It was downhill all the way to the gallows for Thomas Orrock when he started mixing with the east London criminal fraternity. Born into a respectable and highly religious family, Orrock saw an advertisement for a revolver for sale in Exchange and Mart, and decided to buy it and become a burglar. He was just 21.
On December 1st, 1882, a thick, swirling fog enveloped east London as, armed with chisels and his revolver, he set off to do his first job. His target was the local chapel in Dalston. As he began casing the place, two policemen walked past. Orrock acted naturally, but one of the offices, Frederick Cobb, knew him well.
When they had passed out of sight he began forcing one of the chapels windows. At that moment another officer, Police Constable George Cole, 27, arrived out of the fog and grabbed hold of him. Orrock dropped his chisel during the struggle, but Cole got a firm hold on his arm and began marching him off to the police station.
Now Orrock began to realise what a fool he had been. What would his underworld cronies think of him, failing on his first job and getting caught by the law? With his free hand he drew the revolver and pointed it threateningly in front of Cole. When the constable merely responded by taking a tighter grip on his arm, Orrock, enraged, fired four times. Cole collapsed on the pavement.
Orrock sprinted away under cover of the fog, unaware that two women had witnessed the shooting. They went to Constable Cobb and gave a description of the killer. The officer, remembering having seen Orrock, now had a suspect. Investigating, he found the chisel dropped by Orrock in the struggle with PC Cole, and noted the faded letters R-O-C-K scratched on its side. Orrock was promptly arrested.
Things started going wrong for the police when the suspect was put on an identity parade. The two women witnesses failed to recognise him and he was released.
But policemen have a special dislike for men who kill other policemen, and Cobb, now promoted to sergeant, vowed to bring his colleagues killer to justice. He learned that Orrock had been practising with his revolver just before the murder, and an informant took him to a tree on Tottenham Marshes where he found several bullets that were later matched to those removed from the murdered officer.
Orrock was by now in Coldbath Prison, doing his first stretch for burglary. He was arrested and charged with Constable Coles murder, and held while Sergeant Cobb zealously unearthed more evidence he even found the man who scratched the name on the chisel when Orrock took it to be sharpened.
The long hunt for Constable Coles murderer, and with it the emerging criminal career of Thomas Orrock, finally ended at the Old Bailey in September 1884, when he was sentenced to death. He was hanged on Monday, October 6th, 1884, at Newgate, alongside another convicted murderer, Thomas Harris, 48, who killed his wife in Kensal Rise, London.