Unsolved Murders

Joseph Osuagwu

Age: 6

Sex: male

Date: 20 Oct 1961

Place: 25 Sebastian House, Hoxton Street, London

Joseph Osuagwu died from injuries thought to have been caused by a coal shovel and being generally starved and maltreated.

His mother was tried for his murder but acquitted.

Following Joseph Osuagwu's death on the morning of 11 September 1961 the police saw his mother at 7.55pm at Old Street Police station and said to her, 'We have seen the body of your son Joseph. He is covered in cuts and bruises, which we believe you have caused by hitting him with a metal shovel, kicking him and punching him. As you know, he died after being taken from your flat to hospital this morning. Joseph Osuagwu's mother said, 'It wasn't me who hit him last night, it must have been my husband, when I was out. I have only hit him with a strap when he was stealing in the kitchen'.

When she was cautioned and told that she would be charged with causing grievous bodily harm to Joseph Osuagwu she said, 'It's my husband, I only used a strap'.

Joseph Osuagwu's step-father said that he lived at 25 Sebastian House in Hoxton Street, N1 and was a machine operator.

He said that he married Joseph Osuagwu's mother in 1955 at which time she had four children, one of whom was Joseph Osuagwu who had been 8 months old at the time. He said that after their marriage that they had twin boys together but that recently only Joseph Osuagwu and the twins had been living with them in Hoxton Street.

He said that Joseph Osuagwu's mother didn't have enough patience with Joseph Osuagwu and that she sometimes hit him most severely, sometimes using her hands and sometimes using a coal shovel.

He said that she was impatient with him because she complained that his father had deceived her and that seeing Joseph Osuagwu reminded her of that. He added that she used to also complain that Joseph Osuagwu used to help himself to food in the kitchen.

Joseph Osuagwu's step-father said that Joseph Osuagwu behaved normally for a child and was 6½ years old.

He said that on 31 August 1961 that he went to the police station because on the morning of 29 August 1961 he had been in bed when he heard Joseph Osuagwu crying and that he had had to go into the passageway to try and stop Joseph Osuagwu's mother from hitting him. He said that she was hitting Joseph Osuagwu with her hand and that when he held her she told him that she must deal with Joseph Osuagwu, saying that he must have a cold bath as a punishment. However, he said that the reason for the cold bath as a punishment was because of the bruises Joseph Osuagwu had from her kicking him.

Joseph Osuagwu's step-father said on 31 August 1961 that Joseph Osuagwu had been in bed becuse he and his mother went to court. He said that when he got home after going to get his cards that he saw Joseph Osuagwu's mother and she told him that Joseph Osuagwu had left the house. He said that they thought that he might have gone to the play centre and that Joseph Osuagwu's mother went to look for him there and then brought him home. However, he said that later that evening that she started to hit Joseph Osuagwu with the coal shovel. He said that he saw that the punishment was too heavy and that he demanded her permission to take Joseph Osuagwu away which he said she allowed. He said that he went to see some friends and arranged that for them to take him and then returned home and told her that someone had agreed to take him.

He said that the following morning that Joseph Osuagwu's mother didn't give Joseph Osuagwu enough to eat and said that he told her that she had to remove the punishment because of the friends' arrangement. However, he said that she then told him that Joseph Osuagwu was not going anywhere.

He said that he threatened to call his friend to witness what was going on but that knowing that she wouldn't let him take Joseph Osuagwu that he went with Joseph Osuagwu to the police station where a lady police officer examined him after which she took him home.

He said that when they got home that his mother wasn't in and so he gave Joseph Osuagwu some milk to drink and left him to wait for his mother. He said that that when he got back that the mother told him that after he had left that Joseph Osuagwu had gone out looking for him and that whilst he was wondering about that a police officer found him and brought him back. He said that Joseph Osuagwu's mother then told him that the police officer had told her that he was trying to blackmail her and that Joseph Osuagwu didn't have enough injuries to warrant them enquiring about them.

Joseph Osuagwu's step-father said that after that that the punishments of stopping his food went on and that she continued to hit him, although not so hard as before.

He said that on 9 September 1961 that Joseph Osuagwu seemed weak and so when his wife went out she told him that she would give him something to eat when she got back. He said that when she came back she asked whether Joseph Osuagwu had stolen anything and that he replied, 'No' and laughed about it and that after that his mother gave him some rice to eat.

He said that during the evening whilst he and his wife were in the bedroom that they heard a cry, and, thinking that it was the twins, they went to look but found that it was Joseph Osuagwu. He said that they took him to the toilet and Joseph Osuagwu appeared ill and so his wife told him to fetch some water and that she then gave him some tablets which she told him were Codine after which she put him back to bed.

He said that they then went back to their bedroom and that he started to abuse his wife, telling her to switch her mind off Joseph Osuagwu, telling her that she was wicked. He said that she took it calmly. He said that he then told her that whilst she had been out that Joseph Osuagwu had had a cup of tea and said that she then said, 'Joseph's going to have more now to eat'. He said that she then abused him knowing that he had told lies and went and got Joseph Osuagwu and took him to the kitchen where she gave him soup from a saucepan on the side and water.

He said that he persuaded her not to give him anymore and said that she told him that he had caused Joseph Osuagwu to misbehave because he had opposed her punishment.

He said that Joseph Osuagwu didn't seem to want to drink the water but said that she made him and started hitting him. He said that he then went back to his room and started dressing to go to the police station, but said that when he told her where she was going that she said that she wouldn't hit him again.

He said that when he changed back into his sleeping dress that he heard Joseph Osuagwu crying again and then saw that his mother was hitting him again and so he got dressed again. He said that she was hitting him with the coal shovel.

He said that when he came out of the bedroom that he saw Joseph Osuagwu lying down in the front room, shivering and vomiting, but said that his mother said that he would be all right. However, he said that he told her that his condition would not be all right and that when he tried to go to the police station that she begged him not to go, dragging him. However, he said that he ran to the police station whilst she was running after him and trying to hold him back.

He said that when he got to the police station that he saw an officer and told him what had happened and that his wife interrupted him.

He said that the police then came back to the house with him whilst his wife went for her doctor.

He said that when the police saw Joseph Osuagwu's condition that they sent for an ambulance after which his wife came and told him that the doctor was in Balham. He said that they then took Joseph Osuagwu to the hospital, all of them going and that whilst there a nurse asked his wife what had happened to Joseph Osuagwu but that she didn't answer after which a police officer told her that Joseph Osuagwu had died.

He said that he said that all his struggle to try and save Joseph Osuagwu had been in vain.

He said that they then went in a car to the police station and they asked him who did it and that he replied, 'My wife did it' but said that the police then told him that his wife had said that it was he that had done it.

He said that on 11 September 1961 that the police came to the house and asked for the shovel and that his wife brought them a shovel, but said that the one that she had brought was not the right one and that he then went to look for it but couldn't find it. However, he said that he later went with the police to buy another shovel that he said was exactly the same as the one that his wife had used to beat Joseph Osuagwu with.

He noted that Joseph Osuagwu's mother had been a sick woman and had been undergoing treatment since 1957 and took Codeine and other tablets which had at times made her irritable and unable to attend to her household duties and that he had had to bath the children as a result. He added that he had no complaint about her treatment of the twins.

He said that Joseph Osuagwu used to play outside in the street and that he had noticed no bruises on Joseph Osuagwu that had been caused outside of the house, only inside. He said that he was fond of Joseph Osuagwu but didn't bath him often and said that he had been told not to answer his questions, noting that he had heard his wife tell him that. He said that if anyone told him anything or he gave them anything to eat that his wife would hear of it and there would be a row.

He added that on the times that he had mentioned when his wife had kicked Joseph Osuagwu that she had had bare feet, and that she didn't do it once, twice or three times, but more, and that she would kick him all over various parts of his body.

He said that when they heard Joseph Osuagwu crying shortly before his death and they went into his room that his wife had appeared concerned about him and had been upset and had tried to give him medical aid.

A friend of Joseph Osuagwu's father, a Railway Signalman but was also from Nigeria, who lived in Fournier Street said that he had met him and his wife when they were living at Lowood Buildings. He said that during visits to their flat that he had seen them having rows and had seen Joseph Osuagwu's mother maltreat her children. He said that they had had four children and that Joseph Osuagwu had been about 12 months old at the time and he saw her push him severely at the back of his head which caused him to fall heavily against the furniture and walls and hurt him.

He said that he tried to instruct Joseph Osuagwu's mother how to deal with her children, telling her that she should not lose her patience and said that she replied that Joseph Osuagwu would be no good because his father was no good, noting that she had been in a high temper when she had said that.

He said that another time when he went to their flat that he saw that another of her children had been beaten and when he asked Joseph Osuagwu's mother what had happened the child walked into the room and Joseph Osuagwu's mother said, 'This is the idiot you are talking about. He stole something'. He said that she then started to hit him again across the face which was already swollen but that she stopped when he stood in between them. He said that he then advised her to instruct her children about their mistakes or errors by words and not by beating them.

He said that when they went to live at 25 Sebastian House that he continued to visit them and that whenever he asked Joseph Osuagwu's mother about any bruises or swollen limbs that he saw on her children he would ask, 'Has this one fallen over again?' but said that she would not answer the question.

He said however that he later started cutting his visits short because on one of his visits he saw her whipping Joseph Osuagwu with a belt. He said that he tried to stop her that that she would not accept his interference. He said that Joseph Osuagwu had been in hysterics and was already tired and weeping and that afterwards she would try to stop him from crying by force by whipping him again.

He said that Joseph Osuagwu's father had been there and that he had said, 'God is so kind. You have now seen it with your own eyes. That is what I see every time. If I intervene she will transfer the hitting of Joseph to myself'. He said that Joseph Osuagwu's father then pointed to the other children and said, 'Look at the other children, they are all bruised'. He said that Joseph Osuagwu's mother had been talking so fast that she could not catch what she said. He said that he then turned to Joseph Osuagwu's father and said, 'You will never see me again. You and your wife are a disgrace to our people' adding that neither of them replied to him.

He added that around the same time he recalled Joseph Osuagwu's mother telling him that Joseph Osuagwu was either not eating his food or was eating it roughly and that she had caught hold of him and thrown him across the room causing him to hurt his heel by striking the wall and that it was thought that he had broken it and that his father had had to take him to the hospital.

A police inspector stationed at Old Street Police Station said that on Thursday 31 August 1961 at about 3.40pm that he had been on duty in uniform at Old Street Police Station when he saw Joseph Osuagwu's father talking to another police officer. He said that he had Joseph Osuagwu with him and that he examined him, noting that he had been adequately dressed in clean clothing, was clean and appeared healthy. He said that he examined such parts of his body as were visible but saw no sign of any recent injury although he did see a bump on his left temple.

He said that in view of Joseph Osuagwu's statement and appearance he gave his father certain advice and that they then left the police station.

He said that later that day that he saw Joseph Osuagwu at 4.15pm in Hoxton Street with a man walking towards the police station. He said that he recorded particulars of the man briefly and in view of what he was told he made arrangements for Joseph Osuagwu to be taken to the police station. He said that at the time Joseph Osuagwu had been carrying a 'bucket' back that contained cakes, sausage rolls, chocolate wafer biscuits and some apples.

He said that he later went with Joseph Osuagwu and another police officer in a police car to Joseph Osuagwu's home at 25 Sebastian House but that when they got there there was no reply to his repeated knocking and that after enquiries at adjacent flats they later returned to the police station. However, he said that when they got back to the police station that Joseph Osuagwu's mother was in the waiting room with her twin sons and that on seeing his mother Joseph Osuagwu ran to her and was affectionately greeted by her. He said that she cuddled him and said, 'Where have you been'. He said that Joseph Osuagwu's mother then said to him, 'I sent him out to buy some ice-cream. We were going to Battersea Park. He didn't come back so I came out to look for him'.

The police inspector then said to her, 'Your husband was here this afternoon. He told us that you have been hitting the boy and that he has had nothing to eat since Tuesday'. She then said, You know the trouble I've had with my husband. I took him to court and since then he has said he would get his own back through the children. Sometimes they don't have breakfast because they stay in bed late but they always have a good dinner. If we are going out I give them a breakfast late but no dinner because it overloads them and might make them sick, but we always take food with us'. She then showed the police inspector the contents of the bag that Joseph Osuagwu had been carrying which consisted of four sausage rolls, four chocolate wafer biscuits, four apples and several cakes in a bag and said, 'This is what we are taking with us to the park'.

The police inspector then told her, 'Joseph went up to a man and told him that he was hungry. The man brought him some doughnuts and was going to bring him here'. He said that Joseph Osuagwu's mother then said to Joseph Osuagwu, 'Did your father tell you to do it?' and Joseph Osuagwu replied, 'Yes'.

At 2am on Monday 11 September 1961 Joseph Osuagwu's parents went to Old Street police station and Joseph Osuagwu's father said, 'The boy is dying, can you come and see. I wanted to fetch a doctor but she won't let me'.  A police inspector then said, 'What is wrong with the boy, is he ill?' to which Joseph Osuagwu's father said 'She has been ill treating him, beating him, and making him drink a lot of water'.  The police inspector then asked Joseph Osuagwu's mother, 'Have you called a doctor?' to which she replied, 'No' and the inspector then said, 'Then you had better go and get one' and Joseph Osuagwu's mother left the police station to go to get the doctor in Kingsland Road.

The police sergeant said that he then went with the inspector to 25 Sebastian House in Hoxton Street where he saw Joseph Osuagwu's father who was standing in the passage by the door awaiting their arrival. He said that they then went into the living room and saw Joseph Osuagwu lying on the floor on his back with his head facing the hearth on which there was an electric fire that was on. He said that Joseph Osuagwu had been in a horizontal position with his feet towards the centre of the room and that he was naked and covered with a brownish reddish tablecloth with two cushions on his chest and was breathing heavily.

He said that Joseph Osuagwu's father uncovered Joseph Osuagwu and that he then saw that he had a severe cut on his chest about 2" or 3" in length. He said that he had several minor lacerations on his right thigh, several cuts on his left forearm and what appeared to be a fresh abrasion, clotted with blood, under the left side of his chin and that on the back of his head there were patches of what appeared to be congested blood.

He said that Joseph Osuagwu then started to vomit and brought up a watery substance  and that to prevent him from choking he turned him over on to his side  and then saw that he had multiple bruises on his back legs and the front of his body. He said that his lips were very blue and swollen and that his body was rigid. He said that Joseph Osuagwu then started to fling his arms about and appeared to be in an unconscious state and vomited heavily. He added that his stomach was swollen and that he formed the opinion that Joseph Osuagwu was in urgent need of medical attention and so he left the building and telephoned for an ambulance at 2.22am which arrived at 2.26am.

He said that whilst he was waiting for the arrival of the ambulance, to direct then to the exact location he went outside and saw Joseph Osuagwu's mother walking down Hoxton Street. He said that when they got back to the flat that the inspector asked Joseph Osuagwu's mother, 'Did you get the doctor?' and she replied, 'I knocked on the door but nobody answered, I then telephoned and they took the address'. The police sergeant then said to both parents, 'This boy has been seriously assaulted, who is responsible?'  and Joseph Osuagwu's father replied, 'I didn't do it' and Joseph Osuagwu's mother said, 'It's him that's beaten the boy'.

Joseph Osuagwu was then taken to St Leonards Hospital where he died soon after.

Joseph Osuagwu's mother had been bornin Nigeria and had come to the United Kingdom when she was 24 year's old. In Nigeria she had been educated to the age of 19 years, doing a general course followed by a commercial course in typewriting and shorthand. She then worked for the Nigerian Government as a clerical officer in the Inland Revenue and later the Legal Department. She came to England subsidised by her father hoping to be able to study law in England. However, when she found that that was not possible she worked as a nurse in Selly Oak Hospital  in Birmingham, Prince of Wales Hospital, Tottenham and St Alfages Hospital in London.

She had associated with a series of male Nigerian students studying in England and as a result gave birth to four illegitimate children who were born in 1949, 1951, 1953 and 1955. She had said that she had associated with her fellow countrymen  as she was lonely in England and could speak Ibo. She had married in August 1955 and had twins but the marriage had not been happy.

In 1939 she was operated on for appendicitis and in 1956 developed a severe skin disease known as Pemphigus and for the last three years had taken Cortisone. However, it was noted that if she stopped taking the Cortisone that her skin disease became acute. When she was admitted to prison her general health was described as fair and she was not pregnant. However, the whole of her body was covered with old and recent Pemphigus lesions that caused unsightly pigmented patches over her.

She had complained that for the last three years she had been feeling depressed and become easily tired and found that she was more irritable than before and found her housework was becoming a burden.

It was said that her usual mood was one of mild depression and that she frequently required treatment for headaches and nausea and it was determined that it was still necessary for her to continue her dosage of Cortisone.

A doctor that examined her said that he thought that she would have been capable of appreciating the nature and quality of her actions and whether or not her actions were wrong.

It was noted that it was known that Cortisone could induce changes in personality and mentality when taken over a long period but that owing to the grave nature of her skin trouble that she had to be treated to the limit of tolerance with it.

Joseph Osuagwu's mother was tried at the Central Criminal Court on 17 October 1961 for murder but was however acquitted.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see A Calendar Of Murder, Criminal Homicide In England Since 1957, Terence Morris and Louis Blom-Cooper

see National Archives - CRIM 1/3753