Unsolved Murders

George William Stapleton

Age: 66

Sex: male

Date: 22 Apr 1939

Place: Flitton, Ampthill, Bedfordshire

Source: www.truecrimelibrary.com

George Stapleton was found lying injured in a ditch in Thrift Field just outside of Flitton near Ampthill .

He was found lying in the ditch at about 5.10pm on 22 April 1939 in Thrift Field at a spot known as Cucko Corner which was situate between Greenfield Mill and Flitton Village suffering from sever head injuries. He was taken out of the ditch by the two men that had found him and trated by a doctor but died at about 6.10pm.

The police said that they though that he had been murdered for his money. It was thought that he had been attacked from behind with a piece of a broken wooden stake which was found bloodstained in some undergrowth.

A trail of blood and crushed grass was found leading to the place where he was found indicating that he had been dragged to the place where he was found.

He was a land worker and had been walking home alone after having left work four hours earlier, at night through a field along a lonely footpath when he was attacked.

He was known as a thrifty man and had just drawn his wages of 34s. It was thought that the fact that he had had the money would only have been known by a someone in the district.

His brown leather purse was found to be missing and the poice dragged the mill-stream at Greenfield looking for it, but found nothing. He was thought to have kept treasury notes in his purse which he was known to carry in an inside coat pocket. The sluice gates at both the Flitwick and Greenfield Mills were closed to reduce the flow of the stream that ran close to the footpath where he was attacked. The police began dragging operations at 7am and spent over 5 hours doing so, wearing gum boots and wading along the stream for a distance of nearly a mile, dragging the stream bed and looking in crevices where the purse might have become lodged.

Two ponds at Greenfield mill were alos searched, with no luck.

It was later reported that despite appeals by clergymen in area, the police were experiencing great difficulty in persuading people to talk, although it was also noted that people were also becoming quite alarmed at the possibility that the murderer might still be in the vicinity and were locking their doors before dark. It was also reported that they were becoming wary of crossing fields and that one man that used to walk to work with George Stapleton across the fields had stated to take th ebus in to work instead.

During their investigation, the police compiled a register of all the inhabitants at Flitton, Greenfield, Pulloxhill and Maulden.

The result of the police enquiry concluded that it was fairly apparent that a particular person was the murderer but concluded that there was insufficient evidence to justify a charge. However, the police report noted that if the man that they said they were satisfid was the guilty party was chaged and went into the witness box, that he would have difficulty in convincing a jury of his innocence.

George Stapleton was a single man, having been born on 13 February 1973, and had been employed for the previous six years by a female market gardener at Ruxox Farm in Flitwick as a landowner. He had resided with an old age pensioner in a cottage situate in Cemetary Lane in Flitton which was about a mile away from Ruxox Farm. It was noted that to reach Ruxox Farm from Cemetery Lane, one could either take the Main Flitton-Greenfield - Flitwick-Mauleon Road or cross open country by way of the White Hart public house in Flitton to Thrift Field and then over a stile to Council Field which led to Greenfield Mill and then along a bidle path to an open field to a second bridle path and then again across some open land to Ruxox Farm. It was further noted that it was George Stapleton's invariable practice to take the route over the fields and that as far as could be ascertained it would take him about twenty five minutes to walk from the White Hart public house to Ruxox Farm and vice versa.

George Stapleton's hours of work were Monday to Friday 7am to 5pm and Saturdays 7am to 12.30pm and his wages were £1.14.0 per week which had been since February 1938 augmented by his 10/- per week old age pension. It was also noted that as far as could be ascertained, he had carried his money Notes in a small brown leather flap purse, his silver in a two compartment cloth bag and his copper coins loose in his right trouser pocket.

The police report noted that there were various rumours that circulated in the Flitton and Greenfield districts after his death that he had bene in the habit of carrying a large sum of money, but the report noted that apart from his weekly income, he could not have possessed any money in view of the fact that, for some considerable time prior to his death he had, from Mondyas until Thursdays, had goods and refreshments on credit at the White Hart public house, with his debts then being liquidated either on the Thursdays when he drew his old age pension or on the Saturdays after he had drawn his weekly pay.

The police report noted that his income of £2.4.0 could be accounted for as follows:

  • Board etc. to the person he lived with: £1.0.0
  • Payment for clothing supplied on credit to a man on behalf of RG Nelson's, Outfitters at 71 Hatfield Road in St. Albans: 2.0
  • Money spent in the White Hart public house plus investment in the Share Out Club: £1.2.0

The police report also noted that George Stapleton was of a very happy disposition, friendly with all and generous to his fellow creatures.

George Stapleton worked at Ruxox Farm with two other men, a father and son, with the father acting in the capacity of foreman and directing George Stapleton as to his various duties. The police said that they made widespread enquiries in order to ascertain whether there had been any ill feeling between George Stapleton and the two farm workers but said that the only information they could find was that the they had approached the market gardener for whom they worked and had asked her to discharge George Stapleton in view of the fact that owing to his advanced years he was unable to assist in the heavy work. However, the market gardener had declined to discharge George Stapleton saying that she was perfectly satisfied with his work.

The police report noted that the market gardener took no active part in the management of her holding, and that the whole of the business, such as selling of produce and purchasing of seed and equipement was left in the hands of the elder of the two two farm workers, whoc also managed George Stapleton's workload.

The report noted tht wages were paid on Saturdays and that it was the market gardeners usual practice to hand George Stapleton's wages to the elder to the two farm workers prior to breakfast time in order that he could hand them to George Stapleton when they met at a hut situate near to her house at about 9am for breakfast.

It was further noted that during the week ending 22 April 1939 the younger farm worker approached the market gardener and asked her whether he could recieve his pay on Fridays instead of Saturdays as it would be more convenient to his wife who he sid would then be in a position to settle accounts with tradesment when they called durng Saturday mornings. The report noted that the market gardener agreed and he recieved his pay on the Friday 21 April 1939.

On the morning of 22 April 1939, George Stapleton left his home at about 6.30am. He was soon after seen by a 32 year old horse keeper from Brook Lane who said that when he went to a field situate to the rear of the White Hart public house to round up four horses he then saw George Stapleton approach from the direction of the public house, at the side of which there was a public footpath.

George Stapleton's foreman said that he saw George Stapletonin the stables at 6.55am on 22 April 1939 at Ruxox Farm and set him to hoeing cabbages in a field adjoining the Flitwick to Maulden Road. the farm foreman said that he and his son, the other land worker, then proceeded with two horses to a plot of ground rented by the market gardener at Mauldon where they remained until 12.15pm at which time they returned to Ruxox Farm. The farm foreman said that when they got back to the stables at Ruxox Farm at about 12.25pm he saw George Stapleton working in the cabbage field. He said that he then unharnessed his horses and turned them out to graze and said that when he looked across the field he aw George Stapleton walking across the meadow, about 60 yards from th bridle path, proceeding towards Greenfield, adding that that was the last time that he saw him.

The farm foreman said that he had previously asked George Stapleton how long it took him to walk from the farm to Cemetary Lane and said that as far as he could remember George Stapleton had told him that it was either five and twenty minutes or five and thirty minutes. He said that after that he went to the market gardenrs home where he remained until about 12.45pm and then went home. tHe police report noted that the fact that he had proceeded towards Flitwick, away from the scene of the crime was corroborated.

The police report noted that in view of the fact that the farm foreman had been, as far as their enquiries had ascertained, been the last person to see George Stapleton, they made tests to determine how long it would have taken George Stapleton to have reached the place where he was murdered and found that by walking at a steady state from the cabbage field to the scene of the crime and found that the distance was covered in 20 minutes and concluded that it could be assumed that he had been assaulted at about 12.55pm.

The market gardener said that she saw the other land worker at her house at 7am on 22 April 1939 when he procured some water for her and said that just before 8am she saw the farm forman and the other land worker walking along the road in the direction of her Maulden plot.

She said that at 9am the other land worker returned and asked her to pay George Stapleton his wages when he called as it would save him from leaving his work at Maulden again, and the market gardener said that when George Stapleton did call for breakfast at 9.30am she handed him £1.14.0 made up  with a £1 note, a 10/- note and two florins. However, she said that she had no knowledge of where or how George Stapleton carried his money.She said that the last time she saw him was at 9.30am and said that as far as she knew, he had returned to the cabbage field.

The other land worker said that he commenced work at 7am on 22 April 1939 and said that whilst on his way to the farmyard from the market gardener's house he saw George Stapleton hoeing in the cabbage field. He said that he proceeded to the Maulen plot with his father, the farm foreman and that at 9am returned to the market gardeners house to get the breakfast tea, at which time he asked the market gardener to pay George Stapleton his wages. He said that he then returned to Maulden where he remained working with his father until 12.15pm. He said that when he turned to the market gardener's house she asked him to call upon a woman that resided in a house within the farmyard and collect some sausages, which he did and said that as he was returning he saw George Stapleton at about 12.35pm walking along the hedge of the cabbage field, walking in the direction of the Greenfield bridle path. He said that no conversation took place between them as they were too far apart.

He said that when he got back to the market gardener's house with the sausages, he drew some water for her and then went off on his cycle, visiting the Crown public house in Flitwick at approximatly 1pm, which was later corroborated by the police.

The police report noted that the fact that George Stapleton finished work at 12.30pm on 22 April 1939 was obtained several people, including a man that lived at 59 Council Houses in Greenfield whoc said that he saw George Stapleton leave off work and put his coat on at 12.30pm. The man further said that he also saw the farm forman and his son, the other land worker, proceeding off on their cycles along the Maulden Road in the direction of Flitwick at 12.45pm.

Another land workerfrom 9 School Lane in Flitton said that he had been working in the field adjoining the field that George Stapleton had been working in and said that he spoke to him at 11am and saw him leave off work at 12.35pm.

Two other man, one from Little Farm in Flitwick and another from Cosy Nook in High Street, Greenfield said that they were also working nearby and both saw George Stapleton finsih work at 12.30pm.

An agricultural labourer who had known George Stapleton all his life and who saw him daily at work on the farm said that he had been engaged in a field adjoining the field that George Stapleton had been working on during the morning or 22 April 1939 and said that he saw George Stapleton at 12 noon, but did not speak to him. He said that he finished work at 12.40pm and walked along the bridle path to Greenfield Mill and along Mill Lane and said that the only persons he saw on his way home were a husband and wife who he saw in their garden in Mill Lane, Greenfield.

THe man that George Stapleton lived with said that he had come down stairs on th morning of 22 April 1939 and found the fire aligt and the kettle boiling which he said indicated that George Stapleton had gone to work. He said that he had not seen him since 8pm the night before, 21 April 1939, when he left George Stapleton in the house and went intop Flitton, noting that when he got back, George Stapleton had gone to bed.

The man that George Stapleton lived with said that it was his practice to meet George Stapleton in the White Hart public house between 1.15pm and 2pm o Saturday afternoons and said that after he had prepared dinner on the Saturday 22 april 1939 he had gone to the White Hart, arriving there at 1.15pm, and remained there until 2pm when he went back home for his dinner after George Stapleton failed to turn up. He said that he ascertained that George Stapleton had not visited the White Hart that morning and said that he was surprised that George Stapleton did not come home for his meal.

The man said that he remained home until about 5pm when, owing to George Stapleton's continued absence he went back to the White Hart and asked the licensee if he had seen George Stapleton, saying that the licensee said that he had not. The man that George Stapleton lived with said that he then told the licensee that he intended to search the fields for George Stapleton as he felt that something must have happened to him.

The licensee said that he was also apprehensive and so joined the man on his search. Together they then proceeded to Thrift Field and walked along the footpath to Cuckoo Corner. When they were about 30 yards from he stile at the Greenfield end of the pipe the man found a pipe and cap lying near the footpath which he identified as articles belonging to George Stapleton. The man said that he then saw a wooden stake, about two feet and six inches long, lying near the cap. As the man was looking that the pipe, cap and wooden stake, the licensee went across to a nearby ditch where he found George Stapleton lying on his back. He then called to the man and they both jumped into the ditch and pulled George Stapleton through the barbed wire fence that surroundd the ditch and pulled him into the field.

When they pulled George Stapleton out of the ditch they found that he was smothered in blood and that his eyes were rolling and he was opening and closing his hands. They said that it was obvious that George Stapleton was unconscious and the licensse then at once went to Flitton to call a doctor.

At 5.45pm on 22 april 1939 the doctor went with the licensee to the field where George Stapleton was lying and said that upon examination he found George Stapleton to be suffering from a lacerated wound to his throat and wounds to the back of his head and a depressed fracture of te vault of his skull immediatly beneath his scalp wounds. He said that he dressed George Stapleton's wounds and said that as it was obvious that he was dying, he directed the police man that had also arrived to remove George Stapleton to the Ampthill Infirmary.

When the doctor later called at the infirmary at 7.45pm he was told that George Stapleton had died in the field shortly after his wounds had been dressed and s he went off to the White Hart public house where his body had been taken and found that life was extinct and that upon further examination revealed that his death had been due to shock following a fracture to the skull.

The policeman that was called out said that he had been called at 5.35pm on 22 April 1939 and had then proceeded immedialty by car to Flitton and then to Thrift Field, arriving at 5.50pm where he saw the doctor dressing George Stapleton's wounds. He said that he was also present at 6.10pm when George Stapleton died.

THe policeman said that in view of the fact that his wounds could not have been self-inflicted, he examined the ground in the vicinity of the ditch where George Stapleton was located and found a large pool of blood near some bushes lining the edge of the ditch about 9 feet from the spot wher George Stapleton was found.  He said that he also noticed a semi-circular bloodstained trail that lead from the pool of blood to a point in the footpath that ran the whole length of THrift Field, about forty five feet  from where George Stapleton was lying.

He said that when he then examined the wooden stake, he found two impressions theron that corresponded with the texture of George Stapleton's cap. He said that he also noticed that the bottom strand of the barbed wire fencing that separated the field from the ditch bore bloodstains at a spot near to where George Stapleton was found. He said that he also found bloodstains on a thick thorn bush immediatly above the barbed wire and said that one of the fencing posts at that spot had been snapped off at the ground level and was hanging loose. He said that he also found another large pool of blood about ten feet from the larger pool of blood. He then called the CID headquarters in Bedford and then reomained onn guard over the body until a detective inspector arrived.

When George Stapleton's body was taken to the White Hart his clothing was removed and thoroughly searched. He had been wearing an overcoat, jacket, waistcoat, breeches, two pairs of socks, Wellington Boots, an undervest, shirt and underpants. In his righthand breeches pocket they found three pennies, one trouser button and one khaki flap purse. The purse was folded, but had no fastener and contained four florins and one halfcrown. In a small fob pocket they then found a metal watch with chain attached. Then, in the righthand bottom waistcoat pocket they found a small leather purse with a clip fastener that contained two watch keys. In his inside right jacket pocket they found a piece of string, an empty paper bag and a piece of newspaper with the names of football teams on it. Then, in his riht hand outer jacket pocket they found a leather tobacco pouch and a box of Swan Vesta matches. In his left outside overcoat pocket the found an empty paper bag and a handkerchief and in his right outside overcoat pocket they found a wooden peg, a nail, two bundles of string, an empty paper bag and a metal button.

George Stapleton's body was later taken to the Ampthill Infirmary Mortuary on 24 April 1939 where a post-mortem was carried out at 7.30pm.

*map pointers are rough estimates based on known location details as per Place field above.

see Bedfordshire Times and Independent - Friday 05 May 1939

see Hull Daily Mail - Friday 28 April 1939

see Derby Daily Telegraph - Friday 28 April 1939

see Bedfordshire Times and Independent - Friday 26 May 1939

see Leicester Daily Mercury - Monday 24 April 1939

see National Archives - MEPO 3/807