Unsolved Murders

Frederick James Sullivan

Age: 43

Sex: male

Date: 28 Jan 1955

Place: Greville Place, St Johns Wood, London

Frederick James Sullivan was stabbed in a flat in Greville Place, St John's Wood, London on 21 January 1955.

When he was found he had stab wounds to his chest and stomach.

His girlfriend who had been with him said that he had slipped on a mat and stabbed himself during an argument. However, it was claimed that she had stabbed him but she denied it at the Coroner’s inquest and an open verdict was returned.

Frederick Sullivan’s brother was noted for not having turned up to the inquest even though he was required to do so three times and a statement that he had earlier made to the police was later presented in evidence in place of his presence. The essence of his statement was that his brother had told him that it had been an accident.

Frederick Sullivan had been a wholesale fruiterer but he had also spent time in prison.

After receiving his stab injury he was taken to St Mary's Hospital in Paddington where he died seven days later on 28 January 1955.

At the inquest that was held on Friday 18 February 1955 a solicitor who questioned his girlfriend said, 'I am trying to prove that the woman deliberately killed him'. When he asked the woman at the inquest whether she had pushed the knife into Frederick Sullivan's abdomen she replied, 'On my word of honour I didn't'. However, the Coroner refused to allow the question.

Evidence at the inquest included a bloodstained carving knife, a man's silk dressing gown, a yellow towel and a woman's house-coat.

The woman that was accused of stabbing Frederick Sullivan said that she had lived with him for five years and that he had constantly maltreated her.

When the woman gave evidence she said that she did not get on very well with Frederick Sullivan and said, 'On the evening of January 21 we quarrelled, and he had been pulling me about from room to room. He put my head under the cold water tap twice. I have had to have medical treatment on previous occasions for injuries he caused me. Mr Sullivan was a very jealous and a very violent man. He always thought I was making eyes at someone. That was not true'.

It was heard that they had arrived at the flat that evening at about 8pm following a visit to the West End and that Frederick Sullivan had became very angry when she had refused to cook anything for him.

The woman continued her statement saying, 'He started drinking whisky and water and I also had a drink. When he put my head under the cold water tap my house-coat got soaked. I struggled and he pulled me over to the other side of the room. The knife was lying near the bread board and he seized it and started to threaten me. Then he got hold of me by the wrist and started to shake me. I got a bit hysterical and watched his face. I never watched his hands because I could always tell what he was going to do by watching his face. Mr Sullivan went to stab me and I kicked him and grasped hold of the hand that held the knife. He said that he would do me in and I told him not to be so silly and cause more trouble as we had had enough in the past. I told him that I had been waiting for him all this time. He replied with something about what his son had told him. I kicked him again and he started to fall backwards and slipped on the rug. I did not even know the knife had gone into him. I did not want him to die. I picked the knife off the floor and placed it in the sink'.

She added that Frederick Sullivan had maltreated her prior to going into prison as well as after he came out.

She also added that Frederick Sullivan had not been in the habit of wearing pyjamas and that she could not account for the tears in his dressing gown just below his heart.

A detective who saw Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend after the incident said, 'she was obviously tired, distressed and showed signs of shock. There was a fresh red mark on the bridge of her nose'.

A chief inspector that gave evidence at the inquest said that if the cuts that were found in the dressing gown had been old ones that he would have expected to have found them frayed but he said that they were not. He said that he found the dressing gown cord concealed under a mat near the fireplace in the living room, noting that it had been cut but that there was still a knot in it. He noted that some of the cuts in the dressing gown were in the same position as the knife wounds.

He said that he found Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend's housecoat on an armchair, noting that it had been wet and that one sleeve was missing from it, which he later found on the draining board in the kitchen.

He said that the living room showed signs of disorder and that there was a smear of blood on the floor.

When the chief inspector read out a statement that Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend had made he said that she had said that she and Frederick Sullivan had gone to a public house in the day and had soe drinks, returning home at about 6.30pm. She had then said that Frederick Sullivan had started to argue with her about a gentleman friend of hers and that she told him then that she wanted to leave him and that Frederick Sullivan then spat in her face and so she spat back in his face. In her statement she then said that she had made Frederick Sullivan some stew but that he had thrown it in the fire and had then told her that he would force her to make him some more and accused her of having big ideas because she knew someone who was a multi-millionaire. The chief inspector said that her statement went on to say that they continued arguing for hours and that later Frederick Sullivan undressed and got into bed and then shouted something to her about the thick makeup that she was wearing after which he asked her again to cook something for her and then put her head under the cold water tap.

The chief inspector went on to say that Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend then said that Frederick Sullivan then got hold of the knife and threatened to stab her saying that if he could not have her then no one would and that she then kicked him and he shouted and fell down and noted that if he had not fallen down then she did not think that she would have otherwise been able to save herself.

He said that she said that she had been afraid and that they had both been holding the knife and that as he fell to the floor he said to her, 'I never knew you would'.  He said that whilst the knife was in Frederick Sullivan's stomach Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend said that Frederick Sullivan told her to call an ambulance but told her not to call the police. However, in her initial statement the chief inspector said that Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend said that before the ambulance arrived that Frederick Sullivan told her, 'Tell them I did it myself'.

The chief inspector said that the bloodstained knife was later found in the kitchen sink. He said that when the bloodstained knife was later shown to Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend she said, 'Have I hurt him much? I told him I wanted to get away from him anyway'.

A pathologist that examined the bloodstained knife said that 'It could have caused the injuries to Sullivan'.

Another detective that questioned Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend said that when he first questioned Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend she said, 'Look, leave me alone', and said that when he pointed out that it was a serious matter she said, 'He had three double scotches. He was vile to me. He is always vile to me. He had the knife first. You know what it is. It is either him or you', although he added that he did not make a proper note of her comments until he later got back to the police station. He added that he didn't hear her say that Frederick Sullivan had fallen on the knife.

A surgeon at St Mary's Hospital said that he carried out an operation on Frederick Sullivan and found that there was a six-inch vertical cut in his chest.  He said that Frederick Sullivan had been unconscious when he had arrived at hospital and said that he was satisfied that there was no evidence of alcohol. However, he did note an odd smell which he said he took to be either perfume or talcum powder.

Frederick Sullivan's next door neighbour, a BBC commissionaire, said that Frederick Sullivan's girlfriend knocked at his door and said, 'I have stabbed him or knifed him', and that she was crying at the time.

An ambulance controller said that he took a call for an ambulance at 1.21am on 21 January 1955 through the Maida Vale Exchange in which he heard a woman's voice say, 'Will you please send an ambulance quickly. Hurry up'.  He added that the same person phoned again at 1.25am and asked for the ambulance to hurry up. An ambulance driver said that he arrived at Greville Place at 1.27am and said that a woman answered the door who appeared 'very agitated' and 'very distraught' and that when he went in he saw a man lying on the floor in the living room, saying that he was naked and in a semi-sitting position with his feet towards the fireplace and with his head resting against the armchair.

He said that when he examined the man he saw that he had a nasty wound in the left side of his stomach which he dressed and said that the woman then told him, 'We have been larking about with a knife and it went into his side', He noted that there was a yellow towel draped round the man's stomach.

However, after it was found that Frederick Sullivan's brother had not attended the inquest the inquest was adjourned.

The inquest was adjourned twice so that his brother could attend but he failed to show up on each occasion although a statement that he had made was later accepted as evidence and read out.

At the third inquest hearing on Friday 18 March 1955 the name of Frederick Sullivan's brother was read out three times, but he did not come forward. After he failed to appear, a police detective said, 'I have made considerable inquiry myself and other officers have done likewise in London and in the provinces, but we do not know where he is. I am quite certain his family do, and he is evading us'.

After Frederick Sullivan's brother failed to attend the inquest for the third time it was decided to continue the inquest and to accept a statement that he had made on 29 January 1955. The Coroner said, 'The only course open now is to put in evidence the statement made by Frederick Sullivan's brother. It is hearsay evidence, and it is evidence which can be accepted in a coroners court'.

His statement read, 'I am a widower and I have a brother named Frederick, known in the family circle as Slip. My brother came out of prison on December 11, 1954 and I picked him up on release. When I met him a woman was with him. My brother had been living with the woman for some years. They lived in a flat at Greville Place, St Johns Wood. On one occasion since his release have I visited them at that address and that was the day of his release when we had a party there. At 1.30pm on Friday January 21, 1955, a sister from St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, telephoned me and told me my brother had had an accident and was in hospital very ill. I went straight away to see him. He knew me, and we had a conversation together. I asked him what had happened, and he said, 'I am too ill to talk. Leave me alone'. Later the same evening I went back again and saw him and questioned him again, and he said it was an accident. On several occasions, in fact three or four times I saw him after that and questioned him again and he said, 'Oh, forget it. It was an accident. He would not discuss the circumstances of the accident. On two occasions while I was at the hospital the detective visited my brother and I heard him say, 'Forget it. It was an accident'. As far as I am concerned there is nothing more I can help the police with'.

After reading out the brother's statement the Coroner read out the woman's statement which read, 'On my word of honour, I did not thrust the knife into Mr Sullivan myself'.

The Coroner then addressed the jury, saying, 'Having heard he evidence I would like you to consider your verdict. There is evidence that the woman has had violence used to her by this man. If you accept the evidence that she gave, there was a struggle, and during that struggle the knife went into his abdomen and he died from the stab wound. Having heard the evidence you may well consider that there is not the slightest shred of evidence that this was murder on the part of the woman. You may well think she was the victim of this attack. Your verdict may be either that Sullivan died as a result of an accident or if you have any doubts in your minds as to what happened you may return an open verdict saying that Sullivan died from these stab wounds in circumstances not fully disclosed by the evidence'.

The jury retired for ten minutes before returning the open verdict, noting that they had been unanimous in their decision.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Marylebone Mercury - Friday 25 March 1955

see Liverpool Echo - Friday 18 March 1955

see Marylebone Mercury - Friday 18 February 1955