Unsolved Murders

Jessie Dagwell

Age: unknown

Sex: female

Date: 8 Nov 1913

Place: 25 Voller Street, Landport, Portsmouth

Jessie Dagwell was found dead in her home in suspicious circumstances.

She was discovered after a neighbour went to her house in the morning and found her lying dead, practically unclothed, covered only by a sheet.

She had bruises on her throat and a cut on her hand. The medical evidence stated that it was impossible to state how long after receiving her injuries that she died and that she might have received them hours before she felt the effect of them. As such, it was said that she might have received them some hours earlier and then later laid down on her bed herself as she was found and died. It was also noted that she had been drunk and that anyone that might have been with her might have left her under the impression that she was comparatively alright, the alcohol masking her symptoms.

Jessie Dagwell's mother-in-law said that she called at 25 Voller Street at 10.15pm on the night before her body was found and said that Jessie Dagwell was very drunk and terribly abusive.

At her inquest, the coroner said that she died from wounds, but that it was not known how her wounds were caused.

Voller Street was said to have been a very bad area with many of the houses being used by prostitutes and that all types of crime took place there.

It was heard that on 17 November 1913, that a policeman had been out in Edinburgh Road in Landport when he had heard a man talking to himself. The policeman said that he heard him talking about having revenge and said that when he asked him whether he had any trouble on his mind, he said that the man replied, 'Yes'. The policeman then asked him who he was going to have revenge upon, and the man replied, 'I will do the same to her as she said I did to the other woman. The woman came into a public-house and accused me of murdering a woman in Voller Street'. The policeman said that he asked the man whether he had been there that night and the man replied, 'Yes'. The policeman then asked, 'In the street?' and the man replied, 'Not only in the street, but in the house'.

The man then went on saying, 'Me and my chum picked the woman up in Voller Street and proceeded home with her. My chum went upstairs, while I stopped downstairs in the kitchen. After waiting a short time, I heard a scuffle upstairs, and the woman started screaming. I ran out of the house and down Voller Street. After a short time I returned, and the woman was still screaming, and I saw my chum with this woman struggling, but I did not have nerve enough inside me to go in, because it was my chum who was there.'

The man said that his chum was in the navy and gave a name but the police were never able to identify the chum. The man said that his chum was from Whale Island and had two badges, was about 5ft 8in tall, with a fair complexion and aged about 22 years.

The man also said, 'It will be a night I shall remember all my life. If this trouble is not taken off my mind, I shall take it off myself. I shall do away with myself'.

The policeman noted that the man was sober but that he seemed to be very strange in his manner, adding that he thought that he was telling the truth. He said that he had not been to the police to report it before because he was thinking of his chum's wife and two children. He said that he often thought of going down to the police-station and giving himself up and that he had not had any food or sleep since the night and that every time he went to eat anything, he felt sick.

However, it was also noted that the man, who was a sailor, was later found to have not been ashore on either the 7 or 8 November 1913. A torpedo coxswain who had been serving on HMS Falcon said that he examined the ship’s leave book and found no entries showing that the man had gone ashore.

Further, a stoker that had been serving on HMS Falcon, which was at the time lying in Stokes Bay, said that on the 7 November 1913 he had seen the man sitting on the lockers on the mess deck at about 10pm and said that he asked the man if he was going to turn into his hammock, but said that the man replied, 'No, I am going to lie on the lockers', which he then did. The stoker said that when he next saw the man at 1.55am on 8 November 1913, the man was still on the mess deck asleep on the lockers. He said that if the man had said that he was in Portsmouth on the night of 7 November 1913 that he had made a mistake.

When the man that made the claim of being in the house in Voller Street at the time was examined by a doctor, the doctor said that he thought that the man had probably been drinking and smoking to excess but that he didn't think that the man was of unsound mind. The man also admitted that he was in the habit of drinking and smoking to excess. The doctor said that he thought that the man might have been under a delusion on the night of 7 November 1913. He added that the man's mental condition was not quite normal and that he was genuinely run down.

The police said that when they made an investigation to find the man's chum they had had every man in the port or who was in the port on 7 and 8 November 1913 with the same surname that the man had said that his chum had brought to the Naval Barracks for identification, noting that there was only one man that had the exact full name and that he was a stoker and had no badges. When the identification parade was carried out on the Wednesday 26 November 1913, the man was unable to identify his chum from any of the men presented to him.

The police concluded that the chum, as given by name by the man, didn't exist.

The police noted that they also followed up a lead after a man said that he had seen a man leave 25 Voller Street on the morning that Jessie Dagwell's body was found but said that they were unable to trace that man either.

When the policeman was questioned at the inquest by the coroner, he said that he had known Voller Street upwards of 27 years and that he knew the class of people who lived there, noting that there were 51 houses altogether, taking both sides of the street.

He added that he knew of eleven houses that were used by prostitutes in a similar way to the house used by Jessie Dagwell, and said that he had been to those houses and said that their condition was very bad indeed and that in his opinion were unfit for habitation, both in regards to repairs and sanitation. When asked whether he knew of houses that were in a worse condition, the policeman said that he did not think that that was possible, saying that it was a dreadful neighbourhood.

The policeman said that in his experience, every serious offence in the statute of criminal law had been committed there, including robbery with violence, attempted murder, wounding and larceny from person etc.. He said that it was a very difficult street for the police to keep observation on and that no one there was to be trusted.

He said that he thought that there were about sixty to seventy children living in the street.

He added that it was a very narrow street, about 16 feet, with narrow footpaths and said that in his opinion some of the buildings were a danger to the public and that there were only about five houses that were any good at all.

The policeman noted that there were one or two very respectable poor people living in the street, but that the others were not. He said that there were some better houses in the north-east part, but that even those were in a bad state.

The policeman said that the neighbourhood had always been a trouble to the police and added that it always would be as long as it existed.

When the police inspector gave evidence at Jessie Dagwell's inquest, he said that he had known the neighbourhood for over 18 years and said that it had always been the resort of prostitutes as well as a dumping ground for stolen property. He added that owing to police measures, things had got a little better recently observing that they had somewhat cleared the street of the bully class which had at one time been very prevalent there but added that he didn't think that there was a worse street in Portsmouth.

When the chief inspector gave evidence, he said that rents on the houses in the street varied from 3s 6d to 5s per week.

The police inspector added that the upstairs portions of some of the houses were unfit to live in owing to the roofs being leaky.

When the coroner summed up he said, 'What strikes me most is the horrible place this street is. I do not hesitate to say that it strikes me as being a den of infamy, vice, and immorality, and I cannot see why it is allowed to exist. We have heard a good deal about the place, but I went to see the house myself last Monday, and bad as the descriptions given were, the place seems to be even worse. So far as I can bear out the information given by the police is absolutely true. It is a pestilential spot and I cannot imagine what would happen up there if we had an epidemic of a serious nature in the town. The houses are out of repair and insanitary and are improper for people to live in. Portsmouth has made rapid strides during the past 30 years, and we are proud of the town, but not of this part, and, it seems to me, the sooner we wipe it out the better. I sometimes wonder whether the Naval authorities could put this place out of bounds. What is the worst feature is the fact that there is a very large number of children living in this horrible place. I see no reason why something should not be done to get rid of the place'.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Belfast News-Letter - Tuesday 31 August 1915

see Boston Guardian - Saturday 15 November 1913

see Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 08 November 1913

see Portsmouth Evening News - Thursday 27 November 1913