Edmund Walter Pook
Edmund Walter Pook was born at Walworth, Surrey in 1851, the son of Ebenezer Whitcher Pook and Mary Pook, formerly Burch. He was employed in his father's printing works at Greenwich, London. In May 1871 he was accused of murdering Jane Maria Clouson, a former maid in his parents' home. Jane, who was just seventeen years old, was attacked with a hammer in Kidbrooke Lane, Eltham, South-East London - a killing that came to be known as the Eltham Murder. It was claimed that Edmund Pook and Jane Clouson had been having an affair lasting several months with the result that she had become pregnant; Edmund would not marry Jane because his brother had already angered his father by marrying beneath his station and Edmund had no intention of doing the same, so Jane was fired from the household. However, this claim was refuted by his parents, who stated that Jane was dismissed following several warnings about her unkempt appearance, and slovenly work habits. It was also claimed that Edmund and Jane had continued their relationship following her dismissal. It was said that they met secretly and corresponded romantically with one another. However, no correspondence from either Jane or Edmund could be found and no witnesses to these secret meetings were able to be presented in court.
Before she died, Jane allegedly named Edmund Pook as her assailant. The bloodstained murder weapon (a hammer) was found nearby. It was alleged that the hammer used in the crime had been sold to Edmund by a local shopkeeper some days earlier. Reports also stated that there was blood on Edmund's clothes (when asked about the clothing he wore on the night, it matched the description, and the blood on the clothes was claimed to be a result of biting his tongue during a seizure). A man matching Edmund's description had been seen running from the lane that night, and seven witnesses swore to having seen Jane and Edmund together that evening. The case went to coroner’s trial first, and Edmund was found guilty of the wilful murder of Jane. This was then rushed through to the Central Criminal Court at The Old Bailey.
In the criminal trial which took place in July 1871, however, the judge ordered that Jane’s last words, in which she identified Pook, were inadmissible as they were hearsay. Secondly, the judge chastised the police, saying that they were after a quick arrest and hounded Pook with no real evidence. Pook was found not guilty.
Newspaper accounts of the time had intimated Edmund's guilt, even before his trial. During the final day of his trial, a large crowd had gathered in the street outside the court, the courtroom being packed with spectators. As his acquittal by jury was read was announced to the crowd waiting in the street, the mood was one of anger and disappointment. It has been suggested that Edmund had escaped justice because of his social class, and family connections. His father had previously worked for The Times as a tradesman printer. It is doubtful that Ebenezer Pook would have had any influence on the processes of the law, and considering that his son, and his wider family were harassed by the print media, both during and after the trial, Ebenezer Pook appears to have had little influence over the newspapers.
Edmund was represented at the Coroner's Inquest into Jane's murder by Henry Pook, a solicitor, not related to Edmund's family. Henry Pook had also represented Edmund Pook in two subsequent criminal libel suits, where Edmund was openly accused in pamphlets of being a murderer, despite his acquittal. During his trial at the Old Bailey, he was defended by Mr. Huddleston, Q.C., with Messrs. Harrinton and Besley assisting.
Edmund and his family subsequently fled London, changing their identity as they continued to be hounded mercilessly by the press.
- Jack Smith-Hughes, "Unfair comment upon some Victorian murder trials", Cassell, 1951, pp.1-71