Unsolved Murders

Rose Ada Robinson

Age: 63

Sex: female

Date: 28 Nov 1943

Place: John Barleycorn Beerhouse, 518 Commercial Road, Portsmouth

Source: www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

Rose Ada Robinson was found strangled in her pub, the John Barleycorn Beerhouse in Portsmouth on the 29 November 1943.

A 47-year-old man was tried twice for her murder but acquitted. At his first trial at the Winchester Assizes on 14 March 1944 the jury failed to agree. At his second trial at the Old Bailey in London on 4 April 1944 he was acquitted.

The John Barleycorn Beerhouse at 518 Commercial Road in Portsmouth had been entered between 11pm on 28 and 8.30am on 29 November 1943 through a window at the rear which was broken. The window had been broken and then the window catch was released and the window then opened and climbed though.

Rose Robinson was later found strangled on the floor of her bedroom. Her handbag and the drawers in her bedroom had been ransacked and it was believed that a substantial sum of money, around £400 in £5 and £1 bank notes, silver and copper, had been stolen.

A detective sergeant that went to the John Barleycorn Beerhouse at about 10.20am on 29 November 1943 said that he found Rose Robinson in the back bedroom on the first floor lying on her back with the bottom of her head resting against an angle of the wall about two or three inches from the floor. She was clothed in a blue and white spotted dress, the bottom of which was drawn up round her body to within approximately four inches of her private parts. Beneath her body there was a rug, a portion of which lay in a fold beneath her back. He said that a stocking and a pair of stays lay on the floor near her right shoulder and that a pair of bloomers were lying on the floor about two feet away by a chair that was facing away from her body and about two and a half feet from it.

The detective sergeant said that the bedroom was in a state of confusion and that the dressing table had been moved out from the wall at one end for a distance of about one foot and that the top-dressing table drawer was slightly open. He also added that the contents of both of the top-dressing table drawers appeared to have been ransacked.

He noted that there was a rug on the floor between the bed and the dressing table and another smaller rug by the side of the bedroom door, both of which appeared to have been disturbed, when they were found.

He said that the bed clothing was in considerable disorder and amongst the bedding and nearby he found several handbags and other items on it. They were:

  • Exhibit 9: handbag that was open but had no money in it but contained a quantity of papers.
  • Exhibit 10: handbag with no money in it.
  • Exhibit 11: an empty purse.
  • Exhibit 12: handbag.
  • Exhibit 13: leather shopping bag that contained six threepenny pieces, an elastic band, three farthings and two unlit candles with keys attached to it.
  • £1 and a 10/- treasury note folded up together with some coppers.
  • Exhibit 14: six blue money bags and a green money bag were also found amongst the bedding and on the floor.
  • Exhibit 15: twelve elastic bands were also found amongst the bedding.
  • Exhibit 16: lying on the outer covering of the bed and mixed up with the other clothing was an eiderdown.
  • Exhibit 17: a piece of cloth fabric was found lying in the bed amongst the folds of a knitted coverlet towards the end of the bed.
  • Exhibit 18: a blackout blind was found lying on the floor near the foot of the bed. The blind had apparently been wrenched from its roller that was still in position over the window.
  • Exhibit 19: the blackout roller from above the window.

When the police later questioned Rose Robinson's son, he said that Rose Robinson slept in the back bedroom at the pub on her own and stated that he knew that Rose Robinson kept her money in two handbags, exhibits 9 and 13 and that she paid the brewers each month in cash. He said that he used to do her books for her and said that her gross takings were about £50 per week and that at the time of her death that she would have had about £400 in notes in the house which he said she kept in a bundle with an elastic band round them.

When the police made a further examination of the premises, they found a window behind the bar of the bar parlour in which one pane had been broken near the catch. When the police examined the sill on the outside below the broken pane they found a black button with some thread attached to it.

The police also noted that there was a window in the bottle and jug department that faced the private bar and the entrance to the yard which was also broken. It was a sliding window that was also a sort of hatchway.

A doctor said that he formed the opinion that Rose Robinson had probably stumbled, possibly on her knees, to get to a window and that in doing so she had struck her brow and face. He said that he then thought that she rolled onto her back and that whilst on the floor her assailant had either sat on or kneeled on her and strangled her with his right hand.

The man that was tried for her murder was arrested on 21 December 1943 after he was questioned by police who suspected him of selling stolen property in a refreshment house. When he was questioned about some shoes, he was selling he confessed to Rose Robinson's murder.

When the man that confessed to Rose Robinson's murder was first seen at St Mary's Prison in Portsmouth at 3pm on 22 December 1944 his clothes were taken for examination. When he took off his jacket, he said, 'It's all right, Inspector, you won't find any buttons there. After I did the job I found I had a button missing so I got the wind up and when I got back to London I pulled them all off'.

The police later found a piece of knotted thread in a fold of the lining of the man's left sleeve opposite the division at the cuff which was taken away for examination along with the button and other items.

The man's right hand was also photographed to be used as evidence as he had all his fingers missing, and moulds where made of it from which plaster casts which were then made and sent of for examination.

The man that was tried made three confessions on three occasions after handing himself in on 21 December 1943 in London but later said that they were bogus and denied murdering Rose Robinson in court. It was also seen that he had all his fingers missing from his right hand.

The confession that he made on 22 December 1943 read:

'I cannot remember the name of the public house. I think it was named the Fox. It was in Commercial Road. I cannot be sure of the date I broke into the public house, but I think it was on 28th November. When I climbed over the wall at the back of the public house I had a look round the gardens. I got into a house and as I could not find the bar I came out again into the garden. I then went to a window at the back of another house and got in through a window into a bar. I went upstairs and looked in several rooms. In the back room I saw a woman. There was no light in the room, and I flashed my torch on to her. She must have heard me and got out of bed as she was wearing some clothes. She asked me who I was. I did not answer her and she started to scream. I went for her and grabbed her by the throat with my right hand. She fell down near a window and as she fell the blackout fell down from the window. I held her down on the floor and then I covered her face over with a piece of cloth I found in the room. There were two large handbags on a dressing table with a glass top. These bags were full of money. When she screamed, she rushed towards the bags and tried to grab them. I tipped the money out of the bags into my overcoat. There were a lot of silver and five-pound notes and one-pound notes. I noticed that the old lady was not wearing any rings. I did not take any jewellery. I unbolted the back door and went into the yard, then into an empty house next door. Through this house and into the street I jumped into a motor car which was waiting for me and went away. I do not want to say anything about the car or who was driving it. I left Portsmouth and went straight back to London. I did not count the money, but I think I had about £450 in notes and about £20 in silver. About £300 of this sum was in £5 notes. When I got back to London, I gave £50 to a young lady and the rest of the money I kept in a suitcase. I remember when I left the public house there was a woman came out of a house near the pub. I heard accidently that the old lady had died in Portsmouth and since this time I have not been able to sleep and have been drinking heavily. I cannot remember everything very clearly, but I did not mean to kill the old lady and I am very sorry. I told the young lady who I was with that if ever I was arrested, she was to take the suitcase and money and go away. She saw me arrested in London on 21st December and I gave her the tip to go. I do not wish to give any information about the young lady or the man who drove the car'.

When the police from Portsmouth went to London on 21 December and saw the man that had confessed he was cautioned and when cautioned he said, 'That is all true, don't you think I did it?' and the police replied, 'I can't tell you what I think, but some enquiries will have to be made before I take you back, Perhaps you would care to tell me what happened'. The man then said, ''Yes, when I got upstairs in the public house I saw a woman in the back room and as she screamed I grabbed her by the throat and she fell down near a window and as she fell the blackout fell down. I held her on the floor, and I thought she had fainted. She looked awful so I covered her face with a piece of cloth I took off the bed'. The man then asked, 'Did the old lady have a bad heart?' and the police told him that they could not say. The man then said, 'I can't understand it as she went quiet straight away. I know I took a lot of money out of some bags on a dressing table and got out of the pub'. The man was then asked if he would like to make a statement which he said he would.

After the man made his first statement, he was asked whether he wanted to read it but said that he didn't and so it was read out to him. When he went to sign it he asked that both the policemen present sign it and when he was told that it didn't matter whether the other sergeant signed it, the man was said to say, 'I want to put your names in as the law is a funny thing and two are better than one'.

After he signed his first statement he said, 'What a funny thing. A woman with all that money not having a ring on her finger'.

After he appeared before the Justices on 5 January 1944 the man asked to see the Chief Constable and said to him, 'I want to help you all I can Chief and if you can arrange for me to be taken to London I will go to a house where there is a suitcase with some of the money in it and also to a cafe where I will point out the other man who came to Portsmouth with me when I did the job'. However, he didn't give any indication as to the whereabouts of the suitcase or the cafe and when questioned on that he said, 'It may mean bringing the woman in and I don't want you to do that'.

On 7 January 1944 the police took the man to a cafe in Waterloo Road, but after some time there the man said, 'It doesn't look as if the man is going to turn up. Let us go in the public house next door'. The name of the public house next to the cafe was the Hero of Waterloo. After about half an hour in the Hero of Waterloo, the man didn't indicate that the man that they were looking for was there, after which the man took the police to a house in Clapham Common where he said he would recover the suitcase, however, he neither found the suitcase nor any money at the house and he was then brought back to Winchester.

When the police spoke to people that knew Rose Robinson, they spoke to a man that lived on Knox Road in Stamshaw, Portsmouth who had known Rose Robinson for about 36 years and who had been helping her at the John Barleycorn for the last three and a half years. He said that he helped her on the evening of Sunday 28 November 1943, having got there at about 7pm and said that the house closed at 10pm. He said that the two front doors were bolted and that the back door was left until about 10.15pm. He said that the back door was at the bottom of the stairs and that he bolted it at about 10.15pm.

He said that the hatchway of the bottle and jug department was used and that people got into that department from the yard from Grafton Street. He said that the door leading from the yard to the bottle and jug department was shut but not locked, and also said that the hatchway was shut and locked by jamming a mallet into the side. He added that the window of the bar parlour at the back was locked and that he saw that it was locked. He added that there was a door that led from the passageway to the yard in Grafton Street and that he padlocked that door from the outside and then left the premises between 10.30pm and 10.35pm by the public bar door into Commercial Road, saying that Rose Robinson let him out. He said that she then shut the door after him and that he then heard her put the catch up and the bolt.

The man also confirmed that Rose Robinson kept her takings in the handbag, Exhibit 13, saying that she would roll the notes and put elastic bands round them and added that she would put the silver into bags similar to Exhibit 14 and then into the bag Exhibit 13.

The man added that he could not say how much money Rose Robinson would have had on the night of 28-29 November. He also added that he had never seen her wearing jewellery and that he had seen her with two rings a long time before.

A woman who lived in Washington Road in Portsmouth and who was employed as a charwoman at the pub said that she went there everyday to work. She said that at the time of her death that Rose Robinson slept in the back bedroom and confirmed that she kept her money in two handbags, Exhibits 9 and 13, which she said she kept under her eiderdown at the foot of her bed. She said that she cleaned her back bedroom out at various times and said that there was a piece of looking glass on the top of the dressing table and that the table was flat against the wall. She also added that the blackout was one roller blind. She also said that she had never seen Rose Robinson wearing any rings.

The woman said that she arrived at the John Barleycorn Beerhouse at 8am on 29 November 1944 and knocked at the door and rattled the letter box but got no reply. She noted that that had happened on several occasions previously and that she then walked up and down outside for nearly an hour before she saw the man that lived next door who then let her in. She said that they went in together and found Rose Robinson dead and then called the police.

Rose Robinson was actually found by the next door neighbour who had let the charwoman in . He said that he lived at 520 Commercial Road in Portsmouth and was a stoker in the Royal Navy. He said that at about 9am the charwoman came to his house and that as a result of what she said he got over his back garden wall and into the yard of the John Barleycorn and found that the back door was halfway open. He said that he then went into the the John barleycorn and then opened the front door and let the charwoman in and then went upstairs and stood at the doorway to the back bedroom and looked in and saw Rose Robinson lying on the floor. He sid that he didn't see her face, but then went back downstairs and called the police.

A man that was employed as a Fire Watcher by Messrs Brickwoods at their bottling store in Grafton Street said that on the night of 28-29 November 1943, he had been on duty, starting at 6pm. He said that between 3.30am and 3.45am, he heard some unusual sounds whilst he was in the bottling store coming through Grafton Street from the direction of Elm Road towards Grafton Avenue. He said that they were either the sound of a person walking with either heavy boots or walking heavily and that as they passed the store, he heard someone muttering to themselves. He said that as the person got by the gateway, he heard them messing about with the palings outside the store which was next door to the back entrance of the John Barleycorn. He said that he then went out with his torch and shone it through the palings and that after that he didn't hear anything more from that direction.

However, he said that a little while after that, about a couple of minutes, he heard the smashing of glass which came from behind him as he stood looking into Grafton Street, which he said would have been from the back entrance of the John Barleycorn, but that after that he heard nothing more.

A woman who was living at 514 Commercial Road on the night of 28 November 1943 said that she had been sleeping in the front bedroom at the time when between 1am and 3am she was wakened by a banging on the kitchen window at the back which knocked the blackout down. She said that she then heard some heavy footsteps in the kitchen and listened for a little while but heard no more. She said then, that at about 2.30am she heard more footsteps going round the outside of the house and through the passage at the side and round the front. She said then that at just before 3am she got out of the front window and saw a motor car and four men between her house and the John Barleycorn Beerhouse. She said that she then got back into her bedroom.

The woman said that when she went into her kitchen the next morning, she found the blackout, which was a piece of three plywood over the window, had been broken and was laid outside. She added that the table had also been moved a small distance away from the wall and that the back door was half open, noting that she had bolted it the night before when she went to bed and said that it was clear that someone had unbolted it during the night. However, she said that she didn't miss anything.

It wasn't until 21 December 1943 that the man who confessed was arrested. He had been at a refreshment house at 106 Waterloo Road in London at about 4.30pm trying to sell people a pair of shoes when a plain clothes policemen who had been keeping watch on him with another policeman for an entirely different matter approached him. After they approached the man and took him to a police box in Waterloo Road they said that when they told the man that he was taking him to the police station the man said, 'I am wanted for things far more serious than this. The Yard wants me. It is the trap door for me now'. After asking the men if they were policemen and the policemen showed him their warrant cards, the man said, 'I am glad you picked me up, it will do you good'. He was then taken to Kennington Road police station and on the way,  he handed one of the policemen a silver box and said, 'This is a Christmas Box for you. I know this will be my last Christmas'. When he was searched at Kennington Road police station he said, 'The shoes and silver box came from the job at Woking and cigarette case came from the job at St Albans'. He later said, I am glad I am in. I have been through hell for the past three weeks. I have been a bastard all my life and I will finish as I lived. I was sorry for it the moment I had done it. I haven't slept since. It preyed on my mind. She must have had a weak heart. Poor old girl'.

The doctor that examined the body of Rose Robinson said that in his opinion she had died from asphyxia due to manual strangulation. He said that he thought that she died some time early in the morning of 29 November 1943 during the course of an assault on her and not sometime after the assault. The doctor also examined plaster casts of the right hand of the man that confessed to Rose Robinson's murder, which had all its fingers missing and said that in his opinion that the strangulation marks that he found on Rose Robinson's neck could clearly have been caused by the man's hand. He said that although it was deformed, its dimensions were adequate, stating that the stumps of the index, middle and little fingers were sufficiently long and capable of the stretch necessary to effect the grip around Rose Robinson's neck.

At the second trial at the Old Bailey the man said that he didn't do it and said that he could not have done it as he had not been there and had spent the night of the murder in an air raid shelter in London. The police said that the man had said things in his confession that only the murderer would have known, but the man said that the confessions had been prepared by the police for their own ends.

The court heard that the man admitted to leading a life of crime and having told many lies since he was arrested for the murder. However, the jury was told that if they thought that because of the man's hand deformity that he would have been unable to strangle Rose Robinson that that would be the end of the case. The jury spent 65 minutes deliberating and returned with a not guilty verdict.

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

see Derby Daily Telegraph - Wednesday 05 April 1944

see Derby Daily Telegraph - Wednesday 08 March 1944

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Friday 04 February 1944

see Portsmouth Evening News - Thursday 18 May 1944

see Birmingham Mail - Wednesday 08 March 1944

see Shields Daily News - Wednesday 05 April 1944

see "Court Of Appeal." Times [London, England] 12 Dec. 1961: 14. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

see National Archives - CRIM 1/1583