Date Of Execution: 23 May 1905
Crime Location: 34 High Street, Deptford, London
Execution Place: Wandsworth
Executioner: John Billington
Alfred Stratton and Albert Ernest Stratton were convicted of the murder of Thomas Farrow 69 and sentenced to death. They also killed Ann Farrow 65 during the same incident but were not tried for her murder.
They battered him to death at 34 High Street, Deptford, London on 27 March 1905 during a robbery.
Thomas Farrow managed an oil and colour shop at 34 High Street in Deptford along with his wife and a shop assistant. The hours of business were from 8am to 9.30pm. The shop was a branch owned by an oil and colour merchant who would visit the shop each Monday, sometimes before mid-day to collect the weeks takings which would be between £12 and £13 and would be handed to him over the counter discreetly in a brown envelope.
The shop assistant said that his hours were from about 8.30am through to 9pm or 10pm and that he last saw Thomas Farrow and his wife Ann Farrow alive when he left on the Saturday night, 25 March 1905.
He said that he next returned to the shop on the Monday morning a little after 8.30am but was unable to get in. He then went to the owners shop in Greenwich and returned with another man and they managed to get into the shop through the next house and then found Thomas Farrow lying dead in the parlour. They then went to inform the police.
When the police arrived, they went upstairs and found Ann Farrow upstairs lying in bed severely injured. She died sometime later in hospital.
In the bedroom, the police found an empty cashbox lying on the floor.
In the shop parlour downstairs, the police found two masks made from stockings, one with string at each side and one without.
When the divisional surgeon of police arrived, he found Thomas Farrow dead at 9.50am and estimated that he had been dead for about an hour. He then went upstairs and saw Ann Farrow who was almost unconscious and suffering from shock and with a severe injury to her head. She was then sent to the Seamen's Hospital where she died on Friday 31 March 1905.
The post-mortem of Thomas Farrow stated that he had died from head injuries which were thought to have been inflicted by about six blows with a heavy and blunt instrument such as a bar or a flat steel weapon. The post-mortem on Ann Farrow indicated that she too had died from head injuries received in the same way and it was thought that she had been hit over the head twice. It was thought that when she had received her injuries she had been in bed where she was found and on her right side facing away from the door looking towards the wall.
When the police examined the shop and dwelling area they put the inner tray from the tin cash box to one side using paper to move it and later managed to get a finger print from it which was used to convict Alfred Stratton and Albert Ernest Stratton. This was the first time that fingerprints had been used in a court case.
During their investigations, the police found a milkman who had seen Alfred Stratton and Albert Ernest Stratton come out of the shop at 7.30am that morning as well as a woman who knew one of them and who had seen them running from the top of High Street across New Cross Road towards Wilson Street at about the same time. They also found a boxer who said that he had seen them both out early in the morning near the scene around 2.30am.
Alfred Stratton was arrested on 2 April 1905 at about 10.30pm at the King of Prussia pub on Albany Street in Deptford. He was asked where his brother was and said that he didn't know and hadn't seen him for some time and thought that he might be away at sea.
Albert Ernest Stratton was arrested the next day on 2 April 1903 in High Street, Deptford. When he was arrested the Detective Inspector said 'I am an inspector of police and you must consider yourself in custody for being concerned with your brother Alfred in the wilful murder of Mr and Mrs Farrow at 34 High Street, Deptford, and stealing £13 in money', to which Albert Ernest Stratton replied 'Is that all?'. The Detective Inspector replied 'Yes' and Albert Ernest Stratton replied 'Thanks'.
Alfred Stratton said that at the time he had been in bed with a woman at 23 Brookmill Road until 9.15am. When the woman was questioned she said that Alfred Stratton did occupy a room with her and had been with her on the night of 26/7 March 1905 but said that she could not be totally sure of what had happened adding that at the time she had had it in the eye. She said that on the Sunday night someone had come to her window and spoken to Alfred Stratton about him going out that night. She said that on the Sunday evening she and Alfred Stratton had had a quarrel and she had a black eye. She said that some neighbours came into her room at about 9.15pm on the Sunday and that they stayed a little time and then started to go away but she called them back and they stayed until 12 midnight. She said that Alfred Stratton was there and he stayed for a little time but that she asked him to leave which he did but that he came back at about 12 midnight whilst two of her neighbours were still there. She said that she then said good night to them and they left and went upstairs. She said then that she and Alfred Stratton went to bed. She said that next, about midnight or shortly after there was a tap at the window and that Alfred Stratton got up and pulled the blind aside and spoke to the person at the window. She said that she heard him say 'Shall we go out tonight, or leave it for another night?' and said that she didn't hear the reply. She said that she was not positive whether Alfred Stratton went out or not because she laid down again and took no more notice. She said that when Alfred Stratton went to bed he was undressed and that she never saw him dress again. She said that next she woke up in the morning and saw Alfred Stratton at the bedroom door dressed at 9.15am. She said that she never saw him get dressed or saw him get up. She said that she had never known Alfred Stratton leave the room other than through the door although she also said that you could get in and out through the window and that she had done it herself and that she had seen Alfred Stratton do it and added that the last time she saw him go through the window was about a week before the murder when he had come in through the window at about 2am although she said that he had not gone out through the window.
She also said that on the Sunday before the murder she had had no money and said that she had not asked Alfred Stratton for any or could say whether or not he had told her that he had any. She said that on that day they did not have any food or firing in the house. She said that on the Monday morning after she had seen Alfred Stratton dressed that he lay down on the bed with her and that he smelt of paraffin. She asked him why he smelt of paraffin and said that he told her that he had filled the paraffin lamp which he usually did and spilt some, but added that she had never smelt paraffin on him before and that he had never come to bed with his trousers on before. She then said 'You have had a bath, Alf' but he didn't reply and she then said 'You can get money for baths, but I cannot afford to get money for food' but that he didn't answer again.
She said that she heard of the murder later that morning whilst still in bed when a neighbour came to her and said 'Is not it a terrible thing, the Farrows down High Street?'. She said she said 'Who?' and that he neighbour said 'The Farrows. There has been a murder down there, an old couple' and that she then said 'Oh! what a terrible thing'. She said that Alfred Stratton didn't say anything. She said that Alfred Stratton got an evening paper that day with the murder in it and she read about the murder and read the description and said that she said to Alfred Stratton 'Is not it like you?' and that Alfred Stratton had said 'Do you think I should do such a thing and take you out and walk about Deptford, knowing I had done such a thing?'. She said that she replied 'I should not think so, Alfred'. She said that she was uncertain about the colours of the coats in the descriptions but asked 'Is it you, Alf?' although there was no reply. However, she said that Alfred Stratton did have a brown coat which was in one of the descriptions although it was an old one and he had a newer tidier one at the time. She said that she had seen it hanging up on the Monday but noticed that it was missing by the Tuesday or Wednesday and that when she asked Alfred Stratton about it he had told her that he had given it away.
She said that later on the Tuesday or Wednesday Alfred Stratton said to her 'If anybody asks you where I was on the Sunday night and Monday morning, say I was in bed with you, and I went to get some work at Braby's at 9.15 and came back at 10'.
She said that around 31 March 1905 they left Brookmill Road and that on the following Saturday night she slept on the Giffing Street stairs. Then early on the Sunday morning she went with Alfred Stratton to the waterworks, called 'Ravensbourne' and that Alfred Stratton started digging. She said that he said he was looking for a tool and then said that he was looking for some money that he had put there some weeks before adding that it was about four quid. He had told her that his brother had seen him put it there and then suggested that maybe someone else had seen them bury it and then come along later and dug it up and then she said that maybe it was his brother that had dug it up and Alfred Stratton had then said 'Oh! no, I don't think so'.
When she was cross examined the woman said that she had had a very unfortunate life and was an unfortunate. She also said that she was in the family way by him.
The police later went to the waterworks at Ravensbourne with Cleveland and digging with a trowel they found a piece of black stuff about three or four inches below the surface that had two sovereigns and a half-crown wrapped up in it.
Whilst in jail at the Tower Bridge Police Court the assistant gaoler said that he spoke to Albert Ernest Stratton who asked him 'How do you think I shall get on?' and the assistant gaoler said he said 'I do not know'. He said then that the brother said 'Is he listening?', referring to his other brother Alfred Stratton and the assistant gaoler said that he wasn't and then the brother said 'I reckon he will get strung up, and I shall get about ten years. He has led me into this. He is the cause of me living with a woman. Don't say anything to him, I shall not say anything until I can see there is no chance, and then....' The assistant gaoler said that he then stopped speaking and started walking round his cell and then he came back to the door and said 'I do not want to get strung up. He has never done any work in his life, only about a month, and then they tried to put that Brixton job on him, but they found out at the time he was at work. I have only been out of the Navy about seven months'. This exchange was thought to have been a near confession but was not given much weight as it was only the assistant gaoler that had heard it. It also caused a sensation as it was leaked to the newspapers although the assistant gaoler said that he had only told his superior officer.
An eleven-year-old boy who would go with a milkman each day said that on the Monday morning, 27 March 1905 he had been in High Street, Deptford near Chapman's oil shop at No. 34 and said that he saw two men leave the shop. He said that they slammed the door but it flew back and that the milkman that he was with said to them 'You have left the door open' and that they both turned around and nodded and walked off towards the Broadway together. The boy described the men but at the police station he was unable to pick them out from a row of other men.
The milkman said that as they were going along High Street he saw two men come out of the shop and when he noticed that they had left the door open he had said to them 'You have left the door open' and that one of them had said to him 'Oh! it is all right, it don't matter' and that they had both walked off towards New Cross Road. He then later went to Blackheath Road police station where he saw a number of men in a row but was unable to identify the men.
A boxer who was out at 2.30am on the morning of 27 March 1905 said that he was at a coffee stall at the Broadway and then after leaving and heading towards Church Street and then up Hale Street and into High Street he said that he saw two men running behind him. He said that he didn't recognise them but thought it was suspicious. He said that he then continued home up High Street in the direction of the railway station and that somewhere near Regent Street he saw the two men come around the corner again and recognised them as Alfred Stratton who he had known for five or six years and Albert Ernest Stratton who he had known for five or six months. He said that Alfred Stratton said to him 'Hullo! out again?'. He said that they said a few things during which time he said that he noticed that Alfred Stratton was looking to and fro, up and down the street and that Albert Ernest Stratton seemed to be fumbling with his coat as if he had something in it. He said that when he parted they went towards Farrow's shop.
A woman that lived in Nile Street and worked in London said that she generally took the train from Deptford railway station to Charing Cross. She said that she would go from her house and cross Broadway and go up High Street. She said that she usually took the 7.20am train and that it took about 10 minutes to walk from her house to the station. She said that on the morning of 27 March 1905 she got to the chemist's shop at the comer of High Street and the Broadway at 7.15am when she saw two men running from the High Street into New Cross Road and recognised one of them as Alfred Stratton who she had known through a man that she had kept company with. She later identified Alfred Stratton at the police station but was unable to identify the other man as Albert Stratton.
A Detective Inspector at New Scotland Yard said that he had been employed in connection with the Finger Print Department since the formation of the finger print system in 1901. He said that previous to that he had been employed for two or three years on the anthropometric system, which was a system based on certain body measurements and embodied for part of the time finger prints. He said he had studied the works on the subject by Mr Francis Galton and Mr Henry and so far as he knew, those were the only works on the subject of finger prints. He also said that at Scotland Yard they then had between 80,000 and 90,000 sets of finger prints, which meant between 800,000 and 900,000 impressions of digits and that in his experience he had never found any two such impressions to correspond. He said that they had taken finger prints of men in 1898 and then again in 1905 and had found that a particular man's finger did not alter in seven years.
He was given the cash box to examine and said that he found a finger print on the inner tray which he photographed and enlarged. Whilst ruling out the finger prints belonging to any of the police for the shop keepers he was given Alfred Stratton's fingerprints and demonstrated that Alfred Stratton's right thumb corresponded with the mark on the cash box. Both prints were photographed and enlarged and were used at the trial which was the first time that finger prints had been used for a murder conviction.
Alfred Stratton and Albert Stratton were convicted of murder and executed at Wandsworth on Tuesday 23 May 1905.
They were both said to have walked to the gallows without assistance and to have conducted themselves with fortitude to the end. Albert Stratton's last words to his brother were, 'Alfred, has God forgiven you?'. Both of their deaths were said to have been instantaneous.
see National Archives - CRIM 1/98/5, HO 144/788/128907
see Old Bailey
see About Forensics
see Murder UK
see Penny Illustrated Paper - Saturday 08 April 1905 (includes photos of the shop and milk boy)
see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 20 May 1905