The Ilford murder that shocked the nation

Edith, her husband and her lover on a bench in their Ilford garden. Picture: Rene Wilson

Edith, her husband and her lover on a bench in their Ilford garden. Picture: Rene Wilson - Credit: Archant

When Percy Thompson was murdered in Belgrave Road just after midnight on October 4, no one could have predicted that the private lives of two seemingly upstanding Ilford citizens were about to be thrust straight into the national spotlight.

On October 3 Mr Thompson, a 33-year-old clerk in the city, and his wife Edith, a 28-year-old book-keeper, had visited the Criterion Theatre and returned to the trendy London suburb of Ilford on the 11.30pm train out of Liverpool Street.

The couple had made it just a few yards from the junction of Kensington Gardens, where they both lived, when a man leapt from some nearby bushes and stabbed Percy to death.

A doctor who lived nearby was alerted to the commotion by Edith's loud cries - later claiming he heard her scream "no, don't!" - but was unable to save Percy's life.

Police began investigating and were soon tipped off by neighbours that Edith had taken a young lover.


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The 20-year-old Frederick Bywaters, a Merchant Navy seaman who had previously been the Thompson's lodger and was indeed Edith's paramour, was arrested the next day at his new home in Upper Norwood, and a bloody dagger was recovered from a storm drain a few roads away from where Mr Thompson died.

It was not long before the case came to trial at the Old Bailey, but Edith was undone by love letters she had penned to Frederick in which she admitted she longed to be with him so much she had started poisoning her husband in an attempt to kill him.

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A jury concluded that Edith had played some part in encouraging Frederick to commit murder, and both were found guilty on December 11 1922 and sentenced to death by hanging.

Throughout the trial, Frederick had accepted his guilt but maintained Edith was entirely innocent, and Edith's death sentence sparked one of the largest appeals in Britain's history to try and get the sentence commuted.

This was unsuccessful, and Frederick and Edith were both hanged on January 9 1923.

Frederick's execution was carried out swiftly and without any noteable problems, but Edith was brought to the gallows seemingly drugged and overweight, leading many to believe she was pregnant.

Her executioner would later commit suicide after being severely impacted by her death.

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