Edward Callaghan was a Deptford dock labourer of somewhat dissolute habits, fond of drinking, revelling and fighting. A strong, sturdy fellow, standing six feet tall, he had several times been imprisoned for assault, and once spent a year in prison for stabbing a police constable, writes Jan Bondeson.
He married in the early 1890s but soon left his wife, and his two children were taken to the workhouse.
Having lost his job, he moved in with his sister Mary Ann, who lived in a small house at 3 Copperas Square, a narrow alleyway off Bronze Street near Deptford Church Street, with her bricklayer husband William Evenden and their eight children.
It did not take long for the drunken, morose Ned Callaghan to make himself thoroughly unpopular at his new lodgings.
In particular, William Evenden disapproved of ‘keeping’ such a lazy, work-shy fellow.
When the eldest daughter Ann Evenden was about to get married, he was told that since the entire house would be needed for the wedding guests, he would have to move out.
This greatly annoyed Ned Callaghan and seemed to upset his balance of mind. At times, he seemed quite insane, complaining that he was being followed around by mysterious men.
At just after seven in the morning of June 2, 1897, Mary Ann Evenden came into the kitchen, where Ned Callaghan slept on a makeshift bed.
They soon started to quarrel, and she told him ‘You will have to clear out of this!’ ‘You are a wicked woman’ Ned morosely replied.
Ann Evenden the daughter joined in the quarrel, exclaiming ‘We can’t afford to keep you! Mother’s got quite enough trouble of her own without you troubling her!’
Ned seized hold of his sister, with a hearty goodwill, and cut her throat with a large knife.
Ann gave a terrible scream, heard by all the neighbours: ‘He is murdering her! He is murdering her!’ but Ned seized hold of her and treated her in the same manner, nearly severing her head from the body. He then washed his hands and lurched out of the house.
Just a few minutes later, a dishevelled-looking man came walking into the Deptford police station.
When asked about his business, he exclaimed ‘Don’t you know? My name is Edward Callaghan, and I am a murderer, and have come to give myself up, since you will run me down if I don’t!’
He refused to say where these murders had happened, saying that the police would find out soon enough.
They did exactly that, since after the Evenden children had heard their sister Ann’s terrible outcry, they had ventured downstairs, to find the bodies of their mother and sister.
The boy William ran out into the street, dressed in his nightshirt only, and told the neighbours what had occurred, and once they had seen the bloodbath in the kitchen, they made sure that the police was called in.
Since Mary Ann Evenden had been quite popular in the neighbourhood, local sentiment in Deptford was very much against the murderer Ned Callaghan.
When he arrived at the coroner’s inquest, he was greeted with much hooting and hissing, and the mob even made an attempt to rush forward and grab hold of him.
There were pathetic scenes when the little boy William and his sister Jane gave evidence in court, weeping and sobbing as they told how they had found the bodies of their mother and sister.
The neighbours in Copperas Square had heard the outcry, and seen the murderer leave the house. Mrs Evenden had still been alive at that time, but she soon expired.
Callaghan took great exception to one of the neighbours, Mrs Mary Ann Stevens of 2 Copperas Square, and he accused her of being a ‘nose’ in the pay of the police to spy on him.
The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Edward Callaghan.
When the two murder victims were buried in Brockley Cemetery, on June 9, a large crowd assembled along the route and at the cemetery gates.
Since some very confused and rambling letters had been found among Ned Callaghan’s effects, suggesting that he had delusions that policemen and government agents were spying on him, and making plans to murder him or subject him to an operation that would render him impotent.
The police spies or ‘noses’ were following him everywhere: “Since I left Prison on May 14 I have been shaddowed by the pleceman’s nose day and knight, it seam to me they wont my life.”
These letters suggested that Callaghan was far from sane, but nevertheless, the Greenwich police court committed him to stand trial for murder at the Old Bailey.
Ned Callaghan stood trial at the Old Bailey on June 30, before Mr Justice Hawkins.
After the Evendens and the policemen had given evidence, it was clear that he was the guilty man.
Dr James Scott, the medical officer at Holloway prison, had kept Ned Callaghan under special observation.
He had not seemed to suffer from the effects of drink, or shown any remorse for what he had done, but he had been particularly sullen and morose.
He had delusions that the warders were planning to poison him, or to smother him with a draught. The celebrated alienist Dr Henry Charlton Bastian gave evidence.
He had examined Callaghan and seen the letters he had written, and he was of the opinion that the prisoner was definitely insane, not knowing the quality of the act he had committed.
The jury found him guilty of murder, but insane at the time, and he was committed to Broadmoor, where he died in 1917.
This is an edited extract from Jan Bondeson’s Murder Houses of South London (Troubador Publishing, Leicester 2021)
- 0.0.0.1 Edward Callaghan was a Deptford dock labourer of somewhat dissolute habits, fond of drinking, revelling and fighting. A strong, sturdy fellow, standing six feet tall, he had several times been imprisoned for assault, and once spent a year in prison for stabbing a police constable, writes Jan Bondeson.
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