Thursday, 5 November 2015

The Unsolved Murder of Jean Townsend

I had a communication from people at a place called Ivor Court, in regards to the 1954 unsolved murder of 21 year old Jean Townsend, who worked in the west end of London as a costumier.  Here is a summary.  She was killed on September 14th in Ruislip, after leaving South Ruislip train station at 11.45 pm and walking towards her parents home.  Her body was discovered the following morning on waste ground.  She had been strangled with her own scarf.  Some of her clothing had been removed but the post mortem did not reveal any signs of rape.  One witness told Police of hearing a scream and two men talking.  The witness described one voice as American.  The was an air station nearby manned by U.S. personnel.  Claims were later made that the authorities at the base refused to cooperate with the Police.  Then some women came forward to speak of encounters with men in the immediate vicinity of where Jean was found.  One woman described an American with a high forehead.  Another woman reported an attack by a strange man, days before the murder, on the road Jean was walking on after leaving the station.  The description reported the man had a high forehead.

    People were now asking if the murder of a woman in Pimlico, just before Jean`s, were connected.  She had been seen with a US airman.  She too, had been strangled.  Were they linked?  Police never said.  Then there was another attack on a woman who left a train.  He followed the woman off the train at North Harrow, so she confronted him and a struggle ensued, in which she managed to tear one or two buttons off his overcoat.  She described him as having a high forehead.  Three years later, Muriel Maitland was murdered a couple of miles away from Ruislip, in Cranford Woods.  Connected?

    The case came under review in 1982 following a series of telephone calls, but Police refused to disclose any details.  They were confident enough to believe that no US servicemen were involved and there were no connections to any other murders and assaults, which included the 1971 murder of Gloria Booth, murdered a mile away from where Jean was murdered.  Then, more than twenty years later, an attempt was made via the Freedom of Information Act, to gain access to the case files, now held at the National Archives.  But the application was denied.  They are to remain closed until 2031.  However, a suspect was named during the hearing, a Count Francesco Carlo Dalatri, a man of mixed English and Italian parentage and lived in London at the time.  Why did this man`s name crop up?  Due to allegations made on a radio show hosted by the late John Peel, in which he interviewed the now deceased Count's landlady.  The claims made, but never substantiated, were that the mysterious Count had a habit of commuting on trains, simply to stare at other people.  Late at night.  He allegedly vanished, presumably to Italy, shortly after the murder.  The landlady claimed that she and a friend forced open a locked door in his now vacated room and found an army great coat with buttons torn off.  Cynics would say "Why was this coat not handed to Police?"  His habits being known should have been brought to their attention.  But this could also spark suggestions of a cover up.  His family used influence or bought the cops off.  The tribunal ruled there was no connection with the Count, and rumours and reports of a button found in Jean's hand, torn from a coat, did not match the case file.  Therefore it had no basis in truth.  But stories have surfaced that a woman was attacked just before Jean, as she left Ruislip Station but she managed to escape and hide.  Due to the closure on the case files, it is not known if she reported it to Police.  So it cannot be said for certain if this actually happened.

    So, was there a cover up?  There is an explanation for alleged reluctance for the US Air Force to assist Police.  During WW2, acts of rape and murder were Capital Crimes in the US military, and eighteen soldiers were hanged at Shepton Mallet.  During a time of war, strict discipline was called for.  But in 1954, we were not at war, and possibly it was decided to refuse to cooperate with Police when some member of their forces could face the hangman.  Executions took place months after conviction, not many years later, as in the US.  As for the "Count", we need to have some sort of bogeyman in a mystery.  Was there actual evidence to back up the allegations against this man?  Scottish serial killer has been put forward as a suspect.  It is thought that he resided in the South Ruislip area at the time of the murder, and did he commit some murders in England?  Manuel piled up the bodies in Scotland, so it IS possible.  But as for the closure on files at the National Archives, there is no conspiracy there.  I have found that obscure murder cases have closure for up to one hundred years.  It is usually newspapers who whip up the conspiracy theories, simply to spark attention and rumour.  Those are the rules.  There is nothing special about murder cases that demand secrecy, it is simply the rules.  The daughter of a murder victim contacted me to tell of her battle with the Archives to have the files opened on her mother`s killer.  But this case has an eighty three year closure.  It did not matter that the killer then went on to commit a second and premeditated murder, for which he served less than twenty years.  What do I think?  It is possible that the killer was the man harassing and attacking other women.  Was he a military man?  Wearing a great coat was not positive proof, as they were fine for keeping warm and dry.  He could have been a former military man who had decided to stay over here.  But the thorn in the side, is that the reports from women of attacks and harassment, were only made after the murder.  There was a claim that Police were fairly certain who the killer was but could not find the proof to exact an arrest.  A mystery that will never go away.