells were taken to Croydon General Hospital, where they lay in a serious condition. Poor Miss Jay, who had witnessed such horrors, had to be put to bed in a state of nervous exhaustion.
At the time of the coroner’s inquest on Graham Blundell, both his parents were too ill to take part.
Ernest Harvey Blundell had always been a sober, industrious man, and very religious, but he had suffered badly from the influenza, and also from inflammation of the eyes that might have ended in blindness.
He had left various confused notes behind in the murder house, and witnesses testified that Mrs Blundell had feared that her husband was losing his mind.
The coroner’s inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder against Ernest Harvey Blundell.
In early March 1909, the newspapers announced that Mrs Blundell was now out of danger, although the bullet was still lodged in her skull.
Amazingly, Ernest Harvey Blundell himself also made it out of the hospital alive.
The plan was to bring him before the Croydon magistrates, but Blundell was found insane and unfit to plead, and was incarcerated in Broadmoor, where he lived on until 1940.
This is an edited extract from Jan Bondeson’s Murder Houses of South London (Troubador Publishing, Leicester 2021).
Main Picture: Miss Jay enters the Alexandra Road chamber of horrors, from the Illustrated Police News, February 20 1909
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