Unsolved Murders

Herbert Wallis Bambridge

Age: 42

Sex: male

Date: 18 Sep 1953

Place: Town Farm, Ovington, Watton, Norfolk

Herbert Bambridge died shortly after drinking a cup of tea at his farm on 18 September 1953.

His inquest returned the verdict that he had died from strychnine poisoning and had committed suicide. However, the verdict was returned after the Coroner said that 'an open verdict will leave malicious tongues to wag'.

He was a poultry farmer at Town Farm, an eight-acre farm in Ovington near Watton in Norfolk. He was married to a 36-year-old wife and had three daughters and a son aged 5 to 15. His father-in-law also helped out at the farm and lived nearby in Carbrook.

It was not immediately known what had caused his death, but it was noted that in the weeks beforehand over 400 of his White Aylesbury ducks had died from a mysterious disease. It was heard that from August 1953 ducks in one section of his farm started dying off in the dozens.

Following his death, the police took away utensils from his farm for examination. Organs from his body were also taken away for examination by the Home Office science laboratory in Nottingham.

Local villagers said that during the weeks before his death as his ducks were dying off he had lost weight and had complained of 'boiling pains' in his stomach. However, at his inquest, the pathologist said that Herbert Bambridge had had a liver disease which could have induced the 'boiling pains' similar to those that he had complained of shortly before his death.

Following the death of his ducks Herbert Bambridge had sent several duck carcases to the Ministry of Agriculture for examination at their veterinary laboratory in Weybridge, but the scientists there said that the ducks had not died from any fowl pest or from any known poultry disease. They said that the deaths of the ducks on his farm was still a mystery.

The death of his ducks was described as a 'plague'.

It was said that Herbert Bambridge had started to complain of pains in his stomach from early September 1953. A neighbour said that Herbert Bambridge said to him, 'I can taste those wretched ducks'.

At 7.20am on Friday 18 September 1953 Herbert Bambridge had a cup of tea before having his breakfast and immediately collapsed into a chair. His wife said that Herbert Bambridge had looked pale and ill after drinking the tea.

His wife then telephoned for a doctor who arrived about 15 minutes later, but Herbert Bambridge died within a few seconds of him reaching his side.

His post mortem examination showed that he had a little over a grain of strychnine in his organs and the pathologist said that that indicated that he must have swallowed at least two grains. The pathologist demonstrated the amount of strychnine in crystal form that that would have looked like by holding out his right hand and saying that it would have covered a thumbnail.

The police said that they examined items from the farm, including an empty syrup tin that was found in Herbert Bambridge's office which they said they found a trace of the poison in. They said that no poison was found in the remains of the cup of tea that Herbert Bambridge had been drinking.

In the early stage of the investigation the police said that the outstanding point puzzling them regarding the connection between Herbert Bambridge's death and its association with the death of his ducks was why he had been the only person to have been effected. The police added that another puzzling aspect of the duck deaths was why it was restricted to only one part of the 8-acre farm and not others and why it had not affected other animals such as pigs and cows.

At his inquest the Coroner told the jury, 'I have very carefully perused the statements taken by the police, and I can find no evidence even to suggest the possibility that anybody gave strychnine to him. You will not be concerned with that particular problem, whether anyone gave it to him and whether there is a murder charge over anybody's head'.

During the inquest, the Coroner read out three statements that Herbert Bambridge's wife had made to the police. The Coroner said that in them Herbert Bambridge's wife said that they had been married in 1937 and that Herbert Bambridge had smoked between 80 and 100 cigarettes a day and was 'awkward and stubborn'. He said that Herbert Bambridge had used poison on the farm for killing vermin and that he was careless in handling it. However, Herbert Bambridge's wife noted that she had never seen or heard of Herbert Bambridge having used strychnine on the farm.

She added that once when Herbert Bambridge was 21-years-old in 1932 that he had attempted to commit suicide by throwing himself in to a water pit.

She said that whilst Herbert Bambridge had complained about boiling pains in his stomach on the day before his death, he had eating prodigiously and that on the night before his death he had eaten a huge dinner of steak and kidney pudding, which she said was the biggest meal she had ever known him to eat. She said that on the morning he died that he had seemed somewhat different. She said, 'He was unusually good tempered. It was strange to see him in such a good mood. I had to go to court that day about receiving stolen cigarettes and he smiled at me and said, 'Do you mind going to court, Missus?' and asked if he should come with me'.

Herbert Bambridge's wife said that she had taken out a £118 insurance policy on Herbert Bambridge's life some time previously and added that she had had no indication that he was worried to the point of attempting suicide. She went on to say that it was not until after his death that she learned that Herbert Bambridge had taken out two additional £500 insurance policies.

She said that Herbert Bambridge kept a number of rat poisons about the house, saying 'He was very careless about them and would put them in silly places and then forget where they were. She added that when 'two fat pigs and a dog and a small pony died it was thought their deaths were from poison'.

It was heard that Herbert Bambridge's wife had said that she had had no difference with Herbert Bambridge over a man that worked on the farm in return for his keep.

However, the inquest heard that a local undertaker said that he had been drinking with Herbert Bambridge about five months earlier during which Herbert Bambridge had inferred that, 'it would not be long before I collected him'.

The inquest also heard from a gamekeeper who was stated by the police to be the only person that they had found that had ever taken strychnine onto the farm, who said that he had gone there three years earlier and had placed three strychnine dosed eggs on the farm to kill magpies and jackdaws. However, he added that he had not sold or given Herbert Bambridge any strychnine.

The Coroner noted to the jury that the police had earlier suspected Herbert Bambridge of being involved in a case of receiving stolen cigarettes, but it was heard that his wife, who had kept a shop, had taken the blame. The Coroner noted that Herbert Bambridge had obviously been worried that he would have been implicated.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Daily Herald - Friday 16 October 1953

see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 20 October 1953

see Daily Mirror - Monday 19 October 1953

see Daily Mirror - Tuesday 20 October 1953

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 15 October 1953

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Tuesday 20 October 1953

see Daily Herald - Tuesday 20 October 1953

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 20 October 1953

see Liverpool Echo - Thursday 15 October 1953

see Western Mail - Friday 16 October 1953

see Dundee Courier - Tuesday 20 October 1953

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Thursday 15 October 1953

see Daily Herald - Friday 16 October 1953