‘All the children were abducted off the street, most while running errands for their parents.’
The criminal history of London in the late 19th century is dominated by one man: Jack the Ripper. But he may not have been the only serial murderer stalking the streets of London. During the 1880s and 1890s. A series of children and young adults disappeared in London’s East End. The crimes have never been solved, and it’s not clear whether they were the victims of one person, or of several.
All the victims were abducted off the street, most while running errands for their parents. In many of the cases, suspicious persons were seen in the immediate area of the abduction. In several cases this included a woman.
In April 1881, 14-year-old Mary Seward disappeared while out looking for her missing nephew in West Ham. Newspaper reports of the time claimed a man described as ‘well dressed, but having common, coarse features’ had attempted to abduct children in the area. The following year Eliza Carter, aged 10, vanished from the area and was never seen again. In 1898, five-year-old Mary Voller disappeared while on a shopping errand in Barking to buy linseed oil. She was stabbed several times and her body was found in a flooded ditch.
The high-profile case among the ‘West Ham Vanishings’ was the murder of Amelia Jeffs. This 15-year-old girl disappeared on January 31, 1890, and was found murdered and raped in an empty house in the Portway two weeks later. 15-year-old Amelia was kidnapped on her way to buy fish and chips on West Road. She was raped and strangled before her body was dumped in a cupboard of a newly built unoccupied house.
At the coroner’s inquest, there was a suspicion against Joseph Roberts, the builder who had constructed the terrace of houses in the Portway, and against his father Samuel, who served as night watchman on the premises, but there was not sufficient evidence for either of them to be charged with the murder. Like Amelia, most of the other victims went missing from the streets and were never seen again.
There were often stories of gangs luring children and young adults away for lives of slavery in other large cities. It seems highly improbable this spate of crimes will ever be solved or explained.
The house where Amelia Jeffs’s body was found is still standing and remains something of a gruesome local landmark. Apart from that, the vanishings have largely been forgotten about, with the Jack the Ripper killings taking the attention.
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