Unsolved Murders

John Tomkins

Age: 51

Sex: male

Date: 5 Jul 1902

Place: River Teme, Ludford

John Tomkins was found dead in a river. He was last seen on 18 June 1902.

The police started searching for him on 26 June 1902

He was a woodman and lived with his wife and family in a cottage in Sunny Dingle. He worked for a woman in Overton and was well known in the borough.

He was last seen after drinking in the Wheatsheaf pub with some friends. He left with a friend that he knew intimately and stopped at the top end of Ludford Bridge and talked together for a few minutes. They then parted company with John Tomkins going up Ludford Bank and past the gates of Ludford House.

When he was found to be missing the next day rumours developed that there had been foul play. The police initially looked for him on foot but after a few days the imagination of the public had full play resulting in rumours of the most sensational character. The police then decided to search the woods for which there was no lack of volunteers and about 60 men searched through the woods on the Sabbath afternoon. After determining that he was not in the woods they decided to search the river from the Corporation Sewage Works to Ludford Bridge as well as the pools along the vicinity of the route to John Tomkins residence.

Then at 3.30pm a member of the river party saw the body of John Tomkins lying on a rock on the weir known as Sheen's Ford between the Corporation Sewage Works to Ludford Bridge.

His body was much decomposed and it was with much difficulty that they brought it intact to the river bank.

It was heard that on 17 June 1902 a man who had previously helped John Tomkins in timber felling and measuring called at John Tomkins's cottage. John Tomkins was not there at the time and he had works with John Tomkins's wife. It was heard that the man had entrusted some business matters relating to a sum of money to either John Tomkins or his wife as he was no scholar himself, and that it was with regards to that that the man had called. John Tomkins's wife was said to have talked to the man and said that the man had used threatening language towards her.

When John Tomkins got home and his wife told him what had happened he became upset and the next day he went into Ludlow and took out a summons against the man charging him with using threats towards his wife.

The following Thursday John Tomkins went into Ludlow again but didn't get home until 5am the next day, Friday morning, when he changed some of his clothes. He was then seen around Ludlow by several different people many of whom said that he appeared in his usual health and state of mind. He was said not to have mentioned the event of Tuesday in his conversation and there was nothing about his appearance that led anyone to think that there was anything amiss.

Later he visited the Charlton Arms Hotel in the evening where he stayed until a heavy storm cleared. He was then seen by the landlord of the Charlton Arms Hotel going up Ludford Bank towards his home but he then appeared to have changed his mind and turned around and headed back past the Charlton Arms and up Lower Broad Street and at 9.30pm he was seen in the Wheatsheaf by a friend who later left the pub with him and left him at Ludford Bridge which was the last that was seen of him alive.

After he was taken from the river a post-mortem was carried out. No marks of violence were found and death was considered to be probably due to drowning. The doctor said that his body was in an advanced state of decomposition and said that it would have taken two months of cold weather or ten days of hot weather to have arrived in that state. He said that he thought that it had been in the river for about ten days. He said that the last week had been exceedingly hot although he could not say to a day and that it might have been nine days or even eleven days.

He added that due to the decomposition he could not determine the cause of death and that even if marks of violence had been present, because the body had been in running water and the skin was marked and bloated. He added that there could not have been cuts on his head else it would not have been as swollen as it was.

When his body was found it was on the rocks in the middle of the River Teme about 100 yards from the sewage works lying face downwards. The water had washed his coat over his head. When he was taken to the mortuary and his pockets searched they found a timber line, a silver watch that had stopped at 2.53, a sixpence, threepence half-penny, a purse with threepence and a farthing in it, a pocket knife and some string.

The landlord of the Charlton Arms said that he had seen John Tomkins on the morning of 18 June 1902 at 10am, the day after the other man had threatened his wife, and said that he had spoken to him about his problem. He said that John Tomkins told him that it was a good thing for the man that he had not been at home at the time as he would have killed him. The landlord of the Charlton Arms said that he told him that it would be wrong to touch the man and said that he should take it to the judge and that John Tomkins said he would.

The landlord of the Charlton Arms said that he saw John Tomkins again the next day going past his pub and said that he looked like a man in great trouble.

He said that he soon after came back and came into his yard with a miller but then suddenly vanished. He said that he seemed like a man that didn't know what to do with himself but he thought that he might have gone to sleep in his stable because he turned up quite suddenly in the afternoon.

He said that John Tomkins later had a beer but noted that he didn't seem to make much of the beer and seemed to be moping. He said that he thought he was going to sleep and so he roused him but said that John Tomkins said that he wasn't going to sleep. He said that he told John Tomkins that it looked like it and advised him to go home and said that John Tomkins got up and that he thought that he went back down into his stable and got in among the straw.

The landlord of the Charlton Arms said that he didn't know that John Tomkins was in his straw and that when he went down later to bed the pony he took a fork and 'drove it right into him' as the saying went. He said that in fact he nearly drove the fork into John Tomkins face. The landlord of the Charlton Arms said that John Tomkins then said 'Oh dear (rubbing his head) I don't know what's the matter with me' and that he replied 'You are out of sorts, get into the air and go home'.

The landlord of the Charlton Arms said that the next day, Friday morning, John Tomkins came back to his pub and had a beer and seemed better. John Tomkins asked the landlord not to mention if and said that he would never do it again. He said that John Tomkins had something to eat and another beer and when the storm cleared he left around 9pm.

A member of the jury asked if they were to not have them man that had had the complaint made against him before them and the Superintendent said that the man was not available. However, it was said that the man had said he had been at Ashford Carbonel from where he had gone to Richard's Castle and slept at the premises of a man who he worked for on the following day.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Ludlow Advertiser - Saturday 05 July 1902

see National Library of Scotland