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THE GUNS OF AUGUST . . . A tragic mystery from 1889 Stratford-on-Avon (2)

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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:

The discovery

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.

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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?

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Screen Shot 2023-01-19 at 18.23.24What 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.”

Alveston

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.

FOR MORE HISTORICAL MURDERS
IN WARWICKSHIRE, CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW

Harraden, Richard Bankes, 1778-1862; Warwick Castle

 

THE GUNS OF AUGUST . . . A tragic mystery from 1889 Stratford-on-Avon (1)

Stratford header

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.”

Old Stratford

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”
ALVESTON CHURCHYARD
AN ENDURING MYSTERY
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