Percy Lefroy Mapleton (aka Percy Mapleton Lefroy) (February 23, 1860 - November 29, 1881) a journalist, was the British 'railway murderer' of 1881. He is important in the history of forensics and policing as being the subject of the first Police composite picture to appear on a 'wanted' poster and in a newspaper.
On the afternoon of June 27, 1881, 64 year-old Isaac Frederick Gold, a coin dealer, was murdererd on the express train going from London Bridge Station to his home in Brighton. Gold had entered a first-class smoking compartment in the third carriage, and was later joined in the compartment by 21 year old Percy Lefroy Mapleton.
When the train arrived at Preston Park Station Mapleton was observed getting out of the carriage in a distressed state and covered in blood. He had lost his hat, collar and tie, and had a gold watch-chain hanging from his shoe.
Giving his name as Percy Mapleton Lefroy, Mapleton complained that he had been attacked by two men during the journey who had hit him on the head, knocking him out.
Richard Gibson, the ticket collector at Preston Park Station, accompanied Mapleton for the rest of the journey to Brighton, where Mapleton told Henry Anscombe, the Station Master, that he had been shot and wounded during his journey. Asked about the gold chain which had been seen hanging from his shoe, he replied that he had put it there for safety.
Although the police were not satisfied with Mapleton's story, as no-one had lodged a complaint against him they decided that he must have been attempting to commit suicide, which was then a criminal offence in Britain.
He was taken to the local police station where he made an official complaint against his attackers, even offering a reward for their capture. Here Constable Howland interviewed Mapleton and took details of his alleged attackers, before sending him on to the County Hospital for treatment, where his wounds were discovered to be quite superficial.
Suspicious that such slight wounds could cause so much blood, the examining doctor wanted to detain him, but Mapleton suddenly announced that he had an urgent appointment in London.
He returned to the police station for further interviews, and then, having bought a new collar and tie, went to Brighton Station where increasingly dubious police took him into an office and searched him, finding two Hanoverian medals in his pockets, but he denied all knowledge of them.
Meanwhile, the carriage had been shunted into a siding and examined, which revealed three bullet marks and other signs of a fierce struggle, including blood on the carriage's footboard, mat, and door handle, as well as on a handkerchief and newspaper that had been left in the compartment by one of its occupants. Coins similar to those which had been found on Lefroy/Mapleton were also found in the compartment.
The authorities still saw no reason to detain Mapleton, and he was escorted by Detective Sergeant George Holmes to the home of Mapleton's relatives who ran a boarding house at Cathcart Road in Wallington in Surrey.
Meanwhile, a search of the line between London Bridge Station and Preston Park Station was organised, and in Balcombe Tunnel railway staff found the body of an elderly man, later identified as Isaac Gold; he had been shot and stabbed and near his body was found a knife smeared with blood. His gold watch and chain and a large sum of money had been stolen. The Station Master at Balcombe immediately sent the following telegram:
'Man found dead this afternoon in tunnel here. Name on papers "I Gold". He is now lying here. Reply quick.'
Escape and Recapture
The news that a body had been found was passed along the line and at Three Bridges railway station the Station Master told Detective Sergeant Holmes about the body's discovery. Holmes was also instructed by telegram from Brighton police not to let Lefroy/Mapleton out of his sight. However, having arrived at the boarding house in Wallington, Mapleton told Holmes that he wanted to change his clothes and persuaded him to wait outside. Mapleton then left the house and disappeared.
The hunt to re-capture Mapleton was notable for the appeal by C. E. Howard Vincent, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), to the British press for their assistance. The Daily Telegraph published the following description of Mapleton:
"Age 22, middle height, very thin, sickly appearance, scratches on throat, wounds on head, probably clean shaved, low felt hat, black coat, teeth much discoloured ... He is very round shouldered, and his thin overcoat hangs in awkward folds about his spare figure. His forehead and chin are both receding. He has a slight moustache, and very small dark whiskers. His jawbones are prominent, his cheeks sunken and sallow, and his teeth fully exposed when laughing. His upper lip is thin and drawn inwards. His eyes are grey and large. His gait is singular; he is inclined to slouch and when not carrying a bag, his left hand is usually in his pocket. He generally carries a crutch stick."
More importantly, however, the Daily Telegraph published an artist's impression of Mapleton created by using a description provided by someone who knew Mapleton.
This was the first time that a composite picture had been used in this way by a newspaper, which created enormous public interest, and resulted in Mapleton being spotted erroneously all over the country. A meeting was held at London Bridge Station and all the railway staff involved in the case were questioned by detective officers.
The Coroner, Wynne Edwin Baxter, (who would later be involved as a Coroner during the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888), opened the inquest on Isaac Gold on June 29 1881.
The inquest lasted for several days, during which period Detective Sergeant Holmes and the other police officers involved in the case's preliminary stages were mauled in the witness box for their inefficiency. A verdict of wilful murder against 'Lefroy' was returned. The Railway Company then offered a substantial reward for information leading to his arrest.
On July 8 1881 Mapleton/Lefroy was finally located in a house at 32, Smith Street in Stepney, where he had been lodging under the name of 'Park'. He was found because of a telegram that he had sent to his employer requesting that his wages be forwarded to that address.
He had kept the blinds down in his room all day and gone out only at night to avoid detection. His still bloodstained clothing was found in the room by police. He was also identified as the man who had exchanged some counterfeit coins and 'pawned' a revolver.
The evidence against him was overwhelming. When arrested by Detective Inspector Donald Swanson, Mapleton said, "I am not obliged to say anything and I think it better not to make any answer." Swanson wrote this down in his note book and read it back to Mapleton who added, "I will qualify that by saying I am not guilty."
Trial and Execution
Mapleton was tried at Maidstone Assizes before Lord Chief Justice Coleridge. The jury found him guilty after retiring for only ten minutes. Evidence was given against him by a number of railway witnesses including Holmes, the booking clerk who had sold the ticket to Mapleton, the train's guard, the ticket collector at Preston Park Station, and also by a woman living at Horley who saw two men struggling violently in the train as it passed her cottage.
It was revealed during his trial that at the time of the murder he had been desperately short of money and had gone to London Bridge with the intention of robbing a passenger. He had hoped to find a female victim, but finding none suitable, had settled on the elderly Mr. Gold.
Incredibly vain, Mapleton had asked for permission to wear full evening dress in Court because he thought it would impress the jury. He was allowed to take his silk hat and took more interest in this than he did in the legal proceedings against him.
While awaiting execution, Mapleton confessed to the murder of Lt. Percy Roper R.E., who was shot in his rooms in the Army's Brompton Barracks near Chatham Dockyard in 1881, but he later withdrew the confession. Mapleton was hanged at Lewes on November 29, 1881 by executioner William Marwood. The Coroner at Mapleton's inquest was Wynne Edwin Baxter, who had previously presided at Isaac Gold's inquest.
Mapleton was the godson of Sir John Lefroy, the Governor of Tasmania at the time of Mapleton's trial and execution.
Murder on the Brighton Line
The murder of Mr GOLD by Percy LEFROY 1881
When the 2.0 p.m. train from London Bridge arrived at Preston Park Station just outside Brighton on the afternoon of Monday, 27th June, 1881, a ticket collector saw a man step unsteadily on to the platform from a first class carriage. He was covered in blood, hatless, without a collar and tie, and very distressed.
The collector went to his assistance and he told the collector that he had been attacked just before the train entered Merstham Tunnel. He gave a description of two men who had travelled in the same compartment and said that after receiving a blow on the head he remembered nothing more until the train reached Preston Park.
The collector saw nobody else alight from the compartment but he observed that a piece of watch chain was hanging from one of the man's boots. He pointed this out and the passenger remarked that he had put it there for safety.
The condition of this strange and somewhat battered passenger, who gave his name as Percy Mapleton LEFROY, was such that the station master arranged for the platform inspector to take him to the Police Station at the Town Hall, while the collector was sent to advise the Railway Police. There-after the situation developed in such a way that the obtuseness of the railway officials and of the Borough and Railway Police became the subject of editorial comment in The Times while other newspapers said unkind things in less polite terms.
LEFROY made an official complaint at the Police Station and was then taken to the County Hospital for his injuries to be treated. The doctor wanted to detain him but LEFROY insisted upon returning to London where he had an important engagement (although he had only just arrived in Brighton). However, he went to the Police Station first (buying a collar and tie on the way) and was interviewed by several officers, including the Chief Constable.
LEFROY made a statement and also generously offered a reward for the capture of his assailant. He then went to Brighton Station and at this stage somebody seems to have been a little suspicious because he was taken into an office and searched. Two old (counterfeit) coins were found in his possession. He denied all knowledge of these.
In the meantime the carriage was shunted into a siding and an examination made. Three bullet marks were found and there was blood everywhere - on the footboard, mat, and door handle, and also on a handkerchief and newspaper left in the compartment. There was, in fact, every sign of a fierce struggle. There were also some coins similar to those found on LEFROY.
In spite of obvious inconsistencies in his story and of the highly suspicious circumstances, neither the Brighton Police, nor the Railway Police considered it necessary to detain LEFROY. But they were uneasy and although LEFROY was permitted to join a London train arrangements were made for him to be accompanied by a detective named George HOLMES.
At this period some of the railway undertakings, including the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, supplemented their own Police staff by the employment of Metropolitan Police officers who were seconded by Scotland Yard for the purpose. The salaries of these officers were paid to Scotland Yard by the railways concerned. Detective Sergeant George HOLMES was one of these officers and the widespread criticism of his negligence in this case caused Scotland Yard to disown him by issuing a public statement to the effect that he had been a Metropolitan officer for eleven years but was now working for the railway. It is always easy to be wise after the event but perhaps poor HOLMES was a little slow as will be seen.
While LEFROY and HOLMES were travelling back to London a search of the line was organised. In Balcombe Tunnel railway staff found the body of an elderly man, later identified as a retired corn merchant named GOLD, who lived in Brighton. Mr. GOLD had been shot and stabbed and near his body was found a knife smeared with blood. It was soon learned that he had been robbed of his watch and chain and a considerable sum of money. The news of the finding of the body was passed along the line and at Three Bridges the station master told HOLMES what had happened.
HOLMES was also instructed by telegram from Brighton not to let LEFROY out of his sight. LEFROY had recovered his balance by this time and an the pretext that he wanted to change his clothes he talked HOLMES into accompanying him to an address at Wallington, Surrey where a relative kept a boarding house. They arrived at the house at 9.30 p.m. and Holmes waited outside. He waited a long time because, while his attention was otherwise engaged, LEFROY left the house and disappeared.
A country-wide search was made for LEFROY and his description was published in all the papers. The Daily Telegraph made newspaper history by publishing the portrait of a wanted man for the first time. As usual, men answering the description were seen all over the country and one man was arrested but later released. A conference was held at London Bridge Station and all the railway staff involved were questioned by detective officers.
The inquest on Mr. GOLD was opened on 29th June and lasted several days. HOLMES and other officers had a bad time in the witness box and a verdict of wilful murder against LEFROY was returned. The Railway Company then offered a substantial reward for information leading to his arrest.
Great interest was taken by the public in the daily hue and cry for the missing LEFROY and at last on 8th July he was found in a house at 32, Smith Street, Stepney, where he was lodging in the name of' "PARK". He had kept the blinds down in his room all day and gone out only at night. Bloodstained clothing was found in his room and since he had already been identified as a man who had exchanged some counterfeit coins and also pawned a revolver, the evidence against him was overwhelming.
He was a journalist by profession and a plausible type. When arrested, he said, "I am not obliged to say anything and I think it better not to make any answer." The arresting officer wrote this down in his note book and read it over to LEFROY who added, "I will qualify that by saying I am not guilty."
LEFROY appeared at Cuckfield Police Court and in due course was tried at Maidstone Assizes before Lord Chief Justice COLERIDGE. The jury found him guilty after a retirement of ten minutes. Evidence was given by a number of railway witnesses including HOLMES, the booking Clerk who issued a ticket to LEFROY, the guard of the train, the ticket collector at Preston Park, and also by a woman living at Horley who saw two men struggling violently in a train as it passed her cottage.
LEFROY (whose real name was MAPLETON) was hanged at Lewes on 29th November, 1881. At the time of the murder he was desperately short of money and went to London Bridge for the purpose of robbing a passenger. He had hoped to find a lady who would yield to threats but he met a courageous old gentleman who compelled him to murder. LEFROY was a poor specimen and incredibly vain. He asked for permission to wear full evening dress in court because he thought it would impress the jury. He was allowed to take his silk hat and took more interest in this than he did in the proceedings.
It was a long time before the Press and Public forgot the strange lapse of the officials concerned in the case. The L.B.S.C. Rly. were subjected to a great deal of ridicule and no doubt many Police officers were urged to greater care in future. But they had little cause to worry because it was sixteen years before the next murder on the railway.
This article was written by William Owen GAY (Former Chief Constable of the British Transport Police) and was part of a series "Murder in Transit" published in the BTP Journal.
British Transport Police
Hanging a murderer, 1881
For a few short weeks in 1881, the case of Percy Lefroy was a newspaper sensation.
Lefroy had set out one morning in June 1881 to rob any poor unfortunate who crossed his path. Failing to find a victim at London Bridge station, he ended up on the 2pm train to Brighton, where he came across a wealthy merchant named Gold.
Lefroy (real name Mapleton) shot and stabbed Gold to death and made off with his watch and a few gold coins. Spotted getting off the train at Preston Park, he claimed to have been the victim of a robbery himself.
Despite obvious signs of his involvement, Lefroy was allowed to escape, and remained at large for 10 days. Recaptured, he was tried at Maidstone assizes and found guilty of murder. He was hanged by William Marwood at Lewes jail.
This account of Lefroy's execution appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 30 November 1881 .
The murderer hanged on the Sussex Downs
Just as the clock was striking half past eight this morning the little wicket gate of the lodge of Lewes jail was opened by a warder for the purpose of admitting some dozen and a half gentlemen who till then had lingered in the garden which belongs to the prison. A bright sunshine had succeeded a gusty night, and was rapidly driving away the mists that still hung over the South Down hills.
At last we came to the yard – the one for which we were particularly bound – a large irregular space, bounded on one side by the prison, and on three others by high walls, and containing at one end a row of celery trenches carefully banked up. At the end, however, facing that where the vegetables were grown, and closest to the corner of the prison, were two objects which forced themselves upon the view. In the right-hand corner as we looked upon them rose a couple of thick black posts, with a huge cross piece, from which dangled a staple and a long, thick rope; in the other, about 10 yards distance, an open grave.
As we filed into the yard, I noticed that we were being one by one saluted by a somewhat diminutive man clothed in brown cloth, and bearing in his arms a quantity of leather straps. There was nothing apparently in common between the grave and the gallows and the man, and for the moment I imagined that the individual who raised his hat and greeted each arrival with a “good morning, gentlemen,” was a groom who had chanced to pass through the place, bearing a horse's bridle and headgear, and who was anxious to be civil. But to my horror, the man in the brown coat proved to be no stranger wandering about in the manner I had pictured, but the designer of the horrible structure on the right, and the official most closely connected with that and the open grave. William Marwood it was who thus bade us welcome, and the straps on his arms were nothing less than his “tackle”.
I confess to a shudder as I looked upon the girdle and arm pieces that had done duty on so many a struggling wretch, and half expected that the man who carried them would have attempted to hide them. But no such thing! To him they were implements of high merit, and together with the gallows formed what he now confidentially informed his hearers was “an excellent arrangement”. It was evident that in the gallows and the tackle too he had more than a little pride. He was even ready to explain with much volubility the awful instruments of his craft.
“That rope that you see there,” quoth he, as he gazed admiringly at the crossbar of black wood, “is two and a half inches round. I've hung nine with it, and it's the same I used yesterday.” Nor does he manifest the quaver of a muscle as he went on to point to certain peculiarities of design in his machinery of death. Had he been exhibiting a cooking apparatus, a patent incubator, or a corn mill, he could not have been more complacent or more calm. “It's the running noose, you see,” said he, “with a thimble that fits under the chin.”
“The pit's all new,” he went on to say; “new brickwork, you will se, and made on purpose.” A glance revealed that it was new – as new as the grave. Formed after the ideas of Marwood himself, it certainly appeared to be complete as an engine of death. It consisted of two pits, connected with each other, one a broad and the other a narrow oblong, the broad one being immediately under the gallows, and covered by a black trapdoor that opened in the centre and was only supported by a long bolt; the other containing a brick staircase that led under the gallows.
Above the trapdoor, or rather at the right-hand side of it, and close by the gallows tree, was a lever, something like the switch handle that one sees on railway lines, connected with the vault below the trapdoor. The rope that hung from the crossbar was coiled up; and although it had done duty so frequently, as Marwood said, seemed nearly new.
To Marwood the whole thing evidently seemed a triumph of art; and as he moved hither and thither, explaining the superiorities of his design, he evidently expected that his handiwork would meet approval. All the while the bell dismally tolled. At length a warder came battling up, and with a bundle of keys in his hand beckoned to Marwood. It wanted about 10 minutes to 9 o'clock, and the doomed man was waiting.
“Ready for you,” remarked the warder, and with an expectant look Marwood gathered up his “tackle” and followed. With an easy skip and a hop, as though we were answering an agreeable call, he left us, and disappeared towards the cell of the man about to die. I pictured him as he would move along the corridor, and present himself at the portal of the condemned cell, with that smile on his face and that ready step. I wondered mightily how he – the agent of death – could move so briskly, and after what fashion he would introduce himself to the human being he was going to strangle. Death is proverbially swift; in the guise of Marwood it moved with appalling celerity.
As it chanced, [the condemned man, Percy Mapleton] Lefroy knew nothing of this, and only saw his executioner as the latter with a bow entered the cell. Then it was probably too late for much thought. “I hope the rope will not break,” was the only expression to which he gave utterance, possibly the result of some apprehension from what he had heard of the “Marwood long drop”.
There was not time for more, the hangman was already busily at work, passing the leather belt round his body, fastening his elbows and wrists, and baring his neck. The bell was tolling, and nine o'clock had nearly come. It was time to be moving. The clergyman, in his white surplice, was ready; two warders had taken their places, one on either side of the condemned; Marwood, with one strap yet unused in his left hand, and his right hand firmly fixed on the leather belt that confined his victim, was prepared to move; the under sheriff, the governor of the jail, surgeon, and magistrate all were waiting; it was time for the burial service to begin. The corridor echoed forthwith to the sound of the death prayer. Slowly passing through the passage towards the door that led into the yard moved that awful procession; and as the warder unlocked the door which opened close by the scaffold it emerged into the air.
I had chanced to see Lefroy on several previous occasions, and notably at the trial, and yet it was with a feeling bordering upon curiosity that I now looked upon him as he emerged into the open. There was much that operated against the producing of a favourable impression: he was attired, not, as had been stated, in a prison garb, but in a very old suit of greyish tweed; he was tightly pinioned, so tightly that, as I afterwards observed, his wrists were bruised; his hat was off, and his hair somewhat disarranged; he had not been shaved for some time; and he was being hurried along by his executioner at a disquieting rate.
But apart from all this, there was a pallor on his face so unearthly that he presented the appearance of one who was already dead, and I much doubt whether, but for the presence of the warders on either side of him, and the support which he gained from the hangman who pushed him forward, he would have been able to accomplish the distance from his cell to the grave. The words of the clergyman, rising and falling upon the ears of the spectators, were evidently lost upon him; he did not appear to hear the passing bell, but looked upwards as though in an agony of fear, and so stumbled helplessly along.
It was not far, only a few score yards in all, but the march to the grave, or rather to the scaffold, seemed terribly painful; all the bravado that was witnessed in the dock at Maidstone had gone; the terrors of death were in full force upon the hapless culprit. As he approached the scaffold this was particularly noticeable; he could scarcely take the step which was to place him where he had never stood before and from whence he would never step again, and Marwood, who at no instant left go of the belt, was fain once more to push him forward.
It was evidently not the moment for ceremony with the hangman, who was now once more very busy placing the tall young man, up to whose shoulders his own face scarcely reached, under the cross tree, stooping down to strap up his legs, and then fumbling about with a white glazed linen cap which he now assayed to put over the trembling youth's face.
I do not suppose for a moment that Marwood intended to be rough; he was possibly excited, and anxious to do everything as expeditiously as possible. But it certainly appeared to me that in attempting to fix the cap on Lefroy's head, and in pulling it down over his face, he hurt the prisoner somewhat unnecessarily. The worst of this was, however, yet to come. The long rope dangling about Lefroy had now to be adjusted, and the thimble through which the noose ran to be placed beneath his neck. I did not time it; it may have lasted only a few seconds; but to me it seemed appallingly long, while the swaying of Lefroy's body showed the agony he was enduring.
I cannot tell whether the sound of the clergyman's voice, which continued all the while the preparations went on, was of great consolation to him. His last look as the white cap was produced was lifted heavenward, his pallid face turned upwards, his lips moving as though in prayer; but so soon as the cap was over his face he began to sway, so much that I expected he would fall before the business was finished.
At last, however, all was ready, and Marwood, grasping the hand of his victim, stepped back; there was another awkward pause, apparently for the purpose of allowing the clergyman to finish the sacred invocation in which he was engaged; and then the, the lever being pulled back, the trap doors opened, and Lefroy falls with a terrible thud into the cavern below. Down 10ft, as was presently shown by the measurement of a tape line, he had dropped, the whole weight of his body falling upon the neck, which, receiving such a strain, was instantly broken so completely that the body never gave so much as one convulsive shudder, but, turning half round, hung swaying in the cold morning air, enveloped by a haze of steam rising from the corpse, and showing, by the visible disconnection of the vertebrae and by the open hands, how sudden death had been.
The preliminaries to the hideous spectacle had been painful in the extreme, to spectators and sufferer alike. But I think the actual death was as merciful as it could well be, if the agony of the two or three minutes from the leaving of the condemned cell to the fall of the scaffold be left out of consideration. Had there been an assistant to expedite the movement upon the scaffold, or had chloroform or another benignant anaesthetic been given to the condemned to lessen the pain of suspense, less fault might have been found with the miserable business.
As it was, without any feelings other than those of reprobation for the horrible crime for which Lefroy suffered, I felt that the agony of death had been unnecessarily prolonged, and that, compared even with the punishment of the guillotine in France , it was a tedious and horrible form of execution. It may, too, have been fancy; but it seemed that the actual falling of the trap doors and the long drop occupied a sensible period, though it is impossible to say how long the two seconds or so thus occupied may seem to one who is being thus awfully despatched.
But the whole of the spectacle connected with the Lefroy execution was not over. An inquest had yet to be held on the body of the dead man, and for this purpose a number of the inhabitants of Lewes had been summoned as jurymen. Thus, a little after 10 o'clock, we found ourselves – spectators of the execution, jail officials, coroner, and jury men – convened in the committee room of the prison once more, for the purpose of determining how Percy Mapleton Lefroy “now lying” to quote the words of the commission, “dead within the precincts of the jail,” had come by his end.
The jury, sworn in, now proceeded to view the body, and were conducted to the infirmary of the jail, the same room in which, by the way, Lefroy was incarcerated prior to his trial – a large apartment, containing three or four beds and a bath. Here, on trestles, in a shell coffin, lay the dead body of the man, clad as we saw him when he emerged into the yard where he was executed, with his boots still on, and the same grey tweed suit. He had evidently been measured for his coffin while alive, and placed in it but a minute or two before we arrived.
A more horrible appearance than the remains presented is difficult to conceive. And, as though to add to the horrors of the scene, it appeared to be the duty of the jurymen to examine the body minutely, and by prods and pushes to satisfy their curiosity as to the physique of the dead man. In truth, his dead body did present the appearance of more strength than I had supposed, and there remained less cause for wonder in my mind as to how he contrived to kill a well built man such as Mr Gold.
The viewing over, the jury returned to the rooms, and there sat in solemn conclave, while the governor of the jail gave evidence of the identify of Lefroy, and the surgeon deposed to the effect that the deceased met his death by hanging; and then we filed out into the open air once more and the bright sunlight; the mists had gone from the Sussex hills, there was no cloud in the blue sky, and the day, so unusually ushered in to us, was as gladsome as though it had been the herald of spring.
Source: Daily Telegraph, 30 November 1881.