August 1889. Stratford-on-Avon was not crowded with jostling tourists from all over the world, nor was there a Midlands coach tour tick-list including Oxford, Bourton on the Water and Warwick Castle. It was altogether a much quieter town than it is today, but awareness of its greatest son had yet to draw in visitors from America, Japan and countless other countries determined to “do” Shakespeare. Elizabeth Freeman was a widow, and she offered rooms to rent in her riverside cottage on the Tiddington Road. When, on the afternoon of Thursday 15th August, an impeccably dressed foreign gentleman, accompanied by his wife and daughter, asked for rooms, she was only too pleased to oblige. A newspaper, retrospectively, described the visitors:
“It would seem that on Thursday last a German gentleman who gave his name as J. Lachmann von Gamsenfels arrived from London and engaged lodgings at a small cottage occupied by a widow named Freeman overlooking the river Avon river on the Tiddington road.
The gentleman who, it has transpired, was the editor of a German newspaper published in London as the Londoner Journal was accompanied by a lady, whom he said was his wife and by their child, a little girl of four or five years of age. Apparently he was a man in a good position and well dressed, wearing a black frock coat and a silk hat. His wife and child were also tastefully dressed, the lady being a particularly fine handsome woman
They appeared to be on the best of terms with each other and were quite cheerful in disposition. Mrs Gamsenfels looked like an actress or professional singer and subsequently in conversation Mrs Gamsenfels herself confirmed that surmise, stating that she was connected with the stage and had last year “got up” concerts in the Isle of Man and other places.”
On Friday morning, Mr Gamsenfels and his companion and child went out for a walk, but before doing so he paid Mrs Freeman’s bill, as he said he was not quite sure whether they would return. However, they did return in the evening, and Mr Gamsenfels announced that they had determined to stay in Stratford a few days longer. There were then no signs of any quarrel having taken place, and they were quite cheerful and talkative, the two conversing chiefly in German. Mrs Freeman observed that the lady was much more sociable than her husband, who appeared to be somewhat reserved.
That the party were short of money, however, had become apparent. Mrs Freeman had remarked upon the small quantity of provisions consumed, and further proof was given on Saturday night by the fact, that when Mrs Freeman fetched a loaf at the request of Mrs Gamsenfels, the latter had no money to pay for it, and they wanted nothing for tea beyond a few biscuits and some Hungarian wine, two bottles of which they had brought with them.
On Sunday again they went out, morning and afternoon, and on returning in the evening, they all had nothing for tea except some Hungarian wine, and after a light supper they retired bed, apparently in good spirits and temper. On Monday morning, however, about half-past eight o’clock, while Mrs Freeman was preparing breakfast, she was startled by hearing two gun shots fired in rapid succession in the bed room occupied by her lodgers She went to the foot the staircase and called out,
” What’s the matter ; what are you doing ?”
Receiving no reply, she became alarmed, and ran to the neighbour next door, a Mr Jones, who was sitting at breakfast with his family. It was probably while she was out that the third shot was fired. the one which killed the man himself – but Mrs Freeman only heard two. She told Mr Jones what she feared, and he immediately ran for the police, whilst his son was despatched for a doctor. Police Sergeant Northam and Police-Constable Price were quickly on the spot, and receiving no response to their inquiries at the bed room door they forced an entrance.
IN PART TWO:
‘A FEARFUL TRAGEDY PRESENTED ITSELF”
AN ENDURING MYSTERY