Unsolved Murders

Joseph Swaine

Age: 62

Sex: male

Date: 23 Mar 1932

Place: Skipton, Yorkshire

Source: www.truecrimelibrary.com

Joseph Swaine was found in a lavatory at Skipton Auction Mart, a cattle market, at about 9am on Thursday 24 March 1932 with severe head wounds.

It was thought that he had been attacked from behind the day before, 23 March 1932, between 2.45pm and 3.30pm while the Auction Mart sale was in progress.

he died shortly after he was found by an employee of the auction mart company.

When he was found his brown leather purse or wallet that was said to have contained a cheque and chequebook was missing and it was thought that they might have been thrown away and found by someone.

He was an Otley farmer and had recently rented a farm which formed part of the Otley Golf Club, which was in the centre of the links. He had lived there alone and had latterly taken on jobs as a farm hand but at the time of his death was out of work.

He was also engaged to a 25-year-old girl from Otley who he had been keeping company with for several years.

His fiancee said that she last saw Joseph Swaine on the Tuesday evening and said that he told her that he was going to Skipton on the Wednesday but was intending to break his journey at Haddingham to visit a friend. she said that he had told her that he and the friend intended to go to the Skipton Auction Mart but she was under the impression that he had intended to return to Otley the same evening and said that in fact she was expecting to see him.

She said that when he didn't return she imagined that he might have been hurt in a bus smash or something of that sort and fretted all night but said that she never thought he would have been murdered. She said that she could think of no reason for his murder other than robbery and said that it was his custom to carry a fairly large amount of money with him and only two or three days earlier said that he had shown her at least £10 and probably more.

She said that he had been looking out for a farm in the Malham district and said that he was looking forward to being married shortly.

The police found a bundle of bloodstained clothing in a field at Horton-in-Ribbledale which was six miles away from Skipton which they said they thought might have had some bearing on his murder. After the clothes were found the police took two bloodhounds to the fields in a fast police car and put them on the trail. They followed the trail steadily and went away from the road over open country and eventually entered a wood where they seemed to loose the scent.

On 1 May 1932 a collier admitted killing Joseph Swaine saying that he had hit him over the head with a crowbar. However, the police said that they were unable to corroborate his story and that after medical examination he was found to be certifiable under the Lunacy Acts and they discharged him although he was removed to a mental hospital. During his time under medical examination he had said that he had had a long history of apoplexy and whilst he was in prison he had had a number of apoplectic fits in the night. It was also heard that he had been unstable in his mind for long periods and had suffered from terrible dreams. He had told the doctor that he was under the impression that he was an agent sent by God to help people that were down and out by giving them sixpences and had said that those feelings were followed by depression during which God told him that he was a scoundrel, a blackguard and a scapegoose. He had also told the doctor that he had bought rat poison to do away with himself but that at the last moment his courage had failed him.

When the man was first seen he had said 'I did, but I'm not going to tell you now'. Later on he said 'It's that Skipton murder. I hit him on the head with a crowbar and dragged him into the lavatory. My friend got his wallet, and gave me my share.'. The police said that the man had refused to give them the other man's name and that when he was asked to make a statement he had said, 'It's your job now'.

In mid-April 1932 the police released the descriptions of three men that they were anxious to speak to. The first man was 5ft 6in tall, aged about 28, had fair hair, was clean shaven and had been wearing a sports jacket with a white pullover, light flannel trousers, and trilby hat and brown shoes. The second man was described as being about 5ft 4in tall, aged about 24, with dark hair and two-three days growth of beard and wearing dark blue overalls, a cap and wearing army pattern boots. The third man was described as being 5ft 5in, aged about 40, with dark brown hair and two-three days growth of beard and had been wearing a dark overcoat in good condition, a dark cap, dark trousers and wearing strong black boots that were rather soiled. One of the men was said to have been wearing a dirty mackintosh and one of them was thought possibly to have been Irish. It was said that they were believed to have bought railway tickets from Hawes in North Yorkshire to Hawes Junction on the day after the murder and then taken tickets to Ulverston and were later seen in Hellifield changing trains. It was said that whilst at Hawes they had asked how far it was to Barrow-in-Furness as well as the distance to Barnard Castle and had remarked that they had wanted to make the journey over the moors.

After their appeal for the three men the police were later able to trace them to a point in the North Riding of Yorkshire and after interviewing them said that they were satisfied by the accounts they had given for their movements and said that they were back to the same position they were in when the investigation began.


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


see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Monday 28 March 1932

see The Scotsman - Monday 28 March 1932

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Monday 18 April 1932

see Nottingham Journal - Wednesday 04 May 1932

see Belfast News-Letter - Wednesday 04 May 1932

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Thursday 19 May 1932

see Nottingham Evening Post - Wednesday 25 May 1932

see Shipley Times and Express - Saturday 30 April 1932

see Wharfedale Observer