Date: 1 Nov 1953
Audrey Olive was found in a tin trunk with a stocking tied round her neck at a property in Hilltop Avenue, South Benfleet, Essex, in November 1953.
Her 30-year-old army sergeant husband was tried for her murder and manslaughter at the Chelmsford (Essex) Assizes in February 1954 but acquitted. The jury took 2 hours 25 minutes to reach their verdict.
When the judge summed up he told them that if they believed the husbands story then he was entitled to a verdict of not guilty, but also that if there was any doubt that he should have the benefit of it.
It was claimed that he had murdered her in the married quarters at Weybourne (Norfolk) Army Camp in July 1953. Audrey Olive's husband said that she had died whilst he was trying to restrain her during an argument in which she was kicking and screaming.
A pathologist that examined Audrey Olive's body said that he found a stocking tied twice round her neck which had been knotted under her right ear, but that that there was no bruising underneath on the surface of her neck and it was submitted by the defence that the stocking had been placed there after death. He said that they had had the argument after he had come home and found that the dinner was not ready.
The pathologist said, 'I formed the opinion that death had been fairly rapid, and that asphyxia had played a part, and the only sort of asphyxia was some sort of pressure on the neck. There could have been manual strangulation but not with gross violence'. He then added that the lack of bruising beneath the stocking could have been consistent with it being put on after death.
Audrey Olive's husband said that he had put it there after she died. At the trial he said, 'As she was dead I wanted to die too. I wanted to make it look as though I had killed her'.
It was said that he had killed her during the argument in their married quarters at the army camp in Weybourne in July 1953 and that he had then put her in the tin and taken her to a house in South Benfleet when he was demobbed.
During the trial it was heard that Audrey Olive and her husband had frequent rows. Her husband said, 'My wife was having one of her frequent fits of temper. She was breaking and tearing everything she could lay her hands on. I tried to stop her and she started screaming. I put my hands round her throat, still trying to stop her shouting, and before I realised what had happened she fell to the floor at my feet'.
After Audrey Olive's husband gave his evidence, his defence asked, 'Whatever you were doing, were you intending her any harm?' to which Audrey Olive's husband replied, 'No, sir, I loved her. I would not hurt her'.
Evidence at the trial was also heard regarding an event in the sergeants' mess whilst Audrey Olive's husband was playing darts. It was said that whilst he was playing the game that Audrey Olive looked round the door and called out, 'Hi, you - out!'. It was said that Audrey Olive's husband then went out about three or four minutes later without complaining and it was considered at the trial that Audrey Olive's manner would have been humiliating to her husband. When the judge commented on the event he said, 'It sounds a humiliating thing', to which a sergeant said, 'It was. But he did not complain'.
Another man that recalled the event in the sergeant’s mess whilst Audrey Olive's husband was playing darts said that he regarded Audrey Olive as unfriendly.
A sergeant that knew Audrey Olive's husband said 'I have never seen him in a temper'.
Evidence was given by a woman that had met Audrey Olive's husband at Weybourne Camp in August 1953. She was a member of the Territorial Army and had met him when she had gone to the camp and said that when she did so she asked him whether he was married and said that he told her, 'there was no other girl'. She said that she was at the camp for about a fortnight and that she saw him every day. She said, 'When I went back home I corresponded with him'. She said that Audrey Olive's husband gave her a cardigan whilst at the camp and a pearl necklace and brooch in Derby where he visited her twice.
The woman Audrey Olive's husband later went to live with in South Benfleet said that she had met Audrey Olive's husband in a public house in Spitalfields, Norwich after which she saw him later about a dozen times. She said, 'At first he told me he was not married. I asked to see his pay book. He produced something else, a buff-coloured book, and told me, 'I shall have to tell you I have been married', He told me she had died in childbirth two years ago'. She added that Audrey Olive's husband had given her a coat, shoes, boots, blouses, a dress and other things.
The woman's uncle who lived in the property at Hilltop Avenue, South Benfleet said that on 31 October 1953 Audrey Olive's husband took a crate into the house which was then stored in the baby's bedroom. The uncle said that when he questioned Audrey Olive's husband about his wife's absence that Audrey Olive's husband replied that she would come back 'just as mysteriously as he went'.
Whilst Audrey Olive's husband was in the witness box at the trial he was described as being very emotional and that when asked whether he was in love with Audrey Olive he had replied, 'Very much so'. He said that Audrey Olive's husband was a very highly strung girl all the time and that she sometimes had tantrums. He said that she had been taking a nerve tonic for some years and that 'she often threw the bottle at me or smashed it against the wall when it was empty'.
Audrey Olive's husband said that he once approached Audrey Olive on the question of having children, but said, 'She refused and said we could not until we had a place of our own'. When Audrey Olive's husband was asked whether there was any more talk about children, Audrey Olive's husband said, 'My wife finally agreed that providing she could keep up her horse riding she would have a child when we got a place of our own'. He added that when she knew that she was going to have a child that she was not pleased and attempted to commit suicide.
A farmer from Holt in Norfolk said that he had hired horses to Audrey Olive and her husband to ride and said, 'In my opinion the only interest she had in life was horses'.
The farmer also recalled one time when Audrey Olive had said to him, 'My husband has gone off and left me', noting that he knew that Audrey Olive's husband had taken a load of soldiers and their wives to see the Coronation decorations. When Audrey Olive's husband responded in the witness box, he said, 'It was my duty to drive them to London. My wife had an opportunity of going, but she did not want to'.
A warrant-officer described Audrey Olive and her husband as seeming to be more than an ordinarily loving couple. He said that he and Audrey Olive's husband had gone to camp together north Wales in 1951 and that Audrey Olive's husband had spent every evening writing letters to his wife, burning the light in their tent until midnight or 1am. He said that Audrey Olive's husband had made an allotment of two thirds of his weekly pay to his wife and that in addition to that he sent her £1 each week, leaving himself only 15s.
The warrant officer also gave evidence at the trial stating that on one occasion he had lent Audrey Olive's husband his car for the weekend. He said that Audrey Olive's husband told him that he was going to Derbyshire to visit an ATS sergeant he had known at Weybourne, Norfolk, describing her as his girlfriend. He said, 'He told me his wife had gone down to her mother, who was ill at South Benfleet'.
When Audrey Olive's husband addressed the jury, he noted that Audrey Olive's husband was accused of blackening Audrey Olive's character because, after keeping his mouth shut about everything for so long, he had chosen to tell the truth about his marital relations, but said that the accusation was not true. He added that Audrey Olive was a woman who was so ill that she almost had a split personality.
The prosecution noted that the reason Audrey Olive's husband had given for putting the stocking round Audrey Olive's neck was for an 'extraordinary purpose'. He said, 'Might not the truth be that the stocking was put on at the time he attacked her?'. He then asked whether the jury believed that Audrey Olive's husband, having had a 'terrible and appalling accident', would not say a word to anybody, but to have packed up her body in a trunk and kept it for three or more months? He ten concluded that it was a case of murder and that the proper verdict was on of guilty.
However, Audrey Olive's husband was acquitted on Thursday 25 February 1954.
see see National Archives - ASSI 90/63, ASSI 36/180
see Portsmouth Evening News - Friday 26 February 1954
see Dundee Courier - Friday 26 February 1954
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 25 February 1954
see Lancashire Evening Post - Wednesday 24 February 1954
see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 25 February 1954
see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 24 February 1954