David Attenborough's Skull
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David Attenborough's Skull

A grisly Victorian murder solved by modern day methods.


This is where TV presenter Sir David Attenborough discovered a skull in his back garden and found it belonged to a Victorian murder victim in a scandal called at the victim The Barnes Mystery.

The skull was discovered in 2010 during excavations at the rear of his house, a converted pub (formerly the Hole in the Wall).

Irish-born maid Kate Webster, who had a history of drunkeness and a long criminal record, murdered her employer the widowed Julia Martha Thomas next door on 22 March 1879, following an argument.

In a fit of rage, she is alleged to have pushed the 55-year-old down the stairs. The acting Detective Inspector David Bolton, who led the investigation, explained: Realising she had injured her, she proceeded to strangle her to stop her from screaming and getting her in trouble. Webster decided to do away with the body and used a razor to chop off the head. Having decapitated her, she used a razor, a meat saw and a carving knife to cut the body up. The dismembered body was put into a copper laundry vessel and she proceeded to boil up the body parts of Mrs Thomas.

Webster subsequently disposed of most of the body in the Thames, where it was discovered close to Barnes Bridge.

Some of the remains ended up as a free meal to local kids, according to the Daily Mail, but what happened to the head remained a mystery.

Police have now identified the unfortunate victim's skull. They reviewed the case files and census records, and deployed radiocarbon testing to provide compelling evidence that the skull was indeed that of Mrs Thomas.

Chief Superintendent Clive Chalk, Borough Commander of Richmond, said: This is a fascinating case and a good example of how good old-fashioned detective work, historical records and technological advances came together to solve the 'Barnes mystery'.

As for Kate Webster's fate, she fled to Ireland, but was arrested and returned to England. She was tried at the Old Bailey, found guilty of murder and hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 29 July 1879.

Location: 3 Park Road, Richmond