Date: 1 Jul 1957
Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby were found dead in a shallow grave near the bank of the River Frome in a wood at Snuff Mills on Monday 1 July 1957. They had gone missing after having gone out to see some ponies grazing in a field at Wickham Glen, a beauty spot, 11 days earlier on Thursday 20 June 1957.
Their murders were known as the 'Babes in the Woods' murders. The place where they were found was referred to as Stapleton Glen and Grove Woods and was near Snuff Mills by the River Frome near to Stapleton and Stapleton Mental Hospital.
Their bodies were found partially buried under a shallow covering of soil and leaves on a slope at Snuff Mills about 100 yards from the river at about 9pm on 1 July 1957 by a policeman. He had seen Royston Sheasby's hand through some undergrowth and then found June Sheasby beneath him. The policeman that made the discovery later said at the inquest, 'Protruding from the ground I saw the back of a boy's skull, his jersey and some brown shoes. They were covered with some leaf mould and some logs.
The spot was on the fringe of Stapleton Mental Hospital which was about half-a-mile away and Bristol Mental Hospital whose grounds reached within 50 yards of where their bodies were found.
It was noted that the policeman that made the discovery, at about sunset whilst he was patrolling the woods and river, had not at first known that June Sheasby was beneath Royston Sheasby's body and scores of policemen were called in to begin an extended search of the wood for June Sheasby.
However, it was determined shortly after when Royston Sheasby's body was moved that June Sheasby was lying beneath him.
It was thought that Royston Sheasby's body had been exposed following heavy rain on the previous Sunday which explained why it had not been found before as the area had already been searched.
During the initial investigation emergency lighting was installed around the scene and samples of earth were taken away in cardboard containers for further analysis.
Four police officers were later seen at 12.45am, Tuesday 2 July 1957 carrying torches down the steep path through the woods to the scene with a coffin which they then later took away to the mortuary. It was shortly after reported that the first body taken away was that of Royston Sheasby but that June Sheasby's body was left in situ, under police guard, until the following day for examination.
It was reported that the police had had to keep sightseers away from the spot where the bodies were found.
Following the discovery of the bodies the fire brigade were called out to chop down bushes to aid the police in their search for clues.
It was determined that they had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument and they were found to have fractured skulls. However, at their inquest, which concluded on Friday 13 September 1957 it was concluded that their cause of death was unascertainable and verdicts of murder by some person or persons unknown were returned.
Following the discovery of their bodies a police detective said, 'This is murder', and went on to say that Royston Sheasby appeared to have injuries to his head but that it was not immediately obvious how June Sheasby had met her death.
There had been a heatwave at the time they disappeared.
When June Sheasby was found she was wearing her blue and white dress that she had been wearing on the day she vanished.
Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby had lived in Brockworth Crescent, Stapleton in the northern area of Bristol. Their parents had been decorating and had not noticed that Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby had not returned until about 7pm at which point they called the police.
Their mother said that at about 5.30pm on 20 June 1957 that Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby told her that they were going for a walk ‘to see two brown horses at Wickham Glen', noting that that was the last time that she saw them alive. She said that that at 7pm she went to Wickham Glen to look for them, but without luck. She said, 'The children did not usually leave home like this'.
A neighbour said that she had seen the children at about 5.35pm that evening walking in Frenchay Road. She said, 'June had a chocolate box in her hand', noting that they were alone.
A 10-year-old boy said that he saw two children at about 6.30pm alone that evening, saying, 'I think they were watching the river'.
The police appealed for anyone that had seen anyone acting suspiciously along the river bank on the evening of 20 June 1957 from about 7.30pm to come forward.
Police frogmen searched the River Frome shortly after their discovery and the police appealed for at least 100 more volunteers to join them in their search for the children.
Following their disappearance a ransom letter demanding £200 was received by a Bristol evening newspaper on Tuesday 25 June 1957 which stated that the money would be collected by the ransomer's brother and that if his brother was detained that he would kill the children within two hours. The letter had been unstamped and undated and was afterwards handed into the police.
The ransom letter had read, 'The children, June and Royston Sheasby are alive and well at this moment. It is useless for the police to continue searching. We hope they enjoyed their bath in the river. My brother and I took the children away on Thursday night and they will be returned unhurt on payment of £200. This must be left at the GPO addressed to H Rice, 'to be called for', on Wednesday afternoon. My brother will collect it, but if he should be detained I shall kill the children after two hours from the time he leaves here. If he is allowed to leave the children will be returned unhurt. Signed West Indians'.
It was noted that the sentence regarding hoping that the police had enjoyed their bath in the river as a reference to the police use of frogmen in the search.
However, the police said that the letter was a 'wicked and cruel hoax' after they said that they had kept watch on a Post Office for three days until the Friday night with no result. It was reported that a bogus parcel was left at poste restante, but that it was not claimed. The police said, 'Our view is that these letters are a complete and wicked hoax but, of course, we cannot rule out the possibility of kidnapping'.
However, on Wednesday 3 July 1957 it was reported that two more unstamped letters signed 'H Rice' were received by two Bristol evening papers in which it was stated, 'We warned you not to let the police interfere. Next time the demand will be higher'. It was noted that the two new letters were in the same handwriting as the first letter and the police said, 'I regard them as purely wicked and malicious'.
During the search for the children tracker dogs were used and water was pumped out of Duchess Pond near Stoke Park Hospital, a place that was popular with children to play on 22 June.
It was further reported that on 23 June about 10,000 people carried out a ten-mile square search of fields and woodlands for the children.
On 29 June 1957 the police said that they were certain that Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby were nowhere on land in the area around their home in Stapleton, Bristol, noting additionally that all rivers and ponds in the area had been thoroughly searched.
During the initial search for their bodies, the police said, on 30 June 1957, 'The river has been abortive so far, but we cannot, of course, rule it out. Tree roots, weeds and pot holes are so plentiful there that we could go on dragging for ever and not turn out anything except old cans and bicycles. But we shall carry on, and unless something new comes along I shall not ask for any more help from the public although they have done a grand job'.
The police said that the only positive lead that they had had in the search for the children was that which had led them to Bamboo Island on the previous Wednesday. The police said, 'We have examined scores of other so-called clues and theories but they have led absolutely nowhere. We have also not had the slightest suggestion to make us think the children have been kidnapped. I wish we did. We are baffled but not defeated'.
Photographs were later broadcast on the television in the search for them. It was also reported that the police were making inquiries amongst thousands of houses in the Stapleton, Frenchay and Oldbury Court districts.
When Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby's mother was interviewed, she appealed for people to look for a woman, saying, 'We warned June not to accept lifts from strange men because she was an attractive girl'.
The investigation focussed on a man in a blue suit who was noted for having spoken to an off-duty fireman near to a place where the children had been playing on the day they vanished. He was additionally said to have been seen sitting on a log on the bank of the river on the evening that Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby disappeared.
The man in the blue suit was described as:
Another line of enquiry focussed on Stoke Park Hospital which had 5,000 patients.
A mental patient at the hospital was reported to have escaped from there on 3 July 1957 and a major search was made for him. He was said to have been recently transferred there from Rampton State Mental Institution to Purdown Mental Hospital and the police said, 'We would certainly like to interview this man, but at the moment have literally nothing against him except the fact he had absconded'. It was said that the man had escaped at about 2am by climbing down a drainpipe about four hours after the murder hunt had begun.
It was noted that the man's escape was announced at the same time as the recapture of another mental patient who had failed to return from parole to Bristol Mental Institution on the Monday, however, the police noted that in his case he was found to be completely in the clear.
A police superintendent added, 'People are on the run from these mental hospitals all the time and it is not fair to point the finger of suspicion at them unless we have something definite to work on'.
At the time it was reported that inquiries were continuing amongst the 1,200 patients at Bristol Mental Hospital, the 700 at Purdown and the women at Stoke Park Hospital.
One man in particular fell under suspicion, he was described as 'The Storyteller' and 'The Davy Crockett Storyteller' and he was noted for often sitting by the river and telling local children stories about Davy Crockett, the wild west character and William Tell, the Swiss hero. However, he was later cleared by the police of any involvement. He was stated as being an elderly man and a patient at Bristol Mental Hospital who had sometimes been allowed out on parole and who would sing to the children. It was reported that he had been questioned by detectives for hours but the police said, 'He has been most co-operative, but we find he is quite unable to help us any further in our inquiries. No doubt he will be down in the park again sometime, singing his songs and telling his stories and there is no reason that we can see why he should be regarded with suspicion'.
A 25-year-old man was questioned for 32 hours by the police after it was heard that he had told someone that he would be forced out of Bristol over allegations that he was a child murderer.
The police also received an anonymous 20-word blue letter which was said to have included vital information about the murder after which a blue suit was recovered from a storeroom at Bristol Mental Hospital. A patient was then questioned over the matter but nothing came about it. However, the letter writer later went to the police on Wednesday 10 July 1957 revealing herself to be a woman. After speaking to the letter writer the police said, 'I have given her my word that everything she has told us will be treated in confidence'. The police noted that the letter was regarded as important because it had tied up with a specific line of enquiry that they had been making.
Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby were buried in Filton on Tuesday 9 July 1957. It was reported that detectives had mingled with the crowd at the funeral in the hope of catching the killer, with a detective saying, 'The type of person who could commit a murder of this kind might very well come along if at all possible to see the climax of his actions'. It was said that the details of the funeral had been kept secret but that a crowd of about 100 people, mostly women, had attended outside the Sheasby home in Brockworth Crescent. The children’s father said, 'We want the whole affair to be kept as quiet as possible'. It was reported that there were 20 wreaths laid out in the front garden of their house and that a brief service was later held at Beechcroft Methodist Church where Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby had attended Sunday School before they were buried in Harry Stoke Cemetery in Filton.
It was also reported on Wednesday 10 July 1957 that a mental patient that had absconded was later questioned but released. The police said that the mental patient had told them a remarkable story but that they would not be taking the matter any further following their interview with him. It was said that he had been questioned until 1am and that when he was found he had had a letter in his possession in his own writing that was addressed to the parents of Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby as well as photos of the children and newspaper cuttings. He was additionally noted as having been one of a large number of men with a mental history that had already been questioned about their movements on the night of 20 June 1957.
It was later reported in August 1964 that a Home Office psychiatrist revealed that a man that had been jailed for a minor offence had confessed to the murders of two children, but he was never charged and it was said that he had since died. It was reported on 1 September 1964 that the psychiatrist had told a London conference of a prisoner who had been 'killed by his conscience' after confessing to murdering two young children. It was later reported on Monday 12 October 1964 that although the Bristol police had made attempts to obtain permission to see the document that detailed the patients confession, they had failed. The police said, 'Following correspondence between the Bristol police, the Home Office, the doctor (psychiatrist, and his solicitors), the Chief Constable has been informed by a firm of solicitors that consent to see a certain document is not given'. It was said tha after the man had confessed to the murder of two children his claim was immediately linked to the murders of Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby.
Royston Sheasby and June Sheasby's mother had one other 10-year-old child.
see National Archives - HO 332/16 - STA 502/3/33
see Bristol Post
see Bristol 24/7
see "Murder Verdict On Two Children." Times [London, England] 14 Sept. 1957: 3. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 29 May 2016.
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 02 July 1957
see Northern Whig - Monday 01 July 1957
see Daily Herald - Tuesday 02 July 1957
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 02 July 1957
see Shields Daily News - Wednesday 10 July 1957
see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 03 July 1957
see Shields Daily News - Wednesday 17 July 1957
see Daily Mirror - Saturday 29 June 1957
see Sunday Mirror - Sunday 30 June 1957
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 09 July 1957
see Weekly Dispatch (London) - Sunday 21 July 1957
see Belfast Telegraph - Friday 13 September 1957
see Shields Daily News - Wednesday 03 July 1957
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 01 September 1964
see Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 12 October 1964
see Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Saturday 10 October 1964