The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

Louis Staunton and Alice Rhodes

Louis Staunton and Alice Rhodes

A carte-de-visite portrait of murderous duo Louis Staunton and his fifteen-year-old girlfriend Alice Rhodes, who in 1877 starved Staunton’s wife and infant son to death.

With the help of her mother, Harriet Richardson had managed to cultivate an air of ladylike respectability despite her learning difficulties and diminished mental capacity. Having inherited a legacy of £5000 from a great-aunt, she proved an attractive proposition when she met fortune hunter Louis Staunton, an auctioneer’s clerk from Streatham who was ten years her junior. The couple were married in Clapham in June 1875 and a child, Thomas, was born the following year, but in April 1877 both mother and infant came to a hideous end, starved to death by Staunton and his relatives, who had kept them locked in an upstairs bedroom, neglected and filthy, in a remote house in Kent. Staunton took his young son to Guy’s Hospital to die and, at the last moment, Harriet was taken to a lodging house in Penge, rather than have her die at home. The landlady, however, became suspicious and reported the death to the police.

Dubbed ‘The Penge Murder Mystery,’ the case caused an enormous sensation. The ensuing trial ended with a guilty verdict and the murderers were all sentenced to death, but when the medical evidence was later questioned their sentences were commuted. Presumably on account of her youth, Alice was given a full pardon and released; the other three conspirators got penal servitude for life. Patrick Staunton, Louis’s younger brother, died of tuberculosis in prison in 1881, aged 28. Elizabeth Staunton, Patrick’s wife and Alice’s older sister, was released in 1883. When Louis left prison in 1897, he and Alice were finally married. She died shortly after the outbreak of the First World War and he died in 1934, at the age of 83.

Photographed by the London Portrait Company.


Code: 126387
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© Paul Frecker 2018