British Executions

Marks Reubens

Age: 22

Sex: male

Crime: murder

Date Of Execution: 20 May 1909

Crime Location: Room 13, 3 Rupert Street, Whitechapel, London

Execution Place: Pentonville

Method: hanging

Executioner: Henry Pierrepoint


Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens were convicted of the murder of William Sproull 36 and sentenced to death.

They battered him to death at 3 Rupert Street, Whitechapel, London on 16 March 1909.

Morris Reubens had lived with a prostitute for the previous two and a half years and had lived off of her earnings. They had lived at 3 Rupert Street for the previous five months. Morris Reubens was said to have been a boot salesman.

His younger brother Marks Reubens also lived with a prostitute and lived off of her earnings. Marks Reubens was said to have been a costermonger.

William Sproull had been an engineer on the steamship Dorset and was himself from Jarrow. The Dorset plied between London and Australia.

On the night of 15 March 1909 William Sproull and another man had just returned from a voyage and went to the Three Nuns close to Aldgate Station and later picked up the two prostitutes that Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens were living with. They drank freely with them and then after went back to 3 Rupert Street where they had connections after which they went out again and had some more to drink. After having some more to drink they all went back to room 13 at 3 Rupert Street again with the intention of spending the night.

Room 13 at 3 Rupert Street was in the tenancy of Morris Reubens who lived there with his girlfriend and prostitute. The room itself was 12 feet by 12 feet.

When they got back, the prostitute that Marks Reubens had been living with who was 18-years-old was sick as a result of being hopelessly drunk. William Sproull and his friend were also drunk whilst the other prostitute was said to have been fairly sober.

Later at 1.10am a policeman said he saw Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens knock on the shutters of 3 Rupert Street and saw the door then open and saw them enter. William Sproull's body was later found by a night watchman at 1.40am and it was noted that the murder must have happened in the 40 minute window between Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens going into 3 Rupert Street and William Sproull's body being found. The night-watchman had been working at the Co-operative Stores in Leman Street which backed onto Rupert Street.

When they went in to the passage the prostitute that Morris Reubens lived with told them that William Sproull and his friend were in the room.

It was thought that they had planned to rob the men and Morris Reubens then hit William Sproull across the face with stick or shambok of whale gut. It was said that the other man then attempted to defend William Sproull but that Morris Reubens hit him over the head with the stick and he then escaped.

It was said that William Sproull offered some resistance at which point Marks Reubens produced a penknife and slashed William Sproull across the right wrist and then stabbed him in the heart.

Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens then turned out his pockets and stole his gold watch and chain. It was thought that William Sproull was either dragged out of the house and dumped across the street about 20 yards away or that he had staggered there and collapsed. He was found soon after at about 1.40am.

When William Sproull was found his pockets were inside out and there were spots of blood found leading back to 3 Rupert Street where a blood-stained hand print was found on the door.

The police were then called, and the house was surrounded. When they went into 3 Rupert Street between 2am and 3am they found no one in room 13 other than Morris Reubens's prostitute girlfriend who was asleep.

However, Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens were upstairs at 3 Rupert Street and soon arrested. When they were arrested Morris Reubens said, 'I hope he is not dead' and 'I did not stab him', although later he said that he didn't know that William Sproull was seriously wounded.

Morris Reubens said 'The girls brought two fellows here, and they would not part up. Me and my brother had a row with them. They threw a glass at one of the girls, and so we set about them and I ran up here with my missus. I don't mind telling you I robbed the fellow who was lying on the ground over there. I hope he is not dead. There was only me and my brother there'. In a later statement he said 'I didn't stab him. If he was stabbed my brother must have done it'. It was noted that at the time no one had mentioned anything to him about William Sproull having been stabbed.

On the way to the police station Morris Reubens took a gold watch and chain out from his clothing and said 'This is what you want. I own I robbed him. I did it in the street. I went back indoors and said to my young brother 'I think he will be all right in a couple of hours.'. I left him in the street'.

When the police later searched the house they found a bent and bloody knife hidden behind a gas stove which Marks Reubens admitted was his.

They were both convicted of his murder although it was thought that their punishments might have been differentiated on the grounds that Marks Reubens alone had struck the fatal blow. However, it was also heard that Morris Reubens had begun the attack and that by holding the stick that he had had at the thin end, it was quite capable of inflicting a fatal blow.

The prosecution at the trial said that although Marks Reubens had stabbed William Sproull, it was their submission that if two persons were acting together in any violence with a common purpose, such as a robbery, each was then responsible for the acts of the other, in pursuance of that purpose.

It was also heard that the attack had been planned and carried out in Morris Reubens's house and that he had taken the opportunity to steal his watch as he either lay dying or was dead. It was also noted that Morris Reubens had also been living with a prostitute for upwards of two and a half years and the police report stated that there could be little doubt that he had been guilty of many other robberies with violence. It was said that the shambok that he habitually carried with him was admirably adapted for an attack on a drunken man with a view to robbing him. It was also thought that his example had something to do with Marks Reubens adopting the same means of livelihood.

The police report noted that in cases of this type it was the last thing that the robbers wanted for their victims to die. It stated that if they could rob their victims and then get them out of the house alive there was very little risk of a prosecution, whereas if the victim was killed then detection was almost certain. The police report attached a list of similar robbery cases in the previous 12 months which stated that in most, if not all cases, no proceedings were possible. It was also noted that in one case a robbery was committed at the very same address, 3 Rupert Street, in the previous December 1908 at which time Morris Reubens and his girlfriend had been occupying the same room, number 13, and that the girl was the only prostitute in the house. The report noted that in that case sufficient evidence was not forthcoming and no proceedings were taken. It was also noted that the list of similar robberies represented only a very small proportion of robberies of that kind committed. It was said that in some of the other cases the victims complained to the police but could give no particulars whatever and that in the remainder nothing ever came to the ears of the police at all.

The police report stated that it would be most unfortunate if anything were done to lessen the deterrent affect that the convictions and sentences might have on the hundreds of others that were making their livelihood in the same way that Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens had been. The police report concluded that both men richly deserved their fate.

When Morris Reubens and Marks Reubens were in the dock at their trial they were said to have snivelled and cried. It was said that at the close of counsel's speech Morris Reubens groaned and sobbed loudly and apparently swooned and the case was more than once interrupted by his sobbing.

Most of Rupert Street does not exist today but was parallel to Leman Street between Hoper Street and Alie Street roughly following what is today called Stable Street, however, Stable street is offset to the east by 5-10 metres.

see Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 24 April 1909

see National Archives - HO 144/911/178428, CRIM 1/112/4

see Illustrated Police News - Saturday 01 May 1909