Date: 16 Jan 1960
Place: Wheelers Lane, Poole, Dorset
Lilian Emily Maude Tharme was found dead by the side of a lovers lane near Poole, Dorset, on the morning of 17 January 1960 at 7.30am following a night out at a dance.
She was found dead in the snow at Wheelers Lane with a stolen car nearby. She was found naked and face down in the frozen mud.
Her clothes were found scattered on the main road at Wallisdown a mile away. They were said to have been found in two separate piles between Wallisdown Road and Wheeler's Lane, with some of them being found in Waterworks Road. The police said that her coat, stole and shoes were found in Wallisdown Road with the remainder of her clothing being left on the pavement.
One lot of clothing had been found by a civilian and the other by a policeman about three hours before her body was found.
She had been wearing a short beaver-lamb coat over a grey woollen dress, a large off-white woollen stole and high-heeled shoes and was hatless.
It was initially said that it was not known why Lilian Tharme had been naked but it was thought that it might have been done to delay her identification.
Initial questions the police were trying to find out were:
Wheelers Lane was a 'lovers lane', a meeting place for courting couples, and was described as a 'muddy track'.
The stolen car was a small, green Morris that had been reported missing from Bournemouth on the Saturday night. It was said to have been about nine feet from her body.
It had been driven to Wheelers Lane where it was run into an off-side ditch and abandoned. The police said that they didn't know how many men had been in the car.
The police said that they thought that Lilian Tharme had probably been carried from the car and left among the bushes on the heath. They said that some injuries were known to have been caused by the car but that others had been inflicted at or near the scene where her body was placed.
Lilian Tharme had been a mother of four. She was described as small and plump. She had lived about two miles away in Alder Road, Parkstone.
Her 46-year-old husband, who often accompanied her dancing said that he had stayed at home to look after the child whilst Lilian Tharme went to the dance with a group of friends. He said, 'If I had known she was walking home alone I would have gone to meet her'.
Lilian Tharme had gone to a Territorial Army dance at a drill hall about a mile from her home on the night before her murder. The drill hall was just over a mile from Wheelers Lane and outside of it the police found marks of an accident.
It was said that she had been knocked over and then sexually assaulted and that if she had received proper medical treatment within a reasonable time that she would not have died. The police said that they were satisfied that Lilian Tharme had been knocked down and injured in Wallisdown Road at about 1.30am by a dark green Morris 1000 that had been stolen earlier from Talbot Avenue in Bournemouth, about a mile and a half away. The police said that they were anxious to see anyone who saw the car, which had the registration VRU 968. It was noted that only the near-side headlamp of the car was working, the off-side one having been broken when it struck Lilian Tharme.
The police appealed for a man that Lilian Tharme was seen with at the dance at the drill hall on the Saturday night, describing him as:
The police also appealed for a young man aged between 17 and 20 to come forward. He had been seen walking in Ringwood Road at about 2.35am on the morning of 17 January 1960 towards Poole. He was described as:
It was noted that after he failed to come forward at the first appeal for him that the police said that they believed that he might not have seen the appeal in the papers or heard it on the radio.
They said that the young man had been seen in Ringwood Road at 2.28am on 17 January 1960, which was about an 18 minutes' walk from the spot where Lilian Tharme was found.
The police later found that Lilian Tharme had visited a public-house about a mile and a half from her home regularly with a man.
The police also appealed to local landladies for information concerning people who were absent from their accommodation and either failed to return or returned very later during the night of 16 and 17 January 1960.
Lilian Tharme had gone to the dance with a 37-year-old man that she and her husband knew and it was thought that he was one of the last people to see her.
The man was a GPO telephone engineer and a bachelor. He had worked in Bournemouth and lived in Wolseley Road, Parkstone.
He said, 'I had known Lily for eight years but I cannot remember actually how we met. Her husband and I became friends and when Lily and he were going to a dance I went too. When I bought a little car I generally took them home in it. It was understood that if Lily went to a dance without her husband, either I should take her home or see that one of the crowd did, but there was no set rule about it. After the dance at the Wallisdown drill hall on Saturday about 15 of us went into the sergeants' mess and played housey-housey. When I drove off with two of my pals, both men, about 1.30am, none of us in the car saw Mrs Tharme, but I assumed she was with other people, so I didn't worry. I must admit I am a bit hazy about it all'.
Her inquest, which concluded on Wednesday 13 April 1960 returned a verdict of murder by some person or persons unknown.
The pathologist that examined her body said that she had scratches and bruises that might have been caused by her body having been dragged over gravel and added that certain other injuries could have been caused by an impact with a moving vehicle.
He said, 'The underlying cause of death was multiple injuries. It is highly likely that her death could have been accelerated by having her clothes removed on a cold night'. The pathologist also said, 'Evidence does point to sexual intercourse having taken place'.
The police said that the sexual assault had taken place sometime after Lilian Tharme had been injured by the car.
He said that he thought that she probably died from shock and exposure.
A detective superintendent agreed with the Coroner in that the sequence of events was that Lilian Tharme had been knocked down in Wallisdown Road and then taken by car to Waterworks Road where she was stripped and then criminally assaulted before her body was abandoned in Wheelers Lane.
The police said, 'The driver of the car was particularly callous. We have to look upon him as a possibly dangerous individual and we appeal for any information'.
The police said that they thought that Lilian Tharme had been knocked down by the car first in Wallisdown Road and her outer clothing was scattered there and that her underwear was discarded about half a mile away.
It was heard that the police knew that in the closing minutes of the dance that a man had dropped a door key down her dress and that that had annoyed her and she had begun to walk off alone back to her flat in Alder Road, Parkstone, which was five miles away. Another report referred to Lilian Tharme having left the dance in a huff after an argument with friends. They said that they thought that before Lilian Tharme had gone far that the driver of the stolen Morris offered her a lift which she refused and that she had begun to run off and that the driver had pursued her and knocked her down. The police said that they thought that Lilian Tharme had then agreed to sit in the car to recover, discarding her coat, stole and shoes and that the driver or his companion then threw her clothes into the road and drove half a mile to Waterworks Road where Lilian Tharme was stripped and her underclothing thrown from the car. The police said they thought that Lilian Tharme had fought so fiercely that the men had had to beat her about the head and face and that she became unconscious. They said that they thought that the driver and his companion then panicked and drove to Wheelers Lane where they dumped her body after which she was thought to have died from her injuries, shock and exposure.
During their investigation Poole Police called in he aid of Scotland Yard.
A Scotland Yard detective that summed up the police theory in four bullet points said:
The detectives added that Lilian Tharme's primary cause of death was the act of being left nude, unconscious and exposed on a cold, frosty night.
The police later said, 'We believe the killer stole the car with the intention of picking up a woman by fair means of foul. He was getting desperate when he saw Mrs Tharme, who had been to a dance, walking alone. This man must be caught'.
It was reported that a vital witness had come forward but that her identity was being kept a secret. She was a young girl who had been riding a motor-scooter through Wallisdown Road around 1.30am who said that she had seen the green Morris car.
Another witness said that they had seen a car at about 2am and whilst it was not known definitely whether it was the stolen green Morris, the police said that it could tie in with the time.
The police appealed to anyone who saw the stolen car between 10.05pm on the Saturday 16 January 1960 and 2.30am the following morning to contact them.
It was later reported that the police thought that Lilian Tharme had not been knocked down in a hit-and-run accident but that she had been pursued by a car driven by a drunken man, accidently knocked down but not seriously hurt and then later stripped and murdered. The police said that her killers might have been two drunken soldiers.
A week after the murder the police set up road blocks at midnight on the main roads approaching key points. One road block went up about half a mile from where her body was found and all traffic was stopped between midnight and 2.30am and drivers and passengers were asked, 'Did you pass along this road at about the same time last Saturday, and if so can you help our investigation?'.
Other road blocks covered the house in Talbot Avenue, Bournemouth, from where the Morris car was stolen, the drill hall where Lilian Tharme had gone dancing and the two locations where her clothing was found.
During the investigation the police extended their search to Army camps within a 20-mile radius of Poole. It was reported on Thursday 11 January 1960 that 2,500 soldiers had been asked the question, 'Where were you late on Saturday night and early on Sunday morning and can you account for your movements?'.
On 21 January 1960 it was reported that the police had questioned 250 men at West Moors Camp, were in the process of questioning 1,000 men at Blandford Camp and were going to question 1,750 men at Bovington Camp.
It was noted that the police in Bournemouth had had many cases of soldiers stealing cars on Saturday nights to get back to camp and noted that before the green Morris Minor vanished from Talbot Avenue that three attempts had been made to steal cars in the area.
On 25 January 1960 it was reported that all leave for detectives involved in the case was cancelled and that they were working night and day on it.
On Wednesday 13 April 1960 Lilian Tharme's husband said that he shared the police theory that someone was shielding the killer. The police said, 'Medical evidence given shows that this killer is a dangerous paranoic , a sex maniac who may strike again. It is imperative for the safety of women that he should be caught'.
The police added that they were convinced that the man lived in the Poole area and that his mother was probably protecting him.
The inquest, which was held on 13 April 1960 heard that there had been horse play in the sergeants mess after the dance on 16 January. The man that had taken Lilian Tharme to the dance said that he had danced with her four or five times. He said that after the dance ended at midnight that he and Lilian Tharme went upstairs to a private party in the sergeants mess where there was more drinking and that he could only vaguely remember leaving and couldn't remember the drive home.
A man that had been at the private party and who lived in Shelly Road, Poole said that either someone put a key down the front of Lilian Tharme's dress or she put it there herself. He said that there was then ann argument about a cardboard pink elephant. He said that there were forty cut-out elephants around the walls of the sergeants mess and that the argument started after Lilian Tharme took hold of one. It was said that she was made to giver it up but that a sergeant got another one and gave it to her and that Lilian Tharme had been very upset by the incident, adding, 'This broke up the party'.
He said that Lilian Tharme and the man that usually took her home, walked off a little way along the road together but that the man returned almost immediately and drove off in his car with three passengers in it off along the road that Lilian Tharme had taken, noting that he had been one of the passengers. He said, 'We waited between half an hour and an hour at a corner for Mrs Tharme. When she did not turn up we thought she had got a lift from someone else.
It was noted that the pink elephant that Lilian Tharme had been given at the party was found in the small hours of 17 January 1960 by a waterworks attendant. He said that whilst making his round he heard a car start up and then drive away and that when he walked to the spot where the car had been he found the cut-out elephant under some clothes.
Six months after the murder, on Tuesday 28 June 1960, it was reported that a 'happy family' snap was found on the road about three miles from the spot where Lilian Tharme's body was found. The photo showed a woman with two young children and a spaniel dog but it was not know who they were and the police appealed for people that might be able to identify them to come forward.
Lilian Tharme had been the wife of an ex-regular army sergeant-major. She had lived in Alder Road, Parkstone, Dorset and had four children.
A 16-year-old girl that had gone missing from her home in Parkstone on Friday 15 January 1960 was later found alive and well on Tuesday 19 January 1960 and the police said that they had ruled out any connection between her disappearance and Lilian Tharme's murder. When she went missing her mother had told the police that she had seemed upset because her soldier boyfriend was being posted overseas.
In March 1960 the Poole (Dorset) Town Council approved a petition from 50 residents for the installation of lighting in Wheeler's Lane. The Council said that hey would ask the residents to pay half the cost of the lamps.
see National Archives - MEPO 2/10057
see Daily Express Mon 18 Jan 1960 Page 1
see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 28 June 1960
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 19 January 1960
see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 13 April 1960
see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 19 January 1960
see Birmingham Daily Post - Wednesday 13 April 1960
see Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Thursday 21 January 1960
see Daily News (London) - Wednesday 13 April 1960
see Belfast Telegraph - Wednesday 02 March 1960
see Daily Mirror - Monday 25 January 1960
see Daily News (London) - Monday 18 January 1960
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Tuesday 19 January 1960
see Daily News (London) - Thursday 21 January 1960
see Daily News (London) - Wednesday 20 January 1960
see Newcastle Journal - Monday 25 January 1960
see Belfast Telegraph - Monday 18 January 1960
see Weekly Dispatch (London) - Sunday 24 January 1960
see Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 25 January 1960
see Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 25 January 1960
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 23 January 1960
see Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 18 January 1960
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 13 April 1960
see Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Thursday 21 January 1960