Unsolved Murders

Horace Butcher

Age: 68

Sex: male

Date: 16 Oct 1934

Place: 151 Middlegate Street, Great Yarmouth

Horace Butcher was found dead in his shop on a couch with his head and face covered with blood.

A 7lb weight was found nearby with hair on it. Another bloodstained 14lb weight with hairs on it was found in the living room with the handle pointing towards Horace Butcher.

When the police searched Horace Butcher's pockets they found two £1 notes and some papers and bills.

The police also found a bowler hat in the passage that had indentations on the sides and bloodstains on the inside. The hat was also identified as belonging to Horace Butcher.

A doctor said that his injuries could not have been self-inflicted and that he probably died on 15 or 16 October 1934.

Horace Butcher was seen at various times on the evening of 15 October 1934, the last being by a woman that had called, 'Goodnight' to him at about 10.20pm or 10.25pm in King Street saying that he had acknowledged the greeting. He was found the following day after someone broke in the door to his shop to see if he was all right.

Horace Butcher was a marine dealer and lived alone.

His premises were at 151 Middlegate Street in Great Yarmouth which was a narrow street, about 16ft 8in wide in what was recognised as the slum quarter. The locality was also noted for the intersection of small passages between the buildings known as Rows. The Rows ran East and West from Middlegate Street with those running West giving access to the South Quay on the River Yare and those going East giving access to King Street in the centre of town. Each of the Rows themselves had numbers and there were approximately 150 of them, the largest of which were only four or five feet wide. The district was also noted as being densely populated.

Horace Butcher's premises were situated at the corner of Row 112, with a frontage on Middlegate Street and had been occupied by Horace Butcher for the past 30 years, during which time he had carried on the business of a marine store dealer. The premises were noted as being very old and dilapidated, and consisted of a shop, six rooms, a loft, a scullery and a pantry.

The shop itself faced Middlegate Street and there were windows on either side of a double door in the centre. The inside of the shop was 17ft 4in by 14ft and had a counter situated to the right on entering the shop. Behind the counter was a paraffin oil drum that contained a quantity of paraffin that Horace Butcher retailed. By the side of the drum was a semi-spiral staircase leading up to a work-room over the shop which was, except for a sackful of rags, empty. To the left of the shop doors were racks up to the ceiling that contained empty bottles, which continued the whole length of the shop and midway across the back of the shop where a door gave access to a passage that was immediately opposite the front door of the shop.

In front of the racks at the back of the shop there was a heavy pair of balance scales, whilst at the end of the counter near the passage door there was a pair of beam scales.

The shop was described as being in a filthy condition with horsehair, old boots, clothes and metal articles exposed in the window and old clothes littered across the counter. There were also all kinds of miscellaneous articles hanging on the walls and at the end of the counter and under it there was a heap of rags on the floor. In front of the bottle racks there were sacks of rags with old clothes piled on top and nearly all the floor space was occupied by that type of goods.

The door at the rear of the shop then gave access to a passage which was 3ft 8in wide across from which there was another door that gave access to the living room. The passage itself extended left and right. From the right the passage led to a door that led into Row 112, and to the left it went to a door that gave access to the pantry.

By the door leading to Row 112 there was a shaft that had obviously been used to hoist sacks of rags etc up to the loft, as tackle was fitted in the roof, and the floor space of the shaft was heaped high with sacks of horsehair. Near the pantry door there was a clothes rack upon which several coats were hanging and in a recess in the pantry there were numerous old papers and correspondence. Then, on the right of the pantry was a door that gave access to a small yard.

In the living room, by the right jamb of the door, there was a 14lb weight and to the right there was a chair and a couch, the head of which was furthest from the door. Then, on the right side of the room that abutted on to Row 112 there was a round table in front of a window that faced the Row, and on each side of the table there were arm chairs. On the opposite side of the door to the living room there was a fireplace and to the right of the fireplace there was a door that opened on to a staircase that led to two rooms above which had been used as bedrooms at some time. Then, on the left of the fireplace there was a door leading into a small scullery that in turn had another door that led into the small yard.

On the left of the entrance to the living room there was a chair and on the left side of the room there was a table in front of a window that faced the small yard with two chairs to one side and one chair on the other. There was a kitchen table in the middle of the room with a chair on the left side and an armchair between it and the fireplace.

Every chair in the living room was heaped with newspapers and old clothing.

On the staircase leading to the two bedrooms above there was a heap of rags and in each of the rooms there was a bed upon which were old sheets, blankets and newspapers. It was noted that the beds had apparently not been slept in for some time as the sheets were covered in rat excrement. In each of the rooms there was a chest of drawers that apparently had not been opened for years as a thick layer of dust was found upon the contents of the drawers.

There were then two further empty rooms above the bedrooms and then above that the loft which was empty except for a few bottles.

In the yard there was a water closet and steps that led down into a cellar under the house in which there were old bottles and refuse.

The table in the centre of the living room was covered with newspapers and on a tray there were two cups and saucers, one of which had been used, a teapot that was nearly empty, a partly filled milk bottle, a bowl of sugar, a bottle of vinegar sauce, a quarter pound tin of cocoa, and two similar empty cocoa tins. There was also on the table a loaf of bread, a piece of cheese that was covered by a plate, pieces of Cadbury's chocolate, a pear, a watch, cruet, four Woodbine cigarettes in a packet, some butter, a part packet of tea, eight plates, a breadknife, two small knives and a tea spoon.

The living room was illuminated by means of an inverted gas mantle that was approximately in the centre of the room, but which, owing to dirt, gave very poor light.

Horace Butcher was found in the living room lying in a reclining position on his right side on the couch fully dressed in a jacket suit with his feet touching the floor.

His head, which bore a number of scalp wounds, was against the head of the couch, slightly above a rolled up towel that was saturated with blood which was on the hard bolster of the couch. There was evidence of considerable bleeding on the head of the couch where Horace Butcher's head was resting and a pool of blood under the bolster. There was also a small pool of blood on the floor under the couch beneath the bolster.

His face was considerably bloodstained and there appeared to be a bruise and slight abrasion by his left eye which was discoloured. His arms were crossed just below his chest, with the right hand being above his left hand. Both of his hands were also bloodstained and on the inside of the first and third fingers of his right hand at the tips the police found what appeared to be two hairs and a small strand of what appeared to be fibre.

He had a blue overcoat lying across the lower part of his body touching the floor, the collar of which was bloodstained. He had a waistcoat lying on his left leg below the knee which was roughly folded inside out and bore no signs of blood. There was also a bloodstained pair of trousers of the same material as the waistcoat lying behind Horace Butcher towards the foot of the couch as well as two pieces of bloodstained rag at the foot of the couch.

At the foot of the couch there was also a bloodstained parcel of three shirts, partly wrapped in brown paper, beneath the trousers as well as a bloodstained curtain.

Horace Butcher's trousers were wet as though he had urinated, and on the floor by the couch, about halfway along it, there was a pool of blood and apparently urine. In the blood there was also a triangular shaped piece of brown paper, the uppermost surface of which was not bloodstained.

In the passage which ran between the shop and the living room there was a woman's old coat and two large pieces of bloodstained rag. There was also a pool of blood by the door at the rear of the shop which extended to the middle of the threshold of the doorway at the rear of the shop from which there were spots of blood that led to the rush mat and into the living room. There were also marks of blood on the seat of the chair standing to the right of the living room doorway and at the foot of the couch. There was also a bloodspot on the left front centre of the table by the yard window, a bloodspot on the kitchen table nearest the scullery and a blood spot on the kitchen table diagonally opposite.

The scullery had been recently whitewashed and on the scullery wall near the door, to the left on entering from the living room, there were four marks of blood that were apparently made by fingers. The marks were 4ft 3in from the floor and were subsequently photographed and a comparison made with the finger prints of Horace Butcher at Scotland Yard and certain characteristics were found to be identical with the right forefinger of Horace Butcher.

The window facing Row 112, which was shut, was dirty and covered to within 18in of the top by a piece of blind material that was nailed on to the window frame.

The three chairs to the left of the living room door were heaped with a pile of curtains, one of which bore bloodstains and, on the table, facing the window facing Row 112 there was a jacket of similar material to the trousers and waistcoat found at the foot of the couch that was bloodstained down the front. The armchair to the left of that was itself heaped with laundry consisting of sheets and towels and a chair to the right of the table was heaped with old newspapers under which in the seating of the chair there was a rat nest.

When the coat and two pieces of rag on the passage floor were removed, a small pool of blood was found in the centre of the passage near to which there was a portion, slightly more than half, of a Gold Flake cigarette that had apparently been smoked.

The police report stated that apart from the general untidiness, there was no evidence to indicate that a struggle had taken place or that any search had been made by the murderer.

When the police searched the outside of the premises they said that they found no evidence of forcible entry other than to the front door of the shop, which had been forced by breaking an inner bar of wood to gain entrance when Horace Butcher's body was discovered on 16 October 1934.

Police from Scotland Yard were called in soon after Horace Butcher was found dead and after Horace Butcher's body was taken to the mortuary, they said that owing to the absence of light it was considered advisable to have the premises guarded and to carry out a minute search the following day as searching in the half-light might have meant the possible destruction of some vital clue.

When the 7lb weight and the bowler hat were examined it was found that the weight, which was found in the passage near the door to the living room was smeared with blood and had what appeared to be hair adhering to two surfaces, and that the bowler hat had an indentation on the left side of the crown and on the bottom ridge of the indentation the crown and lining were pierced through. On the right side of the crown nearest to the top there was also an indentation in the shape roughly of a four pointed star and the lining on that side was also pierced. It was also noted that the left of the inside of the hat was also bloodstained. It was also noted that the hat was found in the passage near to the pantry door and under the hat there was a small quantity of blood.

When Horace Butcher's clothing was searched the police found the following:

  • In the right hand trouser pocket: Two £1 Bank of England notes, two bill heads and three slips of paper.
  • In the left hand trouser pocket: A sixpenny piece.
  • In the right hand jacket pocket: A full box of Blue Bell matches and a packet of Gold Flake cigarettes containing eight cigarettes.
  • In the top left jacket pocket: Two business letters.
  • In the left lower jacket pocket: A box of Blue Bell matches and a coloured handkerchief.
  • In the top left waistcoat pocket: A Yale type key.
  • In the top right waistcoat pocket: Thirteen farthings and three pieces of pencil.

It was noted that the yard at the rear of the premises abutted on to the yard at the rear of the Druids Arms pub which were separated by a 10ft 4in wall with wooden trellis work nailed thereon, and that the other three walls of the yard were all houses. The yard itself was strewn with a quantity of old lead and brass.

Horace Butcher was last seen by a newspaper seller who had been employed by Horace Butcher to do odd jobs for him on Monday 15 October 1934 at about 1pm when Horace Butcher had loaned him his overcoat when leaving as it was raining. The newspaper seller went back the next day, 16 October 1934 shortly before noon to see if Horace Butcher required his services but found the shop closed. However, he said that he didn't worry about it as he had frequently found that Horace Butcher was not up when he called. The newspaper seller said that he then went to the side door in Row 112 but also found it locked and said that he could not get any answer. The newspaper seller said that after a while he went into the Druids Arms next door where he asked the proprietor, who was an ex-police officer of the Lowestoft Police, if he had seen Horace Butcher but the proprietor said that he hadn't.

They then went to Horace Butcher's shop and banged on the door and then a locksmith was sent for but the door was secured by a Yale pattern lock and he didn't interfere with it and they then consequently decided to force the shop doors.

When they forced the door open they went into the living room where they saw Horace Butcher dead on the couch and the newspaper seller went off for the police.

It was noted that the proprietor of the Druids Arms said in his statement that he allowed no one to enter the premises until the arrival of the police, but the police report noted that from consequent statements it appeared that quite a number of persons had gained admission to the premises before the police arrived who had then, in fact, themselves turned them out.

A post-mortem was carried out on 17 October 1934 and an inquest was opened which adjourned on 28 November 1934.

The doctor that carried out the post-mortem stated that there were nine severe scalp wounds in total, all extending down to the bone and varying in length from three inches to one inch. He said that there was a large bruise and two small lacerations on the outer side of the left eye and bruises upon both hands and his arm. The doctor said that there was an extensive depressed fracture on the left side of the skull that commenced as a fracture of the left malar bone (cheek bone) and extended across the temporal fossa for five inches and which was three inches wide. The doctor said that eight pieces of bone were lifted out of the depression, two of the fragments having penetrated the left side of the brain. There was also a fissure fracture on the right side of the skull.

The doctor also stated that all of the injuries were consistent with having been inflicted by the weight that was found and that they could not have been self-inflicted.

The doctor also said that he did not think that Horace Butcher could have got onto the couch after receiving the injuries and that in his opinion he had received the fatal blow after he had got on the couch. He also said that he thought that Horace Butcher had been dead for about twelve hours by the time that he examined him.

The police report stated that a thorough search of the premises did not disclose any clue to the perpetrator of the crime and neither could any apparent motive be formulated.

The police report stated that it was not possible to ascertain whether any property had been stolen from the premises and that there was nothing to indicate that the premises had been ransacked or searched.

The police report stated that it was thought that Horace Butcher, who it described as a man of regular habits, had apparently been attacked on arriving at his house shortly after 10.30pm on 15 October 1934 in the passage by an assailant who was armed with the iron weight that had apparently been taken from the balance scales in the shop, receiving two blows through his bowler hat which had then caused him to fall with his head towards the door at the rear of the shop. It stated that he would have then bled there for some minutes, judging by the amount of blood on the floor, and possibly semi-conscious. The police report stated that it was then thought that Horace Butcher had, in falling, apparently dragged a coat and two pieces of rag from the heap in the passage and also possibly dropped the partly smoked cigarette that was found beneath the clothing on the floor.  It then stated that in falling, his hat had apparently rolled towards the pantry door where it was later found, and that the blood marks on the right jamb of the living room door and the chair close by indicated that he had pulled himself up and then walked towards the scullery at the back of the living room, as his fingerprint was found in blood just inside the scullery wall.

It was thought that Horace Butcher had then obtained a towel, possibly from the chair of the window facing Row 112 and had then endeavoured to staunch the blood with it whilst sitting on the couch about half way along it as there was a pool of blood and apparently urine on the floor there. It was thought then that he had probably placed the rolled up and blood saturated towel on the bolster of the couch and leaned his head upon the head of the couch, where he then probably received the blow that had caused the depressed fracture and fissure fracture resulting in his death.

It was also thought that during his movements in the room it was thought possible that he had picked up the blue overcoat that was found upon him and also the trousers and waistcoat, although it was also thought that his murderer might also have thrown them there on him.

The police report stated that the side door to Row 112 was carefully examined and it was found that the bolts at the top and bottom had not apparently been used for some considerable time and that there was a Yale pattern lock on the door whose safety catch was in the down position which would have prevented the door being opened with a key. The key to the lock was found in Horace Butcher's pocket but it was also noted that it was impossible to use the key from the outside as the keyhole was congested with paint.

The police report noted that in all 170 statements were taken, but beyond suspicion, nothing of a definite nature was disclosed.

The report stated that Horace Butcher was well known locally and was regarded with great respect and it appeared that no one bore him any malice.

The report stated that when the newspaper seller was taken to the premises on 17 October 1934 he said he could see nothing disarranged from how he had seen things last on 15 October 1934.

The police report also stated that Horace Butcher was most regular in his habits and that he would do no business in his shop after 8pm and that he would usually closed the shop door or stand on his doorstep reading a newspaper.

It was said that Horace Butcher had gone to the Druids Arms as was his usual custom at about 8.45pm and had a Bass alone and that he then left soon after. The barmaid there said that she expected Horace Butcher back, as was his usual custom, at about 10.30pm.  After leaving the Druids Arms, Horace Butcher then went to the Magdala Tavern at 9.05pm and asked for the Daily Mail and ordered a bottle of Bass and purchased a box of Blue Bell matches and a packet of ten Gold Flake cigarettes and then left the pub alone at 9.20pm. Horace Butcher was next seen between 9.30pm and 9.40pm proceeding through George Street by a woman that lived at 39 Row 34. She said that she spoke to him and he replied and then passed on. She said that she also thought that she heard a man's voice say, 'Oh, Horry, I'll be there in a minute', but said that Horace Butcher didn't reply and that she didn't see the man. It was next reported that Horace Butcher was seen entering the Crystal pub in Northgate Street in Great Yarmouth, as was his usual habit, alone, and ordered a bottle of Bass and then pass the time with the wife of the licensee in a jovial manner before leaving about 7 minutes later. It was said that when he left the Crystal pub he had said that he had one more call to make and that he was then going to bed.

He was next seen at about 10.20pm or 10.25pm by a man in King Street who spoke to him and to whom Horace Butcher replied. Horace Butcher was then seen at about 10.35pm crossing Middlegate Street to Row 112 by a woman who lived opposite Horace Butcher's shop. She said that he was alone and that she had remarked that it was cold and that he had answered her. She said that she had seen him go towards Row 112 and that she remained outside her house for a minute or so afterwards. She also said that she thought that he had a cigarette in his mouth and that there was no one in the street at the time.

A woman whose street door was about six yards from Horace Butcher's door in Row 112, but on the opposite side of the Row, said that she was in her living room at about 10.30pm that night when she heard someone mumbling and then heard the sound of Horace Butcher's door being shut. She had said that she was confident that it was Horace Butcher going into his house as he was in the habit of mumbling to himself when he was going into his house. The woman said that the Row was very quiet and stated that she could hear every sound in the Row near her house. She said that she had remained in her room until about 11pm reading a newspaper and had then gone upstairs to bed where she had remained reading until 11.30pm when she had put the light out and gone to sleep. She added that from the time that she heard the mumbling till the time that she went to sleep that she had heard no noises in the Row or in Horace Butcher's house.

The licensee of the Druids arms pub had been away from Yarmouth that night attending a Licensed Victuallers meeting which was known to Horace Butcher and for the past twenty years, it had been Horace Butcher's habit, when the licensee was away that he would go round to the Druids Arms pub at about 10.35pm, just after closing time, to see if the girls were all right but on that night he had not gone round.

It was also noted that it was Horace Butcher's habit to call at 154 Middlegate Street, a fried fish shop, to purchase fish, but he didn't do that that night either. The proprietor of the fish shop said that they had kept open later than usual in the expectation of Horace Butcher calling.

A woman that lived at 4 Row 117 stated that she had stood outside the entrance to Horace Butcher's house in Row 112 for about ten minutes between 10.40pm and 10.50pm on the night of 15 October 1934 saying goodnight to a friend and heard nothing unusual nor noticed any disturbance coming from Horace Butcher's house.

The police report stated that nothing further was known about Horace Butcher until his body was discovered the following day, 16 October 1934.

Several people were considered possible suspects but nothing could be found against any of them, and in the most part they all had sound alibis.

The police report described Horace Butcher as eccentric in many ways. It stated that, 'One peculiar habit was to write daily on a writing pad what he had to do for the morrow. Intermixed with his various duties would appear business slogans such as 'Buy right sell right'. The list of the day’s work usually finished with two menus for his dinner. He would never drink with acquaintances and never accept a drink from anybody. He wore his bowler hat continuously and was never seen without it on. He always wore it indoors and at meals. Since his brother's death in 1928 he always placed two of everything on the table when having his meals and this accounts for the unused cup and saucer on his tray when I first arrived. His brother was killed in 1928 by falling from a train carriage, whilst a sister died about ten years ago through injuries to the head caused by falling against a fender in her house during the absence of her husband. She was found dead on his return home.'

The police report also stated that according to Horace Butcher's pass book, his peak years were around 1919 to 1923 when he had a surplus at the bank of approximately £900. It also stated that he had three £100 War Loans, but that during the ensuing years his credit had begun to diminish and that at the time of his death he only had £25 cash in the bank, one £100 War Loan, stock in trade, and the freehold of his premises, which together was valued at £401.

At his inquest, there was the suggestion that Horace Butcher might have inflicted his injuries himself. It was reported that there was a lot of rumour in Yarmouth that he had done so. However, the medical doctors that examined his body said that it would have been impossible for him to have done so and impossible for him to have inflicted the major injury and to have then been conscious and to have made his way onto the settee or to have inflicted the blow himself whilst on the settee, left the weight in the passage and gone back and folded his hands and put the blue coat over himself. It was noted however, that a policeman had written in his notebook that he had found the 7lb weight by the settee. However, it was also noted that it was thought that his note had been an afterthought. Police correspondence described the murder as queer as it was thought that if he had been attacked that someone in the narrow streets at 10pm in that locality would have heard something.

The jury returned a verdict of wilful murder by some person or persons unknown.

The police report concluded by stating that there was no doubt that Horace Butcher had been attacked by his assailant who had been concealed on the premises when Horace Butcher had entered his house by the side door in Row 112, two or three minutes after 10.30pm on 15 October 1934, and that there was no doubt that the 7lb iron weight was the implement used. It stated that the motive might have been robbery or revenge, but that the nature of the injuries tended to indicate that Horace Butcher knew his killer. It stated that it was not possible to ascertain whether any money or property had been stolen or whether he had any enemies who could be regarded as likely to have committed the murder. It stated that every person who could be regarded with suspicion, however slight, had been interrogated, but that nothing had transpired during the inquiry to justify suspicion resting on any one individual.

It was reported that some local people suspected that Horace Butcher had been seeing a man's wife and that the man had gone to Horace Butcher's house and either caught them there or gone there to ambush him and that after first striking Horace Butcher in the passage the man's son had gone back to finish the job.

One man later confessed to the murder but upon examination of his statement the police said that they were satisfied that his confession was false.

Another report stated that a woman that was addicted to drinking methylated spirits had said before she died in early 1935 that her husband and son had been involved in the murder, but the police said that they investigated the claim and found that her husband and son knew nothing about it.

It was also noted that the murder had taken place at the commencement of the herring fishing season and that that didn't make the task of the police any easier because of the influx of several thousands of fisherman and shore workers.

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see National Archives - MEPO 3/792

see Nottingham Evening Post - Wednesday 02 January 1935