Murder at the Marlborough Hotel and a lucky escape!

A tale of idleness, drunkeness and violence

PC Mullins was on duty in Prince's Street, Brighton on the night of Thursday, 1 March 1900. At about midnight he passed the Marlborough Hotel and heard a man and woman quarrelling inside. The woman said: “Don't, Tom”, twice, and the man said: “You are a lazy woman”, to which she replied: “I know I am.” He resumed his beat and passed by again an hour later, but a few minutes later returned with PC Puttick. Standing near the door, Puttick heard raised voices and a man say: “You ought to be killed”, then something indistinct and then: “You I'll kill you.” A woman's voice twice pleaded: “Oh, don't” and then there was a thud and the sound of someone walking about. Puttick knocked at the door but no one responded. As the noise had ceased he walked away. He had heard similar quarrels there before and recognised the voices of Thomas Packham, the landlord, and his wife. What he almost certainly heard on this occasion was Lucy Packham being killed.
At four that morning, Thomas Packham went to the bedroom of his housekeeper, a Mrs Bertha Virgo, and asked her to go to the bar where his wife was either dead or dying. She found the 33-year-old victim lifeless, her head resting on broken bottles and her feet close to the beer pumps. Mr Packham, 34, clearly drunk, stood over his wife moaning: “Luce, Luce, do come back.”
The family's doctor, Douglas Ross, was summoned but confirmed the heavily-bruised Mrs Packham was dead. The police were called and Tom Packham was taken to the police station, appearing later that day before the magistrates. Mrs Virgo testified that the couple had been quarrelling continuously since she had worked for them (she had slept in the hotel for seven weeks) and she had frequently had to intervene to prevent Packham from striking his wife. Dr Ross said he could see nothing that could have caused the injuries, although the many bruises on her body were consistent with her having been attacked and beaten. He thought Packham had been drunk and not fit to be left alone, so after he called the police the body was moved to an upstairs room and locked in.
The Marlborough itself was the venue for the three-hour inquest on Mrs Packham held two days later. The victim's father, Edward Vigar, a butcher of Southover Street, stated that Packham treated Lucy brutally, had often knocked her about, threatened her with a revolver he kept in their room and had on one occasion tried to cut her throat. Lucy was intemperate but never drunk. Packham frequently was, but after his violent outbursts would be repentant and give Lucy presents. She would not leave him because of their three children.
The coroner's jury found that Mrs Packham had died of a cerebral haemorrhage caused by her husband's violence and returned a verdict of wilful murder by him. Packham was placed in Lewes gaol. On 26 March, he appeared before Brighton magistrates for the fourth time. Evidence was given that the couple had married in 1888 and had lived in Coleman Street and Washington Street before taking the Marlborough in 1895. Witnesses testified that he was frequently violent towards his wife. They said that he has frequently sworn at her and threatened her publicly. At one time he had struck her with a copper stew pan and thrown her into a 7 foot deep dust pit; also that he was violent towards their children. He replied in response that she was dirty and idle, a claim admitted by her father. Evidence from three former potmen confirmed the succession of physical and verbal abuse. Packham denied striking his wife on the fateful night, claiming he was on the other side of the bar when she fell.
The trial began at Lewes on 30 June 1900 before Mr Justice Mathew. In spite of the overwhelming evidence against his client, the highly persuasive Mr (later Sir) Edward Marshall Hall was able to convince the all-male jury that the tragedy had been mainly due to drink.
The jury took only 22 minutes to decide that the evidence against Tom Packham was insufficient and returned a verdict of manslaughter. The judge looked slightly surprised when they added a recommendation for mercy. But for that, the four-year penal servitude sentence he handed down would have been a great deal longer.
A framed account of the tragedy which unfolded on the premises so long ago is on the wall above the fireplace in one of the ground floor bars – but it takes some years away from the unfortunate Lucy, stating that she met her end in 1897.

Mrs Packham is said to still be present at the Marlborough Hotel; she is not seen but her presence continues to be felt by the bar staff. The Paranormal Research Society have visited the premises.

Interestingly the 1911 census shows Tom Packham living in Brighton with his children Tom & Edith aged 20 & 17 respectively, obviously no hard feelings held.

A footnote to the story concerns the son, Tom; He trained as an electrician and volunteered for the Territorial Forces in 1910, he was re-mustered in 1915, served in the Balkans, where he won the Greek Military Cross and was Mentioned in Despatches, then Egypt where he won the Meritorious Service Medal.

Thanks to womenofbrighton.co.uk and Douglas d'Enno's Brighton Crime & Vice 1800 - 2000