Date: 23 Jan 1989
Frederick Dunkley and his wife Miriam Dunkley were battered to death in their home which was then set on fire.
Their 36-year-old son was tried for their murders at the Old Bailey, but the trial collapsed and he was acquitted. He case against him was described as entirely circumstantial.
It was said that he had murdered them after they had refused to lend him some money. It was claimed that he wanted to inherit their estate, worth £250,000, but that they had written a privately drafted will leaving everything to his 8-year-old son, their eldest grandson, and that the fire in the house would have destroyed that will, leaving him as the apparent heir.
However, the evidence was entirely circumstantial, and it was heard that the timing of certain events meant that it was virtually impossible for him to have carried out the murders.
The case was initially thrown out at the magistrate’s court due to the lack of evidence, but the Crown Prosecution Service took out a Voluntary Bill from a High Court judge and the case was sent to the Old Bailey.
Frederick Dunkley and Miriam Dunkley were found dead in their garage, beaten to death with a hammer, after a fire swept through it at about 6pm on 23 January 1989. They were said to have got home earlier that evening at 5.20pm, giving a window of 40 minutes for anyone to have murdered them, set the garage on fire and to then attempt to set the house on fire before escaping.
It was further heard that the son had arrived at his mother-in-law’s house during the middle of the television program East Enders, which would have been about 5.45pm which would have meant that the son would have had a maximum of 25 minutes to murder his parents, set the garage and house on fire and to then drive the 15 minute car journey to his mother-in-law’s house.
It was claimed that Frederick Dunkley and Miriam Dunkley had been beaten to death in the garage which had then presumably been set on fire to destroy any evidence there and that the fire in the house had been designed to destroy the will.
It was further noted that a fire investigation expert stated that in his opinion that the fire could not have been started before 5.50pm, which if accepted, meant that the son could not possible had done it and been at his mother-in-law’s house half-way through East Enders.
The fire was discovered by a neighbour at 5.59pm when she heard the garage roof explode and looked out to see the fire.
It was also noted that when the police went into the house, they found the table laid out for a meal with plates of salad as though they were just about to eat. The counsel described the setting as something similar to the Marie Celeste and the case became known as the Marie Celeste Murder. It was also noted that nothing had been stolen, and that Miriam Dunkley's rings and handbag were untouched and were where she would have put them when she got home with Frederick Dunkley. It was also noted that there was no sign of a forced entry or any signs that anything in the house had been touched at all.
The son had said that he had called at their house on the evening, and although he had seen the lights on, he had got no reply to his knocking at the door and that he had then left. He said that although the lights were on, their car parked up outside, and that no one was answering the door, that he assumed that they had gone to see a neighbour.
At the trial it was further noted that there was absolutely no evidence against the son. It was heard that his clothes and car were searched and that not a microscopic drop of blood or a trace of any fire was found on anything that could connect him with the murder. It was also noted that there were no witnesses, and no one saw anything suspicious. The judge also noted at the trial that the crowns suggestion that the son had started the fire to destroy the will was a complete theory and not backed up by any evidence.
The 36-year-old son was a primary schoolteacher but had been out of work at the time.
Frederick Dunkley was a maintenance engineer and Miriam Dunkley was a doctor's receptionist. They were described as a loveable ageing couple.
After the son was acquitted, the police said that they had no plans to reopen the case.
After the trial, the son said, 'I would just wish to express my tremendous sense of relief that after over two years of little less than sheer hell for my family that I have finally been vindicated and that my innocence, which I have always maintained, has been established beyond question. I would now wish to express the hope that I and my family can be allowed to resume our lives together in peace. I can only express my bitter regret at the fact that my parents' murderer remains at large and I grieve for the manner of their deaths'.
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Tuesday 24 January 1989
see Evening Herald (Dublin) - Tuesday 24 January 1989