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The Borough Mystery: continued

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Secret London
Murder Ballads

Turning out Waller's pockets, Divall and Gentle found ten shillings and seven pence in cash (worth about £55 today), three pawn tickets and a hankerchief stained with fresh blood. Waller explained that the blood was his own, saying someone had accidentally nicked him with a penknife earlier in the day. That was true as far as it went, but what Waller did not say was that the wound came from Balch, and occurred at the very moment Kirwan was being strangled.
Studying the three pawn tickets, police saw that one was for a gold hunter watch (pledged for £2 on September 30, 1892), one for a diamond ring (pledged for £1 and 10 shillings on September 23, 1892), and one for an overcoat (pledged for £1 on July 12, 1892). The first two tickets had Kirwan's name and address noted on them as the man who'd done the pawning, but the third one used the name George Allen.
Waller claimed the watch and coat tickets were his own, but said he knew nothing about the diamond ring. Asked how he came to have the ring's ticket on him if he knew nothing about it, he replied, "I don't know". Later, he changed his story, saying Kirwan had voluntarily given him all three tickets as they drank together in The Lord Clyde. The police took the view that he'd more likely stolen them - along with the gloves and the cash - from Kirwan's pockets as he lay slumped in the George IV passageway. They locked Waller up and set about finding his companions.
Next to be arrested was Henry Lee, implicated in the killing by Elizabeth Knight's testimony. Police found him in a Whitecross Street pub called The Prince of Wales, where he'd been playing the banjo to earn a bit of extra cash. He was just taking the hat round when Gentle came in and grabbed him. Told he was being arrested on suspicion of joining with three other men to rob and kill a man in Whitecross Street that afternoon, Lee replied, "Oh, that is a mistake. I was with them in the public house, but I had nothing to do with it." Gentle took him back to the station, where he was locked up with Waller.

Newspapers fell on Kirwan's story with glee, tagging it 'The Borough Mystery' in all their coverage

At 3:00 o'clock next morning - Thursday, October 13 - the police burst into Balch's room at 19 Redcross Way and arrested him too. Balch denied all knowledge of the crime, claiming he'd been on the other side of the river all day Wednesday, but it didn't do him much good. A search revealed he had seven shillings and threepence on him, and he was locked up too. That afternoon, the police called Elizabeth Knight, Lizzie Williams and John Wentworth in to view an identity parade, which placed Waller, Balch and Lee in a line-up with nine other men. Knight picked all three out of the line, but Williams and Wentworth identified only Waller and Balch.
All three men were charged, and sent off to the holding cells at Holloway Prison. Now only Noble remained at large. (15)
The crowded conditions at Holloway meant Waller and Lee had to share a cell, where they were quickly joined by another prisoner called John Featherstone, who'd been arrested for a bond robbery in the West End. Waller and Featherstone fell into a conversation which, according to Featherstone's account, went like this:

Waller: "Me and this man [Lee] are charged with killing a bloke."
Featherstone: "Where?"
Waller: "In the Borough."
Featherstone: "Whereabout in the Borough?"
Waller: "We'd been drinking in a public house, and we got the old toff boozed. We then took him up a court. There was three of us - one man they have not got [Noble], my mate Balch, and myself."
Featherstone: "How did you do it?"
Waller: "I put one of my hands inside his shirt collar and the other over his mouth and held him while Balch - who had got his knife out to stab him, but I stopped him and I got a slight stab on my chin with the knife - struck him on the head with his fist, and the other man, the one they have not got, went through his clothes.'
Featherstone: "How much did you get?"
Waller: "Only one pound six [26 shillings]."
Featherstone: "That's not much to kill a man for."
Waller: "We didn't intend to kill him, and if we'd known he had only so little like that, we shouldn't have touched him."
Featherstone: 'What kind of man was he?"
Waller: "An old toff." (16)
Featherstone: "Did anyone see you with the old gentleman?"
Waller: "Yes, worse luck. A woman from the public house where we were [Knight] has identified us, but she's made a mistake in this man [pointing to Lee]. He went into the public house and had a half pint, but he didn't drink with us."
Featherstone: "You'll get off if no-one saw you do it."
Waller: "There was an old woman in the court [Sweeny] where we took the old toff down. I believe she saw us and is sure to come up against us. I'll take 20 years for my chance. I don't care so long as it doesn't come to a hanging job."

Featherstone said nothing about this conversation at first, and was sent to Newgate for his own offence. That's where he was on October 17, when a visitor showed him a copy of Lloyds Weekly with a story reporting the Kirwan case's progress. Seeing Lee was in danger of being convicted for the killing too, Feathertone wrote a letter to Inspector James O'Dea, the officer in charge of the case. He gave O'Dea the account above, which not only exonerated Lee, but also gave the police what amounted to a full confession from Waller. (17)
Featherstone described this conversation again at the Old Bailey murder trial, adding that Waller had mimed the killing on Featherstone's own throat as he described it. "I wish he had not done that," he said. "I got up off my seat and got out of the way of him. He did not mean any good, I could tell. I was afraid."
The newspapers couldn't get enough of the Kirwan case, badging their stories "The Borough Mystery" to reflect their puzzlement at why a respectable gent like Kirwan would make himself so vulnerable in London's roughest borough. This mystery only deepened when police took Dr Thomas Brady, another friend of Kirwan's, round the pawn shops which had issued the tickets found in Waller's pocket.
They began at Osborne & Gall's pawnshop in The Strand, whose name appeared on the September 30 ticket for the gold hunter watch. The shop's William Nead confirmed the ticket was genuine and produced the watch itself, which Brady immediately recognised. "I knew the deceased intimately. He was in the habit of wearing a gold watch, but I did not know before his death that he had pawned it," Brady said. "The deceased had tea with me about three weeks ago. He then had a chain, but I could not say whether he wore a watch."
Three weeks ago would have put that meeting at September 28, just two days before the hunter watch was pawned. Anyone seeing the gold chain on Kirwan's waistcoat as he stumbled round Southwark in October would quite reasonably have assumed there was still a watch attached to it, and his killers must have been very disappointed to discover this was not so.
It was the same story at the two other pawn shops: Nathan's in Poplar, which took the overcoat on July 12, and Attenborough's in Fleet Street, which accepted the diamond ring on September 23. Carling had found a mark on the middle finger of Kirwan's right hand when he examined the body, suggesting that a ring had been pulled from that finger some time ago. He stressed that this mark was an old one, however, and could not possibly have been caused on the day of Kirwan's death. Now it looked like Kirwan had tugged the diamond ring off his own finger on September 23 as he stood at Mr Attenborough's counter. (18)
The police took this information to James McLoughlin, the friend Kirwan had taken tea with just three days earlier. "I cannot account for his pawning these articles," McLoughlin told them. "I know he had money, [but] sometimes he would pawn things. He was eccentric in that way. He liked to be considered poor." And perhaps that explains the name "George Allen" on the overcoat's pawn ticket too - did Kirwan have an alias he sometimes used when playing at poverty?
As Brady toured the pawn shops with police, Carling was carrying out a post-mortem on Kirwan's remains. He was helped in this by Thomas Stevenson, a forensic medicine expert at Guy's. Carling has already concluded from his previous examination that Kirwan was "well-nourished and developed" with "nothing to indicate he took alcohol to excess", and the post-mortem supported these findings.
"The face was not contorted, but there was a leaden look about it, and some small points of extravasated blood on the scalp and forehead," Carling reported. "There was no fracture of the head and the brain was healthy. The pupils were not contracted. On removing the windpipe and lungs, a smell of beer was noticed, and there were some pieces of food in the gullet." (19)

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