Unsolved Murders

Louisa Hannah Halfpenny

Age: 41

Sex: female

Date: 2 Feb 1937

Place: 623 Heathway, Dagenham

Source: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Louisa Hannah Halfpenny died at Oldchurch Hospital in Romford, on 2 February, 1937. Her death was described as suspicious.

She had lived at 623 Heathway in Dagenham.

She had been pregnant but had been admitted to hospital with severe bruises which were the cause of her death. It was said that the bruises could not have been self-inflicted.

A doctor that saw her on 27 January 1937 said that she had bruising on her left breast and a faint blue mark on the centre of her abdomen. She said that she saw Louisa Halfpenny again on 2 February 1937, saying that she had become more ill, and said that an operation was carried out.

The doctor said that she was of the opinion that she had had an abdominal injury.

Another doctor at the Oldchurch Hospital said that he thought that Louisa Halfpenny had had a severe blow on her abdomen.

The Coroner asked the doctor whether he thought that she could have received the injury whilst in bed with a child of 6 or 7 years who might have been kicking, the doctor said definitely not.

It was noted that she had a boy aged 11 and a girl aged 7. In certain police notes, a detective noted that from what he could see on Saturdays outside picture palaces in the poorer districts of queues of children waiting to go in at 2d a time, he could quite understand Louisa Halfpenny's boy and girl having terrible nightmare spasms and kicking out like donkeys and internally questioned whether the doctors were right when they said that the children could not have been responsible for her injuries.

Her husband said that Louisa Halfpenny had not been well and that when he had returned from work on 26 January 1937 at about 6.20pm he was advised to get a doctor's letter to take her to the hospital which he said he did and she was removed there in an ambulance.

The husband said that in the week before she had gone to the hospital, there were four nights when he had had to go to work at midnight, 20-24 January 1937, and said that on those nights he slept in the children's room and the children slept with her. He added that on one those nights, Louisa Halfpenny had told him that she had had a terrible night with the children, saying that they had been kicking  about.

However, the husband said that he had not seen any of the marks on her and said that it as not until she had gone to the hospital that he had seen the bruise on her breast, which he said that he could not account for in anyway.

The police report noted that several of the neighbours spoke of Louisa Halfpenny having complained of her children kicking her while in bed. Two of them stated that they had heard Louisa Halfpenny say, 'These kids are kicking the guts out of me'. It was said that as a result of that complaint, the children were put into their own room and that the husband slept with them on 25 January 1937.

The Coroner noted that five doctors, two of whom were experts, had examined her and said that her injuries were of such severity that they must have been caused by a blunt instrument and could not have been caused by a fall or by children's kicks. When the police had been at the hospital for the post-mortem, one of them had asked a doctor whether he thought that the injuries could have been caused by the children and the doctor had replied that the idea was 'Ridiculous'. The police report stated that all the doctors were convinced that the injuries were received from the front and that they were the result of a very severe blow. It noted that the injuries extended from the front of the abdomen almost down to the rectum and that the bruise on the breast had extended down to the ribs.

The autopsy stated that she had extensive bruising of the abdominal organs, especially of the loops of the small intestine, with one repaired tear of the mesentery and of the ratro-peritoneal connective tissues lining the posterior wall of the cavity. It also stated that she had bruising around each kidney, with thrombosis of each renal artery and infraction of the kidneys, which was noted as being the immediate cause of death. The autopsy noted that her other organs were healthy and that she was 3 1/2 months pregnant and that the pregnancy was undisturbed with no evidence of interference from below.

The medical report stated that she had the following severe bruising:

  • Bruising of the left breast close to the armpit.
  • Bruising of the centre of the abdomen, little marked in the skin, but severe over the posterior (retro - peritoneal) wall of the abdominal cavity.
  • Bruising of the left and right sides of the chest, in the lower halves, with deeper bruising beneath the injuries on the left side.
  • Bruising of the upper and outer thighs, patchy and not extensive.
  • Bruising of the buttocks over the ischial tuberosities, also not extensive.

The report concluded that it was the opinion of the pathologist that the bruising was the result of an assault, and that it was consistent with a heavy blunt blow such as a kick or a very heavy punch. He stated that they were too extensive to have resulted from kneeling alone. He also added that of the other injuries, that of the left breast was also consistent with an assault of some nature.

One doctor suggested that Louisa Halfpenny might have submitted herself to an assault for the purpose of terminating her pregnancy. He said that he thought that her bruises could have been cause by an assault with a fist or a boot to which she had submitted herself willingly. He added that he thought that the object of her injuries were to terminate her pregnancy, which the post-mortem revealed had been undisturbed.

The Coroner noted that it had been known before for such crude methods to be used to terminate a pregnancy.

He said that the whole thing was shrouded in mystery and an open verdict was returned stating that she had died from an infracture of the kidney following an abdominal injury that was not self-inflicted, and that there was no evidence to show how the injuries were caused.

In the police report, a detective noted that the case was curious and interesting and noted that the Coroner had given the only satisfactory verdict. He went on to say that he thought that nobody really knew what had happened in the case.


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


see National Archives - MEPO 3/1718

see Essex Newsman - Saturday 27 February 1937