chapter  Chapter 15
18 Pages

Ballad of a Demon Barber: The Criminal Career of George Chapman

WithNicholas Freeman

This chapter presents Colin Wilson’s account of Chapman’s criminal career in his influential Encyclopaedia of Murder (1961). Chapman is undoubtedly an enigmatic figure, although he is in many ways an unlikely member of the pantheon of English “classic” poisoners whose deeds so fascinated George Orwell in “Decline of the English Murder”. The chapter examines why such a man should have been so demonized by the Edwardian public. The significance of the Chapman killings for the late-Victorian and Edwardian public extends far beyond the killings themselves. Chapman was a type, a representation of all that early twentieth-century English metropolitan society most feared. Sexually insatiable, amoral, highly mobile (he seems to have had no difficulty in finding work or leasing premises) and possessing a mass of alternative identities, it was almost as if he represented a one-man pestilence, infecting traditionally safe enclaves such as the barber shop or public house.