Date: 27 Nov 1940
Ethel Wakefield was found dead in her bed, having bled to death.
A sergeant-major in the Royal Corps of Signals was tried for her murder but acquitted.
She was found dead in her bed on the Saturday morning at her house at 29 Whitfield Road, Norton-in-the-Moors, Stoke-on-Trent. The sergeant-major was later arrested on the Monday at 12.30pm at his home in Regina, East Close, Victoria Road West, Prestatyn, North Wales. When the police went to his address, they told him that they were police officers making inquiries into the death of Ethel Wakefield who had been found dead at her home on the Saturday morning and that he answered the description of the last person to be seen in her company. It was said then that the sergeant-major immediately replied, 'Yes, it was me'. He then said, 'I was expecting you on Saturday night or Sunday morning. I thought of doing myself in.
When he was arrested, he had had a haversack near him with a revolver loaded with two rounds and a further ten rounds loose in the bag.
The sergeant-major admitted that he had gone home with her to lodge for the night but said that he remembered nothing until he woke up the following morning to find Ethel Wakefield dead. He said that he didn't think that he could have caused Ethel Wakefield's injuries.
He said that he had been on his way to Longton on leave on 18 October 1940 but had decided to break his journey at Etruria station with the intention of visiting his sister at Harley Street in Hanley. He then said, 'I went into the Golden Lion public-house, and the lace was so comfortable I stayed and had a few drinks of whisky. Some women came in and tried to get into conversation with me. I took no notice of them, but got into conversation with a sergeant of the Royal Ordnance Corp. The sergeant left between 9 and 9.15pm. There were three women sitting on my left, and one of them suggested, having known that I was on seven days leave, that I should go and stay with her. She stated that she was out of work and I thought I was doing her a good turn. Shortly before 10 o'clock she induced me to buy a small bottle of whisky'.
He then said, after describing the journey home and reaching her house, 'We then went upstairs, and I was surprised when I got there to see one room locked and I wished to leave the house. Then after that I tried and do not remember anything more until about half-seven next morning, when I woke up and found myself in bed with a woman. I looked over and saw a ghastly sight there beside me. I mean the woman. I looked at her and saw immediately that she was dead. I did not know what to do. I got out of the house quickly. I did not know where I was, but I later asked someone the way to Hanley. I got to Hanley and down to Stoke, thinking all the time what to do for the best, and wondering all the time what had happened. I got to Stoke Station and bought a return ticket to Nottingham, travelling as far as Derby, getting off and caught the next train back to Prestatyn. That is all'.
When the sergeant-major gave evidence at his trial, he said that he was a married man with two children and was entirely happy with his wife. He said that he had had a large number of whiskies at the public house and had had a conversation with a woman and that it was arranged that he would go to her house to lodge for the night. He said that he was expecting a room to himself but said that when he got there, he found that there was only one bedroom. He said that he was the worse for drink and that the woman was also the worse for drink.
The prosecution said that the sergeant-major and Ethel Wakefield had been drinking in the Golden Lion public house in Hanley with another woman. It was said that Ethel Wakefield had been drinking whisky and Ethel Wakefield had been drinking beer. They were said to have all left at about 10pm after Ethel Wakefield, who was described as having lived a loose life, agreed that the sergeant-major could spend the night with her at her house. The sergeant-major took a half-bottle of whisky with him and they then got a bus. The other woman got off at Birches Head where she lived. Ethel Wakefield and the sergeant-major were later seen walking off together towards Whistfield Road arm-in-arm. Later that night, neighbours on both side of Ethel Wakefield's home said they heard talking until about 11.30pm but nothing after.
The sergeant-major was a married man.
Ethel Wakefield had been married to a bricklayer who had died six years earlier in a road accident. They had had three children who were at the time 13, 10 and 7 and had lived in Cheddleton before she went to Norton-in-the-Moors.
It was noted that Ethel Wakefield had been in the habit of taking her children to stay with their grandparents for the night in Boundary Street in Hanley, which was where they were when she had died. They had returned home on the Saturday morning. However, they had been unable to get in and so they had gone to a neighbour's who had a key and opened the door for them. However, the neighbour went in first and when she went in she found Ethel Wakefield dead on her bed.
It was said that great violence had been used to cause her injuries. When she was found she was covered in bedsheets except for her toes. When the bedclothes were taken back it was found that she was naked and that her blood had soaked through the mattress and had formed a pool beneath the bed.
A doctor was stated at court to have described her 'terrible injuries' which were thought to have been caused entirely by the bare hands.
Her blood alcohol level was tested and it was heard that it would have affected her ability to resist the savage assault made against her.
At the trial, a medical witness under cross-examination said that 'It is known that women of this kind do submit themselves to all kinds of things’ and added that certain injuries might have been caused by herself.
The half-bottle of whisky was later found on the kitchen table.
The sergeant-major's defence stressed that he had no motive and the possibility that she could have inflicted some of her injuries.
He was acquitted of both murder and manslaughter.
see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Wednesday 27 November 1940
see Staffordshire Advertiser - Saturday 26 October 1940
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 27 November 1940
see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Tuesday 22 October 1940
see Hull Daily Mail - Tuesday 22 October 1940
see Belfast News-Letter - Wednesday 23 October 1940