The actor who mysteriously never left the stage

William Terris in the role of Romeo.
William Terriss in the role of Romeo.

THE INSANELY JEALOUS, odd, and sneaky man waited with his knife at the stage door. He rocked unsteady on his feet but his aim was effective. As an elegantly costumed man approached, the odd man lunged out and stabbed him in the chest several times. The wounded man collapsed and was soon being held in the arms of a beautiful lady also in vibrant costuming. “I shall come back,” he was heard to whisper before dying.

Such was the grim death of William Terriss. Terriss was a brilliant British actor whose presence inspired adoration of patrons and critics alike. He was a master of his craft and he could come off as unbelievably handsome when properly made-up and costumed for the heroic roles he played. He drew large crowds, and at times even ventured into comedy. He had died on December 16, 1897 in the arms of his glamorous, confused, and bereft leading lady. His death caused a pall over the theatre.

Richard Prince, the knife-wielder, was an alcoholic and envious bit player. If someone examined the back story of this tragic event, they would learn that William Terriss had been exceedingly kind to Richard Prince over the years, securing parts for the down-and-out actor, setting up a benevolent fund for him, loaning him money from time to time. The murder was perhaps a bizarre case of life imitating art to the Nth degree. Richard Prince was put on trial for the murder and sent to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum where he later died. British actors were appalled by the light sentence he received.

The story doesn’t end there. William Terriss did return, as promised in his dying words. He haunted the Adelphi Theatre for decades. One could hear eerie rapping noises in his old dressing room. Ethereal lights appeared with no explanation. His apparition has been seen many times in the Covent Garden Tube Station at Charing Cross. He is easy to recognize in his top hat, frock coat and carrying a walking stick. When passersby try to engage him in conversation he disappears into thin air. The living William Terriss often waited in that very spot for the late train home.

This is almost exactly the way the marvelous story-teller, Chappy Mackenzie explained the William Terriss murder to his friends at the regular meeting of the Hampshire Haunting and Paranormal Enlightenment Society.

“Ooooo! Should we not go on a field trip to haunted London theatres, Chappy? I should fancy something such as that.” Pansy Renwick threw out this idea verbally, but everyone in the group was thinking it.

“I would certainly be up for it,” Chappy replied. “There are several haunted theatres that deserve our attention.”

“I agree as well. Perhaps we could enlist the help of some of our friends in getting into some restricted areas. I think it can be done,” Timothy Holmes added.

“Lets make a list of places to see and then we can find out who among us may know people that can help in those areas,” Pansy suggested. “We must include the Haymarket. Many have seen the ghost of John Buckstone, house manager there. Famous actress, Margaret Rutherford is one who saw him repeatedly.”

“Ah, Miss Marple, herself,” Chappy mused. “Also at the Haymarket was the strange case of the apparition that used to stand behind actors performing on stage. The stage manager has almost dropped the curtain at times to get the intruder off the stage, when he disappears on his own. There was the ‘man in grey,’ who haunted the upper circle of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.”

“And at the Albery Theatre, which used to be the New Theatre, there are reports of hauntings by Sir Charles Wyndham, the original owner,” Patrick Martin added.

“Yes!” Pansy exclaimed, then, added, “And at the Old Vic there have been sightings of a woman wringing her hands and acting the part of Lady Macbeth. It is too, too eerie.”

“I have drawn up a tentative itinerary,” Chappy announced later, as he placed a paper forward for others in the group to view and approve.

“Aha! Good one ol’ boy,” Patrick Martin noted aloud. “You have us using the tube several times via the Covent Garden Station. Surely William Terriss will also be waiting there when we do.”

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song.



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