Unsolved Murders

Frank Vosper

Age: 37

Sex: male

Date: 7 Apr 1937

Place: Cabin A77, French Liner Paris, Plymouth

Frank Vosper went missing from the French liner Paris shortly before it called at Plymouth on Saturday 6 March 1937.

His body was later found on Sunday 21 March 1937 at the foot of the Seven Sisters, just west of Beachy Head, about 200 miles away.

When he was found his body was unclothed, but it was said that no importance was placed on that fact as it was said that that would have been the result of prolonged immersion in the sea.

He was a British actor and playwright and had come over on the liner from New York, accompanied by his friend with whom it was later suggested was his partner. He had been at a party in the cabin of a 22-year old beauty contest winner, Miss Great Britain 1935, who had been undergoing film tests in Hollywood. It was said that he had gone out onto the private veranda attached to the cabin and to have not returned.

It was suggested that Frank Vosper might have climbed out of the veranda window to get to his cabin so as not to make his exit from the party too noticeable.

There had been a celebration on the ship to celebrate the final night of the voyage as the ship was getting into Plymouth at about 5am and very few people were going to bed.

It was said that the beauty queen had met Frank Vosper and his friend for the first time earlier at a party in the ballroom on the night before the ship docked and had invited them to join her in her state room as they were the only Englishmen on board. She admitted that she had seen them earlier on the voyage but had not been introduced to them and had never spoken to them until the night of the ball.

The beauty queen said, 'About two or three o'clock I gave a small party to some of my friends in my cabin. Mr Vosper was one of the party. There were several people there all the time. We were drinking champagne. Everybody was happy. Outside my cabin is a little veranda. There's a window to the veranda which looks out on to the sea, not a very big window. I was talking for some minutes to Mr Vosper on the veranda. Then I went back into the main part of the cabin to join the others. After a time I missed Mr Vosper. There was no question of a love affair between us. Mr Vosper and I were nothing more than friends'. She said that earlier on quite a few people had been coming and going but that at the end there were only the three of them, herself, Frank Vosper and Frank Vosper's friend.

She said that they were just drinking and talking and that Frank Vosper then walked over to the window and said that she presumed that he wanted some air and so she walked over to the window and opened it for him. She said that he was quite cheerful and that she then left  him at the window and went back to speak to his friend. The friend said that they were talking quite loudly about pictures and that sort of thing, and said that Frank Vosper could have passed out of  the stateroom without their knowing about it. The beauty queen said that after a time they noticed that Frank Vosper was gone. She said that when the steward came back she asked him to go to Frank Vosper's cabin and ask him to come back but said that the steward came back to say that he was not there. The beauty queen said that they then went up to the smoking room, not thinking that there was anything wrong, saying that she thought that he must have passed through the cabin, and didn't think that anything unnatural had happened. She said however, that when they saw that Frank Vosper was not in the smoking room they became worried and thought that he must have gone off somewhere.

When Frank Vosper's friend gave evidence at the inquest he said, 'I was awakened early in the morning and asked if I would go along to the party in the beauty queen's cabin. I went along and sat around for a bit and said, 'This is good fun', and went back and fetched Frank. At the party were also the Marquis de Polignac, Ernest Hemingway the novelist, and an American matador. Frank stayed for between twenty an thirty minutes, and then said to  me quietly, 'I am going back to my cabin'. He walked out onto the veranda, and that was the last I saw of him'. The friend also said that he didn't think that anything unnatural had happened to Frank Vosper and said that even when he was on the train back he assumed that Frank Vosper must have been on the train as well.

It was later said that Frank Vosper's friend said that Frank Vosper was short sighted and had broken his glasses and thought that he might have thought that the low sill of the window led to the boat deck and not straight into the sea. He noted that Frank Vosper always preferred to leave parties unobtrusively so as not to appear rude and added that he refused to believe that he had committed suicide.

It was said that Ernest Hemingway, who had had a state room opposite the beauty queen, had strongly denied that Frank Vosper had argued with people during the voyage as had been reported in some newspapers, or that his friend had been very attentive to the beauty queen and that Frank Vosper might have jumped out of the window in a fit of jealousy.

A night porter said that he had gone to cabin 243 which was occupied by Frank Vosper and his friend at 2.15am where he saw Frank Vosper, his friend and the beauty queen. He said that the lady in the adjoining cabin had complained about the noise and that he had gone there to ask them to keep quiet. It was said then that the three of them then went off to the beauty queens state room.

The night steward for the state room said that he was summoned at 2.45am and saw the beauty queen and Frank Vosper's friend lounging on the divan, describing them as being a little merry. He said that Frank Vosper was standing there motionless and quite silent. The night steward for the state room said that he then took a bottle of champagne from the beauty queen to put it on ice and that when he returned he noticed that Frank Vosper was missing. He said that he and Frank Vosper's friend then went to look for Frank Vosper and when they couldn't find him they informed the captain.

The captain said that he was  informed that Frank Vosper had gone missing at 3.10am but said that when he examined the window he had thought that it  was too small for anyone to get through and said that as no one had seen anyone fall overboard, he assumed that Frank Vosper had just gone off to get some air on the deck and only reported his disappearance when the ship reached Plymouth. He did later admit that he had seen some marks on the white window sill.

A friend of Frank Vosper's said that Frank Vosper was the last man in the world to have wanted to jump into the sea saying that he hated water unless it was hot.

A reconstruction of the event was carried out in Cabin A77, the state room where the party was held on the ship at Havre during which several of the people that  had been at the party took part in. During the reconstruction a Ministry of justice official was asked to try to force his way through the porthole, like a person seeking to throw themselves into the sea as well as  like a person resisting an aggressor striving to force him against their will through the porthole with the inference that Frank Vosper's passage through the window must have been a voluntary one, and that in other words it was not an accident or a crime.

Frank Vosper's  father said that he last saw Frank Vosper on 3 December 1937, saying that at that time he was in the best of health and spirits with no worries whatever. He said that Frank Vosper then went off on holiday with his sister to Jamaica, noting that his sister came back after a time. He said that Frank Vosper then went on to Hollywood, Havana and New York. His father went on to say, 'He was particularly level headed. He was never unduly elated about his success, and the one or two failures he had were so few and far between that he was never depressed about them'.

The father noted that Frank Vosper was not keen on parties, and was only keen on his own parties, saying that on first-night success or failures they always had a party. He also added that he had known Frank Vosper to express boredom at a party and leave it. He also said that Frank Vosper's hearing was good but said that his eyesight was extremely bad and that he was quite useless without his glasses. However, it was also noted elsewhere that Frank Vosper was rather sensitive about his poor eyesight and that he would never wear his glasses in public.

At his inquest, the verdict of found drowned was returned, the jury noting that it was impossible to say from the evidence how he got into the water. The Coroner said that there was no question of an accident in the ordinary sense of a man slipping through the window. He then said that the questioned then remained was whether it had been Frank Vosper's intention to end his life or whether he had been under the impression that there was a deck below on which he would have landed.

Later articles suggested that Frank Vosper, who was described as a well-known homosexual, had committed suicide after seeing his lover flirting with the beauty queen, although the references for that are thought uncertain and uncited. Other references suggested that he had ask the beauty queen to marry him and that when she had refused he had jumped overboard. The beauty queen denied that Frank Vosper had asked her too  marry him but said that it was possible that his friend had asked her to marry him whilst they were sat on the couch in the stateroom.

Frank Vosper was described as a personality of the post-war era of the British stage. He was the son of a doctor and educated at Haileybury and made his theatrical debut in 1919 at the Pavilion Theatre in Mile End as Metellus Cimber in 'Julius Caesar'. He then made a West End appearance at the Court Theatre in 'The Young Visitors', in 1920. Following that for two years he toured India and the Far East and his progress in acting was described as having been steady, if not meteoric. It was said that his favourite parts were Romeo and Sergius in 'Arms and the Man'. It was noted that he had also played at the Old Vic as Marc Antony and that one of his longest runs was in Eden Philpott's 'Yellow Sands'. He had also appeared in many successful films including, 'Rome Express', 'The Man Who Knew Too Much', Waltzes from Vienna', Jew Suss', and Dick Turpin. it was said that he had been particularly proud of producing his own play, 'Spellbound', in New York.

The full list of his films is:

  • Blinkeyes (1926) - Seymour.
  • The Woman Juror (1926) - Morgan.
  • The Last Post (1929) - Paul.
  • Rome Express (1932) - M Jolif.
  • Strange Evidence (1933) - Andrew Relf.
  • Open All Night (1934) - Anton.
  • Waltzes from Vienna (1934) - Prince Gustav.
  • Dick Turpin (1943) - Tom King.
  • Red Ensign (1934) - Lord Dean.
  • Jew Suss (1934) - Karl Alexander.
  • Blind Justice (1934) - Dick Cheriton.
  • The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) - Ramon Levine.
  • Royal Cavalcade (1935) - Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
  • Heart's Desire (1935) - Van Straaten.
  • Koenigsmark (1935) - Major Baron de Boise.
  • Spy of Napoleon (1936) - Napoleon III.
  • Secret of Stamboul (1936) - Kazdim.

He was also involved with writing the following films:

  • Murder on the Second Floor (1932).
  • No Funny Business (1933).
  • Shadows on the Stairs (1941).

It was noted that in his private life he had been a firm opponent of the system in which poor persons that were unable to pay a fine were sent to prison and noted that in 1930, when a woman had been unable to pay a £50 fine and was sent to prison for three months, that he had secured her release by paying the fine for her.

His death was controversial and the beauty queen later sued the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror for libel over claims regarding her morality. She said, 'There was no love making in my state room. These stories are the hardest thing to bear. We were not lying on the settee, we were sitting side by side with our backs against the wall. I deny the stories that Frank Vosper's friend and I are in love'.

After Frank Vosper's death, it was said that a cruel saying came into common use regarding Frank Vosper's friend which went along the lines of 'Never get on a ship with him', which was said to have still been in use in the 1960's. Frank Vosper's friend went on to have a successful career although he later  became a good friend with Joe Orton, a playwright, although he didn’t like Joe Orton's partner, Kenneth Halliwell who went on to murder Joe Orton in August 1967 and then commit suicide.

Ernest Hemingway went on to commit suicide in July 1961.

Frank Vosper left £10,463 gross in his will with £6,236 net personalty, and after certain bequests, the residue of his estate was bequeathed to his father for life with the remainder going to his sister who was in turn requested to provide for his mother.

He was buried on 25 March 1937 at the Parish Church of Plympton St Mary in Devon.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Wikipedia

see Find A Death Forum

see West Hampstead Life

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 07 April 1937

see The Scotsman - Monday 08 March 1937, (includes photo of Frank Vosper)

see The Stage - Thursday 08 April 1937

see Gloucestershire Echo - Thursday 10 June 1937

see The Scotsman - Wednesday 24 March 1937

see The Stage - Thursday 18 March 1937

see The Scotsman - Thursday 25 March 1937

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 23 March 1937