Unsolved Murders

Florence Jean Weatherall

Age: 22

Sex: female

Date: 23 Feb 1951

Place: Moor Road, Bestwood, Nottinghamshire

Florence Weatherall was found in a ditch behind a hedge partially clothed on Friday 23 February 1951 in Moor Lane, Bestwood.

She had gone missing from her wooden chalet home in Newstead Abbey Gate in Linby, Nottinghamshire, three weeks earlier on 2 February 1951 at about 4pm, two days after she had been released from hospital after giving birth to twins. She had gone out to go shopping in Mansfield. The place where she was found was described as being in a piece of swampy undergrowth at the side of a lonely lane.

Her body was found by a man who lived in a caravan nearby. He said that it was amongst swampy undergrowth in a deserted spot, lying in water and that it was partially covered with garments.

Her cause of death was given as being due to asphyxia following manual strangulation and bruising was found on her neck and on her left temple.

The Home Office pathologist that carried out her post mortem stated that he thought that Florence Weatherall had received her fatal injuries in a car, or some vehicle, and that her body was later dumped in the ditch before rigor mortis had set in and that her clothes, which had been removed, had been placed in the ditch beside her.

Although her case was considered to have been one of murder, it was also thought that it might alternatively had been accidental.

The police investigation later took the police to the grounds of Newstead Abbey which was not far from where Florence Weatherall had lived where the police searched the grounds for signs of her handbag and shopping basket. The paths and verges from Newstead Abbey to Longdale Lane leading to Ollerton were examined by plain clothes policemen who hoped to find wheel marks which would support one of their theories that Florence Weatherall's body had been wheeled in a barrow from where she was murdered to the spot, two miles from her home where she was found.

At that time, 5 March 1951, the police said that the chain of evidence that they had in their possession had considerably strengthened, and said, 'We now believe that Florence Weatherall met her death some distance away from the ditch in which her body was discovered and that she may have been alive two or three days after she disappeared. It was possible that her body may have been wheeled some distance in a barrow and then carried across country by her murderer. The journey might have been undertaken in successive stages and could have taken two or three nights to complete'.

It was noted that the previous day other plain clothes men had visited an ash tip near Mansfield and had raked among refuse searching for the metal parts of her handbag. The police said that considering that the widespread search for her handbag had been fruitless that it might have been burned and the metal parts put into a dustbin.

A shopping list that was thought to have belonged to Florence Weatherall was found on 13 March 1951 and was thought to have been the one that was taken with her on 2 February 1951. The police said that it was possible that the shopping list had been in her handbag. It was found near her home in Bestwood. The list, which was written in ink on a small strip of stiff blue paper, had five items on it, meat, sausage, liver, groceries and saucepan. It was sent to the East Midlands Forensic Science Laboratory in Nottingham where the handwriting was to be compared with that known to have been Florence Weatherall's handwriting.

Her black handbag was not found until the night of 30 May 1951. The police said earlier on in the investigation that they thought that if they could find it that they would be in a strong position to identify the person responsible for her death. It was found by two men searching for golf balls on the main Hucknall road opposite Bulwell Common golf links in Nottingham. Following its discovery, the police went to the spot where it was found and took photographs and later examined the handbag which they found contained a number of personal effects which definitely identified it as being Florence Weatherall's handbag. The place where it was found was about three miles from where her body was found. It was said to have contained a visiting card, a letter and a partly smoked cigarette. The visiting card bore the name of a midland manufacturing firm and had two telephone numbers pencilled on the back.

Her inquest in June 1951 returned an open verdict.

It was said that when she had planned to go out on 2 February 1951 that her mother had come over to take care of her twins but that she had apparently made one excuse or another and had delayed her departure until about 4pm. Her mother said that she set out cheerfully enough and as far as she knew she didn't have a care in the world.

It was thought that when she had left her home that she might have had a rendezvous as when her mother looked out and saw her go she saw her walking to and fro on the side of the road opposite to that on which she would normally have waited for the Mansfield bus on.

The police later checked the buses but could find no evidence that she had boarded one and also checked with the shops in Mansfield and could find no evidence that she had shopped there either.

It was noted however, that none of the women thought to have been waiting for the bus to Mansfield at the time had come forward.

It was stated that from the last moment that her mother saw her at about 4pm on 2 February 1951 to the time she was found, about 8.15am on Friday 23 February 1951 in Moor Lane, Bestwood, that nothing was known of her movements although it was thought that she might have bought some apples in a shop in Mansfield at about 4pm. A woman who kept a fruiteer's shop in Mansfield said that she had known Florence Weatherall and her family for many years and told the police on 27 February 1951 that Florence Weatherall had visited her shop to buy some apples at that time.

A bus conductress who also knew Florence Weatherall's family also said that she had seen Florence Weatherall sometime of the evening of 2 February 1951.

Reports of a black saloon car being seen at about 8pm near the spot where she was later found were also made, and the police said that they were particularly interested in tracing her movements between those times, 4pm and 8pm on 2 February 1951.

It was noted that it was not the first time that Florence Weatherall had left her home after coming out of hospital after giving birth, it being noted that she had gone out to the shops on 29 January 1951, the day after she returned from hospital, and that she had returned to her bungalow at about 7.30pm the same evening.

Although the police said that they had no idea what Florence Weatherall had done after she had left home or who she might have been with, they received a report of a young woman having been seen with a man in a saloon car in Papplewick Lane on 2 February 1951 shortly after Florence Weatherall was said to have left and appealed for him to come forward or anyone that could identify him. He was described as:

  • Age: 30 to 35.
  • Hair: Dark brown and brushed back.
  • Clothing: Probably wearing a light coloured gabardine mackintosh.

The car that they had been in was described as being a Morris Ten of pre-war design and had been stationery at a gateway and stile on a footpath leading to Keghill.

Another man that the police said they were interested in tracing was said to have been a man that Florence Weatherall had previously been friendly with and who had lived in Mansfield.  He was described as being:

  • Age: 40 to 50.
  • Height: 5ft 11in.
  • Face: Round face.
  • Hair: Dark hair with a dark moustache.

The man was said to have also owned a car. It was thought that they had been seen together in a car at about 5pm.

Florence Weatherall's sister also gave the police the names of 14 men acquaintances, one of whom was the name of the tall man with the round face and car who it was thought she had been seen with at 5pm on 2 February 1951. It was said that other people on the list included several fairground people and that police had made enquiries at fairs across the North of England in a search for them. It was also said that the list had also included the names of a salesmen and travellers and that in an effort to trace them the police were attended the Mansfield market to question stallholders and villagers.

A commercial traveller was later seen in Leicester, but he was found to have been in no way connected with the murder although it was noted that he had been able to offer other valuable information.

Following the discovery of her body and the opinion of the Home Office pathologist, the police began to check on all vehicles that had been seen or were known to have been in the area on the 2 February 1951.

On 7 March 1951, the police said that they were looking to trace a large saloon car.

The police then also began to look into her background, and it was said that when they did they found that she was a woman with a record and with many secrets.

The police said that they first determined that Florence Weatherall had been sent to a remand home at the age of 14 after the police described her as 'promiscuous'. However, she later absconded from the remand home and went to London. It was later heard that when she was nineteen she ran away from home and was later in trouble for being concerned in defrauding the Post Office by using forced savings bank withdrawal forms and was bound over for three years at the Old Bailey on condition that she returned to live with her mother.

Florence Weatherall then returned to live with her mother and in 1950 she married a vacuum cleaner salesman, who she met whilst he was in the RAF, at the Mansfield Register Office.

It was heard that in the light of her past, the police determined to check into whether anyone from her past, which was described as 'carefully concealed'. had reached out to her and threatened the security of her family life and eventually brought about her death, and after careful investigation the police said that they were certain that that was not the case, stating that every person that she was known to have associated with in the previous years was traced and had been able to satisfy the police that they were not concerned with her death.

However, the police said that they were of the opinion that Florence Weatherall had died by the hand of someone that even if she had not met before, was someone that she had trusted. They said that after a meticulous examination of her body that they found no sign of a struggle and noted that her clothing, which had been removed from her body, had been carefully folded up and was untorn. It was also noted as a significant fact that her long brittle fingernails were not broken or damaged in any way, which it was considered they would have been if she had struggled or fought back an attacker in any way.

As such, it was considered that Florence Weatherall's death might have been accidental, which was a theory that was in some measure supported by the coroner who returned an open verdict at her inquest in June 1951 after advising the jury that there was no evidence of intent to kill found. As such, it was considered possible that because of her weak state after having given birth to twins two days earlier, that she had died from a grip on the neck that would not have normally killed her and as such, the man that had been with her and found that she had died had, panicked and disposed of her body in the ditch.

It was noted that the police made a wide appeal for public co-operation in trying to find out where Florence Weatherall had been in her last hours and who the man was, but without luck and that at the end of the investigation they had no idea who he was.

An appeal was made on 20 March 1951 to trace three men who were thought might have been poaching and who saw something in the ditch at Bestwood near where to Florence Weatherall's body was found. Two of the men were described as being about 30 years of age whist the third was thought to have been about 40 years of age and they were said to have been accompanied by a brown dog which was a little bigger than a fox terrier. The police said, 'These men, or any one of them, are asked to come forward immediately to assist police enquiries. They have nothing to worry about concerning other proceedings, and their help will be appreciated'.

In August 1951, the police said that they were looking into the possibility that there might have been a connection between Florence Weatherall's murder and that of Mabel Tattershaw who was battered and strangled to death at Sherwood Vale, Nottingham on 3 August 1951 and also that of Hilda Edwards who was found dead in a wheatfield in Stonepit Lane at Normanton on Saturday 18 August 1951. Hilda Edwards's murder is still unsolved, but a man was convicted of the murder of Mabel Tattershaw and sentenced to death.

The case was noted for being one of the first to have shown cinemagoers an appeal for information regarding a murder. The appeals were shown in all cinemas within a ten-mile radius of Mansfield. The appeal was made into a two minute film that showed pictures of Florence Weatherall, one of which was described as an attractive picture of her, and gave an outline of her movements so far as they were known, together with a description of her clothes and of the basket and handbag that she had been carrying. It was believed to have been the first time that that method had been used in Britain in an attempt to solve a murder.

A photograph of Florence Weatherall's handbag and a drawing of her missing shopping basket were also issued by the police.

Florence Weatherall's funeral took place in Mansfield on Friday 2 March 1951. A Requiem Mass was held at St Philip Neri's Roman Catholic Church and over 300 people lining the road on either side of the church tried to break across the road when the funeral cortege arrived, but the police pushed them back. It was noted that most of the crowd were women, some of whom were pushing prams.

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

see www.truecrimelibrary.com

see Northampton Post

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Thursday 07 June 1951

see Liverpool Echo - Saturday 07 February 1953

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Monday 26 February 1951

see Daily Mirror - Friday 01 June 1951

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Wednesday 28 February 1951

see Portsmouth Evening News - Friday 23 February 1951

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Wednesday 07 March 1951

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Friday 23 February 1951

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 03 March 1951

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 28 February 1951

see Lancashire Evening Post - Saturday 17 January 1953

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Thursday 22 March 1951