Unsolved Murders

Josephine Martin

Age: 41

Sex: female

Date: 4 Nov 1935

Place: Flat 1, 3/4 Archer Street, Piccadilly, London

Source: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Josephine Martin was found dead in her flat with a silk stocking round her neck.

She was known as French Fifi and was Russian.

The pathologist said that he thought that Josephine Martin had been forced down on the bed and strangled and that her killer had then tied the stocking round her neck either to ensure death or as a blind.

A verdict of murder against some person or persons unknown was returned.

Josephine Martin's maid said that Josephine Martin owed a lot of money for furs. She also said that a man had been at her flat almost every night and said that Josephine Martin told her that she sometimes gave a few pounds to the man.

A tenant in an adjoining flat said that she had heard Josephine Martin quarrelling on the night of her death over money and said that Josephine Martin had earned £6 on the previous night. She also said that Josephine Martin had told her that she had had a struggle with a foreign man in the flat about three weeks earlier.

Another woman said that Josephine Martin told her on 3 November 1935 that she was sending £6 to the man that the maid said had been to her flat most nights, who she understood was in a nursing home in Warwickshire.

The police added that they found out that Josephine Martin had been in the habit of sending registered postal letters by express delivery to the man at various addresses, the last packet being sent to him on 15 October 1935. The man, who was traced to a nursing home in Nuneaton said that he had not received any money from Josephine Martin since he had entered the home.

The police also noted that Josephine Martin had been before the courts 74 times for prostitution.

The police were called to her flat, Flat1, by the proprietor of the Globe Club at 3/4 Archer Street at about 12.15pm on Monday 4 November 1935. Her flat was on the third floor of the building.

She had been found dead on her bed by her elderly servant at about 12 noon on Monday 4 November 1935. She was a charwoman who lived in Sekforde Street in Clerkenwell. She had come to carry out at her work and let herself in which was her usual custom. She said that after letting herself in she had gone into the kitchen to make a cup of tea which she then took to Josephine Martin's bedroom. She said that when she went down the passage she saw that the bedroom door was half open which she said was not unusual and said that when she went in she saw Josephine Martin lying on the bed but thought that she had had a drop too much to drink and so walked past her and put the cup of tea down on the dressing table. However, she said that when she then took hold of Josephine Martin's hand and said, 'Here's your cup of tea, Madam', she found that her hand was stiff and cold and then realised that she was dead and then immediately ran downstairs to the Globe Club and informed a man as a result of which the police were informed.

She said that the last time that she saw Josephine Martin was on Saturday 2 November 1935 at 11pm. She said that her usual hours of duty were from twelve noon to about 11.30pm Monday to Saturday, noting that she didn't work on Sundays. She said that when she left the flat on the Saturday Josephine Martin had just entered with a man and had given her a tip of either two shillings or half a crown and told her that she could then go home. The servant said that she didn't see the man or hear him speak.

Josephine Martin was found lying on the side of her bed, face upwards. Her head was inclined towards the top of the bed and her buttocks resting on the edge of the bed. Both of her feet were flat on the floor with her knees bent and wide open. Her body was facing the window which was open although the curtains to the window were drawn nearly to, leaving a space of only 12 inches between them.

Nothing in the room appeared to have been disturbed and there were no signs of disorder or struggle.

Josephine Martin's left leg was bare, but apart from her hat, she was fully dressed in a grey woollen jumper which was decorated with a chromium plated button on the top left breast that itself had a green woollen tassel fastened to it. She was also wearing a dark brown tweed skirt that was fastened with a safety pin, blue silk cami-knickers, a pair of thin woollen knickers, a white linen and satin suspender belt, a white woollen vest, an artificial silk stocking that was properly fastened with two suspender clips and a blue glace kid court shoe on her right foot.

The stocking that was fastened around her neck had evidently been taken from her left leg. It was twisted and had been taken round the neck twice and then fastened under her right ear with a half knot. The top portion of the stocking was lying on her right breast and immediately underneath her clenched right hand. However, it was noted that it was not in her grip. The foot of the stocking was lying on the bed immediately above her right shoulder. Strands of her hair had been caught up in the stockings, in particular with the knot and an orange woollen tassel was also found in the stocking at the left side of her neck which was thought to have come from the chromium plated button on her jumper.

The police report stated that she had been dead for some hours, probably between eight to ten hours, and that her face bore a peaceful expression. Her face was heavily made up, with rouged lips and cheeks and her eyelids were blackened. Her hair was tidily arranged and kept in place by Kirby grips. The police report also stated that her fingernails were claw like, neatly manicured and enamelled red. It stated that there was no disarrangement of her clothing and that her suspenders on her left leg were unfastened, indicating that the stocking had been removed in the ordinary way. It also noted that her left shoe had been neatly placed about six inches underneath the bed with the toe pointing inwards.

When the doctor arrived at 1.50pm he said that he found no bruising on her body and thought that it was probably a case of suicide, stating that in his opinion it was a case of fifty-fifty.

3/4 Archer Street consisted of a basement and ground, first, second, third and fourth floors. The Cairo Club was situated in the basement, the Windmill Club was on the ground floor and the Globe Club was on the second floor. It was noted that the second floor was empty and to let, whilst the third floor had flats 1 and 2 and the fourth floor had two more flats. The entrance to the basement, first floor and upper stories was by a common entrance situated on the left-hand side of the building whilst the entrance to the Windmill Club which was on the ground floor was on the right hand side of the building.

Josephine Martin's flat on the third floor had an entrance door with four frosted glass panels, 19.5 inches by 12 inches each which were reinforced with wire netting in the glasswork. The door then gave entry into a passage way, 17ft 5in long, 3ft 1in wide and 8ft 6.5in high. Then, immediately inside the door to the right there was a bathroom and then facing the door there was a kitchen. The first room on the right was a sitting room and at the end of the passage there was a bedroom. The furniture in the bedroom consisted of a double bed, a small wardrobe, a dressing table, a small arm chair, a dining room chair and a small black open cupboard with cretonne curtains in front. Then, on the floor, parallel with the bed, on either side, there were two large woollen non-reversible rugs. At the foot of the bed there was a mat which was disarranged. The mat was turned back in such a manner that it showed a marked crease and it was said that it had apparently been in that position for a long time. Underneath the rugs and mat there was a red carpet that was double folded, but the remaining portions of the floor-boards were uncovered and stained.

A careful search of the flat revealed the absence of finger prints and the fact that nothing whatever had been disturbed. No money or jewellery was found in the flat with the exception of a penny found in a new handbag. The flat door was secured by a Yale pattern lock in good working order. There was also a mortise lock which was apparently disused and to which no key could be traced, and there were no signs of any forcible entry.

The flat was illuminated by electric light which was run off of a shilling in the slot prepayment meter. The switch in the hall and bedroom were both turned on, but the lamps were not alight. The police then placed another shilling in the meter and the lamps lit, showing that the current had been allowed to run out. There were also various signs in the kitchen that a meal had been consumed by one person.

The other flat on that floor, Flat 2, was occupied by another prostitute who said that on Sunday 3 November 1935 she had gone out at 12 noon and had not returned to her flat until about 9pm. She said that when she got back she noticed that the hall light was burning in Josephine Martin's flat which she said was unusual and so she said she called out, 'Fifi', but got no answer which she said didn't surprise her as she said that it was the custom of Josephine Martin to make no response if she had a client in her flat. The prostitute said that she left again a few minutes later and didn't return until about 1am when she again saw the light burning in Josephine Martin's hall, but said that on that occasion she took no notice. The police report notes that the prostitute made a later statement in which she said that she returned to her flat at 9.30pm on the Sunday and heard Josephine Martin talking to someone in her flat.

The police report states that whilst they were in Josephine Martin's flat shortly after she had been found dead a woman telephoned the flat and asked to speak to Josephine Martin. The police said that they then invited the woman to come round which she did a few minutes later. She was also a prostitute and had lived at 3 Garrick Street and said that she was a personal friend of Josephine Martin and that she had known her for 16 years. She said that she had just been told by another friend that Josephine Martin had been found dead which was why she called. She said that she last saw Josephine Martin at 6am on Sunday 3 November 1935 and said that when they parted Josephine Martin had said, 'I will see you at the usual time, one or half past', meaning the early hours of Monday morning. She said that she later spoke to Josephine Martin at about 5.30pm on the Sunday on the telephone and said that when she asked her what she was doing, Josephine Martin had replied, 'I have been up some time and have had my breakfast'. The woman said that she then said, 'What are you doing now?', and said that Josephine Martin replied, 'I am making my face up, I'm going out'. The woman then said, 'So early?', and said that Josephine Martin replied, 'Yes, by the time I am finished it will be time for me to go out', and then added, 'I will see you tonight as usual'.

The woman went on to say that it was their usual custom to visit each other on their respective pitches. The police report noted that Josephine Martin carried out her trade on the east side of Regent Street from the County Fire Office to the corner of Glasshouse Street, whilst her friend haunted Leicester Square and Green Street.

The friend said that she did in fact go to Regent Street to look for Josephine Martin at about 11.45pm on Sunday 3 November 1935, but said that she failed to find her. She added that she made several further enquiries during the night with a similar result and said that the next thing she heard about her was when her friend, another prostitute who lived on Panton Street, called her at about 2.15pm on the Monday to tell her that Fifi had been found dead by her maid.

The police report stated that only one of Josephine Martin's relatives could be found, a brother who lived in Leicester Place. He said that the last time he saw his sister was at 1.15am on Sunday 3 November 1935 when they met in Leicester Square by appointment. He also noted that he received financial assistance every time he met her which was usually twice a week. The police report however went on to state that they were quite satisfied that Josephine Martin's brother had been living on the proceeds of her prostitution for several months past.

Her post-mortem revealed that she had a tattoo midway between her knee and hip on her right leg that said, 'To my Cesar for ever till I die'. She had a gold wedding ring on the third finger of her left hand but no other jewellery. The police also found several small bruises on the front of her left leg and another small bruise under her jaw on the left side. The police report noted that she had several corns on both feet, the left being much worse than the right and callouses on the balls of each foot. The police report also stated that careful examination with the aid of a magnifying glass was also made for traces of stains on the soles of her feet but none were found, the reason for the examination being that several people interviewed had said that Josephine Martin had been in the habit of carrying her Bank of England notes in her stocking under her foot.

She was 5ft tall and the normal measurement of her neck was 12 1/4in whilst the restriction mark caused by the stocking was 11 1/2in, being between 1/4in to 5/8in wide.

The pathologist said that in his opinion, death had been due to asphyxia caused by strangulation and that her death had been practically instantaneous. He said that whilst he did not rule out suicide, he thought that it was a case of homicide.

The police said that the majority of persons interviewed could not throw any material light on the murder and noted that most of her associates were prostitutes and persons of the criminal class which made it more difficult to get truthful and coherent statements.

The police report went on to state that the only male friends she had were a Belgian whose name it was assumed had been tattooed on her leg, and the man that had been living in the nursing home.

The Belgian man had however been charged with Alien offences on 6 September 1927 and deported on 8 October 1927 on the SS Pieter de Coninck from Dover to Ostend. It was thought that it was possible that he might have returned on a day trip but enquiries at likely ports failed to produce any results.

The man that was staying in the nursing home had until 2 November 1935 been residing at the May Fair Hotel at 7 Down Street and was known as American Jimmy. Police enquiries revealed that for the last two or three years he had frequented Josephine Martin's company and had frequently stayed the night at her flat and had telephoned to her every day. The police found pieces of paper addressed to the man in Josephine Martin's flat and two registered postal packets also addressed to him. The police said that when they went to the May Fair Hotel for the purpose of interviewing him they ascertained that he had left there on Saturday morning 2 November 1935 and entered a nursing home in the country for treatment. It was also later determined that he was a drug addict with a very bad state of health and had entered the nursing home for the purpose of trying a cure.

The man actually called Josephine Martin's flat at about 1pm on Wednesday 6 November 1935 and asked a lot of questions. The policeman that took the call said that he didn't tell the man who he was but said that it was important that he see him at the earliest possible moment and then asked him where he was speaking from but the policeman said that the man refused to say, saying that he would make some other enquiries and call back in 15 minutes. The man did then call back in 15 minutes and told the policeman that he would come to London the following day if the doctor would allow it.

A while later a telephone message was received at the Commissioner's Office from an Inspector at the Nuneaton Police which read:

With reference to the newspaper reports respecting a woman found dead in a flat at Mayfair, the doctor of the Weddington Home for Inebriates, Weddington, near Nuneaton, has telephoned me to say that a patient of Down Street, Mayfair, who attended the Home for treatment on Saturday 2nd November has informed him that he knows the dead woman and some letters of his will be found in her flat. He has also given the woman some money to look after for him which might also be found in the flat. The doctor also said the man is a drug addict and too much reliance cannot be placed on his statement as he may have read of this case in the newspapers. Will you please ask the officer dealing with the case to telephone me as the doctor is ringing me again before 10pm to day'.

The policeman dealing with the case then asked the inspector in Nuneaton to verify the fact that the man had been in the Home for Inebriates at Weddington during the week and to take possession of any letters or matters appertaining to his association with Josephine Martin.

The inspector then replied at 9.45pm the same day saying:

I have seen the doctor at Weddington Home. The man arrived here at 3pm Saturday 2 November 1935 and has been here ever since. He had very little baggage when he arrived and has received no letters at all. Today he received a telegraphic money order for £5 from a person. It was sent from Leicester Square Post Office and is numbered 27964, addressed to the man at Weddington Hall, near Nuneaton. The man is leaving here tomorrow for London. He will most likely travel by the 10.55am train for Euston but I will telephone when he leaves, giving time of his arrival, dress, and number of carriage in which he is travelling'.

The police then went to Euston Station the following day where they met the man at 1pm. They said that they took a long statement from him dealing with his past history and associations with Josephine Martin. They said that whilst he would not admit it, there was little doubt that the man had been living on the earnings of Josephine Martin's prostitution since before Christmas. The police report added that his explanation of the money that he had received from Josephine Martin was that they were return of loans that he had previously made to her.

However, the police report concluded that the fact that the man had been in the home from Saturday 2 November 1935 until Thursday 7 November 1935, definitely ruled out any connection between him and Josephine Martin's death.

On 6 November 1935 at 7pm a man called the police station to say that he had just been with the prostitute in Flat 2 at and said that she had told him that at about 9.30pm on Sunday 3 November 1935 when she had returned to her flat, she had heard the sounds of an argument coming from Josephine Martin's room. He said that she told him that she had heard Josephine Martin say, 'Come on, where's the money, I can't see the money, you have not put it down', noting that it had been said with some emphasis. He added that the prostitute from Flat 2 had also told him that she had not mentioned it to the police when she was questioned as she didn't want to get mixed up in the matter. The man then went on to say, 'I came to this flat with the prostitute at about 1.30am on Monday morning and stayed the remainder of the night and guessed you would have found that out so I thought it advisable to take the first opportunity of letting you know this'.

The police said that they then took a further statement from the prostitute which they said embodied what he had said.

The police also later received information from a waiter employed at the Grill Room at the Criterion Restaurant stating that he thought that he had seen Josephine Martin at about 11pm on Sunday 3 November 1935 and then again later at 3.30am on Monday 4 November 1935 with some other French girls and an English woman. However, the police said that they later traced the English woman and determined that Josephine Martin had not been one of the French girls that she had been with that night and as such, the police said that they were satisfied that Josephine Martin had not been the girl that the waiter said he had seen.

The police report stated that they also spoke to a known criminal who supplied contraceptives to prostitutes in the neighbourhood of Regent Street who said that he had seen Josephine Martin between 9.15pm and 10pm on the Sunday 3 November 1935 in Regent Street. He said that he didn't speak to her but alleged that he saw her get off with a man that he went on to describe, adding that that was the last time that he saw her. He said that she also had associations with an American man and noted that it was common knowledge in the West End that she kept her brother by her immoral earnings. However, the police report went on to state that the man had actually been arrested on 15 October 1935 as a suspected person and was due to appear at Marlborough Street Police Court on 6 November 1935 and stated that it was thought that there was no doubt that his object in giving the information to the police was in the hope of obtaining some mitigation of his sentence when he appeared before the court, noting that in fact he had prefaced his information with the remark that he had to appear at Court the following morning and he would be glad of some help. The police report concluded, that especially in the light of the information supplied by several of the other people questioned, that no reliance could be placed on his information.

The police also spoke to a taxi driver who said that he picked up a woman at about 1.30am on 4 November 1935 who he thought came from 4 Archer Street. He said that she asked him to drive her to Hillmarton Road, Caledonian Road where he then picked up a man and then drove them both back to 4 Archer Street. He said that owing to the mannerisms of the woman it struck him at the time that something was wrong. The police said that he then gave a description of the man and the woman and the police determined that the woman was the prostitute from Flat 2 and that the man had been the man that had come forward to say that he had spent most of the night with her.

The police said that they also interviewed another prostitute who they said no reliance could be placed on, who said that she had been on friendly terms with Josephine Martin and had stayed in her flat before and was familiar with how she undressed. She also said that she was familiar with Josephine Martin's association with an American boyfriend who the police said was undoubtedly the man who had gone to the Home for Inebriates. The report also noted that one point that was of much assistance that she made was that Josephine Martin was frightened of her brother.

The police also spoke to another prostitute who said that Josephine Martin had told her that she kept an American man and sent him money and that she was paying ten guineas a week for him to be in a nursing home to keep him off the booze.

The report concluded that it was clear that both the American man that had gone to the nursing home and her brother had been sponging from Josephine Martin for some time past and that practically all the money she earned after paying her rent and household expenses went to them.

It stated that the maid definitely stated that Josephine Martin had no jewellery nor money beyond that sufficient to pay for her daily wants.

The report concluded that there was no possible doubt that Josephine Martin was heavily in debt and led a hand-to-mouth existence. It stated that at the time of her death she was being pressed for payment of twenty-four guineas on account of furs supplied which were at the time in pawn, and another eight guineas for alterations to clothes.

The report also noted that she was in debt to another person who had not been traced for £25 for jewellery which was also alleged to have been in pawn. It was also noted that she owned £25-4-6d to a woman at St Martin's Lane for clothes supplied.

It was also noted that at the time she was also in arrears with her rent to the extent of £2 and owed sundry small amounts to local tradespeople.

The police report stated that Josephine Martin had been very fond of the American man that had gone into the nursing home and said that she had been upset by the fact that he had not called to see her on the Saturday morning to say goodbye before going.

The report also noted that Josephine Martin was well known at Leicester Square Post Office which was an all-night post office, and that she would go there almost daily between 1am and 1.30am and usually sent away registered letters by express post, in every case, to the American man.

The police report stated that in consideration of the facts pointing to Josephine Martin as having taken her own life it was noted that the stocking round her neck was twirled before being placed round her neck and had encircled her neck twice and that the knot was only half tied. It stated that it was reasonable to assume that if it had been put there by any other person the knot would have been securely fastened. It also stated that the stocking round her neck was not damaged in any way. It also noted that there was a peaceful expression on her face and that there was no interference with her heavy make-up and that her long pointed finger nails were quite clean under the tips.

It was also noted that when Josephine Martin was recently fined at Marlborough Street Police Court on 18 October 1935 for prostitution and assistant gaoler had noted that she seemed very depressed. He said that he said to her, 'What is the matter?', and said that she replied, 'Oh! I don't know, I am fed up with this life, I have a good mind to finish with it. No money, can't get enough money to pay the fines when we get taken. I am sick of it all'.

It was also noted that she was frequently saying to her maid that things were none too good.

The police report noted that spread out on her dressing table and quite close to where she had been lying was a Bail Form directing her to attend Court on 18 October 1935 and a receipt for a registered postal packet dated 15 October 1935, addressed to the American man. It stated that that rather pointed to the fact that she had just been looking at them and had probably been brooding over them.

The report went on to state that the curtains of the window in the room were sufficiently wide apart for any person looking out of the windows of the buildings opposite to see directly into the room, and, in fact, to see the position of her body. It then stated that assuming that the electric light was burning, it was difficult to appreciate that an assailant would attack her and run the risk of being seen.

It also stated that the eiderdown on her bed was undisturbed excepting the portion on which her body had been found lying on and was in its normal position, with the bed not having been slept in.

However, the police noted that the Divisional Surgeon had not expressed a definite opinion in favour of either suicide or homicide and added that the pathologist was of the impression that Josephine Martin had met her death by manual strangulation and that she was dead or at the point of death when the ligature was applied.

The police report noted they themselves, the police, thought that the whole circumstances of the case were mysterious, stating that Josephine Martin had a very bad police record with seventy four convictions for prostitution and brothel keeping dating from 1919, and had nothing to live for. They stated that there could be no doubt that Josephine Martin had come to the end of her tether and was somewhat despondent in consequence of her American friend leaving her.

However, it noted that in spite of the many reasons that pointed to her having committed suicide, the pathologist, who was famous and well respected, was empathic that it was a case of homicide.


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


see Western Daily Press - Saturday 09 November 1935

see Western Daily Press - Wednesday 20 November 1935

see Western Daily Press - Wednesday 27 November 1935

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 27 November 1935 (included photo of Josephine Martin)

see National Archives - MEPO 3/1702