Unsolved Murders

Karl Johan Nilsson

Age: 45

Sex: male

Date: 18 Sep 1936

Place: River Ouse, Newhaven

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Karl Johan Nilsson was found dead in the River Ouse.

It was thought that he had been stabbed in the groin and had received other injuries and been pushed into the water after a dispute.

When the police found him, they noted a dent on the right side of his skull, a wound to his groin, and a smaller wound to each knee.

The pathologist said that his pelvis and skull were fractured and that he was probably dead before he had entered the water. He said that the wound to his groin might have been caused just before death or soon afterwards. It was suggested that the wound to his groin might have been a stab wound.

He was a Danish seaman and had been reported missing from his ship, 'Vearing', at Newhaven on 30 August 1936. He had been a fireman on the boat which was at the time discharging timber at the North Quay in Newhaven on the day he went missing.

Karl Nilsson's body was found ten days later, a day after the 'Vearing' had left the port for Germany. He was found in a decomposed state in the River Ouse at Newhaven. He was found floating in the centre of the river towards Lewes, head downwards.

He had a tattoo on his chest of a sailing vessel in full sail. He had been wearing a thin fireman's jacket under a navy-blue jacket, sock suspenders and foreign made boots, but his trousers were missing. Only three small coins were found on his body and he had no papers whatever.

The immigration authorities had informed the police that Karl Nilsson had been missing from his ship and he was soon identified.

It was heard that he had gone into town on 30 August 1936 and had returned to his ship the worse for drink. It was said that he had then left the ship the following morning at 3.30am and that that was the last that was seen of him.

The doctor that examined his body said that he was certain that it was no ordinary case. He later re-examined the body with another doctor saying that there was something that he didn't like about it, especially the wound in the groin and advised the Coroner to get more expert advice. He said that the wound was a clean cut one and gave him the impression that he had been stabbed.

A pathologist at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton who later carried out a post-mortem said that the wound in the right groin gaped widely open and was sufficiently deep to have severed a muscle. He said that there was a double fracture of the pelvis, which was broken in several places and a severe fracture of the skull and added that most of his ribs were also smashed, especially on the left side. The pathologist also said that his left forearm was also broken. He said that there was no natural disease to have caused death and also no signs of drowning or poisoning.

He said that the injuries were consistent with having been caused by some blunt force, or a great crushing force. He said that death occurred at once through the injuries and that Karl Nilsson had been to all practical purposes dead on entering the water.

The pathologist noted that he had found red lead paint in the hip region of Karl Nilsson's body.

In cross-examination, the pathologist said that with the exception of the skull fracture, his injuries had been caused before he had gone into the water.

He also said that in view of the paint stains, it was possible that his body might have been crushed against a ship and the sea wall.

The Coroner said that they did not know how he had got into the water but said that there was the possibility that he might have been pushed in after a dispute with somebody.

An open verdict of 'Found killed', was returned.


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


see Sussex Agricultural Express - Friday 18 September 1936

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 16 September 1936

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 16 September 1936

see Kent & Sussex Courier - Friday 18 September 1936