Unsolved Murders

Johanna Little

Age: 61

Sex: female

Date: 29 Aug 1963

Place: Beechwoods, Great Shelford

Johanna Little died after being found in a wood after having gone there with an Irishman that she had just met in a public house.

She had suffered from a number of injuries, including fractured ribs and was found the following day and taken to hospital where her condition was considered to be stable, but she suddenly died a short time later.

A 27-year-old Irishman was tried for her murder but acquitted after it was heard that the sex had been consensual and that her injuries had been caused by them falling in the dark wood whilst he had been carrying her.

She had been found in the Beechwoods of Great Shelford cold and shivering. She had been there for some time and was pale, synapsed and was breathing with difficulty. She had extensive bruising over her chest, arms and legs.

She was treated for her injuries but died suddenly and unexpectedly on 29 August 1963 at 1.45am.

He had been drinking with her earlier in a pub and later tried to take a taxi to Cambridge, but aroused the suspicions of the driver who called for assistance and the police stopped the taxi and the man was arrested.

The man first denied having assaulted Johanna Little in any way, but later admitted to taking her into the wood and having intercourse with her.

A butcher that had been a regular customer at the Oak public house in Lensfield Road, Cambridge said that on Tuesday 27 August 1963 that he got to the pub at about 6.45pm and that whilst drinking there Johanna Little came in, who he didn't know and they started drinking together. He said that she later told him that she was hungry and that as he was too he invited her out to the Shalimar Restaurant which was four or five doors away from his shop in Regent Street.

He said that after having their meal he went off home on his bicycle and Johanna Little told him that she was going to buy a bottle of wine, that being about 8pm or 8.15pm, and that he didn't see her again.

The licensee at the Oak public house said that he knew the Irishman as a customer for about the last seven years and that he came into his house at about 6.05pm on 27 August 1963. He said that he also knew the butcher and another of his customers and said that he too came in about 6.20pm or 6.30pm and that he and Johanna Little started talking until about 7pm when they went out for a meal.

He said that Johanna Little later came back to the pub alone at about 9pm and started talking to the Irishman at the counter and that after six or seven minutes they went out. He said that they had both had drink but that neither of them had been drunk.

A taxi-driver and director of Rex Taxis Ltd said that in the early hours of 31 August 1963 that he had been driving his taxi along the A10 near Dalston Junction and that the Irishman asked him to take him to Cambridge. He said that after discussing the fare that the Irishman got in, however, he said that he was suspicious of him because for a fare of that length he usually took half of the fare in advance but the Irishman refused to give him that.

He said that he later stopped for petrol in Potters Street, Harlow and that whilst he was being served that he saw the Irishman cover his face with a newspaper and so he decided to contact the police. He said that he went on towards Cambridge, initially quite slowly, but said that the Irishman asked him to hurry up and so he did so and that he was stopped by the police on the border with Cambridge county and that the police took charge of the Irishman.

When the Irishman gave a statement, he admitted to having been playing cards in the Oak public house on the evening of 27 August 1963, and to later meeting Johanna Little when she came in about 9pm. He said that he bought her a drink and that they then discussed going to another pub and went off to the Nelson public house at about 10pm and had some drinks there and that around closing time they talked about where they should go and agreed to get a taxi and so rang Camtax from the pub and when it arrived they both got into it.

He said that she asked whether they should go somewhere quiet and that he told her that it was up to her and that she agreed and that he told the driver to take them to the Gogs and when they got to the Beachwood at the Gogs that they got out, paying the taxi-driver 9/- for the fare and asking the driver to come back at about 11.45pm or midnight.

He said that he then picked Johanna Little up and carried her into the wood and that when they got just inside the wood he put her down and got on top of her and had intercourse with her. He said that she had her hands on his face and had been kissing him and telling him that she liked him and that she rubbed his hair and then scratched his face.

However, he said that she suddenly then went all dead and that he thought she had fainted and so he gave her a few slaps on the face, but she didn't come round and he became frightened and so he made off, leaving her there.

He said that he walked along Long Road and then rang up Camtax and ordered another taxi and went to Histon Road after which he walked to Akeman Street where he spent the night.

He said that he walked back out to Beechwood the following day at about 4pm, but didn't find her there and so walked back to Cambridge.

However, he later changed his statement, saying that it was all true up until the point that they arrived at Beechwood. He said that what happened then was that Johanna Little changed her mind and that she didn't want it and wouldn't go into the wood and so he picked her up and carried her in but that after going a little way in he tripped and they fell and he landed on top of her, noting that before that that she had been wriggling and struggling and had scratched his face.

He said that he then picked her up again and carried her further into the wood, and that they had a bit of a struggle and he got a bit angry. He said that he didn't hit her but he did hold her tightly round her chest with both arms and that he then laid her on the ground and started to have intercourse with her, but that she then fainted.

He said that he continued to have intercourse with her and afterwards tried to bring her round, but that when she didn't come round he panicked and walked off and got the taxi back home.

He added that he meant to go back to Beechwood the next day, but that he didn't, and said that he didn't know what happened to her handbag.

Johanna Little was admitted to Addenbrookes Hospital, New Site, on 28 August 1963 at about 10am after she had been found in the Beechwoods and the police called out.

A doctor said that it appeared that she had been exposed for some time and that she was cold and shivering. He said her temperature was 93.4 Fahrenheit and that she was pale and synopsed and breathing with difficulty. He added that she also had extensive bruises to her chest and upper and lower limbs but that her heart sounds were normal and blood pressure and pulse were also normal.

He said that she had been distressed and in pain and that an x-ray showed that she had several fractured ribs on both sides.

He said that she was treated for her injuries but later died suddenly and unexpectedly on 29 August 1963 at 1.40am.

He said that her death had been unexpected as her general condition had appeared to have improved and that neither he nor his colleagues had expected her to die.

Her post mortem revealed, along with other things, that she had recently had sexual intercourse, ie within the previous two days.

He said that her death had been due to an escape of air into the chest cavity which was caused by tearing of the lung tissue, possibly at the site of an old plural adhesion and that the cause of the injury had been due to a heavy impact or strong pressure to the front of the chest, noting that there was nothing to indicate whether it had been due to a single impact or several, and added that there could have been several ways in which the injury could have been sustained.

The doctor said that there was no positive evidence of a struggle having taken place between two people, noting that the other injuries could have been caused by a fall, but that the injuries to her chest could not have been caused otherwise than by a heavy fall or heavy pressure.

When the Irishman appeared at the Cambridgeshire Assizes on charges of rape and manslaughter he was acquitted. He was first acquitted of manslaughter on the directions of the judge on Thursday 21 November, and the following day he was acquitted by the jury of rape after they spent three and a half hours deliberating.

When the judge had summed up on the rape charge, he said:

If you think the accused's first statement, as well as his evidence represents the truth, you will acquit him on the charge of rape, because it would mean that Mrs Little was a fully consenting party from the start to finish notwithstanding the fact that half way there she suffered serious injuries.

With regards to the manslaughter charge, the judge had said that nobody in the world would have said that because the Irishman had carried Johanna Little into the wood, whether with her consent or not, and dropped her into a hole, that he would be guilty of criminal negligence. The judge noted that the only other instance where manslaughter might arise was if a man, in the course of an unlawful act, did something that was dangerous to life. He added that if Johanna Little had been killed that it might have amounted to manslaughter, but said that he was highly doubtful that carrying her into the wood was something highly dangerous to life and that the jury would have therefore had to have been satisfied that he had, during the intercourse, committed an unlawful act.

However, the defence had argued that there was no evidence to support the charge of manslaughter, and that it was more likely that the injuries had occurred because the Irishman had tripped on a tree stump or some other object and rolled over and over into the gully with Johanna Little, who was very small and frail and had been suffering from a bone disorder. The defence stated:

The fall was the purest accident.

They submitted that there was no evidence to show that the Irishman had been aware of her injuries or that she had any injuries at all, as all he was aware of was that she had fainted. They noted:

To leave her lying in the wood was unfortunate and reprehensible, but it was not a substantial cause of death upon the evidence as it stands.

It was further noted that in her statement before she died that Johanna Little made no suggestion that she had been raped or ravished.

It was then submitted that the Irishman had run away from the woods because he had been a man of limited intellect whose mind was clouded by drink and because he didn't want his partner who he had been living with to find out.

It was further added that he had forgotten all about the fall when he first spoke to the police because he had been frightened by them asking about his association with Johanna Little.

The trial had lasted three days.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see National Archives - ASSI 36/389

see Saffron Walden Weekly News - Friday 22 November 1963