Unsolved Murders

Mary Josephine Rock

Age: 28

Sex: female

Date: 4 Jun 1943

Place: Townshend Court, St Johns Wood, London

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Mary Josephine Rock died from an illegal operation.

She was a dancer and was found dead in a flat in St. John's Wood. She had lived in Edinburgh.

It was thought that she had come to London for the purpose of having the illegal operation. Her mother lived in London but said that Mary Rock had lived in Edinburgh since the start of the war, noting that she had come to London around Christmas time 1942 for a holiday, returning to Edinburgh in January 1943. Her mother said that Mary Rock had been an artist's model when the war broke out and had been employed at the Edinburgh College of Arts up until the time of her death.

A hairdresser who lived in Ullet Road, Sefton Park in Liverpool said that on 22 April 1943 she had come to London with an officer of the Royal Netherlands Navy and that they had stayed at the flat at Townshead Court. She said that two days after they arrived they saw Mary Rock in a bed sitting room of the flat and noticed that she looked very ill. She said that she arrived back at the flat with the naval officer just after midnight on Monday 26 April 1943, and that the following morning between 9am and 9.30am she heard the telephone ringing in the hall and said that when she went to answer it she saw Mary Rock lying in the hall.

After finding Mary Rock in the hall the naval officer then went off and got an RAF medical officer who was on duty at his station in St. John's Wood at about 11.40am on 26 April 1943. The medical officer said that the Dutch naval officer asked him if he would see a young woman in a lat nearby as she was either dying or dead, and said that when he got to Townshend Court he found Mary Rock lying dead on the floor of the entrance hall, and determined that she had been dead for about four hours.

A part-time canteen worker who had occupied the flat at Townshend Court since June 1942 said that two gentlemen rented rooms at the flat and that she first met Mary Rock when she came to the flat with one of the men that rented a room there in October 1942. She said that she met Mary Rock again around Christmas 1942 and then again on 10 April 1943 when she agreed to let Mary Rock have a room.

The canteen worker said that when she came home on 21 April 1943 at about 7pm she let herself in with her key and when she went in she saw a the doctor coming out of her bed-sitting room, noting that she had never seen him before. and that she was rather surprised to see him. She said that he said, 'Good evening' to her and then walked off out through the front door. The canteen worker said that she then went into the kitchen and put a kettle on the stove and then a few minutes later went into her bed-sitting room and saw Mary Rock seated on a divan there in her ordinary day clothes.

She said that she later went away on holiday at Easter, leaving on 23 April 1943, noting that it was the day after the hairdresser arrived to whom she had let have a spare room. She said that her holiday had been arranged some time before and that she had agreed with Mary Rock that she should look after her own room and get her own meals whilst she was away. She said that she worked between 2pm and 6pm daily and that the last time that she was in her room before going away was at about noon on Good Friday. She said that when she left there were no articles at the side of her bed She said that a pail and basin were normally kept in the kitchen cupboard and her kettle was kept by the side of the gas stove. She said that when she left Mary Rock was in bed and seemed quite normal.

A GPO Clerk said that on 22 April 1943, £20 was paid into a Post Office Savings Bank book that had been issued at the Notting Hill Gate Post Office in the name of the doctor, but said that she could not remember who paid it in, or say how the £20 was made up.

The other man that had rented a room at the flat said that he had been there for about 11months, but that he had first met Mary Rock eight years earlier. He said that he met the doctor before the war but that the doctor had never attended to him personally, although said that he had once paid him a friendly visit at Townshend Court. The man said that at about 6pm on 21 April 1943 he was in the hall of the flat making a telephone call when he saw the doctor letting himself out of the flat. He said that he was surprised to see the doctor, noting that he knew that the doctor was a friend of Mary Rock but that he was n't expecting to see him there at that time. He said that it did cross his mind that the doctor might have been visiting Mary Rock in a professional capacity, noting that he knew that Mary Rock had been suffering with her chest.

The man said that later, just before 7pm, he saw Mary Rock in her dressing gown in the kitchen washing up some 'crocks' and noted that he thought that she looked ill. He said that he didn't know that she was pregnant.

At the inquest it was heard that the man's key had been found in the doctors possession and when asked about it he said that he had never sent or given it to the doctor and said that when he had gone away on 23 April 1943 he had left his key on the hallstand, noting that he returned on 26 April 1943.

It was determined that Mary Rock had died from acute general peritonitis due to septic instrumental abortion and that her injuries were caused by someone other than herself. It was noted that upon examination, it was found that her injury was found to have been used with a degree of skill. It was stated that her injuries were consistent with an operation having been carried out upon Mary Rock on 21 April 1943.

A woman that had been living in Stanley Crescent in Notting Hill whose husband was serving in the Canadian Air Force said that she first met Mary Rock in June 1942 when she came to see her with a woman. She said that later, towards the end of March 1943, the woma and her mother, who was the doctor’s daughter, came to see her again enquiring about a flat for Mary Rock. When the woman was asked at the inquest whether she knew why Mary Rock had come to London, she said yeas, and said that it was for an illegal operation. She said that she was asked to accommodate Mary Rock for a few days for that purpose but said that she refused to accede to the request, saying, 'I am not going to be drawn into anything connected with abortion', or words to that effect. She said that the doctor then told her that if anything did go wrong that there would be no evidence of interference.

however, the woman said that it was later agreed that Mary Rock could come to her flat for about a week, but just as an ordinary boarder and that it was understood that the doctor would not visit her. As such, she said that Mary Rock came to her flat on 2 April 1943 but said that she left again on 6 April 1943.

The doctor’s daughter who lived in Lansdown Road in Holland Park, said that her father was a qualified medical man but that he had not practised since he had come back from India. As such, she said that he had no surgery or consulting room. At the inquest, she denied that she had made enquiries with the woman at Stanley Crescent for Mary Rock to stay for the purpose of an illegal operation and said that if her father, the doctor, had made any statement regarding no interference being found if something went wrong, it was not in her hearing. She added that she didn't know where the doctor had gone on 21 April 1943.

After the police found the body of Mary Rock at her flat, they kept watch in plain clothes and later arrested the doctor who they saw arrive at the flat with his attache case and let himself in with a key.

When he was searched, his attache case was found to have contained a steel knitting needle along with a stethoscope and thermometer. however, when he was asked by the coroner at Mary Rock's inquest whether he knitted, he said that he didn't, but that he used it to clean his pipe which he said was full of nicotine. He said that when he called at the flat he had been on his rounds, which included two chronic patients, and that that was why he had his case with him.

When the doctor was asked to give the names of the two other chronic patients at the inquest he said that he could not as they were patients with gonorrhoea. When the coroner asked the doctor whether he needed a stethoscope to treat men with gonorrhoea, the doctor said that he always carried a stethoscope.

A verdict of murder against a person unknown was returned.

Mary Rock was also known as Adele Russell.


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


see Daily Mirror - Thursday 10 June 1943

see West London Observer - Friday 04 June 1943