Unsolved Murders

William Pettit junior

Age: 27

Sex: male

Date: 23 Oct 1953

Place: Budge Row, St Pauls, London

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Rene Brown was murdered on Sunday 11 September 1953 in a field in Chislehurst and the body of William Pettit junior was later found dead on Friday 23 October 1953 in London.

It was claimed that William Pettit junior had murdered Rene Brown and then committed suicide although some people questioned that, saying that the suicide note that was found on his body was fake. The note was printed out in block capitals.

Rene Brown was found stabbed to death in a mushroom field in Chislehurst, Kent on 11 September 1953. The dagger had been plunged through her heart and was buried to the hilt. It was said that she had not struggled.

She was a retired civil servant.

Following the discovery of Rene Brown, the police kept an all-night watch around William Pettit junior's council house in case he came back. It was said that he had bene sleeping out recently on commons, parks and open spaces in the London area. He was described as an adventurous lad and noted for having six years earlier stowed away on the liner America, for which there was a great fuss at the time.

William Pettit junior's body was later found on a blitzed site in Budge Row near St Pauls, London. It was not known how he could have disappeared without a trace for three weeks.

It was noted that it was the first time that the television service had been called to assist Scotland Yard with a murder inquiry and that William Pettit junior's photograph was transmitted over the television service following a newsreel in an effort to trace him. The broadcast described William Pettit junior as:

  • 5ft 10in tall.
  • Sallow complexion with sunken cheeks.
  • Dark brown bushy hair.
  • Brown eyes.
  • Slight cleft in chin.
  • Scar on right thumb.
  • Walked with a stoop and slightly-swinging gait.
  • Suffering from tuberculosis.
  • Wearing a green overcoat, light grey check sports jacket, fawn gaberdine trousers, a black and white check shirt, grey socks and black shoes.

The inquest on William Pettit junior stated that when his body had been found that he had been dead for about four to five weeks. The pathologist said that he could find no signs of injury, violence or poisoning but that that there were signs of under-nourishment. He concluded that his cause of death was unascertainable.

A verdict of murder against William Pettit junior was returned at Rene Brown's inquest whilst an open verdict was returned at William Pettit junior's inquest in November 1953.

Rene Brown and William Pettit junior were last seen alive together on a 61 bus on the evening of Thursday 10 September 1953. Rene Brown's body was later found in the field near the No. 61 bus stop at Chislehurst, but William Pettit junior had disappeared.

Before they had boarded the bus they had been to the The Fantail, a restaurant in Farnborough and William Pettit junior was seen about two hours later three or four miles away.

It was heard at the inquest that they had gone to the restaurant together and that whilst there Rene Brown had gone onto the dias and played the piano. They then left between 6pm and 6.30pm at which time Rene Brown was seen carrying a piece of heather that she had picked on the common.

Another witness said that they had seen a couple behind some bushes in a 'lovers’ lane' at Chislehurst on 10 September 1953 shortly before Rene Brown was found there stabbed,

The pathologist said that Rene Brown had been killed by one blow from the dagger that was found in her and that there was evidence of recent sexual intercourse and that Rene Brown had not got up after it.

During the hunt for William Pettit junior pictures of him and Rene Brown were shown at local cinemas in Bromley asking anyone if they had seen either Rene Brown or William Pettit junior on the night of 10 September 1953.

During the search for William Pettit junior, police cars were dispatched to Chislehurst caves following reports that he had been seen there, but no trace of him was found.

William Pettit junior's parents noted that William Pettit junior had been dying of tuberculosis and had only had a few weeks to live and before he was found on the blitzed site it was thought that he had either collapsed in some remote spot or had himself been murdered.

However, shortly after Rene Brown was found murdered and before the body of William Pettit junior was found, Rene Brown's husband said, 'I know the man they wish to interview in connection with this murder. Now that my wife is dead, I can claim that I know the man better than anyone else. I believe that, sooner or later, he will try to contact me. That is why I am staying here alone. I am not afraid to meet him. Some people say that he is a dying man. But I know he is not as ill as that. To my personal knowledge he has been saying for the last two years that he has only a few weeks to live'.

Rene Brown's husband also said, whilst the hunt for William Pettit junior was on, 'The suggestion has been developing that I am under some suspicion myself. I have already denied that'.

Rene Brown had lived with her husband in Passey Place off Eltham High Street. It was said that they were both staunch Labour supporters and that in October 1951 they had gone to a local Labour meeting through which they later met William Pettit junior. It was said that when they went to the meeting there were a few brash and noisy hecklers there who were described as being obviously Communist-inclined. It was said that any other woman might have been annoyed, but that Rene Brown forgave them their youth and asked them home for supper 'to try to convert them'.

It was said that it was never known whether or not she converted them, but noted that they did later introduce her to a friend of theirs, William Pettit junior, who was described as a boy in his twenties with a flush face which was 'partly political and partly tuberculous'.

It was said that perhaps because of the fever in him William Pettit junior had never worked, and that Rene Brown and her husband took him to their suburban hearts. However, it was said that William Pettit junior and Rene Brown had had rows, some of them being political, and that Rene Brown had complained about him once or twice to the police.

It was said that it went on like that until 11 September 1953 when Rene Brown was found dead with a knife in her chest and William Pettit junior had disappeared.

At the inquest it was heard that Rene Brown was leading a double life and that for nearly a year she had been complaining to her husband and the police about 'persecution' and threats from William Pettit junior but that all along she had been carrying on a secret intrigue with him, and regularly meeting him to kiss and cuddle.

At the inquest it was heard that Rene Brown and William Pettit junior used to kiss and cuddle in a cemetery and that they had been seen cuddling on top of the bus a few hours before Rene Brown was found dead.

At the inquest, an attendant at Chislehurst cemetery said that he had noticed a woman with a young man visit the cemetery almost every Thursday. He said, 'They attended to her parents' grave. Afterwards they would sit down and start caressing'. When the Coroner asked the attendant what he meant by 'caressing', the attendant said, 'love making'. He added that he thought that they had been mother and son.

A grave digger at the cemetery said that he had seen the couple and identified them as being Rene Brown and William Pettit junior and noted that whenever they went anywhere near them that William Pettit junior would call Rene Brown 'aunty'.

A bricklayer from Tiverton in Devon said that he had been working on a house in Keston and that on 10 September 1953 that he had been waiting for a bus when he had seen Rene Brown and William Pettit junior stood not far from him. He said, 'The woman was a lot older than the man, I should say double his age. About seven or ten days previously I had seen the same couple. They got off the bus and had their arms round each other. Nurses coming from Farnborough Hospital seemed to take the same view as I did, that because of the difference in their ages it was peculiar'. He added that he saw Rene Brown take what he thought was a purse from her handbag and offer William Pettit junior some money, but said that he at first refused, but afterwards accepted it. He said that the couple then boarded the bus and went upstairs and that William Pettit junior sat with his arm round Rene Brown, noting that the time then was just about 6pm.

On the same day, 10 September 1953, a lorry driver who lived in Colerige Road in Addiscombe said that at 3.30pm he had been driving behind a No. 61 bus going towards Farnborough and that he had seen a man and a woman kissing in the back seat. When the Coroner asked the lorry driver why he thought that that was unusual, the lorry driver said that it seemed unusual because of the difference in their ages, noting that the woman was definitely older and that she seemed to be grey haired. He said that they were kissing all the time and that the man appeared to be doing most of the caressing. A man that had been in the lorry at the same time corroborated the lorry drivers’ statement.

William Pettit junior's father handed a small sheet of soiled paper to the Coroner at the inquest stating that it was the last page from William Pettit junior's diary saying that he thought that it was written in Rene Brown's handwriting as it included the sentence 'Please forgive me', and her name was at the end.

William Pettit junior's father added that he had seen Rene Brown in his son's room in his flat up until 11.30pm and midnight before, although he said that that had not been on many occasions. However, Rene Brown's husband had earlier told the inquest that Rene Brown had never been to William Pettit junior's room.

William Pettit junior's father said that two nights before Rene Brown's murder that William Pettit junior said to him, 'I have been used like a tool by Rene Brown's husband'. He went on to say that with the aid of Rene Brown and her husband that his son had sabotaged cars to which it was reported that there was laughter from the place in the court where Rene Brown's husband was sitting. William Pettit junior's father then said that there was no need to laugh and said that the last car sabotaged had been at 207 Westmount Road. William Pettit junior's father said, 'Enemies of Brown's these people were. I want to see my boy get justice'.

Before William Pettit junior's father finished his evidence, he said that Rene Brown had come to their house twice in one week and that he had had to have her ejected by the police.

The inquest later heard evidence that William Pettit junior had been bound over in June 1953 for threatening Rene Brown. It was also heard that William Pettit junior had also been bound over in December 1952 for uttering threats by telephone and letter.

It was heard that the inquest was twice interrupted whilst the Coroner summed up.

It was heard that when the Coroner said that Rene Brown and her husband were looking after William Pettit junior as he suffered from tuberculosis that William Pettit junior's sister jumped up and said, 'She never looked after Bill. She never looked after him. Never!', and that she then walked rapidly out of the courtroom, slamming the door behind her.

It was said then, that after a silence, William Pettit junior's father said in a low voice, 'As God is my judge, that is the truth. They used my boy as a tool'.

Following the inquest, Rene Brown's husband said, 'There was talk of recent intimacy before she died. My wife radiated purity of soul. Her qualities were almost nun-like'.

William Pettit junior's father said, 'I will never believe my boy killed her. If you killed a fly in my house, he would look at you in horror. He liked Mrs Brown and would never allow anything to be said against her'.


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


see Yorkshire Evening Post - Monday 26 October 1953

see Daily Herald - Thursday 01 October 1953

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Tuesday 20 October 1953

see Liverpool Echo - Monday 26 October 1953

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 23 September 1953

see Daily Herald - Thursday 29 October 1953

see Dundee Courier - Friday 02 October 1953

see Daily Mirror - Friday 13 November 1953

see Daily Herald - Friday 13 November 1953

see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Tuesday 22 September 1953