IT was September 1888 – the same year that in the East End of London the Jack the Ripper murders were at their height.
But just a dozen or so miles south, in leafy Surbiton, there was another murder that year – in fact there was a double tragedy.
Seventy one year old Major Thomas Hare lived in a four-storey detached house at No13 St James Road in the centre of Surbiton. He had been there for 14 years since his retirement from the army, where he had served in the 27th (Inniskilling) Regiment of Foot and the Cape Mounted Rifles, in South Africa.
The major lived peacefully with his disabled wife of nearly 40 years, Frances. They owned another property in Surbiton Hill, and had three sons. The eldest was serving with the army in India, then came Gordon, and the youngest Maynard, who worked in a bank in the City.
Gordon, then working for the local council, was however becoming a problem. Then in his mid thirties, he had been to America to tend cattle, and to Australia, but wherever he had travelled to find his fortune he had eventually ended up back at dad’s house asking for more money. By 1885, having paid out several thousands to help his wayward son, the Major told Gordon he now had to fend for himself.
Gordon’s demands for money then turned to threats, and even violence. A warrant was issued, and two days before he was due to appear before magistrates, Gordon turned up at the family home and threatened to blow his father’s brains out unless he was found employment. As a result he spent three months in prison – but that only deepened his resentment.
Gordon went off abroad again, apparently to join a travelling circus in Mexico. But by the summer of 1888 he was back at St James’ Road. The Major told him he was trespassing and that he would have to leave. The following day he met his brother in the city, showed him some revolver cartridges, and revealed he was taking sleeping draughts. Maynard thought he was suggesting he was going to take his own life.
But that evening Gordon checked into the Kingston Hotel. The following day, Sunday 26 August, at about 5pm, he set off for St James Road. The maid, Martha Hodsell, refused to let him in as the Major was at a service at St Mark’s Church.
Gordon tried the back door before returning to the front to sit on the porch steps and wait. At about 7.50pm the Major returned from church. “Major Hare!” shouted Gordon angrily. Moments later a gunshot was heard, and then a few seconds later, a second.
A friend of the family, Dr Matthew Coleman, ran to the gate to find the Major lying on the steps gasping, a bullet wound in his neck. In the porch lay Gordon, dead.
Having shot his father he had placed the pistol in his mouth and committed suicide. In his pocket were begging letters to friends for money and work.
At the inquest the coroner, Athelstan Braxton Hicks, in his summing up, said: “The only gleam of satisfaction to be obtained from this awful tragedy was that… Gordon had spared his mother and other relatives the painful ordeal of appearing against him on a charge of murder.” Gordon and his father were buried the following day in the same grave in Kingston.
The Spectator magazine called the affair “a frightful patricide” and questioned why the verdict on Gordon’s suicide had been that of a person of “unsound mind,” but the murder deliberate.
“Either both acts were committed by a man of unsound mind, or neither; if it were necessary to choose one of the two as specially indicating an unsound mind, it was the first, not the second.”
The Aroha News on New Zealand called it: “A Ghastly Tragedy in Surbiton.”
(The account of the Hare murder is taken from “1888: London Murders in the Year of the Ripper” by Peter Stubley. The History Press.)