Unsolved Murders

Peter Walter Johnson-Smith

Age: 25

Sex: male

Date: 10 Jul 1963

Place: The Avenue, Wheatley

Peter Walter Johnson-Smith died after his car exploded.

An open verdict was returned.

His father said it was murder.

Peter Johnson-Smith had been a toolmaker at the Pressed Steel factory.

He was about to drive to work on 10 July 1963 when he got into his eight-year-old car whilst it was in his garage when there was a detonation in the car, wrecking both his car and the concrete garage.

due to the presence of an explosive substance under the seat.

However, there was a conflict of opinion on the cause of the explosion between two experts.

A staff chemist at the West Midlands Forensic Science Laboratory said that he thought that the explosion had been caused by petrol vapour, noting that the petrol tank had bene empty, indicating that there had been a leak before and not after the explosion. It was said that there had been no smell of petrol present and that test showed that a tap on the pipe system had been leaking.

The staff chemist said that if the explosion had been caused by an explosive such as gelignite that he would have expected to have found signs of the detonator, which he said experts in the explosives industry that he had approached had agreed with him over, and stated that no fragments were found, despite a thorough search.

However, the chief inspector of explosives to the Home Office said:

This could not have been caused by a petrol vapour explosion.

He said that the nature and extent of the damage indicated a high velocity explosion caused by a detonation.

A man that also lived in The Avenue, Wheatley, said that he had been a close friend of Peter Johnson-Smith and had helped him maintain his Vauxhall  car which he kept in his garage. He said that he had been out with Peter Johnson-Smith on the evening of 9 July 1963 and had afterwards been with him when he locked his car up in his garage.

He said that the next morning, about 6.30am, he heard a loud explosion and ran out to find the garage had been blown to pieces.

He said that Peter Johnson-Smith had been a popular man and that they had always been on good terms with each other.

The man noted, when questioned by the Coroner, that he had once worked as a tree feller using explosives and had used to knock holes for the explosives and couple wires together. However, he added that he had never handled detonators.

Another man that lived in the street said that he had been in his garden when Peter Johnson-Smith came out and had called out to him, 'Good morning', as he went to his garage.  He said:

I heard the door lifted up. Within seconds I heard the sound of the explosion. I think I would have heard the car starter, but I didn't.

He said that he then ran to the garage and found the car had been blown apart.

Another neighbour that had been in his garden 100 yards away said that the heard a 'shattering noise' like a practice bomb, which shook him and stopped his wrist watch. He said that he then notices white smoke billowing from the top of the garage.

Peter Johnson-Smith's wife said that she knew of no one that had a grudge against her husband. she said:

We had no worries. We had a new house to go into.

She said that he had taken her some tea in the morning and then left for work and that he seemed to be his usual cheerful self at the time.

She said that he didn't smoke and had no knowledge of explosives although he had helped his friend twice with tree-felling.

When she was asked about a petrol can in the car, she said that she had occasionally smelt petrol as they drove along, but said that Peter Johnson-Smith would get out and check if the can had fallen over.

She said that they were due to get the key within a week for a new house that they, along with their child, where due to move into.

Peter Johnson-Smith's 53-year-old father said:

My son was murdered. There is not the slightest possibility of suicide or accident. I intend to solve this mystery if it takes me till my dying day.

When the Coroner summed up, he said that the conclusion that the explosion had been inside the car was inescapable, but that the police officers and the staff chemist had looked for, but failed to find anything suspicious. He said that a petrol vapour explosion seemed a likely explanation, but noted that according to the chief inspector of explosives, that was not so, and that if he was right then a good deal was left unexplained as to how explosives came to be in the car.

An open verdict was returned.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 10 October 1963

see Daily Mirror - Thursday 10 October 1963

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Wednesday 09 October 1963

see Daily Mirror - Thursday 10 October 1963