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Elizabeth ROSS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - "Gin drinker"
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 19, 1831
Date of arrest: October 29, 1831
Date of birth: 1793
Victim profile: Caroline Walsh, 84
Method of murder: Suffocation
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging outside the Debtor’s Gate at Newgate prison on January 9, 1832

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The Horrific Homicide of the Female Felon

At the same time as Bishop, Williams and May were standing trial for the murder of Carlo Ferrier in November 1831, another case of murder was under investigation. The accused were Edward Cook and his common law wife Elizabeth Ross (sometimes, not unreasonably, known as Mrs Cook), who were said to have murdered Caroline Walsh.

The investigation began when the granddaughter of Mrs Walsh, Ann Buton, went to Lambeth Street police station to report her grandmother’s disappearance. Caroline Walsh had been a decrepit old lady of eighty-four years, who scraped a scant living selling threads, bobbins and stay-laces on the streets of London. She had lived at No 2 Red Lion Square with her granddaughter, where their next-door neighbours had been Cook and Ross.

They had moved to nearby Goodman’s Yard and pressed Mrs Walsh to move there too, but the old lady was not too enthusiastic about leaving her current lodgings and Buton actively tried to talk her out of it.

Ross was persistent and badgered Walsh into submission until, on August 19th 1831, she went to the Cook’s room at No 7 Goodman’s Yard. Ross had a bad reputation as a gin drinker, was a dealer in hare skins and, it was said, cats had started to mysteriously disappear from the neighbourhood soon after she moved in. Edward Cook had a local reputation as a body snatcher, was also a drinker and was a known bully. They lived in one room with their twelve-year-old son, also called Edward (but known as Ned). Mrs Walsh had been seen going into the building with the Cooks, but had not been seen again afterwards. Ann Buton became suspicious when she had not seen her grandmother after August 19th, so she went to Goodman’s Yard to look for her. She asked Ross where the old woman was, to be told that she had gone out earlier, and Buton’s suspicions began to grow as Ross’s answers to her questions became increasingly evasive.

Ross asked Buton for money for gin, Buton offered to buy beer for her but was told she did not drink beer, so the two women went to nearby Brown’s pub, where they drank gin and two pints of beer. Buton told Ross that she thought it was strange that her grandmother should have gone out, as she thought she would have been expecting her to visit, to which Ross replied,

“You seem to think from what you say, that we have murdered the woman.”

“I hope not, Mrs. Cook,” said Buton.

“From what you seem to say, you think we have destroyed her at our place,” said Ross.

“Mrs. Cook, you put the words into my mouth, but what I think I don't speak now, but you will know of it hereafter,” replied Buton.

Ross then asked Buton for money and was given 3 ½ d which she said she would spend on bread and cheese and went out. Buton waited for three quarters of an hour but Ross didn’t return, so Buton walked the streets of the area, hoping to find her grandmother. After three or four hours, Buton went back to the Cook’s room, where she found Cook to be red-faced and bruised – Cook had beaten Ross for ‘getting drunk’ with her. She asked again where was the old lady, only to be told that she had not yet returned.

Over the next few days Buton called on Ross several times, but Mrs Walsh had always just ‘gone out,’ and she also went to nearby poor houses, hospitals and prisons looking for her, but no one had seen her. Eventually, she became so concerned that she went to Lambeth St Police station, from where officer James Lea began his inquiries.

On October 28th, Lea and Buton went to Goodman’s Yard, where they found Elizabeth Ross coming out of the close. Lea confronted her and asked the events of August 19th. Ross said that Mrs Walsh had been brought to her door by her granddaughter, Mrs Lydia Basey, (Buton’s sister), who had left her there. The family had had a pleasant evening talking, they had had cold meat and coffee for supper and had gone to bed about nine o’clock.

The following morning, Edward Cook had got up at about 4 o’clock and gone to work and Mrs Walsh had risen at seven. Lea and Buton took Ross to the docks where Cook was working, and where Lea put the same questions to him. Cook said that after a supper of tea and hot meat, they had gone to bed at about a quarter past eleven. That discrepancy was enough to get the pair arrested. Lea’s next act was to go to the local charity school, where he also arrested young Ned Cook.

On January 6th 1832, Cook and Ross stood in the dock at the Old Bailey before Mr Justice Park. The principal witness was their own son, twelve-year-old Edward Cook, who told the court that on a Friday night, he didn’t remember the date, an old woman he knew had come to the house and they had drunk coffee before going to bed.

During the night, he heard his mother get up and go to the old lady, onto whose face she had put one hand and the other on her chest, and held her there for half an hour. His father had stood at the window, looking out, with his back to them. After that time, his mother had lifted the old lady up like a baby and carried her down to the cellar. Ned went back to bed and got up in the morning to go to school.

Another boy called Shields, who lived in the same tenement block, had some ducks that he kept in the cellar and Ned went down to see them. He went into the cellar and saw the old lady’s body in a sack, so he went straight to school, where he didn’t speak to anyone. When he came home at the end of the day, he found his father beating his mother for, he thought, going drinking with a young woman, so he went out to play and did not return until late. At about half past ten, from the window, he saw his mother carrying the sack down in the street. She told him later that she had taken the old lady to the hospital. Elizabeth Ross cried out in court,

“Good God! How could I have borne a son to hang me!”

but Ned burst into tears and said he was only telling the truth.

Further witnesses, used clothes and rag buyers from the Rag Fair on Rosemary Lane (marked in blue on the map), testified that Ross had brought and sold various items of clothing to them in October, and when these were produced in court, Buton and Basey identified them as having belonged to their grandmother – indeed, Buton had made some of them with her own hands.

The defence lawyers tried to prove that Mrs Walsh had been seen, and had died, in Tibble’s Poor House some time later, and although a decrepit old woman had been identified as being there, her description in no manner matched that of Mrs Walsh. The jury retired for their deliberations and returned the verdict of guilty on Ross and not guilty on Cook.

Ross protested her innocence and said Ned had been schooled in his evidence, implying that she was being made the scapegoat for some unidentified ‘gentleman’, but on Monday January 9th 1832, she was taken to the gibbet outside the Debtor’s Gate at Newgate prison and hanged. Her body was then handed over to the anatomists for dissection. Elizabeth Ross was the only woman convicted and executed for murder by ‘Burking’ her victim.

A drawing of her, made in death by the anatomist Dr William Clift, shows a woman who looks much older than her thirty-eight years, although gin and an intemperate life in the stews of Regency London had undoubtedly played their parts in her apparent decline. In a little over fifty years, ‘Burking’ would give way to a different method of murder in that part of London where Elizabeth Ross had lived – Whitechapel.


Elizabeth Ross

Executed for a "Burking "Murder.

The period of the actual occurrence of the murder for which this woman was executed, was antecedent to that of the crime of Bishop and Williams; but the inquiries which took place in reference to her case, rendered the delay of her punishment necessary until after those atrocious malefactors had expiated their offences on the gallows.

The discovery of this murder took place in the month of November 1831, when a young woman, named Baton, made a statement at Lambeth-street Police-office, which induced a supposition that her grandmother, an aged woman named Elizabeth Walsh, had been unfairly dealt with.

An investigation was ordered to be commenced by Lea, the officer, into the affair; and he succeeded in making discoveries which excited the strongest presumptions of the guilt of a woman named Cook, alias Ross, of the crime of murdering the old woman.

Mrs. Walsh, it was elicited, was aged and decrepit, and was reduced to obtain a livelihood in the streets by the sale of bobbins, stay-laces, and other similar trifling articles. Mrs. Ross was known as a "cat-skinner," and collector of hare-skins; and she lived with a man named Cook, in Goodman's-yard, Minories, who had obtained an equally unenviable notoriety as a "body-snatcher."

Mrs. Ross, having become acquainted with old Mrs. Walsh, had been known to express a strong desire that she would go to lodge with her; but Mrs. Walsh, whose connections were somewhat respectable, had been repeatedly cautioned to have nothing to do with a person whose pursuits and associations were so disreputable.

The poor old woman, however, was over-persuaded by the specious arguments of her wily friend; and at length, on the 19th of August 1831, she took up her abode with the supposed Mr. and Mrs. Cook, at their residence. Mrs. Cook occupied only one room, which formed the habitation of herself, her paramour, her son (a boy about eleven years old), and her new lodger. Mrs. Walsh was observed to go out only once after she took up her residence in Goodman's-yard -- and after that she was never seen alive.

The circumstances of the case were thus far known when the grand-daughter of Mrs. Walsh made her statement to the magistrates; but the inquiries of Lea soon brought other facts to light, which amply proved the guilt of Mrs. Ross of the crime imputed to her. Lea, as a preliminary step, took Cook, Mrs. Ross, and their son, into custody; and, on Wednesday, the 2nd of November, they were conveyed to Worship-street Police-office.

During the period which elapsed between the apprehension of the boy and his examination at the police-office, he was observed to be exceedingly agitated and uneasy. The master and mistress of the parochial school at Aldgate, which he had attended for two or three years, were, in consequence, sent for; and he made a statement to them upon the subject of the death of Mrs. Walsh, the substance of which he subsequently detailed before the magistrates.

On the same afternoon Cook and the female Ross were placed at the bar; and their astonishment, on perceiving that their own child was about to be admitted as a witness against them, was quite apparent.

The magistrate asked the boy if he was quite willing to make a full disclosure of what he knew as to the disappearance of the old lady, Elizabeth Walsh? And, having answered in the affirmative, he was sworn, and made the following statement:

-- He recollected the old lady, Elizabeth Walsh, coming to his father and mother at No.7, Goodman's-yard, Minories, about ten o'clock on a Friday morning. She brought some bread in a basket, a part of which she gave to him for his breakfast; she went away shortly afterwards, and returned about tea-time in the evening, when she, as well as his mother and himself, had some coffee; his father was not present at the time, though he was when she came in the morning; they had coffee about half-past nine on the same night for supper. He (witness) took part of it, and it made him sleepy, but not sick; the old woman also took some of it, and it seemed to make her drowsy, as she shortly afterwards stretched herself on his father and mother's bed, and placed her hand under her head. She did not at the time complain of illness; on the contrary, she appeared in good health. Sometime afterwards he saw his mother go towards the bed, and place her right hand over the mouth of the old woman, and her left over her body [the boy here burst into tears, and said he was sorry to be obliged to state such things against his own mother]. When his mother placed her hand on the old lady's mouth her arm fell down, and she lay flat on her back on the bed, and his mother continued to keep one hand on her mouth and the other on her person for at least half-an-hour; the old woman did not struggle much, but her eyes stared and rolled very much. He (witness) stood by the fire at this time, and his father, who was now in the room, stood looking out at the window; his father stood so all the time, and he was sure he never once turned round to see what was going forward, and that he had nothing to do with it. In about an hour afterwards his mother raised the body of the old woman from the bed, and carried it down stairs, but where to he did not know; the body was not undressed at the time; he and his father went to bed some time afterwards, and he could not say what time his mother returned, as he did not see her again on that night, after she left the room with the body in her arms. On the following morning he got up about seven o'clock; his father and mother were then up, and in the room; he had occasion, previous to going to school at eight o'clock, to go into the cellar to the privy, and while searching through the cellar for some ducks which he was told were there, he saw the body of the old woman in a sack, which was placed underneath the stairs; a portion of the head was out of the mouth of the sack, and the body appeared to be partly bent, and reclining against the stairs; there was sufficient light in the cellar for him to discern the colour of the hair on the head; it was partly grey and black, but he could not say whether or not the body was dressed or otherwise; the sack in which it was, was one belonging to a person named Jones, with whom his father worked; he had frequently seen it in their room, and he thought it was there on the night before. He went to school shortly afterwards, and never mentioned a word then or since about what had occurred, or his seeing the body in the cellar; on returning home at twelve o'clock in the day, he found his father beating his mother; he thought the cause to be, that the latter had been out drinking with a young woman, the granddaughter of the old lady, who had called to inquire after her; his mother, he believed, while his father was beating her, called him a villainous murderer, but he had no recollection of her threatening to give any information of him. He (witness), after getting his dinner, went out to play, and did not come home until late; himself, his father, and mother supped together on the Saturday night, and at about ten o'clock his mother left the room; in about half-an-hour afterwards he was standing at the window, and saw her go past with the body in the sack on her shoulder; it was in the same state as he saw it on that morning, except that the mouth of the sack was tied; the body appeared to be partly bent.

–[The female prisoner, in an audible voice, exclaimed, "Good God! how could I have borne a son to hang me!"]

-- The lad again burst into tears, and said he could not help it -- that he was telling the truth. He then proceeded with his statement. He did not know at what time his mother had returned on Saturday night, as he and his father, who remained in the room, went to bed, and he was asleep when she came in; on the Sunday morning his mother told him that she had taken the body to the London Hospital. The boy here, as in many parts of his statement, said his father had nothing whatever to do in the business. The magistrates examined him very minutely as to what had taken place on the Friday night, and what conversations (if any) had taken place between his father, mother, and himself, previous to and after the horrid deed had been perpetrated. He said that no words or quarrel had taken place; the old woman and his father and mother were on good terms, and nothing particular had occurred during the evening, until his mother placed her hand, as he had before described, on the mouth of the old lady; nor did she say a word to him or his father while she so held her hand on her mouth. He recollected she had been saying something to him about taking the body to an hospital. He did not see his father lay a hand on the old woman.

The magistrates expressed some surprise that the prisoner should, for a whole day, leave the body in the cellar of the house, which was accessible to all the inmates; but this was satisfactorily explained by the landlady, who said, that in consequence of its being so dark, and so infested with rats, the lodgers very seldom indeed entered it.

This was the substance of the boy's statement, and in many particulars it was distinctly and amply corroborated by the concurrent testimony of other witnesses. In some points, however, he was contradicted. It will be observed, that he stated that the body was carried away by his mother alone; but a man named Barry, whose evidence appeared to refer to the same transaction, declared that he had seen the boy in company with her, and assisting to carry the sack; while another negatived the possibility of the truth of one of his declarations -- that his mother had carried the body in her arms, and with great facility -- by stating that the deceased was a very tall woman.

The prisoners, upon the proofs which had been adduced, however, were remanded, and subsequent inquiries terminated in the production of further evidence of the guilt of Mrs. Ross. This consisted of the declarations of several persons that she had sold articles of clothing to them in Rag-fair, which were identified as having belonged to the deceased; and, more especially, that she had actually disposed of the stock-in-trade of the poor old woman. All exertions to discover the body of the deceased, however, proved unavailing; and, after several examinations, the prisoners, Edward Cook and Elizabeth Ross, were, on the 24th of December, committed for trial upon the charge of murder.

The intermediate occurrence of the case of Bishop and Williams, the details of which we have already described, and the violent alarm created in the public mind by the frequent reports of mysterious disappearances, and "burking" murders, excited a great degree of prejudice against these unfortunate prisoners, and it was not until the 6th of January 1832, that their case came on for final investigation at the Old Bailey. Ross was then indicted for the wilful murder of the deceased, while the charge made against her paramour, Cook, was that of having aided and abetted his fellow-prisoner in the commission of the offence.

Mr. Adolphus conducted the case for the prosecution, and Mr. Barry and Mr. Churchill appeared on behalf of the prisoners. The defence set up was,-- Perjury on the part of the boy, and the possibility that Mrs. Walsh was still living, arising upon the non -discovery of her body. The jury, however, returned a verdict of "Guilty" against Mrs. Ross, but acquitted Cook.

The convict was immediately sentenced to be executed on the following Monday: her body to be given over to the surgeons for dissection.

On Monday, the 8th of January, the wretched woman was hanged, in pursuance of her sentence. After her conviction, as well as before, she persisted in the strongest declarations of her innocence. Her statement was, that she had left the old woman with Cook on the night of her supposed murder, and that having then gone out, she did not return for several hours. On her going back she was told that the old woman had quitted the house. She maintained an extraordinary degree of firmness of nerve; and, up to the last moment of her existence, continued uttering protestations that she was not guilty, and ejaculations of her misery at quitting her own country (Ireland) to be hanged. She mounted the scaffold without assistance, and was turned-off at the customary signal.

The Newgate Calendar



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