Unsolved Murders

William Henry Smith

Age: 46

Sex: male

Date: 11 Jun 1950

Place: Lilac Cottage, Colonels Bank, Chailey, Sussex

William Henry Smith was found at the bottom of a 40-foot well on Sunday 11 June 1950.

The well had about 15 feet of water in it.

He had been missing since 9 June 1950, two days before he was found.

William Smith died from a broken neck.

He was found in the well after a man from Cronks Cottage at Cinder Hill in Chailey said that he was suspicious about him having fallen in. The man said that he became suspicious that William Smith had been in the well when at about 7.45am on the Sunday he had gone to the well to draw some water and that when he had looked down into it he saw some scratches and noticed that some of the stones in it were freshly chipped. He noted that when he had gone to the well that the lid on it was down. He said that he knew that William Smith was missing as he had helped to search for him on the Saturday evening in until 9pm and had arranged to help continue the search the following morning, the Sunday.

He said that he drew two buckets of water from the well and watched to see how the buckets swung and that after doing so that he came to the conclusion that there was something in the well and then used a cord with a grappling iron and caught an obstruction with it.

He said that he then became overcome with the feeling that he had found William Smith's body.

The man from Cronks Cottage agreed that the lid on the well would not have stayed up unless it had been fastened so.

The man from Cronks Cottage said that William Smith often came to see him as a friend, but never in the morning. He said that William Smith used to collect waste to boil for his chickens, usually in the afternoons. He added that William Smith had never said anything to him before about taking his own life.

He said that he thought that it was possible for someone to topple into the well head first if they were overcome with giddiness.

He added that so far as he knew that William Smith had never drawn water from the well before.

His sister said that the last time that she saw William Smith alive was on the Friday at about 7.30am as she was going to work. She said that he appeared to be exceptionally bright at the time. She said that when she returned at 12.30pm that the back door was open, but that William Smith was not in the house. She noted that William Smith usually stayed in the house in the mornings.

She said that she later reported him missing.

William Smith's sister also said that William Smith had never suggested suicide although she said that his nerves had seemed to make him worry unnecessarily.

It was also noted that when he was pulled up from the well that his wallet was missing. His sister said that he had usually had one but that she had been unable to find it. She noted that she did find a purse with a few shillings in it.

A station officer with the Sussex Fire Service who removed William Smith's body from the well said that he was of the opinion that William Smith had gone into the well feet first and could therefore have not fallen in during a fit of giddiness as the man from Cronks Cottage had suggested. He said that he thought that he had gone in feet first and that it was impossible for him to have turned over in the well, noting that William Smith's body had been trapped by what he thought was a projecting piece of sandstone seven feet below the water level.

However, the doctor that carried out the post mortem on William Smith said that he found no evidence of external violence having been applied and that he thought that it was probable that William Smith had gone into the well head first, noting that he had a cut over his right eye and abrasions on his shins.

He said that William Smith was physically normal but mentally slightly below normal, noting that his father had died in March 1950 and that that had greatly distressed him.

He noted that William Smith had been suffering from insomnia and had been worrying over trifling things. He added that William Smith had also been restless and that he had given him some sedatives but said that so far as he knew that there had been no suicidal tendencies.

It was said that his cause of death had been due to a broken neck as a result of a compressed fracture of the cervical vertebrae and that it was instantaneous.

When the coroner summed up he said that the question was about how William Smith had died, suggesting that he might have decided to end his own life or that he might have fallen in by accident. He also noted that William Smith might have suffered some violence and had then been thrown into the well, although noted that he thought that it was a question of accident or suicide. He then said that the law always had a presumption against suicide but added that there was no evidence that it could have been an accident. He then said that there was no evidence one way or the other and an open verdict was returned.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Sussex Agricultural Express - Friday 16 June 1950

see Western Daily Press - Wednesday 14 June 1950