Wednesday, 9 January 2013

An Unsolved Mystery in Chiswick

On New Year's Day 1890, a maid living at 31 Linden Gardens, Chiswick, London returned from a trip to Scotland to find her mistress, Margaret Louise Bryden, dead. She was in the back bedroom, which was not her usual bedroom, fully clothed, on her back on the bed with her head hanging back over the edge. Forced into her mouth was some cloth – the bag for her dressing gown.

Front page illustration with drawing of 31 Linden Gardens

Mrs Bryden had seperated from her husband and lived alone with her maid, Margaret Fleming. There were three witnesses who gave evidence about the happenings of New Year's Eve: Ida Trump, a servant living at same house as Mrs Bryden; John Hewett, a plain-clothes policeman who was in the vicinity; and Emily Jane Carter, Mrs Bryden's neighbour.

At half past ten Ida Trump left to post a letter. She met Mrs Bryden at the front door and Mrs Bryden asked that if Ida saw a policeman on the High Street to bring him to the house. Ida did not see one and so returned. When she came back she could hear a man's voice from the drawing room.

Ida was curious to know if the man was a policeman so she waited, and saw a short man in a dark overcoat and oval hat walk down the steps (ie, the steps outside the front door.)

At ten to eleven, PC John Hewett was walking down Linden Gardens when Margaret Bryden asked him to get another policeman since she was alone and nervous. Hewett explained he could not stay with her and this conversation took place "in the front door", according to Hewett. He said that Bryden seemed sober and he left at 10.55

On questioning, Ida Trump said PC Hewett was similar to the man she saw, but felt that the policeman was taller.

Emily Jane Carter said she'd heard voices at eleven o'clock and had seen a man outside, but thought it was a policeman.

No. 31 is in the bottom right corner of Linden Gardens

Initially, the verdict was misadventure and the mysterious death was considered "solved". Mrs Bryden, although just 39 was not in good health and had false teeth, and it was surmised that "the lady had been suffocated by swallowing her false teeth, which were found in her gullet. It is supposed that having swallowed her teeth accidentally, she placed the night-dress case in her mouth, either in order to vomit or secure a better hold of the teeth, and died before she could accomplish her purpose, from suffocation."

There were no marks of violence on the body, her clothing was not in disarray, there was no sign of anyone else having been in the room, and the man that Ida Trump saw must've been the policeman Hewett.

The doctor who'd been on the scene, and who pulled the cloth from her mouth (noticing it needed quite a force to get it free) said the body was still warm and thought that she had died perhaps five hours earlier. However, he also said that there was nothing wrong with her teeth and he failed to notice that they were false.

Dr Dodsworth conducted a post-mortem. He felt that the false teeth were too large to be swallowed and he also thought that the bag for a dressing gown was an odd thing to push into your mouth to try and fish out your dentures. The jury on the inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder. Over three weeks had passed since the crime, and one member of jury was "strongly of the opinion that the police, late as it is, should begin a vigorous investigation, especially in view of certain rumours now prevalent, but which cannot at present be particularised."

Unfortunately, the newspapers did not report on what these rumours were and how the investigation went. It seems like interest dropped off after the inquest's verdict, since I can't find any more references to the case after the beginning of February. The last date that anyone mentions the case is 2nd February, and one of the articles from that day is titled "Is it to Remain a Mystery?"

"Strange Death of a Lady," Birmingham Daily Post,, Monday, January 6, 1890
"Solution of the Chiswick Mystery," Daily News, Tuesday, January 7, 1890
"Inquests," The Morning Post, Friday, January 10, 1890
"Mysterious death at Chiswick," The Morning Post, Friday, January 24, 1890
"Mystery at Chiswick," Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, January 26, 1890
"Serious Crimes," The Newcastle Weekly Courant, Saturday, February 1, 1890
Front page, The Illustrated Police News, Saturday, February 1, 1890
"Is it to remain a mystery?" Lloyds Weekly Newspaper, Sunday, Feb 2, 1890
Map of Linden Gardens circa 1890 from the website Old Maps

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