Tag Archive for England

Fabian of the Yard

Det. Insp. Fabian of Scotland Yard

Charles Walton was loner who lived in a very small village near Stratford-on-Avon, home to William Shakespeare. He had always been considered a bit odd by the 450 other people who lived in Lower Quinton village. He wasn’t disliked, but Charlie apparently preferred the company of the birds and animals to his human companions and claimed that he could communicate with the birds. When he was younger, Walton had also been an accomplished horse whisperer, a person who could control a horse from a distance with just a motion of his hand or a glance. This ability only increased the awareness of the community that Charlie was different.
 
Although it was 1945, the people of Lower Quinton were a superstitious bunch quite willing to believe in the paranormal. This was an area of England that had a long history of belief in witches and supernatural occurrences. As late as the 19th century an elderly woman had been murdered by the “village idiot” because he suspected her of being a witch. The man confessed that his victim was “a proper witch” and the description of how he had pinned her to the ground with a pitchfork and then carved the sign of the Cross on her body with a knife would be eerily similar to how Charles Walton’s body was found.
 
Beyond the witchcraft that was so prevalent in Lower Quinton, the community also had the Legend of the Black Dog. According to local legend, when the Black Dog of Lower Quinton appeared, someone one was going to die. Many of the townspeople of Lower Quinton believed in the legend, and some believed that Charles Walton had some connection to the animal.
 
The Black Dog was larger than most dogs and apparently had glowing red eyes. The hound would appear out of nowhere and disappear the as mysteriously as it came.
 
Charles Walton was linked to the black dog because back in the late 1880s as a young man he reported seeing the dog nine straight days. On the last day, Walton told his fellow villagers, the dog turned into a headless woman. The next day, Walton’s sister died.
 
All of this, plus Walton’s fondness for toads — often believed to be connected to witchcraft — set him apart from his fellows.
 
Someone killed Charles Walton because they thought he was involved in witchcraft. There is really no other reasonable motive. He wasn’t rich, although he did have a bank account, and he had no known enemies – except those who apparently blamed him for the bad luck area farmers had experienced in prior years.
 
Despite decent weather, crops in the area had failed and, according to some of the very few people who would even talk to the detectives sent by Scotland Yard, the beer made from the last wheat harvest was especially bitter and barely tolerable.
 
On February 14, 1945, someone attacked Charles as he headed out to trim some hedges for a neighbor and viciously murdered him.
 
He was last seen alive when Alfred Potter, the farmer for whom Charles was cutting hedges, observed a man he thought to be Charles Walton swinging a sharp trimming hook on the hedgerow that ran up the crown of Meon Hill. However, Potter stood more than a quarter-mile away from Walton and could not testify positively to the man’s identity.
 
Charles told his niece, Edith, that he would be home at 4 p.m. to make his own evening meal, and if anything Charles was a stickler for routine. Thus, when 6 p.m. came by and he had not returned from Meon Hill, she became convinced that the septuagenarian had fallen or otherwise injured himself.
 
She contacted Potter and along with another farmer, Harry Beasley, the group went in search of Charles.
 
Potter was several steps ahead of Beasley and Edith Walton, carrying a flashlight. As he approached a hedgerow at the foot of Meon Hill, he saw Charles’s body. The flashlight revealed a grisly sight.
 
Charles lay on the ground, awash in blood. His walking stick lay nearby, covered in blood. His sightless eyes were still open and, according to witnesses, his face bore an expression of great fear – not unexpected considering how he had died.
 
His pitchfork had been driven through his throat with such force that the tines embedded themselves six inches into the peat. The trimming hook he had been using on the hedges had been used to scratch a sign of the Cross in his face, throat and chest. The hook was still hanging from a gaping wound in his chest when the searchers found him.
 
The way Charles was found was identical to the way 80-year-old Ann Turner had been slain in 1875 by “feeble-minded” John Haywood.
 
With absolutely no leads, the Warwickshire police force turned the case over to Scotland Yard for help.
 
Detective Superintendent Robert Fabian and his able partner Detective Sgt. Albert Webb arrived shortly after the body was found to take charge of the investigation.
 
Fabian was known among law-enforcement as “Fabian of the Yard,” which conjures up images of dime novels and Agatha Christie parlor murders, but Fabian was a skilled and relentless detective. He and Webb, along with Warwickshire detective Alex Spooner, began to look at the clues.
 
The crime scene had been hopelessly trampled by the search party and the local constabulary had removed the body from the scene without appropriately marking the location and conditions.
 
Fabian and his team found the locals equally unhelpful. Their only assistance was that the murderer could not have been a local. There was a prisoner-of-war camp located nearby, but after interviewing the 1,000 internees, the police came back to Meon Hill empty handed.
 
Reverting to the tried-and-true approach of re-examining the crime scene in hopes of locating that one overlooked clue that would unravel the mystery, Fabian walked the route Charles Walton followed to his death over and over.
 
One evening around dusk, he was walking along the slope of Meon Hill when he had an encounter with a mysterious black dog. There are two different accounts of how he spotted the dog – one states that he noticed the dog sitting on a stone wall watching him, while the other says it merely ran past him. A few moments later, a young boy traipsed past Fabian.
 
“Are you looking for your dog?” Fabian asked the child.
 
“What dog?” the boy asked.
 
Fabian said later that he noticed that the dog had vanished and the boy, knowing the local legend, fled down the hill in terror.
 
Fabian told of the encounter while he was interviewing residents in the local pub – interestingly known as The Gay Dog, and they, in turn, told him of the Legend of the Black Dog. Fabian did some investigating and uncovered a reference to a young Charles Walton and his encounter with the black dog in a book on local superstitions.
 
Shortly afterward, a black Labrador Retriever was found hanged on Meon Hill.
 
Fabian was soon forced to admit defeat. Stonewalled by the locals, having conducted well over two thousands interviews and examining samples of blood, skin and hair, he was unable to uncover anything that pointed to Walton’s killer.
 
“When Albert Webb and I walked into the village pubs silence fell like a physical blow,” Fabian wrote in his memoirs Fabian of the Yard. “Cottage doors were shut in our faces and even the most innocent witnesses seemed unable to meet our eyes.”
 
The local press considered the matter part of a local “fertility rite” and published an interview with a woman from nearby Birmingham who claimed that Charles had been murdered by members of an ancient cult still active in the area.
 
Police pooh-poohed that idea, but acknowledged that there were “black magic” groups active in the area.
 
While Fabian and Webb returned to Scotland Yard to investigate more run-of-the-mill crimes, Detective Alec Spooner of the Warwickshire Criminal Investigation Division remained on the case. For the next 19 years he returned to Meon Hill on the anniversary of Walton’s murder, hoping that either the murderer would return to the scene of the crime or that some clue would present itself.
 
“Detectives deal in facts, ” Fabian told a newspaper years later. “But there was something uncanny about that investigation.”
 
The murder remains unsolved to this day.

The Stanswood Affairs

On November 5, 1971, the body of 35-year-old Peter Stanswood was found in a small car parked along a remote lovers’ lane outside Portsmouth, England called Purbrook Heath Road. He had been stabbed to death.
 
At first it appeared the only interesting fact in the case was that Stanswood had been slain with a semi-exotic weapon: a blood-covered Japanese paper knife that was embedded to the hilt in his chest. There were no fingerprints on the knife, but there was blood on the knife and the steering wheel of the car that did not match Peter Stanswood.
 
However, it wouldn’t take long before the backstory to the murder would far outstrip the novelty of a homicide.
 
Murder investigation 101 demands that detectives begin their hunt for the killer among the people who are closest to the victim. In the case of Peter Stanswood, the first stop for investigators was with Heather Stanswood, the grieving widow. After their first interview with Heather, police were confident that at the very least, Heather had a pair of suitable reasons to want Peter dead.
 
First off was the tried-and-true insurance motive. With her husband dead, she stood to receive a payoff worth nearly $50,000 (which has the buying power of about $200,000 in current dollars not accounting for fluctuations in the pound and dollar). While not exactly a fortune, people have killed for less.
 
Secondly, Heather supplied police with a list containing no fewer than 25 names of Portsmouth women with whom Peter was having an affair, or had once been intimate. Two of the women on the list had presented Peter with illegitimate children, and another was pregnant with his baby.
 
One of the women on the list was Elizabeth Thompson, the wife of Peter’s business partner, Ken Thompson. The two men owned a boating business on the Isle of Wight.
 
Heather, however, was not content to play the role of the wronged wife. She had had more than her share of outside dalliances (at least 16 acknowledged affairs), which only made the job of finding Peter’s killer that much more difficult. Peter was apparently aware of several of Heather’s love affairs.
 
Thus began one of the most unusual murder investigations in the annals of British criminal history, which is really saying something.
 
Following the leads provided by Heather, authorities eventually linked Peter to no fewer than 66 illicit relationships. It further turns out that the ladies of Portsmouth, a seafaring town on the English Channel with a large British Naval base, were not content to simply wait patiently for their men to return from the sea. Infidelity, it seemed was de riguer and the favorite pastime in Portsmouth.
 
During the course of running down leads in the Stanswood investigation, police interviewed 20,000 Portsmouth residents and took formal depositions from about 2,000 women, most of whom had been involved in extramarital affairs — meaning (very roughly) that one out of every five married women in Portsmouth had been unfaithful.
 
Most statements were tales that merely embarrassed detectives and witnesses because of their prurient nature without advancing the case. Just a few of the highly confidential depositions aided the investigation into Peter Stanswood’s death, police said.
 
One of those statements was made by Ken Fromant, an out-of-town boilermaker, who had once been Heather Stanswood’s lover but had moved on to Elizabeth Thompson (remember, she was one of Peter’s lovers and the wife of his business partner). Fromant admitted that he had once bedded Heather but that their romance had ended two months before Peter was slain. He also confessed that he was involved with Liz Thompson, but swore that he was home in Berkshire with his wife and two children the night of the murder.
 
Furthermore, Fromant told police, he had never met Peter Stanswood and had no reason to kill him or even want him dead.
 
For several years police did not turn up any significant clues in the crime, but did amass a collection of tales that would make Alfred Kinsey blush. It appeared that the insurance/jealously motive assigned to Heather Stanswood was gaining credence.
 
Then, one of the 20,000 interviews gave police the break they needed. One of the women questioned mentioned that she was with her lover, Ian Dance, the night Peter Stanswood was killed. Ian Dance was familiar to police because as a friend of Ken Fromant he had been one of the earliest interviewees to visit police headquarters. Dance, it turns out, lied to authorities about his whereabouts on the night of the murder. Dance swore he had not been in Portsmouth that evening.
 
Under a grilling by detectives, Dance admitted that he had not been entirely truthful. Yes, he had been in Portsmouth that day, but his friend, Ken Fromant, had dropped him off at the train station in the late afternoon and at the time of the murder he was miles away. Dance’s alibi held up and it turns out that he had nothing to do with Peter Stanswood’s killing.
 
But wait, detectives said, Fromant said he was home in Berkshire that night, and that he hadn’t been in Portsmouth at all. Could it be that Fromant was also lying about breaking up with Heather Stanswood?
 
To test that theory, investigators went back to Liz Thompson to see if she could shed some light on Fromant’s activities that day. To their surprise, Liz shot their theory to pieces.
 
Breaking down under questioning, Liz tearfully admitted that Fromant was in Portsmouth that night, but that he was with her, not Heather. But still, she insisted, they had nothing to do with Peter Stanswood’s death. Fromant independently confirmed that he was with Liz Thompson that night, and reasserted that he had no reason to kill Peter because his affair with Heather was long over.
 
Portsmouth police weren’t so sure, and they began to look more closely into Fromant’s activities on the day of the murder.
 
While textbook flat-foot police work turned up the inconsistent statements of Dance, Liz Thompson, and Fromant, it was sheer chance that provided the evidence needed to break the case.
 
The day after it was returned, the car that Dance and Fromant rented that November day had — as cars sometimes do — simply stopped working and was taken to a garage for repairs. There it sat forgotten for more than three years until tracked down by the bobbies.
 
Samples of dirt were taken from the vehicle’s tires. This dirt proved to be identical to earth taken from the crime scene. In addition, Fromant’s blood type matched the blood found on the Japanese knife and on the steering wheel of Stanswood’s car.
 
Fromant and Heather Stanswood were arrested and charged with murder. But Heather continued to insist that she had nothing to do with the crime. For his part, Fromant wasn’t talking. Heather told detectives that Peter had received a call from Liz Thompson the night of November 5, asking to meet him on Purbrook Heath Road for a bit of intimacy. She never saw her husband alive again.
 
Heather went on to say that Liz confessed to her that Fromant had killed Peter in a fight. It turns out that when Peter arrived at the lovers’ lane rendezvous, Fromant and Liz were waiting in the rented car. They then joined Peter in his car, where the fight broke out. Fromant drew his paper knife, but Peter managed to wrench it away and cut the boilermaker, accounting for Fromant’s blood on the steering wheel and the knife. Fromant regained the upper hand and stabbed Peter Stanswood — a man he had never seen before that night — seven times.
 
Fromant and Liz Thompson then went to her home where Fromant bandaged his hand and changed clothes before returning to his wife in Berkshire.
 
The claims were investigated and Liz Thompson admitted they were essentially correct. The charges against Heather were dropped and Liz Thompson took her place in the dock.
 
In October 1975, during their 17-day trial, Liz and Ken Fromant blamed each other for the actual killing, which didn’t matter as each was equally guilty. It turned out that Liz Thompson was in love with Peter Stanswood to the extent that she wanted him all for herself. He didn’t feel the same way, and Liz decided that if she couldn’t have him, no one would.
 
In sentencing the murderers to life terms, the judge in the case expressed the commonly held belief that the whole story of the murder of Peter Stanswood had not been told.
 
After the trial police burned the 2,000 depositions gathered during the investigation, much to the relief of the women of Portsmouth who had shared the intimate secrets of that seaside city.