Graves of murdered sisters Esther and Kitty Solomons

My Mother was born on 7 February 1928 (16 Sh’vat 5688) in Bethnal Green, London and about two months later on 17 April 1928 (27 Nisan 5688) her grandmother, Esther Solomons, was brutally murdered nearly 5,000 miles away in Prince Rupert, British Colombia, Canada.

Mum never said much about her grandmother and I suspect she never knew she had been murdered and they were never in the same country, let alone room.

Esther’s murder was a big event for a young city and Sue Harper has included a chapter about the murder in her book, When a Bad Wind Blows: 10 Tragic Events in the History of Prince Rupert.

They say lightning doesn’t strike twice, yet almost 17 years to the day after Esther was murdered, her sister, Kitty Moen, was also murdered in similar circumstances on the same street.

Knowing what I have found out about Esther so far, I would love to know the detailed facts about her life story. Esther begun her life in one of the poorest streets in Whitechapel, yet she ended up being killed in the wettest city in Canada with about $10,000 Canadian dollars in her bank account.

Esther Solomons of Little Patternoster Row

Esther Solomons was born on 25 September 1881 (2 Tishrei 5642), which was the second day of Rosh Hashana when the Jewish New Year is celebrated. Her parents were Jacob and Hannah Solomons. Although her birth certificate has 12 Patternoster Row as the address where she was born, it was actually 12 Little Patternoster Row in Spitalfields. Just 20 years later in 1898, Charles Booth described Little Patternoster Row thus:

2 & 3 storey common lodging houses. Ragged women, children, holey toeless boots; windows dirty patched with brown paper and broken. Prostitutes, thieves and ponces. Buildings owned by the notorious Jack McCarthy of Dorset Street.

It was coloured black on his map and designated as “vicious, semi-criminal”. The Solomons didn’t live where Esther was born, they lived at 13 Crispin Street, a much wider and longer street running parallel to Little Patternoster Row. The family must have known someone living in 12 Little Patternoster Row, and if the same people were living there 6 months before during the 1881 Census, then it was one of 6 families. Little Patternoster Row no longer exists but some of Crispin Street does. As far as I can tell, the place where number 13 was has become part of the Spitalfields Market extension.

Birth Certificate of Esther Solomons (25-Sep-1881 to 17-Apr-1928)

There are no Solomons living in 13 Crsipen Street on the 1881 Census. A Jacob and Hannah Solomons are living at 8 Little Patternoster Row on the 1881 Census, but the evidence suggests it is not them. It could be they recently arrived in London, having fled the Pogroms started around April of 1881. If that was the case, then Hannah must have travelled whilst she was pregnant with Esther.

Esther’s parents were Tailors. By the time of the 1891 Census Esther was living with her parents at 31 & 32 Booth Street Buildings. At 9 years of age, Esther had three brothers and one sister, Kitty, who was the youngest at 1. The three boys were: Hyman (7), Louis (5) and Alexander (3).

Esther Solomons growing up

Although I have seen one or more school admission records for her siblings, I have yet to find any for Esther and so I do not know where she went to school. This may be because there is no index available or it was transcribed incorrectly. It seems a visit or two to Tower Hamlets local history archives for a search is in order.

Esther’s father had died by the time of the 1901 Census and only Louis is missing from their home at 59 Nelson Street. Esther is 17 and a Tailoress, Hyman is a Cabinet Maker and all the other children are at school. Esther’s youngest three siblings are sisters: Rachael (9), Dinah (6) and Rebecca (2).

The family is living with two other families. One is a 50 year old mother and her 30 year old son who is a Traveller. They come from Russia and it looks like his first name is Simon, but I can’t read their surname. The other is a 60 year old Tailor called George Day and his wife Mary, both from Ireland.

It was common to take in lodgers to earn a bit of extra money, and I’m assuming Hannah is the head of the house because she is listed first.

Did Esther Solomons abandon her daughter?

My Mum has told me Esther was married to Jack Lichtenstein and their only known child was my grandmother, Eva Lichtenstein. I have never found a marriage certificate for Esther and Jack. I have searched for every combination of their names I can think of. The relationship between Jack and Esther, along with the abandonment of her daughter Eva, is as big a mystery to me as her murder, and in some ways no less shocking.

Birth Certificate of Eva Lichtenstein (7-Jun-1907 to 4-Dec-1985)

Eva’s birth certificate describes her father, Jack Lichtenstein, as a Hairdressers Assistant, and her mother’s name is entered as “Esther Lichtenstein, formerly Solomons”, implying they were married.

Eva was born at 22 Fulbourne Street on 7 June 1907 (25 Sivan 5667). The birth was registerred by Esther’s mother, Hannah Solomons, who also lived at the same address. It was not uncommon for newly married couples to live with their parents, but I don’t believe that was the case here. The evidence suggests Esther came back to her mother to give birth and then went away when Eva was a few months old, leaving her mother to bring up Eva. I don’t even know if Jack came back with her.

On the day Eva was born, Hannah’s four youngest daughters were probably still at home. Rebecca (10) and Dinah (12) were still at school. Rachel was 15 and Kitty was 17. My Mum knew Kitty and said she looked on Eva as if she was her daughter. That might be because at 17 she may well have stepped into the role of Mother for Eva, whilst Esther was away.

I’d like to think my Great Grandmother didn’t completely abandom my Grandmother. In her mind, she left her to a good home, returned fairly frequently, but was clearly pulled away by something very compelling. I know from what my Mum told me about Hannah Solomons, she would be a great person to bring up her granddaughter.

How did Esther and Jack meet?

Esther seems to have lived her life in North America, firstly in New York and then in Canada until her death.

The earliest document I have is for a voyage on board Cunard’s Corronia setting sail from Liverpool on 25 September 1906 and arriving in New York on 3 October 1906. This was a new ship having completed its maiden voyage in 1905 and finally ending its days in 1933. It lasted longer than Esther.

Esther Solomons and Jack Lichtenstein on 25-Sep-1906 voyage from Liverpool to New York

The date would be her 25th birthday according to the Gregorian calendar, but I suspect that was a coincidence. When I first got this document I found Esther fifth from bottom where whe described herself as a Dressmaker.

Then a few weeks after first getting this document I was scanning down looking for Esther when the name “J Lichtenstein” jumped out at me. Such a shame I hadn’t noticed before. Here was a 36 year old Hairdresser with just the right initial and surname to be Jack, but then again it could be James, Julian or Jeremy amongst others. His age gives him a birthday about 1870.

Then I noticed they had consecutive ticket numbers, Jack with 49988 and Esther with 49989. Did they buy them together or is that a pure coincidence?

The Outward passenger list from England has very little information, however the inward list on the USA side has a wealth of information.

Esther Solomons on arrival in New York on 10 October 1906

Esther is still single according to the immigration document. She has the $50 a visitor is supposed to have and she says she hasn’t been to the United States before. On this, her first visit, she is staying with a friend called Jack Pellar who lives in East Harlem at 116 E 116th Street. It also tells us she is 5’ 2” tall with a ruddy complextion, black hair, blue eyes and no marks of identification such as scars.

Esther is the only person on the page with an “X” beside her name, someone has written 1-86467 under her occupation too. I have no idea what this refers to, maybe one day all will become clear.

Jack (John) Lichtenstein on arrival in New York on 10 October 1906

It turns out the “J” stands for John and not Jack. He’s a Hungarian born in Budapest but resident in Great Britain. He has more than the required $50 and just like Esther, it is his first time in New York. It looks like he is staying at 46 Pitt Street which is in the Lower East Side. It isn’t clear whether he is visiting his brother-in-law, L Rosenzincief (or similar) or Joseph Smith. My money is on Joseph Smith. He is 5’ 5” tall with a dark complexion, grey hair and brown eyes.

My heart wants to tell me this is the voyage where my great grandparents met for the first time and fell in love, and Eva was conceived on board ship in the middle of the great Atlantic ocean. The voyage lasted 15 nights so they might have been able to squeeze all that in, especially if they didn’t suffer from sea-sickness. Then my head just yells “not enough evidence” at me. Sometimes in life you have to follow your heart, and be prepared for the disappointment.

Esther returns to New York without Eva.

This family research would be easier if I could get documents for both the outbound and inbound voyages.

Esther Solomons arrives in New York on 5 October 1907

Esther arrives back in New York on 5 October 1907 almost exactly one year after she first arrived. She has left her 4 month old child with her mother and sailed from Southampton on 28 September 1907. I know this is my great grandmother because she names her mother and lists the address as the same one where Eva was born.

Her name was originally written as Esther Lichtenstein and she is now married, however someone has crossed out the Lichtenstein and writtem Salemons (sic) above it. She has also given her occupation as Wife.

Esther Solomons arrives in New York on 5 October 1907

The second page tells us her Husband paid for her ticket and she has $10 with her. It also says Esther was in the USA before between 1907 and 1907. That provides more evidence of it being Esther on the previous voyage. It also informs us she returned in 1907 so she had spent a few months in the USA before returning home. Somewhere there should be a passenger list for her trip back to England.

I am pleased to see she is returning to her husband where he is living at 45 1st Street which is in the Lower East Side of New York. Although no marriage certificate is in sight, I have to assume Esther and Jack were married in New York during her last trip.

Moving to Canada.

The 1907 passenger list is the last one I have found concerning Esther until 1921. I already knew from the marriage certificate of their daughter, Eva, that Jack was not alive in 1926. The person who identified the murdered body as Esther Solomons said he had known her since 1914 and she had married two or three years later, changing her name to Esther Killas.

I found an extracted death index of a Manhattan resident called Jacob Lichtenstein, who died on 22 March 1914 at the age of 44. This puts the year of his birth around 1870, the same as John Lichtenstein. Jacob Lichtenstein is buried in Union Field Cemetery, Ringwood, Queens County, New York. It just so happens I will be in New York in summer 2020, so I can pay a visit to the grave and see if there is any reference to Esther.

In the meantime…

Esther Solomons arrives in Liverpool as Esther Killas in 1921

The above is the first of three documents regarding a journey Esther made from Canada to London. It is a UK incoming passenger list showing Esther arrived in Liverpool on 4 July 1921. It says she intends staying at her mum’s house in 1 Regal Place, Whitechapel. She gives her occupation as a Dressmaker and has also managed to shave a few years off her age from 39 to 31!

The most interesting part is she lists Canada as her country of last permanent residence, but England as her intended future permanent residence. Could it be she intended to stay in England?

Esther Killas leaves Southampton for Canada in 1921

If Esther had planned to stay England when she arrived in July, she had changed her mind and set off back to Canada from Southampton on 29 September 1921. She had everything the same as on her arrival except her intended future redidence was now Canada.

There is a form 30A for her return to Canada, but the date of the sailing does not match that of her outward passenger list. It has it as 29 August 1921 instead of 29 September 1921. It is also interesting to see her age as nearly 32. Her 40th birthday would have taken place on 25 September according to the Gregorian Calendar and 4 October 1921 according to the Jewish Calendar.

It could be the date on the Form 30 was wrong, the alternative being she came back again, which does seem unlikely.

We learn from the Form 30A of Esther returning home to her Husband and it looks like she is an Orthadox Jew. Of most interest is it saying she previously came to Canada in May 1913 and lived in the Jackson Apartments in Vancouver. Had Jack already died by then or had she left beforehand?

On this occasion she is returning to her husband, Harry Killas, at the address in Vancouver. She has $500 Canadian with her, which is about £4,100 in 2019.

She would have seen her 14 year old daughter in London, who would have just left school. Her brother, Alexander, had died in action during the first world war and another brother returned home from the same conflict.

Esther Killas Form 30A arrival in Canada 1921

Who was Mr Killas?

I have only managed to find one document which links Harry Killas and Esther and it is a US immigration document for a journey Harry made from Canada to Washington, Seattle in the USA on or about 24 March 1924. It provides a good amount of information about Harry.

He is a 35 year old Cook who was born in the town of Smyrna in Turkey in either 1888 or early 1889. He is Greek and is 5 foot 7 inches tall with brown hair and blue eyes. He says he lives in Prince Rupert and his nearest relative is his wife, Esther, who also lives in Prince Rupert.

Harry has $200 dollars with him and this is his first visit to the USA.

The final years

There are passenger lists which show Esther returned to the UK in 1925 and 1927. I believe she also returned in 1926 to attend the marriage of her daughter, Eva to Mark Chemerofsky. She is a witness on the marriage certificate. The next we know of Esther after the visit is when she is found murdered in April 1928.

According to her Canadian probate she had $10,000 Canadian in the bank which is worth about £80,000 in 2019. Not bad for a Dressmaker born into one of the poorest streets in London.

To this day it is not known who murdered Esther in 1928 and her sister 17 years later in 1945. I would love to know what might have driven Esther to live abroad away from her daughter, what she did for a living, why she ended up in Prince Rupert, Canada and of course who and why she was murdered. There is also so little I know about Jack Lichtenstein, or was it Jacob or even John?

I have only recently started finding this information out and I hope to discover more about Esther and Jack. As a matter of coincidence, her daughter also married twice. The first time to a Hairdresser, the second to a Cat Burglar known as “Greek Alf”.

I feel there is more to come in the story of Esther and Jack, but for now I’ll leave it here with what I know already.