Richard Witts


[postwar entries deleted in deference to the dead and the living]





4.6.1759 Old Market Place, Bartholomews.

Baby Boon, aged 3 days.

Anne Boon smothered her infant until it died and threw it into a pig sty behind the market in the hope that the swine would eat the corpse. This is historically the earliest extant, publically reported Brighton 'common' murder made close to the actual date.


25.5.1794 Public well by the Sussex Tavern, East Street.

The Unknown Prostitute.

The head of a murdered prostitute was found by men cleaning a well. It was rumoured that she had serviced the Prince Regent; foul play was her final reward.


1.10.1857 Corner of Codrington Place & Montpelier Road.

(now the site of Waitrose supermarket).

James Botting, aged 58.

James 'Jemmy' Botting fell out of his wheelchair. No-one would come to his aid and there he died. Born in Brighton, he had been appointed the nation's Public Executioner at Newgate Goal, London, 1817.

When encroaching paralysis affected his work he retired and returned to Brighton. Botting was said to be 'a pitiful object who shuffled about the streets, shunned and disliked by his fellow townsmen'.


1.6.1862 Church Street, (now the site of Prince

Regent swimming pool).

John O'Dea, aged 23.

John O'Dea, a cavalry sargeant with the Eighteenth Hussars, was murdered by his fellow trooper John Flood in the guard room of the Church Street barracks, strategically located near the fomer royal residence of the Pavilion.

O'Dea had bullied Flood constantly. On the night in question he committed Flood to a secret court martial - imposed unofficially by the lower ranks - for failing to clean a saddle acceptably.

Flood came off duty at 7 o'clock in the evening and drank heavily in the guard room. He placed a cartridge in the breach of his musket. At 9.15pm O'Dea entered. He heard Flood ask, "Is that you, O'Dea?" followed by a burst of fire. He was killed with a shot through the heart.


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25.5.1879 84 Edward Street, Kemptown & Banjo Groyne, Kemptown seafront.

Charlotte Hill, baker, and George Perrin, baker's assistant.

Baker Charlotte Hill was stabbed to death with a bread knife by her assistant during a fierce row concerning a bowl of flour. Her killer, George Perrin, ran away to the beach but slit his own throat at the Banjo Groyne and bled to death.


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13.3.1844.Brighton Town Hall, Bartholomew Square.

Henry Solomon, Chief Constable, aged 50.

Henry Solomon was appointed as Brighton's first chief constable in 1838, and his office was situated inside the Town Hall.

On March 13, 1844, John Lawrence was arrested for stealing a carpet from a shop in St. James's Street. Lawrence was arrested and taken to the Town Hall where Solomon tried to question him. Lawrence was distressed and so the chief constable induced him to sit by the fire to calm down. Three other officials were in the room at the time, but they failed to keep an eye on Lawrence. He suddenly shot up and smashed Solomon's skull with the fireplace's iron poker.



10.5.1934 basement of 44 Park Crescent. Later, 47 Kemp Street.

Violette Kay, aged 42.

Violette Kaye was a dancer who came to Brighton in 1933 with her boyfriend Tony Mancini (not his real surname), sixteen years her younger. He was unemployed and she subsidised him at her basement flat in Park Cresent. But the following summer he started a job as a kitchen hand in a seafront café. A week after he'd begun, he had a quarrel in there with Kaye, who accused him of pursuing one of waitresses. Mancini claimed that after this row Kaye promptly quit to Paris. He added that she was a morphine addict who also drank heavily.

A few weeks later, workmen in Kemp Street detected a foul stench rising from 47's basement, which Mancini had rented (but abandoned) at the time of Kaye's disappearance. The police opened a discarded trunk. Kaye's rotted body was stuffed inside.

Mancini had pummelled Kaye with a hammer at Park Crescent and hid her in the wardrobe. With two hired hands he had loaned a barrow for tuppence and wheeled Kaye's corpse in the trunk from Park Crescent to Kemp Street, through The Levels.

By a bizarre coincidence the police had opened up the trunk expecting to find - not Violette Kaye, but instead - the head missing from a hacked torso of a different woman discovered naked in a trunk held for two weeks at the left-luggage office of Brighton train station. The unidentified woman's legs were found at King's Cross station; it is presumed that her head and arms were thrown into the sea from the Palace - or the West - Pier.

The houses of Kemp Street were promptly re-numbered.


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1.2.1866. The Jolly Fisherman, 35 Market Street.

Harriet Harton, aged 26.

Harriet Harton was the wife of the landlord of The Jolly Fisherman pub. Her sister was married to John William Leigh, known as 'Mad Leigh'. He was the son of the American consul stationed in Brighton, and had fought as a soldier in the Crimea. It is said that he often acted in a disturbing manner socially and treated his wife in a brutal fashion, routinely thrown her out of their home. Her sister Harriet advised her never to see Leigh again.

It was for this reason that Leigh entered The Jolly Fisherman pub on the night in question and promptly shot Harriet Harton through the head with six-barrel revolver. He fired a second shot as she ran out of the room, crying, 'He has killed me. He has killed me.'. She fell down the cellar steps. The doctor found four bullet wounds in her corpse.


14.2.1863 14 Rock Street, Kemptown.

Mary Ann Day. aged 45.

Mary Ann Day, mother of eight, died after eating a mince pie laced with arsenic.

She had been enjoying a relationship with William Sturt, a profoundly deaf, 46-year-old house painter. Sturt was comparatively wealthy while she was destitute. He promised to look after her and her family if she would marry him. However, the family claimed that Sturt killed her with a poisoned penny mince pie he had bought for her from a Kemptown pie shop, and did so to avoid the marriage.

It was suspected by others, however, that one of the daughters had served her mother with arsenic in powder form when they ate bread and drank gin together before Sturt came to take her out on that day.


7.4.1914 57 North Road.

Maud Clifford, aged 24.

Maud Clifford was reported to be 'very beautiful with long black hair'. She had been married to a mixed-race Boer war soldier called Percy Evelyn Clifford, thirty-two-years old, but left him after a quarrel, to live by herself in a small flat elsewhere.

Her husband located her and persuaded her to stay with him for three days at the North Road lodging house run by Mrs. Mary Upton, who heard shots about 12.30pm on the day in question but assumed them to be motor tyres exploding outside.

Clifford shot his wife in bed with a single bullet from a small Colt revolver. Clifford then turned the gun on himself. He had sent a letter to his mother advising her that he would kill his wife and commit suicide, requesting that the corpses be buried together. Clifford sent another letter to the coroner explaining the circumstances.

He claimed that his wife had been 'playing with three other men'. Unfortunately for Clifford, he regained consciousness. Four months later he was hanged at Lewes jail for murder and attempted suicide.


4.8.1871 39-41 West Street.

Sidney Barker, aged 11.

Sidney Barker died from eating a poisoned chocolate bought from J.G. Maynard of West Street, 'wholesale confectioner and lozenge maker'.

The story began at 64 Grand Parade in 1870, the surgery of Doctor Beard. Mrs. Christina Edmunds, aged 43 but pretending to be 34, fell in love with the married doctor. During a visit to the surgery, Mrs. Edmunds gave the doctor's wife a chocolate cream, who found it tasted strange and spat it out. Dr. Beard examined the sweet and accused Mrs. Edmunds of trying to poison his wife.

Mrs. Edmunds thought that if she could demonstrate that somebody else was responsible for the poisoned chocolate, she would regain her doctor's affection. So Mrs. Edmunds began a campaign of discrediting the chocolate creams sold by at Maynard's sweet shop in West Street.

She did so first of all by purchasing strychnine from a chemist's on the pretence of killing stray cats. Then she stood from time to time at the corner of Cranbourne Street and West Street and got boys to call at Maynard's to buy chocolate creams for her, which she would then send back to be replaced, apparently wishing to change her choice, but she had inserted poison randomly into Mr. Maynard's chocolates.

Beginning in the spring of 1870 he started to receive complaints from diverse members of the public that his chocolate creams had made them ill. Even Mrs. Edmunds herself went to the shop and complained to Mr. Maynard of being poisoned.

Sidney Barker, aged eleven, was the most unfortunate victim of this campaign. His uncle had bought him some of the poisoned sweets for a treat. He died in agony. Mrs. Edmunds was eventually charged with murdering the boy.

At her trial in 1872, Doctor Maudsley - who gave his name to the eminent psychiatric hospital - testified that in his view Mrs. Edmunds was insane, and she spent the rest of her life in an asylum.


31.6.1866 36 Bedford Square.

Ellen Warder, aged 36.


9.7.1866 Bedford Hotel, Kings Road.

Doctor Alfred Warder, aged 43.

Mrs. Warder was murdered by her husband, a doctor who administered to her - over a period of a month - quantities of the poison aconite, also known as wolf's bane. Her brother was a local surgeon, and as his sister's condition deteriorated, he suspected that her husband was not dispensing to her the correct medicines to remedy the mysterious illness.

When Mrs. Warder died another doctor considered the circumstances to be so irregular that he refused to sign the death certificate. A coroner's inquest was therefore constituted, to be held at the Rockingham pub in Sillwood Street.

Her widower husband went off to London but returned discreetly and booked himself into the Bedford Hotel, where he committed suicide by drinking prussic acid. Staff found his naked body in bed the following morning. It transpired that he had married twice before. Each of his wives had died in unnatural circumstances.












2.8.1742 The Druid's Head, Market Street.

A smuggler, age unknown.

A smuggler was chased by customs' officials down one of the smuggling tunnels connected to various buildings in the the Laine, in this case the Druid's Head public house. He tripped to his death down a set of damp steps. It is claimed that even now his ghost moves bottles around and breaks glasses in the pub's basement.


21.10.1996 Top of Duke's Mound.

Justin Hayward, aged 19.




20.8.1826. Mrs. Young's House, Carlton Hill.

Isaac Burt, aged 3 months.

Shoemaker John Burt beat his pregnant wife Harriet with a poker when she refused to show him the contents of a letter she was writing. Her mother advised her to leave Burt and live instead at her house. The baby boy was born there. Three months after his birth, Mrs. Burt noticed that her husband was walking towards the house. She was alone with the baby, and so she ran into a neighbour's house.

Burt followed her to a first floor room where he stabbed his wife with a very sharp shoemaker's knife. She was wounded in the thigh, under her eye and the temple. Burt knocked six of her teeth out. However, she survived. When Burt stabbed the baby, the handle came off the knife. The honed blade was impaled in the baby's knee.

The baby died due to internal bleeding and Burt was charged with infanticide.








26.11.1901 6 Clifton Street.

Nellie Peacock, aged 20.

Nellie Peacock, in service at Ventnor Villas in Hove, was murdered by her boyfriend, who committed suicide directly afterwards.




9.7.1887 10 Cavendish Street.

Sarah Wilton, aged 35.

On the morning of the day in question, wheelwright William Wilton smashed his wife's head with a hammer and then slit her throat with a table knife. She was often drunk; they frequently quarrelled.




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12.6.1932 Brunswick Restaurant, 37 Ditchling Road.

Maud Page, aged 44... and beyond.


14.7.1831 11 Donkey Row (off Edward Street)

and 7 Margaret Street.

Celia Bashford,aged 35.

John Holloway was eighteen when he met Celia Bashford, a dwarfish servant with a malformed head. He said he was 'ashamed to be seen with her until after dark'. Nevertheless, he made her pregnant. The Town Overseers locked him up in Lewes jail for five weeks until he agreed to support Bashford and her anticipated child. The baby arrived still-born, though, and Holloway felt himself trapped in a futile marriage.

He spent four years away on Blockade Service, tracking smugglers. At this time he met and bigamously married Ann Kendell. They returned to Brighton and lived at 7 Margaret Street, while his other wife Celia lived with her sister in nearby Cavendish Street.

On the 24th July Holloway enticed Celia, with her belongings, from her sister's house on the pretence of beginning a new life in London. Despite his poor financial state, Holloway had rented a second house at 11 Donkey Row, and it was to that address that he took Celia.

In his own words, 'I asked her to sit down on the stairs and then in the pretence of kissing her I passed a line around her throat and strangled her'. His other wife Ann emerged from the shadows and helped him to hack off Celia's head and limbs. They dropped them in the outside toilet of their home at 7 Margaret Street, and placed the torso in a trunk which they buried in the woods near Lovers Walk.

It emerged that Celia was eight months pregnant, and at the autopsy the unborn baby was discovered inside the torso. This case came to be called the 'Brighton Trunk Murder' - the first of two, or three, depending on whether or not you count the trunk kept at the Brighton railway left-luggage office in 1934.

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