The Reverend Elias Huelin had obviously forgotten the bible quote about it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
He had retired from his work as a minister of the French Conformist Church in Soho and assistant chaplain at Brompton cemetery and had since built up an enviable portfolio of fashionable houses in Chelsea. By 1870 he was 84 years old and earning a good income. He collected his rents himself, walking his dog through the London streets and earning a reputation for being rather careless about exposing the jingling golden guineas in his purse.
In May of 1870, he decided to renovate one of his houses at 24 Wellington Square and hired some workmen for plastering and wallpapering. One of them was 31-year-old Walter Miller from Scotland. When Huelin paid his workers, Miller couldn’t help but notice all the gleaming coins in Huelin’s possession. The retired reverend mentioned to the workmen that he was going to Lincolnshire for a while to visit a friend. It was the worst thing he could have said.
When nothing was seen of Huelin for several days, everyone presumed he had gone to visit his friend as planned. But things became strange when an eccentric looking man arrived, with waxed moustaches, pince-nez glasses and an exaggerated French accent, claiming to be Huelin’s nephew. He moved in to 15 Paulton’s Square, Huelin’s main residence, and told people that the old housekeeper Ann Boss had gone with her employer to Lincolnshire. In her place, the French nephew hired a less than respectable looking woman, and took charge of his uncle’s affairs, collecting his rents on his behalf and generally living the high life.
Nobody thought any more of it until one evening he sent for removal man Henry Piper and asked him to remove a large trunk from the kitchen of 15 Paulton’s Square to a house in Fulham – another one of Huelin’s properties. When Piper lifted the trunk, he saw blood streaming out of it.
“What does blood do here?”
“Go back, you carman, cord the box, and do your work!” the Frenchman said.
“Go back and cord that box!” the Frenchman insisted again, but his accent had changed to a Scottish one!
Piper realised something was wrong and sent his assistant for the police. The fake Frenchman fled, with Piper in hot pursuit. After half a mile, the imposter slipped and fell and was arrested by the puffing policeman, Sergeant Large, with the assistance of Mr Piper. They went back to the house, prised open the trunk and found housekeeper Ann Boss inside, who had been strangled with a rope. It soon became obvious that the fake French nephew was in fact Scottish workman Walter Miller in disguise. It became clear that while he’d been previously working in the house at 24 Wellington Square, he had ordered a large hole to be dug in the garden. Inside the hole, the police found the body of retired reverend Elias Huelin, who had been knocked down from behind with a shovel then strangled to death.
The double murder caused widespread horror and alarm. Miller was a mean-spirited, jealous man who was envious of people better off than himself. Had he got away with his ruse, he was planning to escape to America with his new-found wealth. Unusually, he had no criminal record until this point.
He was sentenced to hang at Newgate but didn’t want the executioner to have the pleasure of it, so he tried to run headfirst into the wall of his cell to dash his brains out, but he underestimated the strength of his skull and was dragged to the gallows on August 1st 1870. Piper, the removal man, received a reward of £50 and as a special treat for his help in catching the criminal, was permitted to watch the execution. It proved to be a grisly sight, as the drop was too short, and he was slowly strangled.
Eventually, Huelin’s real nephew Edward inherited the properties. Unfortunately, the houses proved hard to let, as people didn’t want to live somewhere tainted with such a bloody history. Famous occultist Aleister Crowley lived nearby at 31 Wellington Square for a time and took an interest in the sinister number 24 but was reportedly disappointed that it was not haunted. The houses still stand today, although they are now mostly apartments over shops and the road has changed beyond recognition. I wonder if the customers of McDonalds and Starbucks know what happened just feet away, 150 years ago…?
- Bondeson, Jan; “Victorian Murders”, 2017, Amberley Publishing