Unsolved Murders

Peter Atkinson

Age: 45

Sex: male

Date: 1 Feb 1960

Place: Post Office Cottages, Shottenden, Canterbury, Kent

Peter Atkinson was killed with a sawn-off pickaxe handle in his general store and post-office in Shottenden.

He died from head wounds after saying that three men in overcoats had beaten him up.

He was discovered at about 8.55pm on Saturday 30 January 1960 by a neighbour at 2 Post Office Cottages when he heard a knock on his wall and rushed out to find Peter Atkinson lying on the floor in the post office covered with blood.

After being taken to Brook Hospital in Woolwich three brain operations were carried out on Peter Atkinson but he died shortly before midday on Monday 1 February 1960. His post mortem concluded that he had died from head injuries caused by two or more blows from a blunt instrument.

The police said that they thought that the murderers might have panicked, stating that it appeared that they had got away with little. It was determined that Peter Atkinson had been attacked in his paraffin shed and it was thought that he might have surprised raiders trying to steal paraffin.

The murder weapon was found on Tuesday 2 February 1960 in a field five miles away from his shop near Molash. It was found by a search party that stumbled upon it. It was described as 'bloodstained'. A chief superintendent said, 'It was found seven yards inside a field by the side of the road at Molash. We believe it was thrown there from a car being driven towards Ashford or Maidstone'. It was sent for tests at Scotland Yard.

During their investigation the police fingerprinted all 200 adults in Shottenden. The police said that they were searching for three men and a woman who they thought could help in their enquiries.

The police appealed for a man and woman to come forward who had been seen talking to Peter Atkinson over his fence shortly before he was attacked. It was said that he had been seen shining a torch and that they had appeared to have been pouring petrol from a can into their car. It was noted that the couple could not be identified locally.

It was reported that the police were trying to trace a number of missing trinkets that were thought to have been taken in the robbery which were not traced. The items included:

  • Cigarette lighter with a coloured map of Switzerland on one side and a floral design of edelweiss on the other.
  • Silver-coloured watch with leather strap, thought to have bene worn by Peter Atkinson at the time.
  • Pocket knife with a rough horn handle, two blades and four attachments.

The cigarette lighter had been bought for him by a friend whilst in Zurich.

It was noted that the theft of the personal items was sufficient to have made the offence capital murder.

It was reported that the police were also looking into a robbery at Godmersham, three miles from Shottenden, that also took place on the Saturday night during which carpenter's tools had been taken away from a builders hut by a railway line in case there was a connection.

A shooting brake or van had been seen outside the shop at about 8.40pm, about 15 minutes before Peter Atkinson was found injured and the police traced a number of similar vehicles that they took in to be examined for fingerprints and bloodstains. It was reported as having been either a fawn coloured Ford, believed to have been pre-war, or possibly a home converted shooting brake.

A report was made of a Ford car having filled up with petrol in Shottenden during the Saturday evening and the police said that it was vital that the occupants should be found and interviewed as they were believed to have spoken to Peter Atkinson.

The shooting brake was said to have been seen with three men in it.

During their investigation the police questioned people all over Kent, and in particular those in public houses in the Chilham area.

It was noted that in the recent weeks there had been hop and fruit pickers in the village that had stayed in the hop pickers' huts at weekends which was only a few hundred yards from the shop.

The police also went to places like Faversham, Ashford and Canterbury to ask building contractors whether they had lost a pickaxe handle and also went to shops and stores that stocked such tools.

Peter Atkinson had been a sub-postmaster. He was described as being 17 stone but only 5ft 6in tall. He was described as a quiet, but popular man and noted that he rarely took part in village activities on account of his poor health.

He had a sister that had lived in Grimthorpe Avenue in Whitstable who took over the store after his murder and looked after his little cairn terrier 'Merry'.  Peter Atkinson had taken over the post office after his mother died a few years earlier but his family had run the business for the previous 35 years.

Shottenden was described as a little hamlet near Canterbury as well as an 'orchard-and-hop-gardens village'.

His memorial service was held in the Methodist Chapel at Shottenden on the afternoon of Sunday 7 February 1960. He had been a trustee at the church. The chapel had been filled to capacity by a congregation that had included members of his family, relatives and villagers from Shottenden and Chilham. Peter Atkinson had been a bachelor.

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

see www.kent.police.uk

see Kent Online

see BBC

see Daily News (London) - Tuesday 09 February 1960

see Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald - Saturday 06 February 1960

see Daily News (London) - Thursday 04 February 1960

see Daily News (London) - Tuesday 02 February 1960

see Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald - Saturday 20 February 1960

see Faversham News - Friday 12 February 1960

see Daily News (London) - Friday 05 February 1960

see Daily News (London) - Wednesday 03 February 1960