Date: 22 May 1934
Place: Epping Forest, Walthamstow
John Willmott was found in a hollow in Epping Forest with head injuries at 9pm on the Tuesday 22 May 1934.
He was found in a shallow hollow on the edge of a bare patch known as 'The Plain'.
He was taken to Whipp's Cross Hospital with a fractured skull where he died shortly after. His post-mortem stated that there was a large area in which his skull had been smashed on the left side above the ear. It also stated that there were a number of trifling injuries on the backs of his hands and fingers which, in view of their distribution, were interesting. His cause of death was given as injury and haemorrhage around the brain.
It was noted that he was not found in a remote or hidden recess of Epping Forest, but in a small patch of wood near Walthamstow which at the time had not been more than a few yards away from a spot where a crowd of young people had been shouting and laughing at play, and playing cricket.
It was thought that he had been battered to death some time between 7pm and 9pm and the police later said that they wanted to hear from anyone that had seen him between 5.30pm that day and 8.55pm.
It was further noted that there were no bushes shielding the hollow from The Plain where the youths were playing cricket, or from the busy Woodford Green to Walthamstow Road, which was only 250 yards away. It was also noted that between The Plain and the road, there was a pond on which children had been rowing boats until about 9pm.
A man said that he had seen a car draw up on the Tuesday evening near the spot where John Willmott was found and saw three men get out and walk slowly into the forest. He said that one of them appeared to be carrying something under his coat and that another had been wearing woollen gloves. He said that he then saw a second car pull up and saw a woman get out of it and walk into the forest. It was also said that the make of one of the cars was known.
Some of the youths that had been playing cricket nearby said that they saw a man that answered John Willmott's description in the company of a woman near to the place where he was found. The police later said that they had satisfied themselves that John Willmott had gone into the forest with a woman.
It was also reported that another witness had seen John Willmott in a neighbouring pub drinking with a woman.
A resident of Wood Street in Walthamstow said that he had seen a shabbily dressed man peering through some bushes near the place where John Willmott was later found staring at a man and a woman that were sitting on some grass, and it was said that the man that the woman was with coincided with the description of John Willmott, and that the time of her sighting also corresponded with the approximate time of the murder.
His wife said that John Willmott had promised to be home early that night and that she had kept waiting tea for him. She said that he was ever so happy when he had left home. She said, 'He would come home by the Rising Sun and would get out of the tram there and change into a bus. I simply cannot understand it. No one could have wished him any harm. He did not have much money with him. He was terribly knocked about'. His wife also added that John Willmott had told her that someone was trying to frame him about some woman who was expecting to have a baby. However, she said that she didn't go into details with him as he had told her that he had not and that she believed him.
John Willmott's father said that John Willmott had come home on 21 May 1934 at about 10.20pm and said that there were three men following him and that he had come in to get out of the way. However, his father said that he then went out with John Willmott for some way but didn't see anyone.
At the first inquest, the pathologist noted that John Willmott's injuries could have been caused by a fall although it was also thought that his skull fracture had been caused by some blunt instrument.
However, the police also said that evidence from the autopsy also supported their view that John Willmott had put up substantial resistance against his assailant and that he had actually engaged him in a battle of fisticuffs.
It was also noted that John Willmott had himself recently stated that he had been being followed and had also recently added that more or less seriously that he might be attacked. He had also said to his wife, after telling her that somebody was trying to 'knock him about', had said, 'You'll know one day'. He had also said to her, 'There is someone trying to frame me, and will knock me down one day'.
After his body was first buried, it was later exhumed from Chingford Mount Cemetery on the night of 15 June 1934 for further analysis. It was also noted that the exhumation was carried out without the knowledge of John Willmott's relatives and that it had taken three hours. It was also noted that the group of people that watch the coffin be dug up had been sworn to say nothing of what they had seen. It was said that the operation could be seen from The Avenue in Chingford where it overlooked the graves, and that the coffin was brought up and then covered with a black cloth and placed in a special hearse and then hurried to a secret destination for examination.
It was thought that the purpose for the exhumation was to ascertain beyond all doubt whether John Willmott had had any alcoholic liquor before his death.
It was also reported that an amazing theory that John Willmott had died as the result of an accident, and was not murdered, was discounted by the police, and it was thought that the second post-mortem would prove the police point of view. After the second post-mortem the pathologist said that John Willmott's injuries 'could well be accounted for if this man had dived from a considerable height with his hands extended as in the case of a diver'. The pathologist said that the injuries to John Willmott's hands were not those of a man that had been putting his hands up to protect himself against the blows which must have been of great violence that caused his head injuries and also said that from their distribution, were not caused during the course of a fight, because the knuckle areas had escaped damage. The pathologist said that the most reasonable explanation for his injuries was that John Willmott had dived from a considerable height and that he had not been murdered.
Another doctor said that he was of the opinion that John Willmott had committed suicide by jumping out of a tree. However, when his wife heard that statement at the inquest she burst into tears and said, 'He would never do that'. She was then assisted out of the court in a state bordering on collapse.
During their investigation, the police said that they were anxious to get in touch with a woman acquaintance of John Willmott who he had been seen with before on several occasions in the Woodford district and who was known to have arrived there by tramcar from London. The police described the woman as about 30 years of age, about 5ft 6in tall, with a thin face, dark hair an wearing a brown coat, greenish frock, a small brown hat, brown shoes and stockings and who had appeared to be of a fairly smart appearance. She was also said to have been wearing a prominent ornament in her hat, the shape of an aeroplane propeller.
It was initially thought that John Willmott had been in the company of a woman and that he had been attacked by a jealous husband or lover.
The police said that they were also trying to get in touch with another woman acquaintance of John Willmott to whom he had given a gold dress ring set with opals and four small diamonds valued at about £1 5s in April 1934.
It was also noted that the police had received a number of anonymous communications, including one that said, 'Rosie knows ------', in which ------ represented a local place name. The police said that they were interested in finding out who Rosie was and whether she had been the woman in the black coat and tight-fitting hat that had been described by one or two other people.
The police also said that they thought that John Willmott had been the victim of blackmail.
He was a sign-writer from Inman's Row in Wood Green.
An open verdict was returned at his second inquest on 22 June 1934.
see Western Morning News - Friday 22 June 1934
see Nottingham Journal - Friday 25 May 1934
see Sheffield Independent - Wednesday 23 May 1934
see Sheffield Independent - Friday 22 June 1934
see Daily Herald - Saturday 16 June 1934, (includes picture of John Willmott)
see Western Gazette - Friday 08 June 1934
see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Friday 25 May 1934
see Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 26 May 1934
see Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 22 June 1934
see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 25 May 1934