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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 1, 1911
Date of arrest: 7 days after
Date of birth: 1880
Victim profile: Leon Beron, 48
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Sentenced to death on March 15, 1911. Commuted to life imprisonment on April 12, 1911. Died in prison on January 24, 1921

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Trial of Steinie Morrison (15,1 Mb)


Leon Beron was a 48-year-old widower who had come to England, from Paris, in 1894. He was a Russian Jew with a poor command of the English language.

He was a property owner and he owned nine small houses in Russell Court, Stepney, and lived off the rents that these properties provided. He was, considered well to do, and dressed accordingly with his, always, neat clothes and trimmed imperial beard. He always wore a large gold watch and chain with a five guinea piece attached and carried a purse that contained twenty sovereigns. He rented a room above a fruitshop in Jubilee Road and dined each day in the Warsaw restaurant in Osborn Street, Whitechapel.

Another diner in Beron's company at the Warsaw restaurant in December 1910 was Steinie Morrison. He was 30-years-old, 6' 3 tall and a professional burglar. He was also a Russian Jew though he claimed to have been born in Australia. His real name was Alexander Petropavloff though he also used the names Morris Stein and Moses Tagger. He had come to England in 1898 and had spent almost all of the previous twelve years in prison.

At 8.10 on the morning of Sunday 1st January 1911 Beron's body was discovered by PC Mumford. It was concealed in some bushes near a footpath on Clapham Common.

Beron had been struck on the head with a blunt instrument before being stabbed three times in the chest. There were also some superficial cuts to his face. He had been robbed.

Several people had seen Beron and Morrison together the night before and the owner of the Warsaw restaurant told police that Beron had left the night before in the company of another man. A cab driver came forward and told police that he had taken two men, speaking in a foreign language, to Finsbury Park Station. The description of one of the men fitted Morrison. Police also discovered that Morrison had worked for a time for a baker in Lavender Hill and that he knew the Clapham Common area.

Morrison had told his landlady Mrs Zimmerman, at 91 Newark Street, that he was moving to Paris. Instead he moved in with Florrie Dellow, a prostitute who lived at 116 York Road, Lambeth. Police also discovered that Morrison, calling himself Banman, had deposited a revolver and 44 rounds of ammunition, wrapped in a parcel, at St Mary's Station, Whitechapel, on the morning of the 1st January.

Feeling they had enough evidence the police arrested Morrison at Cohen's restaurant, Fieldgate Street, on 8th January. Initially he was arrested because, still being on parole, he had failed to tell police of his change of address but this was just a way of the police gaining more time and two days later the charge was altered to one of murder.

His trial began at the Old Bailey on 6th March 1911 and lasted nine days. The jury retired for just thirty-five minutes before returning a guilty verdict and Morrison was sentenced to death. He was reprieved by Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary, on 12th April and his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He was sent to Dartmoor. He continually protested his innocence and rather than spend years in prison he petitioned the Home Office on four separate occasions, demanding that the original sentence be carried out. In the end he staged a series of hunger strikes and, after he had been moved to Parkhurst, died on 24th January 1921. He never changed his story and so we will never know if he was perhaps innocent.


The killing of Leon Beron

When the battered body of Leon Beron was discovered on Clapham Common on New Year’s Day 1911, it was to set in motion the most notorious murder trial of the day. And it was to provide a day in court for some of the East End’s most colourful characters… and least reliable witnesses. The case also dragged in the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, allegations of spying and sinister implications with the recent Sidney Street siege and the Houndsditch Murders.

Slum landlord

Beron wasn’t universally loved – as a slum landlord he was unlikely to be. He owned nine decaying houses in Russell Court, Stepney, which provided him with 10 shillings (50p) a week, enough to pay his own two shillings rent on 133 Jubilee Street, Stepney, and provide the one and sixpence a day for his meals at the Warsaw Kosher Restaurant at 32 Osborn Street, Whitechapel.

It was at the Warsaw that Beron began to be seen in the company of Steinie Morrison, in December 1910. Morrison was another Russian Jew, who had arrived in England in 1898. Where he arrived from wasn’t certain – he claimed to be Australian and also used the pseudonyms Alexander Petro-pavloff, Morris Stein and Moses Tagger. What was certain was that he was a professional thief, who had already served five sentences for burglary.

Prompt arrest

Beron was found in gorse bushes on the Common, his head staved in by a blunt instrument, his legs neatly crossed, his wallet emptied, and a curious ‘S’ mark carved into each cheek. They were, observed the police surgeon, “like the f holes on a violin”. It took the police just seven days to pick up Morrison, arresting him as he tucked into his breakfast at Cohen’s Restaurant, in Fieldgate Street.

They had quickly discovered that he had been working at Lavender Hill, so might know the Common well. They also discovered that on the morning of New Year’s Day, Morrison, using yet another pseudonym of Banman, had lodged a revolver and 45 bullets at the left luggage office of St Mary’s Railway Station, in Whitechapel.

They also discovered that he had moved in with a Lambeth prostitute, Florrie Dellow, on January 1 – after telling his Newark Street landlady that he was off to Paris. All very suspicious, but also all circumstantial evidence.

The defence and prosecution witnesses were as unreliable as each other. Beron’s brother Solomon attempted to physically attack defence counsel Edward Abinger when he implied he might have had something to do with Leon’s death.

Unreliable evidence

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Janie Brodski backed Morrison’s alibi – that he had spent the night at the Shoreditch Empire watching Harry Champion and Harry Lauder. She claimed that she and her sister had paid on the door for seats in the stalls at a shilling each.

Unfortunately, the theatre manager confirmed that the seat prices had been raised to 1s 6d (71/2p) for the night, and had all been sold out days in advance.

Add in the unreliable and conflicting evidence of a number of cab drivers placing Morrison at the murder scene (by now his photo and offers of a reward had appeared in the newspapers) and it is difficult to see how any court could reasonably convict him.

Abinger attempted to cloud the waters further. He implied that Beron was a police informant who had been assassinated for grassing on the anarchists responsible for the Houndsditch Murders and the Sidney Street siege. The ‘S’ marks stood for the Polish word ‘spiccan’ or spy, he suggested.

The policeman in charge, DI Wensley, scoffed at the theory, and the jury took 35 minutes to find Morrison guilty of murder. The judge had no option but to pass the death sentence, saying: “May the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

“I decline such mercy!” shouted Morrison. “I do not believe there is a God.”

The Court of Appeal upheld the conviction but the Home Secretary was not so sure. Churchill commuted Morrison’s sentence to life.

Ironically, it was a decision the prisoner himself would not accept. He repeatedly appealed to be put to death and, on January 24, 1921, weakened by a series of hunger strikes, he died in Parkhurst Prison.



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