Unsolved Murders

Joan Mary Woodhouse

Age: 27

Sex: female

Date: 31 Jul 1948

Place: Arundel Castle, Sussex

Joan Mary Woodhouse was found dead in the grounds of Arundel Castle, Sussex on Tuesday 10 August 1948.

She had been raped and strangled. Her scantily clad body was found near Swanbourne Lake in Arundel Park by a man who was later considered a suspect but who was never tried.

It was thought that she had been murdered on 31 July 1948 after having met a man that she had made an appointment with following a party a few days before her 27th birthday. The police appealed to anyone that had seen her in Worthing or Arundel with her male companion on 31 July 1948.

It was not known whether she had met the man at Victoria Station and caught a Bank Holiday Saturday morning train with him to Worthing, or whether she had gone there and met him at Worthing Central Station, but it was thought that she had caught the 11.25am train from Victoria to Worthing and after arriving had deposited her blue dress case in the station cloakroom and later possibly had lunch in a restaurant with the man before heading off to Swanborne Lake in Arundel where she was later found dead.

It was thought that the man that she had gone with was a fairly new acquaintance and the police said that they thought that the key to solving her murder lay in north London and were quoted as saying that the case was 'a classic murder with more points then a hedgehog'.

The man who found her body was later charged but the magistrates decided that there wasn't enough evidence to put him on trial and he was acquitted. It was said that he was a renowned flasher and that he had admitted to having followed Joan Woodhouse on the day she was murdered and having been in the park with the intention of exposing himself to young girls.

The man was a local man and had said that he had seen Joan Woodhouse go into the copse in which she was later found dead, and at one stage during his interrogation, he was said to have said, 'It must have been me', but later changed his story.

However, it was also claimed that there had been a cover up as the man was actually the illegitimate child of a titled person.

In 1956 a man was interviewed in Rhodesia following an alleged confession but it was determined that his confession was false and nothing came of it.

Joan Woodhouse was a librarian at the National Central Library in Bloomsbury and had lived in a YWCA hostel in Lee Green, London.

She was last seen when she left the YWCA hostel in Lee Green, London, when she said that she was going to visit her parents in Barnsley.

When she was found she had a cloakroom ticket on her which police used to recover her blue dressing case from Worthing Central Station which she had deposited before 2.30pm on 31 July 1948.

It was known that she had attended a party on 13 July 1948 about 18 days before she was murdered in London and the police went through a list of names of people that had been there looking for the identity of the man they thought that she had gone to Worthing with. The party was four days before her 27th birthday. It was thought that it was at the party that she had met the man that she had later arranged to go to Worthing and Arundel with on the coming Bank Holiday.

The police said that they had most of the details about the party, where it was held, who was there, and the occasion that was being celebrated, but noted that Joan Woodhouse had been secretive about it, having gone direct to it from the National Central Library where she worked. It was said that she had gone back home to the YWCA hostel in Lee Green after the party.

It was said that it was thought that Joan Woodhouse had been in Worthing with a man whose description they released as being aged between 30 and 40, of medium height, and with 'not very fair and not very dark' hair. He was also described as having had a cultured voice and brown wavy hair which was thought might have been artificially waved.

Another description of a man that she was said to have been seen having lunch with in a restaurant in Worthing on the Bank Holiday Saturday was that of a man of her own age, about 30, clean shaven and wearing a sports jacket and flannels. The police added that they were convinced that the man that she had gone to Arundel with was well known to her.

The police said that they had interviewed more than 200 local bus drivers and conductors in an effort to find out how Joan Woodhouse had got from Worthing to Arundel on the Bank Holiday Saturday.

Joan Woodhouse had kept a diary but not all the dates were filled out. Her diary was found at the Lee Green YWCA hostel where she had been lodging and it was found to contain the names of 150 relatives, friends and acquaintances. However, it was noted that she had not filled in her engagements for the latter part of July 1948.

The police later said that they thought that Joan Woodhouse had had a friend that was familiar with what Joan Woodhouse was doing on the dates that she had not detailed in her diary and that she might have even known who Joan Woodhouse had met and even who her murderer was and said that they thought that it was possible that she might need police protection. It was said that they were convinced that the girl knew what Joan Woodhouse had been planning to do on the Bank Holiday Saturday. They said, 'We think a girlfriend in London who can give vital information respecting Miss Woodlouse’s movements and her intentions for the Bank Holiday week-end is withholding it. We appeal to her to come forward'.

The police said that they were checking every name in the diary which was involving detectives in London, West Sussex and Barnsley.

The police later detailed three mystery personalities in the case who they were trying to trace.

  1. An anonymous letter writer. The anonymous letter writer had sent two letters to the Chief Inspector that had been in charge of the case and it was thought that he had known certain unknown details about Joan Woodhouse's private life, in particular details regarding the missing dates in her diary. It was said that he had sent three letters and that he was a man that lived in the City of London and was an office worker and a close friend of Joan Woodhouse's.
  2. A girl confidant.
  3. A man with wavy hair. The man with wavy hair had collected some letters that were addressed to Joan Woodhouse at the Sussex Holiday Club near Bognor. It was said that the man had collected two letters for Joan Woodhouse that were delivered to the club and that after it was noticed that they had been collected, a dummy letter was put out to catch the man, however, although the man was spotted when he saw and collected the letter, he managed to get away without being caught. It as noted that the description of the man that had collected the letters match that somewhat of the man that Joan Woodhouse had been seen having lunch with in Worthing on 31 July 1948. It was not known why the letters were being sent to the club for Joan Woodhouse as she had never been known to have stayed there.

The police later said that they had found that Joan Woodhouse was illogical in many ways, noting that she had told her friends at the hostel that she had been going to visit her father in Barnsley for the Bank Holiday even though her father said that he had no knowledge of that.

They even noted that she was described as a girl that did not like carrying packages but noted that she had carried a green mackintosh, a handbag and a winter coat to Arundel even though it was a warm day.

It was also noted that her friends had described her as a happy and open girl, but yet during the fortnight before her murder she had become secretive.

Joan Woodhouse was buried at Ardsley Cemetery in Barnsley on Tuesday 17 August 1948. The time and place of the internment had been kept a secret and the only mourners were her father and two of her male relatives.

In 1950 Joan Woodhouse's father obtained a private warrant against the man who was charged with her murder but cleared after a four-day hearing.

A private detective also carried out an investigation into the murder of Joan Woodhouse which he completed on behalf of Joan Woodhouse's relatives in January 1951. At the conclusion of his investigation, he said, 'The results of the inquiries will be handed over to my clients, the relatives of the girl, and their legal advisers. I have no doubt information will be given to Scotland Yard later'.

The case was reopened in March 1956 after Scotland Yard received new information and detectives interviewed a number of people in Littlehampton, Bognor, Chichester and Arundel as well as going to Rhodesia. It was first reported that the police were leaving by air for a secret destination, later revealed as being Rhodesia, to contact a man who was thought to have left the country some years before and whose name had never before been mentioned in the case. It was said that the move came after the police received information from a soldier that tallied with their assessment of the murder relating to a confession. It was reported in April 1956 that Southern Rhodesian police had been requested by Scotland Yard to assist in their enquiries in relation to a man living in Rhodesia and working on the Rhodesian Railways who had at the time of the murder been living in Bognor. On Friday 27 April 1956, it was reported that the man, a 25-year-old, had formerly lived in Newtown Avenue in Bognor Regis where he had worked as a builder's labourer, milk roundsman and fairground attendant. It was said that he had married in Rhodesia and that in an attempt to win back his estranged wife after she left him he had written her a note in which he said, 'I am responsible for the Arundel murder in 1948'. The man was interviewed by South African police and it was said that his statement was carefully examined by officers from Scotland Yard who were said to have chosen not to continue their investigation into him and closed their inquiries in his direction.  When the man's elder brother, a car sprayer in Bognor was interviewed by members of the press over the matter, he said, 'The reports in the national Press are a lot of rot. I can't understand him writing such a silly and stupid note'. It was said that the man had said that he had been in Arundel Park on the day of the murder with a woman from Bognor who had since married another man. Following the disclosure, the woman went to see the police at Bognor Police station where it is said that she was told not to worry.

In June 2016 a book was released by Martin Knight called Justice For Joan - The Arundel Murder, in which he stated that the man that found Joan Woodhouse's body in the copse ten days after she was murdered was likely to have been the murderer, referring to a memo a High Court judge had written in which he stated that he was 99 per cent sure that the labourer was guilty.  He also stated that the labourer was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Norfolk and that the case was covered up to protect his interests, observing that the labourer had had a high profile solicitor represent him which he would not have been able to have afforded himself and that members of the establishment colluded to prevent a trial taking place in order to protect the Duke.

He claims that the labourer was the prime suspect in the case and that the labourer had admitted to not only finding her body, but to also speaking to her on the day she was murdered. It was said that he had later said that he was 'responsible for her death' but later recanted that by stating that what he meant was that he felt guilty for having scared her into going into the copse where she was then murdered. He stated that a solicitor advised the labourer to not say anything at the inquest which contributed to the case being left open.

He goes on to note that when Joan Woodhouse's family hired the private detective to look into the case, the private detective concluded that there were findings that supported the theory that the labourer had spoken to Joan Woodhouse and then followed her into the copse and strangled her, which itself had resulted in the police reviewing the case. However, he states that following the review, the fact that the police concluded that as a result of their review, that they thought that Joan Woodhouse had killed herself, was evidence that they didn't want to solve the case and were covering it up.

He notes that following that Joan Woodhouse's family started their own private prosecution which was taken over by the Crown but that they had not tried, noting that at the magistrates hearing they had opened their arguments for the prosecution by stating, 'The evidence against this man is wholly circumstantial. There is not one single piece of evidence that goes directly to show that he was party to the commission of this crime', which they then stated was all the evidence that they were putting forward, and which resulted in the labourer being acquitted.

He notes that following that Joan Woodhouse's family sought a bill of indictment from the Lewes Assizes but were refused although notes that a memo written by a High Court Judge, which he says read, 'I am 99 per cent sure of the labourer’s guilt. But the fact of the matter remains that he was not cautioned at interview and therefore the key evidence of his statements will be ruled as inadmissible if we proceed to court', implied that the labourer was probably guilty at least in the eyes of the High Court Judge that had seen the case details presented to him.

Martin Knight concludes that the reasons that each attempt to convict the labourer failed was because the labourer was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Norfolk and that establishment strings had been pulled to prevent the prosecution and to prevent attension being drawn on him which might have revealed his true parentage, noting that his 'father' had often suspected that he wasn't his own child.

He noted that the labourer died in 2008.

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

see find.galegroup.com

see "Arundel Murder Charge." Times [London, England] 23 Sept. 1950: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

see "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 14 Mar. 1956: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

see "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 9 Apr. 1956: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

see Glasgow Herald

see True Crime Library

see Sussex History Forum

see Dailymail

see National Archives - MEPO 3/3022, HO 45/25665

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 12 August 1948

see Nottingham Evening Post - Wednesday 18 August 1948

see Gloucestershire Echo - Friday 20 August 1948

see Manchester Evening News - Monday 23 August 1948

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Friday 20 August 1948

see Western Mail - Wednesday 14 March 1956

see Western Mail - Saturday 13 January 1951

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 17 August 1948

see Bognor Regis Observer - Friday 27 April 1956

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 13 March 1956