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The Murder of the Whitechapel Mistress (Hardback)

Victorian London's Sensational Murder Mystery

P&S History > British History > Victorian History P&S History > By Century > 19th Century P&S History > True Crime World History > Europe World History > UK & Ireland > England > London

By Neil Watson
Imprint: Pen & Sword True Crime
Pages: 288
Illustrations: 50 mono illustrations
ISBN: 9781399049740
Published: 21st September 2023

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This is the true story of respected businessman, Henry Wainwright, who had everything he needed in 1871: a loving wife and five children, a delightful London townhouse and successful family business, but just one year later, Henry’s life would be turned upside down. He embarked on a risky affair, setting his mistress, Harriet Lane, up in lodgings with an allowance to look after herself and the couple’s two children as they pretended to be husband and wife. It was at this time that Henry’s finances tumbled out of control; with gambling debts and a failing business, bankruptcy loomed. His world started to crumble and what happened next as he tried to regain control involved a scandalous conspiracy which ended in murder and ruined the lives of three families.

This fast-moving story will transport the reader to the East End of Victorian London, revealing information on the lives of those involved and detailing the police investigation and the subsequent Old Bailey trial. Fourteen years before the infamous Jack the Ripper Murders, it was the original ‘Whitechapel Mystery’ and probably the most sensational criminal case of the 1870s. It’s a story of love, weakness and devious, desperate liars.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

"The Murder of the Whitechapel Mistress" by Neil Watson offers a gripping and meticulously researched account of a scandalous Victorian murder that captivated London in the 1870s.

At the center of the tale is Henry Wainwright, a respected businessman with a seemingly idyllic life, until he falls passionately in love with Harriet Lane, igniting a chain of events that lead to tragedy. As their affair unfolds amidst the backdrop of Victorian society, Watson skilfully unravels the intricate web of deceit, betrayal, and desperation that ultimately culminates in murder.

With vivid detail and rich historical context, Watson paints a compelling portrait of Victorian London, from its polished façade of polite society to its seedy underbelly. The book offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of its characters, from the scandalised Wainwright family to the diligent detectives who unravel the mystery.

The narrative unfolds with the pace of a thrilling mystery, leading readers through the twists and turns of the police investigation and the dramatic Old Bailey trial. Watson's engaging writing style and attention to detail make this true crime story a captivating read, offering not only a glimpse into a sensational Victorian scandal but also a vivid portrayal of life in 1870s London.

Overall, "The Murder of the Whitechapel Mistress" is a riveting account of love, betrayal, and murder that will appeal to anyone with an interest in Victorian crime or the history of Whitechapel.

NetGalley, Chelsea Littleton-Harper

This is an involved and somewhat intricate true-crime case from 1871-1875 in which a bigamist businessman betrays his lawful family, acquires a mistress/second wife and family, gambles his money away, goes bankrupt and conspires to, and carries out, murder on the mistress, and manages to convince everyone she moved away. Despite being a sensational and lurid tale, the author does a very good and balanced job of presenting the facts of the case without exploiting the more horrific aspects.

The text is meticulously annotated and written in accessible and easy to understand language. The chapter notes and bibliography will provide hours of further reading for students of true-crime history. The text is enhanced with appendices which contain historical and modern photos of the environs and some of the sites where the murder and later trials occurred as well as facsimile documents. There are happily no lurid crime scene photographs.

Four stars. Well written and absorbing, but quite sad. Recommended for readers of true crime history. It would also make an excellent choice for public library acquisition, as well as possibly for a history book club study.

NetGalley, Annie Buchanan

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Author went above and beyond in research and providing accurate details and information but at the same time did not overwhelm you. This was a great book.

NetGalley, Lauren Hewitt

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

If you like real life whodunits, read this book. The murder of Harriet Lane has been lost to history, overshadowed by the hoopla of the serial killer who roamed Whitechapel 14 years later. This is a far more personal story. A successful narcissist with a good business and a lovely home and family, sets up his mistress and their illegitimate children. When his business and his vices threaten his idyllic life and his mistress becomes increasingly unstable, he feels his only way out is through illegal means. The book is the story of what happened before the deed, the deed itself and the attempted coverup and finally the capture and trial of the villain.

The author encourages the reader to become a member of the jury, to weigh the evidence and then cast the vote for guilt or innocence. It would be pretty difficulty to find the primary villain, Henry Wainwright. innocent of anything and the reader will get some satisfaction that justice was served. His brother, Thomas, is another story. There is no doubt Thomas played a part and should have done time in prison. What part and to what degree he is involved still would be a question all this time down the road. Perhaps with modern forensics a more firm decision might be made but with the facts of the case very clearly and precisely laid out, it would be, at best, a hung jury.

The book also looks at the innocent victims. The wives of the two brothers, their children and the children of Henry and Harriet all suffered to varying degrees from this murder. The perps were not quite as smart as they thought themselves and were caught red-handed. The evidence the police gathered to make their case was impressive. Reading it all is fascinating and the reader will come away with firm feelings one way or another.

Five purrs and two paws up.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

I'm captivated by this book about the shocking murder of Harriet Lane in 1870s Victorian London. The author, a seasoned police officer, masterfully weaves together the tale of Harriet's doomed relationship with wealthy Henry Wainwright, the trial that stunned the city, and the dark secrets that led to her tragic end.

I found this book to be a fascinating dive into Victorian crime, but be prepared for a lot of details!

NetGalley, A M

What I instantly loved about this book was Neil Watson’s clear love of history! His passion jumped off the page and his excitement at being able to tell this story made me excited to read it.

I love history and true crime so when I saw this book I was really excited to request and read it!

It was an interesting read and if you’re a lover of history or true crime I think you’ll really enjoy this book too.

There was so much detail and every angle was explored! It is clear just how much research Neil must have done! Some reviews have stated they didn’t like the repetition in this book but with so much detail in the case I found it really helpful to be reminded of the different bits throughout.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it for any true crime fans

NetGalley, Charlotte Green

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a fascinating read, I had never heard of this case before so it worked as a great way to introduce us to the case. It does a great job in keeping us engaged with the story and has a lot of detail. Neil Watson has a great writing style for true crime.

NetGalley, Kathryn McLeer

Absolutely fascinating account of a tragic event that led to so much heartache. I was riveted by this account and read the book in one sitting. My heart goes out to all those affected, even all these years later. A must read for any true crime fan. 4 stars

NetGalley, Claire Wilson

I never tire of true crime, especially if it has anything to do with Victorian-era skullduggery and the shifting, macabre menace that lurked in every gaslit shadow of sinister and seedy Whitechapel.

While everyone fixated on Jack and his dubiousness, there were many - with great emphasis on the word many - other shady deals going down, case in point this one. The Murder of the Whitechapel Mistress is a fascinating read, an insight into a weak, selfish and truly awful man, who had he but the wits to plan ahead would have gotten away with a heinous crime. Not being the brightest spark in the box, his schoolboy errors led to one faux pas after another, and thankfully the Bobbies on the Beat chose to refuse his bribes and investigate further. By Jove, did they get a shock!

I especially loved the illustrations that accompanied the case, the equivalent of today's crime scene photos, and ever-so-charming. There really is just something about pen and ink drawings.... anyway, I digress. Intriguing, informative, well-written and at times a little sad (Harriet's murder was truly awful, the callous and brutal act of a base, desperate man). It goes to show that killing someone isn't as easy as you might think, and once you embark on that grim course you will inevitably need to see it through to the bitter end.

If you love Victorian-era crime, tales of Jack the Ripper and the bleak streets of hellish filth where he practiced his macabre ministering, then this is for you. Make sure you have a warm blankie, sleeping catten and steaming cup of tea, just to remind you that those days are over. I loved it.

NetGalley, Mellissa Bushby

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was an amazing read and well researched about a fascinating true crime story.

In 1875 the murder trial of Victorian businessman Henry Wainwright took place.

Leading a double life he had a wife and five children, he a also had a secret mistress all to support. However facing financial ruin he turned to murder to solve of his problems or did he.Later the murdered body of his mistress Harriet Lane was discovered,and he was arrested and with good reason no spoilers from me you will have to read the book to find out the circumstances of his arrest.

But was he the killer? Or was his brother Thomas more involved than suspected.

Highly recommended

NetGalley, S Ballinger

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was an amazing read of a true crime. I did not know about this crime but I suspect that it was overshadowed by all the stories just after this of Jack the Ripper.. Victorian England was not kind to women or indeed the poorer folk but this story emphasises the life of women. I was absorbed by following the evidence and the trial itself and loved the fact that the faces and emotions of those in the courtroom and on the stand was detailed so clearly. What a difference life in Victorian England was for women, having to be totally dependent upon a man, accepting that he could do as he liked and have mistresses or mistreat his wife if he liked. The actresses who were forced by finance to accept being a mistress in order to survive was sad . The trial also highlights the fact that women were not allowed to serve on a Jury and furthermore they were ushered out when the details of the corpse was described as they would be to fragile to hear about it. The sad thing is that Queen Victoria was one of the main people who pushed that women needed the protection of men as they were the weaker sex and were not able to make their own decisions in life but only to do as told.
An amazing read showing very detailed research and I look forward to reading more by this very talented author.

NetGalley, Sandra Miller

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


I absolutely loved this true crime book by Neil Watson! 5 stars!

I enjoyed the author's note included at the beginning. It was nice to read about who Neil Watson is and what drew him to write about this particular case.

I am from the states and I had never heard of this case before, so I went in having zero knowledge, but I have come out having finished the book with total knowledge that I can spread information about this case to others. The Murder of the Whitechapel Mistress was so filled with information, research, and evidence I cannot even begin to imagine the time and effort it took Neil Watson to put this together. I have read other comments on Goodreads where reviewers state that the book can be repetitive, and I do agree. However, I do not feel the repetition is negative in any way. I feel that it keeps the evidence and information fresh in the reader's mind throughout the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the use of the newspaper clipping/drawings sprinkled throughout the book. I also appreciated the use of bullet points when Watson lists the arguments made by the prosecution/defense during the trials. It helped to keep the evidence factual and organized for the reader.

I remember appreciating Neil Watson providing descriptions of John Holder on day 8 of the trial in order to give the reader an idea of what he looked like presenting the evidence. Watson did this a few times through the book to provide speculation and imagery to the reader of what it may have been like. I was surprised to learn that jury deliberations took less than an hour!

It was interesting to learn from Watson's research a few differences of how trials took place during this time period - an all male jury, jurors viewing the body in person, women having to exit the rom during the medical information day, and women having a designated seating area in general.

Neil Watson really shows how much he was invested in the research of Harriet Lane's murder in this novel. I cannot WAIT to read other books by Watson.

NetGalley, Allison Kelly

This book does a great job of going into the background, the murder, and the subsequent trial of Henry and his unfortunate unknowing accomplice.

Great read! I enjoyed this one!

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

This book is true crime at it's finest. The author did an excellent job of telling this story.
The book is full of information not only of the crime and the subsequent trial but also of what it was like to live in Victorian England.
This book is a must read for anyone who loves true crime.

NetGalley, Samantha Reichle

Article: 'TRAGEDY OF VICTORIAN MISTRESS: Whitechapel Slaughter long before Jack struck'

Sunday Express

What a different way to write a true crime story and I should know I've read enough of them throughout my lifetime. It's like sitting in a coffee house with the author and having him lay out everything he's uncovered and then asking for your opinion on what really happened and why you think so. Excellent research and has pictures along with newspaper articles which is always appreciated by me!

NetGalley, Christine Cazeneuve

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

AS a true crime writer myself (Bloody Yorkshire series) I understand the importance of research and facts when compiling a true crime book. I think the author has done a great job with this book. Well-written, intriguing and great research. A recommended read.

NetGalley, Wendy M Rhodes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This true crime tale chronicles the sensational 1875 murder trial of Victorian businessman Henry Wainwright. Leading a double life with his wife and a secret mistress, he soon faced financial ruin. When the murdered body of his mistress Harriet Lane was discovered, he was immediately arrested. But was he the killer? Or was his brother Thomas more involved than the investigators suspected?

Meticulously detailing the police investigation and scandal-filled trial, this engaging and easy-to-read book transports readers into the seedy underworld of 1870s London. A riveting glimpse of love, deception, and betrayal, the book is a must-read for fans of Victorian history and true crime.

NetGalley, Andrea Romance

I enjoyed reading this true crime book. With vivid descriptions that helped me visualise Victorian London clearly during this dark time. Great to see this side before Jack The Ripper.

NetGalley, Abi Davies

This is the meticulously researched story of the murder of Harriet Lane in 19th century London. I don't read much true crime, but I have watched quite a few TV series, and this is fascinating to read about.

NetGalley, Books in Wales

The author has done an amazing job of uncovering details otherwise lost in archives and gives this case the attention it, and the victim, deserves. Written in such a way as to blend seamlessly fact and reasonable supposition, this is a very well put together account of an interesting case.

NetGalley, Louise Gray

About Neil Watson

Neil Watson is a retired London Policeman, having joined the Metropolitan Police in 1975, almost 100 years to the day since the Whitechapel Mistress murder took place. He has therefore been writing about crime for 47 years. His first solo book was the Denham Massacre, published in 2018, about the murder of a family of seven in the village of Denham, Buckinghamshire, in 1870. Neil writes regular historical articles for the Whitechapel Society Journal, usually on the subject of Victorian crime or social history. He also gives talks on police history and is also an experienced genealogist of 30 years. Neil also organises London History walks with his voluntary group. He is married and lives in London.

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