Camden Town Murder

The Camden Town Murder 1907

As any family history researcher will tell you, one day you may come across something unexpected in the course of your researches. To clarify – not necessarily a joyful event, but one which could carry the label “the skeleton in the cupboard” meaning that someone has a dark or embarrassing secret about their past that they would prefer to remain undisclosed.

One of my relatives, Robert Cavers Wood 1877-1966 was just such a person.

In 1907, aged 30, he stood trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of Emily Dimmock, a prostitute, and was acquitted. The case received extraordinary publicity at the time, partly because my great uncle was defended by Sir Edward Marshall Hall QC, a very well known barrister of that time.

I have no intention of providing an account of that trial, nor of the events which led up to it, or afterwards, because all the information is out there in print, already. The whole story is bedevilled by peoples’ beliefs and opinions, rather than hard facts, and there are all too few of those in the Camden Town Murder.

What I will say is this: I am probably the last person alive, who can say that they knew Robert Wood (“Bob” to his family). From childhood onward, and until my Uncle Bob died in 1966, when I was 24, I can say that he and his wife were a part of the Wood family life.

Twenty-five years after I first began to work on my family history, I have at last decided to ‘come clean’ on this score. My reticence is perhaps understandable: this is a ‘mega’ skeleton. So much so, that even now, books are still being published about the Camden Town Murder. [You will find a bibliography at the end of this essay – as complete as I can make it – numbering 20 items.]

What I find so extraordinary, even now, in my eighty-first year, is how the Wood family kept this awful secret to themselves. In later years, those who must have been “in the know” were Robert Wood’s brother, Charles Carlyle Wood and his wife Bessie McLeod Wood. My father, also Robert Wood (probably named for his uncle) was only two years old at the time, and his sister Irene Wood a newborn baby. However I am certain that my father would have grown up with the knowledge of the trial and acquittal, although he never divulged this knowledge to my mother, whom he married in 1935. My father died in 1968. It is possible that, at some point, before he died, my father would have made his sister a party to her uncle’s past.

But his sister, my beloved Aunt Rene, may have come to this knowledge in a different way. Charles Wood, her father, my grandfather, was the proof reader and editor of a number of Sir Winston Churchill’s later books [A biography of Marlborough, A History of the English Speaking peoples; The History of the Second World War]. Sir Martin Gilbert, in a footnote to his biography of Sir Winston Churchill, referred to my grandfather as “the brother of the Camden Town murderer”.

Unsurprisingly, my aunt took exception to this, when she discovered it. When my husband and I were sorting through all her papers, after she died in 1985, we came across a letter she had written to Martin Gilbert on this matter [1977]. I also wrote to Martin Gilbert, to inform him of my Aunt’s death, and received a very courteous reply on the subject of the unfortunate footnote, which was subsequently removed from later editions of the work.

But at first I had no idea what all this was about – it came as a great shock to me. I soon questioned my mother, only to find that she too had no idea.

Not long after, the BBC produced a TV programme on the subject of the Camden Town Murder. We sat down to watch, and I had the uncomfortable experience of watching actors represent various members of my family.

In my list of books about the Camden Town Murder, you will find a column labelled “Yes; No; Maybe”. This refers to the opinions of the authors, where one is given. So I will leave you, my readers to make up your own minds.

But for me, John Rowland “Murder Mistaken: an analysis of two murders” 1963 expresses a feeling that I too can share. “If he is still alive [he was then] Robert Wood will be 84 years of age....if so, he will be one of those who, in spite of his foolish behaviour in youth, has managed, in old age, to overcome the terrible handicaps of a mistaken accusation of murder.”




Letter from the accused to his brother 12.12.1907 “”I have done no grievous wrong…”




Guilty / Not Guilty

yes:   no:  maybe







The Camden Town Murder: The Life & Death of Emily Dimmock

Mandrake Oxford 2007

p.175 Almost 100 years later Robert Wood remains the prime suspect and in the mind of the author, guilty of the murder of Emily Dimmock.



The Camden Town Murder Mystery

Orsam Books 2014

p.305 It is only because of the lies told after his arrest, along with his attempt to construct a false alibi with Ruby beforehand, that Wood remains the prime suspect today, despite his acquittal by a jury.



Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed

Little, Brown 2002

References: Wood, Robert 287-88; 295,299

Cornwell puts Walter Sickert in the frame…



Six Trials

Victor Gollancz 1934

Excerpt: Rex versus Robert Wood

p. 283 The case depended entirely upon circumstantial and presumptive evidence, and it behoved the jury to be very careful before they accepted such evidence and condemned a man to death on it.



Scarlet and Ermine: famous trials as I saw them

William Kimber 1960 Out of print

Excerpt: chapter V1 The Artist who sketched His Judge

The writer did not consider RW as guilty.



Posts-Mortem: The Correspondence of Murder

David & Charles 1971

Chapter V1 Rising Sun

p.62 No one would deny that – whether innocent as the jury at his trial decided, or guilty as most students of the case believe – Robert Wood certainly deserved to be hanged for the murder of Phyllis Dimmock in 1907.



Court Number One: The Old Bailey Trials that defined Modern Britain

Part 1 Chapter 1: The Camden Town Murder R v Wood 1907

John Murray 2019

p57 this murder trial had become pure entertainment, and its star was not the victim, nor even the defendant, but only his box-office barrister.



Not Guilty M’Lord

Cassell 1939

Excerpt: Chapter XIII The Camden Town Murder

No conclusion offered.


Basil ed.

Trial of Robert Wood: the Camden Town Case. [Notable British Trials ] William Hodge 1936

p.52 “the reader must evolve his own solution…”

Hooke N W

&  Gil Thomas

Nina Warner

Marshall Hall

Arthur Barker 1966

Chapter VII

p.134 One can theorise indefinitely but in the end one is thrown back on the fact that, circumstantial though it was, the Crown’s case against Wood was defeated only by the exceptional brilliance of the defence put up by Marshall Hall.


Guy B H

Great Murder Mysteries

Stanley Paul 1931

Chapter III A Camden Town Mystery

No conclusion offered.



Defender’s Triumph

p.81 Marshall Hall defends Robert Wood

Pan Books 1951

Foreword: This is a book about four murder trials, in each of which the prisoner was acquitted. I do not suggest that any of them should have been convicted. I do suggest that all of them would have been convicted had they not been shielded by remarkable defenders.



For the Defence: The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall

Excerpt: Chapter VIII Recovery Macmillan 1947

see above



The Life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall

Macmillan 1930

p.223 Marshall Hall “This is the greatest case I’ve ever had in my life….The man’s innocent, and a chance idea may mean life or death to him”


Sir David

The Camden Town Murder

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1987

p.148 “who, indeed, did kill Emily Dimmock? Did this trial effectively settle Wood’s innocence for all time?”



Unsolved Murders in Victorian & Edwardian London

Wharncliffe Books 2007

Excerpt: Did Robert Wood kill Phyllis Dimmock? 1907

Quoting Inspector Neil “Although we must abide by the Jury’s decision, there is no moral doubt that Wood was guilty of the murder”.



Murder Mistaken: an analysis of two unsolved murders

John Long 1963

Part One: The Rising Sun Case

p.112 If he is still alive [1963] Robert Wood will be eighty-four years of age...if so, he will be one of those who, in spite of his foolish behaviour in youth, has managed, in old age, to overcome the terrible handicaps of a mistaken accusation for murder.



Marshall Hall: a law unto himself

Wildy, Simmonds & Hill 2016

p.124 Marshall himself in later life said that he thought Wood was guilty. p.125…”we are unlikely ever to be sure beyond a reasonable doubt”

The National Archives


The Trial Of Robert Wood

Murder of Emily Elizabeth Dimmock MEPO 3/182




William Roughead’s Chronicles of Murder

Lochar Publications 1991

Letters of Henry James to William Roughead p.164

An indirect reference to the Camden Town Murder of 1907.



The Postcard Murder: a judge’s tale

Pilot Productions 2019

p.254 “I still come to the conclusion…that it would be a perverse Jury who would today acquit Wood of the murder of Phyllis Dimmock”