Unsolved Murders

Clifford Howes

Age: 34

Sex: male

Date: 5 Dec 1989

Place: The Jolly Farmer, Blacknest, Hampshire

Clifford Howes died in a fire that caused a massive explosion at a pub at the Jolly Farmer public house in Blacknest near Bentley, Hampshire in the early hours of Tuesday 5 December 1989.

The fire had been started deliberately after someone had poured gallons of petrol into the cellar area.

The telephone wires had also been cut.

Clifford Howes was the second chef at the pub. The bar manager who was also there was also seriously injured.

The police said that they thought that someone had started the fire just after midnight on the Tuesday by pouring a large quantity of petrol or paraffin about the bar and cellar area. The fire had caused a massive explosion in the premises that went off at 2.40am on 5 December 1989 and which was heard over two miles away. It was said that the flammable substance had been poured into the cellar through the wooden cellar doors and that a homemade fuse had been used to ignite it whilst the murderer got away. However, it had been raining and it was said that the fuse had gone out. However, it was thought that even though the fuse had gone out, in the time following the flammable liquid, petrol, having been poured into the cellar, that petrol vapour had saturated the air inside the building and that when an automatic dehumidifier that had been installed in the cellar a few weeks earlier switched on automatically, the spark from the electric motor caused the massive explosion with bomb like force.

The blast was said to have blown out the front wall of the building which had then sent the first floor and roof crashing down into the cellar.

A car was seen driving away from the pub at speed shortly after the explosion, but the driver was never traced.

It was initially thought that the explosion might have been caused by a gas leak or even a terrorist bomb, but fire experts later determined that it had been started deliberately with petrol.

The fire brigade was on the scene within 15 minutes but following the fire all that remained of the pub was the chimney stack and the pub's sign. Remains of the pub thrown out by the explosion were found lying about in a 100yard radius.

Clifford Howes had been sleeping in a floor bedroom which was thought would have taken the full force of the blast, resulting in his almost immediate death, that caused his room to collapse into the cellar. It was said that he had burned alive as he was trapped in the inferno. Clifford Howes wasn't initially found, and it was first thought that he had vanished or wandered off. It was over twelve hours after the explosion that his remains were found at the bottom of the cellar.

Before Clifford Howes's body was found, the wife of the landlord said, 'It is an utter tragedy. Poor Clifford was an orphan and had no family at all. He lived-in at the pub and the business was his life. He would have had no reason to leave the premises and nowhere else to go, so it is almost a certainty that his body is somewhere in the rubble'.

The bar manager was pulled out of the debris alive after his hand was seen poking through some rubble and roofing slates. It was said that rescuers saw his hand protruding through the rubble 'like Excalibur' after hearing him screaming. His burnt underpants were said to have melted to his skin. He had suffered burns to more than 25% of his body.

It was noted that there had previously been several fires at the pub and the police said they were tracing the people involved.

The owner of the pub said that he was certain that his pub was targetted in a case of mistaken identity. It was noted that there were over twenty Jolly Farmer public houses around the country and at least seven in Hampshire and as such thought that the murderer had got the wrong pub. The landlord said that there was absolutely no reason to target his pub.

The police said that they had been unable to determine a motive.

The case was reviewed in 2003, but with no new lines of enquiry.

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

see www.hampshire.police.uk

see Daily Echo

see True Crime Enthusiast

see Reading Evening Post - Thursday 07 December 1989

see Newcastle Journal - Thursday 07 December 1989

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Wednesday 06 December 1989

see Liverpool Echo - Thursday 07 December 1989

see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Tuesday 05 December 1989