Date: 3 Jan 1961
Place: A604, Ridgewell, Essex
Jean Constable was found strangled in a ditch by the side of the A604 road at Ridgewell on 3 January 1961.
A 29-year-old US airman was tried for her murder but acquitted.
The court heard that it was not disputed that the US airman had strangled Jean Constable. He said that he must have strangled her whilst she was asleep beside him.
When the judge summed up he said that if the US airman had strangled Jean Constable while he was asleep then it was not a voluntary act and that he was entitled to be acquitted.
Jean Constable had lived in Abels Road, Halstead near Braintree, Essex and had worked in a plastic factory in Braintree.
She disappeared following a New Year's eve dance at the Bell public house in Braintree and it was later determined that she had gone back to the flat of the US airman with another man at The Close in Dunmow, Essex for a vodka and jazz party where she was killed.
The other man had been a 20-year-old engineering apprentice.
The US airman tried said that he had woken up to find his hands round Jean Constable's neck and her dead. He said that he then panicked and cut her hair off to prevent her identification and dumped her body in the ditch two days later.
When she was found her hair was said to have been cut roughly with crude scissors into an almost boys crew cut. It was noted that there had been no attempt to conceal her body and that whilst her head was in the ditch that the rest of her body was on the path and that there were other places in the vicinity where her body could have been more effectively concealed and covered.
Her body was in a ditch off a layby on the A604 about half a mile from Ridgewell on the Great Yeldham side.
Following the discovery of her body the police determined that she had been last seen in a public house in Braintree where she had been in the saloon bar in a 'very happy mood' with an American man from Wethersfield. He had been a gunner in Korea and had flown forty-nine missions.
A friend of Jean Constable that saw Jean Constable in the pub with the American said, 'He was a very handsome looking fellow, almost with film star looks. But soon after they sat down, Jean, who was drinking gin and orange, began chatting and laughing with other Americans in the bar and she and her boyfriend seemed to have a bit of a row. He turned very pale. I heard her asking him if he would take her out to the base. I didn't hear his reply but when I looked again about an hour later they had left'.
It was said that Jean Constable had gone to the pub where she had met the engineering apprentice who she had later introduced to the US airman who had then later invited them both back to his flat.
When she was last seen she had been wearing a grey and black striped nylon fur coat with black gaberdine jacket with white fur collar trimmings, black 'winkle picker' shoes with stiletto heels and carrying a black brief-type handbag which was believed to have contained a small black diary with a list of boyfriends and dates she had with them. When she was found all of these items were missing.
The police said that after the discovery of Jean Constable's body that they were satisfied that Jean Constable had been killed elsewhere and her body dumped in the ditch which was about six miles from Braintree where she was last seen.
It was later determined that Jean Constable had gone back to the US airman's home in The Close, Dunmow with another man, having agreed to do so.
The US airman had been a staff sergeant and his wife and children had been away on holiday in Scotland at the time. He had been a jet engine fitter at US station Wethersfield.
The taxi-driver that took them said that on the way Jean Constable had expressed a preference for sleeping with the other man.
It was said that when they had returned to the flat in The Close that they turned on the radiogram and drank vodka and that the neighbours complained about the noise with one of them saying that they heard a girl who was crying say, 'You don't love me any more'.
The prosecution said that they knew from the other man that he had been left alone in a room around midnight with Jean Constable and that whilst the US airman was away that he had intercourse with Jean Constable. The prosecution said, 'It might have been that they were seen by the US airman and it had the effect of inflaming his sexual desires'.
It was heard then that the US airman came back into the room with a mattress and some blankets and that Jean Constable took off all her clothes in front of both of the men and then went to sleep on the mattress. It was noted that the other man also got on to the mattress with Jean Constable but that he sometime later decided to go home. The prosecution said, 'When he left he seems to have been the last person to see the girl alive'.
In his statement the US airman said, 'Jean was still asleep and I went in a lay down beside her. The next thing I remember was something scratching and pulling at my mouth. Jean was lying there under me. I had my hands round her throat and she was dead. That sort of sobered me up. I got scared. I started to cut her hair off with scissors and burned it in the living room fireplace. I guess I did that so that people would not recognise her'.
He went on to say that he then carried her body into a spare room and put her clothes on her and left her lying there on the floor and then went to sleep. He said, 'When I woke in the morning I decided it had been a dream, but I went to check and I saw the clothes in the bathroom and Jean in the spare bedroom'.
He said that he kept her body in his home for two days and that at 11.30pm one night he carried her to his car. He said, 'I drove round the country until I saw a spot along the road which looks like sandpiles. I carried Jean's body out of the car and dumped it head-first into the ditch and went back home'.
He went on to say that he burned Jean Constable's fur coat, handbag, shoes, stockings, red garter and suspender belt and threw away her ring. However, he noted that he kept her wristwatch and a 10s note that had been in her handbag.
He said, 'There was no quarrel or argument between me and Jean. At no time did I make any overtures to her, nor did I have any desire to kill her or harm her in any way'.
The engineering apprentice said that he went to the Nags Head public house at 6.30pm and that he later on met Jean Constable there between 8.30pm and 9pm and that they later left between 9.30pm and 10pm and went to The Bell public house.
He said that they went into the public bar and that after a time she left him to go to the toilet and that when she came back she was with the US airman who she introduced to him.
He said that the US airman later suggested that they go back to his flat for drinks etc which they did, going by taxi and arriving sometime after 11pm. He said that he noticed that the door to the flat had the name 'Ark Royal' on it and that he believed the number was 4.
He said that they went in and played the gramophone rather loud at first but that they turned it down after a neighbour complained. He said that Jean Constable had been dancing with the US airman in the sitting room but that he didn't dance and that after a time the US airman left the room. He said that Jean Constable had taken off her skirt and had on her blouse and that they were lying on the mat by the gramophone together and that she started to make advances and they had intercourse. He noted that the US airman wasn't in the room at the time that Jean Constable made advances towards him and that the next he noticed him was when he came over to the gramophone at which time he had just about finished having intercourse with Jean Constable, noting that he had more or less disturbed them.
He said that the US airman didn't make any suggestions and that he thought that there was an understanding that he and Jean Constable could stop the night there and said that the US airman brought over an interior mattress and laid it on the floor with blankets on it and that Jean Constable then got undressed and was completely naked and laid down on the mattress. However, he said that she then vomited and then rolled herself up in the blankets and fell asleep . He said that she was sort of drowsy but not drunk and that he then left. He said that he hummed and harred a bit before going and undressed a bit and laid on the mattress where Jean Constable was but then had a change of mind and dressed again and left.
He said that the US airman seemed anxious that he should leave, saying that by that he meant that when he suggested that he would leave that the US airman didn't try to keep him there. He said that when he lay by the side of Jean Constable that the US airman laid by the side of them on the floor, noting that he wasn't dressed.
He said that before he left that he aroused Jean Constable, noting that she aroused easily and told her that he was leaving and that he wanted to take her home but said that she told him that she would rather stop as she was sleepy, or words to that effect.
He said that the US airman showed him the door and that when he enquired how to get back to Braintree that he told him of a taxi place. He said that he left sometime between 12.30am and 1am but thought that it was nearer 12.30am than 1am.
He said that when he left Jean Constable was still lying on the mattress all wrapped up.
He said that he got back to Braintree by taxi and that when he read in the newspapers on 4 January 1961 of the murder that he went to the police in Braintree that evening.
He noted that when he left that Jean Constable had had a normal hairdo.
The doctor that examined Jean Constable said that her body was that of a well-nourished young woman, 5ft 7½in tall and that there were no natural diseases present that could have caused or influenced death. He said that her hair appeared to have been freshly cut irregularly on the left side of the head and that there were loose cut ends present.
He said that there was haemorrhage in the eyelids, whites of the eyes, skin of the brow, face and scalp and some swelling of the eyes which he said in his opinion indicated compression of the neck. He said that upon further examination he found two small scratches on the front of her neck in the mid-line over the Adams Apple and bruising below the angle of the jaw on the right side and below the left ear and the jaw on the left side. He said that there were also two localised bruises on the back of her neck below the hair edge and that her tongue was fixed between her teeth and there was a bruise on the tip.
He said that her internal organs were congested in keeping with asphyxia and that in his opinion her cause of death was asphyxia due to compression of the neck and was consistent with manual strangulation and that she had been dead for at least 24 hours.
He said that she also had bruising on the right side of her scalp and left brow and also a small bruise on her right hip, the inner side of her right thigh above the knee and her left forearm above her wrist. He noted that the injuries to her forearm appeared to have been caused by a grip.
He said that all her injuries had preceded death and that the injury to her head could have been caused by impact or contact by or against some object. He noted that none of the bruises were severe ones and that he thought that a moderate amount of force would have been applied to cause them.
He noted that there were also rodent bites present which were clearly post mortem which extended from the middle of her right thumb to the middle of her forearm as well as on the elbow.
He said that it was clear that Jean Constable was not a virgin and that she was a girl that had had sexual intercourse on a number of occasions but couldn't say when she last had sexual intercourse.
He said that from the point of view of the injuries other than on her neck that he would say that there had not been a great deal of violence used and that from the point of view of the neck itself that he would not put it higher than moderate, but noted that there had been sufficient force to compress the neck and damage it and produce bruising. He noted that her Adam's Apple and other laryngeal bones were very elastic.
He said that he had seen more severe injuries than that but that the ones he saw were sufficient to have killed her.
He said that her death did not occur suddenly, stating that it might have occurred very rapidly but not immediately, possibly a matter of seconds but that there could have been an appreciable time between application and death, guessing from two or three seconds to half-a-minute.
He further noted that some of the bruising on her body might have been there before whatever happened to kill her took place although he noted that they were definitely sustained on the same day and within a reasonable period. He further added that that could also have occurred immediately after, for instance if her body was lifted.
The doctor that examined him said that he found the US airman of good intelligence and with a good appreciation of the situation and that in his opinion he was fit to plead the indictment and stand trial. He noted that he had some impairment of memory about the material time which he said if genuine, could, in his opinion, be attributed to alcohol and possibly an element of repression of a painful episode. He added that he found nothing to indicate the existence of any defect of reason due to disease of the mind such that would prevent him from knowing the nature and quality of his acts or that it was wrong.
Another doctor that examined the US airman said that the US airman's capacity for sleeping very deeply might have had some bearing on his state of consciousness and stated that it was a feasible explanation that even if he could form the intent to kill that he might not have fully appreciated the amount of force that he had been using.
However, in a later note he addressed the impression that his report had led people to think that he thought that the US airman had killed Jean Constable in his sleep and said that that was certainly not his intention. He said, 'What I intended to suggest was that in a man who apparently was a very deep sleeper, alcohol might have more effect than it would otherwise and that in consequence there might be a greater state of confusion and inability to realise how much force was actually being exerted'.
He noted that he had discussed the issue on whether the US airman could have been so drunk that he could not have formed the intention to kill with another doctor, but said that both he and the other doctor had both agreed that that was going too far and stressed that all that could be said was that he might not have appreciated the degree of force he was using.
He added, 'The idea of his doing it in his sleep had never crossed my mind, but I did feel that his capacity for deep sleep might make him more susceptible to alcohol, in other words, more drunk for the same amount than might otherwise have been the case'.
When the judge summed up he said that there were only two verdicts open to the jury, guilty or not guilty of anything at all. He said, 'There is no lesser alternative verdict open to you'. The judge then went on to ask, 'Have you ever heard of a man strangling a woman while he was asleep? Does there exist any records that such things happen?'.
After the US airman was acquitted he said, 'Thank God for British justice. All I want now is to go back to my wife and start married life again'.
see National Archives - ASSI 36/321
see Birmingham Daily Post - Saturday 07 January 1961
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Wednesday 04 January 1961
see Daily Herald - Saturday 21 January 1961
see Daily Mirror - Saturday 18 February 1961
see Illustrated London News - Saturday 25 February 1961
see Belfast Telegraph - Wednesday 18 January 1961
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Wednesday 04 January 1961
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Friday 24 February 1961