The Peasenhall Murder – Who Killed Rose Harsent?

The Peasenhall Murder is one of those historic unsolved cases that doesn’t necessarily get the same coverage as other crimes of its era but it is no less fascinating. Rose Harsent, a young woman with several admirers, is discovered dead and her suspected lover is subsequently arrested and tried for the murder. Did the prime suspect get away with murder? Here Unsolved Casebook looks back at the case.

Tales Of Raunchiness

The picturesque village of Peasenhall located in Suffolk, England was a typical place of its kind in the early 1900s. Everyone knew everybody else in the small community. They also knew everyone’s business, any secrets and affairs were quickly part of the local conversations amongst the gossip mongers.

In the winter months of 1901 and early spring of 1902 twenty-two-year-old servant girl Rose Harsent had often found herself the topic of conversation. Rose, who lived in the servants quarters at Providence House, wasn’t short of male admirers. In fact, she had often encouraged many of them in their pursuit of her. She would openly request they send her love letters, many of which were raunchy and left little to the imagination.

A picture of Rose Harsent.

One particular tale relating to Rose Harsent was that she had partaken in an affair with a married man in the autumn of 1901. According to the local gossip she had been caught in an uncompromising position with the choirmaster William Gardiner by a couple of parishioners. William, who was much older than Rose and lived not far from Providence House in a cottage with his wife and six children, was warned about his conduct by the Parish Church despite William’s denial of the claims against him.

The Murder Of Rose Harsent

On May 31st, 1902, Rose Harsent received a letter which read:

“I will try to see you tonight at 12 o’clock at your place if you put a light in your window at 10 o’clock for about 10 minutes then you can take it out again, don’t have a light in your room at 12 as I will come round to the back.”

The following morning William Harsent paid a visit to Providence House to see his daughter following the previous night’s thunderstorm. On entering the property via the back door he was met with a horrifying sight. Laying at the bottom of the servant’s staircase in just her nightdress and socks surrounded by a pool of her own blood and a smashed oil lamp was his daughter Rose.

Rose Harsent had been viscously attacked. The young woman had suffered numerous slash wounds across both her throat and chest. There were also clear signs that her attacker had tried to set her alight. A scorched scrap of paper was found near the body along with a smashed oil lamp and some paraffin. The victim herself was found to have several burns on her arms and nightdress.

William Gardiner – The Prime Suspect

A search of Providence House soon uncovered the letter Rose had received the day before. Although police couldn’t prove the rendezvous mentioned in the letter took place it did give them there biggest lead and so a hunt began for the letter writer.

Police soon homed in on their prime suspect, choirmaster William Gardiner. They had quickly learned of the tales of an affair William had been seemingly having with Rose Harsent and upon examining the handwriting of the letter with Gardiner’s they believed it to be a match.

William Gardiner was the prime suspect for the murder of Rose Harsent.

Additional evidence also pointed towards William Gardiner being behind the crime that would become known as the Peasenhall Murder. The paraffin found near the body was in a bottle which had previously been used for medicine. This same medicine had recently been prescribed to William Gardiners children.

The piece of paper found charred near Rose’s body marked yet another link to William Gardiner. It was determined that it came from a copy of a local newspaper of which nobody within the residence of Providence House was subscribed, however, Gardiner was.

Witnesses also gave credence to William Gardiner being the author of the letter. A neighbour alleged that they had seen William Gardiner at around 10 pm that evening standing outside his house gazing towards Providence House, where the light from an upstairs window was switched on for a brief time – just as the writer of the letter to Rose Harsent had requested she do if she was happy to meet.

A further witness additionally declared that on the day Rose Harsent was found murdered a bonfire was lit in the yard of the Gardiner’s residence, leading them to speculate this may have been how he destroyed items of clothing covered in the victim’s blood.

The final piece of evidence was William Gardiner’s own knife. He owned and carried a small knife on his person and when police inspected it they discovered what appeared to be blood within the hinges.

A Surprise Finding

If the police were looking for a motive as to why William Gardiner would suddenly murder his lover Rose Harsent they soon had one. Upon her autopsy, it was discovered that Rose was carrying a child. They put her pregnancy at around six months, which fit with the timing of the story that Rose and William were interrupted by parishioners in the midst of a liaison.

Investigators now had a working theory. They firmly believed that on the night of May 31/early hours of June 1, William Gardiner paid a visit to Rose Harsent. It was here that she either informed William for the first time she was pregnant or told him she was keeping the child before telling her lover she expected financial support. William Gardiner saw his world collapsing before his eyes and so in a fit of rage, he killed Rose.

When confronted with the theory the police had come up with William Gardiner was having none of it. Despite his protestations that he had neither composed the letter Rose Harsent received the day before her murder or been the father to her unborn child the police charged him with the murder.

The Trial Of William Gardiner

The trial would begin on November 7 and last three days. It began with William Gardiner insisting he was innocent and played no role in the murder of Rose Harsent. He informed the jury that he had spent the whole evening at home and at the time of Rose’s death he was fast asleep in his bed. The statement was vehemently supported by his wife Georgina.

Georgina Gardiner And The Defence Of Her Husband

Georgina Gardiner also explained away the bottle located near Rose Harsent’s body at the scene of the Peasenhall Murder being from the Gardiner residence. She claimed that after her children were feeling better after a short illness she handed the leftover medicine to Rose as she had been feeling under the weather. Rose herself must have used the empty bottle for paraffin at a later date according to Georgina.

Georgina then gave the jury reasons as to why blood was found on her husband’s knife and the bonfire was seen lit the day Rose’s body was discovered. Both were perfectly innocent and unconnected occurrences according to Georgina Gardiner. She stated the blood was from a rabbit that William had caught and killed with the knife. The bonfire, Georgina stated, was simply lit with the purpose of boiling a pot of water.

A neighbour was also keen to defend William Gardiner. Amelia Pepper stated under oath that she had been awake all night long. She was adamant she would have seen or heard anyone leaving the Gardiner residence that night, which according to her no one did.

It was also a key point of the defence to show Rose Harsent in an unflattering light. They revealed numerous copies of the raunchy love letters, drawings and poems Rose had been sent in order to call her character into question. Their argument was basically that anyone could have been the father to her unborn child but it was not William Gardiner and therefore he lacked motive.

A Ludicrous Suggestion?

Placing the murder at the hands of one of Rose Harsent’s other lovers, however, wasn’t the defence teams only offering of an explanation. Could Rose Harsent’s death have been the result of a tragic accident? The defence offered up such a proposal.

William Gardiner’s lawyer contemplated the possibility to the jury that Rose had tripped whilst rushing down the stairs in the early hours to meet her unknown lover. In the act of falling, he theorized the oil lamp broke and Rose was cut viciously by the broken shards whilst the paraffin bottle she was carrying led to her been scorched.

As unlikely as the occurrence may sound it did its job of sowing the seed of doubt into at least one of the juror’s minds.

The Verdict

On returning with their verdict the jury failed to come to a unanimous decision. Although just one juror, a man named Evan Edwards, found insufficient evidence to find William Gardiner guilty it was enough in 1902 to secure a retrial instead of a guilty verdict.

The Second Trial

Just two months later on January 20, 1903, William Gardiner faced a jury for the second time accused of murdering Rose Harsent. In the weeks separating the trials little in the way of new evidence or information had been uncovered with much of the trial been a repeat of its predecessor.

However, one thing had changed, the mood of the jury. In a complete swing from the original verdict, the jury voted eleven to one once more only this time in favour of William Gardiner’s acquittal. The requirement of a unanimous verdict in Britain at the time meant William Gardiner wasn’t exonerated of committing the murder of Rose Harsent but he was now a free man.

Who Killed Rose Harsent?

And with that verdict, the Peasenhall Murder faded into the archives of unsolved cases. Rose Harsent’s killer never faced the justice they deserved. Did William Gardiner get away with murder? The general consensus amongst crime historians and researchers is that he did but other theories as to the killer’s identity have been proposed.

Most noticeably amongst the other possible suspects is the prime suspect’s wife Georgina Gardiner. Was it possible she found out about the affair with her husband and killed Rose in a jealous rage? It certainly cannot be totally ruled out completely but likewise, there is little in the way of evidence to back up the theory.

Another name often brought up is that of a young neighbour called Frederick James Davis. At the trial, Davis admitted to lusting after Rose Harsent and been the author of a number of raunchy poems and letters he had sent at her bequest. Alas, no evidence or realistic motive has ever revealed itself to implicate Frederick James Davis with any real merit.

After the Peasanhall Murder, the Gardiner family left the small once tranquil village and moved to London. They would never be newsworthy again until William Gardiner passed away in 1941, possibly taking his dark secret to the grave with him.

Further Reading And Sources

Wayback Machine – The Peasenhall Murder By Edward Packer

The Trial Of William Gardiner

Julian Fellowes Most Mysterious Murders (VIDEO)

The Cincinnati Streetcar Murders

cincinnati streetcar murders

The Cincinnati Streetcar Murders, also known as the Cumminsville Murders, took place over a six-year period between 1904 and 1910. Five women were all killed by a brutal assailant within a mile of each other in an area which would become known as the “murder zone”. The crimes, which are rarely ever written about, remain unsolved.

Mary Mcdonald

32-year-old Mary Mcdonald, also known as May and Mamie, had earned a reputation amongst the Cumminsville community by the spring of 1904. A failed romantic tryst with her sister’s husband amongst other hardships had turned her to drink.

Mary spent the evening of May 3, 1904, visiting numerous bars and saloons, The full account of her evening was never fully established but at some point, she met with a male drinking companion named Charles Stagman (differing sources claim the man’s first name was John and not Charles just for the record). Charles would later state he last saw Mary McDonald when he put her on a streetcar between College Hill and Main Street at about 11 pm.

The following morning, May 4, at roughly 6 am an engineer stopped the freight train he was driving near the Big Four railroad tracks just east of Dane Street. Ahead near the tracks, he could see the body of a woman.

The scene was horrific. Mary’s skull had been caved in and a leg had been severed. Initially, the belief was that Mary McDonald had been involved in a tragic accident, colliding with a train in her drunken state. Miraculously Mary McDonald was still alive when she was discovered but tragically she would die shortly after arriving in hospital, surviving long enough to simply state her name.

Evidence given by the conductors of all the trains that passed through Cumminsville rejected the accident theory. Each was adamant they would have known if they had hit anyone. Furthermore, it was noted by the investigating officers that the spot in which Mary’s body was found would have been difficult to get to without help given her drunken state.

The debate continued amongst investigators. Was Mary McDonald’s death just a tragic accident caused by her drunken state? Or was it something much more sinister? Whatever the answer, just a few months later investigators would have another death to investigate and this time there would be little doubt.

I’ve tried to be as accurate as I can on the details but the date of Mary McDonald’s death seems to differ from source to source. Some state she died as early as April 30th, with other dates including the 2nd, 3rd and, 4th of May also given. I have gone with the 4th as it seems the most frequently used.

Louise Mueller

21-year-old Louise Mueller left her home on the night of October 1, 1904, with the intention of meeting one of the young woman’s lovers, a man by the name of Frank Eastman. Unfortunately for Louise Frank had instead stayed in the company of several employees from the stable at which he worked getting drunk.

At around 9 pm Louise, who was also known as Lulu, was seen near the corner of Spring Grove and Fergas Street. Theodore Salmon and William Wilson along with there female companions Sadie Pierce and Stella Key were seen talking to Louise Mueller, it would be the last sighting of the victim alive.

The body of Louise Mueller was discovered the following morning in a clump of weeds in an area known locally as “Lover’s Lane” near the CH and D railroad tracks. Her skull had been fractured, with two visibly deep wounds on either side of her face.

As with Mary McDonald police originally pondered the possibility that the death was an accident. The coroner, however, made his thoughts clear. He stated that the sheer impact of the blows to the skull would have caused instant death and there was no way she would have been able to stumble to the spot in which she was found. Bruising on other parts of the body was also absent which would be expected on a body hit and thrown such a distance by a train.

Another more sinister sign pointing to murder was the makeshift grave which had been dug near the body. Perhaps a sign the killer was disturbed as he was about to bury his victim.

Police soon arrested Theodore Salmon and William Wilson in relation to the murder of Louise Mueller. Statements were given by the two men and the two women and it was soon found their stories contradicted each other. This led investigators to the belief that Salmon and Wilson committed the murder or at least knew more than they were telling. A lack of any real evidence against the pair or the discovery of a motive led to there release.

Whilst still on the hunt for Louise Mueller’s killer police would soon have another murder investigation on their hands.

Alma Steinigewig

On the evening of November 2, 1904, 18-year-old Alma Steinigeweg (also reported as Steinigewig and Steinway) made her way home from work. She worked at a telephone exchange and left work around 9 pm where she was accompanied by her coworker Catherine Schlenker. The two women would often ride home together until Alma switched streetcars at Winton and this evening was no different.

Unlike Mary Mcdonald and Louise Mueller, young Alma Steinigeweg wasn’t known for her love of bars or men but it made little difference to her killer. On the morning of November 3, close to the spot Mary McDonald had been found six months earlier, the body of the dead teenage girl was discovered clutching her bloodstained ticket from the streetcar. Besides her remain were the muddy footprints left by her killer.

Alma’s head had been hit with such a vicious blow that the wound penetrated her brain. The coroner would describe the injury as been caused by a chopping motion and so determined the murder weapon was possible a hatchet or small axe. Horrifically he also revealed the girl’s front teeth had been ripped out and presumingly taken by the killer (one source says this was the case in the previous murders but it isn’t mentioned elsewhere).

Alma Steinigeweg’s body was found close to the bank of Mill Creek. Investigators were again left to ponder whether the killer had been disturbed during an attempt to dispatch of the body. An item of clothing was also found near the creek which police believed belonged to the killer but the owner was never identified.

Police looked at several suspects, including a local man known as Jack The Pincher, but none of the leads they followed took them any nearer to finding the brute behind the attacks.

After the discovery of Alma Steinigeweg’s body, a bevy of women began to come forward describing accounts of how they had been attacked in the same Spring Grove area. How many were genuine and how many were pure fantasy we will never know but with the number of attacks reported it seemed only a matter of time before the killer claimed another victim.

However, this wasn’t to be the case. After a six month reign of terror in Cumminsville, it appeared the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders were over. It would be almost 6 years before the killer would seemingly resurface.

Anna LLoyd

On New Year’s Eve 1909, 43-year-old Anna Lloyd finished work at around 5 30 pm and began to make her way home. Nellie Herancourt, a coworker at the Wiborg-Hanna Lumbar Company were Anna worked as a secretary, later stated that it was the first time in three months that Anna had walked home alone. Sadly it would also be the last time she would do so.

Anna Lloyds body was discovered near the CH and D railway yard, not far from the spot Louise Mueller had met her death over 5 years earlier, lying in a gulley. Her skull had been brutally hit much like the victims of the 1904 Cincinnati Streetcar Murders, however, there were also differences.

Anna Lloyd had been forcibly gagged with a scarf unlike the earlier victims and had put up a fierce fight for her life. She also had her throat sliced open, no such wound was present on the bodies of Mary McDonald, Louise Mueller or Alma Steinigeweg.

A piece of evidence was also found at the scene. In Anna’s clenched fist investigators found a single strand of black hair, seemingly from the killer. Unfortunately, in 1910 this was of little use and no help in identifying any suspect.

The media soon made the link to the still-unsolved 1904 Cumminsville murders and the area soon earned the moniker of the “Murder Zone”. Police, however, were not as quick to jump to the conclusion that the murders were linked. In fact, they at one point worked the theory that the murder of Anna Lloyd was actually an organised hit.

A train engineer stated he saw two men forcing a woman to the ground as his train passed by the lumbar company at which Anna worked. Anna had also spoken with family and friends about problems with a male work colleague and been in fear of a man.

Despite efforts to find a reason Anna Lloyd may have been the victim of a hired hit none were found. The majority of the police force were soon of the belief that the murder of Anna Lloyd was indeed linked to those of the Cumminsville murders committed in 1904.

The murder of Anna Lloyd was starting to grow cold despite the best efforts of the investigating team when a new lead was thrust upon them. They received a letter from an individual who signed the letter S. D. M. The author stated that they had information about the murders and would “clear up matters”. S. D. M. never fulfilled there promise and within a year another brutal murder occurred.

Mary Hackney

On October 25, 1910, the last of the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders took place. 26-year-old Mary Hackney was found with her skull crushed and throat slit. The killer had inflicted a dozen clear injuries to the victims head including two sickeningly forceful blows to the skull.

The murder weapon which had been used was a hatchet similar to the ones used by a carpenter, with the throat been cut with a sharp knife or razor. The killer had at least this time seemingly left a clue as a bloody thumbprint was found on the door frame.

Although within the so-called “murder zone” Mary Hackney’s murder was slightly different from the other Cumminsville murders as she was found in her own home on Dane Street.

Suspicion initially fell on Mary Hackney’s husband Harley Hackney and a young lodger of the couple, Charles Eckert. The men stated that they found Mary’s body at 6 pm when they arrived home from work together. For whatever reason, police doubted there story and the two men were arrested along with a black man named Herman Schwering, who was delivering milk in the area when police believed the murder had taken place. All three men quickly established alibi’s and were released without charge.

Question marks again were raised as to whether or not the latest murder in Dane Street was related to the previous murders. Dr Ralph Reed, after consultation with two fellow medical experts, was under no such doubt. He believed that due to all the murders taking place in the same area, all lacking clear motive and all displaying a similar level of excessive brutality that they were indeed committed by the same individual.

The letter writer S. D. M. again sent letters to the police stating the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders were all related and that they had details on all of the murders. As was the case after the murder of Anna Lloyd the information promised was never forthcoming. The police came to the opinion that S. D. M. was nothing more than a repugnant hoax.

Despite the best efforts of the police the murder of Mary Hackney joined those of Mary McDonald, Louise Mueller, Alma Steinigeweg and Anna Lloyd and soon became a cold case with no real leads. It would be another three years before the case would be reignited.

In December 1913 acts of violence had been taking place during streetcar strikes in Cincinnati. The Burns Detective Agency were hired to find the culprit but upon doing so they uncovered information which they believed pointed to the man responsible for the murder of Anna Lloyd on New Year’s Eve, 1909.

The Burns Detective Agency asserted that a former streetcar conductor who had since been imprisoned to a lunatic asylum was behind the murder, and thus possibly the other Cincinnati Streetcar murders.

A letter was found in his former home. It was addressed but had not been sent. The letter was reportedly a threat to someone who had seen him “in the act” on December 31. Although no year was written the date did match the night Anna Lloyd was murdered. However, this alone was only circumstantial evidence, no concrete evidence linking the suspect to the murder of Anna Lloyd or any of the Cumminsville murders was discovered.

The new lead was swiftly forgotten and the Cincinnati Streetcar Murders once more disappeared from the headlines. How many of these sickening murders were carried out by the same hands is unknown but all five brutal killings remain unsolved and sadly for the most part completely forgotten.

Sources and Further Reading

Queen City Gothic – Cincinnati’s Most Infamous Murder Mysteries

The News-Herald. [volume], May 05, 1904

The Salt Lake herald. [volume], November 04, 1904

The Washington times. [volume], November 04, 1904

The Washington times. [volume], November 13, 1904, Magazine Features

The Spokane press. [volume], January 02, 1910

The Tacoma times. [volume], November 08, 1910

Rock Island Argus., October 26, 1910

The Bourbon news. [volume], October 28, 1910