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.

A youth was suspected of murdering him, but no charges were made.

He was found lying in the ditch at about 5.10pm on 22 April 1939 in Thrift Field at a spot known as Cuckoo Corner which was situate between Greenfield Mill and Flitton Village, suffering from severe head injuries. He was taken out of the ditch by the two men that had found him and treated 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 finishing work on the Saturday at about 12.30pm on 22 April 1939 through a field along a lonely footpath when he was attacked, beaten about the head with a fencepost and robbed, and then dumped in a ditch.

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 police 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 also searched, with no luck.

It was later reported that despite appeals by clergymen in the 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 started to take the bus 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 youth that they said they were satisfied was the guilty party was charged 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 landworker. He had resided with an old age pensioner in a cottage situate in Cemetery 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 bridle path to an open field and on 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 been 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 Mondays 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 equipment was left in the hands of the elder of the two farm workers, who also managed George Stapleton's workload.

The report noted that wages were paid on Saturdays and that it was the market gardeners usual practice to hand George Stapleton's wages to the elder of 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 receive his pay on Fridays instead of Saturdays as it would be more convenient to his wife who he said would then be in a position to settle accounts with tradesmen when they called during Saturday mornings. The report noted that the market gardener agreed and he received 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 Stapleton in 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 saw George Stapleton walking across the meadow, about 60 yards from the 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 Cemetery 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 gardener’s 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, 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 that the distance could be 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 foreman 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 returned 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 edge 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 approximately 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 by 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 foreman 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 worker from 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 men, 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 finish 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 in 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 alight 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 into 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 on 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 in his search. Together they then proceeded to Thrift Field and walked along the footpath to Cuckoo Corner. When they were about 30 yards from the stile at the Greenfield end of the field, 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 at 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 surround 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 licensee 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 the vault of his skull immediately 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 afterwhich he had been taken to the White Hart public house where upon further examination it was 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 immediately 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 led 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 thereon 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 immediately 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 remained on 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, 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 half-crown. 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 right hand outer jacket pocket they found a leather tobacco pouch and a box of Swan Vesta matches. In his left outside overcoat pocket, they 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.

The external examination showed that he had extensive bruising of the scalp of the right side of the back of the head with a fourfold split in the scalp and a depressed fracture of the skull. It also revealed an area of bruising closer to the top of his head on the same side without any additional fracture, and impressions on the scalp skin consistent with the defensive intervention of his cloth cap or other cloth at the time of the blow.  The external examination also found an oval bruise 2 1/2in x 1 1/2in to the back of his right shoulder, with the long axis reaching towards the head, but with no fracture. The external examination also found a pressure graze to the back of his right elbow.

The internal examination found his skull was fractured and depressed in the right parietal region, 3 3/4in x 2 1/2 in x 2 1/2in x 1in, in an irregular quadrilateral, with the long axis up and down, inclining slightly up to the right. His brain was found severely contused in the region of the fracture and there were slight internal haemorrhages, and there were fissures running forward and down the right side of his skull to the base.

The doctor that carried out the post-mortem said that he was of the opinion that the injuries were all inflicted within several hours before his death and were all consistent with George Stapleton having been struck from behind by two heavy blows to the back of his head.

The doctor added that George Stapleton had numerous scratches and tears to his skin at the top of his head, brow, behind the right ear, across the front of his neck and to the back of his right hand, thumb and forefinger, as well as the back of his left hand, knuckle and forefinger, noting that there were no injuries to his palms or the gripping surfaces of his fingers, which he said were all consistent with infliction by barbed wire.

The doctor concluded that the cause of death was shock from a fractured skull and contused brain. He added that the head injuries could not have been inflicted by a fall and said that in his opinion they were the result of two blows with a thick pole or stave, and delivered by some person standing directly behind him.

It was noted that the doctor found no defensive wounds on George Stapleton and that the first blow was so serious that George Stapleton would have lost consciousness immediately and would not have regained his senses, and therefore making it unlikely that he had been able to have crawled or tried to pull himself up or along by means of the wire fence. As such, it made it more probable that the injuries to the back of his hands were caused by him being dragged or thrust through the barbed wire.

The doctor added that George Stapleton could have lain unconscious for as long as five or six hours.

During the post-mortem, three hairs were found in his left hand, two adherent to the tip of his first index finger and the third in the crook of his index finger, and they were removed for microscopical examination.

The spot where George Stapleton had been assaulted was 150 feet from the stile at the Greenfield end of Thrift Field and a single trail was clearly visible in the grass leading to a pool of congealed blood 29 feet away from the footpath heading off in the direction of the ditch from where it broke into a double track that extended 23 feet at an angle of 45 degrees to a larger pool of congealed blood which was 10 feet from the part of the ditch were George Stapleton was found. The trail from the footpath to the larger pool of congealed blood bore blood spots, and other blood stains were visible on a thick thorn bush and on the bottom strand of the barbed wire fence at a spot 12 feet nearer the stile at the edge of the ditch.

The barbed wire fence, which was mostly concealed by the grass consisted of two strands of barbed wire, the first of which was approximately 18 inches from the ground and the top strand being 15 inches above the lower one. The wire sagged between the posts and the ground was uneven.

It was noted that the main footpath was a right of way and firmly trodden down, being used by numerous farm servants and sightseers, and as such it was impossible to find any traces of footprints there.

The police report noted that it would seem that, George Stapleton, who was very deaf, was followed by his assailant and struck from behind and thought that the murderer had probably waited for him in the bushes adjacent to the stile and had been able to approach George Stapleton without being heard by him. It was thought then that after George Stapleton had been knocked down, that he had been dragged by the shoulder, face hanging over his chest to the end of the first trail where it was thought that the murderer paused for a moment before continuing, but with George Stapleton's legs uncrossed and his Wellington boots creating two trails to the large pool of blood. It was noted that a careful examination of George Stapleton's Wellington boots revealed a number of small scratches on the heels consistent with him being dragged in that manner.

It was thought then that the murderer had then searched George Stapleton and removed the two notes (£1 and 10/-) from his pocket and then attempted to push him into the thick thorn bush where the blood spots were found. However, it was noted that the thickness of the bush had probably rendered that impossible and thought that the murderer had then thrust George Stapleton into the ditch.

It was noted that when the barb wire was examined at that point, there were no blood marks found on it.

It was noted that George Stapleton had been found lying on his back in the ditch, his feet pointing towards Flitton and his head and shoulders resting on the opposite slope of the ditch towards the fence.

No other clues were found at the scene other than the stake, although a thorough search of the vicinity was made. The stake was found to have had a hair on it that corresponded to where with would have hit George Stapleton and it was examined for finger prints, but nothing was found. When George Stapleton's cap was examined alongside the stake it was clearly seen that the design of the texture of his cap material coincided with the impressions on the stake.

When the doctor compared the hair on the stake to that from George Stapleton, he said that it was possible that it had come from his head, but beyond that could say no more.

When the police started their murder enquiry, they made a widespread search to find the spot where the stake that was used to kill George Stapleton was taken, noting that it had obviously been used as a fencing post because it had a rusty staple embedded in it and shewed signs of having had wire attached to it. On 27 April 1939 the police found the stump of a fencing post on a fence that ran along a bridle path that led from Greenfield Mill to Ruxox Farm. The police then removed the post stump from the ground and when they later compared it to the broken stake, they found that they fitted together perfectly to make a complete stake. The spot where the post was found was noted as being 471 yards from the scene of the crime and close to a footpath used daily by George Stapleton.

The police report noted that they thought that the apparent motive for George Stapleton's murder was robbery, based on the fact that the £1 note and 10/- note that the female market gardener had paid him were missing. However, the police said that at first, they were puzzled as to why the murderer had left behind four florins, a half crown, and three pennies in George Stapleton's clothing in the khaki drill purse. They said that the point was not satisfactorily cleared up until they later realised that George Stapleton had carried with him another brown leather purse in which he kept his notes, and which was never found. They said that the wife of the licensee at the White Hart public house told them that George Stapleton was a regular customer and that he would always extract his notes from a brown leather purse that he carried in his inside jacket pocket and sometimes in his left hand trouser pocket and that he would always carry his silver in the cloth bag which the police stated would have been the khaki drill purse. As such, the police determined that the notes had not been taken from the khaki drill purse, but had been in the brown leather purse which the murderer had taken when he searched George Stapleton's body, just before dragging him into the ditch and had not searched George Stapleton any further. The police said that several other people also confirmed that George Stapleton had had a separate purse for his notes and a purse for his silver.

The police said that it was known that George Stapleton had been drawing an old age pension for twelve months before he died and that his last payment was on the evening of 20 April 1939 which he collected from Flitton Post Office, drawing out 10/- which was paid to him by the Postmistress who gave it to him in a ten shilling note. The police then went on to say that there could be no doubt that between 20 and the night of 21 April 1939 that George Stapleton had spent 3/3d of the 10/- old age pension money and had 6/9 in his possession at the time that the female market gardener paid him his wages. It was also noted that on the evening of 20 April 1939, George Stapleton repaid a loan of 6d to the licensee of the White Hart public house, who said that whilst George Stapleton was at the pub he spent 3/- there.

The police report noted they thought that the murderer had taken George Stapleton's brown leather wallet after striking him down and searching his pockets but had possibly been disturbed or lost his nerve and left the money in his other pockets. After the police determined that George Stapleton had had a brown leather purse in which his he kept his notes, they began searching for it, a search which included the Flitwick, Greenfield and Clophill Mill streams, but with no result.

Much information in the police report is redacted but the main suspect for George Stapleton's was a youth who lived in Greenfield, and it was noted that he had earlier shook his fist at a man who was said to have looked very similar to George Stapleton. George Stapleton and the man that looked like him worked on different parts of the same farm, and the police report stated that even at close range they could be mistaken for one another. However, a large part of the report detailing the youth has been redacted, approximately 26 pages.

However, the statement of a medical practitioner was taken in which he had seen the youth in Mill Lane at about 1.40pm, probably on his bicycle although he thought that he might have been walking. He said that he went to visit a lady in Mill Lane at about 12.30pm and remained with her until about 1.40pm when he left her cottage to place some vegetables in his car which was parked in Mill Lane on the mill brook side. He said that as he approached his car he saw the youth pass up Mill Lane from the direction of the brook going towards his grandmother's cottage. He said that the youth passed on his offside and that he could not be certain of whether he had been walking or riding, but added that he was rather of the opinion that he had been on his bicycle. He said that he saw his head and shoulders go by but didn't speak to him and afterwards took no further notice of him. He added that he was not wearing a hat.

A press shed foreman who worked at Stewartly Brick Works said that the youth had come to work with him nearly two years earlier and was employed cleaning up lorry roads. He said that on one occasion he told him to clean cars and said that he turned very nasty and practically refused to do what he told him and then picked up a brick and threatened to throw it at him. He added that the youth didn't carry out his threat, but he said that he appeared to be quick tempered.

A small holder who had a holding in the parish of Steppingly near Flitwick Road said that he had the youth working for him for about nine weeks up to before Easter 1939. He said that he did general work on the land but was not employed sowing soot. He said that his average wage was £1.5.0 a week. However, he said that he didn't have any work for him from Easter and he had to leave.

The man that was said to have looked like George Stapleton said that he had been working in a field beside the bridle way that led to Greenfield Mill and Flitton for the previous six weeks hoeing cabbages. He said that on either the Monday 17 or Tuesday 18 April 1939, he was hoeing cabbages sometime in the morning when he saw the youth on the bridle path that led to Greenfield Mill. He said that he was walking up and down and said that he stopped and saw him looking at him and put his fist up and shook it at him. The labourer said he then waved to him to come to him but said that the youth ran down towards the bridle path towards the mill. The labourer said that he was not sure whether he would recognise the youth again but said that he had seen the chap about the fields a lot lately. He said that he just seemed to wander about the fields. He added that he didn't lift his hoe at the youth.

A 19-year old farm labourer who lived in Mill Lane, Greenfield said that he was a farm worker and worked in Flitton and started on 22 April 1939 at 7am and came home later that day on his bicycle at 12.55pm, noting that it was striking 1pm when he came by Flitton Church and that he arrived home at 1.10pm. He said that he didn't speak to anyone on the way home and that after he had his dinner, he went out at 1.45pm and got his hair cut, and then got back home at 2.15pm at which point he took his bicycle to pieces and worked on it until 8pm in a shed at his home. The 19-year old farm labourer said that he knew a person associated with the youth and said that he saw him at the fairground on the Friday night, 21 April 1939, noting that he didn't see him again until after 9pm on the Saturday night, 22 April 1939. He noted that he knew the youth but was not a pal of his and added that he had not been to a football match at Luton that season and that he did not say at any time to him that he was going to a match at Luton on Saturday 22 April 1939, and added that neither did he say to him that that he was going to have a hair cut any time recently.

A cycle agent who had a shop on High Street, Greenfield said that a woman he knew came into his shop on 5 June 1939 at about 3pm and said to him, 'They ain't got the murderer yet?' and he said that he replied, 'No but they will do, if they take him in I should think he will break down'. He said that the woman then said, 'Yes because I think he done it'. The cycle agent then said, 'Well you didn't think so at first', and said that the woman replied, 'No but I think so now because he never comes up here as he used to and I never see him out now'. The cycle agent then said, 'Well you didn't see him that day', and said that the woman replied, 'I didn't see him go up, but I saw him come down from his grannies'. The cycle agent then said, 'He was digging the allotment on the Monday', and the woman then said, 'I told the police I didn't see on the Monday but I saw him previous, they (the police) haven’t turned up the garden up, I should think that they might find something there'. The cycle agent then said that he knew that the woman used to always be in the youth's family house and had been very friendly, but said that he had been told recently that she didn't go to his family home anymore and added that it was the same for one or two others who used to visit there.

A man that had been at Wilsher's garage in High Street, Greenfield between 6pm and 9pm on Tuesday 18 April 1939 said that he had been there with some chap, noting that they were the usual chaps who usually call at the garage, including the youth, and said that he heard the youth say, 'I am going to have some money for the fair if I have to hit someone over the head'. The man noted that the youth had been out of work and that he had been referring to the fair that was coming that week. He said that there were quite a few of them there, but said that they all treated what the youth had said as a joke.

A woman that lived on Mill Lane in Greenfield said that she had her dinner at about 12 noon and that after that she sat in front of the fire for a bit and then went out the back to get a bucket of coal and said that she saw the youth, who she had known since he was born pass her. She said that she said hello to him but that she didn't hear what he said as she was a bit deaf. She said that he walked on straight up Mill Lane to his mother's house. She said that he was wearing a navy blue top coat but had no hat. She said that she then went to sleep for about an hour and that at 3pm she asked a man that lived in a caravan opposite her house to get her a bucket of water.

Another person that lived on Mill Lane said that he saw the youth at about 1.45pm whilst he was painting his house, on 22 April 1939, coming from the direction of the mill.

A fishmonger said that it was his usual practice on Saturdays to travel with his fish and chip van, which he said he had done for years. He said that on Saturday evenings he would generally drive down Mill Lane in Greenfield at about 7.30pm, turn at the bottom, and stop at the house of the youth, noting that it was a regular stop. He said that on the night of the murder he stopped outside the house and said that the youth came out and ordered what he believed to be one threepenny piece of fish and on twopennyworth of chips, noting that he thought that he gave him a shilling for it in payment. He said that he didn't see the youth again until 27 May when he came to the garden gate whilst he served an old woman from his house.

A 15 year old press boy who lived in Council Houses, in Greenfield said that he knew the youth well, and said that he met him at the fair at Greenfield, on 22 April 1939, at 8.30pm. He said that he met him at a skittle stall with another friend and said that they had both been playing a game. He said that he watched them both play nine to a dozen games and saw the friend win a small packet of Players but didn't see the youth win anything. He said that after they finished, he had three games, but that whilst he was playing his games they walked away and he didn't see them again. He said that when they had been playing, they had been paying for their own games.

Another person said that he had met the youth at the fair the previous day, Friday 21 April 1939 at about 7.15pm and said that he asked him to have a go with him at skittles but said that the youth would not play. He said that he left at about 7.45pm, but said that when he did, he asked the youth to go on the Jollity Farm with him, but said that the youth would not come with him. He said that he didn't see him spend any money. However, he added that he also saw the youth the following day at the fair, 22 April 1939 between 8.00pm and 8.30pm, and said that he didn't see him sped any money then either, although he said that it was quite possible that he could have done because there were crowds around the different stalls.

Another young person that went to the fun fair on the Saturday night said that he saw the youth playing the 'Roll a Penny' game, although she said that he didn't know how many games he had had.

An 18-year-old land worker that knew the youth well and who used to go to school with him, said that he saw him at the fair with some other boys. He said that when he met him he asked him if he had got any work and said that the youth told him that he was working in Millbrook, noting that he knew that the youth had worked there before. The land worker said that he didn't see the youth on the Sunday but said that when he saw him on the Monday night at the fair again, he said that the youth had a vacant look. He said that at that time the youth was standing by the Roll A Penny stall, but said that they didn't talk. The land worker said that he went home and told his sisters.

A labourer said that he started work at Warren Farm in Millbrook on 11 October 1938 and said that he worked with the youth there on and off for about two months. He said that the farmer he worked for used land on Ruxox Farm, the same farm that the female market gardener used land from. He said that on one occasion the youth told him on a Monday morning that he had 'come up' on the Football Pools and said that when he got home and worked it out he figured that he must have won just over £40.  The labourer said later that week that when the farmer came by, he asked him in front of the youth if he could change a check for £40 as a joke and said that the farmer said yes but said that the youth didn't say anything. He said that he was aware that the youth had called to the man in the field that looked like George Stapleton.

A lorry driver said that he had been out rabbiting with the youth and two other friends in October 1939 over the fields at Ruxox and said that they had been walking through a field of cabbages when a man had shouted at them, and said that the youth said, 'I'll blow his bloody head off if he comes near us'. The lorry driver said that he didn't stop and came away. He added that it was one of the other friends that had had the gun which was the only one between the four of them.

The overcoat and trousers of the youth were taken away for examination, as well as some off his hairs, but with no results.

The police report then went on to detail three other suspects, who they said they had ruled out, but included in order to provide a complete record of the investigation.

The first was a 23 year old housekeeper who had lived on Brook Lane in Flitton. It was found that at the time of the murder he had been employed on Manor Farm in Flitton and had been working in a field adjoining the field in which George Stapleton was murdered on the morning of 22 April 1939. He had been working about 200 yards away from the spot where George Stapleton was found and so some suspicion fell on him, but the police later stated from various evidence that it was clear that he had been working in the field pulling dock weeds at the time and said that he probably didn't hear anything because there was a strong wind at the time.

The housekeeper had been in the White Horse public house on the night of 21 April 1939 and had had a drink with George Stapleton who had treated him to a pint of mild beer. The following morning the housekeeper left home for work that morning at about 6.20am and when he got to Manor Farm, he brought the horses in, which whilst doing, he saw George Stapleton. The housekeeper then went home at 7am for some tea, and shortly after went back to the farm where he told the farmer he had brought the horses in, but the farmer told him that they would not be needed that day and sent him off to a field of oats, which was separated from Thrift Field by a tall hedge, to dig up dock weeds. The housekeeper didn't have fixed hours, but he would always finish at 12.30pm on Saturdays. He didn't have a watch and so he would listen for the church bells of Flitton Church, however, on that day, he couldn't hear them as there was a strong wind and so he continued working until he saw a bus pass Flitton Church and said that he thought that it was time to finish work. He then went across the fields to Manor Farm, put his fork in the basket there and went home where his family were and had his dinner and then went out into the garden where he worked until 4pm. There were a number of other people that corroborated his movements and the police found that the bus that the housekeeper had referred to was one run by the National Omnibus Company that had left Luton at 1.15pm that day for Clophill, stopping in Flitton, and being found to have passed the church at about 1.15pm. As such, after making a range of other explorations into his behaviour, finance and activity, the police ruled the housekeeper out of their enquiries.

The second other suspect was a 66-year-old labourer who had lived on Albert Road in Luton. The police noted that he was a confirmed liar and added that it seemed at times that he was incapable of telling the truth. The police added that owing to his false statements the police carried out a large amount of unnecessary work and lost a lot of valuable time. The labourer had lived with George Stapleton and another man at Cemetery in Flitton for about four months through the summer and autumn of 1938 during which time he had work on farms in the Flitton area. It was noted that he had always got along well with George Stapleton and had known him for 40 years. However, in the Autumn of 1938 he went to live in Luton and didn't return to Flitton until 22 April 1939. However, the police said that his reappearance in Flitton on that date appeared strange.

In his first statement the labourer said that he had met a farmer in Luton at 10.30am who he did not know by name who asked him to drive a horse from his farm to Streatley. The labourer said that he did that and said that he then took a bus to Silsoe, arriving at about 3pm and then walked into Flitton where he called on a friend. He said that he then left his friend’s house and went to the White Hart at about 4.45pm where he met the man that he had previously lived with, along with George Stapleton, and who looked like George Stapleton. However, the police said that when they made enquiries, they could not find the farmer that he had said had engaged him to drive the horse to a farm. The friend that he called on said that the labourer had called at his house at about 4.20pm but had only remained a short time. However, he did say that the labourer had told him that he had just taken a horse from Luton to Barton and that he had just come to Flitton to look for work.

The police took further statements from the labourer in which he admitted to telling lies, although the police report noted that he continued to tell lies, and said that he had left his son's home in Luton at 10am and gone to a baker's shop in Langley Road, Luton to change his pension cheque that he had received that morning. The woman in the shop said that she changed his cheque and then paid her 4/- that he owed her for bread. Then, he went off to the Panama public house where he met his friend and had some drinks after which they went to the Dog public house and had some more drinks. He said that he then went back to his son's home at closing time at 2pm but said that when he got there, there was a quarrel because he had not brought home any food and he was told to clear out. He said that he then had a cup of tea and then left at 3pm and walked to the coach station where he caught the 3.15pm bus to Solsoe, from where he walked to Flitton. His son later confirmed that his father, the labourer had gone out between 10am and 10.30am and come back at 2.15pm, noting that he had looked at the clock, and that he then had dinner at 3pm, over which they quarrelled because there was only bread and butter, after which he left the house. Several other people also confirmed that series of events.

He was later seen by several people who lived in Flitton on the afternoon of 22 April 1939 walking from the direction of Silsoe shortly after 4pm. It was noted that he told several other lies, but that they were not dealt with in the report, however, it was noted that enquiries were made to determine whether the labourer had spent any more money than was in keeping with his circumstances, or had changed any notes, but no information to suggest that was obtained.

The third other suspect was a workmate of George Stapleton. The reason he became a suspect was because on 25 April 1939 he had left off work during the morning stating that he was feeling unwell and when he was examined the following day he was found to be suffering from an attack of nerves. It was noted that the workmate had said that he had seen George Stapleton at 12.35pm on 22 April 1939 walking in the direction of the Greenfield bridle path whilst he was returning to the female market gardeners house after going off to collect some sausages at a neighbouring house. It was noted that he then drew a bucket of water for the female market gardener and then rode off home to Water Lane in Flitwick on his bicycle, arriving home just after 12.50pm. He then went off to the Crown public house after he found out that his dinner was not quite ready. However, there were enough people to confirm that they had seen him in the places that he said he had been, and at the right times for the police to rule him out.

The police added that there was on perplexing aspect of the case that was difficult to understand and that was the three hairs that had been found in George Stapleton's hand. It was noted that it was not thought that George Stapleton had struggled with anyone or put up a defence and that he had been hit from behind in such a way that he would have immediately lapsed into unconsciousness.

In conclusion the police said that trades-people carrying out business in the Flitton and surrounding districts were seen, but no information could be obtained to show that anyone had any more money than they would usually.

It was noted that no strangers were seen in the district and that the only people seen near or going towards or coming from the scene of the crime was the youth, the details of which are redacted, and the horse keeper that was picking dock leaves in the adjacent field, who was ruled out as a suspect.

The police noted that there were several reasons why they experienced difficulty in obtaining evidence regarding any persons being in the vicinity of Greenfield Mill or the bridle path, and thy were:

  • The weather on 22 April 1939 was very cold, windy and wet.
  • An important football match, Luton versus Millwall, was being played at Luton which took a large number of residents from the Greenfield and Flitwick district away.
  • The offence was committed at a time when the majority of the inhabitants were having lunch.

The report also noted that it was an unfortunate fact, as far as the enquiry went, that nearly all the residents in the Greenfield an Flitten areas were related to each other as they intermarried, and as such, would not give out information about their relatives. The police noted that in some cases, it took then four or five calls before people would give them any information, which they noted was, as citizens, their duty to disclose.

The police report concludes by saying, 'As already indicated (in redacted pages), there is little doubt as to who the murderer is, personally I am satisfied the guilty person is the youth, who cannot be named (until 2022), but unfortunatly insufficient evidence has been obtained to anticipate securing a conviction should he be charged with the offence. If he were charged, however, and went into the witness box to give evidence on his own behalf he would have difficulty in convincing a jury of his innocence. The report concluded that they were still trying to obtain additional evidence covering his activities between 12 noon and 2pm on 22 April 1939.

The inquest touching George Stapleton's death was concluded on 20 June 1939, with the verdict of murder by some person or persons unknown.

 


*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