The Saffron Hill Murder (6) — Fresh Witnesses

The adjourned hearing was resumed on the following Wednesday — 11th January 1865.  For reasons unexplained, Alexander Knox was now once more the presiding magistrate.  As Knox had not been present the previous week, Lewis began by repeating all he had said about the missing man and the absence of a murder weapon.  Knox admitted that the absence of a murder weapon was a genuine problem.  Lewis now went further by claiming that Serafino Pelizzioni had only arrived on the scene after the stabbings had already taken place.

A later artist’s impression — from Arthur Griffiths, “Mysteries of Police and Crime” (1898). 

The missing man, now named simply as Gregorio, had been heard to boast aloud about stabbing Englishmen before going into hiding.  This was the same Gregorio who had slapped the landlord Fred Shaw in the incident which sparked off the affray.  Lewis added that the charge of murder was in itself wrong — the normal charge arising from a drunken pub brawl would be one of manslaughter.  “Where was the evidence of malice prepense?  There was no evidence to show that the prisoner knew either of the parties who were stabbed before that night”.

Gregorio had been in hiding ever since.  Why — unless he were guilty?  Lewis also wished to put a few questions to Constable Elliott about the prisoner’s own wound to the head.  Knox interrupted to say that he wanted first to clarify the cause of death.  Was it certainly a knife-wound?  A post-mortem had been carried out and a surgeon from Bart’s testified that stab-wounds were obviously the cause: a blade must have penetrated several inches.

Knox asked if anything had been heard of a murder weapon.  Inspector Potter reiterated that a knife had been found near the spot with blood on it, but admitted he could not connect it with the prisoner.  Under questioning from both Knox and Lewis, Elliott confirmed that Pelizzioni had only been armed with a broom-handle and that he was indeed bleeding from a cut on the head — the result not of the affray itself, but of a blow from a policeman’s truncheon when he was arrested.

Lewis could then at last call upon his Italian witnesses.  Rocco Angelinetta — one of the “Italian gentlemen” already introduced — began by stating that Gregorio was one of his workmen.  He had lived at the workshop premises in St. John Street, but had disappeared without notice on Boxing Day, removing his things that night.  “He was shaven in the same manner as the prisoner, and I should say he was about the same stature”.  He had last seen him about 2 o’clock that day, wearing a round billycock hat and a dark blue coat.

Pietro Mazzuchi had seen Gregorio in the “Golden Anchor” that evening.  He looked very like the prisoner.  He had seen him leave without a hat, but then come back for it and collect it from the landlady.  Francisco Pongini had also been there.  He had seen Pelizzioni arrive “in a peaceable and quiet manner.  He did not knock anybody down going into the house”.

Illustration from Richard S. Lambert, “When Justice Faltered : A Study of Nine Peculiar Murder Trials” (1935).

Dominico Cetta, another picture-frame maker, had been in the nearby “Bordessa” public-house, just round the corner from the “Golden Anchor” at No. 12 Cross Street.  More formally known as the “Three Tuns”, it stood next door to Pietro Bordessa’s mirror factory.  Bordessa had become the nominal licensee some eighteen months earlier.  Known locally as “Bordessa’s” or simply the “Bordessa”, it was a house much favoured by the Italian workmen, although the staff appear to have been English.  Cetta testified that Gregorio very much resembled the prisoner, but then caused a real stir in the court-room.  Before disappearing, Gregorio had come to the “Bordessa” and given him a knife to look after.  Cetta, realising what it was, had simply abandoned the knife in the courtyard of the pub.  This was the second knife found on the morning after the stabbings and had soon been handed into the police.  It had not been produced at the inquest and Potter had conspicuously failed to mention it earlier. 

Angelo Faustino knew Pelizzioni and had seen him in the “Golden Anchor” before the fighting broke out.  He was dancing with a young woman in the dancing-room about a quarter past five, but had then left.  He also knew Gregorio.  He did not think that they looked particularly alike, but they were about the same size.  

Dominico Matteri stated that he had been with Pelizzioni that evening, not at the “Golden Anchor”, but at the “Bordessa”.  He was there when a message was brought to Pelizzioni that there was trouble at the “Golden Anchor”.

Gaspar Mossio, another frame-maker, knew Gregorio by sight — “he resembles the prisoner very much”.  Mossio had been in the “Golden Anchor” at the time of the fight, but not in the bagatelle-room.  He was there when Pelizzioni was arrested.  He had been drinking beer with him earlier, when Pelizzioni had told him he was going to have a dance and then go home.  He had been sober and perfectly peaceable.   

Giacomo Mantua, like Matteri, had been with Pelizzioni at the “Bordessa” when a message came through from the “Golden Anchor”.  Pelizzioni left immediately and Mantua followed on behind.  About ten minutes later he saw him again, now bloodied from the blow to the head.  He knew Gregorio and had seen him later near the “Bordessa” — “Gregorio made a statement to me, and made signs and raised three fingers”.  What Gregorio had actually said was ruled out as hearsay evidence — a rule far more strictly applied to the defence than to the prosecution throughout the proceedings.   

Gotardo Bercini was another of Angelinetta’s workmen.  He confirmed both the similarity between the two men and that Gregorio was in the “Golden Anchor” at the time of the stabbings. 

Lewis said that there was more to come, but he would reserve the rest of the defence for the trial itself.  Knox summed up in a reasonable way, but still felt that the eye-witness accounts of those in the bagatelle-room could not be ignored: “The evidence for the prosecution far outweighed the evidence for the defence, and if for no other reason than that he should send the prisoner to the Central Criminal Court for trial on the charge of wilful murder” (Quotations to this point all from the London Evening Standard, Thursday 12th January 1865, and from this point on from Standard of Tuesday 24th January).

A further hearing the following week simply held matters over until Rebbeck was fit enough to appear.  On Monday 23rd January, although still weak and unable to stand in the witness box, he managed to do so.  Knox was again the magistrate and once again Clerkenwell Police Court and its approaches were densely crowded.

Inside the court, confusion reigned.  Knox began unexpectedly by quizzing the prosecutor Thomas Wakeling.  Everyone had assumed that Wakeling was prosecuting on behalf of the Crown, but Knox now asked him on whose behalf he was actually appearing.  Wakeling admitted that he had been instructed by Frederick Shaw, landlord of the “Golden Anchor”.  When asked, Potter confirmed that he had not engaged Wakeling, nor had he any instructions to do so.  Knox then said to Wakeling, “l cannot allow you to go on with the case”.  After an icily polite but nonetheless heated exchange, he was adamant: “I cannot allow you to go on.  You are not instructed by the Crown, the police, or the complainant.  I saw you in communication with the police during the last examination, and, therefore, did not stop you.  I have since heard that you were not instructed by them … I cannot allow you to go on with the prosecution”.

So far as I am aware, no previous account of the case has mentioned this extraordinary turn of events.  Why had Wakeling gone unchallenged for so long?  Why had Potter not said anything earlier?  And why had Shaw had taken it upon himself to provide a prosecutor?  A suspicion begins to arise that this was not simply a matter of a pub brawl but of a personal feud.  It was a suspicion which was only to gain ground over the coming weeks.

Not only was Wakeling sidelined, but Lewis for the defence had not appeared.  The hearing was nominally on the additional charges of attempted murder relating to Rebbeck and Bannister — and Lewis had already made it clear that he had only been instructed to defend the murder charge.  He was sent for, but after a delay of ninety minutes Knox announced he could wait no longer and began to examine the new witnesses himself.

Rebbeck was heard for the first time: “I saw several Italians, about twelve or fourteen, coming into the bagatelle-room, Seraphino leading.  I had been in there and was coming away from the bar when I saw them.  I was returning with a pipe.  I saw one of the men knock down a woman.  It was not Seraphino that did that.  I then hallooed out ‘No row here’.  I was then at the door.  I then saw the prisoner Seraphino stab me in the right side.  I saw him pull the knife out of me (sensation).  It was very much covered with blood”.

Illustration from Richard S. Lambert, “When Justice Faltered : A Study of Nine Peculiar Murder Trials” (1935).  This is possibly a slightly later building on the same site.

Mr. Knox — “You are certain it was he?”

Witness — “Yes, I know it was him.  I have known him for the past five or six years”.

Rebbeck continued: “l then struck him with the broom-handle.  He made a run at me.  He made another hit and I stepped on one side.  I saw the knife in his hand a second time.  I put my hand to my side where I was stabbed.  This was all in the bagatelle-room”.

Asked if anything else had happened, Rebbeck answered, “Yes, I saw him on Harrington.  I heard an exclamation in the room; I turned my head and saw the prisoner and Harrington fall together.  I then went over with the broom-handle in my hand.  Someone took it away, but I do not know who.  I took hold of the prisoner by the collar and fell on my knees.  I went to pull him off.  I then lost my senses, I believe, for a little time.  I looked up and saw Mr. King and police-constable 425A [Fawell], and another constable with him.  I mean the prisoner by him”.

Asked if he knew why the fight had started, Rebbeck replied, “No, I came out of the bagatelle-room, and all I saw was that the prisoner was rushing into the room at the head of a number of Italians”.

Pelizzioni was allowed to respond at this point.  He said simply, “It is not true that I had a knife in my hand”.  Rebbeck was asked again: “Yes, I saw him with the knife in his hand twice”.  Pelizzioni repeated, “l am innocent; I had no knife”.  Knox turned to Rebbeck: “This is too serious a matter.  I must again ask you did you see the knife?” — “Yes.  I saw it twice, the second time when he ran at me”.  The Prisoner — “That is not true”.

John Liddle, the french-polisher, repeated his inquest evidence, now adding that “Rebbeck fell into my arms in the private bar, and said, ‘I am stabbed’.  I found his clothes were cut, and he said the prisoner had done it.  He was bleeding freely when I opened his waistcoat and saw the cut.  I took Rebbeck to the hospital”.

Constable Fawell also repeated his earlier evidence, but with more detail: “I was called in by Mr. Shaw, the landlord, who stated there was a row in the tap-room.  I went there and found a number of Italians fighting together, and breaking up the seats and chairs.  I got out as well as I could, and having met with another constable we returned to the tap-room.  As soon as we entered Rebbeck, who stood against the tap-room and in front of the door that leads into the bagatelle-room, said ‘I have been stabbed’.  The prisoner was then about opening the door, within hearing, being about a yard away … I have known Rebbeck for years.  I asked him by whom.  Rebbeck pointed to the prisoner, and said, ‘By that man’, who was then opening a door and going through.  The other constable and I then followed through into the bagatelle-room, where we found the prisoner held by Mr. King.  I took a broom-handle from someone, but I do not know whom”.  Fawell then produced the clothes Rebbeck had been wearing, covered in blood and badly cut about. 

Next called was the other victim, the young Charles Bannister, his arm still in a sling: “I was taking some refreshment at the bar, and was requested to step into the bagatelle-room as there was a disturbance at the bar.  I had hardly got in there before the door was opened, and the prisoner and a number of Italians rushed in.  I went to turn round to get away, and I was stabbed.  There were a few English chaps who pushed me forward, and I could not get back.  I was stabbed in the hand, and the knuckle of the little finger was cut off.  I do not know who stabbed me, but I have a witness who saw who did it”.

This was George Stanley, a painter and decorator, another of the company in the bagatelle-room: “I heard a disturbance in the taproom.  I said, ‘There is going to be mischief; keep the door shut’.  Mr. King opened the door, and I saw blood.  Seraphino rushed in.  He was the only Italian in the room.  Bannister was standing next to me, and the prisoner, who wanted to get out of the room, pushed against him, and he fell under the bagatelle-board.  I then saw that Bannister had blood on his hand.  I immediately struck Seraphino on the head with a stick, and he fell on the top of Harrington, and that is the way that the prisoner got on the top of the deceased”.

There are numerous confusing and contradictory points in all this, certainly in Rebbeck’s testimony, about the timing and geography of what happened when and where — none of which were ever fully resolved — but Pelizzioni declined to put questions in the absence of his lawyer.

Hill, the surgeon from the Royal Free, then gave medical evidence about the injuries to Rebbeck and Bannister, their treatment and gradual recovery.  Inspector Potter rounded off the evidence by examining Rebbeck’s clothes and the position of the cuts.

Knox then formally cautioned Pelizzioni in the time-honoured fashion: “he was not obliged to say anything in answer to the charge, but that if he did it might be used in evidence against him at the trial … The Prisoner, in a firm voice, said he should reserve his defence.  Mr. Knox then committed the prisoner to the Central Criminal Court for trial.  The prisoner, who appeared to feel his position acutely, was then removed”.

To be continued …  

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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2 Responses to The Saffron Hill Murder (6) — Fresh Witnesses

  1. Peter Barber says:

    Great stuff, Laurence!


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