Mary Pearcey and the Hampstead Murders

Mary Pearcey was born Mary “Nellie” Eleanor Wheeler in 1866 and was convicted of what became known as the Hampstead Murders.* These killings happened on 24 October 1890 and involved the murder of 31-year-old Phoebe Hogg and her 18-month-old daughter, nicknamed “Tiggy.”

Mary Pearcey

Mary Pearcey. Author’s collection.

Mary took the name “Pearcey” from her partner John Charles Pearcey. He was a carpenter with whom she lived but never married. He left her because of her infidelity with a furniture remover named Frank Samuel Hogg. While involved with Pearcey, Hogg had at least one other lover. Her name was Phoebe Styles. Eventually, she discovered she was pregnant and although Hogg was unhappy about the pregnancy, he married her supposedly at Pearcey’s urging. The new Mrs. Hogg then delivered “Tiggy,” who was christened Phoebe Hanslope Hogg.

During this time Hogg continued his affair with Mary Pearcey whom he wrongly believed was married. Because she was married, he was reluctance to have sexual relations with but then according to “intimacy” between the two began in Christmas 1888. Letters of affection from Pearcey to Hogg were introduced at trial and showed that she was besotted with him. She maintained that she could not live without him and furthermore also stated that “[s]he should die if her only friend (himself) left her, and he had more power over her than anyone on earth.”[1]

On Friday, 24 October 1890, Mrs. Hogg, with her baby, went to visit Mary Pearcey at her invitation. Around 4:00pm neighbors reported hearing screams and sounds of violence. Later that evening Mrs. Hogg’s dead body was found in Hampstead. Of its discovery the Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner reported:

“About seven o’clock on Friday evening last week, as Mr. M’Donald, a young gentleman living at No 7, Belsize Park, London, was passing along Crossfield Road, Hampstead, he saw a well-dressed woman lying on the side walk, as he supposed in a fit. He went to her assistance, and to his horror found that her head was lying in a pool of blood. … Before the body was removed a cursory examination showed that the head was almost entirely severed from the body, and that terrible blows from some penetrating instrument, such as pick axe, had pierced the skull in several places at the back of the head. … When found the head of the unhappy woman was enveloped in a man’s sleeveless cardigan jacket.”[2]

About an hour later an empty perambulator was discovered by a beat cop about a mile away from Crossfield Road in Hamilton Terrace. It was empty other than for some linen “stained with blood.” The Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner reported the following about the recently discovered dead woman and the perambulator:

“The authorities are … of opinion that the murder was committed in another part of London, and that the body was conveyed in the perambulator, under cover of night, to the spot where it was found. … also found near the spot where the woman was discovered was a nut … [which] is missing from the blood-stained bassinette.”[3]

Example of an early perambulator. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Although initially there was speculation that the body belong to some “unfortunate” it wasn’t long before Mrs. Hogg was identified as the victim. It happened the following day when her sister-in-law, Clara Hogg, accompanied by Mary Pearcey, went to the Hampstead Police Station. Clara reported Mrs. Hogg missing to Inspector Thomas Banister and then the following happened:

“[He] Inspector Thomas Banister … took them to see the body, and the prisoner [Pearcey] at once said, ‘That’s not her.’ Clara Hogg examined the clothes, and said, ‘That’s her clothing;’ but she could not identify the features. [Banister] … took them outside and said, ‘Surely if she is a relative and you have been living together, you can form a reliable opinion as to whether it is the person or not.’ He took them back … to look at the body again, when Clara Hogg expressed a doubt. The prisoner then caught hold of her and dragged her away. Clara said, ‘Don’t drag me.’ Witness asked them to allow Dr. Bond to wash the blood off the face. Clara looked again, and at once said, ‘Oh, that’s her.’”[4]

The two women then “went to Portland Town Station, where they recognised the bassinette … It seems that Mrs. Hogg left home about a quarter-past three … taking her only child … in the identical bassinette perambulator found in Hamilton Terrace.”[5] Mary Pearcey and Clara Hogg noted that Tiggy’s perambulator appeared to be well-worn and was missing a nut. They also pointed out that it had blood and hair on it, possessed a broken porcelain handle, and seemed to have borne a heavy load.

Mary Pearcey raised the suspicious as the murderer and soon police were focusing on her. First, she had invited Mrs. Hogg for a visit, and she had accepted. She had then gone with her child to visit Pearcey and every indication showed that mother and child seemed to “disappear” thereafter. Several witnesses also reported that they had seen Pearcey pushing Tiggy’s black perambulator around North London after dark. Additionally, the cardigan found around Mrs. Hogg’s head was determined to have belonged to Pearcey’s partner, John Charles Pearcey.

Police were further convinced of Pearcey’s guilt after they conducted a search of her residence. They discovered blood splatter on the walls and ceiling. They also found blood spots on a skirt and apron. Matted hair and blood were also located on several knives and the fireplace poker. According to Aberdeen Journal, and General Advertiser for the North of Scotland:

“Constable Edward Mercy said he went to 2 Priory Street with prisoner on Saturday morning October 25th. On entering the kitchen he found it dark, a green blind being down. On moving the blind, he saw two panes of glass broken. The window and the walls of the room were splashed with blood. The hearthrug was saturated with paraffin. The prisoner was agitated, and her voice trembled as she said she broke the window catching mice … Prisoner accounted for blood by saying her nose bled violently on Friday evening.”[6]

The next day after Mercy’s visit the body of a child was discovered by a “gipsy” hawker named Oliver Smith. He lived at Wild Hatch Lane in Hendon and made the horrible discovery when he went to check on some of his horses that were grazing in a field in West End Lane. According to the Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, “On going thither on Sunday morning at half-past six he saw the body of the infant lying amongst some furze bushes just off Finchley Road. The child’s clothes were saturated with rain. … There were no external marks of violence visible.”[7] Frank Hogg was called and as he had already identified his wife’s body, he now proceeded to the mortuary where he identified the body of his infant daughter, whom he discovered had been smothered.

In the meantime, Pearcey’s explanation to police about the blood found at her residence hardly seemed plausible. Evidence was mounting and pointing towards Pearcey as it was obvious that some sort of altercation had taken place in her home. Once Tiggy’s dead body was discovered authorities decided they had enough to charge Mary Pearcey with “wilful murder” and thus Inspector Thomas Banister did so on Monday 27 October 1890:

“He took the knives and the poker into the parlour, where … [Pearcey] was sitting. She whistled, and assumed an air of perfect indifference. … He said to her, ‘Mrs. Pearcy, I am going to arrest you for the murder of Mrs. Hogg … also on suspicion of murdering the child, Phoebe Hogg.’ She jumped up from her chair, and said, ‘You can arrest me if you like. I am quite willing to go … I think you have made a great mistake’ … ‘Why do you charge me with the crime?’ He said, ‘On account of the evidence.’ She exclaimed, ‘Well I would not do such a dreadful thing.’ … He told her to take off her gloves, and she did so, revealing two rings … [her] hands were cut, and her clothes were blood-bespattered.”[8]

Having been charged with “wilful murder” Mary Pearcey was represented at trial by Mr. Authur Hutton, who was instructed by Mr. Freke-Palmer. Throughout the trial Pearcey maintained her innocence but the prosecution, represented by Mr. Forrest Fulton and Mr. G.F. Gill, showed that jealousy seemed to be Pearcey’s motive for the killing. Fulton’s opening statement began by revealing the relationship that existed between Pearcey and Mr. and Mrs. Hogg:

“[I]ntimacy had taken place between Frank Hogg and his wife before he married her. At the time Hogg was also on the closest terms with the [Mary Pearcey], as copies of letters … had been found at the prisoner’s lodgings … One of those letters was dated 2nd October, 1888, at which time Mrs. Hogg was pregnant. … The letters went to show that Hogg was contemplating leaving the country or committing suicide in order to evade his responsibility, and … the prisoner appealed to him not do such a thing, and stated that if he married Mrs. Hogg she would love her because she … belonged to him. … [Hogg] first had immoral relations with the prisoner about … Christmas [1888 and] … at the end of 1889 the deceased and the prisoner became acquainted … At no time had his wife any knowledge of his intercourse with the prisoner.”[9]

Other evidence was also presented that implicated Pearcey. For instance, it was proven that she had invited Mrs. Hogg to visit her. Several neighbors also testified to hearing loud noises and sounds of a fight on the day of the murder at the time when Mrs. Hogg was likely present. Several women also swore that they had seen Pearcey pushing Tiggy’s perambulator around North London and it was claimed that the perambulator contained the dead body of Mrs. Hogg.

After all defense and prosecution finished Justice Denman, the presiding judge, analyzed the testimony of each witness. He then made comments to the jury about each person’s testimony and provided his opinion as to whether the person was truthful or not. In addition, he told the jury what they needed to consider to reach their verdict and then summed up the case that was further summarized by the Oxfordshire Weekly News:

“With regard to the circumstances of the case, it was clear that at some time between half-past three and six o’clock, on the afternoon of the 24th of October … Phoebe Hogg, came to her death by acts which would in themselves constitute a foul murder. The question was whether the prisoner inflicted the injury which caused death. The substance of the case for the prosecution was that it had been done in the prisoner’s house. … One of the most extraordinary things was that any woman could have conceived such a violent passion or lust for … [Hogg] as the prisoner seemed to have done. … With regard to the prisoner’s explanation, that the blood in the kitchen was caused by her nose bleeding, his Lordship remarked that it was incredible that that could have caused the splashes on the ceiling and windows.”[10]

Denman then concluded that if the jury was satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that Mary Pearcey or someone else, with Pearcey’s knowledge, had committed the crime against the Hoggs, they must convict her. However, he also stated that if they had any doubts about Pearcey, they must find her not guilty and allow her to walk free. The jury then retired to consider their verdict at twenty minutes past one and it did not take them long to reach a verdict. Fifty-five minutes later they returned and with little hesitation pronounced Mary Pearcey guilty.

“Amidst the solemn stillness of the crowded court, the Judge then assumed the black cap, and proceeded to pass upon the prisoner the sentence of death. He expressed his complete concurrence with the verdict, and said he thought the case one of many instances which had come before him of the terrible result of persons giving way to prurient and indecent lust. The prisoner had become a person of so little moral sense that eventually she had been the instrument, a willing instrument, in taking away the life of a woman, whose only offence towards her was that she had married to a man whom the prisoner had set her unholy passion. His lordship held out no hope to the prisoner, and concluded by passing sentence in the usual form. When he had finished, he said, ‘May the Lord have mercy on your soul,’ [and] many persons audibly added ‘Amen.’”[11]

Having been convicted and later acknowledging the justice of her sentence for having killed Mrs. Hogg and her child, Mary Pearcey was hanged on 23 December 1890 at the Newgate Gaol. James Berry was her executioner and he mentioned to the press that for her execution he was adopting a new method of adjusting the slack on the rope but for some reason it was abandoned without explanation. He also noted that during Pearcey’s walk to the scaffolding she was “the most composed person in the whole [execution] party.”[12]

Mary Pearcey

Mary Pearcey’s execution. Author’s collection.

Pearcey’s case generated exceptional press and intense public interest at the time. This encouraged London’s Madame Tussauds wax museum to install a tableau for Pearcey in their Chambers of Horrors just like they had for the murderess Mary Ann Cotton and serial killers William Hare and William Burke. On display in Pearcey’s tableau was a life-size wax figure of her along with museum purchases of the contents of her kitchen and Tiggy’s infamous perambulator.


*Pearcey was also spelled Pearcy, Piersey, or Pearsey by newspape. In addition, newspapers erroneously stated that Pearcey’s father was Thomas Wheeler, a man convicted of and hanged for the murder of Edward Anstee. In fact, Pearcey’s parents were James Whitford Wheeler and Charlotte Ann Wheeler and in no way was she related to Thomas Wheeler.
In addition, the noose used to hang Mary Pearcey was put on display at the Black Museum in Scotland Yard.

References:

  • [1] Manchester Evening News, “The Hampstead Murders,” December 1, 1890, p.3.
  • [2] Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, “Terrible Double Tragedy in London,” October 31, 1890, p. 3.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Aberdeen Journal, and General Advertiser for the North of Scotland, “The Trial of Mrs. Pearcy,” December 3, 1890, p. 4.
  • [7] Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, p. 3.
  • [8] Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner, “Police Court Proceedings,” October 31, 1890, p. 3.
  • [9] Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, “The Hampstead Murder,” December 1, 1890, p. 4.
  • [10] Oxfordshire Weekly News, “The Hampstead Murders,” December 10, 1890, p. 3.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] The Freeman’s Journal, “How Murderers Die,” April 18, 1892, p. 7.

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