Unsolved Murders

Edith Agnes Nicholls

Age: 20

Sex: female

Date: 19 Jul 1935

Place: Hillampton Cottage, Shobdon, Leominster

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Edith Nicholls was found with her head nearly severed in an orchard 50 yards from her home.

She had gone out of the house to feed the chickens but didn’t return.

She was found dead in the orchard by her mother who had gone to look for her. Her mother said that she thought that Edith Nicholls was unconscious and said that she got down on her right knee to raise her head and found her head nearly off.

She was attacked with an axe that was later found with blood on it and human hairs matching Edith Nicholls's. None of the human hairs showed the presence of a root indicating that they were not plucked.

It was noted that she could not have been dead for long as the chicken feed that she had put out was still being picked up by the chickens.

The long handled axe belonged to Edith Nicholls's father who had had it for 21 years. It was found in a nearby hedge. The axe was in the wain house on a lump of hay where Edith Nicholls's father had put it that day. It was 7lbs 2 ounces with a 32.5 inch shaft and a 9.25 inch long head with a cutting edge of 5.5 inches.

There was heavy blood staining found on the axe head and along the shaft to about the halfway point and also blood found on the inside of the uncles trouser pocket.

Her 27-year old uncle who lived in the same cottage as her was tried for her murder but acquitted after it was heard that the evidence against him was circumstantial.

The uncle had lived in Hillampton Cottage with his mother, father, Edith Nicholls and her parents. He was living apart from his wife and had become ill and then gone into hospital and then to Llandrindod Wells for the sake of his health, and then later returned to Hillampton Cottage about a week before Edith Nicholls was murdered.

It was heard that the uncle had been very fond of Edith Nicholls but that for about a week or so before the murder his behaviour underwent a change and he appeared to be sulking. It was heard that he would still follow her about when she was doing her work but that he would not speak to her and complained that she would not speak to him.

Edith Nicholls went to prepare food for the hens at about 9.30am on 19 July 1935 and was never seen alive again.

When the uncle was charged with her murder he said, 'I know nothing about it'.

The uncle's mother said that the uncle had been very worried about his wife and had told her that other people were against him. She said that before he went to Llandrindod Wells he had told her that he was going out of his mind.

Edith Nicholls's father said that Edith Nicholls and the uncle had got along quite well up until a certain point but that then Edith Nicholls had said a certain thing to the uncle and he had taken offence to it and that after that things were not comfortable.

The Senior Official Analyst for the Home Office that examined the trousers said that he found three small smears of blood on the lining of the left trouser pocket. He said that further examination proved it to be human but said that he could not determine the blood group owing to the small amount of blood available to test. He noted that there were no other blood stains found on the trousers.

The Senior Official Analyst also noted that it was quite possible, due to the length of the axe, for the axe to have been used to kill Edith Nicholls and for there to have been no blood on the assailant or his clothing.

A policeman said that he was at Hillampton Cottage on 19 July 1935 at about 10.55am when he was asked to go with another policeman to go and look for the uncle. He said that they went through Shobdon Village and saw the uncle leaning on the cemetery gates looking into the cemetery. He said that they went across to him and asked him to accompany them to Hillampton Cottage, and said that he asked, 'What for?', but that before they could answer him he had turned and walked towards the car.

The policeman said that when the uncle got into the car he asked the driver something as to why all the police were about that morning, but said that the driver didn't answer him. The policeman said that the uncle seemed to be very excited and nervous and that on the way back he was continually mumbling to himself, but said that no conversation took place.

The policeman said that when they got back to Hillampton Cottage he handed the uncle over to another policeman in the washhouse there. He added that during the time that he was in charge of him the uncle was continually rubbing his right trouser leg and wiping his eyes and said that there were two marks on the outside of the uncle's right trouser leg, one just below his knee and one above. He said that the lower part of the uncle's jacket was wet as was his right trouser leg. The policeman added that the uncle had been mumbling and had appeared to be very distracted whilst he was with him and noted that when he left the uncle in charge of the other policeman it was 1pm.

The other policeman that had collected the uncle from the village said that he took charge of the uncle from 1pm until 4pm when he was arrested. He said that soon after he had charge of the uncle, he saw the uncle start to rub his right trouser leg on the outside by the knee whilst he was sitting on the box in the washhouse. He said that he asked the uncle what he was doing that for and said that the uncle replied, 'To make myself look tidy'. The policeman said that he took hold of the trouser leg and found that it was wet practically all down the side and said that there were two dark marks close to the knee on the outside, one below the knee and one above where the uncle was rubbing and said that they appeared to be like bloodstains.

He said that whilst he was with him the uncle continually looked about his clothes and was rubbing his eyes with his hands and was mumbling to himself and he said that when he asked him about it he said that the uncle replied, 'Her mother and Edie wouldn't speak to me. I don't like it. They upset me'.

The policeman said that there was no opportunity in the washhouse to obtain any water.

The uncles mother said that she and her son went to Hillampton Cottage on 24 January 1935. She said that the uncle obtained work about a fortnight later and that he worked there for about a month before he was taken ill. She said that the uncle first went to Hereford Hospital and then afterwards to Llandrindod Wells from where he came back on 13 July 1935, the Saturday before Edith Nicholls was killed.

She said that it was Edith Nicholls's parents’ house and that she and the uncle, her son, had rooms there. However, she said that Edith Nicholls's mother had not wanted the uncle there in the beginning but she said that she didn't remember her son saying much about it. She said that her son seemed happy enough there.

The uncles mother said that on 19 July 1935 she heard him get up at about 8am. She said that she went downstairs at 8.50am and said that when she did so she saw her son in the sitting room having his breakfast. She said that he got his own breakfast and that that was not unusual. She said that she generally got up first and that when she was up first that she would get his breakfast. She added that he was very irregular in the times that he got up. She said that after he had his breakfast he went out at about 9.10am and said that she didn't see him again that morning. She said that it was quite usual for her son to go out for a walk in the morning.

The uncles mother said that Edith Nicholls's mother got up after 9am and noted that she was not well. She said that Edith Nicholls, her granddaughter, mostly fed the fouls, but not always, and noted that sometimes Edith Nicholls's mother would fetch them. She said that Edith Nicholls had not gone out to feed the fouls when her son had left. She said that when she went into the back kitchen she saw Edith Nicholls missing the meal for the fowls on the sink, and that that was the last time that she saw her.

She said that Edith Nicholls was not long in feeding the fowls and said that when she was in the back kitchen and saw Edith Nicholls's mother preparing for baking and said that it was not long after Edith Nicholls had gone out that she had heard Edith Nicholls's mother calling her. She said that she heard Edith Nicholls's mother shout, 'Mother mother', but said that she had got back into the passage before she heard her. She said that Edith Nicholls had had a flower dress on when she had gone out to feed the fowls and said that Edith Nicholls's mother had had a black and white dress on.

Edith Nicholls's father, who was a farm worker, said that the axe was his and that he usually kept it through the gate leading into the lane but said that he had just moved it on the Saturday because he thought that it was dangerous to a pony that he had bought and put into the field and said that he put it on a lump of hay in the wain house. He said that he kept his instruments in good condition and sharp. He noted that any one of average height could have seen the axe on the hay. He noted that the axe had been lying outside for about a month.

Edith Nicholls's mother said that the uncle had come to live with them on 24 January 1935 and said that when he first arrived he got on very well with the rest of the family and said that he had got along with Edith Nicholls up until a certain period. She said that about 25 May 1935 she saw the uncle and Edith Nicholls talking, but not quarrelling, but said that she didn't hear what was said. However, she said that after that incident the uncle didn't speak to Edith Nicholls, even though Edith Nicholls was quite willing to speak to him. She said that Edith Nicholls behaved quite kindly to him after the incident.

She said that Edith Nicholls had no men friends in the village. She also said that from then on the uncle would not answer her in the usual manner and that she had to ask him to get an answer and said that the uncle would go all round the house rather than go where Edith Nicholls was. She said that the uncle never told her what the trouble was and added that there was no trouble, and that it was only a remark that they had had.

Edith Nicholls's mother said that she got up on 19 July 1935 shortly after 9am and had breakfast as soon as she came down. She said that it usually took her 10 minutes to get up and noted that Edith Nicholls nearly always fed the hens, but that if she didn't then she (the mother) did. She said that she and Edith Nicholls had breakfast together, spending about 10 minutes over it and said that when they finished, Edith Nicholls immediately went out to mix the meal and feed the fowls. She said that it would take more than five minutes because she had to go and fetch the meal but not much more. She said that when Edith Nicholls went out she had just an overall on and no hat or coat. However, she said that she didn't come back from feeding the hens.

The mother said that she looked at the clock at 9.50am and that that at that time she had not been out of the house yet and said that Edith Nicholls had been out for about 15 minutes. She said that shortly after she went up the garden and looked over the orchard door and was startled to see Edith Nicholls was down on the ground. She said that she could see her over the garden door lying near the fowl house. She said that she rushed out and when she got close to her on her left side she saw a wound above her left ear and said that she thought that she was unconscious. She said that she got down on her right knee to raise her head and found her head nearly off. She said that she then immediately rushed down the garden shouting, 'Mother mother', but said that she failed to make her hear until she got to the passage door. She said that she then called for help and that a doctor soon arrived.

Edith Nicholls's mother said that it was normal for the uncle to go out for a walk in the morning. She said that Edith Nicholls would feed the chickens first and then the fowls and noted that the chickens had not eaten all of the meal. She said that Edith Nicholls would generally take ten minutes to feed the fowls. She said that it was about twenty minutes after Edith Nicholls had gone out that she had gone to look for her.

Edith Nicholls's mother said that she knew that Edith Nicholls was dead when she raised her head. She also said that she saw the axe when it was found saying that the head of the axe was towards the hedge and that the handle was towards the path just where it would be found.

When the doctor came out he said that Edith Nicholls's spine had been severed with the axe but noted that the main arteries had not. He said that that it would have taken a large amount of force to have inflicted the large wound and that it would have had to have been quite a powerful woman to have inflicted the wound. He said that an average woman accustomed to use of an axe might do it but not otherwise.

He said that he didn't think that any blood would have spurted from the wound.

The doctor said that he was behind Edith Nicholls's mother when they found the axe and said that they found it simultaneously together.

When another doctor examined Edith Nicholls's body he said that he found six wounds on her left fore arm about one inch long and one on the right upper arm about three inches long as well as three wounds on the neck, one on the left side of the back of the neck about two inches long and another on the right side of the back of the neck about three inches long and two inches wide. He said that he found no other marks of violence and said that the cause of death was complete fracture of the back bone.

He said that there were no signs of pregnancy and that she was virgo intacta.

The uncle was tried for her murder at the Hereford Assizes but on 3 November 1935 after a two-day trial he was acquitted after the judge said that the evidence against him was entirely circumstantial.

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

see Evening Telegraph - Monday 04 November 1935

see Western Daily Press - Saturday 17 August 1935

see Sunday Post - Sunday 03 November 1935

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Friday 01 November 1935

see Gloucestershire Echo - Friday 16 August 1935

see National Archives - ASSI 6/70/3