Nell Darby's historical cold cases: the money murders
Did Robert Henry Money murder his sister before killing his wife and children seven years later? Dr Nell Darby examines the possible connections between two tragic Edwardian cases
When one member of a family is killed in horrible circumstances, that is a tragedy. But in the case of the Money family, when a second member died seven years later - killing four others along the way - it raised questions about who might have killed Mary Sophia Money, and how appearances can be very deceptive.
Mary Sophia Money was a young woman who was highly thought of by those who knew her. The youngest of 10 children, she had been named after her eldest sister, who had died aged 13. This ominous naming did not stop her from being a cheerful soul, who enjoyed her work as bookkeeper at a south London dairy, and had many friends. She was particularly close to the sibling next in age to her - her older brother Robert Henry Money.
Her death was both untimely and horrific. On the night of 24 September 1905, 21-year-old Mary had left work at Lavender Hill in the evening, saying she was just going for a short walk. The next day, though, she was found in a mile-long railway tunnel near Merstham in Surrey, having been hit by a train. Part of her white silk scarf was in her mouth, and she had fatal head injuries. The jury at the subsequent inquest could not decide how Mary died - whether by suicide, accident or murder - and the police publicly admitted they could not solve the case.
Seven years later, in 1912, a woman named Florence Paler ran out of a burning house in Eastbourne, East Sussex, having been shot twice in the neck. Inside the house were found her lover - Robert Hicks Murray - and their two children. Florence’s sister Edith Matilda, who was Robert’s wife, and their child, were also dead. Robert had shot them all before setting a fire and then shooting himself.
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When a sample of Murray’s handwriting appeared in the newspapers, one woman immediately recognised it as belonging to her brother - Robert Henry Money. When ‘Murray’ had got married, he had given his father’s name as James William, and this was the name of Money’s father. Murray and Money also both had the same initials. But if it was Robert Money who had committed this family annihilation, his family had no idea about his double life. They knew him, as his sister Charlotte said, as a “straightforward, honest, sober and good-tempered man.”
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Shortly after the deaths, an unmarried female servant living opposite the ‘Murrays’ killed her newborn child, having allegedly gone insane as a result of the shootings. Perhaps she had been in a relationship with her priapic neighbour, and her pregnancy was one complication too much for him. An alternative theory was that Robert Money - if it was him - had killed his sister back in 1905 and could not live any longer with his guilt. Her siblings, though, said that Robert Money had been the man to identify his sister’s mangled body, and that the shock of this may have never left him. What was really the truth about Mary Sophia’s death, and Robert’s involvement in it, still remains unknown.
This article was first published in the January 2023 issue of BBC History Revealed
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