Date: 25 Jan 1920
Joseph Charles Hoare and Laura Sara were found beaten at Hoare’s Holdings in Skinners Bottom, Blackwater, and later died. It was described as the Blackwater Mystery.
Joseph Hoare was a farmer and Laura Sara was his housekeeper and they had lived together in Sea View, a cottage on Hoare’s Holdings in Skinners Bottom.
They were attacked on Sunday 25 January 1920 having been beaten with a branch of a fir tree that was found blood stained nearby. The branch was 3 1/2 inches thick.
They were found in the early hours of Sunday morning lying in the front garden of the farm suffering from mainly head injuries. Joseph Hoare was fully dressed whilst Laura Sara was in her night attire. They both died shortly after their discovery without regaining consciousness.
It was thought that Joseph Hoare had gone downstairs to attend to his cattle and was set upon and that after hearing his cries Laura Sara had gone to his aid in her bare feet and was also struck down. There was no indication of a struggle having taken place in the house and no attempt to ransack the premises had been made. However, it was also suggested that they had killed each other, with Laura Sara attacking Joseph Hoare first, and then Joseph Hoare, being bigger, assaulting Laura Sara before himself succumbing to his injuries.
It was thought locally that Joseph Hoare was in the habit of carrying a large sum of money with him, but no money was found on him when he was found or in his house. His wallet was not found. It was said that because he was a cattle dealer, he carried the large sum of money for transactions and that when he went to bed he usually put his wallet under his pillow.
Drops of blood were immediately found beside the bed in one of the rooms, however, it was noted that the bloodstains were of old standing and could have had nothing to do with the tragedy.
It was thought that the killer had waited in a pony shed near to where Joseph Hoare was first attacked whilst going to feed his pony based on the fact that Joseph Hoare's favourite pony had afterwards refused to enter its shed.
Their cottage, Sea View, was described as being not particularly isolated. It stood within a few feet of the main thoroughfare from Skinner's Bottom to Truro and was only separated by a small garden and there were houses all around it. One neighbour had said that unless the killer had crept into the neighbourhood in the dead of night his presence would have been known by the villagers around.
A relative of Joseph Hoare later said that Joseph Hoare had told him that a fortnight before he was murdered that a man had called in the middle of the night and that when he came down he asked who it was and a man had said, 'Joe, I want you', but when Joseph Hoare had asked who it was he got no reply and he refused to open the door and went back to bed. the story was thought to be significant as Joseph Hoare was neither a timid man nor a weak man and was both physically very strong and had no fear.
Laura Sara was a married woman and had previously lived in Truro but it was thought that she had not seen her husband in 20 years and that he was away in America.
Joseph Hoare was a cattle dealer and a bachelor. He was known by all to be somewhat addicted to drink and it was said that he certainly had a great deal to do with loose women.
It was said that since Laura Sara had separated from her husband that she had led a life of very easy virtue and that she had since been convicted for brothel keeping and that it was whilst she was engaged in that activity that Joseph Hoare had met her.
It was thought that as far as was known that they had lived fairly comfortably together, and that Joseph Hoare appeared to have treated Laura Sara very well. It was noted that in fact Joseph Hoare had made his will in Laura Sara's favour although it was thought that at the same time she appeared to be communicating with other men.
The police report stated that it was evident that on the night of 24 January 1920 that Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara had occupied the same bed. It was also stated that there was nothing to show that they had had any drink together or had quarrelled on the night.
At 9.15am on 25 January 1920, a farmer from Mount Hawke, Scorrier, was driving a gig along the road in front of Joseph Hoare's farm when he stopped to call Joseph Hoare as he owed him a few shillings. He said that when he stood up to call Joseph Hoare, he saw Laura Sara lying on the path in front of the house dressed only in her nightdress, bleeding from the head and heard her breathing heavily.
The farmer said that he then realised that something was wrong and went off for assistance, going to another farm about 300 yards away where he spoke to the farmer there in Fuchsia Cottage and then on his advice went off for the police at Blackwater who then came over to Hoare’s Holdings.
When the police arrived they found that Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara both had very severe injuries to their heads and a quick search revealed a fir stick that was wet with blood at one end which was thought to have been with no doubt used to have caused the injuries. It was found about thirty-eight feet away from where Joseph Hoare was found.
When the farmer that found Laura Sara lying on the path was later asked why he didn't go to her assistance he said that he was afraid. He said that he didn't know whether Joseph Hoare had gone mad and had done for Laura Sara and might do the same to him. When he later returned with the policeman about half an hour later, they saw Laura Sara on the path trying to get up on her hands and knees and rolling over.
As the farmer that first saw Laura Sara gave evidence at the inquest, the farmer that he had gone off to get help from, who was also on the jury, stood up and said, 'We understood the policeman was the man to get there first', at which point another juror said that he thought that it was rather a pity that the other farmer was on the jury and then, at the request of the coroner, the farmer retired from the jury and entered the witness box. He then denied that the first farmer had called on him to return with him to Hoare’s Holdings. He reiterated that they had only thought that the police should get there first, and it was noted that also, as a matter of fact, that his wife had a heart attack when she heard what had happened and he had had to remain with her anyway.
The policeman that was called out said that he saw Joseph Hoare at 9.30am on 25 January 1920 and said that he died at 10.05am that same day and that he saw Laura Sara at the same time and that she died later that day at 12.05pm. He said that they were both unconscious and that neither of them spoke before they died, although he had heard Laura Sara moaning and apparently trying to raise herself from the ground.
He said that when he saw Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara, they were both bleeding profusely from head wounds. He said that he rendered such first-aid as was possible and that with assistance removed them indoors.
The policeman said that Joseph Hoare was lying just inside the wicket gate on the path in front of the house and that Laura Sara was lying about 9 feet from the house door and about 15 feet from where Joseph Hoare was lying.
He said that Joseph Hoare had been fully dressed, wearing a waistcoat tightly buttoned, and over his jacket had a sack thrown around his shoulders and tied in front.
The policeman said that the house door was open but that apparently nothing had been disturbed inside. He said that he found the bedroom window was down at the top and that the curtain pole was out of position as if the window had been hurriedly opened and saw that the clock that was on a chest of drawers was lying on its side. However, he said that he didn't think that anyone other than Joseph Hoare or Laura Sara had been in the room.
He said that between where Laura Sara was found lying and the wicket gate there were eight patches of blood that he thought had been caused by Laura Sara making her way from the gate to where she was found.
He noted that outside the garden gate adjoining the house there was a cowshed and that on the side of the cowshed nearest the house there were a number of blood smears and a sheet of corrugated iron half covered with blood lying on the ground in the angle formed by the house wall and the shed.
The policeman said that on the ground between the cowshed and the wicket gate, a distance of about ten feet, he failed to find any blood and formed the opinion that one of the deceased had been struck at the cowshed door and the other just by the wicket gate, because there was blood at both places ad that the wicket gate he had found a hairpin.
When the stick that was thought to have been used as the murder weapon was produced it was shown to be blood stained and to be 40 inches long and 3 1/2 inches in diameter at one end and 1 1/2 inches in diameter at the other, with projecting shoots on it with which the blows were apparently struck. He said that he found that it was 38 feet from where Joseph Hoare was found lying and about 22 feet from the cowshed door near a stack of similar fir wood.
It was heard that a careful search was made for finger impressions and footprints, but that beyond a footprint made by Joseph Hoare, none were found.
When the police searched the premises, they found that Joseph Hoare had made his will out in the favour of Laura Sara and found a deposit account showing that he had £200 to his credit in the Capital and Counties Bank at the Truro branch. When they searched Joseph Hoare's body, they also found £13. 10. 0 as well as two purses, one with £2. 10. 0 in it and another with 5/- in it.
A friend of Joseph Hoare, a retired dealer from Blackwater, who said he knew Joseph Hoare intimately said that he knew that Joseph Hoare carried a money bag in a pocket sewn into the lining of his waistcoat, and said that Joseph Hoare had told him that Laura Sara was strictly honest and that he would rather leave his money at home than take it out with him. The police report noted that if Joseph Hoare's money bag had been stolen that it was probable that the amount in it was very small, noting that Joseph Hoare was known to have had £18 on him on the Monday before his death. The report also noted that such a money bag was not found.
Laura Sara's sister, who lived in Stithians in Cornwall, said that they had a brother was in America at the time. She also said that about 20 years earlier her mother had had occasion to speak to Laura Sara concerning one of her children and said that as a result Laura Sara struck her mother a severe blow on the side of the head with a fir stick somewhat similar to the one found at the scene. She noted that their mother died about two years later and during the whole while had suffered from the blow.
At the inquest, when the police were called to give evidence, they said that they had carried out exhaustive enquiries and had come to the conclusion that the murder was committed by the one upon the other, with Laura Sara assaulting Joseph Hoare first.
The police stated that when they first took up the enquiry, they were acquainted with various local rumours which involved robbery. They said that it was thought that one or other of Laura Sara's former lovers, or even her husband were responsible. It was thought that if that were so that the assailant had first met Joseph Hoare outside and that a quarrel had then taken place in which he was struck and that Laura Sara had then come out of the house to his assistance and was met and treated in a similar manner.
The police report noted that it was also, at that time considered possible that they might have quarrelled and killed each other.
When the police considered robbery as the motive, they stated that it was known that Joseph Hoare always carried a fair amount of money in a small bag similar to those carried by other dealers such as himself. The police noted that if that were true that the bag had not been found. However, the report stated that they did not think that robbery was the motive, stating that they didn’t think that Joseph Hoare had had any money on him at the time he was assaulted.
The police said that the farmer from Fuchsia Cottage, 300 yards away from Hoare’s Holdings said that Joseph Hoare had once said to him, 'There is not a better woman living than she is. The only trouble I have with her is when I go to Truro on Wednesdays, if the old dear can't go she is vexed, but if she can go and get into the Barley Sheaf, she is happy, she will drink as much gaddle (beer) as a bullock'. The police noted that another man from 'Creegbrawse' in Chacewater said that Joseph Hoare had often stated to him that he hid his money and didn't take it indoors as he thought that Laura Sara might find it and break out in drink, adding that he thought that that was her failing.
The police added that through the statements of the two men, they thought that it might be assumed that Joseph Hoare was not in the habit of taking his money bag indoors and that it was still hid and the hiding place was still not found.
However, the police stated that in opposition to the theory of robbery, they thought that it should be borne in mind that fact that a few days before his death, Joseph Hoare had only £18 on him and that amongst Joseph Hoare's best suit that was found in a chest of drawers, they found £13, thought to have been the remainder of the £18, and that it was in all probability all the money that he had had. The police stated that it rather tended to show that Joseph Hoare had in fact hidden his money amongst his clothes and had not recently carried a money bag.
It was noted that when the police had found Joseph Hoare he had been fully dressed and that his waistcoat had been tightly buttoned and over his jacket he had been wearing a sack across his shoulders that was tied with string around the front. The police added that when they examined the lining of his waistcoat, they found a small pocket sewn in and that from its clean appearance, it was surmised that only notes had been in there and not a bag. As such, the police concluded again that it might be reasonably thought that the £13 was all the ready money that he had had.
It was noted that there were no bloodstains inside his waistcoat.
The police further noted that it was known that since October 1919 that Joseph Hoare had bought stock and foodstuffs for cattle to the value of about £50 and that he had done little in the dealing line but had spent most of his time on the farm upon which he worked very hard.
It was noted that in addition to the £13, that there were two small purses found, one containing £2. 10. 0 and the other 5s, all in silver, and it was thought that that was Laura Sara's housekeeping money.
The police report stated additionally that there was no evidence to show that any money or goods had been stolen.
The police report noted that the names of three men had been freely mentioned in connection with the case as being persons likely to have committed the murder had robbery been the motive but noted that each one had satisfactorily accounted for their whereabouts on the morning of 25 January 1920.
The police also considered jealousy as a motive after it was hinted that a man, whilst he had been a soldier during 1916 and 1917, had corresponded with Laura Sara with whom he had previously lived with in Truro. At the time of the murders, the ex-soldier was found to be living in Bristol with his wife with whom he had re-joined after he was demobilised. the ex-soldier was seen by the police in Bristol at 10pm on 24 January 1920 and it was found that he had been at work in a hotel where he had been employed at 7am on Sunday 25 January 1920 and that as such he could not have possibly been at Skinners Bottom between 7am and 9am on the day that Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara met their deaths.
The police identified another soldier, a New Zealand soldier, who Laura Sara had once lived with in Truro and had later corresponded with between 1916 and 1917 during which he had sent her endearing letters and postcards, several of which were found at the house. However, the police stated that the New Zealand soldier had left England for New Zealand on 8 August 1918 and was not shown to have returned since.
The police also considered Laura Sara's husband who she had married on 26 November 1892 at the Registry Office in Redruth but found that he had left her 20 years earlier and then gone to South Africa and then at the outbreak of the Boar War had gone off to America. It was further found out through Laura Sara's sister that Laura Sara's husband had five children in America and had not returned to England since he left for South Africa.
The police noted that the three men, the ex-soldier, the New Zealand soldier and Laura Sara's husband were he only men that cropped up in the theory of jealousy.
The police report then went on to state that with the theory of robbery and jealousy being exploded that the theory that they had killed each other was the only reasonable conclusion left.
The police report noted that it should be remembered that no one saw anyone at or near Hoare’s Holdings on the morning of 25 January 1920, and so there were no concrete facts to deal with, and only theories, which, they stated, after all, could be wrong.
It was suggested that Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara had lived their lives outwardly happy together and that Joseph Hoare undoubtedly loved Laura Sara intensely although it could not be said that he had trusted her implicitly when none considered the statement of the farmer from Fuchsia Cottage and others about her drinking habits. The police report stated that Laura Sara on the other hand had only used Joseph Hoare as a means to an end, namely to obtain possession of his estate, noting that it would have been known to her that Joseph Hoare had made a Will in June 1918 in her favour, leaving all to her and that he had £200 in the bank and that the stock on the farm was worth about £150. The police noted that the various books etc relating to the items were found in the house and that it was known that Laura Sara could read and write fairly well, whereas it was known that Joseph Hoare was unable to read or write his own name.
The police then surmised that it was common knowledge that Laura Sara had for years lived with other men and was known as a prostitute and had been convicted as a brothel keeper and as such that it was understandable that such a woman would not have taken kindly to a hard and lonely life on a small holding. It was further noted that on the other hand that it was also understandable that Laura Sara would have missed the questionable attractions of the public house and the society of men with whom she would there come into contact. The report noted that Joseph Hoare was 56 years old and would naturally not be as physically fit as a younger man and that she would not have derived he same amount of pleasure from him as she might from a man her own age. It was also noted that she was also known for years as a lustful woman.
The police report questioned then, what was more feasible than that Laura Sara, being tired of Joseph Hoare ad of the hum-drum life she was compelled to live, thinking to herself on that fatal morning, 'here is my opportunity, I will kill him, jump back into bed, and if anyone comes I can say I know nothing of it'. The police report stated that for Laura Sara to do that would have been an easy matter as Sunday morning was an extra quiet morning near Skinners Bottom, and that no one apparently arose before 8.30am or 9am, and that it only wanted determination to carry her scheme into effect. The police report stated that it could be assumed that Laura Sara watched Joseph Hoare dress himself fully, even to tying up the sack around his shoulders and had then watched him leave the house through the open window from upstairs and go over to the cow-shed adjoining. The police report then suggested that Laura Sara came down from her bedroom in her bare feet to save making a noise and took the weapon that was later found bloodstained in the yard from the kitchen where similar branches had been cut for firewood and then followed Joseph Hoare out and that as he was outside the cow shed door and was in the act of turning towards her, she struck him a terrific blow on the forehead causing the injuries from which he later died. The police report noted that Laura Sara was a powerful healthy woman and noted that the doctors had said in their statements that she was quite capable of delivering such a blow. However, the police suggested that Joseph Hoare then took the stick from Laura Sara and struck her at least two, if not three blows, and that in delivering the next blow, missed, causing the stick to slip from his hands and fall to where it was afterwards found.
The police report noted that they experimented with the idea and stood where they thought Joseph Hoare would have been standing when the blow was aimed at Laura Sara and then aimed a blow at an imaginary person and then letting the stick they used slip from their hand and found that it fell in almost the same spot where the stick was originally found by the police on the morning of 25 January 1920.
The police report further noted that the quantity of congealed blood that was found on the sheet of corrugated iron at the side of the cow shed would have suggested that Joseph Hoare fell there, and then afterwards, after regaining sufficient strength to enable him to walk, got up and strugled over to the spot where he was found, and collapsed. The police report stated that that conclusively showed that the blow that Joseph Hoare did not at first render Joseph Hoare incapable of action as after receiving his injuries he had walked some three or four yards, passing the wicket gate into the garden.
The police report concluded that in the absence of anything to the contrary being found, and nothing else was found, that their theory was the only feasible one.
When the divisional surgeon examined that bodies of Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara, he found that Joseph Hoare died from a skull fracture and that Laura Sara died from a fracture to her orbit bone on the left-hand side of her face.
The doctor that carried out the post-mortem examinations said that he found that Joseph Hoare had blood in both ears, nose and mouth, that both of his eye lids were swollen and discoloured and that there was an effusion of blood under his left eye lining. He added that he found the following injuries,
He added that Joseph Hoare's brain showed meningeal haemorrhage over the right frontal and right parietal lobes but that there was no laceration of his brain on the right hemisphere and that he had the following injuries:
He said that the injuries were bearing towards the right but that the severe brain injuries were on the left.
The doctor stated that he had seen the club or stick with prominences on it that was found and said that two prominences fitted exactly onto the wounds on the man's head that formed the ends of the crescent. It was noted that it was the think end of the club that was bloodstained.
He added that there was a slight abrasion on the first knuckle joint of Joseph Hoare's right hand and another on the back of his left hand, both of which were recent, noting that there were no old wounds or bruises.
He said that Joseph Hoare's clothing was bloodstained, especially on the right side and that he had lost a great quantity of blood, noting that the knees of his pants were bloodstained. He noted that when he had first seen Joseph Hoare, he had been fully clothed and that at that time he had noted that the elbows of his shirt and vest were stained with blood and water.
The doctor stated that in his opinion, the blow that had caused Joseph Hoare's wound was not a downward blow, but a swinging blow in a horizontal direction and suggested that all of his injuries had been caused by one terrific blow. He further stated that if Laura Sara had been uninjured at the time that she would have been capable of delivering such a blow, but that she would not have been able after receiving her facial injuries.
He went on to state that Joseph Hoare would also not have been capable of inflicting injuries on anyone after receiving his injury.
The doctor went on the state that when he carried out the post-mortem examination on Laura Sara, that he found no marks of violence on her body and noted that her skull was abnormally thick. He said that she had the following injuries:
He added that the lower left orbit, zygoma, malar, ethmoid and nasal bones as well as her superior maxilary bone were all also completely smashed.
He said that her brain was normal with no lacerations or haemorrhage and that there was an absence of skull fracture in the region of the wounds at the back of her head, which he said was probably due to her thick hair and abnormally thick skull bones.
The doctor said that her wounds could have been caused by the stick that was found, and said that terrific force must have been used to cause her injuries to the left side of her face, which he said was probably caused by a swinging blow from right to left on meeting. He said that the stumps on the stick did not fit in any of her injuries and noted that he thought that she had received three separate injuries on her face and skull. He said that all of her injuries might have been caused by the stick but said that two of them were caused by a blunt weapon and that the third or incised wound might have been caused by her falling. The doctor noted that he had been shown the place where her body was found and said that he did not think that her injury could have been caused by her falling there as the soil was soft. The doctor added that two of her wounds could have been caused by blows whilst she was on the ground. He also said that he doubted that she ever stood up again after receiving the smash on the face, assuming that she had got that blow first.
He noted that the bodies of Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara were otherwise well nourished.
He said that he also examined small marks on the wall paper found in the bedroom at Skinners Bottom and said that the stains found on it were small and might have been blood or paint, or some other coloured matter. He added that if it was blood that it was not recent, and not less than twenty-four hours old. He noted that he first saw the marks on the wallpaper on Sunday 25 January 1920.
When he was asked a question at the coroner’s inquest, he replied by stating that it was a swinging transverse blow that had caused Joseph Hoare's injuries. He also said that Laura Sara was a physically very strong person and said that after Joseph Hoare was struck that he did not think that he would have been able to have caused Laura Sara's injuries, stating that in his opinion that it was not possible.
When the coroner mentioned three cases where people with head injuries had carried out actions, the doctor said that it would not alter his opinion. He said that he knew extraordinary things happened, but that after considering things from every point of view, he did not think that it was possible that Joseph Hoare could have struck Laura Sara after he had been struck himself. He said that he did not think that Joseph Hoare would have been able to stand up after receiving his blow and that in the instance of Laura Sara, that he thought that the first blow had struck her down and that the other two blows had been inflicted whilst she was on the ground. He noted that he thought that Laura Sara's injuries had required a much harder blow than that that which Joseph Hoare had received.
In answer to other questions by the coroner, the doctor added that he didn't think that Joseph Hoare would have been able to have thrown the stick or club 22 feet after having been hit and then having struck Laura Sara.
When the coroner summed up at the inquest, he asked jury who they felt was right, the police of the doctor.
The jury retired for half an hour and then returned with the following verdict, 'After carefully discussing the most important parts of the evidence given today we have arrived at the conclusion that the medical evidence was so emphatic and perfectly clear to us that be bring in a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown'.
The police report stated that it was apparent from the attitude of the doctor that he had been against any verdict other than murder. However, say said that from the questions put to the doctor and the cases quoted by the coroner that it appeared that the latter's views were not in accordance with the doctors. The police report stated that they thought that the jury had no evidence to justify a verdict of wilful murder against some person as there was nothing to show that a third person had been present when the blows were struck and the fact that only one weapon was found suggested that no other weapon was used. The report stated that had a third person been present that it was only reasonable to suppose that he would have brought some weapon with them, instead of using the one found at the scene.
The police report concluded that the verdict was against the police and that they felt that the most reasonable conclusion the jury should have arrived at was an open verdict, namely that Joseph Hoare and Laura Sara died from injuries to their heads apparently inflicted by a fir stick produced, but by whom inflicted there was no evidence to show.
Their funeral took place on the Thursday afternoon. About 1000 people followed the funeral party from Sea View cottage to Mithian Churchyard about 1.5 miles away. There was a string of 30 waggonettes and traps straggling for more than a quarter of a mile behind the hearse and the road was thronged with pedestrians en-route to the churchyard. They were buried close to each other.
see Lincolnshire Echo - Wednesday 28 January 1920
see Hull Daily Mail - Tuesday 27 January 1920
see The Scotsman - Tuesday 27 January 1920
see Dundee Courier - Thursday 29 January 1920
see Dundee Courier - Tuesday 03 February 1920
see Cambridge Daily News - Friday 13 February 1920
see West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser - Thursday 05 February 1920
see National Archives - MEPO 3/268C