Unsolved Murders

Frank Rourke

Age: 4

Sex: male

Date: 2 Apr 1909

Place: 82 South Lambeth Road, London

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Frank Rourke died following a fire at a house, but it was not known how it started.

He died later in Chelsea Hospital from septic poisoning due to the burns that he sustained.

His family had occupied an apartment over a newsagents and the fire had started in some waste paper between the shop and a private entrance.

At the time, in the morning of 2 April 1909, Frank Rourke and his mother, three other siblings and an 18-year-old friend, had been in the upper part of the building. When they noticed the fire, the friend escaped the building via the staircase with two of the children whilst Frank Rourke's mother took Frank Rourke and another child through a window that opened up onto the leads over the shop, however, they were burnt before they were rescued. After they were rescued, they were taken to the hospital.

Frank Rourke's father had been in the shop at the time and noted that half an hour before the fire he had seen the newsagent smoking in the shop. He said that when he saw the fire he went out and assisted his wife, Frank Rourke and the other child down from the leads and took them to a neighbour's place.

The newsagent said that it had been the children that had started the fire, but Frank Rourke's father said that they had not been out of bed at the time.

The father said that he knew that the newsagent was an inveterate smoker but noted that he had never seen him throw matches about the shop before.

The friend that had been in the flat said that she was sure that the children had not been downstairs that morning. She added that she had often seen the paperboys employed at the newsagents smoking.

A Fire Brigade officer said that although the fire had originated where the waste paper was stored, he was unable to find the cause of the outbreak.

The newsagent said that his shop contents were insured for £500 and agreed that he had been smoking that morning but said that he threw his matches into the street. He also said that he had never seen the paperboys smoking.

He said that the waste paper was stored in a receptacle between the shop and the passage and that he had found it in flames just before 8am and that he then went and called to the occupants of the house to get out onto the leads.

At the inquest, the newsagent said that he had put in a claim for £150 to the insurance company but said that he had not yet been paid. He said that he had been there for ten years and that there had never been a fire before. He said that he had tried to sell his business on the grounds that the neighbourhood did not suit his wife but said that he could give no reason for the outbreak of the fire, which he said was a mystery to him.

A an that had helped the friend with the two other children escape said that in his opinion the newsagent could have done more in attempting to extinguish the flames than removing his bicycle. The newsagent said that he had done that in order to allow other people to throw water onto the flames.

The jury at the inquest returned the verdict that Frank Rourke's 'death was due to burns received in a fire, the cause of which is unknown'. The foreman of the jury added that they thought that the newsagent should have shown a little more common humanity in seeing the people out.


see Globe - Wednesday 14 April 1909, p4

see London Daily News - Monday 12 April 1909

see Monmouthshire Beacon - Friday 16 April 1909

see Sheffield Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 13 April 1909