Unsolved Murders

Louise Maud Steele

Age: 18

Sex: female

Date: 23 Jan 1931

Place: Blackheath

Louise Maud Steele was found dead on Blackheath on 23 January 1931.

She was found naked, but covered with a coat, shortly before 7.45am by a lamplighter.

Her cause of death was given as strangulation caused by the pressure of a hand upon the front and sides of her neck. There was also a depression around her neck that corresponded fairly closely with the tape on the neck of her dress.

It was thought that she had been attacked from behind and the neck of her dress was drawn back forcibly whilst counter pressure was made on the back of her head and neck. It was thought that she would have been unable to cry out after the pressure was made and that she probably lost consciousness within a few seconds.

There was a large amount of froth in her air passages and the bruises in the area of the mark on her neck indicated that the pressure had been released before she died and that she had lived for a short time afterwards.

Both of her nipples were missing and the raw surfaces were oval, the one of the right side measuring 2/3 inch and on the left 1 1/2 inches in their greatest diameter. The surfaces were rough with no indication of bleeding and no bruising around them. Around the raw surfaces there were superficial wounds resembling teeth marks and it was thought that her nipples had been bitten off after she had died.

In her internal genital region, there was a lacerated wound some 2 1/4 inches long on the left side of the opening of the vagina and two smaller lacerated wounds on the right side, and bruises at the back of the opening. She also had wounds and bruises on the external genital organs which were thought to have been produced by a single kick when she was lying on the ground.

She also had cuts about her nose that were thought to have been caused by a single kick with a boot. Both of her nostrils were split.

A pool of blood was found on the place where she was found which was thought to indicate that she had been attacked at the place where she was found. It was said that her injuries would not have bled very freely if she had been at the point of death when she received them and had died soon after.

There were also bruises found on the walls of her small and large intestines which were thought to have been produced by firm pressure upon the middle abdomen and were consistent with the pressure of a knee on her as she lay on her back.

Louise Steele had been a virgin and there was no indication of an attempted violation.

An examination of her stomach indicated that she had had a meal two hours before she died.

Her body had been found by a lamplighter who remained with her body while someone went for the police who were informed at 7.45am on 23 January 1931.

When the policeman arrived, the lamplighter told him that he had seen what he considered to be a bundle of clothes lying on the grass and that when he went to investigate he found her dead body.

It was thought that she had died seven hours earlier.

Her arms were thrown outwards and the heel of a court shoe was found resting in the upturned palm of her left hand. A similar shoe was lying on the grass about eighteen inches from her right side. Her right leg was bent inwards from her knee at a right angle. Her left leg was bent under the thigh to such an extent that the sole of her foot was uppermost. Her left leg had a brown stocking on which was the only garment that she had been wearing.

There were marks on her private parts which indicated that considerable violence had been used at that particular spot and there was congealed blood around the organ and on the grass where it had drained making a clot about eight inches in diameter. There were also marks around her neck as though a cord had been tied tightly and finger marks on each side of her throat. Her body had been covered with a dark grey overcoat that was trimmed with a brown fur collar and cuffs. Her clothes were lying by her side and consisted of a pair of corsets, a white petticoat, a pink flowered petticoat, a black dress with a small green collar attached and about thirty feet away a blue scarf was found. It was later found that all the items of clothing had been torn from her body.

The police said that they concluded that the person that had killed her was, if not a sexual maniac, at least a person with a strong sexual passion.

After the police arrived a careful search of the ground around her was made but it failed to reveal that any vehicle had been used to convey her body to where it was found.

The whole of Blackheath was searched for what was thought to have been some of her undergarments that were thought to be missing as well as her hat. Her hat was found about 300 yards away on a part of the heath near to Vanbrugh Park and it was thought that it had blown there as it was in a direct line and there had a been high wind blowing in that direction all night.

Earlier on, on the night of 22 January 1931 a spinster that had been living at 72 Lee Road in Lee had called in to the Lee Road Police Station to report that her maidservant, Louise Steele, had failed to return to that address after having gone out on an errand at 8pm. The spinster said that Louise Steele had been employed by her as a domestic servant for about two years. She said that Louise Steele slept in but usually had a half day on Wednesday's when she would finish at 2pm and visit her parents at 78 Ann Street in Plumstead. She said that on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays Louise Steele would finish at about 8pm after supper when she would then be free and that she would usually go for a walk. She said that on Saturdays she finished at 5pm.

The Spinster said that on the Monday, 19 January 1931 Louise Steele had not gone out and that on the Tuesday 20 January 1931 Louise Steele had gone to her club, the Boone Club on Old Road in Lee, and that she returned at about 10pm. She said then, on Wednesday 21 January 1931 Louise Steele had her usual half day and returned at about 9.30pm and told her that she had been to the pictures and had seen 'Alf's Button'.

The spinster said then that on the Thursday 22 January Louise Steele had done her normal work and had then at 7.55pm gone to deliver a book and a note to a woman at 75 Lees Road after which she was to go on to Butcher Curnow, a chemist in Tranquil Vale in Blackheath, and, if they were open, to obtain a bottle of syrup of senna. The spinster said that she understood that Louise Steele would not be back at once and that she would have had her usual walk around.

The spinster said that Louise Steele had had a meal consisting of minced beef and potatoes at about 7pm which indicated that she had been murdered between 8pm and 9pm on 22 January 1931.

Louise Steele's room was searched for possible correspondence but nothing was found other than a note in her bedroom written in her own writing commencing 'Darling Jack', but without an address.

The police began by putting out observation for two known escaped lunatics from Banstead Asylum, one of whom had previously lived in Plumstead and also carried out a careful survey of all known men who had been convicted of crimes with a sexual context or where known to fall into that category.

During that part of the investigation they brought an ex-police constable in for questioning who had recently been dismissed from the force for a complaint by a young woman that he had indecently assaulted her whilst off duty and in plain clothes. However, he was able to account for his movements having been to the labour exchange earlier in the day and having gone home between 6.45pm and 7pm and not having gone out since which was verified by his wife.

The police also tried to trace her friends but every statement they took indicated that Louise Steele was of a retiring disposition and that she had never been seen in the company of anybody and some people even said that Louise Steele had exhibited a feeling of antipathy towards men, especially of her own class.

On 23 January 1931, a man from Shooter's Hill Road in Blackheath called at the Central Office where he gave a statement stating that at about 7pm on 22 January 1931 he had been passing across Blackheath towards his home when he had seen a man and a woman sitting on a seat quarrelling and said that he heard the girl call out 'You are hurting me'. It was noted that the man had said that he was quite certain that they were not having sexual intercourse. In his statement he said that he had retraced his steps and looked at the couple for the purpose of seeing if anything was wrong and that when he did he said that the man with the girl then left his seat and came up to him and said 'What the bloody hell are you looking at?', and that he had replied 'I am looking at you for the moment' and said that the man then said 'You had better mind your own bloody business'. He said then that the girl said, in a sobbing voice, 'Come back here Jack, and leave him alone'. In his statement, the man said the man that he had seen with the girl was aged about 28, of a medium build, 5ft 8in tall, clean shaven with a pale face, a twisted lower lip, and had a fresh scratch on the right side of his face. He said that the man had been dressed in a light Macintosh after the Army pattern but without shoulder straps or belt and that it was in a very worn condition and that he also had a dirty grey trilby hat. He had said that he had been unable to give a description of the girl, saying that she had been sitting in a shadow thrown by a street lamp.

The police later stated that it was thought that the couple seen by the man might have been Louise Steele and the man named Jack that was mentioned in the note found in her bedroom. As a consequence, the police then interviewed the man again and his times were carefully checked again and it was determined that the time that he had seen the couple was considerably later, at about 8.45pm.

The police them published details about the couple, asking the two people to come forward but no one did.

The man was then taken to see the Crime Index on 24 January 1931 to look through the photographs but was unable to identify any of the men that he saw.

It was noted that the place where Louise Steele was found dead was in a part of the heath near to The Princess of Wales Public House and that it was bordered by four roads, two of which were used as bus routes for the 75, 84 and 289 to Woolwich, the 20 to Shooter's Hill and the 108 to Poplar.

It was also noted that the Pirelli Company were at the time laying electric cables in the vicinity and that they had had five night watchmen on duty during that night, however, only one of them was near where Louise Steele was found and he was at least 100 yards away. They were all questioned, but none of them were able to throw light on the murder.

It was later learned that a woman had been attacked in Manor Park, Lee, earlier on in the evening. She was a 19-year-old typist and said that she had been walking down Manor Park at 6.30pm on 22 January 1931 going towards High Road in Lee when she passed a man halfway along Manor Park. She said that he was walking up and down as though waiting for someone and that when she passed him he deliberately walked into her and placed his hands around her throat and mumbled something that she didn't understand. She said that she was unable to scream and that she hit him in the stomach and that he let go of her and then disappeared into the darkness.

She said that the man that had attacked her was about 24 to 26 years old, 5ft 6in to 7in, with a thick build, dressed in a raincoat and cap and that he had been wearing gloves.

It was also learned that another woman was also attacked on that night. A 26-year-old married woman said that at about 7.15pm on 22 January 1931 she had been walking down Granville Park from Oakcroft Road when she saw a man walking in front of her. She said that she overtook him and then as she was about three paces in front of him he sprang out from the back and placed both of his hands round her throat. She said that she tried to throw him off and screamed out but that he threw her to the ground. She said that she dropped her bag and her hat was knocked off and that she continued to scream and shout 'Help' and that the man then ran away up Ranville Park towards the Heath. The woman said that she then picked herself up and ran to a main road where she complained to a policeman who then accompanied her back to the place where she was assaulted but no trace of the man could be found.

The woman said that the man that attacked her was about 5ft 6in or 7in tall and had been wearing a dark overcoat and a dark cap that had been pulled down over his eyes.

The police report stated that neither of the women that had been attacked thought that they would be able to recognise the man that had attacked them again. It was also noted that it was a significant fact that in both cases robbery didn't appear to have been the motive for the attack as both women had been carrying a handbag and no attempt had been made to snatch them.

It was said that to get to Blackheath from Manor Park that a person would have to go through either Lee and Blackheath Village or Lewisham and Granville Park and that owing to the similarity of the attacks it was thought that the assailant of both women was the same person and possibly the same person that had murdered Louise Steele.

The police then focussed all efforts on trying to find the man described in the attacks and the police were instructed to bring in anyone that acted suspiciously. As a result, they brought in a 22-year-old gardener that was employed a St. Joseph's Academy on Lee Terrace by Blackheath. The police found him on a wall at Love Lane and when he had seen them he ran off. The police chased him and caught him. However, it was determined that he had been having dental treatment at a surgery at the time between 8pm and 9pm and that he had then been in the academy until 7am the following morning.

Another man that was brought in was a 33-year-old window cleaner that was found wondering around Charlton Way near the north side of the heath. When he was stopped by the police and asked to account for his movements he feigned memory loss and so he was brought into the police station. However, enquiries at his home showed that he had been at home for the whole evening on 22 January.

Later, on 24 January 1931 the police learned that a man that had been charged on 7 September 1929 with being in possession of a revolver had been seen on Blackheath during the afternoon of 23 January. It was noted that the man had been found previously to have been suffering from a form of insanity and sentenced to one month’s imprisonment. It was also noted that he had previously imagined that he had been suffering from syphilis and had vowed vengeance on women in general, however, a later medical examination revealed that he had never suffered from any venereal disease. Based on those facts the police then brought the man in for questioning. However, they were unable to convince him to give a full account of his movements. When they questioned him at about noon on 25 January 1931 he said 'You've got no rights to ask no questions or to ask me to make a statement. I'm a free citizen. I don't like your laws, and the Government's all wrong. How do I know you are Policemen and this is a Police Station.?' The police said that it was palpable that he was mentally deranged and he absolutely declined to give any account of his movements other than saying that he had gone to Lyons in Catford at 8pm for his tea.

The man was described as being very wild and extremely unkempt in appearance and had at least five days growth of beard. He had been wearing no collar or tie and had a big woollen scarf.

The police said that because his description tallied with that of the attacker of the two women they arranged an identity parade. However, they said that they wanted the parade to be held in conditions as near as possible to those on the night and so a number of similar looking men were called in and the identification parade was held in the yard at the back of the police station. They said that neither of the women were able to identify him and said that the man had behaved very suspiciously by taking every care not to come face to face with the women and said that he either hugged the wall where it was darkest or turned abruptly to the side when the women approached him. The police said that his actions were suspicious and caused either through his natural stubbornness or fear.

On 25 January 1931, a pair of bloodstained bloomers were found lying near Catford Bridge Station. It was found that the bloomers were bloodstained about the legs but not the private parts and that the bloodstains didn't match any of Louise Steele's injuries. A person that knew Louise Steele however said that she had seen Louise Steele wearing a similar pair on 15 January 1931 when she had seen her and that she said that they were the only pair that she had owned as far as she was aware. Later the bloomers were shown to Louise Steele's mother but she was unable to identify them, although she did say that two years earlier she had given Louise Steele a pair of fleecy combinations and that the bloomers could have been later cut down from them.

The bloomers were later examined by a doctor who compared blood from Louise Steele's body with blood from the bloomers and it was determined that the blood on the bloomers was of the same blood group as Louise Steele's.

Later on 26 January 1931 as a result of a broadcast for help to identify the couple that had been seen sat on the bench a man came forward and said that at about 8pm on 22 January 1931 he had been sitting with his young lady at Blackheath near Shooter's Hill until about 9pm, when he heard the church bells, when they walked across Shooter's Hill to a footpath that led over the heath, almost opposite Shooter's Hill Road. He said that after walking about three parts of the way down the footpath they turned to the right and went across a football pitch. He said that they then talked on the football pitch for a few minutes and that when they moved on they both saw what they thought were a couple on the ground, for which reason they took no notice. He said that he saw no movement and said that it looked like they had a coat over them. He said that it would have been about 9.10pm by then. He said that he noticed that the head was towards him and that he noticed what he took to be a mop of hair.

The police later asked the couple to show them the route they took and the place where they had seen the coat and found that the spot was exactly near where the dead body of Louise Steele had been found.

Later the police said that they went to the house of the brother of the man that had previously been convicted of possessing a gun and said that when they questioned him he had said that his brother had been a source of worry for him saying that he was suffering from a progressive form of insanity. He also said that from his own observations sexual matters were uppermost in his mind. He said that when he had heard of Louise Steele's murder he suspected that his brother was responsible.

On 26 January 1931, the two escaped lunatics were captured and arrangement was made to interview them, however, they gave full accounts of their escape from Banstead Mental Hospital and there was nothing to connect them with the murder.

After the inquest, and with permission from Louise Steele's father, the divisional surgeon attended the mortuary where he took away part of Louise Steele's face for further examination of the marks.

By 28 January 1931 there was still no sign of anyone that had seen Louise Steele after 7.55pm on 22 January 1931 and a composite photograph of her was prepared showing how she would have looked on the evening and lantern slides were made up and sent out to each Cinema in the greater part of south London and people were asked to say if they had seen her.

Then on 29 January 1931 the police brought the man that had been convicted for having a gun back to the police station in order to examine his boots. They said that they offered him a new pair of boots but said that he flatly refused and told them that they only way they could get his boots was by force and so the police were unable to obtain them. They then asked him if he would like to make a statement but said that he again refused.

Later, on 29 January 1931, it was determined that the ex-policeman that had been charged with and indecent assault and dismissed from the force, and who had said he had been home from 7pm, was said to have been seen out by a policeman that knew him well at 10.10pm in Lee Road. He said that he had seen him walking from the direction of Blackheath Village going towards Lee Green. However, when the ex-policeman was brought into the station on 30 January 1931 he emphatically denied that he had been out and said that it must have been a case of mistaken identity. The police report said that it was a possibility that it was a case of mistaken identity because they had been on opposite sides of the street at the time. When the police questioned the ex-policeman’s wife again she said that he had gone out again at 8.30pm to go to the shop and she said that she had given him two pennies to buy some cigarettes. They said that when they asked the ex-policeman about it he immediately recollected that it had occurred. The police said that when they went to the shop the shop keeper remembered the transaction and had the receipt for four farthings.

On the same day, 30 January 1931 another suspect, known to be a moral pervert, was interviewed, however, he was able to satisfy the police that he was not connected with the murder.

The next day, 1 February 1931, an anonymous letter posted in Birmingham was received stating that the writer intended to do 'another girl in'. However, nothing more could be made of it.

The police report stated that their enquiries had failed to identify any evidence against any person in particular and that the case was difficult because of the absence of any known motive.

It was stated that Louise Steele was alive at 8pm and was probably seen by the couple dead at 9pm under the coat which was further borne out by the contents of her stomach and the time that she had had her meal, two hours before her death.

It was stated that after leaving the house at 7.55pm she had taken the book to the woman at 75 Lee Road from where she would have gone on to Butcher Curnow in Tranquil Vale, only to find it closed. The police report stated that from there it was reasonable to assume that she had gone on to take her walk and that she could not have had an appointment as she had arranged to stay home that night had help her mistress who had been expecting company even though it had been cancelled at short notice.

It was said that there were several walks that Louise Steele could have taken after finding the chemist shut. It was suggested that she might have walked along Tranquil Vale into Royal Parade and then onto Montpelier Row from where she had gone along the road used by the 75 service Omnibuses. It was thought that when she had arrived at the first crossroads that she might have curtailed her walk owing to the bad weather and turned right along a road leading direct into Montpelier Row. However, it was thought a possibility that she could have carried on towards Shooter's Hill, but that in any event she was attacked shortly after because her body was found about 120 yards from the road that the 75 bus ran along and 119 yards from the road running into Montpelier Row. It was noted that the former was reasonably well lit and the latter was darker and less frequented.

The report stated that based on the fact that she was mutilated, that she had not been robbed, that she was still virgo intact and that her clothes had been ripped from her that her murderer had been a maniac.

Due to the fact that no further lines of enquiry were being developed the police decided to interview the man that had been convicted of possessing the revolver again but he still refused to make a statement. They then carried out an identification parade during which the women that were attacked, plus a new witness that had seen the man that had attacked one of the women shortly before the woman came along and then went to the police to make a complaint, where asked to attend. The man kept his head down during the identification parade and none of the women identified him. The police then asked the men in the identification parade to walk along the road and on that occasion the suspect feigned having a limp and turned his face away and again none of the women identified him.

After the identification parade was over the man was detained and the women were allowed to get a good look at him and were asked if he was the man and two of them said that they were certain that he was not as the man that they had seen was at least 2 or 3 inches taller and broader. The police report stated that that definitely eliminated him from being the perpetrator of the attacks but that because of his attitude and behaviour that they could not entirely ignore considering him in their enquiries.

No further developments were made in the investigation into Louise Steele’s murder and her case remains unsolved.

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

see www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - MEPO 3/1663, HO 144/14913

see The Canberra Times