Sunday, 28 June 2015

Unsolved Murder: Joan Woodhouse

This well known unsolved murder goes back to 1948 and it did result in the very first private prosecution for murder  in nearly ninety years but it never made it to trial.  It was ruled as having insufficient evidence to justify a trial, at the Magistrates Court.  The case began when a man named Stillwell, came across the semi-naked body of a young woman, in a wooded area known as Box Copse.  This was a secluded spot popular with courting couples wishing for a little privacy.  This was in the vast grounds of Arundel Park, overlooked by a Norman Castle, in Sussex.  Joan Woodhouse, 27, was a librarian living at a WYCA facility in Lee Green, South East London.  Her family home was in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

    Joan had told friends that she was going home to visit family but instead she took a train to the south coast on July 31st.  She left a case at the left luggage office at Worthing Station.  The ticket stub was found in her bag.  Her body was discovered on August 10th, close to Swanbourne Lake.  Her clothes were found nearby, neatly folded.  Professor Keith Simpson was called in to examine the body.  Joan had been strangled and raped.  But her valuables were still with her clothes, ruling out a robbery and murder.  Her diary contained dozens and dozens of names and all were checked out in the hunt led by Chief Inspector Fred Narborough of Scotland Yard.  There were the usual people ready to confess; two did but it was quickly established that they not the killer.  The case eventually ran cold.  But the family of Joan hired a private detective to investigate and his findings were sufficient for the case to be reopened.  This time the inquiry was led by Detective Superintendent Reg Spooner, one of the "star" detectives of the Yard.  Strangely, Spooner did not investigate with his usual enthusiasm.  He believed Joan had committed suicide, a view that stunned Dr Simpson.  Spooner did do a thorough job but it seemed his heart was just not in it.  Joan had been raped and strangled, so it was odd that Spooner had such a contention.  Then Mr Stillwell faced the private prosecution which failed at the Magistrates Court.

    So what had led to the death of Joan?  She had been seen in the company of a man in the George & Dragon pub in Burpham, which was three miles away from Arundel.  They had been overheard talking about going for a walk, which would take in the river, walk over a couple of bridges and then into the grounds of the castle.  This man was never traced.  Joan was a very shy woman but one thing she did enjoy was sunbathing, as long as it was in private.  The copse was also a good spot for sunbathing, away from the crowds that had gathered around the castle and the general area.  Her clothes had been neatly folded, so she was sunbathing.  Her camiknickers had one button torn off at the crotch, but not the other.  Disturbance at the scene showed that Joan had tried to flee but had been caught and dragged to the ground.  Dr Simpson, due to decomposition, had been unable to discover if Joan had been a virgin.  Despite her shyness and strong religious faith, Joan obviously enjoyed stripping off for a touch of sun but only in seclusion.  She enjoyed certain aspects of life as long as it was on her own terms.  Nothing wrong with that.  If she had the mystery man with her in the copse, would such a shy girl willingly undress in his company?  It would seem logical then that the killer came across her catching the sun, and seeing a young woman in her bra, panties and stockings, in a secluded spot, took advantage and then decided that he did not want a living witness to his crime. (Darn it - there I go again with my "Trouble stirring guesswork."  That remark is for the benefit of some supercilious twat!)
The sad thing is that she would have been safe amongst the huge crowds that were nearby but some sick individual ensured she never left that copse alive.