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Tottenham Outrage 1909

PC TylerPC William Tyler and 10-year-old Ralph Joscelyne were murdered and 21 people injured by two "anarchist" robbers trying to escape after a wages snatch. Paul Hefeld and Jacob Lepidus were Latvian immigrants who stole the wages from Schnurrman's rubber factory on the corner of Tottenham High Road and Chesnut Road on 23 January 1909.

The two were armed with pistols, and when the chauffeur-driven car carrying the wages clerk drew up they seized the cash bag and shot at the driver and a passing stoker who tried to restrain Lepidus. The shots brought reserve constables William Tyler and Albert Newman running from the police station, later joined by officers from the nearby section house on bicycles, and thus began the long chase during which the anarchists would fire over 400 rounds at their many pursuers.

At Mitchley Road Mission Hall PC Newman urged the chauffeur to try to run down the gunmen with the wages car. In response, Lepidus and Hefeld shot and injured Newman and the chauffeur, and shot Little Ralph Joscelyne as he ran for the cover of the car. The boy was rushed to hospital but pronounced dead on arrival. Police in the station now smashed open the locked firearms cupboard to bring pistols to the pursuit.

At a railway footbridge leading to Tottenham Marshes, PC Tyler took advantage of the wall cutting off Lepidus and Hefeld's view to race over race ground and catch up with them. 'Come on, give in. The game's up,' he said. Hefeld deliberately shot him in the face at point-blank range. Tyler bled to death in the scullery of a nearby cottage.

The chase became almost farcical as the two men commandeered a tram and forced the conductor to drive it when the driver hid upstairs. The police commandeered a tram going in the opposite direction and made it reverse after them, the occupants of the two trams firing ineffective shots at each other. The conductor got rid of his unwanted passengers by warning them there was a police station round the corner. The gunmen tumbled out and commandeered a parked milk van, immediately wrecking it by cornering too fast. They then stole a parked greengrocers van, but could not force the horse into more than the slowest of ambles because they had omitted to release the break.

The two men then abandoned the van and ran along a path beside Chingford Brook. When the path petered out, leaving them trapped by a high fence, Lepidus scrambled over it. Hefeld was exhausted, and seeing he was about to be arrested, shot himself in the head. He was taken to hospital where he refused to speak until he died three weeks later, with the uninformative remark, "My mother is in Riga." Lepidus, meanwhile, locked himself into the bedroom of a nearby cottage, and used his last bullet to kill himself as officers broke in and fired shots through the door at him.

 

the funeral procession

PC Tyler's Funeral Procession

A collection of £1,055 was raised for PC Tyler's widow. The King's Police Medal was instituted in recognition of the gallantry of those officers who had pursued the murderous pair. The outrage had considerable influence on public and police perception of immigrants and the international left, and provoked some misplaced public anti-Semitism. This in turn influenced the Siege of Sidney Street.