Unsolved Murders

Harry Wootton

Age: 55

Sex: male

Date: 7 Dec 1933

Place: Far Cotton Working-Mens Club

Harry Wootton died at the Far Cotton Working-men's Club.

A witness said that they heard a cry of 'Murder!' and 'Police!', and that when they went out of the room they saw Harry Wootton lying in the hall of the club with serious head injuries. It was thought that he might have fallen over the bannisters.

However, at his inquest an open verdict was returned as there wasn't sufficient evidence to show how he came by his injuries.

He was a retired engine driver and had lived at 155 Southampton Road.

His wife said that he was in good health and that he had been examined by the doctors twelve months earlier.

She said that he left home at about 12.45pm on 7 December 1933 to book on the railway and said that in the ordinary way she would have expected him home at about 9pm. She said that when he went out he had had no money on him. When the Coroner asked her how she knew she said that she had lent him 2s on the Wednesday and doubted that he would have had much of that left on the Thursday.

A goods guard said that he entered the club at about 9.20pm and went to the bar which was on the ground floor. He said that there were about a dozen people in the bar at the time. He said that after that he went upstairs into the hall where an air-gun match was in progress between Far Cotton and St Giles. He said that he didn't see Harry Wootton there.

The goods guard said that he then went downstairs again at about 9.45pm and saw Harry Wootton there and said that he spoke to him. He said that there was not a cross word spoken in the bar and that everybody was being sociable. He said that he then watched some men in the bar play cards for an hour. He said that whilst he was watching the game he heard one of the men refer to the air-gun match and say, 'Fancy our club losing by three. If I'd known, I'd have shot for them myself'. He said that he then heard another person say something like, 'You couldn't shoot for nuts' or 'You couldn't shoot pussy'. He said that the first man then said, 'I'd shoot you (meaning he would shoot a match) if the steward will let us have the gun'.

The goods guard then said that the guns were still upstairs from the shooting match and that the two men then went upstairs into the hall. He said that he went up too along with another man and said that Harry Wootton then followed them up, noting that it was about 11.30pm at the time. He said that he stayed in the hall to watch the match but said that the steward left and the next thing that happened was that he heard a cry of, 'Murder' and 'Police'.

He said that when he heard the cry a second time he went out and saw the steward near the middle landing and said that he said to him, 'Wootton's fell over the top of the bannisters. for God's sake come and help us'.

The goods guard said that when they got to the bottom of the stairs the steward said, 'I am sure he has broken his neck', or 'I am sure he is dead'. The goods guard said that Harry Wootton was lying in a pool of blood. He said that it was about 11.40pm at that point. He said that Harry Wootton was lying with his head towards the staircase and with his feet parallel to the passage with his head to one side and said that he realised at once that Harry Wootton was seriously injured.

He said that he didn't hear a thud as though anyone had fallen and said that there had been no dispute upstairs and said that Harry Wootton had not interfered with the match or shown any quarrelsome spirit.

The goods guard said that he had known Harry Wootton for twenty years and said that during that time he had enjoyed good health.

At the inquest the coroner asked the goods guard if he was sure that he had heard the cry of 'Police!' and 'Murder' and said that he was almost positive. The foreman of the jury then asked the goods guard who shouted 'Police!' and 'Murder!', and the goods guard said that he recognised the voice as that of the steward.

The goods guard said that the stairs were pretty broad and easy to walk up but noted that they had brass tips about an inch and a half broad on the front of and said that since examining them he was of the opinion that a man could easily slip on them and fall over into the hall or fall over as the result of a seizure.

He added that he thought that Harry Wootton had had a few halves to drink, which the coroner noted was not a great deal.

It was noted that the call to the police was not received until 12.40am and it was said that the delay might have been caused when a man had gone to look for a policeman.

However, when the Chief Constable gave evidence at the inquest he said that he could not agree that Harry Wootton had slipped on the stairs and said that he himself had tried in vain to slip over the bannister.

The police noted that when they got there at 12.45am that the goods guard had gone home and the goods guard said that he had gone home when he had realised that he could do no good and said that he was cold and wanted to go to bed as he was liable to be called up for duty after 3.25am, although he noted that he had had some sleep before he had gone to the club.

The steward of St Giles  Working Men's Club said that he had been a member of the team that had played the shooting match with Far Cotton and said that he had gone downstairs during the match at about 8.40pm to play cards with some people and that whilst he was playing cards he had had a little argument with a man there as to who was the better shot and said that the steward gave him permission to shoot it off. He said that he then went upstairs at about 11.40pm with some other people noting that Harry Wootton had gone with them. He said that Harry Wootton and another man had stood at the back of the hall while they were shooting.

The St Giles Working Men's Club steward said that he didn't notice Harry Wootton leave the hall but said that after a short time he heard a shout and said that when he went out to investigate he saw the Far Cotton steward and understood from him that a man had broken his leg and that when he went down the stairs he saw Harry Wootton lying on the floor.

The Far Cotton steward said that Harry Wootton came into he club shortly before 9pm and had a pint of beer, noting that he had apparently come straight from work as he still had his box with him. He said that the bar closed as usual at 10pm. He said that he didn't see Harry Wootton go upstairs but did notice that he was not later at the bar. He said that he was in the bar talking when he heard a thud and said that he went out to look and found Harry Wootton lying there and said that he thought that he called out 'Oh, my God, somebody come quick'. He said that his wife then came into the passage but said that as far as he remembered, neither of them had shouted 'Murder', or 'Police'. He added that his own shout was more of a groan as he had been treated by a doctor for five weeks for throat trouble.

The steward said that he thought that the police had been sent for within 15 minutes, and also said that members were allowed to stay some nights to 11pm and other nights to 10.30pm. He agreed that he should have shut the club at 10.30pm. He also added that the names of the members of the visiting team had not been entered into a book as they should have been according to the rules.

He said that he heard no footsteps at the time he heard the thud.

A doctor arrived at 1am and said that he found Harry Wootton in a pool of blood with a fracture to the vault of his skull and a cut an inch long on his head. He added that there was a punctured wound about half-an-inch square on the inner side of the left orbit but said that it was difficult to say how it had been caused but said that it appeared as if it had come in contact with some pointed object.

The doctor said that the punctured wound might have been caused by a bone being crushed and said that the wound on the back of the head was sufficient to cause death. He said that there were no marks on the staircase except for some bloodstains on one of the steps which he said might have got there through someone treading in the blood in the passage. He said that he also examined the bannisters and said that there were no marks except on the skirting board. He also added that the wound on the head could have been caused by a piece of bone from inside the head and the Chief Constable interposed that the dome of Harry Wootton's skull had been completely shattered and said that there were innumerable pieces of bone loose in the cranium.

A pathologist that examined Harry Wootton said that the cause of death was due to a fracture of the skull.

He said that the skull was practically broken in half and the socket  of the eyeball and nose were broken into many pieces and said that it was possible that one of the pieces could have penetrated the skin from within.

The pathologist said that the only possible way he thought that the fatality could have occurred was that if Harry Wootton had been walking down the stairs and had then, for some reason, such as a heart attack or haemorrhage of the brain, fallen against the bannisters. He said that he thought that a man as heavy as Harry Wootton had been would have tended to have fallen over but he said that he thought that it would have been impossible that his head could have been broken so severely unless he had been unconscious as any conscious person falling the short distance that he had fallen would have instinctively put out his hands to save himself.

He also noted that Harry Wootton had an extensive disease of the blood vessel going out of his heart and said that at some period in his life he would most certainly have had a stroke although he agreed that that was purely hypothesis.

The pathologist said that it was difficult to conceive of any blow which would make such a triangular injury and do the amount of damage to the rest of the skull that had happened without it making a pulp of the brain, which had not been done.

After hearing all the evidence, the coroner said to the jury, 'The case is of such unique character and the circumstances so unusual that I think it would be wisest if you would return an open verdict'. The jury then returned the verdict that death was due to a fractured skull but that there was insufficient evidence to establish how it came about'.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Illustrated Police News - Thursday 04 January 1934

see Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail - Friday 15 December 1933

see Northampton Mercury - Friday 29 December 1933, p15 (with photo)