Date: 6 Jan 1931
Place: Wolfs Nick, Otterburn
Evelyn Foster was found savagely injured and burnt near her car which was on fire on the lonely moors near Otterburn on 6 January 1931.
She was found by a bus conductor by her Hackney car at 10.30pm on 6 January 1931 at a spot about three miles south of Kirkwhelpington on the Jedburgh-Newcastle road.
She claimed she had been robbed and raped before being set on fire and the coroner recorded a verdict of wilful murder, but it was also suggested that she might have tried to set fire to the cab, her taxi, for the insurance and had accidently set fire to herself.
Before she died she gave the description of a man that she had given a lift to who she said had attacked her. She said that he was a young man, about 5ft 6in, dark, with a slim build and that he had been wearing a bowler hat, a blue overcoat and a suit. She had said that she had given a lift to the man and that he had then stunned her and set fire to her car and then sent it down a bank onto the moor. However, she said that she managed to crawl out of the blazing car before losing consciousness. She said that the man had had a Tyneside accent.
It was said that before she died Evelyn Foster had said that she had taken some passengers to Rochester in Northumberland in her father’s new saloon car and that when she was returning a strange man had stopped her at Elishaw and requested a lift. She said that the man had told her that he had been given a lift by a party on their way to Hexham and that as there were no buses he had asked her to take him along the Newcastle road so that he could pick up a bus at Ponteland. She said that he added that he would meet her at the Percy Arms in a few minutes.
Evelyn Foster said that she picked the man up on the bridge and drove him as far as Belsay and that he then said that as there was no chance of him getting a bus that he would return to Otterburn and she said that she agreed to take him. She said that on the return journey, the man struck her in the eye, partially stunning her. She said that he then pushed her into the back seat of the car and got into the driver's seat himself and drove off to a lonely spot in the Ottercop.
It was said that the man then set fire to the car, pushed it down the three-foot bank, or else left the engine running and had let it run down. It was said to have travelled about seventy yards before stopping and that Evelyn Foster was roused by the jostling and managed to struggle out. She said that she thought she then heard the man whistle to a passing car.
She was found by a bus driver and a bus conductor who were employed by Evelyn Foster's father on one of his motor buses. The bus driver said that the bus had been about four miles from Otterburn when he saw flames coming from the moors and said that when they stopped they heard low moans and that they then scrambled down the roadside bank towards the flames and saw the remains of the car which they said was a mass of hot and smouldering metal. They said that they then saw Evelyn Foster lying on the ground a few feet away where she had appeared to have crawled to a block of ice that she was licking. They said that her clothes were almost completely burnt but that her hair had escaped the flames. They said that her face was black and blue and that she had a terrible wound to the back of her head and that they then took her home.
The conductor said that all they could get from Evelyn Foster was 'Oh, that awful man. He has gone in a motor-car'.
When they got her home, it was said that in periods of consciousness before she died she had told them that the man had struck her with a blunt instrument and that she was then dragged into the back of the car and a rug was thrown over her. She said that the man then took out a tin or a bottle of petrol from his pocket and poured some of the contents on her and then set her on fire.
The police said that they were looking for a car with three men in it. They said they were anxious to trace a four-seater, closed, dark coloured car with index mark T N and with a number consisting of four figures, the last figure or figure but one being a two. The car was said to have possibly been an Essex and had left the Ressdale Hotel near Otterburn, Northumberland, at about 7pm. The first man was described as about 38 years of age, 5ft 8in tall, with a short moustache, very bad teeth and dark hair which was thin at the front. He was said to have been wearing a dark overcoat with a broad belt and wearing a thin, blue striped collar. The second man was described as being about 40 years old, 5ft 5in tall, with a broad face, prominent cheek bones, badly in need of a shave and with very bad teeth, having practically no upper teeth. He had been wearing a slate-coloured suit, no overcoat or hat and was wearing a thin blue striped turn-down collar. The third man was about 30 years old, 5ft 7in tall, well-built and had been wearing a blue overcoat and no hat.
It was said that all the men had spoken with Scottish accents and it was thought that the car was heading to London and that it had come from Scotland via Jedburgh.
They said that they were also keen to trace the party that had travelled south from Scotland in a motor car from which a man they had given a light to had alighted from at Elishaw Road End, north of Otterburn at about 6.30pm.
Near the scene of the crime the police found Evelyn Foster's handbag in the bracken which included a sum of money which was untouched. Police also found a man's scarf and glove nearby.
The police later suggested that Evelyn Foster's story was a delusion caused by her injuries.
At her inquest Evelyn Foster's mother said that Evelyn Foster had returned from Rochester at 7pm and said that a man she had brought from Elisham wanted to go to Ponteland to get the bus. She said that Evelyn Foster told her that the man looked respectable and gentlemanly and a bit of a knut. She said that Evelyn Foster brought the man to Otterburn with the intention being to pick him up again in the village. She said that her sister suggested that she should take a man that she kept company with and that she then told Evelyn Foster to pick up the man that her sister kept company with and that Evelyn Foster had replied 'All right mother'. She said that when she next saw her she had been brought home injured. She said that she asked Evelyn Foster why she didn't take the man that her sister was keeping company with and said that Evelyn Foster told her that she didn't see him.
The doctor that carried out her post-mortem said that the only injuries that she had were from burns and said that there were no other external marks suggesting injury and that there were no scalp wounds. Her cause of death was given as shock resulting from severe external burning. He said that the distribution and severity of the burns suggested that her clothing had contained some inflammable liquid. He said that there was no evidence of any violation.
When the Coroner summed up he said that they could eliminate the question of suicide and said that if a man had been concerned then he was a homicidal maniac.
He said that it had been suggested that Evelyn Foster might have been stood with one foot on the step and one on the running board and had been pouring petrol on the cushions at that when she had lighted it that flames had come back and caught her. He then asked, 'Is not the position of the burns most consistent with that theory?', and added that there was no evidence that the burns were caused by another person. He then said that if she had done the injury to herself then her object might have been to obtain money through the car insurance or notoriety might have been another motive.
The Coroner's jury retired for two hours and then returned a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown. The Coroner then asked the jury whether they found that some person had wilfully poured petrol over her and had set her on fire and they said 'Yes, we do'.
see Chronicle Live
see Hexam Courant
see Western Gazette - Friday 13 February 1931
see Leeds Mercury - Thursday 08 January 1931
see Gloucester Citizen - Monday 02 February 1931
see Belfast News-Letter - Tuesday 03 February 1931
see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Friday 09 January 1931 (with photo)
see Western Gazette - Friday 06 February 1931