20 June 1901
Mr. Wynne E. Baxter, coroner for the Eastern Division of the City of London, resumed yesterday his inquiry at the Stepney Borough Coroner's Court into the death of Mary Ann Austin, aged 28 years, the wife of a stoke, who was fatally stabbed in a common lodging house, 35 Dorset street, Spitalfields, on May 26.
William Crossingham, of 64 Western road, Romford, stated that he owned several lodging houses in Dorset street, White's row and Little Paternoster row. The charge for a double bed was 1s except on a Saturday, when 1s 6d was charged. Henry Moore and his wife were in charge of the house. Daniel Sullivan was a brother in law of the witness's. He would go into 35 Dorset street if he heard of any quarrelling. The lodgers were often quarrelsome on a Saturday night. Sullivan really had nothing to do with 35 Dorset street; and Moore and his wife, who looked after the house, were not in any way under Sullivan's orders. Sullivan was watchman at 8 White's row. No. 35 Dorset street was registered common lodging house, and was subject to certain regulations. No. 8 regulation said - "No keeper of any common lodging house shall allow persons of different sexes to occupy the same sleeping room, except in the case of married couples and children under then years of age."
The Coroner - What attempt do you make to carry out this regulation? - We let them to couples.
The Coroner - Any miscellaneous couples that come along? - Yes.
The Coroner - Then all I say is that you do not carry out this regulation - you do not attempt to.
The witness - What are we to do? We do not ask them if they are married; we should get insulted.
The Coroner - You make no inquiries? - No. If I saw a man and a woman and knew they were not married I should turn them out. We ask them if they are married at times. Plenty of them are married. It is their hotel, the same as a gentleman has in the West end. The witness added that no instructions were given that a man and woman should leave together. He saw no reason why a regulation that a man and woman should leave together should be made. He had been registered for 35 years, and never had a stain on his character.
The Coroner - Do you remember on March 20 this year, at 8 White's row, that a man and woman, both strangers to the deputy, had occupied a room together; that Daniel Sullivan showed them up; that this woman unknown was found dead in her bed? Did that come to your knowledge? - Yes, a fit, I believe, sir.
The Coroner - Do you know that on May 30 a woman, said to have been a former nurse at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, was shown up to a bed at 8 White's row, and that in the morning she was found dead in bed? - Yes, sir.
The Coroner - With all these facts before you do you think that a man and woman should leave together? - Yes sir; it shall be so.
The Coroner - I have, unfortunately, had to hold inquests on a number of people who have lodged in your houses.
The witness - There are only three to my recollection. They come to the lodging houses to die, rather then go to the workhouse. Men have brought their wives to the lodging houses to die.
The Coroner - I suppose you are aware of the evidence given by a number of witnesses of the way in which the police were not called in?
The witness - It was very wrong. Moore had his instructions to call a doctor first and then the police.
The Coroner - When did you first hear of the woman being injured? - On Whit Monday afternoon. My wife came to London at once and went to the police.
The Coroner - Can you understand how it was that every one was told that the woman slept in No 44 and not in No 15? - No, except that the place was in such a horrible state, and they thought it was going to be a hushed up matter.
The Coroner - A hushed up matter! Why they showed me to No 44 after the inquest was fixed. Can you give any reason why 1s 6d should be charged on a Saturday night? - Yes. They come and do their washing and cooking for Sundays.
William Hitchmore, inspector of common lodging houses under the London County Council, stated that he had known 35 Dorset street since November, 1894. His opinion was that no attempt was made to carry out regulation No 8.
One of the witnesses brought out the fact that it was possible for a person to leave the lodging house as early as 2 o'clock in the morning.
This concluded the evidence, and the Coroner said the only possible explanation of no cry for assistance being made by the woman was that she was heavily drunk, or that she had been drugged. With regard to the drink, it was beyond doubt that the woman was a drunkard, and in all probability she was, soon after entering the lodging house that night, in a comatose state from alcohol. The fact that there had been a separation by the husband from his wife on account of her habits naturally attached suspicion to the man; and when Mrs. Moore went to the police and said she recognized Austin as the man who was with the woman on the night of the tragedy he was, of course, arrested. The conduct of the police was thoroughly justified. So far as he could see, however, there was no evidence to make out a prima facie case against Austin at all. The evidence of such a woman as Mrs. Moore was not worth placing any reliance on. The whole of her evidence was perjured, and it would not be safe to rely upon it. No doubt a number of the witnesses had perjured themselves, and only told another story when they were found out. If he was to prosecute every witness who committed perjury in his Court he would not have much else to do. However, it was quite possible for the Public Prosecutor to institute proceedings if he thought fit. He felt that he himself was not capable of taking part in such warfare.
The jury returned a verdict of "Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown," and left the matter in the hands of the police. Detective Inspector Divall, Detective Sergeants Gould and Wensley, and Police constable Woolley were commended by the jury for their conduct of the case.