It’s a chilly mid morning in November 1883 and you have just sat down at the table to enjoy a morning coffee in your flat at number ten Greek Street, Soho. The table is next to the first floor window and looks out onto the busy street. Engrossed in the periodical you’re reading you are disturbed by a commotion in the street below, just outside number fifty five.
55 Greek Street, Soho
A high pitched whooping noise can be heard mingled with shouts and oaths from the people below. When you moved into the flat three months prior, this would have merited your full attention, but today you just turn the page of your magazine, have another sip of your coffee and continue reading, saying to yourself, “That’ll be Mr Crees again!“
William Sellick Crees had been born in 1844 in Blandford in Dorset. He’s found in 1871 serving as a gunner on HMS Royal Alfred in the Bahamas
HMS Royal Alfred
His time served in the Navy seems to have been uneventful and by 1872 he has married and is living in Torrington, Devon with his wife Lucy Werry. The couple have a total of four children within four years of marriage, but in 1880 Crees desserts the family and moves to London. Within months of his arrival, he marries Harriet Potter in Kingston. As subterfuge, although not a great one, he signs the marriage certificate as William Sellick-Crees. This doesn’t seem to be clever enough to fool the authorities (although how they ever managed to reference such a thing) and Crees is arrested, charged with Bigamy and incarcerated in HMP Lewes in East Sussex. On his release he returns to London but not to Harriet Potter. He secures a job as a harness maker and takes a rather shabby room at fifty five Greek Street.
Over the next couple of years he lives and works in Soho, but there are reports of rather eccentric behaviour. Frequently William Crees will be found dancing by himself in the streets around his home, singing and making a loud whooping sound. Several times he is stopped by the local Bobby on his beat, but on examination is found to be sober, admonished and sent on his way. It appears that so regular an occurrence the Police took little further notice. Even when complaints were brought against Crees for causing a public nuisance in nearby Berwick Street market, the police refused to intervene.
Strangely, with this going on in the background, Crees gave no trouble at work and by all accounts was a model employee. He presents himself occasionally to the local Doctor complaining of severe headaches and is for a short time admitted to hospital for observation, but sent home without any treatment. He spends the years leading up to November 1883 courting the daughter of a respectable middle class confectioner from Worthing, John Horsman and charms both father and daughter, twenty three year old Eliza Anne. He avails them with tales of his flourishing business and assures John Horsman that his daughter will be kept in the style that she has become accustomed to, describing in detail the elegant living conditions of his home in Greek Street.
The couple marry in early November, Crees’ second bigamous marriage, but the full impact of his fantasy life is not felt by Eliza Anne until she returns to his rooms in Greek Street to find them less than salubrious. In the days following their marriage Crees’ behaviour shocks his wife. She finds him frequently arguing with himself, dancing around his rooms and also in the street and generally making a nuisance of himself.
As you return to your magazine and cup of coffee what you wont have seen is the sight of Crees in a state of some agitation pirouetting along Greek Street, shouting, whooping and singing while jostling passers by until he runs into the arms of PC Henry Dyer. Dyer is aware of Crees’ idiosyncrasies, but his behaviour is so strange that he decided to question the man. The scene must have been a bizarre one. The constable attempting to get a response from Crees, who continued to do a little jig in front of him interspersed by manic laughter and singing. Crees then started to run in circles around the bemused Policemen regularly plucking at his uniform jacket and shouting, “The Doctor told me to do this!“. Knowing where Crees lived, Dyer frogmarches him back to his rooms probably in the hope that he can offload this madman and return to his duties. On entering the rooms with a still agitated Cree’s, Dyer finds the body of Eliza Anne on the floor in a pool of her own blood. She has been stabbed several times and has been bludgeoned with a heavy poker that is found next to the body.
Following his arrest Crees’ mental state had deteriorated much further. During the Coroners enquiry when asked several times to explain what had happened he replied “It is on the mantleshelf“. He was committed for trial but by then both his mental and physical health had rendered him unable to defend himself. He was committed to Broadmoor where he resided until his death in 1932.
Broadmoor Criminal Asylum
A possible clue to Crees declining mental health prior to the murder may have come from the Doctor who gave evidence at the enquiry. On examining Crees he reported that he was afflicted with a condition where his pupils did not constrict when exposed to daylight. In the words of the physician “In the condition of the pupils of the eyes, I believe that there is a great amount of brain irritation resulting in it“. The condition was later classified as Argyll Robinson Pupils, a symptom of Neurosyphilis a common disease at the time which refers to the infection of the central nervous system in a patient who has contracted syphilis.