Date: 7 Dec 1954
Place: Canon Pyon, Herefordshre
Derek Saville disappeared without a trace and it was thought by the police at the time that he had been murdered.
He was a bus driver and was last seen after kissing his 18-year-old girlfriend goodnight at her house, Corner House, in Canon Pyon, Herefordshire at about 11.30pm on 7 December 1954.
Derek Saville had lived in lodgings in Bush Bank less than a mile away from Canon Pyon.
Canon Pyon was described as a sleepy village with about 574 inhabitants.
Derek Saville's body was never found although the police later carried out excavation work in 2007.
A laundry bag that he had been carrying at the time was never found.
It was thought that he might have been murdered by a love rival or his girlfriend’s jealous ex-boyfriend. The police also later said that there had been speculation that Derek Saville had been threatened and intimidated by another man, possibly the jealous ex-boyfriend, on the day he disappeared and that the man that had threatened him, saying that he would 'get him', could have been in someway involved with his death. However, at the time of the investigation the ex-boyfriend that had been seeing Derek Saville's girlfriend up until about seven weeks before Derek Saville disappeared denied all involvement in his disappearance. It was reported that he and Derek Saville had once been considered rivals for Derek Saville's girlfriend's hand.
It was reported that people in Canon Pyon had suggested that jealousy over Derek Saville's relationship with his girlfriend had something to do with his disappearance and that the man that had threatened him had been his girlfriend’s jealous ex-boyfriend.
Derek Saville was described by the police as a 'bit of a lady's man'. The police said that Derek Saville's hair, good physique, neat clothes and happy-go-lucky attitude made him as attractive to girls as they were to him. They said that for that reason some men who were less successful in having girlfriends might have had a cause to dislike him.
The police additionally noted that they thought that it was possible that Derek Saville might have been killed accidentally, either in connection with the love rival, the person that threatened him earlier in the day, or in some other way and then disposed of. However, the police were also reported as having said that the case was, 'almost certainly one of murder'.
The ex-boyfriend said 'I know the gossips are saying that I was jealous of Saville but it is all nonsense. As far as I am concerned I broke off with her. There is no question at all of jealousy. I now have another girl friend'. The man had worked in a Hereford Factory and had lived in Tillington which was the next village to Canon Pyon. When he was asked about the mystery man that had jumped out on Derek Saville and his girlfriend one night, the ex-boyfriend said, 'The police saw me about it, but it was not me. I have a clear conscience on this whole matter. I saw Saville in Canon Pyon on the night he vanished, but that was quite early in the evening. I was back home by nine o’clock and stayed in listening to the radio. I never went out again that evening'.
He was also reported as saying, 'I bet the village gossips are busy. I took another girl home from a village dance. Derek and I had a few words about it at time and later the girl chose Derek Saville as her boyfriend. We returned each other's presents. I handed back the yellow pullover she gave me. She handed me back the locket I gave her. I haven’t the faintest idea what has happened to Derek'.
His girlfriend, who was a secretary with a firm in Hereford, said, 'We have been going about together for three months. Derek called for me about 8.30 last Tuesday night. We had a drink at the village pub, where he was very popular as a member of the darts team, and walked back to my home. Derek was in his normal good spirits. After chatting in the house with mother and me, he left at 11.30. At the garden gate he kissed me. His last words to me were 'Goodnight, dear, see you tomorrow night'. When he did not arrive the next evening I thought he might have been called on for a different shift. I am in a complete fog. If Derek lost his memory and was wandering, surely someone would have reported something about him by now. It doesn't look as though he has gone willingly. A few weeks ago he told me he was jumped on by someone who took a swipe at him and then ran away as he was on his way home after seeing me'.
She also said, 'I am desperately worried about Derek's disappearance. We have been going together for four months. When he left me last Tuesday night he was quite as usual. There had been no trouble between us. He is a nice quiet boy'.
Derek Saville's girlfriend later related the story of him being attacked a few weeks earlier, she said, 'Derek was attacked in October of this year. He was going home after seeing me when he heard something rustling in the hedge. When he turned he saw a man with his arm upraised. Derek dropped his cycle to defend himself, but the man jumped over the hedge and ran away'.
The landlord of the Nag's Head public house in Canon Pyon said that he had heard talk in the bar about a person who had been loitering in the village. He said, 'I understand this man is hanging about late at night and hiding behind trees. I am told that on one occasion he jumped out on Saville'.
Derek Saville's landlady said, 'Last Tuesday was his day off. He left in the morning to visit his widowed mother at Dymock in Gloucestershire. He is a very pleasant and popular young man. He mentioned some weeks ago that he had had 'words' with a young man from a neighbouring village'. She said that when he didn't come home that he thought that he had stayed overnight with his widowed mother who lived in Preston in Ledbury who he had been to visit the same day.
It was said that after kissing his girlfriend goodnight that Derek Saville never returned home and his landlady said that she found the following day that his bed had not been slept in.
Derek Saville's bicycle was found with a puncture near the bus garage where he worked. It was found propped up against the Canon Pyon Parish Hall, a few hundred yards from the bus depot where he had apparently collected it to ride home from. It was suggested earlier on that one theory was that he might have got a puncture and fallen off his bicycle and then wandered off whilst suffering from loss of memory or having left it there to continue the rest of his journey home on foot.
One of Derek Saville's colleagues from Hereford Bus station said, 'Derek was a very pleasant sort of chap. No one would want to harm him'.
Over 400 personnel, including two divisions of police, soldiers and men with tracking dogs were called out in the search for him amongst the nearby woods and scrubland around Canon Pyon, but nothing was found.
Two police Alsatian dogs called Robby and Bronx were used in the search. They had recently been used in the hunt for the body of a murdered Polish farmer in Carmarthenshire and a police spokesman said, 'They could find a body or a man living rough in this wild countryside'. The search by the police dogs started in the garden of Derek Saville's girlfriend and went over to a disused well shaft but soon turned away. The dogs were also taken through the village and amongst boulders around the nearby Devil's Cave.
It was said that every possibility was covered. It was reported that all the houses in the neighbourhood were visited by detectives who asked people about the man with a car that might have born Derek Saville a grudge.
It was also reported that ditches and flooded streams were also searched by wading special constables who had been called in for their local knowledge. It was also later said that a watch was also being kept on flooded rivers and streams.
The police also questioned the drivers of long-distance lorries who used a nearby transport centre to see if anyone remembered giving anyone a lift on 7 December 1954.
On 22 December 1954 it was reported that the police were looking for two stolen guns which it was thought might have given a clue into Derek Saville's disappearance. It was said that the guns had been reported missing from an outhouse at Holly Croft in Tillington where the ex-boyfriend had lived. It was noted however that the guns had not disappeared until a week after Derek Saville went missing and the police said that they thought that they had been 'borrowed' earlier and stolen later after their return. The police said, ''It is just possible that the guns are connected in some way with the Saville mystery. It is a line of inquiry we cannot ignore'.
During their search along the lane that Derek Saville would have taken after leaving his girlfriend the police found two suit buttons with shreds of dark material attached in a hedge about 200 yards from where Derek Saville was last seen and sent them away for examination but nothing more is known about the results.
Shortly after he vanished the police said that they could not rule out the possibility of foul play. The police noted that after they learned that Derek Saville had had a bundle of clean laundry with him on 7 December 1954 that they thought that if he had collapsed and then just wandered off that it would have been reasonable to have assumed that his washing would have just lain where it fell and would have been easily found and that as nothing had been found that they were working on the assumption that it was foul play.
The police also said that they found it hard to explain why Derek Saville, with money saved, a good job, a girl he hoped to marry and with many friends, should vanish so completely.
During their investigation the police took over 1,000 statements.
It was noted that Derek Saville's sister was later told that she would have to quit her home because of the publicity surrounding her. She and her husband had been living in two rooms at 12 Railway Place but the landlady, a 70-year-old woman told them they had to leave, saying, 'It is because of my health. I can't stand all this publicity'.
Derek Saville's sister said, 'We had been looking forward to spending our first Christmas together in our rooms in Railway Place. Coming on top of the worry about my poor brother, this is a dreadful shock. We do not know which way to turn. We may go into a caravan. We were told by the landlady that she could not have her name or house associated in any way with Derek's disappearance. But her name and address have never been mentioned'.
The landlady said that she had had a severe nervous breakdown because of the publicity and that that was why she had asked Derek Saville's sister to leave her house. She said, 'I have not done it in any spirit of ill-will. If they cannot find anywhere else to live they will have to stay on here until they can. But I don't want any fuss, or I shall be back in bed. I haven’t slept a wink this week'.
On 21 December 1954 it was reported that five of Derek Saville's former girlfriends had come forward to tell the police all they could of Derek Saville's habits under a pledge of secrecy including his likes and dislikes, his private life and his secret hopes and fears. However, it was noted that none of them could answer the vital question of who the man in the motor car had been that had nursed a grudge against him and had threatened to 'get' him.
It was reported that each of the girls had described Derek Saville as a perfect gentleman. The detective inspector that was in charge of the inquiry said, ‘They all said he was a charming companion and one they were happy to go out with'.
On 24 December 1954 it was reported that a shadow of fear and suspicion hung over the Christmas festivities in Canon Pyon following Derek Saville's disappearance that caused people at Christmas parties and entertainments to look around and wonder, 'Is there a killer in the house?'.
On 22 January 1955 it was reported that bloodstains found on the floor covering of a car by the police were found not to have been human and were found to have been the blood of an animal. The police said that they would not disclose who had owned the car, but did say that the owner, a man, had lived in Canon Pyon.
It was also reported that the atmosphere of mystery and anxiety was heightened following the tale of a 17-year-old girl who knew Derek Saville's girlfriend and who stumbled into her home and told of a 'shape' which she said had leapt out at her as she was cycling along in the dark. She said that the 'shape' landed in the road with a thud and that she was too frightened to look round and so she pedalled as fast as she could in a 'terrible state of distress' to her friends house. It was further reported that other villagers were also recalling other stories of a man 'leaping out' at people on the road at night, and it was said that the people were asking whether the 'shape' that the 17-year-old girl saw could have had any connection with the disappearance of Derek Saville, which it was noted was the grim unanswered question that clouded the festivities in Canon Pyon that Christmas.
The excavation work that was carried out in 2007 was done after a man, who had been 7-years-old at the time of the murder came forward to say that he remembered seeing his father and five men digging a hole in a field which he described as being a makeshift grave at the time of Derek Saville disappearance. Following the man's fresh evidence, the police carried out excavation work, saying, 'What we are working with now is credible and tested evidence that suggests a site where Derek Saville's body may be. The dig is being done on the strength of that'.
It was noted that the fresh witness had at the time, in 2007, been living in Perth, Australia and had approached the police whilst he was on holiday in the United Kingdom. It was also said that the police later went out to Perth to interview him. The operation to carry out the digging following the man's fresh evidence was called Operation Panda. It was also reported that the police also drafted in the help of police officers that had worked on the case 53 years earlier in 1954. The police said, 'No case files survive from the 1950s, but members of the Operation Panda inquiry have been able to talk to three surviving Herefordshire Constabulary detectives who were key to the original investigation. It is important that we examine any new evidence that could lead to the location of his body, as well as continuing to determine if there is any new evidence which could provide answers about how and why he disappeared'. They said that after a full investigation into the man's evidence they said that they were certain of where Derek Saville's body would be. They said that the site in Canon Pynon hadn't been disturbed since the 1950s when pipes were laid.
It was reported that although the fresh witness's father had died earlier in 2007, that there were a few other suspects and that if the dig revealed a body that the evidence would be passed on to the Crown Prosecution Service to see whether any charges should be made.
The site was examined prior to the dig which was then carried out by search specialists, geographic profilers and forensic archaeologists. However, they didn't find Derek Saville's body. The piece of land that they examined was about 20m square and they dug down to a depth of six feet.
see Wales Online
see The Times
see The Guardian
see Evening Standard
see Western Mail - Monday 20 December 1954
see Daily Herald - Monday 20 December 1954
see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 21 December 1954
see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 22 December 1954
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 14 December 1954
see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 29 December 1954
see Northern Whig - Thursday 23 December 1954
see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 15 December 1954
see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 22 December 1954
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 15 December 1954
see Daily Herald - Thursday 16 December 1954
see Daily Mirror - Thursday 16 December 1954
see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Thursday 23 December 1954
see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Wednesday 15 December 1954
see Birmingham Daily Post - Wednesday 15 December 1954
see Daily Herald - Tuesday 21 December 1954
see Daily Mirror - Friday 24 December 1954
see Western Mail - Saturday 22 January 1955
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Tuesday 14 December 1954