Unsolved Murders

Stephen Varley

Age: 52

Sex: male

Date: 19 Dec 1948

Place: Cotton Mill Lane, St Albans, Hertfordshire

Source: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Stephen Varley was found dead on an allotment footpath near a ruined nunnery in Cotton Mill Lane, St Albans on Sunday 19 December 1948.

He had been beaten and throttled and left with his head and face badly battered.

His trousers and jacket were missing. However, the police noted that Stephen Varley had managed to hide a purse that he had been carrying that had contained his wife's wedding ring and engagement rings. The purse was found near his body. His wife had died about nine months earlier.

It was thought that they had taken a few pounds from him.

His body was found dumped on the footpath, covered by a dark blue overcoat.

He had tattoo marks on his body and was wearing only his shirt, collar, tie, waistcoat, underpants and socks.

He was an ex-navel stoker and had been working at the De Havilland aircraft works at Hatfield as a shop steward at the time.

He had earlier taken his 10-year-old daughter to a children's party at the De Havilland aircraft works on the Saturday afternoon. He later left the party at 7pm, leaving his daughter there with a friend. He was seen getting on a bus for St Albans at 9pm by friends, and to have arrived in St Albans at about 10.30pm.  The police said that they had a complete record of Stephen Varley's movements up until about 20 minutes before he died at about 11pm that night.

The police said that they had reports that Stephen Varley had been seen walking along with two men towards Cotton Mill Lane between 10.30pm and 11.10pm, not far from where he was found and said that they were trying to find out who the men were and how he had met them.

They were seen struggling together at 11.15pm near to the spot where Stephen Varley's body was later found, and two men were also seen around the time leaving the lane.

It was thought that Stephen Varley had missed his last bus home to Watford and that the two men might have offered to show him a short cut through to Abbey Station where he could catch the last train for Watford at 11.25pm.

It was thought that he might have gone to St Albans to meet someone, but it was not known who, although it was noted that he had told his friends that he was going home to Watford.

The police also appealed for an elderly woman and two girls who they thought might have been of some assistance to come forward.

On 8 January 1949 it was reported that some blood-stained clothing had been found abandoned at Devizes which were thought to have belonged to one of the two men who had murdered Stephen Varley. The garments included a pair of grey flannel trousers, a pair of grey socks and a blue striped shirt. The shirt itself had a laundry mark on it, 'DI 341/PI' and the socks had the laundry mark 'TC 8. 138'. A person at the only laundry in Devizes said, 'We have not been interviewed by the police. None of the laundry passing through our hands is marked by any letters. We know nothing of the bloodstained shirt'.

The police said that they had made exhaustive inquiries at second-hand shops in an endeavour to trace Stephen Varley's missing trousers and jacket, but they were never found.


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


see National Archives - MEPO 3/3034

see Dundee Courier - Monday 20 December 1948

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 23 December 1948

see Hull Daily Mail - Wednesday 29 December 1948

see Gloucester Citizen - Tuesday 21 December 1948

see Dundee Courier - Saturday 25 December 1948

see Gloucestershire Echo - Saturday 08 January 1949

see Hull Daily Mail - Wednesday 22 December 1948

see Lincolnshire Echo - Wednesday 22 December 1948

see Shields Daily News - Friday 14 January 1949

see Daily Herald - Thursday 23 December 1948