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A special weekend happy birthday to Dawn and the Camden Town Murder

Robert Wood and the rising sun

So Dawn mentions it’s her birthday. So I think about what sort of graphic goes with “Dawn” and, naturally, the first thing that pops into my head is this little guy, above.

phyllis dimmock

It was drawn by Robert Wood, a young commercial artist, in 1907. It’s a postcard mailed from Belgium inviting a woman named Phyllis Dimmock to a pub called the Rising Sun in the North London neighborhood of Camden Town. Phyllis was described at trial as a prostitute, but she may simply have been extraordinarily liberal with her favors. Also, she collected postcards. Isn’t that nice?

It is signed “Yours to a cinder, Alice.”

On the morning of September 12, Phyllis was found by her common-law husband lying in bed with her throat cut from ear to ear. There was blood in the basin and a straight razor beside it. Her postcard collection was strewn about the room, as if the murderer had tried unsuccessfully to find something. Or really hated postcards.

Later, this card turned up in the back of a drawer. When it was reproduced in the papers, an old girlfriend identified Robert Woods as the author. He talked her out of going to the police and asked her to give him an alibi. She couldn’t resist running her mouth about it, though, and word got out. He eventually admitted being the last person seen with Phyllis on the night of the 11th.

Long story short: tried and acquitted.

His case was argued by Edward Marshall Hall, who went on to be become one of the most famous British barristers, evah. Wood was the first criminal defendant in Britain to give evidence at his own trial and still be acquitted (despite the fact that he didn’t make a very good impression). The case became known as the Camden Town Murder.

The execrable painter Walter Sickert lived in Camden Town at the time and painted several enigmatic, crap pictures of the Camden Town Murder. Several writers — most recently and famously Patricia Cornwell — think Sickert was Jack the Ripper. Which is tosh, rubbish and bullshit.

That makes Wednesday before last the hundredth anniversary of the Camden Town Murder. Happy birthday, Dawn!

September 22, 2007 — 2:39 pm
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