Murder of 'local hero' policeman in Dagenham to be marked after 175 years
- Credit: Steve Poston
The 175th anniversary is being marked of a murder in Dagenham described as akin to Jack the Ripper.
In 1846, the body of Pc George Clark was found in a corner of what was then a corn field, but is now Barking and Dagenham College's car park.
The 20-year-old bobby had been on the beat in Dagenham just six weeks after transferring from a station in Arbour Square, Stepney.
Historian Linda Rhodes explained how the move to the fields and villages around Dagenham would have been a welcome break from the crime ridden streets of London's East End.
But it turned out to be quite the opposite for the unfortunate police constable who, as a devout Christian, used to hand out religious tracts while on patrol.
"He must have thought it was like going on holiday, but little did he know," Linda said.
"The crime was never solved. There are lots of theories and suspects. It's a bit like Dagenham's Jack the Ripper with everyone keen to talk about their favourite theory," she added.
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Assigned to night patrol, Pc Clark's job saw him wander Eastbrookend from where Wantz Road now stands to the border with Rush Green and up to Becontree Heath from 9pm until 6am.
On June 29, 1846, Pc Clark began his patrol armed with a cutlass, which is a type of short sword, truncheon and a rattle to raise the alarm in case of trouble.
But the next day Pc Clark, who was engaged to be married, failed to return home.
Four days later his body was found by members of a police search party aided by the son of a farmer.
"It was obvious he had been viciously attacked by a gang with lots of weapons," Linda said.
The murder sent shockwaves across the country.
Pc Clark had been sent east to help replace three officers who had been sacked for going on a drunken rampage through Dagenham Village.
Following the murder, three of Clark's police colleagues were also charged with perjury at the inquest. They were put under house arrest, but went on the run.
Speculation also turned to smugglers known to be in the area. In addition, suspicion fell on two sets of brothers from Romford, one of which had previously threatened an officer working the same beat. However, the four had alibis.
In 1858, Scotland Yard detective, Jonathan Whicher, turned up in Dagenham, going on to accuse farm labourer George Blewitt of being part of a gang responsible for Pc Clark's murder.
But the case collapsed when the witnesses, who promised Det Whicher they would testify, failed to turn up.
Other theories circulated that grudge-bearing East End villains sought Pc Clark out in revenge or corrupt officers wanted rid of a colleague deemed too squeaky clean.
Linda believes Pc Clark was killed after stumbling across a gang stealing corn, but admitted solving the mystery depends on the discovery of more evidence.
The inquest into the death recorded a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown.
Linda explained how suspicion falling on corrupt police had a negative impact on the force at the time, while the episode put Dagenham under the spotlight.
But Pc Clark was repaid with an "elaborate" funeral and a memorial at his grave in Dagenham Parish Church.
"It's a fascinating story full of twists and turns," Linda said. "[Pc Clark] has never been forgotten.
"For a long time afterwards, new officers were taken to his grave and told his story. He's a bit of a local hero."
There are even rumours the ghost of Pc Clark haunts the highways and byways of his beat.
It is such an interesting piece of Dagenham's history that it led Linda, a retired librarian who worked at Valence House's archives, to co-author The Dagenham Murder with Lee Shelden and Kathryn Abnett.
It details the story of the case and of Pc Clark, whose descendants lived in Kent and London.
Linda will lead a walking tour in Pc Clark's footsteps from Eastbrookend Discovery Centre on Tuesday, October 26 at 1pm.
A memorial bench installed thanks to Eastbrook ward councillors Mick McCarthy, Princess Bright, Tony Ramsay and PCSO Rick Sweetman is to be unveiled too.
It is free, but with limited spaces booking in advance via Eventbrite is essential.