29 July 1879 – Kate Webster née Lawler

Kate Webster

Kate Webster

Today’s mercenary minx was as murderous as she looked.

Catherine Lawler aka Webster was found guilty of wilfully killing, then hacking her former boss to bits in a bid to do away with the incriminating evidence.

Thieving and breaking the law were in Webster’s blood – she’d started on the rob at an early age, first in southern Ireland, then Liverpool, before finally winding up in London.

Having done time for stealing, Webster had come to the Big Smoke in search of work (and other people’s possessions) – and cleaning offered her a great opportunity to load herself up with ill-gotten goodies. That is until she hooked up with a bloke by the name of Strong, who got her pregnant, according to execution specialist Richard Clarke.


Once she had sprogged, Strong predictably scarpered, ditching her and their baby son, leaving Webster to fend for herself…in the only way she knew how.

Naturally Webster didn’t stick around in one place for long for fear of being caught, yet she still managed to chalk up a few visits to the slammer, while a mate looked after baby Strong.

Miraculously, after a stretch at her majesty’s pleasure, Webster managed to land herself a respectable job, working for a household in Richmond, albeit for a batty 50-ish-year-old by the name of Mrs Thomas.

Lush times

They got on well in the beginning – that is until Thomas got wise to Webster’s shoddy ways and her predilection for propping up bar stools at any given opportunity. Needless to say the relationship went down the pan and Thomas gave Webster the boot.

However, Thomas was becoming increasingly more and more intimidated by the temperamental Webster and not without good reason. And her fears were founded when Thomas came home to find Webster laying in wait.

According to Webster they had a fight which spiralled and she ‘threw [Thomas] down the stairs to the ground floor’.

Chip off the old block

However, blood found at the top of the stairs suggested Thomas had been whacked on the head with an axe, and that’s what caused her to fall, according to historian Graham Attenborough. By all accounts though, Thomas was finished off by being strangled.

Now Webster had a dead body to do away with, so she got busy with a blade, hacking off the head with a razor and a saw, followed by the limbs.

She burned all the giblets and boiled the bigger bits, before boxing up the braised body save for a foot and the head, which she put in a bag.

Body of evidence

Webster then roped in a mate to help her transport the box with some story about someone coming to pick some stuff up. Actually she just wanted help to get it near the river, so she could chuck the boiled body parts in.

The head and foot never did turn up, but the grisly box did. Sadly the head offered the crucial key and the fact that it wasn’t there set investigations back. But who needs a head when you had Webster acting awfully suspiciously? She was busy lording it about in Thomas’s gear, even pretending to be her in a bid to sell the house in Richmond and pocket the spoils.

However, when she started off-loading furniture, of course the neighbours became wary. Then it was the buyer’s turn to get cold feet after Thomas’s personal effects were found buried in among the items he’d purchased.

Boxing clever

One by one, the jigsaw came together and the authorities were able to piece together the jigsaw in the box too. Not that Webster was sticking around to watch – she went off back to Ireland, but it didn’t take a scientist to identify her first bolt hole.

She was apprehended and dragged back to London, where she slimily tried to stitch up John Church – he who’d bought Thomas’s furniture and stuff from her – but his was a watertight alibi.

When that didn’t work, she said it was a crime of passion. Yet, the best story came during her trial, when the defence tried to propose that Thomas had died of natural causes. Yep, you read right, natural causes that lead to head injuries and strangulation.

With that pitiful attempt at an excuse, it was no wonder the jury took a mere hour to return a verdict: guilty.

Webster was hanged on this day in 1879, aged about 30.

Lard, my a**e

In an account by one Henry Mayhew1 who was commenting at the time, he talked of a boy who knew Webster. The lad told him that she’d offered them food not long before she was caught.

‘Ear you lot, I’ve some good pigs lard ear an you kids shall have it free of charge…so don’t go saying that ol’ Kate never gives you nothink.’ she is alleged to have said.

Mayhew charitably puts it down to Kate having a streak of humanity, but we reckon pigs might fly – a bi-product of body boiling, on the other hand…

1 From research published by Graham Attenborough in 2005.

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7 Responses to “29 July 1879 – Kate Webster née Lawler”

  1. Oliver C Says:

    Julia Martha Thomas, a wealthy widow aged 55, was killed by her 29-year-old housekeeper Kate Webster very close to Park Road in well-to-do Richmond, but her head has only recently been found in BBC legend David Attenborough’s garden in Oct.2010 whilst an extension was being built onto Attenborough’s house.

    • Emz Says:

      did you copy this off yahoo or the newspaper because it say word by word the same exact thing and just to let you know that is illegal and that is copy right issues if you dont put the url.

  2. Kbrewer Says:

    Does anyone know what happened to her son?

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