Finsbury Murder: Jacob Spinas and the Dead Woman Sissy

What became known as the Finsbury murder happened in Finsbury, a district of Central London forming the south-eastern part of the London Borough of Islington. It occurred on the morning of 15 January 1870 and became known when police were called to Buecker’s Hotel, on Christopher Street. There the constable arrested a porter named Jacob Spinas for murdering a woman whom he had brought to the hotel.

Murder in the House by Jakub Schikaneder, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Murder in the House by Jakub Schikaneder. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The constable found the dead woman lying inside the bedroom next to the kitchen door. It was obvious that Spinas and the woman had been drinking as there were several opened bottles of wine. It was also evident the woman had struggled because the left side of her head was battered and fractured, and her clothes covered in blood. Additionally, when the constable conducted a search of Spinas’s room, he discovered the bed in great disarray, eight window panes smashed out, and under the bed a bent brass candlestick covered with blood and hair. Moreover, it was reported:

” It seems probable that a quarrel arose between them in their drunken condition, and that he attacked her with one of the bottles, beating her about the head and face. Several broken bottles were found about the kitchen, and some with pieces of flesh adhering to them.”[1]

Based on the evidence, Spinas was transported to the Old Street Police Station. When he was charged with the felonious killing of the unknown woman, he remained motionless and made no reply and things did not look good for him when the inquest was held that same afternoon. It was conducted by Mr. John Humphreys at the Windmill Tavern on Castle Street. A jury was also sworn in and taken to Buecker’s Hotel to view the body of the deceased woman.

The sight of the once good-looking 24-year-old dead woman with a fair complexion, black hair, and blue eyes was shocking. The entire left side of her head was completely battered, so much so, her features were obliterated, It was also reported:

“[T]he jagged flesh from the cheeks hanging down, the jaw-bone exposed to view, and the portion of the cheek-bone under the eye broken; the eye-holes running into the cheeks, and into one another. The long dark hair of the woman was twisted and matted together by fast-congealing blood; while her dress, of the poorest description, and frightfully dirty, was torn, bloody, and disarranged, leaving the naked body party exposed to view. “[2]

The Finsbury murder case included several witnesses who gave testimony to the jury about what they knew. First there was Mrs. Sarah Buecker, wife to the hotel proprietor. She stated she went to bed at one o’clock in the morning and was awoken at half-past five by noise. She went downstairs where she found Spinas, who told her in German, “The devil is down stairs.”[3] She said she became afraid and returned to her room. Joseph Webber, a porter at the hotel, said he left Spinas at half-past one in the morning and that Spinas was not drunk when he departed. However, at six o’clock Webber was abruptly awakened by crashing plates. He testified that he ran downstairs, followed closely by Mrs. Buecker. In Webber’s haste, he claimed “he trod on the head of the [dead] woman.”[4] Unfortunately, Buecker nor Webber had seen Spinas with the dead woman, so the Finsbury murder case was delayed for a week.

Police then investigated and the next day were busily engaged in trying to ascertain whether any person had seen Spinas and the deceased woman together. It took some time until the police learned that the dead woman’s first name was “Sissy” and that she seemed to have no last name. Eventually, however, near the end of the inquest she was identified as Cicilia Aldridge, but three of her friends, Eliza Ward, Bridget Martin, and Mary Anne Walker, all stated that they had known her about two years and that she was always known as nothing more than Sissy.

Sissy’s real identity as Aldridge came to light when a young girl of 18 appeared at the Windmill Tavern on Castle Street in Finsbury. She said that Sissy was her 25-year-old sister and that she had fallen into “misfortune” and moved to London from Liverpool, a city that Madame Tussaud had visited regularly years earlier when she had a traveling wax museum. Sissy’s sister also noted that the last time she had seen her sister was about six weeks earlier.

Several witnesses claimed they saw 23-year-old Spinas talking to a young woman and that he sent this young woman to buy gin. However, when the witnesses were taken to see the dead woman they could not identify her “as that of the young woman they had seen with Spinaz [sic] … owning to the fact that her features had been entirely destroyed by the manner in which she had been beaten about the face.”[5] Moreover, Spinas denied he knew the dead woman named Sissy.

Spinas’s story unfortunately did not match the evidence that was presented to the jury. First, there were six short curly black hairs found in Sissy’s hand that closely resembled Spinas’s hair. His clothes were covered with blood and his hands cut and bandaged. Police also found “the remains of five wine bottles [where found in his room] which were broken in battering … the skull of the deceased.”[6] The coroner also pointed out that claret was found in Sissy’s stomach and that Spinas had been drinking it.

Spinas was said to be “a very quiet man, not given to drink and much liked by his fellow servants.”[7] This made the Finsbury murder case all the more confusing. In addition, Spinas made a wild claim stating:

“I was awoke in the dark by a number of persons who beat me about the head, until I jumped out of bed. I then found that I was attacked by several men, and I saw amongst them the devil. The devil rushed at me and struck me. I defended myself with a candlestick [and a looking glass]. The fight was a long one, and when it was ended the devil and the men left the room. When the devil had left I saw a dead woman lying on the floor [and that is when the] persons in the hotel … came in. I never saw the woman before.”[8]

A woman named Mary Jones contadicted the fact that Spinas did not know Sissy. Jones claimed that after she and Sissy enjoyed a drink together, Sissy told her she was going to see Spinas. She testified that Sissy then went up the steps to the hotel, Spinas greeted her, and then they went into the hotel together. In addition, Joseph Rowe, the policeman on duty at the time of Spinas’s arrest, testified to the following stating that Spinas confessed to him that he had killed Sissy.

“I … took the looking glass and hit her and broke it. I then took the candlestick and broke it; I then hit her with the bottles. I battled with her for half an hour. When the lights came I found the woman dead.”[9]

Finsbury murder

Images related to the Finsbury murder. Author’s collection.

A postmortem examination of the body was conducted by the police surgeon Dr. G.E. Yarrow. Information about the examination was reported by the Morning Post that revealed:

“The deceased was a fair-complexioned young woman of about 24 years of age, and she was 4ft. 11in. in height. She had long black hair, and her eyes were light blue. Her hands and feet were remarkably small. From the look of her hands it was evident that she had never done any hard work. An examination of the left side of her face, which, when the blood was removed from it, was found to be comparatively uninjured, showed that when she was alive she must have been so by no means a bad looking young woman. The injuries that she had sustained were of a frightful character, and the principal wounds were found to be on the right side of the head and face. The hands of the deceased were found to be clenched.”[10]

Friends had come to Spinas defense claiming that he was insane at the time of the murder, but the jury thought the evidence seemed clear cut enough that Spinas was guilty of the Finsbury murder and not necessarily insane at the time. So, it was probably no surprise when the evidence was summed up and “the jury, after a few minutes of consultation, returned a verdict of wilful [sic] murder against Jacob Spinas.”[12]

In mid-March newspapers announced that Spinas would be executed inside the Newgate prison on 21 March. However, “active exertions” were undertaken to obtain a remission of his death sentence and on the day his execution was slated to take place it was announced that he had been granted a reprieve. Apparently, additional evidence was submitted after his trial. The judge presiding over the Finsbury murder case stated that had the evidence been available at trial the outcome would have been different and he noted that Spinas was indeed a “criminal lunatic” and that crime did not amount to “willful murder.”

References:

  • [1] “A Barbarous Murder,” in North Ortago Times, 25 February 1870, p. 3.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] “Murder in Finsbury,” in Wellington Independent, Volume XXIV, Issue 2975, 2 April 1870, p. 6.
  • [4] “Murder of a Woman in Finsbury,” in Morning Post, 17 January 1870, p. 6.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] “Murder of a Woman in Finsbury,” p. 6. 
  • [7] “Police Intelligence,” in Daily Telegraph & Courier, 17 January 1870, p. 2.
  • [8] “Murder of a Woman in Finsbury,” p. 6. 
  • [9] “A Barbarous Murder,” p. 3.
  • [10] “Murder of a Woman in Finsbury,” p. 6. 
  • [11] “A Barbarous Murder,” p. 3.

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