Unsolved Murders

Madge Winifred Cleife

Age: 15

Sex: female

Date: 30 Aug 1931

Place: Salterns, Portsmouth

Source: find.galegroup.com

Madge Cleife was found dead in a marsh near a golf course at 1pm on the Saturday 29 August 1931.

Her boyfriend, an 18-year old unemployed photographer was tried but acquitted of her murder.

Madge Cleife was the daughter of a dockyard workman and had lived in Malim's Road in Buckland.

She had gone out on the Friday evening, 28 August 1931 and was found dead the next morning on some marsh land not far from the Great Saltern Golf Course.

Madge Cleife was last seen by her father when she went out at 6.45am when they both left for work together. Her father said that he got home from work at 4pm and started to become anxious at about 10.45pm when she hadn't come home and he went out to look for her and then that midnight he reported her missing to the police.

Madge Cleife's father said that Madge Cleife had been seeing the unemployed photographer for the last three or four months. He said that they had only walked out once, and that was in the company of his wife when they went to Horndean, but that the unemployed photographer had been round to their house many times. He said that on the night Madge Cleife disappeared he sent his brother-in-law to ask him about Madge Cleife.

Madge Cleife's father said that on the Saturday morning he asked Madge Cleife's boyfriend whether he had been with Madge Cleife the previous night and her boyfriend said 'Yes, I did, and I left her at 9.45pm at the Stone Bridge'.

Madge Cleife's body was found at 1pm on some marsh ground by three boys between some gorse bushes about 50 yards from the eastern road. Her cloth coat belt was found tied around her neck, and another piece of it was found on the footway nearby. The police also found a League matchbox near her body. Her shoes were off and her face was lying on one of them.

The post-mortem stated that death had been due to strangulation. A doctor noted that Madge Cleife had an abnormally large thymus gland in her throat which weighed two ounces and said that it would have made it easier for her to die from suffocation than if it had not been present. He also said that the strangulation was due to violence and could not have been self-inflicted.

It was noted that the night of her murder was the first night that she had had her own latchkey as the previous night the door had slammed on her and shut her out.

Evidence was heard from a tramways switchman who said that he had met Madge Cleife at about 7.45pm on the Friday evening. He said that he had never met her before and that she said to him 'Hullo, you are early tonight, are you going to meet your girl?'.  He said that he told her that he was going to the theatre and said that Madge Cleife then asked him 'Would you like to take me for a ride?', and he had told her that he had his work to finish.

Madge Cleife's boyfriend was charged with her murder on 1 September 1931.

He said that he had met her accidentally in the evening and then parted at 9.50pm and that as they parted she had given him the impression that she was going to meet someone else.

Evidence against him included examination of three grass seeds that were found in his turn-ups. They were sent to London to be examined and it was said that two of them were of exactly the same kind as those found on Madge Cleife's body.

A friend of Madge Cleife had said that she saw Madge Cleife and her boyfriend at about 8pm in Malins Road and another woman said that she had seen them going into Powerscourt Road a couple of minutes before 8pm and said that they appeared to be quarrelling.

Another girl, aged 13, said that she had been in her parent's car while she was waiting for her mother to finish playing golf. She said that Madge Cleife was with a tall, dark young man who she could not recognise again and that the young man had had his arms around Madge Cleife and that they walked towards the blind end of Eastern Road. She said that she had them under observation for about 15 minutes.

A Royal Marine from the Eastney Barracks said that he saw Madge Cleife and her boyfriend at 9pm on the Friday evening walking towards the lind end of the Eastern Road which was about 100 yards from him. In court, he said 'I am quite certain that the man who was with her is the man in the dock', adding 'I am quite confident of that'. He said that he had identified Madge Cleife's boyfriend in an identity parade but disagreed that he was the tallest most untidy man in the parade. It was heard that he had walked along the line of men and on his way back put his hand on the back of Madge Cleife's boyfriend and said, 'That is the man' and had then added the words, 'I think it is'. However, he said that when he had picked out Madge Cleife's boyfriend he said that he had said 'I think that is the man'.

It was said that Madge Cleife was seen between 9.40pm and 10pm talking to a man on a bicycle and that the man was later seen at 10.50pm racing away from the vicinity.

It was also heard that a Corporation employee said that he had seen a middle-aged man leave a passage-way and run and walk rapidly up the road although the judge noted that even middle-aged people ran for the bus which was what he might have been doing.

In court, Madge Cleife's boyfriend said that he had met Madge Cleife accidently in the evening and that they went for a walk together. He said that whilst walking he threw away an empty League match box in Powerscourt Road and obtained another of a different brand, Sewing Maid, from an automatic machine. He was said to have told a woman who ran a tobacconist's shop, 'They have found somebody's matches, and they think these are mine. When I came out on Friday night my mother gave me a box of League matches but before I got to Havant Road I lost them. I went into a shop and bought another box, which was of a different brand, and so they couldn't be mine'.

He repeated that he had left her at the white stone bridge at 9.50pm but said that she had given him the impression that she was going to meet someone else. He said 'She seemed a bit funny with me. She said more than once that she had someone else to meet, but I did not understand if she meant that night or generally'. He went on to say that he thought that she was trying to make him jealous, saying 'She gave me the impression that I was in the way and that she wanted to get rid of me'.

Madge Cleife's boyfriend said that he was at home within 20 minutes and had gone to bed. His parents confirmed that he had arrived home just before 10pm on 28 August 1931 and seemed calm and not in the slightest degree worried.

When he was asked whether he felt upset at the news that Madge Cleife had been murdered he said, 'I didn't feel none too merry'.

When he was asked if he was fond of Madge Cleife he had said 'In a way' and when asked if he was anxious to go out with her he said, 'Not particularly' and then when asked if she was anxious to go out with him he said, 'I have no idea'.

When the judge asked Madge Cleife's boyfriend whether there was any love-making between them he replied, 'Not as far as I know'. The judge said that his answer was a little ambiguous and then Madge Cleife's boyfriend was asked 'Did she ever seem to be a girl you could be more familiar with than you could expect to be with a young girl?' and Madge Cleife's boyfriend replied, 'She did'.

Madge Cleife's boyfriend was then asked, 'Did she ever behave in a way other than a decent young girl would behave?' and Madge Cleife's boyfriend replied 'Yes'. He was then asked when he found that out and said, 'A week after I knew her'.

However, when Madge Cleife's boyfriend was asked to explain how he had received the girl's advances he refused to say. The judge then told him to answer the question and advised him not to try and be clever. However, Madge Cleife's boyfriend still refused to answer the question. He said that he would rather leave it to the jury to draw their own conclusions.

Madge Cleife's boyfriend was in the box for two and a half hours and denied that he had taken Madge Cleife to the marsh and attempted to be familiar with her.

The judge said that Madge Cleife's boyfriend was a respectable young man with respectable parents and had been welcomed into the home of Madge Cleife as a well-behaving young man. He went on to say that the murder was the work of a monster rather than a man and questioned whether after having a desperate and violent struggle with Madge Cleife he could have gone back to his home within half an hour, take off his collar and tie, have his supper and have then gone to bed in the manner described by his mother and father.

He also noted that even though Madge Cleife clothes were bespattered with blood, there was no trace of blood on Madge Cleife's boyfriend's clothes. It was noted that the only blood found on him was on his handkerchief and that it consisted of spots and not smears.

It was also heard that there had been evidence from a man that had helped Madge Cleife's boyfriend get the matches out of the machine and the judge noted that if that evidence had been heard at the magistrates court then maybe Madge Cleife's boyfriend would not have been in the dock that day. He had earlier noted that Madge Cleife's boyfriend had not denied ever owning a League matchbox which he could have.

The judge further noted that there was little doubt that Madge Cleife was a lively young woman who was ready to make an acquaintance on sight and to run without knowing the dangers and that he submitted that she had been the victim of a sexual pervert that had taken her away to the quiet spot and that when it was lonely and quiet he had foully murdered her.

The police said that they did not know why the evidence of the man that had helped Madge Cleife's boyfriend to get the Sewing Maid matches out of the automatic machine was not called earlier at the magistrates.

The jury returned a verdict of not guilty and Madge Cleife's boyfriend was discharged.

Madge Cleife's funeral was held at the Buckland Congregational Church where she had been a member of the choir and a Girl Guide.

Later, on 30 December 1931, Madge Cleife's favourite doll was presented to the children of the Royal Portsmouth Hospital as it had been her wish to do so before she had died.


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


see "Portsmouth Girl's Death." Times [London, England] 4 Dec. 1931: 11. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 3 Mar. 2013.

see Lincolnshire Echo - Wednesday 02 September 1931

see Western Morning News - Thursday 03 September 1931

see Hull Daily Mail - Wednesday 02 December 1931

see Portsmouth Evening News - Wednesday 30 December 1931

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 03 December 1931

see Leeds Mercury - Tuesday 01 December 1931

see Portsmouth Evening News - Monday 30 November 1931 (inclues picture of Madge Cleife)