Unsolved Murders

Dorothy Oliver

Age: 59

Sex: female

Date: 24 Nov 1908

Place: 6 Alexandra Road, Southport

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Dorothy Oliver was murdered during a burglary.

A man was identified to be the primary suspect in her murder, but he committed suicide soon after he was first questioned, although a Coroners jury later returned a verdict of murder against him although he was not convicted in a court.

He wrote a letter saying that he was innocent before killing himself.

Dorothy Oliver was first reported missing at 6.30pm on 24 November by a man that lived on Avondale Road in Southport. He said that he had not seen Dorothy Oliver since 10.15pm on 22 October 1908 and that he could not obtain an answer to repeated knocking at her villa and feared that something was wrong, noting that he knew that Dorothy Oliver had previously had an epileptic fit and thought that something similar had happened.

When the police went to 6 Alexandra Road they found it locked up and then got the help of an ironmonger to pick the lock and then went into the house. They found that the front door was bolted from the inside and that the doors at the back of the house were also bolted from the inside.

When they went in they found the place in darkness and then found Dorothy Oliver lying in the passage on her back just outside the inner kitchen door. Her body was fully extended, and her arms were by her side. She was fully clothed with the exception of her boots and her clothing was in no way disarranged.

She was found to have had blood on her face and a clot on the right side of her head, and her bodice was found to be saturated with blood. A quantity of blood was also found on the floor cloth.

It was noted that when the doctor first examined her he had apparently assumed that she had died from natural causes and before leaving said that he would inform another doctor that would examine her the following morning.

Dorothy Oliver's body was then removed to the breakfast parlour by the police and an examination of the house was made.

It was then found that the door leading to the basement was bolted but that a hole had been cut through the panel near the bolt, apparently with a knife, and that some chips of wood were lying on the linoleum close to the door, which, when opened, swept them back with it. It was then noted that there was a large quantity of chips lying on the basement stairs and that the panel of the door had been splintered on that side.

Then, in the basement, it was found that a pane of glass in the back wash house window had been broken from the outside and that broken glass was found lying on a bench immediately inside the window, and that the bolts to the window had been and were still withdrawn.

A piece of paving stone was then found on the floor, and it was found that the wash house door was also bolted from the inside. It was said that at that time it was not known by what means that the intruder had left the house.

When the doctor arrived the following morning, he determined that Dorothy Oliver had been shot with a revolver three times, two bullets having passed from the back up through the lungs. One of the bullets had emerged above the left breast and was lodged inside her clothing and the other could not be found. It was also found that she had been shot in the head, the bullet entering her right temple and passing through to the opposite side where it was found embedded.

The police noted that it was strange to say that the doctor said that none of the wounds had proved fatal and that her cause of death was given as shock following the injuries. It was also noted that the shot to the head was the last shot fired and that it would have caused unconsciousness. It was also noted that the chest wounds were not of such a nature as to have prevented Dorothy Oliver from walking about.

The police said that it was certain that Dorothy Oliver had been first shot in the dining room whilst she was stopping and preparing a meal of fried bacon, a boiled egg, and tea which had been placed on a tray and which the contents of which had been upset in the armchair in the dining room. One edge of the tray had been resting on the right arm of the chair and the other edge was on the seat and it was thought that it was probable that Dorothy Oliver had placed it on the chair in preparation to clearing the table and laying the cloth.

Blood was found on the floor near the chair, on a newspaper on the table and spots were found leading from the room in to the kitchen which it was said she must have passed as there were a large number of spots of blood there as well as a considerable quantity immediately inside the kitchen door, and the door itself was bloodstained.

It was also stated that there was blood on the inside handle and bloodstained finger-marks as if the door had been closed by Dorothy Oliver and held and that whilst standing there she had emitted from her nose and mouth the blood that had formed inside the door.

The police said that it was ascertained that Dorothy Oliver had possessed a fair amount of jewellery, but that none could be found in the house.

The police said that they then, erroneously, assumed that a burglar had entered through the wash-house basement window, which was broken from the outside, and killed Dorothy Oliver and stolen her jewellery.

However, the police said that when they inspected the house on 26 November 1908, they found that on examination of the wash-house basement window that it was not possible to open it when the bolts had been withdrawn. The police said that they found that the window opened perpendicularly in the centre and that it had not been opened since it was last painted and that the paint in the centre, and at the joints, was unbroken.

The police said that when they looked again at the bench inside the window where the broken glass was lying, they found bloodstains that had previously been overlooked. They added that up until that time, no deduction had been drawn from the fact that the door leading from the hall passage to the basement carried the chips of wood back with it when opened, and that it had been still bolted on the hall passage side when the police had first arrived.

The police then stated that the blood on the bench inside the wash-house window clearly indicated that the murderer had broken the window after committing the crime, as there was no blood on, or outside the window, and that as the window could not be opened that it was evident that the murderer had not obtained admission that way. They said that in confirmation of that they also found that the piece of paving stone found was also spotted with blood.

It was then stated that the fact that the door on the stairs leading to the basement had not been opened after the hole had been cut through the panel further indicated that it had been done after the murder and with a view to deceive those who investigated the matter.

The police then stated that once they determined that, they at once decided that they had not to trouble themselves about the ordinary criminals, but to confine their efforts to those that were acquainted with Dorothy Oliver's house and her movements.

It was also stated that that same afternoon, 26 November 1908, that a pawnbroker on Eastbank Street in Southport had informed the police that on 23 November 1908 at 9.45am he had purchased a pair of single stone diamond earrings in a case, a 5 stone diamond ring and a sapphire and diamond ring from a certain man for £18, and that he also had some recollection that he had sold the ear rings to the man some 15 years earlier.

It was heard that the reason that the pawnbroker had come forward was because he had been having a conversation with another customer in his shop about the murder and had been told by the customer that the man that had sold him the items, who he had been on friendly terms with, used to drive Dorothy Oliver about in a pony and trap. The police added however that that intimacy had ended some 6 or 7 years earlier.

The items that were sold to the pawnbroker where then shown to Dorothy Oliver's cousin, a grocer from 74 High Street in Beeston who arrived at the opinion that they had belonged to Dorothy Oliver, an opinion that his daughter confirmed. However, it was said that they could not positively identify them as belonging to Dorothy Oliver as they bore no marks which would enable them to swear to it.

The jewellery was then shown to a woman that had been Dorothy Oliver's confidant for the past 15 years who said that she thought that the two rings and ear ring case were Dorothy Oliver's property but stated that the ear rings were not, stating that Dorothy Oliver's ear rings were clusters and not single stone ones and as such it was that the identity of the jewellery could not therefore be satisfactorily established.

The police said that they then made enquiries to establish the movements of Dorothy Oliver prior to her death and it was found that she had spent the Sunday evening, 22 November 1908 from 7pm to 10.15pm with a man and his sister-in-law at an address in Avondale Road in Southport, which was stated to have been the last time she was seen.

The police stated that they determined that the man that had sold the jewellery to the pawnbroker had for the last 20-30 years been a dealer of all sorts of property, including jewellery and that their enquiries at that point failed to disclose any other suspicious points connecting him with the murder beyond his connection with Dorothy Oliver and of his having sold the jewellery to the pawnbroker which it was stated could not be positively identified and sworn over as belonging to Dorothy Oliver, and that as such they didn't have sufficient evidence to take action against him.

They also said however that the matter was  further complicated when it was found that a nephew of Dorothy Oliver had borrowed £100 from her and had omitted to repay it or pay any interest on it. It was then determined that he had then later unsuccessfully endeavoured to borrow a further £200 from her and that when he had failed had proposed, about 12 months before the murder, to insure her life for £500 but that Dorothy Oliver had been most indignant over the matter and had declined to entertain such a suggestion.

However, the police said that they chose to interview the other man that had sold the jewellery to the pawnbroker, which they did on 27 November 1908 with the intention of obtaining from him an explanation as to the sale of the jewellery and to determine his movements on Sunday 22 November 1908. The police stated that the man told them their acquaintance had ceased 6-7 years earlier and that he had not seen Dorothy Oliver for 6 months and also that he denied selling any jewellery that week. However, the police said that when he was asked to explain the sale of the jewellery to the pawnbroker, he had averred that he had received it from an unknown man whose description he gave. The police said that although his statement was far from satisfactory, the matter was still left in doubt as both he and his landlady positively asserted that he had been in bed during the nights of Sunday 22 and Monday 23 November 1908. However, the police went on to say that the landlady, who was the wife of a bricklayer but was living apart from her husband had lied through out and it was later determined that the man was actually absent from his lodgings on the night of Sunday 22 November 1908 and that he had left home between 9pm and 10pm and not returned until shortly after 9am. However, the police said that at the time they were first interviewed, as the landlady was at the time considered trustworthy and truthful, and simply knowing the man as a lodger, they had accepted her statement which they said proved an insurmountable obstacle in their investigation.

The police said that they placed the time of the murder to be the morning of the Monday 23 November based on the fact that Dorothy Oliver had been engaged at the time in the preparation of her breakfast and said that they further fixed the time after determining that the main suspect had in fact returned to his lodgings shortly after 9.30am.

The police said that they then asked the man if they could search him, his belongings and his room and he said that they could, but they said that they found nothing.

However, they said that they did find some white powder in a bottle in a box in his room and said that when they asked him if it was arsenic said that he told them that it was not and that it was simply ordinary powder.

The police said that they then left the man at 2am on the Saturday 28 November 1908 and that it appeared then that he had then retired.

The police noted however, that the landlady had been so perturbed by the events that she had not undressed or gone to bed that night, but simply locked herself in her room.

The police said that it was then their intention to verify or negate the points the man had made in his statement which they intended to do later that morning and said that after some rest they went back to see him but that at 1pm they were informed that the landlady had found the man dead on his bed.

The police said that when they went to the man's room they found him lying on his back on the bed in a natural position, fully clothed, with the exception of his cap and with no outward appearance to denote the cause of his death beyond that that rigormortis had fully set in and that it was impossible to move any of his limbs.

They said that on the dressing table they then found a letter, the ink on which was still wet, in the man's handwriting, that stated, 'I am innocent of Mrs. Allen's murder and hope whoever it was will be found. I cannot (? bear) such a disgrace to be brought before the public scoff God knows I have always respected Mrs. Allen. The police worried me with such questions about deceased asking if she was a moral woman or did she give me any chance for immorality. I distinctly say she was a perfect lady as to morals and I can not do for anyone to speak against her, as long as I live, God only knows I never had anything against her'.

The police said that they then found that the powder that had been found the previous night had disappeared with the exception of a small quantity adhering to the bottom of the bottle which was later found to have been strychnine and as such it was stated that it could reasonably be concluded that the man had poisoned himself although they stated that they could find no vessel from which he might have taken it.

However, the police stated that when they then again questioned the landlady she continued to maintain that the man had slept at home on the previous Sunday and Monday nights and that at that time nothing could be said to induce her to depart from that.

However, the police said that some hours later, the landlady sent for the police and stated that when she had occasion to go to her sideboard for some pears she had found a tied up cardboard box that didn't belong to her and then stated that the statements that she had formerly told were untrue.

The police said that when they opened the box they found it contained an old fashioned 6 chambered blood stained Webley revolver, with each chamber containing a cartridge, four of which had been discharged and two of which had missed fire. It was noted that the revolver was not a self-cocking one and that to fire it the user would have had to have raised the hammer each time before it could be discharged. The police said that they also found another 18 cartridges in the box as well as four bracelets, two watches, a neck chain and cross, three rings, and a brooch, most of which was later positivly identified as having belonged to Dorothy Oliver.

The police said that there was then practically no doubt as to who murdered Dorothy Oliver.

The police said that they initially suspected that the man might have had an accomplice as they could not trace the £18 that the man had recieved from the sale of the jewellery to the pawnbroker but at the inquest a man came forward to say that he had arranged for a distraint to be levied on the landlady's  furniture as she had been three months in arrears with her rent but that the man had paid £14 for the rent on the morning of 23 November 1908 with two £5 notes and £4 in gold.

At the Coroner's inquest on 18 December 1908 the jury returned a verdict that the man had feloniously and wilfully murdered Dorothy Oliver and had then feloniously took away with his own life.

The Coroner then censured the landlady for misleading the police. He said that if she had told the truth that the man would not be dead and that he would have that day been stood in the dock. The Coroner went on to say that the only question that remained in his mind, and, he fancied, in the minds of the jury, was as to whether, even now at this late hour, she had told them all she knew.


see Grantham Journal - Saturday 19 December 1908

see Nottingham Evening Post - Friday 27 November 1908

see London Daily News - Tuesday 01 December 1908

see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 18 December 1908

see National Archives - MEPO 3/188

see Murder of Mrs Dorothy Oliver alias Allan by Henry Theophilis Jackson on 22 November, 1908

see Amber Skies