It’s natural for people to panic and fears the worst when the name of national treasure and wildlife presenter David Attenborough starts trending on social media. However, sometimes it’s just because the head of a murder victim was discovered in his yard. When Attenborough’s back garden in southwest London was being extended in 2010, workmen discovered a skull that had evidently been buried for a long period. Carbon dating indicated that the skull belonged to someone who lived between 1650 and 1880.
The skull, which looked to belong to a Caucasian woman in her forties who was missing teeth, was discovered on top of Victorian-era tiles, which helped narrow down the period but left little clues. Despite this, the investigation team was able to identify the owner of the skull using demographic information and court records: a murder victim who died on March 2, 1879. Following the death of her second husband in 1873, Julia Martha Thomas was living alone in Richmond, southwest London, when she recruited Kate Webster as her servant.
Webster’s criminal history included many trips to jail for stealing and robbery. The two’s relationship did not work out – you’ll be surprised to learn that one of their heads ends up in the garden of a national treasure – and Thomas spent a long time trying to persuade her friends to remain with her so she wouldn’t have to be alone with her servant. Thomas eventually determined that Webster should resign her job and set her departure day for February 28, 1879. Webster encouraged her to remain on for a few more days, which she subsequently exploited to commit murder.
“Mrs. Thomas entered the room and walked upstairs. I followed her up the stairs, and we got into an argument that turned into a brawl, and in my passion, I hurled her from the top of the steps to the ground level “In her confession, Webster would later remark. “She had a hard fall, and I grew furious at what had happened, lost all control of myself, and, to keep her from shouting and putting me into trouble, I grabbed her by the throat, strangled her, and flung her to the ground.”
Because of Webster’s effort at a cover-up, the crime would become well-known. “When she realized she had hurt her, she strangled her to keep her from shouting and getting herself into trouble.” Webster decided to get rid of the body and cut off the head with a razor. “She beheaded her and then sliced the corpse apart with a razor, a meat saw, and a carving knife,” Acting Detective Inspector David Bolton told the coroner in 2010 after the head was discovered.
“The dismembered body was placed in a copper washing pot, and Mrs. Thomas’ bodily pieces were boiled up.” While attempting to dispose of the body, Webster continued to reside in the house, imitating Thomas to any visitors who did not know the deceased. During the trial, it was claimed that she sold the fat from her victim’s corpse to neighbors, however, this was most likely not the case. However, she dumped much of the corpse in the Thames, where it was discovered a few weeks later. When neighbors noticed her mimicking Thomas, it didn’t take long for police to apprehend her. She was hanged in July 1879, almost a century before David Attenborough moved in and discovered the skull during his expansion work.