‘Opening Up the Body’ is a project to conserve the Post Mortem Examinations and Case Books of St George’s Hospital, 1841-1946. Our Archive team have been cataloguing and digitising records dating from 1841-1917 – that’s about 27,132 cases across 76 volumes. The comprehensive reports contained within these volumes reveal some fascinating stories, which we’ll be sharing with you via the Library blog. Today’s post comes from Natasha Shillingford, Project Archivist.
On 27th July 1908 a patient called Ferdinand Alletrie was admitted to St George’s Hospital with a stab wound in the left chest which was penetrating the heart. The medical case notes say that ‘He was a waiter at the Bath Club. He had quarrelled with a colleague who waited for him outside and stabbed him in the chest.’ On admission he was observed to be in articulo mortis, or at the point of death. There was a stab wound in the third left intercostal space just to the left of the sternum. His clothes were noted to be soaked in blood. Ferdinand died five minutes after his admission.
The morbid appearances listed during the post mortem examination note that on the left side of the chest in the third interspace was a ‘punctured wound pointed at either end and gaping in the middle. It measured 1” long and ½” wide in the middle.’ The Post Mortem includes an illustration of the murder weapon as shown below.
But what led to the death of Ferdinand at St George’s Hospital? A search through historic newspapers uncovered an article called ‘Foreigners’ Fight at the Bath Club’ in the Leicester Daily Post dated 1st August 1908. The article details the tragic events that took place at the Bath Club that evening as well as the resulting inquest at Westminster Coroner’s Court ‘on the body of a cook named Pierre Auguste Ferdinand Alletree, employed at the Bath Club, who died from the effects of a wound said to have been inflicted by another employee of the club, who was in consequences arrested.’ The accused man was named as Georges Backenstrass.
Pierre Souleyne, chef at the Bath Club, said that he had engaged Alletree as sauce cook at the beginning of June, and later employed Backenstrass as a pastry chef at the club. One evening Backenstrass approached the chef and said ‘Chef. I am very sorry. I want to leave at the end of the week.’ When asked why he wanted to leave, he said that he was not friendly with the sauce chef. Souleyne said to him, ‘You have nothing to do with the sauce cook, and he has nothing to do with you. You must work friendly together.’ The chef also spoke to the sauce cook, no doubt to diffuse the situation, and Alletree responded, ‘You know me. He is silly. Don’t take any notice of him.’ No doubt the chef thought the issue was resolved, but he soon received news that the two chefs were fighting.
Louis Ayrand, another sauce cook, gave evidence as to the relationship between the two chefs. He said that Backenstrass ‘was a quiet and reserved man. He had some malady, and for that reason he was avoided by the other men.’ He said that ‘we never ate any of his pastry’, because of this unnamed illness. Continuing, the witness said that Backenstrass and Alletree did not agree about their work, and they had previously quarrelled when Backenstrass would not send up the sauce. On the night of the murder Ayrand heard the two chefs quarrelling in the vegetable pantry, and they decided to settle matters outside in Berkeley Street. Soon another chef by the name of Griffin called out ‘The pastry cook has stabbed your chef.’ Soon after Alletree ran back to the club, his hand over his heart, pointed to the pastry chef and said ‘Arrest him, he has stabbed me with a knife.’
Griffin, a vegetable cook at the Bath Club, said that he had quarrelled with Backenstrass the same night, when he took a biscuit off the pastry chef’s plate and Backenstrass objected. Alletree then began arguing with Backenstrass, and the latter said ‘I will wait for you outside.’ Griffin followed the two men outside and saw Alletree put his hand to Backenstrass’ neck and push him back. Backenstrass retaliated by hitting Alletree in the chest with something, after which the sauce chef exclaimed ‘he has stabbed me.’
Another chef stated that he saw the cook with a knife after the quarrel and said to him ‘You ought not to use a knife when you have quarrelled.’ Backenstrass replied ‘Well, there are two waiting for me downstairs.’
When Backenstrass was taken to Marlborough Street Police Station he made a statement in which he said that the sauce cook had called him a sneak for talking to the chef about him, and that the sauce chef and Griffin had approached him in the pantry, the latter threatening to break his nose. Describing the affair in the street, Backenstrass said ‘I took my knife out of my right trousers pocket and struck him in the chest. The knife is very sharp. It is the one I used for pastry. I never carried it before that night. I took it because of the pastry cook and the vegetable cook. If they had left me alone this would not have happened. The sauce cook told me I had too many pans in the fire. He told me I ate too much and he would come and watch me out. I asked him several times to leave me alone, and he would not.’
Backenstrass was held at Brixton Prison prior to the inquest. However the Governor of the prison informed the Coroner that Backenstrass had committed suicide in prison by hanging himself in his cell. The Coroner pointed out to the Jury that although Alletree had started the quarrel, if Backenstrass was still alive they would have to commit him on the capital charge. The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against Backenstrass.
A further search of the historic newspapers revealed the article ‘The Bath Club Tragedy. The Brixton Prison Suicide’ in the Faringdon Advertiser and Vale of the White Horse, 8th August 1908. The article discusses the inquest into the death of Backenstrass. A medical officer testified that the prisoner, apparently a German, had suffered from a nervous affection. There were marks of two wounds of an operation in the abdomen, ‘but the man was in fairly good health, and behaved himself quite rationally, though he shewed that he was naturally worried about the crime.’ On the prisoner’s slate was found words written to the effect that ‘he had not been in good health, that he felt the disgrace, that his conscience was quite clear, and that he was guiltless of the offence with which he was charged.’ The jury returned a verdict of suicide whilst of unsound mind.
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