Date: 3 May 1957
Muriel Maitland was found murdered in Cranford Park Woods near Heathrow Airport on 3 May 1957.
She had been raped and strangled.
She was last seen on the morning of Tuesday 30 April 1957 at 8.45am when she left her home in Cranford to cycle to work at a chocolate factory in Hayes, Middlesex. However, she failed to arrive. Her body was later found in a rough woodland grave beneath the roots of a fallen elm tree in a deep dell clustered with bluebells and elderberry bushes.
It was said that she had been spotted by a woman police officer who saw a hand sticking out from the earth.
Cranford Park Woods was also referred to as Watersplash Woods and Bluebell Wood.
The place where she was found was about 200 yards from a busy road between Cranford and Hayes and 15 yards from Watersplash Lane which ran alongside the River Crane which flowed through the forest. It was described as being off the track that she would have taken in her normal 15-minutes cycle ride from her home to work.
After her body was removed, the police took away samples of earth in glass jars, pair of shoes and a shopping bag.
The pathologist gave her cause of death as being due to asphyxia due to strangulation and drowning. He added that there were numerous bruises and abrasions on her face and that her nose was broken, her lips injured and her upper denture broken. He said that fist blows could have caused all of her injuries. Additionally he said that there were abrasions across the front of her caused by strangulation.
The pathologist said that injuries that had been caused after her death included abrasions to her legs and wrists which he thought might have been caused as she was dragged along.
He said that he thought that she had been partly drowned and then strangled.
Her body was formerly identified by her brother-in-law.
The police said that they thought that she had been attacked as she walked or cycled alon Watersplash Lane and was then flung into the dell where her killer then jumped after her.
Her saddlebag, from her bicycle, was found soon after not far from her body. An attempt had been made to bury it.
It was reported that the ferocity of the attack on Muriel Maitland was an indication that her killer might strike again and it was said that women in the district who normally used the park either for exercising their dogs or for evening strolls were givng it a wide berth.
Following her initial disappearance it was thought that she had been waylaid on her way to work, but it wasn't certain that she had taken the route through the park to work. Before her body was found it was suggested that if she had not been waylaid that the only other reasonable theory for her disappearance would have been moss of memory.
She had lived in Eton Road in Cranford and had worked part-time at the chocolate factory earning £4 a week. Her husband, who had been a scientific instrument maker, had died the previous autumn and she had two daughters aged 8 and 13. It was heard that she had kissed them goodbye as normal before she started out for work.
Muriel Maitland was described as an attractive woman with green eyes.
Following the discovery of her body the police appealed for anyone that had passed through Cranford Park Woods between 7am and 11am on the Tuesday 30 April 1957 to come forward.
Six detectives wearing overalls were seen at the spot where Muriel Maitland was found, which had been cordoned off, digging soil from the 'grave' before it was raked out with their hands and put into transparent bags after which it was then sieved into a black tin trunk which was then later taken away for examination. It was noted that after half-an-hours work that a button was found.
Five boys soon found her purse, shoes, stockings and a shopping bag in a three foot rabbit hole in the woods and fingerprints were found on the shoes.
Her red coat, wedding ring and black Renault bicycle were initially missing but the red coat was found shortly after and her bicycle was found on Saturday 19 July 1958 in the Grand Union Canal about 300 yads from where her body was found by a fishman. It was taken away for examination by Scotland Yard. It was said that it was found at a section of the canal that was otherwise more thoroughly searched with grappling hooks at the time of the murder. The police said that the finding of the bicycle supported the theory that the murderer had lived locally, stating that they thought that he had waited until he original dragging operations were completed and then dumped the bicycle. The police said that they hoped that laboratory tests would show how long the bicycle had been kept after the murder before it was put in the canal, but they noted that they didn't think that the test would reveal anything else because of the bicycles condition. The police later said that although the rust on the bicycle was not as much as they would have expected if the bicycle had been in the water for 15 months, no further information could be obtained from it following its examination.
Her bicycle was French made, described as Continental in style with silver painted upturned handlebars and although it wasn't found at first, the police had dragged sections of the Grand Union Canal after a report was made of a man being seen with a cycle in the yard of a factory near the canal bank. A sketch of her bicycle was also made in an effort to trace it. It was said that there were photos of the cycle in the family albums and so relatives pooled together all they knew about the machine and a sketch of the cycle was compiled along with the assistance of previous owners and the finished sketch was circulated to police stations throughout the country and published in the press. Additionally, an examination of bicycles at factories within a three-mile radius of Cranford Park was also made.
The full description of Muriel Maitland's bicycle was given as;
During the initial search the police said that they thought that if the bicycle was found that it would be found peice by piece and probably scattered over a fairly wide area.
However, it was also suggested that the murderer had made his escape on her bicycle.
The police later said that they thought that whoever had strangled Muriel Maitland on the morning of Tuesday 30 April 1957 had temporarily hidden her body and had then probably returned later at night to make a more thorough job of burying her. It was said that the theory had been investigated following extensive forensic tests at the Scotland Yard laboratory coupled with close examination of the thickets surrounding the scene. The police also speculated that they thought that the murderer might have also hidden the bicycle with her body and then later returned and dismantled it and had then possibly used Muriel Maitland's missing red coat to wrap up pieces of the machine and then take them away, which they said at the time reinforced the theory that her murderer was a local man.
The police said that they thought that the killer's first hiding place for Muriel Maitland's body might have been near the edge of the lake which was about 20 yards from where her body was eventually discovered further in the glade. They added that it was probable that dozens of people walked by the lakeside path without realising that her body was lying nearby.
It was additionally noted that the theory that the murderer had hidden Muriel Maitland's body twice altered the police's initial theory about the position where he first attacked her by pulling at the saddle bag of her bicycle.
However, it was reported that the police were still baffled by the murderer's motives, it being asked by the press:
During the investigation the police said that they thought that a woman might be shielding the murderer, stating that it might be the murderer's mother, wife or sweetheart, but it was reported that Scotland Yard were satisfied that someone suspected the murderer's deadly secret and were keeping silent.
Her red coat was described as a single-breasted full-length coat.
On Tuesday 7 May 1957 it was reported that a red coat had been found in the Newtownards area in Belfast by some children on a rubbish dump and the police said that they had not ruled out the possibility that there was a connection with the murder of Muriel Maitland but added that they were only making a 'routine check'. However, on 8 May 1957 the Ulster police said that the red coat found there was not Muriel Maitland's coat.
Muriel Maitland's red coat was later found in October 1957 by a park-keeper about 300 yards from where Muriel Maitland's body was found. Following the discovery of her coat it was reported that the police carried out another full-scale search of Cranford Park for her bicycle.
About 5,000 people were interviewed during the police investigation and about 5,000 homes near to the park were visited.
By 9 May 1957 it was reported that the police had 99 men named on their murder list, a list of possible stranglers that was being studied at Harlington police station by senior detectives. It was said that the order had gone out, 'These men must all be found and asked to account for their movements on the morning of the murder, Tuesday last week'.
58 people were traced that had been in the park on the morning of the murder and they later all went back for a parade. The police had told them, 'Come in the same clothes you wore in the park the day Mrs Maitland was murdered. If you had a dog then bring it with you. If you smoked a cigarette or a pipe that day, smoke again when you come to the park'. When the police addressed the group, they said, 'We are looking for a man who may be able to help us. Now you may have seen this man without realising anything important. He is about 6ft tall, dark-haired, well dressed, well-spoken and about 35. He is not here this morning. This man may be your neighbour. He may be a friend. We have called you here to try to refresh your memories. Look around. Don't have any qualms about giving us information. You have no loyalty in this case except to that dead woman'. It was said then that the witnesses were divided into six groups and that a detective would then walk round the courtyard with each group and if anyone had any statements to make that he would take it from them. It was noted that more than half of the eighty people made statements.
It was said that the police had been keen to trace a number of men who were well known to the park keepers at Cranford Park Woods who had not been seen since Muriel Maitland disappeared. Following the parade the chief park keeper said, 'I told detectives about three men I had seen in the park on many mornings before Mrs Maitland died. They have not been back since. They certainly are not here'.
The police were also given the description of a man that was seen about 50 yards from where her body was found on the day after she disappeared. He was described as being:
Another man that the police said that they were trying to trace was a man that was seen pushing, and later riding, a woman's cycle in Cranford Park two days before Muriel Maitland's body was found. He was described as:
A park-keeper that said, 'My colleague had drawn my attention to a man sitting on a tree stump with a woman's black bicycle lying beside him. I stopped a boy and asked him whether he had seen a man wearing a leather jerkin. Almost immediately the man I had seen earlier jumped out from some bushes and said to me, 'Are you looking for a man with a leather jerkin? I have not seen him. Do the police want him?'. Then, I noticed that what I had thought was a leather jerkin was in fact a dirty tweed coat. This was undoubtedly the same man. I sent a man to fetch the police but when they came he had vanished'..
The police said that the fact that the man was described as heavily built was significant as it was thought that Muriel Maitland's facial injuries were only likely to have been inflicted by a powerful man.
The police said that they were also interested in tracing a man that was seen digging in a dump about 200 yards away from where Muriel Maitland's body was found
At the inquest the police said that they were additionally trying to trace a man that had been seen in the park by at least three or six women. He was described as being:
The place where Muriel Maitland was found was close to the River Crane and the police dragged sections of it in the hunt for clues and Thames Valley Police detectives went out in boats. It was reported that the police had taken a flat-bottomed punt to the river at the entrance to the glade in Cranforf Park and that the punt was then poled up the river to within a few yards of where Muriel Maitland's body was found beneath the elm tree roots.
It was also reported that the police were expected to drag parts of the Grand Union Canal for 60 yards either side of the road bridges that crossed it in the Hayes area.
It was also reported that the police made house-to-house calls and inquiries at the chocolate factory where Muriel Maitland had worked, stating that they wanted to know more about a man that Muriel Maitland's workmates had mentioned who was said to have regularly tried to talk to her on her regular morning journeys through the park.
It was also said that Muriel Maitland had told neighbours two weeks before she was murdered that she had been accosted by a man in the park and that on the day before her murder, several children that had been playing in the park had told their mothers that a man had chased them in the park.
The police were also described as having worked for days among the big light engineering plants around Heathrow Airport, checking on men that had been away from work on the Tuesday 30 April 1957 as well as men that had been late for work and men who had recently left their jobs.
Additionally it was said that the police were also making inquiries across little farms, smallholdings and caravans across the Cranford and Harlington area.
On Wednesday 15 May 1957 it was reported that 200 men from the Life Guards based at Windsor were to join the police in their search of the park. It was said that they would be preceded by several men from the Grenadier Guards equipped with mine detectors and that they were to examine every bush and every ditch in the 220-acre park. It was said that the search was expected to take at least three hours and that the troops had been briefed, being told, 'The bicycle must be found. It is of the utmost importance in the hunt for the killer'.
On 16 May 1957 it was reported that Muriel Maitland's death was being compared to that of Rose Cotterell who was beaten to death in Mayeswood Road, Grove Park, London and that the police were looking at similarities but it was later determined that Rose Cotterell had been murdered by a 15-year-old youth that had lain in wait for two days in order to find a suitable person to attack and the police ruled out any connection between the two cases.
On Friday 17 May 1957 it was reported that a woman had reported that a man had tried to force his way into her house but that after she had screamed that he had cycled away on a bicycle that looked like Muriel Maitland's bicycle. The woman had lived in Richmond Road, Thornton Heath in Surrey. She told the police that the man had asked to see her gas meter and had then pushed her and tried to force his way in when she refused but that when she had screamed that he had left and mounted a cycle such as Muriel Maitland was said to have used.
In June 1957 it was reported that Scotland Yard were running out of 'murder bags', special bags containing all the equipment that a detective might need on a murder case. The bags were said to have cost £50 each and Scotland Yard was said to have issued it's seventh 'murder bag' in the previous eight weeks following the murder of Rosetta Oliver in Exeter who was found strangled in her home. Other recent cases had included:
Items in the 'murder bag', a photograph of which was published in the Daily Mirror on Saturday 15 June 1957, were:
Muriel Maitland's inquest concluded on Tuesday 25 June 1957 at Ealing and returned a verdict of murder by a person or persons unknown. The Coroner said, 'Inquiries have extended all over the country and are far from complete. We are still vigorously investigating this crime and there is still a great amount of work to be done'. The Coroner additionally stated that about 3,500 homes in the locality had been visited with questionnaires filled in for every male adult in each house and that all those men's movements had been checked for 30 April 1957. He added that a further 1,200 detailed statements had been taken and checked and that all local factories had been visited.
The Coroner added that checks had also been made on all night works and people that might have entered the woods as well as all persons who had been concerned in sexual offences.
Muriel Maitland was buried in Heston Parish Church yard on 2 July 1957. It was reported that detectives had attended the service and burial and that they had questioned several of the women that had attended. The reverend barred strangers from the church service. However, it was said that there was a crowd of about 500 people, mostly women, that gathered outside around the graveside.
It was said that it was thought that the sexual murderer might have been drawn to the funeral by curiosity.
An earlier memorial service for Muriel Maitland was held on Saturday 11 May 1957 at the Church of the Holy Angels, at which police detectives were also said to have attended in the chance that the killer might also be there. It was noted that the reverend at Church of the Holy Angels, which was only half-a-mile away from the place where Muriel Maitland was found, had asked for prayers at her memorial service for the murderer. It was heard that he had said, 'this unhappy man, the murderer, may God grant him penitence'. He later defended his request, saying, 'As a Christian I must follow the example of Christ, and he prayed for His own murderers. It is not only the righteous who need our prayers. The man with this terrible happening on his conscience needs prayers as much as anyone'.
It was later reported on Friday 15 August 1958 that police in Ealing had gone to Worthing, Sussex, to interview a man who it was thought might be able to assist in the murder investigation.
On Wednesday 21 August 1957 it was reported that a 19-year-old regular soldier with the No.4 Training Regiment, Royal Signals, based at Catterick Camp was taken under military escort to London for questioning concerning the murder of Muriel Maitland. It was said that the questioning was the result of a statement that he was alleged to have made whilst in custody at the unit.
On Friday 27 December 1957 it was reported that a 19-year-old RASC private had written a threatening letter to his neighbour on 12 October 1957 in which he boasted that he was the killer of Muriel Maitland. He was later arrested, questioned by the police and committed for trial. His next door neighbour said that after she received the letter that she handed it to the police. The RASC private denied sending his neighbour the letter in which he had threatened to murder her. When the police went to the RASC private's house they found a writing pad, envelope, ball point pen and a copy of a newspaper giving details of Muriel Maitland's murder and after they confronted the RASC private he confessed, saying, 'Yes, alright, I will tell you exactly what did happen'. He then made a statement in which e admitted writing the anonymous letter to his neighbour which he signed, 'The Killer'. The RASC private said that he had been on sick leave at the time and had been left alone in the house and had been reading some magazines and remembered reading something about the Cranford murder in the papers that week which he said led him to write the letter. He then went on to state, 'I certainly never meant the silly things I said in the letter. I certainly know nothing about the murder of Mrs Murel Maitland, although I did say in the letter I was her killer'. Later, in court the RASC private said, 'I am sorry I have caused all this trouble'.
Later on Sunday 19 October 1958 it was reported that a man was being questioned by police over the murders of Joyce Green, Muriel Maitland and Susan Southgate and that he had been held at Hayes police station where he was being questioned for over 12 hours. It was said that a large crowd of women had gathered outside the police station after it was heard that the man was being questioned. The man had been taken by police for questioning from a house in Clufford Road in South Ruislip where he had been lodging for the previous two weeks.
The murder of Muriel Maitland was later associated with several other murders in the area including:
see National Archives - HO 332/16 - STA 502/3/33
see British Pathe
see Mike GNT
see "News in Brief." Times [London, England] 15 May 1957: 6. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2016.
see "3,500 Homes Visited In Murder Case." Times [London, England] 26 June 1957: 7. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2016.
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Friday 03 May 1957
see Shields Daily News - Thursday 16 May 1957
see Newcastle Journal - Friday 10 May 1957
see Uxbridge & W. Drayton Gazette - Friday 27 December 1957
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Friday 03 May 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 11 May 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 03 May 1957
see The People - Sunday 19 October 1958
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Friday 03 May 1957
see Western Mail - Saturday 04 May 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Monday 21 July 1958
see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 15 May 1957
see Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 13 May 1957
see Daily Herald - Friday 10 May 1957
see Daily Mirror - Saturday 15 June 1957
see Daily Mirror - Monday 06 May 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Monday 06 May 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Tuesday 07 May 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Monday 06 May 1957
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Wednesday 21 August 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 25 June 1957
see Daily Herald - Thursday 09 May 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Tuesday 07 May 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Saturday 04 May 1957
see Northern Whig - Monday 06 May 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Thursday 09 May 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Wednesday 08 May 1957
see Sunday Mirror - Sunday 05 May 1957
see Daily Herald - Wednesday 08 May 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Friday 17 May 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 04 May 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Wednesday 15 May 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Tuesday 07 May 1957
see Leicester Evening Mail - Wednesday 09 October 1957
see Londonderry Sentinel - Tuesday 02 July 1957
see Sunday Mirror - Sunday 07 July 1957
see Daily Herald - Friday 03 May 1957
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Friday 15 August 1958
see Western Mail - Monday 03 June 1957
see Western Mail - Thursday 09 May 1957
see Northants Evening Telegraph - Monday 06 May 1957
see Leicester Evening Mail - Saturday 06 July 1957
see Shields Daily News - Saturday 04 May 1957