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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
David Parry/PA Wire/Press Association Images Sir David Attenborough.

Skull found in David Attenborough's garden solves murder mystery

The final piece of the puzzle of one of England’s most gruesome murders has been unearthed – at the home of TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

A SKULL FOUND in the garden of Sir David Attenborough belonged to the victim of one of Victorian England’s most gruesome murders, according to coroners.

The grim discovery was made last year by contractors working on an extension at Attenborough’s south west London home, when they came across a “dark circular object”, the Telegraph reports. Police and forensic experts soon confirmed that the skull was that of a middle-aged human female.

Carbon dating showed that the skull dated from between 1650 and 1880, in part because the bone had a marine dating, which pointed towards the person having eaten a lot of fish as was common with Londoners at the time, reports the Independent.

Further expert examination strongly suggested that the remains were those of 55-year-old Julia Martha Thomas, who had lived just 100 yards from the site and who was horrifically murdered by her housekeeper in 1879.


A fascinated Victorian public devoured the details of the gruesome case at the time: Thomas, a devout Presbyterian, had hired Irish-born Kate Webster, a convicted thief and fraudster, as a maid. The two women did not see eye-to-eye, and Thomas grew increasingly impatient at Webster’s heavy drinking.

Following heated argument one night, Webster pushed her employer down the stairs in a drunken rage. Realising that she had injured her, Webster panicked and choked Thomas before chopping her body to pieces with a razor and kitchen knife. In an attempt to dispose of the body, Webster then boiled the remains and fed the dripping to local children – claiming it was pig lard.

Webster stuffed the body parts – save one foot and the head, which would not fit – into a wooden box and dumped it into the River Thames. The box was later found containing a “mass of white flesh”.

The missing foot was later found but the skull was never traced – until now.

Webster fled to Ireland soon after the killing – along with Thomas’ jewellery and other valuables. However she was tracked down, found guilty of murder, and hanged in July 1879.

Coroner Alison Thompson ruled that the victim had died of asphyxiation and blows to the head.

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