THE CROOKES CHINESE LAUNDRY MURDER 1922

"one of the most sensational crimes Sheffield police have ever investigated"   (Sheffield Independent)

Sing Lee owned a number of  laundry shops in Sheffield in the years following the First World War. Aged 33 and living above the laundry shop at 231 Crookes, Sheffield, Sing Lee employed two people, a fellow countryman Lee Doon who had worked for Sing Lee for five weeks, and a local woman called  Lily Siddall. On the evening of Saturday September 9th 1922 Sing Lee asked his assistant Miss Siddall to work as usual the following day. When she arrived for work on Sunday morning  there was no sign of her employer Sing Lee and when she asked Lee Doon wityh regard to his whereabouts, she was told that he had "gone to China" and that he was now in charge of the business.

On Monday 11th September her suspicions were heightened when she saw two men digging a hole in the cellar floor of the shop The following day Lee Doon actually wore Sing Lee's trousers and Lily, noticing Sing's trilby on the hat stand, asked the new owner why he had not taken it with him when he left. Doon replied that he gone to town on the Saturday night and bought a new one. As Lily did not leave the laundry until 9.00p.m. on the Saturday, there was just no time for Sing Lee to have undertaken this trip. By now Lily's suspicions were at an all time high  and so she travelled to Liverpool where Sing Lee had relatives. After explaining the matter to the family they returned to Sheffield and reported to the police the circumstances surrounding the disappearance.

On Saturday 16th September 1922 police visited the premises in Crookes, Sheffield and found under a pile of coke in the laundry cellar, a trunk containing the trussed body of Sing Lee. The trunk measuring 2ft by 11/2ft by 1ft10inches also contained items of bloodstained bedding. An examination of the body revealed that Sing lee had suffered severe wounds to the head and extensive fractures to the skull. A rope had also been fastened tightly around his neck. A further investigation of the property found bloodstains in Lee's bedroom leading the police surgeon to conclude that Sing Lee had been attacked whilst he was asleep in bed and that his body had been moved after death. Lee Doon when shown the body stated that "me no understand". In the light of the evidence gathered Lee Doon was arrested and committed for trial 

The Manchester Guardian dated September 19th 1922

 

The above report of the Inquest is from The Times dated September 22 1922 (page7 Issue 43143) 

A photo of the inquest showing Lee Doon giving evidence - Daily Mirror 23rd September 1922

Newspaper Report from The Manchester Guardian dated 22nd September 1922

This lack of understanding was emphasized at his subsequent trial at Leeds Assizes. His command of English was very poor and his representations in court were made through an interpreter. His defence at the trial was that on the Saturday he and Sing Lee had argued about the laundry owner's addiction to opium. In the course of this argument Sing Lee had insulted him and challenged him to a fight. In the ensuing brawl Sing Lee fell ,hit his head on the stove and died. On realising this, Lee panicked and placed the body in the trunk. He then paid two unemployed labourers 1 each to dig the hole in the cellar floor into which he placed the trunk containing the lifeless body of Sing Lee.

This defence was completely at variance with the evidence supplied by the police and their surgeon. The prosecution's case was that the motive for killing Sing Lee was one of simple robbery. When he was arrested Lee Doon was carrying a large amount of money including two banknotes that were believed to have been paid to the laundry owner shortly before his death. This revelation coupled with the fact that the police could find no trace of opium smoking at the laundry meant that the defence case was more or less disproved. The jury were not impressed either and Lee Doon was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by hanging.

The trial also made the front page of The Daily Mirror dated 2nd December 1922

An Appeal was made and was reported in The Times dated December 22 1922 (page4 Issue 43220) under the title

MURDERER'S APPEAL DISMISSED

REX v LEE DOON                                                                                                          (Before the LORD CHIEF JUSTICE DARLING and MR JUSTICE SALTER)

The court dismissed the application for leave to appeal against his conviction of Lee Doon who had been convicted at Leeds Assizes of the murder of another Chinaman named Sing Lee and had been sentenced to death.

Mr W.P. DONALD for the appellant complained that Mr. Justice Grear had misdirected the jury at the original trial, partly regarding the law on manslaughter and partly regarding the facts.

Mr. Ragbagliati (with whom was Mr. Waugh K.C.) was not called on to argue)

THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE in giving the judgment of the Court said that Sing Lee had carried on a laundry business in Sheffield. Last August Lee Doon entered his employment. On September 9 at 8.30p.m. a young woman employee named Lily Siddall left the two men together at the laundry and the case for the prosecution was that soon afterwards Lee Doon murdered sing Lee to rob him. When Siddall went to the laundry the following day she found Lee Doon alone and he told her that Sing Lee had gone back to China. Later Sing Lee's body was found in a trunk in an excavation in the cellar under a heap of coke and stones. Lee Doon's story was that sing Lee had suggested smoking opium or taking morphine, that he (Lee Doon) rebuked him, that a quarrel and struggle ensued, and that he then found that he had killed Sing Lee. the medical evidence was that Sing Lee had been strangled and had also received two fractures of the skull. No effective criticism could be offered of the summing up, and the appeal would therefore be dismissed.

Solicitors - Registrar of Court of Criminal Appeal: Director of Public Prosecutions

Throughout the arrest and trial Doon remained calm and composed. This disposition remained with him until he was hanged on January 5th 1923 at Armley Jail in Leeds. His only wish during the period between sentence and execution was that he wanted to be beheaded rather than hanged as this would be in accordance with his native custom. The two executioners Thomas Pierrepoint and Thomas Phillips did not comply with this wish. 

The arrest and trial of Lee Doon attracted considerable interest both locally and nationally. Both the Inquest on Sing Lee and the subsequent trial were reported in minute detail in the press. I feel sure that the reason for this was the commendable actions of the laundry assistant Lily Siddall who went to considerable lengths to find out what actually happened on that Saturday night and was not prepared to take the assurances of her "new employer" at face value. In fact some of the local press named her a "modern day Miss Marple"!

231 Crookes is no longer a Chinese Laundry but is in fact a shop that is run by the Dr Barnardo's charity. 

Photograph of 231 Crookes Sheffield - taken July 2004

As for the victim Sing Lee - he was buried in Anfield Cemetery in Liverpool. The Manchester Guardian dated 21st September 1922 has a report of the funeral

There is a fascinating postscript to this article. On New Years Eve 2008, I was contacted by Lily Siddall's son David who had read this article. He kindly provided me with this additional information

"...she carried on her normal life, went into the  Women's Land Army, did her little bit for the country. around 1926 met my father,  had a seven year courtship, 1941 went into publicans life, they took over, THE  SPORTSMANS INN on Cambridge Street, the only pub left standing there today, but  not for long. They also bought a very large house on Victoria Road just off  Ecclesall Rd and made that into a private hotel. But in 1951 a crash came to my  mother, my father passed away at the early age of 47, she got rid of the hotel,  went back to the pub but gave the wrong thing up, she should have kept hotel  instead. I know she NEVER got over the loss of my father, I by the way was only  11 when he died.  From then onwards she lived in a small terraced house in Heeley, helping other  people, as she always did in her life, she passed away in 1979 aged 80, may I  say Chris what a woman."

Yes I'll echo that!

And in February 2013 I was contacted by someone who had come across this article and pointed out that his grandfather, who was a policeman with Sheffield City Police attended the incident. In fact he kindly sent me a photograph of his grandfather

and inscribed on the back of the photograph was the following note

And the name of the policeman ARTHUR GEORGE HOBBS!.

A quick check revealed that we are not related, but Arthur was, like my ancestors born in London.

The 1911 Census has him living at 729 City Road with his wife Beatrice and his one year old daughter Dorothy

Name Albert George Hobbs
Relationship to Head of Household Head
Condition Married
Gender Male
Age 26 Estimated Year of Birth 1885
Occupation Police Constable Sheffield
Employed Yes
Working at Home No
Industry City Police
Place of Birth B London Battersea
Enumerator Information
Address 729 City Road Parish Sheffield
Type of Building Private House
Number of Rooms Five
Inhabited Yes
Reference RG14PN27904 RG78PN1596 RD510 SD3 ED12 SN167
Administrative County Yorkshire (West Riding) Registration District Sheffield Registration Sub District Sheffield Park
Enumeration District 12 Reference Information Folio 357 Page 1 Piece 27904 RD number 510 SD number 3 ED number 12 Schedule 167

PC Hobbs outside the Laundry - photo Sheffield Mail



Note

Sing Lee was not the first Chinese laundry owner to be murdered. A murder in New York state in 1885 is eerily similar to the events that occurred in Crookes 37 years later

Sources

Murder UK. com

The Times dated September 22 1922 and December 21 1922

The Manchester Guardian dated 19th and 21st September 1922

The Manchester Guardian dated 22nd September 1922

The Daily Mirror dated 2nd December 1922

Crime in Sheffield - J. P. Bean

Photograph: Sheffield Mail 

Return To Main Homepage

This page was last updated on 13/10/15 17:01