"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Disappearing Bride: A Christmas Tragedy

One of history's innumerable small, quickly-forgotten, yet oddly haunting mysteries took place over England's Christmas holidays of 1916.  On December 25, at Southwark Cathedral, a carman from Bermondsey, George Stephen Carter, married his sweetheart, 22-year-old Alice Elizabeth.  (Her maiden name was never mentioned in any of the newspaper accounts.)  After the wedding, the newlyweds went to her mother's home, where they celebrated with what was described as a "honeymoon party."  They spent their wedding night there.

The following evening, the couple prepared to leave for George's home.  Right before they were to depart, Alice left the room, saying she was going to put on her hat and coat, a task that her husband naturally assumed would only take her a couple of minutes.  She seemed as calm and happy as you would expect any bride to be.  Alice's mother saw her walk out the front door.  She was without her hat and coat, so her mother assumed she merely went to exchange a few more goodbyes with their departing guests.

That was the last George ever saw of his new wife.  She never returned.  In fact, as far as anyone could tell, she simply vanished.  Her husband, family, and friends searched the area with increasing panic, but could find no trace of where she had gone.  Finally, they went to the police, but could give the authorities no clue about what had happened.  They all insisted that when last seen, Alice was sober, cheerful, and looking forward to her married life.  She had not quarreled with George, or anyone else so far as her loved ones knew.

Alice's whereabouts remained a complete mystery until January 26, when her body was fished from the Thames.  It was presumed she had drowned, but I found no mention of an autopsy.

"Sheffield Telegraph," January 29, 1917

The only possible clue in the mystery of Alice Elizabeth Carter's death came in a letter received by the Southwark police station on January 11, from someone claiming to be a Corporal in the Royal Canadian Regiment.  It read:

Sir--Regarding the missing woman Mrs. George Stephen Carter, late of Noah's Ark Alley and married at Southwark Cathedral on December 25 1916.  I was on leave from France for Christmas and was in the named woman's company before and after her marriage.  Knowing Bermondsey well, I spent a good part of my time around there.  What has happened to Mrs. Carter since I will not say in the letter--it is enough when I say I know all.

The note gave a return address, but letters posted to that direction received no reply.  Neither George nor Alice's mother recognized the handwriting or the address given.  They never had reason to think Alice knew anyone matching the writer's description.  The jury at Alice's inquest did the only thing possible in such murky circumstances and returned an open verdict.

Sadly, the puzzle of Alice's death is fated to remain "open."  Was this letter, as George Carter believed, a hoax?   If it was genuine, what did this man--who apparently was never traced--know about her end?  Did Alice, torn between two men, commit suicide?  Or did she secretly go to meet this man, and he murdered her?

I have no idea about George Stephen Carter's subsequent history, but I'm guessing that for the rest of his life, Christmas was his least favorite holiday.


  1. Suicide seems unlikely when there was no sign that Alice was unhappy or regretting her choice. If she was going out to meet someone then she would have invented some errand that would give her plenty of time, not the couple of minutes needed to get her hat and coat. If she’d been suddenly attacked in the street then the “departing guests” would have seen or heard something. She wouldn’t have gone off with a stranger. So, a violently jealous ex who lured her away to a quiet place and then murdered her does seem the most likely explanation, although the letter might still have been a hoax.

  2. I agree that the most likely explanation murder by a former boyfriend, and yet, in those days, leaving a house without a hat or coat could have meant only a quick visit to somewhere near. Had she been kidnapped from just outside her house? What a fate, and what a fate for her husband, never to know the truth.

  3. " I was on leave from France for Christmas and was in the named woman's company before and after her marriage."

    The couple were only married for a day before Alice disappeared - how did the letter writer be in her company after her marriage to George?

  4. I have to admit: It's the baffling simplicity of this case that makes it...interesting, shall we say. The bride is there, and then she isn't; and then she's found dead a month later. Could the letter be from a former boyfriend who lured Alice away, or from a deranged stalker who imagined a relationship that didn't exist? Or from someone making a cruel, nasty joke? And the husband's and mother's stories do subtly contradict, with Alice telling the former she's getting a coat and hat, and then the latter seeing her leave the house with neither. May be hidden depths here.


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