Unsolved Murders

Veronica Marie Chen

Age: 31

Sex: female

Date: 1 Nov 1957

Place: 239 Smithdown Lane, Liverpool

Veronica Marie Chen died from a fractured skull on 16 April 1957.

Her partner, a 36-year-old coloured barman, was tried for her murder but acquitted. He made three statements, in which he first denied hitting her but later admitted slapping her to quieten her down. The doctor said that her fractured skull could not have been caused by a blow from a fist and said that it was more likely due to her having hit her head against a wall or something.

It is not clear whether the barman was acquitted on the grounds that he had not hit her hard or whether the jury could not decide how her skull had come to be fractured as it was heard that Veronica Chen was often drunk and falling over.

A doctor was called to Veronica Chen's house on 16 April 1957 to find Veronica Chen unconscious. She was then taken to hospital where she died later the same day.

In his first statement on 17 April 1957, the barman said, 'I am 36 years of age and I live at 239 Smithdown Lane. I am divorced from my wife but my sons live with me. For the past three years I have been living with Veronica Marie Chen, for the past four months at 239, Smithdown Lane. She had an adopted boy who is about four years of age. I work as a barman at the Vines Public House, Vine street and Veronica did work as a barmaid at the Kings Arms, St Johns Lane. I think she has worked there for roughly six or seven weeks and previously she worked at a Bents House in Harbord Street for about a week and before that she worked at the Vine Public House with me. She has always been fond of drink taking a lot, too much, and she always took spirits if she could get them.

During the time we have lived together we have had bits of arguments and scraps when she has been drunk because that was the only time she was a nuisance, when she was sober she was as good as gold.

About quarter past five on Friday the 12th April, I left the house to go to work and Veronica was in the house getting ready to go to work for eleven o'clock. She was all right then and there were no marks on her face at all.

I got home from work about half past eleven and I think the two eldest lads were still up playing cards, but Veronica wasn't in.

I went to bed in the front ground floor room where I usually sleep with Veronica and I think I had been asleep for a couple of hours or so, it was actually half past one in the morning as I looked at my watch when I was wakened by a thud. I got out of bed and saw Veronica was lying on the floor on her side, with her head towards the bed, she was rotten drunk. I picked her up and sat her on the bed and then she got undressed and got into bed. She was so drunk I didn't bother asking her where she had been. She just put her head on the pillow and was well asleep.

We both got up about 10 o'clock Saturday morning. I then noticed that her left eye was bruised and the left side of her face was red beside her ear. I asked her if she had seen her face and asked her if she was going to work. She said she was going to work and that she would cover it up with powder. I didn't ask her where she had been that night because I knew she wouldn't tell me.

I gave her her wages and we left the house together to go to work.

I got home about quarter past three on Saturday afternoon and about four o'clock Veronica came in with some food and then had a snooze. When I woke up she was cleaning up and about half past five I went to work. She told me she had to be at work for seven o'clock.

I got home about half past eleven on Saturday night and Veronica was in bed then and it looked to me as though she was drunk again and I remarked to her, 'You've been at it again', but she didn't say anything. I think my two lads were still up playing records.

I went to bed but forgot about the clock going on and I got up later about half past eleven, she was still in bed. I told her I would put the chicken on a low light for her then I rushed off to work and got there about mid-day. Veronica didn't go into work on Sunday dinner time. I finished work about two o'clock and then went to the Bedford Social Club for a couple of drinks and got home about four o'clock. The dinner was ready and me, Veronica, my son and the baby had our dinner. Veronica and I went to bed then until half past six when I got up leaving her in bed and I went to work. On Sunday I noticed that her eye was more black and I think that is why she didn't go to work.

After I finished work on Sunday night about eleven o'clock I went with my other girl friend who lives in Westvale, Kirby, and stayed there the night. I got back home about twenty minutes to nine on Monday morning and everyone was in bed. I just had a quick swill and went out to work. I got home about half past three and Veronica and the baby were in. She had my dinner ready and after I had my dinner I had a sit down and she was reading. I went out to work about quarter past five, leaving her and the baby in. She told me she wasn't going to work as she was packing the job up, as I had got her a part time job at the Grove public house.

I got home from work on Monday night about half past eleven and I think they were all in bed, she was in bed in the front room. I went into her and she was fast asleep. I got into bed with her and I got up about eight o'clock. I looked at her and she was breathing very heavily, still fast asleep. I shook her but I couldn’t wake her, so I got dressed and went straight down to the doctor's surgery in Upper Parliament Street. He wasn't there but I left a message asking for him to call and see Veronica. I went to work then and about two o'clock I went home and the two lads were there with the baby and they told me that Veronica had gone to hospital.

I had something to eat and about three o'clock a policeman called at the house and asked me to go to Sefton General Hospital to give particulars about Veronica.

I went to the hospital and I found out then she was seriously ill. About half past ten on Tuesday night the 16th April, after I finished work I went straight up to the hospital with my brother Joseph, we stayed in the ward with her for about ten minutes, but she was still unconscious. We left the hospital and as they had told me she was seriously ill, about quarter to one this morning I 'phoned the hospital and they told me she had died.

Veronica was too fond of drink and she used to bring it home to the house. Yesterday afternoon after she had gone to hospital I was cleaning up the room a bit and found two empty Guinness bottles, three or four empty miniature rum bottles and one or two empty miniature brandy bottles and I threw these in the bin.

I forgot to tell you that Veronica had been away from me for about a month and only came back a week last Monday (8.4.57).

She had words with me because she said I was staying out late at night and she took the baby and went to live round Falkner Street. There was no row or fight, she just left.

About a couple of days before she came back to live with me I went down to see her where she worked in St Johns Lane to get the address where I had to take the money for my house and furniture. She told me to wait outside the pub and after she had finished she came up home with me and then she stayed with me.

The last time we had a fight must be over four months ago before we came to live in this house, we haven’t had a fight since and certainly I never hit her at all last week and I did not give her the black eye'.

Later on the same day, 17 April 1957, the barman made another statement in which he said, 'What I told you before isn't quite right. On Friday night I was in bed when Vera came in, in the early hours of the morning. She woke me up when she staggered in the front room. She was rotten drunk. I asked her where she'd been and she wouldn't tell me so I gave her a crack with the back of my hand across the face. She staggered back to the wall and held herself up by the sideboard. She got herself up, then sat on the bed and started getting undressed. Then she got in bed and just went to sleep. Next morning she just got up and got dressed an I saw she had a bit of a shiner and she said she'd cover it with powder. She then went to work. She didn't complain of any pain to me and I thought everything was all right until I got up on Tuesday morning and I saw she was unconscious, then I sent for the doctor'.

However, on the same day again, 17 April 1957, he later made a third statement, saying, 'I'd like to tell you the true story of what happened early last Saturday morning. It was quarter past one when she came in, because I was wearing my wrist watch when she came in and woke me up. She was rotten drunk and I asked her where she’d been, she wouldn't tell me, so when she came by the bed, I was sitting up then, I struck her with my hand. I was in such a temper. I jumped up and we had a struggle, I don't know how many times I hit her, but I hit her a few times. She fell on the bed. She screamed out some words like 'You bastard' and I slung her on the bed. I got back into bed and went to sleep. Next morning when I woke up she was in bed undressed alongside me. I noticed she had a bruised left eye and I told her she'd got a black shiner and I asked her if she was going to work with it and she said she'd put some powder on. She didn't tell me anything about being ill or having any head pains and I didn't know she was ill until I woke up yesterday morning and I couldn't wake her up. She hadn't any marks on her face when she had come in early Saturday morning, she was just drunk and she had these miniature bottles with her. I didn't mean to hurt her, it was just that she was rotten drunk and it’s not very nice for the woman you're living with to come in at that time of the morning, that's what really made me lose my temper and hit her. We've had our rows and nights before but I’ve never hit her as hard as I did this time'.

The pathologist that carried out the post mortem on Veronica Chen at 4.30pm on Wednesday 17 April 1957 at the mortuary at Sefton General Hospital said, 'On external examination, I found that the body was that of an emaciated female aged about thirty years, and five feet four inches in height. There was marked bruising, a few days old, around the left eye. There was a smaller degree of similar bruising round the right eye. There was similar bruising above the left ear. There were several, almost healed, abrasions, scattered over the face and nose. The bruising around the eyes was consistent with having been caused by blows from a fist.

On internal examination, I found there was bruising on the inside of the scalp, above the left ear, in the middle of the forehead, and just inside the hairline in the front of the head. The skull was fractured. The point of impact appeared to be just in front of the left ear, from which point three fracture lines radiated. There was a cerebral haemorrhage on the left side of the head. The haemorrhage appeared to be due to the rupture of the left middle meningeal artery. The brain substance under the haemorrhage was very compressed. The brain substance was bruised, on the under surface of the left temporal lobe, and on the outer surface of the right temporal lobe. The pituitary gland was enlarged and showed an area of softening. There was broncho-pneumonia at the base of the right lung. That was attributable to the injuries.

In my opinion, the cause of death was cerebral haemorrhage and fractured skull, following a blow on the left side of the head.

In my opinion, the fracture could not have been caused by a blow with a fist or the back of the hand. It could have been caused by the impact of the head on a wall or floor.

It would be right to say, that, apart from the fracture of the skull, the rest of the injuries were not of a particularly serious nature. These injuries would never have caused death. I agree we are left with the fracture of the skull, which may have been caused by her bumping her head against the wall or floor. Her skull was of normal thickness.

The condition of the pituitary gland, while having no relation to the cause of death, would explain her emaciated condition, which would be natural'.

When Veronica Chen's sister gave evidence she said that she knew that Veronica Chen and the barman had been living together for some considerable time, but said that she didn't have much to do with them and so could not say whether they were happy or not. However, she said that she saw Veronica Chen about once a fortnight when she went to the pub that she worked at and said that on those occasions, in which they discussed Veronica Chen's relationship with the barman, she said she had no reason to think that they were anything other than happy. She added that she knew that Veronica Chen and the barman had bought the house at 239 Smithdown Lane about four weeks earlier so that they could live there together.

A barmaid that worked at the King's Arms public house in St John's Lane, Liverpool said that she knew Veronica Chen who also worked there as a barmaid and said that she saw her on Friday 12 April 1957 at 10.30pm as she was leaving work. She said that Veronica Chen left with her and that went they left that they stood outside the pub talking for a while. She said that at that time she noticed no injuries to her face and said that during the night that Veronica Chen had had about two or three bottles of Guinness whilst at work. She noted that Veronica Chen would occasionally buy miniature bottles of brandy to take home or away with her but that she was not sure whether Veronica Chen had bought any miniature bottles that night, noting that she didn't serve her with any. She added that whilst they were stood outside the pub that Veronica Chen was sober and that that was the last time she saw her.

A security officer with Liverpool City Council that lived in Friar Street, Liverpool said that he had been the manager of the King's Arms public house up until 27 May 1957 and said that he had known Veronica Chen at the King's Arms Hotel as a barmaid. He said that he saw her on Saturday 13 April 1957 when she came to work at about 10.30am and said that he noticed that she was scarred or disfigured, saying that it appeared to him that fat had burned her face on her cheeks. He said that she later left the hotel at 3.10pm the same day and that he didn't see her again. He added that he had also seen her on the Friday night, 12 April 1957 when she came to work at the hotel, noting that he saw her at closing time when he let her out of the hotel, at which time her face was unmarked and that she was sober. When he was cross-examined at the trial he said that he agreed with the fact that when Veronica Chen had worked on the Saturday that she had carried out her duties satisfactorily and that he had no idea that she was seriously injured.

A police detective said that he went to 239 Smithdown Lane, which he said was a converted shop. He said that there were two downstairs rooms, a kitchen and a room with a bed in it and two upstairs rooms, the back room with a bed and the front room with just a table and that access to the front ground floor bedroom was obtained from the ground floor living room which itself had the kitchen to the back of it.

He said that in the ground floor bedroom he saw what appeared to be a bloodstained handkerchief and under the bed an empty miniature rum bottle and an empty miniature brandy bottle. He said that then, about three feet away from the foot of the bed, and between a glass china cabinet and a sideboard he saw what appeared to be bloodstains on the linoleum. He said that then, on the wall, just inside the door about four feet away from the bed he saw what appeared to be more bloodstains.

The police detective said that when he then looked in the dustbin in the yard, from which the back kitchen door led, he found six empty miniature rum bottles and two empty Guinness bottles.

When the police detective later saw the barman and asked him how Veronica Chen came by her injuries he said, 'She came home, rotten drunk, last Friday and the marks were on her face then' and he then made his first statement.

After giving his statement the chief inspector said that at 4.15pm he said to the barman, 'I don't think what you told us before was the truth, and I believe you assaulted Mrs Chen, thereby causing her injuries', to which the barman replied, 'I did smack her with the back of my hand, and she fell against the wall'. He then made his second statement.

After Veronica Chen died the chief inspector said to him, 'I have been to the post mortem examination on the body of Mrs Chen, and she died from cerebral haemorrhage, following a fracture of her skull, and it appears as though she had been badly assaulted around the face and head', to which the barman replied, 'I am sorry. I should have told you the truth in the first place. I'll tell you how it was' and he then made his third statement.

He was then charged at 10.30pm with Veronica Chen's murder, to which he replied, 'I admit hitting her harder than I've ever hit her before, because I lost my temper, but I didn't think she would die'.

However, the police acknowledged that the barman’s first statement was given before he was suspected of anything and before Veronica Chen died and that it was not made under caution.

The barman was tried at Liverpool Crown Court on Tuesday 5 November 1957 but found not guilty of murder and discharged. However, it’s not clear on what grounds he was acquitted.

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

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - ASSI 86/148, ASSI 52/926

see Liverpool Echo - Wednesday 06 November 1957

see Leicester Evening Mail - Wednesday 06 November 1957

see Northern Whig - Wednesday 06 November 1957

see Liverpool Echo - Thursday 23 May 1957