Artists and artisans jostled together in Chelseas popular Cross Keys pub and as much as for the beer they were there to chat up the landlady Harriet Buxton. Separated from her husband, Harriet wore her flashy clothes and her jewels with an air. The pub was a big money-spinner, and owed a lot to the landladys charisma.
But after closing time on the night of Friday, January 16th, 1920, someone attacked Harriet in the pub cellar, tried to strangle her with a soldiers lanyard, then beat her to death with a beer bottle before attempting to set fire to her body.
Why? A relevant question, because the nights takings were still in the till. All that was missing was the diamond star brooch she habitually pinned in the centre of the cleavage of her blouse.
Harriet, who was known for her financial generosity to customers in need, almost certainly knew her killer. She either let him into the pub or he crept in through an unlocked side door when she slipped out to post a letter, hiding until she returned.
Theories abound, some even focusing on the murderer Percy Toplis (see December), an army deserter who in the spring of that same year killed a taxi driver in Salisbury, then shot two other people, one of them a policeman, before he was himself shot dead in a gun battle on the road from Scotland to Penrith.
Toplis was known to have been short of cash after Christmas, 1919, and he was in London that January. He had also been heard to boast that he had a woman friend in London who would always send him money when he needed it. On his body police found his diary. For the entry of January 17th he had written: Last of H.