11 Oct 2011
As you know, I published recently “The Complete, Annotated Whose Body?”, Dorothy L. Sayers’ first novel featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, in numerous editions: trade paperback, Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple iPad and other e-readers.
I’m really proud of the work I’ve put into this edition. There’s more than 500 notes (which I also published on the website). There’s nine essays and two timelines, one on Sayers’ life and the other on Lord Peter’s cases. There’s three maps of London to help orient you to the story, and the e-reader versions have illustrations.
There’s numerous ways to check into the book, either by reading the notes, or visiting Amazon’s website, where the “Look inside the book” feature has been enabled (just click on the cover). I think you’ll agree that you’ve rarely seen a more beautiful looking book.
But I want to spread the word further, so here’s one of the essays that you’ll find in the book, about the murderer Henry Wainwright. He’s mentioned in “Whose Body?” at the beginning of Chapter 13 in a letter written to Lord Peter, and what’s most interesting about this — apart from the murder — is that the case might have inspired the name of Lord Peter’s girlfriend and future wive: Harriet Vane.
In a world of innocent bystanders who stand by and do nothing, Henry Wainwright had the bad fortune to find the one man who wouldn’t leave well enough alone.
Wainwright ran a brush-making business on Whitechapel Road, but sales were down and he had to sell the building. But before he did, he had to do something about the awful smell that had been hanging in the air around it for a year.
On Sept. 11, 1875, he met Alfred Stokes, his former employee, on the sidewalk outside the business. He had asked him to help carry a few parcels in return for some tools Wainwright no longer needed. Wainwright’s brother, Thomas, owned an unused building across the Thames, and he had agreed to let Henry store a few things there until he could get back on his feet.
Wainwright let Stokes into the building and showed him two heavy parcels wrapped in oil cloth. Stokes picked them up and found they were heavy and awkward to handle. As they set off down the street, he began complaining about the nasty smell emanating from them. Wainwright stopped them, told Stokes to guard the bundles, and walked down the street in search of a cab.
While Wainwright was away, Stokes opened one of the parcels. Staring back at him was the head of a decomposed woman laying on a severed arm. Stokes rewrapped the package and said nothing as Wainwright returned with the cab.
As Stokes loaded the bundles inside, Wainwright coolly smoked a cigar and chatted with a woman friend who had stepped out of a tavern. He talked her into the cab and said goodbye to Stokes. The cab driver whipped up his horses, and the wagon rolled off for London Bridge.
Stokes took off in pursuit. He encountered two policemen and gasped out his incredible story. They didn’t believe him. He resumed his pursuit as the cab crossed the bridge and turned down Borough High Street.
The winded Stokes feared he would have to abandon the chase, but the cab stopped. As Wainwright carried the bundles into the building, Stokes found two policemen who were more willing to investigate. They stopped Wainwright, opened a bundle and, after declining Wainwright’s bribe of £200, arrested him.
The victim was Miss Harriet Lane, who had been Wainwright’s mistress for two years and murder victim for one. She knew him as Percy King, when he had set her up in lodgings. Their relationship was good at first, and she bore him two children.
Then, business fell off at his brush-making business. He burned down one of his buildings for the insurance, but the company was suspicious and denied the claim. He had to cut Harriet’s allowance. She complained bitterly, then threatened to go to his wife.
So, in June 1874, Wainwright severed the relationship. He took her to his business, shot her three times, slit her throat, and buried her beneath the floor. Since he also sold cleaning supplies, he took out of stock 50 pounds of chloride of lime and threw that into Harriet’s grave to speed decomposition.
But Wainwright’s knowledge of chemistry was on a par with his business skills. Not all lime act the same. Quicklime aids decomposition; chloride of lime retards it.
In the days after Harriet’s disappearance, her father and a friend who was caring for Harriet’s children grew worried. Wainwright told them that she had eloped to the Continent with Edward Frieake. In October, Mrs. Wilmore received a telegram from Frieake telling her, “We are just off to Paris and intend to have a jolly spree.” Everyone found this disturbing, but reassuring, except for the real Edward Frieake, who knew Harriet and was upset that someone was using his name. Wainwright reassured him that this was an entirely different Frieake, and he was right. The eloping Frieake was actually Henry’s brother, Thomas, who had not only posted the phony letters from the Continent, but had even planted the idea of Harriet eloping with another man by visiting her disguised as Frieake.
This came out at Henry’s trial, in one of those human moments that testimony in a homicide case preserves. Harriet’s landlady testified that Frieake/Thomas Wainwright was visiting Harriet when they sent her to the pub for champagne. She returned with the bottle and three glasses, hoping to cage a drink and was put out when they ignored the hint. She got her revenge at the trial, as the counsel for the defense noted in his closing speech that “whether or not she thought the rising generation less polite than in her younger days, the disappointment was one likely to impress the matter upon her memory.”
Another measure of the brothers’ relationship came out at the trial. When Henry needed to move the late Harriet, he had Thomas buy some tools, a cleaver and a garden spade, which he used to cut Harriet up into 10 pieces for easier moving. The trial transcript noted that Thomas charged his brother five shillings for tools that cost him three, a 66 percent markup.
Readers of the trial record may be surprised to see the name of W.S. Gilbert surface as a barrister for the defense. But the librettist half of Gilbert and Sullivan had nothing to do with the case. He was busy working on “Broken Hearts,” a drama in blank verse, when he was called for jury duty. Rather than attend, he got a friend to assign him to the Wainwright case for two days, long enough so he could be excused.
“Broken Hearts” debuted on Dec. 7, but Wainwright never got to see it. Four days before Christmas, he mounted the scaffold, sneered, “Come to see a man die, have you, you curs?” and was hanged. His brother got seven years. Stokes received £30 and public contributions raised £1,200 for Harriett’s children.