The sad story of a murder-suicide

I am in the fortunate position to have access (via work) to the Times Digital Archive, searchable copies of The Times newspaper going back to 1785. While searching for an article for someone else, I thought I’d search for any mention of the Windsor Union Workhouse as I have become rather intrigued by it with many of my relatives seeming to have spent time there. I came across one article which, initially, sounded rather gruesome but of little interest to me, about an inquest that was held in the boardroom (quite a common practice it seems) of a man in Old Windsor who killed his children and then himself. It was only as I read further that I noticed a name that rang bells, then further down a name that I KNEW was in my tree, then another, all of whom mentioned that they were related to this family. I opened up my tree and there it was, this family was indeed in my tree.

Mary Ann Pope (b 1826, Old Windsor) was my 2nd great grandaunt. She married a John Richard Cook in Eton in 1853 and had five daughters with him. Sadly, she died in childbirth in July 1864. Now John was a hairdresser/barber (in Eton College as well as working from home) but had, apparently, taken to drink at some point and had lost a lot of custom and, with it, any financial security. He ran up debts and eventually filed for bankruptcy. He managed to scrape by with some money from the College and from local benefactors, but it seems it was always a struggle. When his wife died, it seems he gave up any form of work and withdrew himself away, only briefly speaking to neighbours & family. The children were never, apparently, hungry as the money he did receive was controlled by the local vicar, who organised for the money to be spent on food.

On Sunday 2nd October 1864, just a few months after his wife had died, neighbours grew concerned that they hadn’t seen the children all weekend and called for the local policeman. After looking through the window and seeing children laying on a bed on the floor and not getting an answer at the door, he forcibly made entry into the cottage and entered the front room, there on the bed were three children lying side by side, all dead. Upstairs, he found the eldest child in a bedroom, lying on the bed, still alive but with ‘something black about her mouth’. In the next room was John Cook, lying on the bed, still alive but with his throat cut and, next to him the remaining daughter, again with her throat cut, and again, still living. On questioning Mr Cook, he admitted to taking poison but said that the eldest daughter had given it to the other children (there was a quantity of tea, containing Vitriol (sulphuric acid) nearby). When asked if he’d instructed her to give the tea to the other children, he refused to answer. He died shortly afterwards. The girl with the cut throat (Adelaide Cook b c1858 ) was conveyed to the Windsor Infirmary immediately.

Sadly, the eldest daughter (who had been poisoned with Vitriol) died three days later despite the best efforts of the people around her.

Adelaide survived the ordeal and next appears in the census in 1871 in the Female Orphan Asylum in Beddington, Surrey. Ten years later and she’s back in Old Windsor, living with her uncle, John Arthur, after that the trail has gone cold.

At the inquest, it was revealed that John Cook had written a couple of letters, explaining that, since the death of his wife, she had visited him on numerous occasions, asking him to join her and bring the children ‘before the place at her side was taken by someone else’ she apparently told him that she believed the vicar would show mercy and allow him to be buried next to her.

The funerals took place a few days after the tragedy, the children were all buried in a single grave, near to their mother. John’s body was buried without ceremony in the farthest corner of the churchyard.

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2 Responses to The sad story of a murder-suicide

  1. Pingback: Paget & Taylor Family Tree

  2. I live in Old Windsor and have been trying to find details of the family home in which the Cook murders occurred. If anyone has any information, please contact me.

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