Unsolved Murders

Joseph Powell

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Date: 13 Feb 1943

Place: Ivy House, Copse Cross Street, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire

Joseph Powell was shot in the head in his billet in Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire.

A 23-year-old soldier was tried for his murder at the Old Bailey but was acquitted.

Joseph Powell was a Lance Corporal.

The soldier said that he had never had any kind of quarrel with Joseph Powell and that they had been in the same platoon since 1940. He said that as he was entering Ivy House he heard a shot fired and denied that he had had taken or loaded the rifle or that he had fired the shot that killed Joseph Powell.

The medical evidence stated that the bullet entered Joseph Powell's mouth and came out of the back of his head where it made a hole in the wall. It was said that the shot had been fired from about the doorway of his room from the shoulder of an averaged height man.

Joseph Powell had been on the top bunk in his room when he was shot. The bullet made a hole in the plaster of the wall just above the head of the bed between the greatcoat and the service respirator that was hanging on the wall.

The soldier that was tried for his murder had been playing cards with some other men during the afternoon and after tea, that evening he visited several public houses between 7.20pm and 10pm and visited the Harp public house  which was about three minutes walking distance from Ivy House.

When the pub shut the soldier was seen by others, but he did not walk back with them and when the other soldiers got back they found that the soldier had got back before them and that he was in his room. They said that when they got back the soldier went into another room and sat by the fire for some time and appeared to be in a moody state of mind.

At about 10.15pm, two soldiers went into the room and found Joseph Powell preparing to get into bed. However, they only remained for a matter of minutes in his room before leaving him alone.

It was said however that the soldier then left the room at about 10.25pm and didn't return again until sometime after the firing of the shot five minutes later at about 10.30pm.

The soldier was arrested soon after at 1.20am in the early hours of 14 February 1943.

In his statement he said that he went in at 10.30pm and he heard a shot at the door of his room which was on the ground floor and then met two other soldiers who also heard the shot and said that he said, 'I will go upstairs with you and see what it is'. He said that one of the other soldiers led the way and when they went into the room that Joseph Powell slept in he was dead on his bed. He said that they then went downstairs and woke up the Lance Corporal and told him what was up and said that the Lance Corporal then went up to see Joseph Powell and tested his heart and then said, 'He is dead'. He said that the Lance Corporal then told everyone to get out of the room and then stood guard at the door and an officer was sent for. He said that when a Captain who was in charge of an anti-tank platoon came, he inspected all the rifles in the room that Joseph Powell was in.

In a further statement he added that he had been in the Lance Corporals room at about 10.05pm after which he went to his own room where he changed his shoes, putting on his sand-shoes, and that he then went to the urinal and then came back and then met the other two soldiers and heard the shot.

In a later statement that he made on 15 February 1943, he said, 'I was in my billet at Ivy House in the Lance Corporals room, that is the first room on the left going in. We were playing cards, three card brag. The Lance corporal was there, but not Joseph Powell. There were others I did not know. After finishing playing cards at about five minutes to five I went to my own room, the second room on the right opposite the wash-place to get my pot and went to the barrel yard for tea. After tea I returned to my billet at about 6 o'clock. This was on Saturday 13th February 1943. I then had a shave in my own room. Another private was there. The other private went out before me and I then went to the Lance Corporal's room but did not play cards. I remained there about ten minutes and I then went out on my own and stood on the pavement opposite the George Hotel until about 7.10pm. I then went to the Harp Inn and had a drink. I had about five pints and one bottle of stout. When I visited the Harp Inn it was 7.20pm. I remained there until one minute to ten when I left. Earlier in the evening the private and another private came to the Harp. After leaving the Harp I went direct to my billet arriving there at about five past ten pm. Upon entering my room, I changed my shoes and put on sand shoes. I remained in my billet all that afternoon on 13th February 1943 playing cards as I have stated'.

The soldier denied shooting Joseph Powell and said that it might have been someone indulging in horseplay or fooling and that they might have fired the shot meaning to give Joseph Powell a fright and that they had instead shot him.

A private that had been billeted at Ivy House in room 2 said that Joseph Powell and another man had been sleeping in room 4.

He said that on 13 February 1943 that he went to tea at the Barrell Inn Yard and that in the afternoon he played cards in his room with a number of other soldiers including the soldier tried for the murder. He said that after tea he returned to his billet at about 5.30pm after which he went out to the cinema. He said that after that, between 10.05pm and 10.10pm he went straight back to his billet and went to his room. He said that there were a number of other men there including the Lance Corporal, two other privates and the soldier tried for murder. He said that the wireless was on and that the soldier was sitting on a box near the fire wearing his khaki trousers, gym shoes and a khaki pullover. He said that he said to him, 'You've had a good day, haven’t you?', meaning that he had won something at cards and said that the soldier replied 'Yes'. However, he said that he seemed very moody and that he had one hand in his mouth and was looking into the fireplace and was slobbering.

The private said that when he turned to speak to the Lance Corporal, the soldier went out of the room and that he then got into bed. He said that shortly after 10.30pm he heard an announcement on the wireless, 'Music while you work' and that while the programme was being announced he heard a shot. He said that the door to his room was closed and that shortly after one of the other privates who slept in the room on the opposite side of the passage, room 2, opened it and came in followed by another private. He said that the shot appeared to have been fired from up above him, upstairs, and that one of the privates then woke the Lance Corporal up and they then both went upstairs. He said that he then put on his trousers and went out into the passage and then upstairs with the other private and the Lance Corporal, immediately in front of them. He said that while they were going upstairs the other private and the Lance Corporal then passed him and went into room 4 where Joseph Powell slept. He said that the light was on and that when he looked in he saw Joseph Powell lying on the top bunk in the opposite corner from the door. He said that there was a very strong smell of cordite and that they all went into the room together and that the Lance Corporal looked at Joseph Powell.

The private said that he did not see the other soldier from the time that he had left his room earlier until he was in room 4 where Joseph Powell was lying dead in his bunk, and said that whilst they were there the soldier came along with a number of other soldiers.

The Captain who arrived after being called was with the Royal Army Medical Corp attached to the Kings Own Yorkshire Infantry stationed in Ross. He said that when he went into room 4 he saw the body of Joseph Powell on the top bunk of a double tier opposite the door in the corner. He said that there was a quantity of blood on the upper and lower bunks and that on examination he found that there was a bullet wound through Joseph Powell's lower lip that passed through the hard palate and that there was an exit wound at the back of his skull from which there was an extrusion of brain matter. He added that there was also a grooved bullet wound to the inner border of Joseph Powell's right hand. He said that then, in the wall behind the bed there was a hole around which there were pieces of brain tissue. He said that in his opinion death had been instantaneous and that his wound was consistent with having been caused by a bullet from a service rifle.

The Captain said that he examined one rifle that had been brought into the room and said that the barrel of it looked as though it had been fired recently.

He said that he attended the post-mortem the following day which concluded that the shot was consistent with having been fired from a distance of several feet away. He said that the line of projection or the route of the bullet, indicated that it had been fired from about shoulder level of a man about 5ft 6in tall who had been standing in the doorway to the room.

A private in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry stationed at Ross said that he had been sleeping in room 5 and that he had gone to his room to go to bed at approximately 10.30pm and turned out his light, noting that the two other soldiers in the room had already gone to bed. He said that shortly after he got into bed, he was disturbed by a man who came into the room. He said that he sat up and shouted, 'Who's there' and said that the man said, 'Keep quiet'. He said that the man came towards the bed and struck a petrol lighter and that by the light of it he saw that it was the soldier that was tried for the murder. He said that the soldier then blew out the lighter and then went to the window and seemed to grab a rifle that had been standing in the corner by the window, noting that he thought that because he heard the bump of a butt on the floor. He said that the man then went to the mantlepiece and then towards the door and said that he then heard a noise like a rifle being loaded just before he went, noting that it was the click of a bolt. He said that he then heard the man run down the passage and immediately after heard a rifle shot. He said that by the sound of the soldiers footsteps in the room he seemed to have been wearing gym shoes.

The private said that after the shot the man seemed to come running back and said that he heard a noise as if he was putting the rifle back in the corner of the bedroom, on the right hand side of the door just inside and that after replacing the rifle he heard the soldier run back off down the passage.

The private said that he then put on the light and partially dressed and saw three rifles in the corner to the right of the door. He said that there had been two live .303 rounds on the mantlepiece at about 6pm, noting that they had been there for about two months, and said that when he then looked there in the morning there was only one.

One of the other soldiers that had been in room 5 said that he heard a person come in shortly after the other private had gone to bed, saying that he heard him speak, and said that when the person left he heard the sound of a rifle bolt and soon after a shot. He said that he then heard the door open and the sound of a rifle being put against the wall on the right-hand side of the doorway and said that he then got up and dressed and went out into the passage and then went back to bed. He said that he had been in bed for about ten minutes when the soldier came into the room, noting that the light was on at that time, having been switched on by someone after he had heard the shot, and said that he saw the soldier take a towel out of the front of his trousers and after looking about the room bend down and cleaned the outside of one of the three rifles with it. He said that he saw him clean round the trigger guard and bolt and said that when he asked him what he was doing the soldier replied, 'Keep quiet, you know nothing', and then he left the room.

After finding Joseph Powell, a Captain with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry said that he went into room 5 and inspected the three rifles there and took one of them that he thought had been fired recently. He said that he noticed that the action was cocked, and that the safety catch applied as soon as it was picked up. He said that none of the other rifles there had been fired.

When the rifle was examined by an Armourer with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers attached to the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry stationed at Ross, he said that he formed the opinion that it had recently been fired. He said that the barrel was foul by the gases from a discharged round and that he was of the opinion that it had been fired within six hours because it had not yet started to properly sweat. He said that the following morning he examined twenty-eight other rifles and said that none of them had been fired for several days.

Following the initial enquiries, the soldier was charged with the murder of Joseph Powell at 4am on 14 February 1943 but was later acquitted at his trial.

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

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - DPP 2/1095, CRIM 1/1503

see Liverpool Evening Express - Friday 07 May 1943

see Belfast News-Letter - Saturday 08 May 1943

see Gloucester Journal - Saturday 20 February 1943

see Gloucester Citizen - Friday 07 May 1943