Inquest on Chung Ling Soo

Bowes Park Weekly News, 6 April 1918

The inquest on Chung Ling Soo, whose real name was William Elsworth Robinson, 58, of 50, Lonsdale-road, Barnes, was begun at Wood Green Town Hall on Thursday of last week.

The chief witness was Mrs Olive Robinson of Courcey-road, Wood Green, wife of deceased.

Mr J. T. Davies appeared for the Stoll Empires, and Mr Wood appeared for “a person interested.”

Mrs. Robinson, a small, bird-like woman, who was heavily veiled, was known on the stage as Suan See, and she described with pathetic feeling the scene as her husband lay shot through the body, with blood pouring from his chest and back. He was, of course, in Chinese costume, and so was she.

She said she was married to deceased 12 years ago, but did not live with him. They had travelled all over the world together, and she had assisted him for more years than she could remember, possibly about 25 years. There were no children.

At the performance which ended fatally at the Empire on Saturday, March 23rd, two Chinese boys were assisting, but all were off the stage, and “Defying the Bullets” was the last trick in the act. The trick consisted of his pretending to catch in a china plate two bullets fired at him from two guns. He allowed nobody to touch the guns but himself, and witness said she knew nothing of their mechanism, and she believed nobody else knew anything about the guns. He cleaned and loaded the guns himself, and there were three of them, one being used for another trick.

Mrs Robinson was considerably flustered by the Coroner bombarding her with questions as to dates, as to when the guns were first used, etc, and her replies were tearfully vague. Of her own part in the performance she spoke with precision, and said the cup in which she showed the bullets to the audience had a false bottom, which concealed two other bullets. The visible bullets were marked by the audience, but witness, during her journey to the stage “palmed” the marked bullets for the other two, and handed them to the Committee as the inspected bullets. There were, of course, marks on all the bullets, and the Committee would not know what the marks were, expect that they were marks, and the first bullets were never used in guns.

Two round pieces of lead, about the size of marbles, and of similar appearance, were produced as the bullets actually used. The same trick had been smoothly performed at the first house, said witness, and after the show witness took the three guns to Robinson’s dressing-room in readiness for the next show. She locked the door and gave him the key, as about all these details he was most particular. When she went for the guns for the second show her husband was in the room, and he was loading the guns. He was talking to a friend at the time – Mr Cecil Lile – and the latter then passed to the front to see the show. The usual routine of the inspection of guns and bullets was gone through, the loading was done, and the deceased took his plate and stood ready. Witness stood with the apparatus for the next trick and took no further part in the bullet trick, and, in fact, was not on the stage at all.

The guns were fired by the two assistants, who stood at one side of the stage, facing decreased, after the manager, Mr Kametaro, had given the order. She heard the explosion of the guns, and her husband cried out, “My God! Something’s happened!” She went to him and saw him bleeding at the chest. He told her to send for a doctor, and she did so. He was conscious off and on, and said he did not know how it had happened. Witness broke down and sobbed at this stage, evidently heartbroken at the fatal mishap to her life-long companion. Death took place at Wood Green Hospital, where the unfortunate man was taken. Dr Porter was in attendance, and he described the injury.

Fucado Kametaro, of 21, Courcy-road, Wood Green, manager to deceased for 16 years, gave evidence that the trick was performed exactly as it had been for nine years past.

Robert Churchill, a West End gunmaker, who examined the guns on behalf of the police, said the weapons were about 20 years old. In one gun there was a defect in the steel of the barrels and long use developed this defect, til at length is was possible to fire a bullet from the gun, although it had been altered so that no bullet should be fired from it.

There was no sign that the guns had been tampered with, but at some time they had been fitted with an extra steel tube, commonly supposed to be a tube to hold the ram-rod, but in this case designed to hold a charge of powder to make a report when the guns was fired. The bullets were loaded into the top tube, and the powder into the ram-rod tube. In the ordinary way the bullets remained in the gun after the explosion, and the performer would produce the two marked bullets, handed to him by his wife, and rattle them against the plate, afterwards showing them to the audience as the marked bullets. But small quantities of power had found their way along the worn part to behind the bullet, and this accumulation lay in wait for the performer till the fatal moment arrived.

The jury returned a verdict of death from misadventure.

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