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Unsolved Murders

Thomas Pember

Age: unknown

Sex: male

Date: 1 Jan 1905

Place: Palterton, Chesterfield

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Thomas Pember died from head injuries.

Two men were suspected of his murder, but the charges were dropped.

It was thought that he had been beaten to death with a belt.

He was a miner and had lived in Holmewood in Heath.

Thomas Pember and eight other people including his son had set out on the Sunday for a walk around Bolsover during which they visited the Swan public house and the Angle public house and just before 2.30pm they joined in for the purchase of a couple of bottles of whisky.

Thomas Pember's son, who gave his evidence at the inquest said that they drank one bottle in the fields and then three of the party went away including his brother.

He said that the second bottle was 'tapped' soon afterwards on the main road and that one of them then fell to the ground and that he and another man fell over him in trying to get him up. He said that eventually they gave up trying to get the other man up as he was too drunk, noting that they could not help themselves.

He said that Thomas Pember and one of the men charged with his murder then walked on arm in arm and that the other man charged with his murder then fell over.

At that point in Thomas Pember's son's evidence the coroner interjected and said, 'What a disgraceful condition of things'.

Thomas Pember's son then continued with his evidence and said that he himself then also fell over and then another companion also fell over. He said that they must have fallen asleep for an hour after which he and another man awoke. He said that he and the other man then walked on for about fifty yards and then found Thomas Pember lying right across the road on his back, noting that nothing seemed to be amiss with him except him having had too much to drink and that he didn't notice any wounds or blood.

He said that they were all drunk and that he then found one of the men charged with Thomas Pember's murder lying in a gutter but said that he could not rouse him or his father and so they left them and went back to Holmewood.

When the coroner asked Thomas Pember's son whether he was going to leave his father out all night, Thomas Pember's son said that they had started back out for him at about 8pm to get him, but whilst on their way they met a man who told them that it was too late and that they then went back to Holmewood with two policemen, adding that the policemen told him that his father was dead.

Thomas Pember's son noted that they were all strangers in the area and that he came from Brownhills in Staffordshire having only just come over to Holmewood the previous Wednesday and added that his father had been there for three months. He said that there had been no quarrelling and that they had all been as merry as could be.

A pony driver from Palterton who gave evidence at the inquest said that he and two other men had seen five men in Stockley Lane on the Sunday afternoon between 3pm and 4pm and believed that they were fighting and went towards them. He said that one of the men was Thomas Pember and another was one of the men tried for his murder. He said that when he got near that he heard Thomas Pember say to the other man, 'You're not going to pick on to me now, are you?'. He said then that another one of the men then pulled out a bottle and the five men then all had a drink and that they then went off into a field where another man was lying and then appeared to lie down and fall asleep.

The pony driver noted that the man that he had seen fighting with Thomas Pember and Thomas Pember didn't appear to be cross with each other. He added that they were all the worse for drink and some were very drunk, including the man that he saw who was tried for Thomas Pember's murder.

A miner who lived in Riley near Stockley Lane said that he had been walking along the road at about 4.30pm on the Sunday afternoon when he saw six men all lying down. He said that four of them were lying on the side of the road and that Thomas Pember was lying across the road and that the sixth man was lying close to him. He said that he passed them without stopping and that later at about 6.10pm he started from home to go to Palterton and that on his way he saw Thomas Pember lying in almost the same spot as he had seen him before.

He said that he thought that he was drunk and tried to wake him up but when a farmer from Paltterton also came over they found that Thomas Pember was dead. He noted that whilst there he saw a belt that was about a yard from where Thomas Pember was and said that he picked it up, but said that the farmer told him that he had already found the belt, stating that it had been in the dyke and that he had put it closer to Thomas Pember where the miner had found it. The miner also added that he found a buckle close to Thomas Pember.

The farmer said that when he came over and examined Thomas Pember that he found that he was dead. He said that whilst there he also saw the belt in the dyke about two yards from where Thomas Pember was lying and that there were two other men about 50 yards along the road lying down at the side of it. He said that he then got a stable lamp and further examined Thomas Pember and saw that he had a graze on his forehead and a mark on the side of his head. He said that there were also a few stones on the road at that point and that there was a small pool of blood about two yards away that had mostly dried up.

Another miner who lived in Palterton said that one of the men charged with Thomas Pember's murder passed his house on the Sunday night and asked him to fasten his clothes as he had lost his belt.

A policeman who was stationed in Palterton said that he arrived at the spot where Thomas Pember was found at about 7.30pm and saw that he had a wound on the left side of his head and noted that his hair was slightly stiffened with blood. He also noted that there was a small quantity of blood about a yard from Thomas Pember and that he also saw the belt and buckle near him.

The policeman said that when he arrived in Holmewood he collected all of the men who had been present in the party that afternoon and asked them about the belt and said that they all declared that none of them had lost a belt.

However, he said that on the Tuesday, at about 6.45pm, he spoke to one of the men tried who identified the belt that was found near Thomas Pember's body as his. He also spoke to the other man tried who admitted that he had been one of the last men to leave Thomas Pember. He said that he then arrested both of them. The other man gave a long statement but the man whose belt it was said nothing.

The man that gave a long statement was found to have had a scar over the bridge of his nose and another on his left hand whilst the man's whose belt it was had three or four scars on the back of his right wrist.

The doctor that carried out the post-mortem said that he found an incised wound over Thomas Pember's left ear that was about 1 1/2 inches wide but not very deep and not going down to the bone as well as a few light unimportant grazes across his forehead. He said that there were no other marks of violence and that when he removed the scalp he found that Thomas Pember had a small punctured wound, about 2 1/2 inches above the back of his skull but slightly to the left of the medium line that was invisible externally. He said that when he then removed the skull cap, he found that the puncture wound had penetrated both plates into the cavity of the head. He said that there were no signs of apoplexy and that his other organs were all perfectly healthy. He also noted that there were no signs of alcoholic poisoning.

He said that he thought that Thomas Pember's cause of death was the puncture wound that had passed through his skull which had ruptured a small vein or artery, stating that its effect would have been almost immediate loss of consciousness and that he would have died within a short time.

He went on to state that he thought that the wound might have been inflicted by a blow and said that when he was shown the belt and buckle and examined them that he found that on fitting the tongue of the buckle into the cavity that it fitted the hole in Thomas Pember's head exactly and that it was his opinion that it was a blow from the belt that had caused his death. However, he added that he thought that it was the second blow that caused his death and that there had been an initial blow. He noted that there was blood on the buckle and that there had been no external bleeding and that as such it was the last blow that had caused Thomas Pember's death.

The doctor added that the direction of the wound was downwards, forwards and inwards and that the blow must, therefore, have been delivered from above.

When the coroner asked the doctor whether he thought that the wound might not have been caused by Thomas Pember falling onto a piece of projecting flint, he said that he could not imagine that flint would so precisely fit the wound as the tongue of the buckle did. He then said, 'The wound was so small, that two external examinations failed to discover it. I have no hesitation in saying that the blow was struck when the tongue was out. When it entered the skull it would fit tight. When the man pulled the strap back, it did not come out at first. He would give a violent pull, and that would bend the tongue, as it is bent here'.

When the coroner asked the doctor whether he thought that it was possible that Thomas Pember might have fallen down on the belt, he said that Thomas Pember would have had to have fallen down on it with his legs up in the air.

When the man whose belt it was gave evidence on the belt at the inquest, he said that the tongue of the belt had been bent for months, saying that it was done at the colliery.

When the coroner summed up, he said that the medical evidence showed that the tongue of the buckle had caused Thomas Pember's death and that his wounds could not have been self-inflicted. However, he said that he could not see sufficient evidence to show who the person or persons might be who had inflicted the wound, noting that there was no evidence of any quarrel or dispute having taken place.

The jury then returned an open verdict to the same effect stating that Thomas Pember came to his death through a punctured wound in he skull, but that there was not sufficient evidence to show by whom the wound was inflicted, or how it was caused.


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

see Derbyshire Courier - Saturday 14 January 1905