‘The two brothers began the horrific task of retrieving Harriet’s decomposing body, cutting it into pieces and placing the pieces in parcels.’
Henry Wainwright was born to a brush-making family in London’s East End, and by the 1870s he opened his own brush-making shop in Whitechapel. Wainwright appeared to be living the life Victorian Britain applauded. Living with his wife Elizabeth and their four children. And his shop providing him with a decent income. What more could a Victorian man want?
But it was about to all go wrong, when he met Harriet Lane, a 20-year-old East End girl who was working nearby. Wainwright was besotted with her beauty and wit and made it his job to sweep her off her feet. This he did, and it wasn’t long before they had two children. He then paid for his second family to stay at a house in Mile End. His income was respectable and could provide a comfortable living for one family, but it wasn’t enough to pay both families.
Wainwright quickly fell into debt and soon was in over his head. To make matters worse, Harriet became an alcoholic and would scold him when she was drunk, demanding he leaves his wife and lives with her. Henry knew he needed to get rid of Harriet one way or the other and concluded it would be very convenient for him if she vanished.
In September 1874, Wainwright told Harriet the words she’d been waiting to hear. He told her he was going to leave his wife and live with her. He told her to meet him the following Friday and tell anyone who asked that she was off to meet a man named ‘Mr Frieake’. On Friday, 11 September 1874, Harriet left her house in Mile End and set off for Whitechapel. She was spotted by a friend at 4 pm and told them the story about meeting ‘Mr Frieake’. She was never heard from again.
Shots had been heard coming from Wainwright’s workshop, but no enquires were made that evening. Wainwright then buried Harriet in a shallow grave. Some days later, friends of Harriet asked Wainwright if he had seen her, but he told them the same story of her having gone to see a ‘Mr Frieake.’ Harriet’s family received letters soon after, signed by ‘Edward Frieake’ claiming he and Harriet had gone to live in Paris and were not returning. The letters had been written by none other than Henry Wainwright.
This appeared to be the end of the story. No one enquired anymore about Harriet Lane, and Wainwright arranged for his illegitimate children to be placed in the care of a neighbour. Henry Wainwright had got away with murder.
As the first anniversary of his terrible deed approached, Wainwright was still in the debt he’d accumulated through his years of paying for his second family. He decided he would move to Essex and sell the workshop near his store – but first, he would have to dispose of the chilling secret that lay just below its floor.
One year after he murdered Harriet, Henry fetched his younger brother, Thomas. Thomas was curious about why his brother seemed so frantic, but his curiosity turned to horror when Henry told him why he needed his help, to dispose of the body of a woman he had killed. Henry swore Thomas to secrecy, and the two brothers began the horrific task of retrieving Harriet’s decomposing body, cutting it into pieces and placing the pieces in parcels.
They chopped up Harriet’s body and placed into several parcels. All that remained was for the parcels to be discarded somewhere else, possibly somewhere away from London. Thomas left the workshop, and Henry asked a former employee of his, Alfred Stokes, to mind the parcels while fetching a cab. It was at this point that Stokes discovered Harriet Lane’s mutilated body.
Stokes kept his cool when Wainwright returned, helping him load the parcels into the cab and seeing him off. But immediately after he gave chase, begging passing police officers to stop the cab. After being ignored by two police officers, he finally found one who believed him near London Bridge. As the police officer stopped Wainwright’s cab, he ordered him to hand over a parcel; Wainwright desperately offered him a bribe if he would let him go. The police officer was unimpressed and found the decomposing body of Harriet Lane. He arrested Wainwright on the spot.
They executed Henry Wainwright for the murder of Harriet on 21 December 1875. They also imprisoned his brother Thomas Wainwright for seven years. Alfred Stokes received a reward of £30 for his part in informing the police about the body. Harriet Lane’s position was a difficult one, shared by many unmarried Victorian women who could not maintain financial independence in their own right. Henry Wainwright disposed of her by violence, a fate that Lane also shared with many other women in similar situations.
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