Unsolved Murders

William Fennell

Age: 50

Sex: male

Date: 28 Nov 1919

Place: 47 Seventh Avenue, Heaton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

William Fennell was found dead in his bed with a wound to his head.

He was described as a recluse and a man of eccentric habits, a drug taker and a woman-hater. Evidence showed that he had lived alone for 20 years, took drink to excess and had a considerable quantity of cocaine around his house.

He had occupied a three room flat on Seventh Avenue in Heaton for 7 years and during that time no one had ever seen him enter or leave it. The fact that the windows were left uncleaned caused much comment amongst his neighbours.

He was last at work on 1 November 1919 and last seen going into his house on 3 November 1919. He had been at the time employed at Close Works, Gateshead, owned by Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. where he had a reputation for being quick with figures.

As he had not been seen for some weeks and the rent collector's knocks were unheeded weekly, the police were called and an entrance forced.

When they went in they found his decomposed body on a tent bed with a severe wound on his forehead, blood from which had filtered through the thin pillow to the floor.

His flat was in a filthy state and contained a table made out of a box, a single chair, old clothes, boots, empty milk tins and mice nibbled newspaper.

At the inquest the unsolved question was whether he had had an accident in the street and managed to struggle home or had he met with a mishap in his house. And then, if he had received foul play, was revenge or robbery the motive.

The fact that there were over £300 in War Bonds and other securities around his house, untouched as well as £11 in his trouser pocket seemed to rule out robbery.

The medical evidence later showed that the injuries could not have been self-inflicted and could not have been accidental. Blood splashes were later found on the wall and he had apparently been struck with considerable violence on the head when in bed and had never moved again. He had two large wounds in his skull. An axe was later found on the premises but a professor was unable to tell after conducting tests whether what he thought was blood on the axe was human blood or not and said that it appeared as though an attempt had been made to clean it.

The Coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or person's unknown.

A policeman and his family had lived above William Fennell.

An old lady said that he had taken a room with in 1908 when she had been living on Clive Terrace, paying her 6s a week for the furnished room and stayin for three years. She said that he often acted strangely and sometimes came home the worse for drink but she described him as a harmless man. She said, 'Sometimes I did not know whether he was in his room or not, so I would knock and then go in. I used to find him in queer positions with his clothes on. Sometimes he came into the kitchen with a washbasin with a piece of meat in it which he had brought in for me to cook'. She said that he used to sleep in his old clothes.

When the old woman was asked if he took drugs she said, 'Yes, cocaine.' and when she was asked how she knew it was cocaine she said 'Because I used to see the little phials. I was alarmed'.


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


see Aberdeen Journal - Thursday 08 January 1920

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Monday 01 December 19194

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Friday 09 January 1920

see Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 13 December 1919