Unsolved Murders

Mary Turnbull

Age: 62

Sex: female

Date: 12 Nov 1951

Place: Postern Dene, Morpeth, Northumberland

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Mary Turnbull was found injured in Postern Dene on 11 November 1951 and taken to hospital where she died the following day, 12 November 1951.

A 28-year-old open-cast coal site labourer was tried for her murder at the Northumberland Assizes at Newcastle on Saturday 19 January 1952 but acquitted. It was said that most of the evidence against him was circumstantial and noted that there were no eyewitnesses as to the injuries having been inflicted. He was also found not guilty of manslaughter.

It was also suggested that Mary Turnbull's death might have been accidental.

Mary Turnbull was found dying in Postern Dene near Carlisle Park in Morpeth on the afternoon of Sunday 11 November 1951 and died the following day in hospital.

It was said that when she was found that it was obvious that she had suffered violence as she was badly bruised about her face and her jaw and cheek bones had been broken. It was also stated that it was obvious that an attempt had been made to strangle her.

She had lived at 77 Albert Street in Amble and was described as 'something of a character, a little woman, a puny little woman physically, and not of a size to put up much resistance to a violent assault by a man'. She was also known as Amble Mary.

Mary Turnbull had been in Morpeth on the Saturday night and a friend of hers who later took her to the bus station said that she was in drink when she left her there.

It was also heard that the labourer had also been in Morpeth on the Saturday night, having been in a public house where he had been playing darts and was said to have been drunk. Witnesses that saw him said that he appeared to have been in a quarrelsome, fighting sort of mood.

It was said that he later went and stood outside the Town Hall and that while he was there it was said that a little woman came up and spoke to him and at the trial it was said that that woman had been Mary Turnbull. It was said then, that they eventually went off together in the direction of the bus station and Carlisle Park.

It was then heard that Mary Turnbull was seen at the bus station by a bus conductor who knew her and who spoke to her and who said that she had been with a man who he later identified as the labourer.

It was said that the labourer was later seen on the Sunday at about 8am sopping wet and walking back in the direction of his home which was at Manor Farm Cottages in Ulgham which was about seven miles from Morpeth.

He was said to have been next seen at about midday riding his bicycle from the direction of his home towards Morpeth and then at about 12.50pm he was said to have been seen at Lowford Bridge in Morpeth again.

When the labourer was asked about his movements on the Saturday night he said that he left a public house at closing time after which he had an argument with some men about darts and then walked home, saying, 'I don't know when I got home. I cannot remember anything else'.

It was heard that in a statement he made he said, 'I got home about 12 o'clock midnight'.

When he was seen by the police the following evening Sunday 11 November 1951 and cautioned, he replied, 'Uh, Uh', and later said, 'I have nothing to hide'.

When the police examined the barbed wire fence at Postern Dene, they found fragments of Mary Turnbull's pinafore. They also found a man's hair on one of her boots and also on her coat they found a tuft of fibres that exactly resembled the blue fibres from the labourer's overcoat.

It was also said that the scrapings from the labourer's fingernails also contained brown wool fibres that resembled the fibres of Mary Turnbull's coat.

It was noted that the labourer did not admit to murdering Mary Turnbull, but that he also had not denied it.

It was also heard that he had made a strange statement to the effect that he realised that something serious had happened on the night and was thinking of doing away with himself

At the trial however, the prosecution noted that sometimes circumstantial evidence was more reliable than direct evidence, because it couldn't lie, or in any way be inaccurate, and stated that the evidence was more than enough to find a guilty verdict.

When the case was detailed at the trial, it was heard that Mary Turnbull had been seen in the vicinity of the New Market in Morpeth on the night of Saturday 10 November 1951 at about 10.45pm and so was the labourer. It was heard that the labourer had also been seen to cause a little disturbance on account of his drunken and aggressive state and was later seen going off in the direction of Elliott Bridge and then in the direction of Postern Dene or Carlisle Park with a woman and that the description of the woman's clothing was similar to the clothing that Mary Turnbull was known to have been wearing on the night. It was further heard that on the following morning, 11 November 1951, that the labourer was first seen approaching his home at about 8.30am in a bedraggled and wet condition and that he later re-visited the Mitford area and particularly the Low Ford Bridge, which was three quarters of a mile from where Mary Turnbull was later found at about 12.30pm. It was also noted that the labourer was twice seen going to the place near to where Mary Turnbull was found.

It was further stated that the visits appeared to have been made rapidly, as the Low Ford Bridge and Ulgham, where the labourer lived, was about 7 1/4 miles apart and it was said that the visits appeared to have some further significance because at 1.30pm on 11 November 1951, Mary Turnbull was found unconscious in some bramble bushes, of which there were a great many in and around Postern Dene.

It was noted that Mary Turnbull was found lying at the foot of a very steep incline at a point 47 feet from the barbed wire fence that separated Postern Dene from Carlisle Park, in an unconscious state, fully clothed and with her hair brushed back from her face. It was noted that it had been raining and that she was in a soaking condition. When she was found her hands were crossed on her chest.

When she was taken to the hospital and examined, she was found to have sustained jaw, cheek bone and nasal bone injuries and apart from that to also have numerous contusions and bruising on and around her face. Her eyes were closed and discoloured and there were scrape marks on her hands, particularly her right one. She also had grazing and bruising across her left buttock. It was noted that her left hand, particularly from the wrist, was not as much injured as the right and that it appeared that she had been dragged, possibly by the left hand, through the bramble bushes.

It was noted also that marks were found on either side of her neck and that a fracture definitely showed that there had been an attempt at strangulation. It was further noted that fractures of her face had caused concussion and that other injuries to her shin and legs had been caused by some hard object.

Mary Turnbull died the following day and after the pathologist carried out her post mortem he said that he thought that it was clear that she had been subjected to a serious attack involving at least six or seven separate distinct blows to her face.

The labourer was then interviewed by the police on 13 November 1951 and his clothes that he had been wearing were surrendered to them. During his interview, which continued into the early hours of the following day, the labourer admitted to having been to the Fox and Hounds public house, but said that he couldn't remember what happened after that and could not remember having been with a woman.

The labourer first said that he had got home at midnight, but later changed that to 5am and said that he then stayed in bed all day on the Sunday, even though it was claimed that he had been seen in the Mirford area a couple of times that morning. However, he also later said that he actually went to Crash Camp 15 miles away to look for a man who he thought he had fought with the previous night.

However, it was further noted that he also went on to tell the police that something serious had happened on the night but that he could not remember what it was and that he had been intending to do away with himself and that if the police had not have arrived when they did that he would have done so.

The labourer was charged with Mary Turnbull's murder on 15 November 1951 and when he was later medically examined, he was found to have scratch marks on the backs of his hands.

It was also heard that the doctor removed a piece of material from the labourer’s hand that when examined by forensic laboratory experts was determined to have been a piece of thorn.

It was also noted that both the labourer's and Mary Turnbull's overcoats were both stained with soil of a similar kind peculiar to the Postern Dene area and that both coats contained thorns. It was also noted that again, both the labourer’s shoes and Mary Turnbull's shoes both had vegetable findings on them of a similar type.

It was also heard that a hair similar to the labourers was found adhering to one of the shoes that Mary Turnbull had been wearing and that there was also a fibre from the labourer’s coat found on Mary Turnbull's coat. It was also noted that scrapings from the labourer’s fingernails were found to contain a brown fibre that corresponded with fibres from Mary Turnbull's coat.

After the forensic evidence was touched on, the prosecution said, 'I think you will have little difficulty in coming to the conclusion that there is sufficient evidence which links up quite definitely and finally these two people. These are, shortly, the salient facts of the case'.

A policeman stationed at Gosforth said that he went to Carlisle Park and Postern Dene in Morpeth and took certain measurements and determined that it was 7 3/10th miles from Low Ford Bridge to Ulgham by the main route but said that there was a shorter route which was 6 miles.

A witness at the trial, a married woman who lived in Baysland, Morpeth said that on the Saturday night 11 November 1951 that she had been in the Queen's Head public house in Morpeth and had left there at some point and gone to a fish and chip shop in Newgate Street after which, at 10.15pm she headed off home. She said that as she was going home through New Market, alongside the Town Hall that she saw Mary Turnbull who she knew as 'Amble Mary'. She said, 'I walked with her to the bus stand and asked a bus driver if the bus was away. We were standing beside the lamp and she was walking up the New Market when I left her about 10.45pm'. She added that she thought that Mary Turnbull had missed her bus although no one told her that.

A Government Trainee who lived in Tranell Woods, Morpeth, said that he had been in the Fox and Hounds public house in Morpeth at about 8pm when he went into the bar and saw the labourer and some other men. He said, 'I stood and watched a game of darts and the accused seemed to have had a good drink. Later, the manager refused to serve him. At 10pm, I saw the accused at the door of the Fox and Hounds and he was arguing with a bloke who seemed to be a foreigner. I took him down the street towards the Market Place, as far as the corner near Dewhurst’s, the butchers. When about to cross the road, the accused saw two blokes coming in the opposite direction and spoke to them. Arriving at the New Market, we went into a public convenience. A man came in, something was said, and the labourer took his coat off. I told the bloke to go away and I took the labourer away. He was wearing a double-breasted coat which had a belt. I left him at the bus stand at 10.45pm'.

When he was cross examined, he noted that the labourer had been obviously drunk at the time.

A man that lived in Pretoria Avenue in Morpeth said that he left the Earl Grey Hotel in Morpeth at about 10.05pm on the Saturday night, 10 November 1951 and said that when he was outside at the back of the hotel, which was near the New Market, he stood talking with three other men. He said that whilst he was doing so that the labourer, came up to them and pushed himself in the middle of their group, but he said that they simply ignored him. He said that he had never known the labourer and noted that he was obviously under the influence of drink but would not say that he was staggering and noted that he seemed to have his faculties. He said that his attitude was that he wanted a fight and so he pushed him away a second time. He said that the labourer then went off about 20 or 30 paces and that another one of his group then went up to him and told him that it would be safer for him to go away.

He said that he then saw a woman go up to the labourer as he stood under the lamp near the corner of the Town Hall. He noted that as the labourer was standing there that he had been holding his wallet in his hands. He said that the labourer and the woman stood still for a short while and then seemed to cross the Market Place towards the billiard hall entrance and then turned down the New Market.

He noted that the woman appeared to be poorly dressed and seemed to have had a woolly brown coat and a head scarf and said that her hair appeared untidy. He said that she was a smallish woman and that although he only saw her from the rear, that he thought that she was getting on in years.

He said that the last time that he saw her they were walking down the footpath and passing the Adrian Shop which would have been about 10.30pm.

When the man was cross examined he was asked whether he meant to say that he had pushed the labourer and he said that he did and then when asked whether the labourer had fallen down when he pushed him he said that he didn't, but added that he was obviously drunk.

Upon further cross-examination, he said that the woman had gone up to the labourer quite unsolicited and that he had seen them together for about a minute before they went off and that that would have been between 10.25pm and 10.30pm.

An insurance agent who had lived in Hollon Street, Morpeth said that he had been in the company with the man that lived in Pretoria Avenue and two other people standing outside the Earl Grey Hotel and that whilst they were talking that the labourer came by and barged his way into their company. He said that they shunned him but said that he barged into them again and alleged that the labourer then said that he would fight them all for as much money as he had, adding that he had more money than the lot of them put together.

He said that a woman then came up to them and asked them what time the bus to Alnmouth was, noting that the labourer was a little away at the time and that a few moments later he saw the woman talking to the labourer and then saw the pair move away up to the Market Place. He described the woman as having been wearing a brown coat but said that he couldn't say whether she had anything on her head and said that he thought that she was about sixty years of age. When he was cross examined, he said that he could not say whether the woman that he was seen was 'Amble Mary' as he had never seen her before.

Another man who lived in Howard Terrace in Morpeth said that he saw the labourer take a wallet from his pocket and say he wanted a fight and that after he saw another man take him away, said that he saw a woman take his arm and walk off with him.

A bus conductor who lived in Westlea, Bedlington said that he finished work at 10.40pm and that as he was standing at the door of the United bus office in the New Market that a man and a woman came up to him and asked the way to the railway station so that they could get a train. He said that after that they both went down the New Market. He said that from their general appearance they both seemed to be drunk and to be staggering. He said that when he last saw them at about 10.45pm that they were both going off towards the Coliseum picture house.

He said that he knew the woman because she was on his bus from Warkworth to Amble and that he had seen her standing at the bus stop at Amble.

He said that she had been wearing a brown coat, head scarf and booties.

He also said in court that he recognised the labourer as the man that he had seen with the woman, saying that he had been wearing a blue overcoat but that he could not say anything else, but said that he hadn't been wearing a hat and that he had never seen him before.

Another bus conductor who lived in King Street in Morpeth and who worked for the United Automobile Services Ltd, said that he had been on duty on the Saturday night, 10 November 1951, when he saw the labourer who he said he knew by sight, saying that he came up to him and taped him on the shoulder at about 10.15pm and told him that he had had a good night and was going home. He said that his general condition was 'very drunk' and that he could not walk straight and said that he fell on the bottom and that he had to pick him up by the arm.

The bus conductor said that he stayed with the labourer for about ten minutes but that he then saw that there was a fight over beside the picture house involving eight or nine people and that he went over to sort it out, noting that the labourer was not one of the men involved in the fight. He said that after the fight he went back to the bus office and that when he looked through the window he saw the labourer arguing with three or four people and said that one of them was pushing him away.

The bus conductor said that at the time he was waiting for the Alnwick bound bus coming from Newcastle and that if it had been full of passengers then he would have had to have conducted a duplicate bus to Alnwick. He said that the bus was due in at Morpeth at 19.45pm. He said that as he went off to the duplicate bus he saw the labourer cross the road towards the main road and said that when the duplicate bus passed the Tower clock he noticed that the time was between 10 and 5 minutes to 11pm. He noted that there was no doubt in his mind that when he saw the labourer that he had been alone at the time.

A bus inspector who lived in West Greens, Morpeth, said that he had been on duty at Morpeth Station after 10pm and that he knew Amble Mary who he said was well known in Morpeth. He said that he saw her more than once in the vicinity of the bus station on the Saturday night, the first time being about 10.30pm when she was with another woman who asked him when the bus for Amble was. He said that he told them that the last bus had gone at 10.15pm, noting that he had been near the Hadrian Stores at the time. He said that he next saw Amble Mary at about 10.45pm walking past the Coliseum in the direction of Carlisle Park with a man who he thought would have been between 40 and 45 years old. He noted that at that time he was just above the No. 12 bus stand. He said that the man was wearing a light macintosh and a cloth cap. He said that he later attended an identification parade but had been unable to identify the man that he had seen.

A farm worker at Longhirst Moor Farm, said that later, on 11 November 1951, that he had been driving along the Longhurst to Ulgham road  and that as he entered the north end of Longhirst village at about 8am that he saw the labourer in the middle of the road, noting that he appeared to be very wet, and that it was raining at the time. He said that he had been wearing a blue topcoat.

It was noted that the farm worker did not give his evidence regarding seeing the labourer until the Thursday after the labourer was arrested.

The man that lived next door to the labourer in Manor Cottages, Ulgham, said that he had been feeding his hens in a field behind his home at about 8.30am on 11 November 1951, when he saw the labourer walk past and go into the back door of his house, but said that he could not say whether he went in. He noted that it was raining heavily at the time and thought that it had been raining heavily nearly all night. He added that the labourer looked very wet and that his hair was hanging down.

However, when the labourer's neighbour was cross examined he said that it was two or three days later that he volunteered that information to the police but could not give the exact date he did so and then when asked 'If you cannot tell us that, you cannot have a good memory for days?', the neighbour had replied, 'I have not a very good memory'.

A farmer from New Minster Farm in Morpeth said that on 11 November 1951 that he had left his farm in his car to go to Oldgate, Morpeth and that when he had got towards Low Ford Bridge on the Mitford Road that he had noticed some men near the bridge, and that one of them had a cycle. He said that it was no later than 9.30am. He said that one of the men seemed to be tinkering with his cycle and that there was another man standing beside him and that they seemed to be together. He said that it was the labourer who he saw standing alongside the man with the cycle and that he had no hat on and was wearing a dirty mackintosh. He said, 'I observed his hair more than anything else. I thought he had an open-necked shirt'. He said that he made his statement on 19 November 1951 after the police detectives went to see him.

When the farmer was cross-examined, he said that there was nothing unusual between the two men and that the reason that he took so much notice of them was because there had been a considerable amount of pilfering. He said, 'Not knowing them, I immediately took more than a first glance. I thought they were on some mischief'.

He added that he didn't know who the man with the cycle was and could not recall what he was wearing and said that he took more notice of the other man because he had been facing him.

He added that there was also a third man near the bridge who he said was approaching it at the time about 60 yards away.

A bricklayer who lived in First Avenue, Stobhill Gate, Morpeth, said that at about 11.50am on 11 November 1951, that he had walked along to the Memorial Service at Mafeking Park in Morpeth and that after it was over that he had gone to Carlisle Park and got to the top of the bank at about 1pm. He said that there was a barbed wire fence there that separated Postern Dene from Carlisle Park and that he noticed something white there that looked like paper stuck in the hedge that he thought looked like a body and that he then went and told the police. He said that he didn't check to satisfy himself that it was a body and that he just went straight to the police.

A police sergeant said that at about 1.45pm on 11 November 1951 that he had been on duty in Carlisle Park when he saw Mary Turnbull's body being carried out of the park on a stretcher to an ambulance and that he later went to Morpeth Cottage Hospital where he saw her body and identified her as being Mary Turnbull, also known as Amble Mary, of 77 Albert Street, Amble, who he had known for over 20 years saying that he first knew her when he was stationed in Amble between 1931 and 1938. He noted that in Amble she was just known as Mary Turnbull and that it was only in Morpeth that she was known as Amble Mary.

A police sergeant that had arrived at the scene a while earlier said that he had gone to Postern Dene at about 1.45pm on the Sunday 11 November 1951 with the doctor and had gone to the barbed wire fence and had then seen Mary Turnbull lying 47 feet from it in some bramble bushes. He said, 'At first, she appeared to be dead, as there was slight movements of the body. The face was badly bruised. She was unconscious and lying on her back'.

He said that when her clothing was checked she was found to have had four shillings and fivepence on her in her purse.

He said that he later saw Mary Turnbull at the Cottage Hospital and said that she died at 12.35pm on the Monday 12 November 1951. The post mortem then commenced at 7pm the same day.

When the police sergeant was asked whether it would have been possible for Mary Turnbull's body to have rolled to where it was found, he said that he didn't think so, noting that it was not very steep where her body was found.

Several people at the trial gave evidence as to the nature of the slope at Postern Dene. The photographer that took the police photographs of the crime scene and several other places, said that he thought that the slope was about a one in two and said that there was a clear run right down to the bottom of the slope with a clearance of four or five feet in width. He said that the distance from the wire fence to the bottom of the slope was a distance of 52 feet. He added that he thought that it was extremely difficult for anyone to stand near the fence and that he himself had fallen down there. He agreed when cross-examined at the trial that the slope was very irregular and said that he did not attempt to go straight down, but instead went down by the wicket gate and the winding footpath.

A public Analyst who lived in Dene Street, Newcastle, said that when he went to the Dene on 10 January 1952 to collect samples, that he had encountered the greatest possible difficulty getting down the slope and had had to use a shovel to assist himself.

The doctor that was called out to attend to Mary Turnbull at Postern Dene said that when he saw her she was unconscious in the bushes and very much bruised over the face. He said that she was extremely cold and stiff, and quite unconscious.

A doctor that examined Mary Turnbull when she arrived at the hospital said that he was of the opinion that Mary Turnbull's injuries were caused by some blunt instrument such as a fist or something of that nature.

He said that after she arrived at the hospital that there seemed to be a slight improvement in her condition, until about 8am on the Monday when she collapsed and later died at about noon. He said that he saw Mary Turnbull about an hour after she died and determined that her cause of death was inhalation bronchopneumonia and shock following multiple injuries, including attempted strangulation, with added results of extreme exposure.

He said that he thought that there must have been at least seven blows to her face.

The labourer was examined at Morpeth Police station at 10.40pm on 14 November 1951 by the doctor and it was found that he had some scratch marks on the back of his hands although only a few scratches on the palms of his hands, and that he had a big black mark on the base of his right thumb and that from his thumb he removed what the doctor believed to be a piece of thorn. He added that he also found that the labourer had a slight scratch on his nose.

The doctor said that the labourer told him that the scratches were caused when he fell off his bicycle into some brambles near the ford at Ulgham, and that the mark on his thumb had been caused by a wire rope at work.

When the doctor was cross-examined, he said that he thought that any one of the injuries alone could have been fatal, to which the defence noted, 'You will appreciate I am even challenging you now whether this person was ever murdered'.

The pathologist that carried out the post mortem on Mary Turnbull said that with regard to Mary Turnbull's internal injuries, he found that her skull was much thicker than usual and stated that her death was due to acute haemorrhagic aspiration, bronchopneumonia, following shock and haemorrhage from multiple injuries to the face and accompanying concussion, attempted strangulation and exposure.

He said that her internal examination showed that seven or more blows must have been struck and that it was a 'savage attack, possible by means of fists and possible kicking'. He added that the bruises must have been severe in order to give rise to fractures. The pathologist went on to say that Mary Turnbull had been a puny woman  and would not have been able to have put up much resistance and added that she would have bruised more easily than a young woman in good health.

However, when he was cross-examined and asked whether he thought that Mary Turnbull had organically been in poor shape, the pathologist said, 'I don't think so. She was not perfectly sound'.

When he was asked how Mary Turnbull would have stood up to the night, he replied, 'Badly'.

when he was asked whether Mary Turnbull could have otherwise died from exposure, he said, 'She might have done. The injuries would make it evidently worse'.

A detective sergeant said that he received various samples from different police officers, including samples of Mary Turnbull's hair which was taken from her after her death and samples from beneath the labourers fingernails which he took along to Wakefield Laboratory on 16 November 1951 for analysis.

He said that he also went to Postern Dene at 11am on 15 November 1951 and took a piece of blue thread from the barbed wire he found there as well as a strand of wire and samples of soil and fibre from under the fence about twelve yards from where Mary Turnbull was found. He said that he also went to the ford at Ulgham and took samples of the soil there.

A scientific officer employed at the Wakefield Laboratory said that he received the various samples and said that the solid found on both the labour’s coat and that of Mary Turnbull's coat were similar to the soil taken from Postern Dene. He added that he also found bramble pickles on both coats and said that they were all fresh.

He said that blood that he found on Mary Turnbull's coat was, in his opinion, her own blood but that he had been unable to determine the blood group.

The police said that they first went to see the labourer on 13 November 1951 at about 7.50pm at the open-cast coal site in Widdrington where he worked. They said that when they told him that they were police officers and that they wanted him to go with them to Morpeth Police Station to talk to him about certain matters, he said, 'All right'.

The police said that as they were driving back that they told him that they wanted to stop at his house to collect the clothes that he had been wearing on the Saturday night, and said that he told them, 'I was wearing my sports coat, flannels and overcoat'.

When they got back to the police station and asked the labourer to account for his movements on the Saturday, he said, 'I knocked off work at dinner time on Saturday and had drinks at Widdrington Station Club with the fellow you saw me with tonight. I got home at 4pm. I got washed, changed and took my bike to the Ford and on to the Station Club. I fell off my bike at the ford, which was flooded. The bike was damaged, but I was not hurt. I went straight away and left the bike. I got the 6pm bus to Morpeth Market Place and went to the Fox and Hounds public house at 6.25pm. I had a game of darts with some more fellows until about 10pm. Leaving the public house I spoke to some lads about darts behind the Town Hall. There was an argument about darts and one of them pushed me out of the road. I left them and came down the street, along by the United bus place, and walked home. That’s about it, I cannot remember anything else'.

When the police told the labourer that they thought that he had been with Mary Turnbull in New Market at about 10.45pm on the Saturday night  he made a second statement as the first did not cover all the points fully. He said, 'I was drunk that night. I was drinking rum in the Fox and Hounds and I had a row with a man, the manager. I came down into the bus station and remember talking to some fellows about darts. One pushed me out of the roadway. I remember speaking to one of them at the bottom corner of the Town Hall. I left him and went home. I must have got home about 12 o'clock. I don't know what time it was when I got home, but it would take me about that time. When I think of it, my wife was up, she helped me off with my clothes. It must have been getting on to 5.30am, as she gets up soon to milk the cows. I was in bed all day. I was never out on Sunday. I lay in bed until Monday dinner-time. I got up in the afternoon and had a walk round the farm. I went to work on Monday night. I have known since Sunday that something serious happened. I could not think what it was. I get these turns. I remember in a day or two. I usually remember later on if anything happens. I have been worried since Sunday and if you had been ten minutes later in coming for me tonight, I would have been over the cliff at work. I mean over the workings. It is about forty feet deep. I meant to drive the Studebaker over, that's the lorry I had when you came. I cannot get it straight what happened. I thought it must have been the row I had at the Fox and Hounds. I cannot stand it any longer. I feel these lapses getting worse lately. It is always the same when I drink spirits. I get these black-outs. I cannot remember being with a woman. I cannot say I was with a woman. I hope I was not with a woman'.

At his trial, the labourer was questioned about a trip that he said he made to Crash Camp on the Sunday 11 November 1951 in search of a man that he thought that he might have had a row with. It was said that after he had woken up after the Saturday night he had had the recollection that he had had a row with a man, although he said that he had no recollection of who that man was or where he lived but that he had an idea that he had lived at Crash Camp, which it was noted, was a 15 mile journey, and had gone there on his bicycle to find the man.

At the magistrates hearing the labourer had said that he had not gone out at all on the Sunday.

At the trial the prosecution asked the labourer why he thought that the man he had had the row with on the Saturday night would have lived at Crash Camp and the labourer said, 'Something seemed to tell me'. However, when he was asked whether he made any enquiries about the man when he got to Crash Camp, he said that he didn't. He said that when he got there he went to the end of the footpath and took up a position at Crash Camp but didn't recognise anyone. He said that he could not remember how long he stayed but said that he had to give it up as he was feeling ill.

He denied that he had been at Low Ford Bridge that morning.

When the labourer was asked then how his hands became scratched, he said that he had been going to Widdrington on the Saturday night on his bicycle and had fallen off at the ford.

However, the police said that when they went to the ford on 16 November 1951 and examined the right-hand side of it they found that there was a grass verge and on the south side there was a grassy bank. The police said that the ford itself was about 100 yards down the decline and that if a person fell off there that they would had fallen on grass. The police also noted that none of the grass appeared to have been disturbed by anyone falling.

When the police were cross examined at the trial as to exactly what kind of disturbance they expected to find, they replied, 'Anyone falling there is bound to make a disturbance in the grass'. However, the police also agreed that their examination of the grass verge took place five days after the labourer said that he had fallen. However, as it was November the grass was not in perfect condition.

When the police were questioned over the arrest of the labourer, they said that they had gone to his place of work because they had wanted to interview him over the matter of him having been seen with Mary Turnbull on the Saturday night. It was heard that the labourer had agreed to go the police station when asked, but when asked what they would have done if he had refused, the police said that they would have left him there but would have reported the matter. They said that they had only gone to his place of work to interview him and that it was only after they spoke to him that they asked him to go back to Morpeth Police Station with them. However, when the police were questioned over the evidence that they had against the labourer at that time, it was heard that the only evidence against him was that he had been seen in New Market with Mary Turnbull, which made him a potential witness. The police were then asked, if they were taking the labourer to the police station to question him in regard to him being a witness, then why did they stop to take his clothing on the way. The police were then asked whether they needed the labourers clothing in order to interview him over the murder, they replied, 'Yes’. The defence then said that they had to accept that answer. The defence then asked the police whether they suspected the labourer at that time and the police said, 'No'. It was then put to them that if they did not suspect the labourer at that time then why did they need his clothing, and the police replied, 'In our information a man had been seen with the dead woman wearing certain clothing. The accused answered the description'. The police then said that the labourer was kept in the police station from early evening on 13 November to 15 November and had been charged with Mary Turnbull's murder at 6pm on 14 November 1951.

The police noted that it was quite untrue that the labourer had been questioned all night and said that at no time did he ask for any sleep or look like sleeping.

The police also denied having said, 'If I have to keep you here all week, I will get you'.

The police also denied having told the labourer that he was keeping something back and did not want to remember it.

The police also denied that the labourer had only had a cup of tea during the interview and said that to their knowledge that he had something to eat and drink and had had refreshments throughout the night.

The police also denied that the labourer was questioned by one police officer after another.

The police also denied the claim that the first bed that the labourer got was when he arrived at Durham Gaol, saying that he had a bed in his cell and that they knew that he had slept there all night.

The police also said that the labourer was never questioned after he was charged and denied telling the labourer that he would be knocked from one side of the room to the other until they got it out of him.

When the police were asked whether the labourer had said to the police, 'If I am here to Doomsday, I cannot tell you I have been with a woman'. They said that they could not recollect that although admitted that it was probable that he said that to some officer or another.

When the police were asked whether the interrogation took place after they had made the decision that the labourer was wanted in connection with the murder, they said that that was not correct.

The defence then said, 'All this questioning was directed to one end and was an endeavour to pin something upon the accused?', and the police said, 'It was directed for one reason, to get to know exactly the accused's movements that night',

When the defence asked 'Why his movements' the police said, 'Because e knew he had been seen with a woman in New Market'.

The defence then asked, 'Because you suspected him?' and the police replied, 'He was a most important witness'.

A detective sergeant said that after the labourer was arrested for murder that he went to a boot repairers in town at about 5pm, 14 November 1951 and collected a pair of brown shoes that either the labourer or his wife had deposited there.

He said that when the labour was charged at 6pm, he said, 'Umhum'.

When the judge summed up at the trial he said that there was evidence that both the labourer and Mary Turnbull had both been in Morpeth on the Saturday, 10 November 1951, and that they had both had a good deal to drink and that the labourer appeared to have been 'fighting drunk'.

He then noted that it was the theory of the defence that Mary Turnbul's death was accidental and that it was possible that she had been making her way to the railway station  by cutting across Carlisle Park, walking along the path at the top of the Dene and had then fallen down the slope. The judge said that it had been suggested that Mary Turnbull had got on slippery ground and fallen and hit her head on a tree and thereafter had gone 'head over heels' some 47 feet down the slope to the point where she was found. The judge noted that it was a 'theory' and that the defence had a right to put it forward.

However, he then noted that it was the case for the prosecution that the labourer and Mary Turnbull had been seen together going off towards the Dene and the spot where Mary Turnbull was later found and that the prosecution had also presented scientific evidence that could be considered to confirm that the labourer and Mary Turnbull had been together in the Dene, it being inferred that he had then assaulted Mary Turnbull and left her for dead there. The judge also considered the question of the labourers drunkenness, stating that drunkenness was no defence in law if it was voluntarily acquired, and then said, 'But if you have a crime which requires a particular intention, it may be that a man is so drunk that he is not in a position to form that conclusion. It you come to that conclusion, then your verdict, even if you think he was the man concerned, would be not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter'.

The jury retired for about one hour and forty minutes before returning their not guilty verdicts, not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter.


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


see National Archives - ASSI 45/129

see Morpeth Herald - Friday 25 January 1952

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Wednesday 16 January 1952

see Morpeth Herald - Friday 07 December 1951