Unsolved Murders

Maria Hill

Age: 74

Sex: female

Date: 14 Mar 1952

Place: The Bungalow Stores, Clehonger, Hereford, Hertfordshire

Maria Hill was found stabbed to death in the living room of her village store, The Bungalow Stores, a sweetshop, in Clehonger, four miles from Hereford on the afternoon of Friday 14 March 1952.

£60 was stolen and it was thought that the motive had been robbery.

Maria Hill had been stabbed twice in the face and five times in the back of the head and her throat was badly bruised indicating that she had also been strangled. It was thought that she had been stabbed with a stiletto knife.

She also had burns on her head and the police said that they were trying to decide whether the burns had been made by her murderer with the intention of disposing of her body or destroying evidence. She was found lying next to a coke stove.

Her body was found by a woman that lived on the other side of the road in Syerscroft House. She said that when she could get no reply at her shop that she went into the living room and found Maria Hill lying on her side by a stove near a window. She was said to have been found lying in a pool of blood near the open fire. Burnt paper was found around her body.

It was noted that there were no signs of a struggle.

A bloodstained envelope was also found on the floor that contained a savings bank book and three £1 notes.

A wooden writing box in which Maria Hill was said to have kept her money was opened and empty and had a bloodstain inside the lid which was thought to have been one of the only clues left behind by the murderer.

Maria Hill was last seen by a 16-year-old girl who lived in Crossway in Clehonger, at about 7.45pm on the night she was thought to have been murdered, 12 March 1952. She said that she had cycled to the shop to buy sweets and had arrived at about 7.30pm but found the door was locked. However, she said that Maria Hill answered her knock. She said that she didn't see anyone in the vicinity of her sweetshop when cycling towards it or leaving it.

Maria Hill had been seen earlier at 3.30pm by a man who said that she had served him. He said that when he went home, he remembered seeing a man that he didn't know on the way.

It was said that a light was seen burning in Maria Hill's sweetshop at 10pm on the night of her murder.

Her sweetshop, called 'The Bungalow Stores' was in a quiet side road on what the villagers called, 'The Common'. It was described as a white prefab bungalow shop with an overgrown garden.

A villager described Maria Hill, saying, 'We, who knew her as a quiet, refined old lady, knew that she had an ambition to retire from her shop and have a bungalow built nearby. It was commonly thought that she kept a large sum of money in the shop, adding to it as she could. It was her savings towards the bungalow she wanted'.

It was said that two note books had also vanished from her sweetshop and that it was thought that they had been taken by the murderer and it was stated that they remained the strongest clue in the search for her murderer. The notebooks were described as being red memorandum books. The memo books were said to have contained the financial details of the shop.

After her son arrived at the shop for one of his customary weekend visits he found her bungalow under police guard. When he spoke to the police he told them that the shop takings were usually about £7 per week, but said that he knew that Maria Hill had recently drawn about £100 from her bank and thought that it had probably been reduced to about £50 by purchases that she had made. He noted that he had warned Maria Hill against keeping such sums in the house.

Her son said that Maria Hill didn't keep accounts, but said that she used the two memo books to keep track of her finances, saying that she used one to keep check on profits and that in the other she made a record of what money she used herself.

It was said that Maria Hill kept to herself and that she did not usually get up each day until about 11am. She was said to have lived alone but was visited at weekends by her son.

It was reported on Tuesday 18 March 1952 that the police had received twenty anonymous letters providing additional information into the case that they were checking up on.

On Wednesday 19 March 1952 it was reported that the murder enquiry had switched to Birmingham after a blood-stained coat was handed into a Birmingham firm of dry cleaners on the Saturday. The firm, which had its headquarters in Bradford, handed the garment into the police after reading about the police appeal for information. The police said that efforts were then made in Birmingham to trace the owner of the coat, however, it was later determined that the jacket was not connected in any way with the murder.

Following the murder Royal Engineers from Malvern arrived in the district with mine detectors and made a search for the murder weapon which was not found.

The police said that they thought that the murderer might have left the shop with scratched or injured hands which they might have sought medical attention for and might have had bloodstained clothing. They said that they thought that the murderer might have scratched or injured their own hands whilst using the double-edged knife that he had used to attack Maria Hill with and said that they had checked all hospitals for a man with such injuries, but without success.

The description of a man who was believed to have travelled on a bus that stopped near Maria Hill's sweetshop on the night she was murdered was also released.

The police said that they believed that the murderer lived in the district or knew it well. They also said that they were satisfied that there was a person who knew the murderer and that they were withholding a vital piece of information. They said that they thought that that person was aware of the movements of the murderer on the evening of 13 March 1952 between 7.30pm and about 10pm.

The police said, 'He or she, either for reasons of loyalty or fear, has not communicated with the police. We make an appeal for that person to give any information they have, even if this information is given anonymously. The person will receive the full co-operation and protection of the police if they come forward'. 

It was said that although the search could spread all over the country, that Clehonger remained a village of suspects. It was noted that Clehonger had a population of 482.

A local licensee said that 'Someone with local knowledge seems likely and may still be in our midst'.

The police examined the clothing of men known to have been near her bungalow at the time of the murder.

The police also searched the whole of Hereford's main shopping streets on the morning of Saturday 22 March 1952 for bloodstained clothing that had belonged to Maria Hill following an anonymous telephone caller who rang up a newspaper office at Lydney in the Forest of Dean to say that some of her bloodstained clothing would be found in Eign Street, Hereford. It was said that the caller had refused to say where they were calling from or to give his name, but his call was made shortly after the police appealed for news of discarded bloodstained clothing that might have been seen or found.

The police said, 'Arrangements have been made for the search. It may be a hoax, but we can't afford to ignore such a message'. However, on 24 March 1952 it was reported that the police thought that the telephone call was a hoax.

It was noted that Eign Street, which was nearly in the centre of Hereford, was made up almost entirely of shops, including two dry cleaners which had already been warned to watch for clothes bearing suspicious stains.

The police said that they were also making a careful search of the remains of the Barrel Inn which was a burnt-out public-house that had been derelict for several years.

During their investigation the police went to a squatters' camp at Madley which was a few miles from Clehonger and to local Army and RAF units.

The police also questoned thousands of men that had been serving at a nearby RAF camp at Medley following a certain line of enquiry saying that they were questioning everyone that had been at the camp during the war, many of whom had since been scattered all over the country. It was said that many of the men had been regular users of the little bungalow shop and known Maria Hill well.

The search was later expanded to cover every home within a five-mile radius of Clehonger.

The police also announced a theory following forensic analysis which suggested that Maria Hill's wounds could have been inflicted by a youth or a girl. The police said, 'Certain characteristics of the stabbing and slashing of Mrs Hill's head and face point strongly to a woman. Moreover, if, as we strongly suspect, the murderer is a person with local knowledge, Mrs Hill would be far more likely to unlock her shop door late at night to a woman than to a man. More than 1,000 statements have now been taken, and certain facts strengthen our opinion that the murderer was a person known to the old lady'.

The police noted that the murder weapon had not been found and said that they thought that if the murderer had been a woman then it might have been something that she had carried in a handbag such as a pair of scissors.

It was further added that it was known that some youths living in the area carried sheath knives.

The police said, 'The old lady did not die at once. She was almost certainly alive when her attacker left, although perhaps unconscious'.

It was reported on 17 September 1952 that the police also interviewed a woman who said that she saw the murder in a dream at the same time that it happened. It was said that the woman had been in Hereford County Hospital on the night of 13 March 1952 and that she had woken other patients up in the same ward by her terrified screams as she had the dream. It was said that after she woke up screaming that she had told the night sister that she had just dreamed of a man battering an old woman to death in a small house that looked like it had been turned into a shop. She said that the dream was so vivid that she would recognise the man again anywhere.

She said that the following day she read about Maria Hill's murder in the local newspapers and found it to be identical to her dream.

Details of the woman’s dream were not made public until September 1952. After the police were informed, they went to Hereford County Hospital where they interviewed the woman and spoke to hospital staff there and former patients.

In early November 1952, Maria Hill's will was published which showed that she had left £555 gross, £521 net, to her son who lived in Great Malvern.

In November 1952, it was also reported that the police had received a tip that there was a box in a pond at Eaton Bishop, about a mile and a half away from Clenhonger, that might assist in their enquiry. As a result, the police reopened the investigation and spent three days re-visiting many of the 3,000 people that they had earlier interviewed. The police said, 'The pond was drained because we were told that a box was in the pond. We thought it might be of importance in the investigation. A tin box was removed from the pond but proved to be of no value to us. In fact, we are no nearer a solution and therefore the superintendent is returning to Northants where he had been investigating a double murder at Aston, near Oundle. The matter will, of course, be kept under constant review and any fresh information will be submitted to the superintendent at once'. The pond was said to have been about 20 feet across and lay at the roadside near a line of newly built houses.

In November 1952 it was also reported that gossip and an anonymous letter had wrecked a policeman's career after it was claimed that he had been involved in Maria Hill's murder. However, his wife said that the rumours were completely false.

The policeman had been the village police constable at Clehonger at the time of the murder before he was later transferred to Hereford where he lived with his wife and four-year-old daughter in a terraced house near to Hereford police station.

After the letter was received, the police had the policeman's uniform scientifically examined but found nothing on it to link him to the murder. Police also re-checked a statement, investigated new evidence and spent four hours interrogating the policeman, but said that they found no link between him and Maria Hill's murder.

When the policeman's wife was told that her husband had been exonerated, she said, 'Thank God. That surely will quiet those wagging tongues. There has been no end to the wicked things that have been said about my husband. He was out on his beat and so had no perfect alibi. Because he was doing his job gossips have attacked him. There was another time when a man convicted of sheep stealing tried to implicate him, but since he was innocent of that, too, there was no case against him. But some of the mud that was thrown stuck'.

She went on to say, 'Surely the wickedness of these people cannot go unpunished. He is a good man who would not so much as hurt a fly, but his career has been wrecked by tittle-tattle. We will not run away but we have decided we must try to start a new life. My husband has been offered a home and a job in Australia. When everything is settled, he will resign from the force and we will go there'.

The policeman was an ex-Welsh Guardsman and had been a prisoner-of-war for five years and had at the time his wife was interviewed by the newspaper, been out on his beat. When he was spoken to, he said, 'I have no statement to make. Any information you require must come from the Chief Constable'.

The Chief Constable later said that they had found no connection between the policeman and the murder.  He added, 'He was accused of complicity in sheep stealing at about the same time as the murder. His accuser was a man who is now serving a sentence. He was trying to lead us up the garden path'.

Maria Hill's inquest which took place on Tuesday 20 May 1952 returned a verdict of 'Murder by a person or persons unknown'. Her cause of death was given as being due to shock, haemorrhage, stab wounds and burns.

At the inquest, the coroner sid that they could say nothing about the motive because they had no proof that money had been stolen.

Maria Hill was affectionately known in her village as 'Grannie' Hill. It was said that she ran her shop as a hobby and to give children good measure for their pennies. The headmistress of Clehonger village school said that the 55 children at her school used to walk a mile and a half to spend their pennies at Maria Hill's shop. She said, 'During the war, and often since, with the high price of sweets, it was not unusual for Mrs Hill to meet the children's financial short-comings out of her own pocket. She always had a place in her heart for all of them. She was known throughout the village. She was a quiet, kind, little woman'.

One child said, 'Grannie Hill was our favourite. She was a very kind lady. If we could not afford the sweets we wanted she would reduce the price rather then send us away disappointed'.

She was buried in Clehonger on Wednesday 19 March 1952. It was said that police in plain clothes attended the funeral and questioned strangers that were attending, taking names.

In August 1955 it was said that Maria Hill's murderer was known to the police.

Maria Hill's murder was also described as a thing of the past and forgotten about. It was said that many of the villagers considered her murder a thing of the past and something never spoken about. It was reported that villages had said that they had forgotten about it and did not want to start talking and thinking about it all over again.

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

see find.galegroup.com

see OUR CORRESPONDENT. "Unsolved Murder Case." Times [London, England] 25 Aug. 1955: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 19 March 1952

see Daily Mirror Thu 25 Aug 1955 Page 3

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Wednesday 21 May 1952

see Daily Mirror - Monday 17 March 1952

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 15 March 1952

see Western Mail - Wednesday 21 May 1952

see Daily Mirror - Monday 17 March 1952

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Monday 24 March 1952

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 15 March 1952

see Western Mail - Wednesday 12 November 1952

see Western Mail - Thursday 20 March 1952

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 12 November 1952

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Saturday 22 March 1952

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Thursday 20 March 1952

see Daily Herald - Thursday 13 November 1952

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Thursday 20 March 1952

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Tuesday 18 March 1952

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Wednesday 17 September 1952

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Monday 17 March 1952

see Kington Times - Friday 26 August 1955

see Portsmouth Evening News - Wednesday 19 March 1952