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Last week, I reviewed the film version of Agatha Christie’s story, Crooked House.
One hundred years ago, on October 3, 1922, Percy Thompson was murdered while escorting his wife, Edith, home from the theater. This murder became a sensation in London and all over the UK. Early in 1923, Edith Thompson and her lover, Frederick Bywaters, were hanged for the murder of Percy Thompson.
To learn more about this murder and the investigation and trial that followed, I watched episodes from two different murder documentary series that originated in the UK.
The first was Murder Maps. Episode 1 of Season 2, originally aired in 2016. I watched it on Amazon via Freevee, which is free but airs more commercials than I’m used to seeing while watching shows these days.
With historical footage, photographs, and dramatization, this episode tells the story of how Edith came to be involved with Frederick and the fateful moment when Frederick stabbed her husband Percy to death. According to Murder Maps, Edith’s account of the attack to the police made no sense, apparently because she was attempting to protect Frederick. When the police arrested Frederick, they found Edith’s passionate letters to him, including fantasies of murdering her husband. This convinced the British justice system, as well as the public, that Edith had collaborated in the murder — even though both she and Frederick insisted that he’d acted alone.
Murder Maps convinced me that Frederick killed Percy in a misguided attempt to free his lover, but that he didn’t do it at her direction.
The second documentary series is called Murder, Mystery, and My Family. This BBC One series has an interesting premise. They reinvestigate historical murders on behalf of a living relative of someone in the case. This show covered the Thompson / Bywaters murder twice.
The first time was Season 1, Episode 5. This was originally aired in 2018. Nicki’s grandfather was Edith Thompson’s cousin. He never spoke of his cousin, so Nicki learned only recently about the event. While two barristers (one for the defense and one for the prosecution) reinvestigate the case by reading the historic documents and talking to modern experts, Nicki learns about her cousin, visiting some of the sites associated with her life. The investigators concluded, as Murder Maps did, that the original prosecution did not prove a case against Edith Thompson and that the judge’s remarks prejudiced the jury against her.
The second time was in a related series called Murder, Mystery, and My Family: Case Closed? The very first episode of that show looked again at the Edith Thompson case (although Amazon Prime didn’t distinguish between the two shows, so it’s Season 3, Episode 1).
Most of this episode recapped the previous episode, so I skipped ahead to get to the new part. In the updated section, we learned that Nicki worked with newly found relatives since the show aired and the author of a book about Edith Thompson to increase interest in the case. One result was that they were able to get Edith Thompson re-buried in a plot next to her parents, something that her mother had wanted.
The show also revealed that Nicki and other interested parties are taking steps to get Edith Thompson’s conviction overturned and hoped to get it done before this century mark. As far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened. If it does, I’m sure that it will be reported on this website devoted to Edith Thompson.
As Sasha Wass QC, one of the barristers on Murder, Mystery, and My Family, said about Edith Thompson:
She was tried for being an independent, liberated woman, which is something many of us take for granted nowadays, and had a very hostile reception from the judge and consequently from the jury.
At least three novels have been inspired by the Bywaters / Thompson case. After enjoying Agatha Christie for my first month of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, I plan to focus my second month on the centennial of the Bywaters / Thompson murder. If I read quickly enough, I’ll review each of the three novels for the three remaining Fridays of RIPXVII.
Are you familiar with this murder that was the story that newspaper readers in London and beyond were talking about during the final three months of 1922? If you enjoy true crime and want all the details, I recommend the Murder Maps. If you prefer things a little less dramatic and have an interest in genealogy, you’ll enjoy the Murder, Mystery, and My Family episode.