SO FAR: Stratford-on-Avon, Monday 19th August 1889. A German gentleman, J. Lachmann von Gamsenfels, with his wife and young daughter had obtained rooms in a cottage on the Tiddington Road, owned by a Mrs Freeman. At breakfast time, Mrs Freeman heard gunshots. She ran for help from her neighbour, and the police were called. When they forced an entrance into the rented room, a scene of almost unimaginable horror faced the two officers:
Three dead bodies. A scene almost beyond the imagining of Shakespeare himself. Why would an apparently sane and reserved man murder his wife and daughter? He was also in possession of two different guns Turning one of them on himself after such an atrocity is not unheard of in the annals of crime, but the story was about to become even more baffling.
Investigations proved that Lachmann von Gamsenfels (pictured above) was who he said he was. A man, born in Prague, thus a Bohemian. The history of that area is immensely complex, and there is no time for it here. Yes, he had connections with the German language newspaper The Londoner Journal, but was he the editor,or just the printer?
What threw the investigation on its head was the fact that the woman who died in that Stratford cottage was not von Gamsenfels wife, although the dead child was probably his. By examining the dead man’s possessions, the police discovered that his legal wife was a Mrs Rosanna Lachmann von Gamsenfels, and that their marriage was somewhat unusual. He was absent from the family home for months on end, but always gave his wife money for the upkeep of their son. Mrs Lachmann von Gamsenfels traveled up to Stratford to identify her husband’s body, but was either unable- or unwilling – to put names to the dead woman and girl. Try as they may, the authorities were unable to put names to the woman and girl who were shot dead on that fateful Monday morning. Artists’ impressions of ‘Mrs von Gamsenfels” were published (left) but she and her daughter left the world unknown, and if anyone mourned them, they kept silent.
A Christian burial was all that awaited the dead woman and her child. The scene was the churchyard of nearby Alveston:
“Subsequently the bodies were enclosed in three separate coffins, which were conveyed to Alveston Parish Church in the Workhouse hearse. The plate of the coffin containing Gamsenfels bore his name and the date of his death, but there were no names or inscriptions any kind on the coffins of the woman and child, as, at the time of burial, they had not been identified. Several pretty wreaths were sent by sympathising friends in the parish; and upon the coffin of the woman were placed a piece of weeping willow and a faded rose, gathered from Anne Hathaway’s cottage garden in Shottery. No burial service was read over the corpse of Gamsenfels. The coffin was carried direct to the grave and lowered into the ground without any religious ceremony whatever. The Rev. W. Barnard (vicar of Alveston) and the Rev. J. Ashton (curate) met the bodies of the woman and child the church gates, and the usual burial service was gone through. A large crowd from Stratford and the district congregated in the neighbourhood of the Tiddington Road, had witnessed the ceremony at the church.”
The mystery of the identities of the dead woman and child remains unsolved to this day. For another Warwickshire unsolved mystery, click the link to read about the murder of Charles Walton, just ten miles away from Stratford in 1945.
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