Unsolved Murders

Emily Maye sr

Age: 70

Sex: female

Date: 12 Jun 1936

Place: Croft Farm, Croft Park, West Charleton, Devon

Emily Maye sr, Emily Joan Maye jr and Gwenyth Maye were found dead at a farmhouse.

The father was tried for their murders but acquitted after the judge stopped the trial and directed the jury to acquit him when the medical evidence was heard, and the prosecution said that they would offer no further evidence. The medical evidence included a statement from a doctor who stated that the father’s injuries could not have been self-inflicted and were enough to have killed many other people.

The bodies were found by a servant at the farm. He had been out to a dance on the night of 11 June 1936 and got back at about 2.45am on 12 June 1936. He had seen blood coming from beneath the door and went off to get the police.

When the police went in to the farm building they found Emily Maye sr with a fractured skull lying near her bed, in which her husband was lying, with her body partly burned, and with paraffin poured over and around it. It was noted that her body was lying away from the bed on the floor with her legs under the bed in a position which she could hardly have fallen into. It was thought that she had been attacked in bed and her part of the bed had been set on fire. The room was also full of smoke.

They then found Emily Joan Maye jr lying on the landing outside her bedroom with four severe head injuries which were said to have been inflicted with great violence. Her skull was fractured, and she was dead but her body was still warm. She was wearing her nightdress and was lying in an angle formed by the two rooms. It was reported that the blood had flowed freely from her. There were also marks in the wall as though the axe had stuck into it.

Gwenyth Maye was next found in a dying condition at the foot of the front stairs. She died a few hours after she was found. When she was found she was lying with her head in the doorway on a cushion that had been placed there by somebody after she had been stricken down. It was noted that the cushion  was similar to those in the drawing room.

There were blood spots on the floor in her room although it was thought that no one had been attacked in her room, but it was observed that her bed had been saturated with paraffin.

The spare bedroom was on fire when the police got there.

The father was still alive and although he had a fractured skull he was still able to talk, walk and dress himself. It was thought that there had probably been a period of unconsciousness after he had received his injuries. when he was found he was still in bed, his wife being to the side on the floor and her part of the bed set on fire. He was wearing his nightshirt which was bloodstained all the way down and was filthy dirty as though it had come into direct contact with black and charred material. His sleeves smelt strongly of paraffin and his hands were filthy, being encrusted with blood and charred material. It was noted that his feet were also filthy with a caking of black material and blood extending some way up his legs.

It was heard that the father had a remarkable constitution and that when he was asked to get out of bed he did so unaided and put on his clothes and walked downstairs, possibly with assistance. However, it was heard that he didn't want a stretcher but finally got on it and when he did so, he remarked, 'I am afraid you will find I am rather a lump to carry'. It was also heard that when he was told that he would have to go to the hospital he had said, 'I can't go there. I have some business to see to'. It was also noted that when he later gave answers to the police he gave intelligent answers and tried to help the police as best he could. It was also noted that he made a remarkable recovery.

It was noted that there was no sign of a struggle having taken place in the bedroom.

The dog was also found to be soaked in paraffin. A watering can was found in the china cupboard with blood spots on it and a small amount of what smelt like paraffin in it.

The weapon, a 3 3/4lb hammer, was found in parts. The head, of which one end was axe shaped, had the hairs of all three women on it and was found under a table near Gwenyth Maye, whilst the broken shaft was on the landing near the body of Emily Joan Maye jr.

A can and a bucket were also found in the building that had been used for carrying paraffin. The prosecutor said that it was clear that the murderer had tried to destroy Emily Maye sr's body and to set fire to the house.

The police constable said that when he arrived he found the bed and door in Emily Joan Maye jr's room was on fire and that in the room occupied by Emily Maye sr and her husband, the father tried for the murders, some of the bedding was also on fire and smouldering.

It was also heard that there were marks of a bare human foot made by having stepped in the blood.

The farm house was described as lonely and consisted of a dwelling house and out buildings. It was heard that the life lived by the father and his family was a perfectly happy and peaceful one. It was heard that there was no evidence of any serious disputes or quarrels and that there was no evidence of any motive that could have actuated the sane mind of the father in any way to desire the death of his wife or either of his daughters. It was also noted that there was no evidence at all that the father had been at any time out of his mind. It was heard that he was leading a normal life up to the night of the murders and that equally, since the murders, there was no evidence that the father was in any way insane.

At the trial the prosecution said that from the outset it was their general story that the person who murdered Emily Maye sr also murdered Emily Joan Maye jr and Gwenyth Maye.

The prosecutor said that there was an entire absence of the hand of a burglar, noting that there was no sign of any entrance from outside. However, it was noted that whilst the back door was always shut, that it was not locked and that it was therefore possible that an intruder could have walked into the farm building from the outside simply by opening the backdoor. However, it was also noted that no attempt had been made to interfere with any articles and that although there was a great deal of jewellery of value and a certain amount of money at the farm, none of it had been taken.

It was heard that the day, 11 June 1936, had been an entirely normal one for the family with the two girls having been out to Blackpool some miles away for a night filming and it was thought that when they had returned they were probably quite tired.

It was also heard that the father had been seen by two people that day between 7pm and 8.15pm, an accountant and a veterinary, who called at the farm and said that the father was discussing business in a normal way.

The farm servant that had found the bodies said that he had gone out at about 7.30pm to go to a dance at Stokenham which was four miles away. He said that he came back at about 9.30pm on a bicycle for his coat and saw no one at the farm but did say that he heard voices which he thought were those of the girls. He said that he left the farm again at 9.30pm and that when he left the father, his wife and the two daughters were all at the farm. He said that he returned at 2.45am and then found the bodies.

The court heard that between 9.30pm on 11 June 1936 and 2.45am on 12 June 1936, a series of the most dreadful occurrences took place in the farmhouse.

The police constable said that the father was in bed and said that when they asked him what he had done he had replied that he didn't know, saying that he went to bed first and that when he woke up his wife was gone. The police constable at the trial said that when the father was taken to the infirmary he asked for his wife and daughters and seemed perfectly normal except for his injuries. The judge then said, 'You say except for his injuries. You know what ghastly injuries they were. The man was half dead before he got up'.

The judge also added in observation on the police constables statements, 'From his own evidence, he, the police constable, took a view which might have been entirely wrong. At the very beginning he said, 'What have you done?'. I don't know what business he had to say that. The father was not cautioned or anything'. The prosecutor then asked for the judge to understand the difficulties that had confronted the police constable.

The doctor added that the injuries to the father’s head would have been enough to kill many people. He also said that the father’s injuries could not have been self-inflicted.

The doctor said that when he first saw the father he answered questions intelligently but could give no explanation for his injuries. He said that the father could not open his eyes owing to haemorrhage and swelling of the eyelids. He said that in one place the out table of the skull was fractured and in another place over the ear, his skull had been driven in like a broken egg. The doctor said that they then took the father to Portsmouth where he was operated on in the afternoon.

The doctor said that his injuries were consistent with him having been hit with the sledgehammer and that they looked to him as though they had been inflicted while he was lying down in bed. When the judge asked the doctor why he thought that the father had been struck whilst he was lying down in bed the doctor said that the scalp wounds were all in exactly the same place and that he thought that the first one would have been sufficient to have rendered him unconscious at once.

When the judge asked the doctor, 'Do you think it conceivable that he could have done it to himself?', the doctor replied, 'Not the least bit'.

The judge then asked, 'How can it be that he should be the person to have done what precisely was done to him? The blows are exactly the same by the same instrument'.

The prosecution then said, 'I gather that it is your lordship's opinion, in view of the evidence that has been given that it would not be safe to continue the prosecution'. The judge then said that he did. He said, 'It seems to me that whatever evidence there is I should be bound, and in duty bound, to apply those principles that you so clearly and so absolutely fairly indicated were the principles governing a case of this sort. I should be bound to put to the jury that it was more likely upon this evidence that he was attacked by someone than he attacked anybody'.

The judge then stopped the trial and after the father had been discharged, the judge told the jury that for the first time in his experience the jury had not been told that the case had been lodged only after the chief constable and the Director of Public Prosecutions had considered the matter. He then said, 'I feel bound to say that I think that, after those considerations of the doctor's evidence, this man might have been spared the ordeal'.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Londonderry Sentinel - Tuesday 10 November 1936

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Monday 09 November 1936

see Western Morning News - Tuesday 10 November 1936, (includes picture of Croft Farm)