Unsolved Murders

Violet McGrath

Age: 64

Sex: female

Date: 10 May 1954

Place: 59 Onslow Square, Kensington, London

Violet McGrath was found dead in a flat at 59 Onslow Square, Kensington on 10 May 1954 with a stocking tied round her neck.

It was thought that she had been strangled the day before on 9 May 1954 between 11pm and midnight. Her post mortem revealed her cause of death to be due to asphyxia.

She was the mother-in-law of a famous film actor.

She was found strangled in the hallway of the actors flat in Kensington  by her daughter. It was said that she had been killed in the lounge and that marks in the deep pile turkey red carpet showed that her body had then been dragged into the hall and left against the panelled oak front door. Her daughter found her in the hallway after having just returned from Paris.

Violet McGrath had lived in Westbourne Grove, Orsett Terrace in Paddington but had been staying at her son-in-law’s flat at at 59 Onslow Square whilst her flat was being redecorated.

After she was first found the police said that they thought that she had been first knocked down by a blow on the head by someone that she knew and that the blow could have been made by the fist of a woman or a small man. It was also heard that she had scratches on her body that could have been made by the manicured nails of a woman and that a smear of blood found had not belonged to her. However, it was noted that the theory that her attacker had been a woman was undermined by the fact that her stocking had been torn from her. The police said that they thought that if she had been attacked by a woman that a woman would have unfastened the stocking. They further noted that the theory that the attacker had been a woman was also not borne out with other evidence that they had found in Onslow Square.

Newspaper reports described Violet McGrath as gay 'Vi', saying that she was an attractive 64-year-old widow who had little time for the company of men although she mixed freely in the night spots of London.

Although it was thought that there were several indications that her murderer might not have been a woman, four points were put forward to suggest that it was, they were:

  1. The scratch marks on Violet McGrath's wrists that suggested that she had been attacked in the flat by a person with pointed fingernails before she was strangled with the nylon stocking ripped from her right leg.
  2. The absence of any assault.
  3. The absence of any robbery attempt even though Violet McGrath, described as a matronly-looking woman with blue-tinted hair, was wearing expensive diamond rings, a gold wrist-watch and had money and a Post Office savings book in her handbag.
  4. The evidence of a neighbour who said that they saw a young woman leave Violet McGrath's daughter’s flat on the Sunday afternoon which was the last day that Violet McGrath was seen alive.

The evidence regarding the woman that was seen leaving the flat stated that she was seen leaving between 1pm and 2pm although the police noted that it was known that Violet McGrath was alive after that time. The woman was described as being aged about 35, 5ft 5in tall, with dark hair and a dark complexion and to have been wearing a print dress, a short coat and heel-less shoes. She was also described as carrying a BOAC type travelling bag with white piping and a brown bucket-shaped shopping bag.

It was noted that a woman said that she had called Violet McGrath at about 8pm on the Sunday evening at which time Violet McGrath had indicated to her that she had been watching television, and it was thought that Violet McGrath might have invited some newly made friend into her flat to watch the television with her.

When the police examined the flat they found a Sunday newspaper with a number pencilled in one corner. They then checked on local newspaper shops asking if anyone remembered selling a newspaper to Violet McGrath on the Sunday, noting that it was possible that the newspaper had been left by a visitor. However, the mystery of the newspaper was later resolved after it was determined that it had been delivered to the flat by a paperboy but that he had pushed a newspaper through the letterbox with the wrong number on it. The police traced the newspaper to a bookstall in South Kensington tube station where an assistant there recognised the writing in the corner. The police then traced the newspaper boy that had delivered it, but he was able to account for the mistake.

It was heard that during the investigation that the police followed up a line of enquiry associated with the fact that the stockings that had been tied round Violet McGrath's neck had been tied with a reef knot under her left ear which they said was practically unknown in police records of women strangled with a stocking. However, it was reported that in following that line of enquiry the police did visit Broadmoor after they traced the only other murder in which similar details were found. However, they said that as a result of information from the institution that it was decided that that thread was of no help to them.

Violet McGrath's daughter said that she had gone to Paris in April 1954 and had told Violet McGrath that she could stay in her flat at Onslow Square if she wanted to because Violet McGrath was going to have her own flat repainted. She said that when she returned on 10 May 1954, she arrived at Onslow Square at about 3pm and found Violet McGrath in the hallway. She said that when she arrived at the flat, she noticed that two or three bottles of milk were outside and that the curtains were drawn. She said that she had no difficulty in getting into the flat and said that the chain was not on the door.

When Violet McGrath's daughter was asked at the inquest if she had any idea what Violet McGrath would do with her time, Violet McGrath's daughter said that Violet McGrath used to go out at night at about 9pm after watching the television. She noted that she didn't know whether Violet McGrath had had any men friends and didn't know any of Violet McGrath friends or any of her social activities.

When the Coroner asked Violet McGrath's daughter if Violet McGrath was a temperate woman, Violet McGrath's daughter hesitated and the Coroner added, 'Perhaps you don’t understand. I am putting it as lightly as I can. Did she ever drink more than she should?' and Violet McGrath's daughter replied, 'I believe at times, yes'.

Violet McGrath's daughter noted that she thought that Violet McGrath kept her loose cash in her purse in her handbag.

When Violet McGrath's daughter was asked whether she knew if anyone had a grudge against Violet McGrath, she said, 'I should not think so at all'.

A principal Scientific Officer at the Metropolitan Police Laboratory said that he had tested two bottles of blood for alcohol but did not find any. He added that an examination of Violet McGrath's fingernail scrapings was also negative'.

It was thought that she might have been strangled by a chance acquaintance. However, the police said that they were unable to establish any motive.

It was heard that the only thing thought to be missing from the flat was a string of 'not valuable' pearls although some money was unaccounted for.

During their investigation the police examined letters found in the flat from friends of the family but said that they found nothing in them that could help solve the crime. However, the letters did reveal that she had been seeing a man called Larry in public houses in the area during the previous six months and the police said that very little was known about Larry. The police said that little was known about Larry other than he and Violet McGrath had been seen together. However, it was later reported that Larry was traced to Germany where he was taking singing lessons and he was ruled out of the investigation..

The police said that theory that Violet McGrath had been surprised by a burglar when she had arrived at the front door and was about to secure it from the inside was considered, but said that that the facts already known inclined them to the view that it was more likely to be the work of a chance acquaintance that she had recently made. It was also suggested that the burglar might have gained access to the flat with a skeleton key.

However, the theory that she was murdered by a chance acquaintance was said to have not impressed other members of the staff at the flats who said, 'She was not the sort of woman to make chance acquaintances.

The police said that they had built up a time dossier covering Violet McGrath's movements over the last 48 hours of her life but noted that there were gaps in it.

The police appealed for anyone who had seen a man leaving the oak-stained door of 59 Onslow Square or the blue communicating door 61 in the previous twelve days to inform the Chelsea police.

Soon after the murder, the police appealed for a man and woman who had been seen sleeping out in a garden on the west side of Onslow Square to come forward. They had been seen in the garden which was about 150 yards from 59 Onslow Square by a 54-year-old caretaker who looked after a number of houses in the road. He said that on the Saturday evening he had seen the man and woman washing under a garden tap and had told them that they were trespassing and said that they had then gone off. However, he said that he saw them again on the Sunday at about midday. He described the man as being between 30 and 35 years old, dressed in a grey suit and carrying a raincoat with the appearance of a respectable working type and with either an Irish or Welsh accent whilst the woman was described as being aged between 35 and 40 years old. The caretaker said that the man had told him that he had known the place as he had once worked there, and noted that there was a shed in the garden which he thought they might have stayed in.

It was also noted that the police had not ruled out the possibility that Violet McGrath had been murdered by some tramp as it was noted that there were many of them living rough in open spaces and parks in the local district.

The police said that they were also looking for a mystery man who was said to have asked for the telephone number to Violet McGrath's daughter's flat in The Gloucester Arms public house. The number was not in the Post Office directory and Violet McGrath's daughter had been away in Paris at the time. It was said that The Gloucester Arms public house was Violet McGrath's favourite pub and was near to her flat in Westbourne Court.

During the investigation an aircraft electrician was questioned by the police and examined voluntarily after it was found that he had some abrasions on his hands. He had attended Chelsea Police Station on 14 May 1954 where he was examined. A doctor said, 'There was an abrasion midway across the back of the right wrist. There was another one inch below that abrasion. There was another at the base of the right thumb, one and a quarter inches from the second abrasion. These abrasions appeared to me to be about four or five days old'.

When the Coroner asked the doctor if he could suggest what the abrasion might be consistent with, the doctor said, 'Pressure by fingernails'.

The doctor went on to say that the aircraft electrician also had a recently healed scar between his right middle and ring fingers, and said, 'I thought it was consistent with the measurements of the suspender grip which was still attached to the stocking tied around Mrs McGrath's neck'. The doctor then demonstrated by wrapping between his fingers a light-coloured stocking to which was attached part of a suspender. He then said, 'It would require a considerable amount of pressure to pull that off the roll-on'.

When the Coroner asked the doctor whether the abrasions were consistent with having been caused between 11pm and midnight on Sunday 9 May 1954, the doctor replied, 'Yes'.

When the aircraft electrician gave evidence at the inquest, the Coroner asked him, 'Did you murder Mrs McGrath?', and the aircraft electrician replied, ''No sir', in what was described as a firm voice.

When the aircraft electrician was asked how he had got the scratches, he said, 'Yes sir. On my job I am forever knocking pieces off my hands. My hands are always either scarred or cut and one particular scar between my fingers I can remember quite distinctly'.  He also disagreed with the doctors statement that the injuries on his hands were consistent with having been caused between 11pm and midnight on 9 May 1954.

Another witness, who described herself as an actress, said that she had caused the mark between the aircraft electrician's fingers herself with a ring a month earlier.

The aircraft electrician had lived in Paddington but at the time of the inquest he gave his address as being in Cricket Hill, Yateley in Hampshire.

At Violet McGrath's inquest the silk stock that was found tied round her neck was shown to the jury, attached to which there was a suspender. An undergarment was then produced from which the suspender was said to have been wrenched from. It was noted that when Violet McGrath was found she had a stocking missing from her right leg.

A painter and decorator said that he had known the aircraft electrician for 20 odd years and said that he had seen him on Saturday 8 May 1954 at about 10.30pm in a cafe at the corner of Praed Street and Edgeware Road. He also said that he had seen Violet McGrath and the aircraft electrician in the saloon bar in the Gloucester Arms public house.

The manageress of the Gloucester Arms public house said that after the public house said that on several occasions after the public house closed that Violet McGrath would take several people, including her husband and herself back to her flat, noting that Violet McGrath would invariably take a half bottle of gin back from the public house with her. When the landlady was asked whether Violet McGrath had preferred male of female company, the landlady replied, 'I think she liked both. I think she was lonely and she enjoyed any friend's company'.

The landlady noted that the aircraft electrician was one of the customers at her public house and said that he had been friendly with the aircraft electrician. He added that the aircraft electrician had owed her husband about £3 3s 6d and that she thought that he had paid back £2 of it about two weeks before Violet McGrath was murdered but had then run up another bill. When the Coroner asked the landlady whether the aircraft electrician had paid her husband £2 13s 6d on Monday 10 May 1954, she replied, 'Yes'.

A Post Office employee said that Violet McGrath had withdrawn £25 from her savings account on 7 May 1954. The police noted that £15 of the money was not accounted for.

An 18-year-old girl, a dark-haired art student, who  had lived next door to the flat that Violet McGrath was found dead in said that when she was in bed on the Sunday night, 9 May 1954, she heard a sudden banging after 11.30pm and then a gasping and some choking noises. She said, 'I knew it was a woman and I went to my mother's bedroom, but she had heard nothing'. She later noted that although she had told the police, 'It sounded like someone being murdered', she had not meant that. adding, 'I said it jokingly as one does'.

Her inquest, which was held on Friday 13 August 1954 returned the verdict that Violet McGrath was murdered by a person or persons unknown.

Immediately after the inquest the aircraft electrician was arrested on a wife maintenance warrant alleging he owed ten guineas arrears maintenance to his wife. After leaving the inquest he was tapped on the shoulder by a policeman who said, 'This way' and who then took him to Paddington Police Station by car. However, it was reported later on the same day that after the aircraft electrician soon after appeared at Marylebone court on the charge that he was in arrears with a maintenance order, it was announced by his solicitor that the amount had been paid and he soon after walked out of the court.

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

see www.truecrimelibrary.com

see National Archives - MEPO 2/9547

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 12 May 1954

see Kensington Post - Friday 14 May 1954

see Western Mail - Thursday 13 May 1954

see Kensington Post - Friday 20 August 1954

see Daily Herald - Monday 17 May 1954

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 13 May 1954

see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Friday 14 May 1954

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 12 May 1954

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 12 August 1954

see Marylebone Mercury - Friday 28 May 1954

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 12 August 1954

see Daily Mirror - Thursday 12 August 1954

see Daily Mirror - Friday 13 August 1954

see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 12 May 1954

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Friday 14 May 1954