Unsolved Murders

Lewis Arthur Sandford

Age: 30

Sex: male

Date: 4 Jan 1938

Place: The Row, West Dereham, Norfolk

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Lewis Arthur Sandford died suddenly from strychnine poisoning on 4 January 1938.

His wife was charged with his murder but later discharged on 30 June 1938 after the magistrates said that there was not enough evidence to try her.

A judge said that there was not one tittle, one shadow, one vestige of evidence on which one would hang a fly.

Lewis Sandford died on 4 January 1938 and his body was exhumed two months later. He had been buried at the village churchyard in Pentney, a few miles from his home.

He and his wife were married in February 1930 and had an eight-year-old boy.

He was a farm hand and was taken ill within a short time of leaving his home for work. He first complained about losing the use of his legs and died as he was being taken to hospital in the ambulance.

It was reported that after losing the use of his legs that his face had become white and drawn and that he clenched his fists. It was said then that his arms became drawn up and his jaws were fixed and that his body became arched from the back of his neck to his heels.

It was then reported that after several seizures he died.

It was initially thought that he had pared a corn with a penknife, which was thought to have been a possible means of entry for a tetanus germ, and the verdict of 'Death from tetanus caused by a poisoned corn or chilblain' was returned.

He was then buried on 18 January 1938 at Pentney.

However, his death was later re-examined and police officers from Scotland Yard were called in and the exhumation of Lewis Sandford's body was ordered by the Home Office.

Lewis Sandford was described as a big man and his coffin was 6ft 2in long. His grave was in the western portion of Pentney Church beneath the shadow of the Norman tower and the exhumation was carried out by the verger who also acted as a gravedigger, with assistance from another man on 26 March 1938. The grave was hidden by a canvas screen that was erected around it. The police had brought in nine uniformed policemen to keep back the crowds that were expected to have gathered, but during the early part of the digging there was nothing for them to do as no one other than those immediately connected with the exhumation were present.

It was said that owing to the dry nature of the soil, the digging took little time and the coffin was raised within three hours.

The body was then taken to King's Lynn mortuary where a new post-mortem was carried out and was returned to the grave later that day.

It was disclosed on 14 April 1938 that enough strychnine was found in Lewis Sandford's stomach to have killed him. Other reports stated that he had had enough strychnine in his stomach to kill ten men. A total of 2.73 grains of strychnine were found. It was further added that based on the amount of strychnine that had been found, that it was thought that at least 5 grains had been administered. It was then heard that based on the possible fatal dose of 0.5 grains that the amount administered was probably enough to have killed ten men.

The doctor then stated that there was no doubt whatsoever that Lewis Sandford had died from strychnine poisoning. They also stated that Lewis Sandford did not die by his own hand and that the poison did not enter his system by accident. The prosecution also stated that it could not have been administered by their 8-year old son and went on to state that there was evidence upon which the jury could find that it had been administered by his wife, and administered intentionally, although it was not revealed explicitly what that evidence was.

Lewis Sandford's wife was charged with his murder on 14 May 1938. When she was charged she said, 'I am innocent'.

Lewis Sandford's wife appeared at court in Downham Market in Suffolk on 23 May 1938. More than 100 people had crowded into the local police court in the hope of seeing her, but it was reported that they were tricked by a clever ruse as Lewis Sandford's wife was smuggled into a police office 200 yards away where a special court was held.  It was further reported that by the time that the people in the police court found out, Lewis Sandford's wife was preparing to leave again for Holloway Prison.

During their investigations, the police visited farmers, mole-catchers and others in the neighbourhood who might have been expected to have supplies of strychnine for their work. They also inspected the poison registers at chemists' shops across the district.

On 16 April 1938 detectives found a small phial or medicine bottle about two inches long in an out-building at the cottage where Lewis Sandford had lived with his wife, and it was sent away for analytical examination, but little more is known about it.

The defence for Lewis Sandford's wife said that Lewis Sandford and his wife were normally a happy married couple.

The prosecution had said that Lewis Sandford's wife had been in the habit of meeting another man who lived nearby and suggested that there had been a guilty association between them. The prosecution said that Lewis Sandford's wife and the man had met some time before and that as their acquaintance ripened they became in the habit of meeting frequently, almost daily and that they would go to dances together and whist drives. The prosecution also said that they would show evidence of Lewis Sandford's wife and the man's relationship before Lewis Sandford's murder and also after the murder. They also stated that Lewis Sandford's wife was at that time, 2 June 1938, pregnant and that it was assumed that she had been pregnant in November 1937. They stated that they had evidence to state that Lewis Sandford's wife had told people at that time, around November 1937, that she was not sleeping with Lewis Sandford and that they had not slept together for some time. They stated that Lewis Sandford's wife did not like Lewis Sandford and that she knew in January 1938 that Lewis Sandford was bound to discover her condition at some point.

The prosecution added that although the poison could not be traced to Lewis Sandford's wife actual physical possession, a bottle that had contained the very poison from which Lewis Sandford had died was found in a pit that was used by her a very short time after the poison was administered.

Lewis Sandford was a farm labourer and his wife used to also work on the land at the farm at irregular intervals.

Lewis Sandford's brother said that Lewis Sandford was in good health at the time and had only complained to him before of his foot on which it appeared that he had a corn or chilblain.

When Lewis Sandford's wife was discharged the magistrates said, 'We have carefully considered this case and we find that on the facts placed before us there is not a prima facie case made out justifying this bench in sending this woman for trial. We are unanimous in this. She is therefore discharged'.

After Lewis Sandford's wife was discharged, she said, 'I feel now, as I felt all through the case, that I had nothing to worry about. I had never seen any strychnine nor had I ever in my possession. I knew if Scotland Yard and all their officers searched from here to Lands End they would never find any trace of it coming from me. I hope now that I will be able to live my own life and that tongues will cease to wag'.


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


see The Scotsman - Wednesday 28 December 1938

see Daily Herald - Saturday 14 May 1938

see Daily Mirror - Thursday 12 May 1938

see Northern Whig - Saturday 04 June 1938

see Sheffield Independent - Thursday 02 June 1938

see Derby Daily Telegraph - Friday 03 June 1938

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Thursday 14 April 1938

see Gloucestershire Echo - Friday 18 March 1938

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Wednesday 06 April 1938

see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Saturday 16 April 1938

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 26 March 1938

see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Saturday 26 March 1938

see Daily Herald - Monday 23 May 1938

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Tuesday 22 March 1938

see The Scotsman - Saturday 04 June 1938

see Daily Mirror - Friday 08 April 1938