The skull in the backyard - Macleans.ca

The skull in the backyard

A human skull unearthed behind a BBC star’s home belonged to a 1879 murder victim

by
The skull in the backyard

Robert Kirkham/The Buffalo News/AP

David Attenborough has travelled the world to uncover nature’s greatest mysteries. Little did the BBC star know that for 132 years, a different kind of mystery was waiting to be revealed right in his backyard. A human skull unearthed behind Attenborough’s home in a posh London neighbourhood has been confirmed as belonging to murder victim Julia Martha Thomas, who died in 1879. The widow’s maid, Katherine Webster, had strangled her, chopped her up, boiled her remains and fed her lard to children in the street before disposing of her flesh in the nearby Thames River. The case, which became known as the Barnes Mystery, fascinated Victorian England. Webster faced a trial and was executed, but Thomas’s head was never found—that is, until a group of workmen discovered it last October while building an extension on Attenborough’s property, the former site of the killer’s favourite watering hole. After months of investigation, the West London coroner ruled the cause of death as asphyxiation and head trauma, and formally recognized that the recovered skull belonged to Thomas.

Filed under: