Date Of Execution: 13 Dec 1904
Crime Location: 478 Comercial Road, Stepney, London
Execution Place: Pentonville
Executioner: William Billington
Charles Wade and Joseph Potter were convicted of the murder of Matilda Emily Farmer 65 and sentenced to death.
They had robbed Matilda Farmer's newsagents and left her tied up and bound resulting in her asphyxiation at 478 Commercial Road, Stepney, London on 12 October 1904.
Matilda Farmer had lived at the shop for 40 years. Initially her parents had run it after which her brother ran it and when he died 4-5 years earlier she took over its management.
The newsagents had once been the principle newsagents in the district and had employed a dozen or so boys delivering papers across the area. However, as she had grown older her prosperity had dwindled and she only had 1 boy delivering papers at the time she died.
It was commonly thought that she had amassed a significant sum of money and that she had it hidden in her house and that it was thought that that was the reason she was robbed.
Her sister who ran a newsagents on Whitechapel Road said that Matilda Farmer lived alone in the shop premises and that she last saw her 5-6 weeks before her murder when Matilda Farmer came to see her at her shop. She said that she was a very secretive woman but didn't know how much money she kept in her house. She said that Matilda Farmer expressed fear about living in the house and when she last saw her said that if she stopped in the house much longer she would be sure to be murdered. The sister said that Matilda Farmer had previously been assaulted in her shop some months earlier when a man had struck her over the head with a handkerchief containing stones and other things. However, the man was disturbed when a customer came into the shop and he ran off.
An 11 year old errand boy who worked for Matilda Farmer said that had been working for her for 5 months and that his times were 6.30 to 8.45am and 6 till 9pm and that part of his duty was to deliver papers. he said that when he generally got to the shop each morning he would usually find Matilda Farmer up and the papers ready for him to take out and would start his rounds at 6.40am.
He said that he left the shop at 8.30pm on the Tuesday 11 October 1904 and that Matilda Farmer was at the time standing behind the counter. He said that he later went past the shop at 10.30pm when he saw Matilda Farmer at the shop door and that she had said 'Ain't you abed yet?' and that at that time there was no one in the shop. He said that he then went home and and on the following day at 6am he got up and had a cup of tea and then went to the shop getting there at about 6.33am. He said that when he got there her shop door was open and he went inside but Matilda Farmer wasn't there. He said he called out for her but got no reply. He then saw some false teeth near the flap in front of the entrance and then saw a soda water bottle and a tumbler on the floor behind the counter. He then saw Matilda Farmer's shoes on the floor near the counter flap and the morning's papers on the floor, untied, by the counter.
He then sold fourpennyworth of papers, opened the shop and took the shutters down. Shortly after a man who had worked for Matilda Farmer came along and the errand boy told him that he hadn't seen Matilda Farmer yet and the man said 'Perhaps she may have killed herself'. The errand boy replied 'Very funny' Then an errand boy from the stationers came by and he told him that he hadn't seen Matilda Farmer and the stationer's errand boy went off and told the stationer who then came by to ask after Matilda Farmer and when the errand boy told him that he had not seen Matilda Farmer the stationer went off and got the police.
The stationer had gone to find a policeman and found one walking along Commercial Road and told the policeman there that no one had seen Matilda Farmer and that she hadn't taken her papers in. The policeman then went to the newsagents and saw the errand boys. He said that the gas in the shop parlour was alight but not full on. Then when he went into the front room on the first floor and saw Matilda Farmer lying across the foot of the bed face downwards. He said her wrists were tied behind her and that he at once cut the string with his pocket knife and turned her over onto her back and found that she had a gag in her mouth. he said that he felt the faint beat of her heart but said that he didn't think that she was breathing and so he sent for a doctor. He said that he didn't do anything to resuscitate her.
The errand boy then gave the policeman the top part of the false teeth and the lemonade glass and bottle which he had found on the shop floor. He said that he also noticed the rail at the bottom of the stairs was broken and that it looked fresh done. He said that the shop looked in its usual state as he would imagine it and that the parlour was untidy but he didn't think that it was disturbed, but that the bedroom had been turned upside down and the contents of the drawers had been turned onto the floor.
Later an 18 year old fish curer who lived on Old Church Road said that he knew Charles Wade and Joseph Potter (aka Conrad Donovan) by sight but not by name. He said that on 11 October 1904 he had been on nightwork and at about 6am on the Wednesday morning 12 October 1904 he went to Gosling's Coffee shop in Commercial Road and had some refreshments. He said that he was there about 10 minutes and when he came outside he walked along Commercial Road westwards going as far as Matilda Farmer's shop where he stopped just outside until 6.25 or 6.30am which was his usual custom. He said that he did so because a tram came by which was overloaded. He said that the doors of the shop were shut and the shutters were up. He said then, between 6.25 and 6.30am he saw Charles Wade and Joseph Potter come out of the shop. He said that Charles Wade came out first followed by Joseph Potter. He said that they both had newspapers in their hands and that Joseph Potter left the door open behind him. He said that he saw Charles Wade stopped about 16 feet from him and drew Joseph Potter's attention to something in a newspaper with his finger and that they then walked off towards Stepney Temple at the corner of Portland Street where they stood for a few seconds and then after Charles Wade motioned with his hand they both walked off towards Poplar.
The fish curer said that he didn't see anything more of them after that and that he then went and stood at the corner of Old Church Road where he stood until 6.45am when he saw the errand boy go into Matilda Farmer's shop, saying that he saw the boy go in and then saw him come out about 5 minutes later and take down the shutters. Soon after he met two men and he told them what he had seen and he then went home and went to sleep. He later got up at 10am and his mother told him that Matilda Farmer had been murdered and he told her what he had seen. He then went back to work at 10.30am and told a man at work what he had seen. He said that on the Friday, 14 October 1904, at 10am a police inspector and sergeant came to see him at work and he told them what he had seen. He said that he hadn't gone to the police because he was afraid of Charles Wade and Joseph Potter and their friends. He said that his friend at work had urged him to tell the police what he had seen but that he didn't know that the friend had himself gone to the police to tell them that he had told him what he had seen.
Later on the Sunday, 16 October 1904 the fish curer said that he went to Arbour Square Police Station where he was shown 14 men and picked out Charles Wade and Joseph Potter as the men he had seen coming out of Matilda Farmer's shop.
Meanwhile, on 15 October 1904 the police had been keeping watch on the property at 587Commercial Road. A policeman said he saw Charles Wade go in at 11.40am and then at 12.15pm saw a woman go to the door and look up and down the street and then speak to Charles Wade who was behind the door. He said that Charles Wade then came to the door and then shut it. Then 2-3 minutes later the door was opened by the woman who looked up and down the road and all round before turning to beckon Charles Wade to come out. He said that Charles Wade looked greatly agitated and that he then ran across the road and jumped on a car going eastward. The policeman said tat he followed him but lost him near Limehouse Town Hall.
The next day the policeman said he went to the first-floor front room of 83 Grosvenor Street at 6am and knocked on the door and heard the woman ask 'Who's there'. He said 'Police, open the door'. the policeman said that when he entered he saw Charles Wade and said 'Wade, get up and dress yourself' and Charles Wade replied 'Alright'. The policeman said that he expressed no surprise.
Later the police went to 47 Church Road and found the front door open and went in and found Joseph Potter in bed with a woman. they told him to get up and get dressed and took him to the police station. When he was charged with murder he said 'You have done a bloody fine thing this time, I will do my utmost to disprove it. This is a bloody nice thing. Ain't it?'
Soon after they were both identified by the fish curer who immediately walked up to them and picked them out without the slightest hesitation.
When the men were arrested the police searched their rooms but found none of the missing jewellery.
see National Archives - CRIM 1/96/1, HO 144/774/123885, HO 144/774/123885
see London Daily News - Thursday 13 October 1904