Unsolved Murders

Charles Benfold

Age: 37

Sex: male

Date: 5 Dec 1930

Place: 23 Oliver Street, South Moor, County Durham

Charles Benfold was found dead from head injuries caused by axe blows on 6 December 1930. He was murdered while asleep. His wife was tried for his murder but acquitted.

The prosecution had said that she had bashed his head in with an axe while he had been asleep after she had become jealous about his associations with other women.

Charles Benfold was found dead in his bed on Friday 6 December 1930 and his wife was later arrested on 2 January 1931 for his murder. She was arrested at the home of her mother's at Joicey Terrace, Oxhill in Oxley. On the day that they had arrested her, her mother had just died at 1.30am. When she was arrested she had said 'Can't you wait until this is over?'. When she was taken to Consett Police Station and charged she shook her head and said 'No, sir'.

After she was arrested but before she was tried, and before 21 January 1931 Charles Benfold's wife gave birth to a stillborn child.

When the police went to 23 Oliver Street at 8.45pm that night, 5 December 1930 they said that the front door was open and the gas was burning. A policeman said that he saw Charles Benfold's wife in the kitchen dressed in a light straw hat and a navy blue raincoat and said that she seemed to be a little distressed. He said that there were also two Collie dogs and a Yorkshire Terrier in the kitchen. He said that when he asked her what had happened she had said 'Is he dead?' and that he made no answer.

He said that he then went into the passage to the door leading to the front room which was open. He said that the front room was in total darkness and that he then immediately saw a form lying on the bed. He said that he shone his lamp and saw a patch of blood on the wall behind the bed head and a form covered with an old overcoat on the bed. He said he turned the coat from the top and saw Charles Benfold's head with a terrible wound just above the right ear. He said that there were no other visible injuries and that his body was lying on its left side with the left hand immediately under the chin and his right arm across his breast. He said that his legs were slightly drawn up and that he appeared to have been in a sleeping posture.

The policeman said that Charles Benfold had been wearing a shirt and undervest, a pair of pants and some very old socks. He said that his bed clothes and clothing were saturated with blood and that there was blood on all four walls and ceiling and also on the pictures, window curtains and floor.

He said that the window was open about 20 inches. He said that there were four chairs in the room, two in front of the window which were both overturned. The policeman said that there was a bird cage hanging from a chain in the middle of the window and another cage just below it fastened on to the frame of the window with a nail. He said he examined the window ledge and said that it was covered in dust and bird seed and that he found no evidence of anyone having gone through the window and saw no signs of a struggle nor of any weapon.

When the doctor arrived at 9.35pm he went into the front room and found Charles Benfold lying on his bed on his left side. He said that his knees were slightly drawn up and that his posture was that of someone asleep. Charles Benfold had an extensive wound on the right side of his head extending from 1.5 inches behind the right ear forwards for about 3.5 inches and then upwards for about 5 inches over the parietal, temporal and front bones on his right side. He said that the bones were very badly broken and loose and that pieces of bone were in the bed. He said that there was considerable laceration of the brain substance and that there were pieces of brain protruding through the wound. He said that the wound would have been caused by repeated blows with a heavy blunt instrument such as the axe that was produced. He said that the wound was in his opinion the cause of death and that it was absolutely impossible that the wound could have been self-inflicted.

He said that rigor-mortis had set in and that in his opinion the body had been dead about 9-10 hours with the latest possible time being 5 hours before meaning that death could not have taken place after 4.30pm. He said that he was of the opinion that his death had been caused while he had been sleeping.

When he carried out a post-mortem he said that there were no other injuries and that he found no food matter whatsoever in his stomach and said that it would take four hours for the stomach to completely empty after a meal and as such there was no evidence of a heavy meal within four hours of death.

He also said that there was no evidence that Charles Benfold had been moved after having died.

Some of Charles Benfold's hair was cut and kept for evidence.

On 18 December 1930 the police went to see Charles Benfold's wife and took her print pinafore, cream jumper, pink jumper, blue skirt and other articles of clothing which she had said she had been wearing on 5 December 1930. The clothes were taken to the County Analyst for examination. Later on 31 December 1930 several pieces of wallpaper were also taken for analysis.

The public analyst said that he had 27 years experience and examined the axe, chamber pot, chairs and clothing. He said that he found blood and hair on the axe. He said that there were numerous reddish smears and spots on the inside of the chamber pot on the right half when looking at it from the handle and that there were also reddish smears on the rim and the outside of the chamber to the right of the handle and near the lower part. He said that all the smears and spots responded to tests for human blood. He said that all the chairs had blood on them.

He said he found nothing on the pink jumper but found two stains on the blue serge skirt, one in the centre that was not human blood and another near the thigh to the left that tested for human blood. He said that he also examined a pair of woman's boots, a pair of black stockings, an overall, a small towel and a tam-o-shanter but found no blood on any of them.

The analyst said that he also tested the wallpaper which had blood on it and compared what he had found on the wallpaper with the other samples of blood from the clothing, axe and chamber pot and determined that they were all of the same age and consistent with having been derived from the same source.

The analyst also noted that the garments on which he found no blood did not show any signs of having been recently washed other than the pink silk jumper. He also said that the other garments other than the black and grey overall which was new, were all particularly dirty.

When he examined the black overall he found no blood stains on it. Neither did he find blood stains on the inside or outside of the head-piping. When he examined two jars that had contained residue from the sink he found no evidence of blood. He said that when he examined the white woollen jumper he found seven small clots of a red brown colour on the outside right sleeve and also another clot of a similar appearance on the inside. He also found a similar clot on the outside of the left sleeve and another clot on the left side of the neck, all of which responded to the reactions for human blood.

The chamber pot that was found to have had human blood on it was found in the yard and when the police asked Charles Benfold's wife who put the chamber pot outside in the yard she said that she did after she had got up. When she was asked what she had dried it with she said nothing and that she always left it in the yard to sweeten.

The police later also dragged Hedley Pit Pond on 10 December 1930 with no result whatsoever.

Chairs from the room on which bloodstains were found were brought into court. One chair had nine stains of human blood and a second chair had fourteen stains of human blood, while two other chairs had three stains each.

Charles Benfold's wife, who was 32-years-old, said that they had married on 7 February 1920 at Stanley and had two children by marriage, a 10-year-old girl and a 7-year-old girl who were both attending Oxhill School.

She said that they had been living at 23 Oliver Street in South Moor for about a year during which Charles Benfold had not worked and had been getting Parish Relief of 29/- weekly. She said that Charles Benfold had bred and sold birds and dogs and that prior to coming to Oliver Street they had lived in a caravan for six years at South Moor Quarries during which time Charles Benfold had been a hawker.

She said that they had had a happy married life.

She said that on Friday 5 December 1930 their children went to school at 8am at which time Charles Benfold had been in bed. She said that he then got up at 8.30am and left the house with three bird cages with ten canaries in each to sell them at Newcastle Market.

She said that she stayed at home during the morning and that their children came home for dinner after which they went back to school. She said that she told them to go to their grandmother's after school and wait for her there.

She said that Charles Benfold told her that if he was not back by 10 o'clock he would stay with a man in Gateshead so as to get to the Market tomorrow again and perhaps would not be home until the following night.

Charles Benfold's wife then said that she left home at 2.30pm and went to New Kyo to the Co-operative Gardens to feed the hens and then went to her mother's at 5 Joicey Terrace in Oxhill, arriving there at about 3.30pm. She said that their children then joined her there at 4pm and they had their tea. They then left the grandmother's house at 6pm and went straight to the Arcadia Picture House at South Moor. She said that she did not go home before going to the pictures.

She said that after the pictures they went straight home at 8.30pm. She said that the front window was open from the bottom but that the door was locked. She said that she opened the door and went in with the children into the kitchen and then opened the backdoor and then put a penny in the gas. She said that when she lit a match she saw a lot of blood on the wall and shouted. She said that there were two chairs lying on the floor. She said then that she ran to a neighbour’s who then came back to the house.

Charles Benfold's wife said that when she returned with a neighbour she looked into the bedroom and saw someone on the bed.

She said that Charles Benfold must have got in through the window as she had the keys for the doors. His clothes were hanging in the kitchen on the rail by the fireplace.

When Charles Benfold's wife was questioned she confirmed that their children usually went to school each day at 8am and that they slept in the front room downstairs together. She said that she got up at 7am and lit the fire which she always did. She said that it took the children thirty minutes to walk to school.

When asked how many birds Charles Benfold had she said 100 noting that he had bred alot. When asked about the cages she said that there were about twelve and that he had borrowed three big ones from a man at the pea farm on the Wednesday 4 December 1930 which were about the same size as the smaller ones upstairs on the top row behind the door and that he had taken the three cages to Newcastle with him on the Friday morning. She said that he had helped him out of the door with them on the Friday morning and wrapped them up in brown paper. She said that Charles Benfold had taken the birds out of the Exhibition Aviary and the cage underneath it from the room upstairs and noted that some of them were only seven-weeks old. She noted that all the 100 birds had been there for the past 7 weeks.

When asked what Charles Benfold had had for breakfast she said 'A good breakfast of bacon, four slices of bread and two pots of tea'.

When asked if anyone had visited her that morning she said that her neighbour had at 10am to ask her the time.

When asked about the horses she said that she didn't know whether Charles Benfold had fed the horses that morning but that he had asked her to tell a man to feed them which she had done.

When asked about New Kyo she said that she had gone there at 2.30pm and that she had taken with her a parcel of Wellington Boots for a man to put on for sale noting that her child had worn them until they were of no use to her. She said that she told the woman there that she was going to feed the hens and that she had wanted to be back to see the rent man to tell him that she had no rent for him as Charles Benfold had taken the rent money away with him. When asked who had given Charles Benfold the rent money Charles Benfold's wife said that she had. She said that it was in her purse and that she was keeping it for the rent and had left herself with no money. She said that she had had got the shilling from her mother to take the children to the pictures.

The police then asked Charles Benfold's wife about the rent book asking if there were any others and she said that there were only the two which the police had taken. When they asked her who had copied the entries into the second rent book Charles Benfold's wife said that she had done so for a hobby. The police asked her whose initials O.K. where but she said that she didn't know. The police then asked if the rent book marked X was the one the rent man had signed a week earlier and Charles Benfold's wife said that it was. She was then asked about the initials M.B. and Charles Benfold's wife said that they were M.K. but then admitted that they were not the rent man's initials and then said 'I will tell the truth I burnt the proper rent book last week. I am in debt. This last three week ends there has been trouble with my husband and myself over the rent, but not last Friday. The three week ends before'.

She was asked if they had had a quarrel the last weekend and she had said 'Yes, a small one about a man wanting to buy some hens'.

The police asked her about their lodger and Charles Benfold's wife said that they had had  a woman stay who had separated from her husband. She said that she stayed for about six weeks and slept in the chair in the kitchen but left about Christmas 1929 but had not paid anything although she was going to help her with her confinement. She also said that they had had a pitman lodging with them who had left around March 1930.

When Charles Benfold's wife was asked if she had frequent quarrels with Charles Benfold she said 'I have borne this life a long time, but I didn't wish any harm to come to my husband. I only had 15/- a week voucher and 14/- cash and out of this I gave my husband 11/- on Friday and I have had to buy corn for 16 head of poultry and canary food for all his birds and sometimes three ounces of tobacco for him'.

The police then asked Charles Benfold's wife if she was sure that she had left for New Kyo at 2.30pm saying that the woman there said that it was more like 3.30pm and Charles Benfold's wife said that she thought it was 2.30pm but that she might have looked at the wrong clock.

When asked if she had deceived her husband over anything she said that she had not. She said that the insurance for herself, their two children and him had run out because she couldn't keep them up. She also said that the insurance for his mother was also in arrears and that the agent had the book.

When asked about the doors she said that the front door was locked when she returned by the latch.

When she was asked again what she did when she got inside she said 'I lit the kitchen gas. Opened the back door which was bolted and let the dogs into the yard, I saw my husband's clothes hanging in the kitchen. I did not touch them except to put the poultry keys in his waistcoat pocket to be ready for next morning. I knocked the canary’s cages over in going to the cupboard to the gas meter, but did not light the gas and then hurt my leg on the overturned chairs'. She said that she first noticed the chairs when she kicked against them when she went for the gas meter.

When asked about seeing her husband she said that she didn't notice that it was Charles Benfold, or who it was, saying that she only saw his top coat on the bed.

When asked when she noticed that the window was open Charles Benfold's wife said that she noticed when she came to the front door. She said that she didn't touch the window.

When she was asked when she last got her coals she said on the last Monday and that Charles Benfold had brought in three bags from the waggon way.

She was then asked about the axe which was found in the coal house and she said that it was their axe but that she had not seen it for three weeks when her husband had said he was taking it to the garden to chop some wood.

The police then asked her whether Charles Benfold generally entered the house by the front window when he found the door locked and that she said that he did and that he had last got in that way on the Tuesday with another man. The police said that they had spoken to the other man and he had said that they had got in through the back window in the yard. She then said that she knew that the man was in the house but could not say whether he had got in through the back window or the front window. She then confirmed that she always locked the front door when she went out.

She also said that Charles Benfold was not in the habit of going to bed early when he had got back from Newcastle.

The police took a black overall from Charles Benfold's wife that she had been wearing which was later identified by Charles Benfold's neighbour as being the one that she had seen her wearing at 10.45am on the morning of 5 December 1930 and was also identified by another woman who lived in the flat above the neighbours as being that worn by Charles Benfold's wife when she had seen her at the flat at 10.10am.

A woman that lived on Oliver Street said that she had left her house at about 1.40pm on 5 December 1930 when she saw Charles Benfold's wife and went off with her to the shop in Park Road. She said that she didn't notice what she had been wearing but believed that she had been wearing her blue coat. She said that as they walked to the shop Charles Benfold's wife told her that she was going to get a pair of stockings for her little lass. The woman said that she said to Charles Benfold's wife 'You have a poor look Mrs. Benfold' and that Charles Benfold's wife had replied 'I have been all out of it all day' meaning that she was not feeling well. She said that she also told her 'Charlie went to Newcastle soon this morning'. The woman said that when they reached the shop she stopped to speak to another friend and that Charles Benfold's wife went on. She added that Charles Benfold's wife did not look well and that she had a 'far away' look about her eyes and seemed all upset.

The manager at the South Moor Branch Shop for Walter Willson Limted who had been working there since June 1929 said that Charles Benfold's wife was on the firm's books as a customer and that she had continued to shop there until about February 1930. She said that the goods supplied were chiefly in exchange for a Relief voucher, usually for 14/- a week and that she seldom had any cash transactions at the shop. She said that Charles Benfold's wife ceased bringing in her vouchers about the end of February 1930 and had then asked for a credit account as she was finished with Relief vouchers and that she was allowed to have credit on groceries to the value of £3. 7. 1. The manager said that she had not been paid the money due and said that whenever Charles Benfold's wife thereafter came into the shop and she had enquired about the debt Charles Benfold's wife had made excuses about her inability to pay. She said that she even once went to Charles Benfold's house to attempt to collect the money or part of it but without success. She also added that similar attempts had been made without success by other members of her staff. She said that once since the debt was incurred Charles Benfold had been into her shop to ask about the debt on 31 May 1930 and whether it had been incurred by his wife. She said that when she told him that it had, he had promised to attend to the matter himself and that he had appeared to be annoyed when making the enquiry. However, he didn't come back.

The Head Master at Oxhill Council Schools said that Charles Benfold's children were present on 5 December 1920 at 9am and that they went home for dinner at 12 noon and were again present at 1.30pm and then later left for tea at 4pm.

A Colliery Black who lived on Smailes Street in Stanley said that he passed 23 Oliver Street at 9am, 12.05pm, 1.10pm and 5.05pm and said that when he had done so none of the windows were opened and that if they had been he would have noticed.

A carrier who worked between South Moor and Newcastle said that Charles Benfold did not travel on his vehicle on 5 December 1930 or send any bird cages or goods by it to Newcastle.

Charles Benfold's sister said that at 9pm on 5 December 1930 she had gone to 22 Oliver Street where she saw Charles Benfold's wife and her grandmother. She said that when she went in her mother was standing in the doorway of the kitchen and that when she asked what the matter was her mother had said 'You know as much as me'. She said then that she was told that if she was his mother then it was no place for her and that she had then asked 'Well, what is the matter?' and that Charles Benfold's wife then told her 'He has been murdered'. She said that she then said 'Oh never', and that her mother then said that she had never done an underhand thing in her life and that Charles Benfold's wife then also said that she had never done an underhand thing either and that her mother then said 'What happened three weeks ago about the rent book?' and that Charles Benfold's wife had replied 'You don't think I have done it do you?' and then added that she wished she had never gone out and started to cry. Charles Benfold's sister said that Charles Benfold's wife told her that Charles Benfold had got up at 6am to go to Burnhope for some hay but that he had then changed his mind and gone to Newcastle at 8.30am instead with some birds.

A labourer from Park Road in Southmoor said that Charles Benfold had been his friend and that he had known him well and that they had often had dealings in canaries and that it was Charles Benfold that had started him in the canary line. He said that he had often been to Charles Benfold's house and had checked the number of birds that he had just three weeks before he died and said that he had had 63. He said that he had never known Charles Benfold to have under 30 birds. He said that when they went to Newcastle market Charles Benfold had never taken more than four or five and that the Newcastle Market was held on Saturdays. He said 'I have never known Benfold take birds to Newcastle Market on any day but a Saturday and had never known him stay overnight'. He added that Charles Benfold would not stay overnight because he was too anxious about his birds.

The labourer said that he went to Charles Benfold's house on the 7 December and counted 60 live birds and two dead ones noting that there was one missing from the time that he had previously checked them.

When questioned the labourer said that Charles Benfold would normally take his birds from the larger cases and pack them into smaller travelling boxes and that he usually went to Newcastle about mid-day and that he had never known him to go at 8.30am.

The labourer was then asked if he had ever heard Charles Benfold quarrel with his wife and that he said that he had often heard them quarrelling. He said that Charles Benfold's wife was mostly provoked by his associations with other women. When asked about the quarrels the labourer said that Charles Benfold's wife would generally sit there quietly and Charles Benfold would say things like ‘I am going to meet so-and-so tonight' and that in his opinion Charles Benfold used to aggravate his wife right up. When asked if he had ever heard Charles Benfold threaten his wife he said that he had and that he had heard him threaten to kick her and one thing or another. He also said that when Charles Benfold's wife had been excited he had heard her say to him 'You B----, I will murder you some day'. He then said that Charles Benfold had replied 'Well, you are too slow. It will have to be when I am asleep'.

When the neighbour who lived in the flat above the next door was questioned she said that she had seen Charles Benfold's wife at 10.45am and then later between 2pm and 2.30pm by her own door. She also said that she had heard Charles Benfold and his wife quarrelling twice and said that the last time she had heard them quarrelling was on the Friday night before the murder but that she didn't hear the details.

Charles Benfold's wife denied that she murdered her husband and said that she was in love with him to the end.

Her defence said that the murderer would have been nearly drenched in blood and that only a few spots of blood were found on Charles Benfold's wife’s clothes.

She was acquitted of murder at the Durham Assizes on 2 July 1931.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Monday 16 February 1931

see Exeter and Plymouth Gazette - Saturday 27 June 1931

see The Scotsman - Monday 29 June 1931

see Sheffield Independent - Wednesday 18 February 1931

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Friday 20 February 1931

see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 21 January 1931

see The Scotsman - Saturday 03 January 1931

see Shields Daily News - Thursday 19 February 1931

see National Archives - ASSI 45/91/4