The Camden Town Murder was the name given to the murder of twenty-two-year-old Emily Dimmock. The murder of the young prostitute saw the press coverage echo that of the Ripper murders from almost two decades prior and saw the trial and acquittal of the prime suspect. Here Unsolved Casebook looks at the case.
The Life Of Emily Dimmock
In the early 1903 eighteen-year-old Emily Dimmock grew tired of her life. She had worked as a maid in her home village in Hertfordshire since her early teens but Emily took the decision she wanted to move to the capital.
Once in London Emily found herself staying in a boarding house run by John William Crabtree. In truth, the boarding house was just a cover, the house was run as a brothel by Crabtree, a well-known petty criminal.
Emily soon found herself earning her keep in much the same way many unfortunate women did at the time, by working the streets as a prostitute. After several years spent drinking and selling herself on the rough streets of London Emily’s life eventually seemed to begin to turn around.
By 1906, and now age twenty-two, Emily Dimmock was in a relationship with nineteen-year-old Bert Shaw. The couple had a flat on St Pauls Road and they planned to marry once Bert had received permission from his parents (this was needed due to his age).
Bert worked as a chef on the Midland Railway. Although he was far from a wealthy man Bert believed he earned enough that Emily wouldn’t need to sell herself anymore. Emily promised Bert she would do just that and give up her drinking and soliciting ways. It was a promise Emily couldn’t keep.
Return To Old Ways
Bert’s job as a chef was on the overnight train and so he often went to work in the late afternoon and didn’t return until around 11 am the following day. By 1907 Emily soon found herself unable to resist the lure of the local bars and soon returned to drinking and prostitution.
On September 6, Emily, who used the name Phyliss with her clients and during her visits to bars, spent much of the night drinking in the company of a man called Robert Wood.
Witnesses claimed that the pair had met numerous times before, although Robert Wood would later claim this was the first time he had met Emily Dimmock. Whatever the truth, Robert obviously enjoyed his evening with Emily as he took the decision to try to spend more time with her.
On the morning of the 11th of September, a postcard was sent to the flat occupied by Bert and Emily. It read:
“Phillis darling, if it pleases you to meet me at 8:15 at the Rising Sun. Yours to a cinder.
The postcard had been sent by Robert Wood, using the alias of Alice as to not arouse the suspicion of Emily’s partner Bert should he come across it.
Emily had spent the nights since her meeting with Robert Wood on the 6th in the company of another client named Robert Percival Roberts. However, on the night of the 11th, she again met with Robert Wood.
The couple were seen in each others company in the Rising Sun and again in the Eagle pub by witnesses. This would be the last time Emily Dimmock would be seen alive.
The Camden Town Murder
On the morning of the 12th of September, the mother of Bert Shaw called at the flat which was occupied by her son and Emily. It is believed her visit was made with the intention of granting Bert and Emily the families blessing to marry.
When she failed to attain an answer from the flat the landlady allowed her to sit and wait for her son to return from work in the common room. After a short wait, Bert Shaw arrived home about 11:30 am to find his mother waiting outside.
Bert greeted his mother and the pair made their way to the couples ground-floor flat. Once inside they discovered a shocking and horrific scene.
In the bedroom, the walls painted red with blood, the body of Emily Dimmock lay naked on the bed. The killer had gruesomely slit her throat from ear-to-ear whilst she slept.
The Crime Scene
It was determined Emily Dimmock had been murdered sometime between 3 am and 6 am. Traces of blood were found on a nearby towel along with two straight razors which belonged to Bert. The killer had attempted to wash his hands and the blades before making his exit.
Despite the flat been ransacked nothing had been stolen. The only items that appeared to be missing was a set of keys, which the killer had used to lock the door as he left the grisly scene.
Amongst the items thrown around the room was a collection of postcards belonging to the victim. Amongst them was the postcard sent just days earlier by Robert Wood.
Newspapers were quick to sensationalize the “Camden Town Murder”. They had learned such news sold newspapers from the times of the Whitechapel Murders almost two decades before.
Despite how over the top and dramatic the reporting in the Camden Town murder of Emily Dimmock was they proved useful in the investigation. Papers placed an image of the postcard Emily had received on the 11th of September on the front pages. This led to a witness coming forward claiming she recognized the handwriting.
A woman named Ruby Young came forward and revealed the writing to be that of her ex-boyfriend Robert Wood. Ruby also claimed that upon seeing the handwriting Robert Wood had visited her. He asked that if anyone should ask would Ruby say that she and Robert still spent evenings together, specifically Mondays and Wednesdays.
Police quickly traced Robert Wood and charged him with the murder of Emily Dimmock. He was swiftly put on trial for the killing.
The Trial Of Robert Wood
Further evidence soon began to firmly point the finger at Robert Wood. John Crabtree rubbished Woods claim that he had first met Emily Dimmock on the 6th of September. Crabtree gave evidence that Woods had visited Emily Dimmock during her time staying in his boarding house.
Multiple other witnesses said likewise. Many had seen Robert Wood in the company of Emily Dimmock. Both in the Rising Sun and the Eagle pubs prior to the 6th.
Another important witness was a neighbour of Emily Dimmock. Robert MacCowan stated that on the morning of the murder he witnessed a man with a pronounced walk near the flat at around 6 am. The accused had a very similar pronounced walk.
The testimony of Ruby Young, John Crabtree and Robert Macgowan certainly started to paint a clear picture. However, the defence showed Robert Wood’s guilt wasn’t as clearcut as the prosecution would like to believe.
The Burnt Letter
Robert Percival Roberts, the man Emily Dimmock had spent nights with between her meetings with Wood’s, was called as a witness.
A letter had been found burned in the fireplace at the crime scene. Police were unable to determine its contents from the burnt remains. However, Roberts claimed he had been a witness to Emily burning the letter and knew what it said. He said the letter read:
“Dear Phyliss, Will you meet me at you bar of the Eagle at Camden Town 8:30 tonight Wednesday,
Bert Shaw had a cast-iron alibi for the night Emily Dimmock was murdered. He had been on an overnight train working in Sheffield, a fact backed up by numerous witnesses. He didn’t murder Emily.
Had Robert Percival Roberts merely seen Emily Dimmock burn an old note that had no bearing on the case? Not according to Roberts, he said he saw the letter arrive that morning. This left three possibilities:
- There was another Bert with whom Emily had had liaisons with.
- Bert was just a fake name to cover the writer’s tracks (as Robert Wood had done with “Alice”).
- Robert Percival Roberts was trying to divert attention away from himself. After all, he would be the next prime suspect should Robert Wood be found not guilty.
Edward Marshall Hall’s Brilliant Defence
Robert Wood’s defence was led by the highly-regarded Edward Marshall Hall. Hall claimed the reason his client had lied about knowing Emily Dimmock was simple. He claimed that Wood’s didn’t want his dying father to know of his association with a prostitute.
Robert Wood’s dying father would again be used by the defence. This time as an alibi as to Wood’s whereabouts in the early hours. He claimed that Wood’s left Emily Dimmock shortly after 11 pm and went to visit his father.
Wood’s father was too ill at the time of the trial to testify to his son’s claims. Another witness did claim to have seen Wood’s visit to his father’s home that night.
Edward Marshall Hall quickly went about dismissing Ruby Young’s and Robert MacCowan’s evidence. He did a fantastic job.
He pointed out his client only asked Ruby Young to say she had been in his company during the evening. This alibi would have still left him free when Emily Dimmock was actually killed.
Hall argued if Wood really wanted an alibi for the Camden Town murder he would have covered the times of the actual killing.
As for MacCowan’s witness statement Hall made the point that the perceived pronounced walk wasn’t actually all that uncommon. To prove this point Hall attained the testimony of William Wescott, a local boxer. Wescott possessed a not dissimilar walk to that of Robert Wood and admitted he would have been in the area at around the time MacCowan saw his suspect.
Hall’s brilliant defence of Robert Wood meant the jury took just fifteen minutes to acquit him for the murder of Emily Dimmock.
Who Killed Emily Dimmock?
So who did commit the Camden Town Murder? Who Killed Emily Dimmock?
Truth be told suspicion still surrounds Robert Wood. He did arrange to meet her that night, he lied about knowing her prior and he asked for a false alibi. And due to his father’s ill health, he couldn’t actually back up his son’s claims.
If you believe the evidence proving his guilt is flimsy. Then likewise the evidence to prove his innocence is equally as flimsy.
Robert Percival Roberts would likely be the next strongest suspect. However, both his landlady and his friend stated Roberts was at home the whole night of the murder.
John Crabtree’s Suspects
Other suspects both come from the testimony of Emily Dimmock’s former landlord John Crabtree.
Firstly is a man known as Scotch Bob. Real name Robert Mackie, it was said by Crabtree that Mackie had been a regular client of Emily’s at one point.
Mackie was investigated further but he gave an alibi stating that he was in Scotland at the time of the Camden Town Murder, This was later revealed to be false.
The dates Mackie stated he was in Scotland did not coincide with the date of Emily Dimmock’s murder. In spite of this Robert Mackie was never investigated further.
Crabtree also gave a second person of interest. The man only known as Scottie had allegedly used a razor, similar to the murder weapon, to threaten Emily Dimmock and John Crabtree during an altercation at the boarding house. Crabtree claimed that during the confrontation Scottie had blamed Emily for ruining his life.
Scottie was never identified.
Another suspect that came from the trial was a large man seen in the company of Emily Dimmock on the night of her murder. Witnesses Mr Harvey and Mr Sharples both stated they saw Emily with the unknown man at around midnight.
Again this man was not identified.
A final person of interest comes not from the files or reports of the time but a later theory. The famous artist Walter Sickert.
Author Patricia Cornwall made the claim that Walter Sickert was responsible for the Camden Town Murder as well of those slain by Jack The Ripper.
In my opinion, Sickert is one of the more unlikely suspects in the Jack The Ripper murders. However, even for those who see him as a realistic suspect, there is nothing at all to connect the crimes committed in Whitechapel 19 years earlier to the murder of Emily Dimmock.
Discounting the Ripper murders and just focusing on the Camden Town Murder Sickert did live in Camden at the time of the killing. Sickert also released a series of paintings titled “The Camden Town Murder” in 1908-1909. The pictures all featured a clothed man and a naked woman.
The paintings and locality aside there is nothing at all to link Sickert to Emily Dimmock’s murder. He was never mentioned during the trial or in police records at the time.
Sadly Emily Dimmock’s killer could have been anyone. Her occupation as a prostitute means that if Robert Wood really did leave her at around midnight it is entirely possible she ended up in the company of a complete stranger, who then ended her life.
Why was Emily Dimmock killed? If the police were unable to find that answer over 100 years ago I highly doubt the question will be answered now. As to who was behind the Camden Town Murder well that is even less likely to be proven after all these years.