Date: 19 Apr 1957
Place: Park Lane, Handsworth
Frederick Walter Jeffs was found half-buried in wooded wasteland near a 'Lover's Lane' at Handsworth between West Bromwich and Birmingham on the night of Good Friday 19 April 1957.
His A30 van had been found earlier that day abandoned in Brantley Road, Witton, Birmingham, six miles away from where his body was found. The van had blood on the bonnet, inside, on one headlamp, on the windscreen and roof. Frederick Jeffs's wallet was found in the back of his van but it was empty. It was noted that there was no damage to Frederick Jeffs's van to suggest that it had been in an accident.
A pathologist said that Frederick Jeffs's injuries were probably caused by bricks found near his body and that the blows had been of 'very great force'. He added that he thought that Frederick Jeffs had been standing near his van when he was first struck and had then been put inside the van at some stage where he might have been further attacked causing fresh injuries.
It was said that skid marks were also found near the wood which were thought to have been made by the van as it pulled away from the scene and that additionally that Frederick Jeffs's body had been dragged from it. A policeman that examined the scene said that the tyre marks were 32ft long and appeared to have been made by a fierce application of brakes on a cart track leading off Park Lane. It was noted that a belt from a mackintosh was tied round his neck and it was thought that he had been pulled along by it.
The wood was about three miles away from his home in Quinton.
His body was found half buried under twigs, leaves and bricks in an elliptical hollow off of the lane.
There was no money on his body.
Frederick Jeffs was noted for having had a black miniature French poodle dog called Perro which was later thought to have been seen in Reservoir Road, Langley in Worcestershire, at about 10.30pm, 18 April 1957, on its own. The dog was not seen again for four days and when it was found in a nearby garage with its distinctive red collar missing and the police focussed their search around Langley, which was about eight miles from where his body was found, on the theory that he had been murdered there before being driven off in his van and dumped in Handsworth. Perro was described as having been exhausted and hungry when found. Before the dog was found the police said that they thought that it might also have been killed, it being said that it otherwise rarely left his side. After the dog was found they postulated that it had been tipped from Frederick Jeffs's van on the Thursday or Friday night.
Frederick Jeffs had been a shopkeeper and had lived in a flat above his shop in Stanley Road, Quinton. His shop had sold sweets and tobacco products and it was thought that the motive for his murder was robbery and that he had been lured away by a young woman that was seen earlier on in his shop on the pretext of a date and then attacked by a man. When Frederick Jeffs's body was found all of his pockets had been turned inside out. His business was described as 'thriving'.
It was thought that after murdering Frederick Jeffs, that his murderers had then driven back to his shop with his keys and taken £150 in money. It was said that Frederick Jeffs had been in the habit of hiding money beneath his floor boards but that when his shop was searched, none was found. It was noted that a watch and radio were also thought to have been missing from his shop.
The police noted that it was known that a new issue blue £5 note was known to have been handed in at Frederick Jeffs's shop on the Thursday and they appealed for any one that had seen one to come forward, but said that no one did. The £5 note was said to have had either the serial number A12/453594 or A12/453596 on it.
Following that it was thought that his murderer's had then driven off in his van and then dumped it in Witton. His keys were also missing.
It was noted that fingerprints were found in Frederick Jeffs's van which were mostly his, but that there were others.
On 22 April 1957 it was reported that the police had found an air pistol similar to the one that Frederick Jeffs was known to have carried about with him since his shop had been burgled in December 1956. It was found in a dustbin in Hamstead Road in Handsworth which was only about half-a-mile from the spot where his body was found. The police said that the air pistol was being examined by ballistics experts but said however that they considered it doubtful that it was Frederick Jeffs's missing weapon. A chief superintendent said that such a pistol could not have caused the extensive injuries that were found on Frederick Jeffs's head but that it could have been responsible for some of his minor injuries, noting that they were still certain that the murder weapon was a bulky object.
The police said that they were anxious to interview the young woman customer who was thought to have dated him. Frederick Jeffs had been seen in his shop on the Thursday evening 18 April 1957 with the woman by another customer who said that he heard the woman, who was described as being about 20 years old and with dark brown hair, arranging to meet Frederick Jeffs later that night. It was said that Frederick Jeffs had appeared embarrassed by the woman and was seen to mouth to her, 'I will see you later'. His stepsister said that the young woman had come into the shop at about 7pm. She said, 'I saw Fred mouthing some word to the girl. It seemed like 'I'll see you tonight'. I have never seen that girl before'.
In their appeal for the information about the woman, the police said, 'She may have played no part in the murder, but in any case she could give us vital evidence'.
It was later suggested that the woman had an Italian accent and that Frederick Jeffs's murder might have been connected to gangland activity.
On 26 April 1957 it was noted that a 19-year-old girl had come forward to say that she had met Frederick Jeffs on the night before he disappeared, saying that she had talked to him whilst he was in his stationery van whilst it was outside his shop without its lights on, but it is not thought that she was the same girl that was seen to agree a date with Frederick Jeffs in his shop as they were still attempting to find her several days later during their house-to-house initiative. Whilst it was noted that the police had not been able to get anything useful out of the girl, they said that they were still anxious to see the drivers of the 12 or 15 cars that she said had been in Stanley Road at the time she spoke to Frederick Jeffs.
His body as found by five schoolboys that had been playing at a secluded spot near to the West Bromwich Albion football ground and a few hundred yards from Handsworth cemetery.
No murder weapon was found and the police said that they thought that his body had been taken to the wood after he had been murdered. It was said that he had been battered to death with a rock and that he had about 12 serious head wounds, but it was later said that he had been beaten to death with a lorry starter handle. It was claimed that the fact that he had been beaten to death with the starter handle was not disclosed until 2018 when a man came forward to say that he had found it when he was a boy, aged 9, and had thrown it in some bushes, adding that he had been unaware that Frederick Jeffs had been lying in some bushes nearby at the time. He said that the starter handle had had blood and matted hair on it. It was noted that he had been interviewed at the time and that the detail was corroborated during a cold case review in 1972. However, it was noted that the detail have not been revealed to the public until 2018.
It was said that after the boy, who was with a friend, threw the starter handle away that they were followed by a tall man wearing a trilby hat and a long raincoat and that they ran away. However, the boy said that when he went back the starter handle had gone. It was as such suggested that the man had been the murderer and that he had both followed the boys and gone back to get the murder weapon, the starter handle.
When the police first described what they thought the murder weapon had been they had said that it had obviously been a heavy, bulky instrument, like a brick or a piece of rock.
The wood that Frederick Jeffs was found in, also referred to as a spinney, was on a track that ran from Birmingham Road in West Bromwich, to Newton Road in Great Barr and was known as the Wasson or Lover's Lane. The police appealed for courting couples that had seen anything unusual in Park Lane during the night to come forward as well as courting couples that had been on Warley Woods golf course at the time after the police were given information by a man who said that he had been on the golf course on the night and had seen a grey van similar to Frederick Jeffs's van near the seventh fairway. He said that she also saw a black poodle, a black sports car parked nearby and a middle aged man walking across the golf course with a young woman who had long dark hair.
After the man came forward with the information about seeing a man on Warley Woods golf course, the police said that they intended to concentrate their efforts again in the Warley area, stating, 'Our theory that this may have been the murder spot is strengthened by the fact that Jeffs used to exercise his poodle on the golf course. His glasses were found unbroken in his abandoned van, which may point to the fact that they fell on the grass when he was beaten about the head'. The man that came forward had been 44-years-old and had lived in Bearwood Road, Smethwick and was Czech.
On 27 April 1957 it was reported that the police were using tracker dogs to comb Warley Woods in their search for clues. The woods was described as a one mile square area of woodland and about a mile away from Frederick Jeffs's shop. It was said that there had been at least 60 police officers involved in the search along with 20 tracker dogs.
A married woman that lived in Stanley Road said that on Maundy Thursday at about 9.10pm she saw Frederick Jeffs drive away from his shop in his van. She noted that she didn't see anyone else in the van or his dog.
It was noted that his van had been seen in Vicarage Road, Langley at about 10.30pm, stationery and then shortly after at about 10.45pm at the back of his shop with someone in the driver’s seat. It was also noted that it was not in its usual parking spot.
The van was seen at about 11.10pm to pull out into the street and a woman, who matched the description of the woman seen earlier in his shop, was seen to emerge from the shadow of his shop door and to get in. The woman that saw the van at 11.10pm lived in Edward Road, Quinton, and said that she saw the girl in the doorway of Frederick Jeffs's shop, noting that she was wearing a dark, fitted coat and no hat. She added that the girl was young and not very tall. She said, 'I had reached the entry by the side of the shop when I saw a grey van turn round and come out front ways. He put the headlamps on and stopped to pick the girl up. The van then drove off towards Hagley, but I could not see who was driving'.
It was later suggested by the police that his murderers might have taken everything out of his pockets to conceal his identity for as long as possible.
During an appeal for information, the police said, 'We think that someone somewhere is concealing vital evidence. The murderer stayed out unexpectedly on Thursday night and someone must have seen him coming home agitated and probably bloodstained'.
On 29 April 1957 it was reported that the investigation encompassed one of the biggest house-to-house inquiries made by the police in the Midlands with the CID set to question 25,000 families. It was said that the police were particularly keen to trace the woman that was seen to make the appointment with Frederick Jeffs at his shop on the afternoon he vanished. It was said that the initiative was to involve 60 detectives and that it was expected to take ten days to complete with a comprehensive checking system in place along with a huge street map of the area to ensure that no houses were missed.
A detective said, 'I firmly believe that the answer to this is in the area of Quinton, Langley, Warley and Bearwood'.
Frederick Jeffs was married but had been separated from his wife for the previous 15 months and lived alone. His wife, who lived in Milton Road, Bentley Heath in Solihull, said that she had been living apart from Frederick Jeffs since September 1956 and that the last time that she had seen him was October 1956. It was later reported that they had agreed to get a divorce a week before Frederick Jeffs's was murdered, having come to the agreement over the telephone. She said that Frederick Jeffs had agreed to the divorce and had told her that he would see his solicitor about it.
They had married in 1948 and in 1953 had started a confectionery and tobacco business together under a joint name. It was said that the business prospered but that their marriage broke down in September 1956 at which point she went to live with another man. Frederick Jeffs's wife said that Frederick Jeffs rarely went out alone at nights whilst they had lived together, but said that when he did go out that she never knew where he was going. She added that he was not the type of man who liked drinking and was not interested in gambling or betting to her knowledge. She added that he didn't have any close male or female acquaintances that she knew of.
Frederick Jeffs's wife said that Frederick Jeffs used to keep up to £200 in the house and that he sometimes carried large sums of money, up to £100, on him.
Frederick Jeffs's stepsister said, 'My brother told me that he felt that his wife would never come back to him and that he would have to divorce her'. She added that when she spoke to him earlier on the Thursday that she suggested taking the dog out for a walk but said that he told her that the dog would already be going out that evening. She said, 'I was surprised because I had taken Perro out many times and Fred had never made a remark like that before'.
He was noted for having gone to the cinema every Thursday night and it was later determined that whilst he was generally considered to have been a quiet, sober and home-loving man, that it was noted that he had been meeting various women at night and going out to public-houses and it was later reported that the police were interviewing hundreds of women in an attempt to establish Frederick Jeffs's last movements. The police said that one or two women had come forward to say that they had known a man that answered Frederick Jeffs's description and said, 'We think there could be a strong connection there and we are interviewing hundreds of young women in the Quinton and Langley areas'. They added that they were also trying to trace any women that might have seen Frederick Jeffs in any public houses recently.
In particular the police appealed for three people to come forward:
In September 1957 the police additionally said that they were interested in tracing three other women, all of whom were said to have been with Frederick Jeffs at various times at the Abbey public house in Smethwick, Staffordshire. They said that they had high hopes that they would be able to trace one of the women, whose name was thought to have been Eve or Edie, but did not disclose the names of the other two women.
In 10 September 1957 it was reported that relatives of Frederick Jeffs had increased the reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderers from £250 to £1,000.
Frederick Jeffs was buried at Quinton Parish Church on 26 April 1957.
see Birmingham Mail
see Getty Images
see Graeme Rose Blog
see Northampton Arts
see "Missing Shopkeeper's Body Found." Times [London, England] 20 Apr. 1957: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.
see Western Mail - Saturday 20 April 1957
see Daily Mirror - Friday 17 May 1957
see Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Thursday 25 April 1957
see Northern Whig - Monday 22 April 1957
see Northants Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 23 April 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Friday 24 May 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Thursday 20 June 1957
see Northants Evening Telegraph - Saturday 20 April 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Tuesday 23 April 1957
see Shields Daily News - Friday 26 April 1957
see Shields Daily News - Thursday 20 June 1957
see Shields Daily News - Monday 22 April 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Saturday 20 April 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Wednesday 11 September 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 20 April 1957
see Shields Daily News - Wednesday 24 April 1957
see Shields Daily News - Saturday 27 April 1957
see Halifax Evening Courier - Friday 26 April 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 27 April 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Wednesday 24 April 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Monday 29 April 1957
see Shields Daily News - Saturday 25 May 1957
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 10 September 1957
see Northern Whig - Saturday 20 April 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 23 April 1957