Unsolved Murders

Peggy Richards

Age: 24

Sex: female

Date: 20 Feb 1942

Place: River Thames, Waterloo Bridge

Peggy Richards was found in the River Thames at Waterloo Bridge.

A Private in the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa was tried for her murder but acquitted. He had been seen in her company shortly before she died, and he was later found in possession of her handbag.

At about 9.35am on Friday 20 February 1942 the police were patrolling the River Thames in a police boat when they were called to go to the south foreshore where they found the dead body of a woman lying face downwards with her head towards the new ridge. It was noted that her clothing looked as though it had been disturbed by the ebb tide although it was later also found that it looked like someone had dressed her after her death, putting on only her outer clothing.

When her body was first examined it was found that both of her thighs were fractured, and a wooden cradle was lowered down and she was removed to Waterloo New Bridge where she was examined by a doctor and life was confirmed extinct. Her body was then removed to Southwark Mortuary.

As a result of their enquiries, the police spoke to several men that had been employed by Messrs Peter Lind & Co., Contractors, who had been engaged in building the new Waterloo Bridge. The storekeeper there said that at about 11.55pm on Thursday 19 February 1942 he had been in his store room on the bridge in the company of two other men when he was told by an employee with the GPO who had also been engaged in work on the bridge that here was a chap and a girl having a row like hell on the job. The three men then left the store which was on the south shore entrance to the bridge and saw a soldier about 100 yards off standing on the left side of the bridge against a parapet which was about 3ft 6in high.

The storekeeper said that he saw the soldier then push something into the case of his respirator but said that he could not see what it was. He said that the soldier had a beer bottle in his right hand and appeared to have been drinking heavily but was not drunk. The storekeeper said that he didn't see any woman on the bridge.

He said that he then asked the soldier what he was doing on the bridge and said that the soldier replied, 'Oh, I'm all right mate'. The storekeeper said that he then asked the soldier where the others were and said that the soldier pointed to the north side of the bridge and said, 'Up there'. The storekeeper said that he then flashed his torch on the shoulder of the soldier and said that he saw the word ‘Canada' on his uniform coat.  The storekeeper said that he then took the soldier by the arm and said, 'You had better get off', and said that the soldier replied, 'All right'.  The storekeeper said that the soldier was then taken to the centre of the bridge, clear of obstructions, and then walked away.

The storekeeper said that he and his co-workers then searched the bridge but failed to find any other person on it and then walked back to where the soldier had been standing and flashed his torch on floor of the bridge and saw a lady's scarf which he picked up. The scarf was later identified as being the property of Peggy Richards. When it was found it was still in the shape of a turban and it was found about two feet from where the soldier had been standing.         

The storekeeper said that in the light of what the GPO employee had told him he suspected that the soldier had quarrelled with a woman and then pushed her backwards into the river, and so in consequence he flashed his torch into the river but didn't see anything suspicious.

However, the storekeeper said that he went to the same spot the following morning at about 9am and looked over the parapet into the river and saw the body of a woman immediately below him on the foreshore, high and dry.

He said that he then informed the police.

The police said that after hearing the statements of the men engaged with work on the bridge that they made many enquiries and took statements from many people which established beyond doubt that Peggy Richards met a violent death at the hands of the Canadian soldier seen by the storeperson on the bridge.

They added that the storperson's statement was corroborated by a lighterman employed on Waterloo Bridge, a night watchman employed on Waterloo Bridge, and a GPO engineer.

The police said through exhaustive enquiries made in the vicinity of the Union Jack Club they were able to trace a policeman in M Division who said he saw a Canadian soldier enter the YMCA canteen on platform 15 of Waterloo Station at 1.30am on the morning of 20 February 1942. He said that the Canadian soldier had had a lady's handbag with him which was later identified as he property of Peggy Richards, and that he was in the act of opening it. The policeman described the soldier and confirmed that he was wearing a blue Glengarry with a red pom on the top and bearing the badge of the Ottawa Cameronians. The policeman said that he didn't take immediate action but instead reported the matter to the policeman in charge of the group centre which was next door to the YMCA canteen. It was noted also that as the policeman did that, another soldier came into the group centre and reported similar facts, adding that he had been given a cigarette out of the woman's handbag.

Following that the policeman and a police sergeant then went back to the YMCA canteen and went up to the soldier who was sitting there alone and asked him to accompany them to the group centre, which he did. They then asked him whether he had anything in his possession that didn't belong to him and he replied, 'No'. The policeman then said, 'I have seen you with a lady's handbag in your possession', and the soldier then replied, 'Oh yes, that's right. What do you want to know for and why have you brought me here?'. The soldier then took out a handbag from under his coat and threw it on the table there. The policeman then asked if he knew who it belonged to and the soldier said, 'No. I haven't looked in it'.

The policeman then said that he would look into the bag and said that the soldier then immediately snatched the bag away from him and put it inside his coat and then made some comment about Provost Marshall, and in doing so took out a black spectacle case from his pocket and put on a pair of silver rimmed spectacles, the right lens of which was cracked across the bottom half.

The soldier was then taken to the Provost Marshal's office where he was seen by a lance corporal in the Canadian Military Police and the policeman related to him what had so far transpired. The handbag was then examined and among other articles it was found to contain ration books in he name of Peggy Richards of 23 Castell House, SE. The policeman then asked the soldier where he got the bag from and the soldier said, 'I have been drinking with this woman all evening and we came out of the Wellington Hotel at closing time. She hit me on the head with the bag and then ran off'. The policeman said that he then asked the soldier whether he had a bruise on his head and the soldier replied, 'It would take more than a goddam bag to bruise me'.

The policeman said that he then took possession of the handbag.

The soldier was then identified at the Provost Marshal's Office and his number in the Ottawa Cameronians taken and he was then allowed to leave. However, he returned ten minutes  later and asked whether he had left his torch in the office and a search for a torch was made but without result, although a broken half set of dentures was found on the floor that he said belonged to him and that must have fallen out of his pocket when he first left the office.

The handbag was then taken and deposited at Kennington Road police station.

The other soldier that had also reported the soldier with the lady's handbag said that he had been in London on seven days privilege leave and had been in the YMCA canteen at about 1am on the morning of 20 February 1942 when the other Canadian soldier came in and sat down beside him. He said that the soldier had been wearing the badge of the Ottawa Cameronians and wearing a Glengarry, but the police said that they thought that he was mistaken in the detail and that he actually meant a Balmoral. He said that immediately after conversation between them took place it was mutually recognised that they were both French Canadians and so the conversed in French.  He said that the soldier was holding his coat close to his body as if he had something concealed underneath it and that a little later he saw that it was a woman's handbag which he later identified as the one that was taken from the other soldier in the Provost Marshal's Office. The soldier said that he asked the other soldier where he had got it and said that he told him that it was his woman's and that she had hit him with it, saying that they had had an argument and that she had thrown her bag at him. The soldier said that the other soldier then opened the bag and gave him a Churchman cigarette from it which was said to be similar to the other ones later found in the handbag. He said that the soldier then counted some money in the handbag, saying that there was some silver, which he said that he then replaced. The soldier said that he then reported the matter to the police.

The police later spoke to a dock labourer who lived at 23 Castell House in Church Street, Deptford, who he said that he had been living with Peggy Richards for about two years and who identified her body, however, he said that she had left him after a quarrel on 14 February 1942. He also identified her clothing, scarf and handbag as her property.

Following further diligent enquiries in the vicinity of Waterloo Road and the Union Jack Club, the police also identified a barman that worked at the Hero of Waterloo public house at 108 Waterloo Road, SE who identified Peggy Richards as a customer of the public house. He said that at about 7pm on the Thursday 19 February 1942 that she entered their saloon bar. He also described her clothing as identical to that which she was found dead in. He said that she  had been accompanied by two Canadian soldiers and said that they remained there drinking steadily until about 10.30pm when they left together. He added that before they left he sold one of the Canadian soldiers a bottle of draught beer. He said that they were not drunk when they left and described both of the soldiers and it was noted that one of them was identical with the soldier that was later found in possession of the lady's handbag. The barman also attended the mortuary and identified the body of Peggy Richards as being the woman that he had seen with the two Canadian soldiers.

When the post-mortem was carried out the doctor said, 'The deceased came to her death of violence, and died at about 12.30am, February 20th. Very shortly after sustaining grave crushing injuries from a fall of considerable height on to some unyielding surface like a bastion. She did not fall into water and shows no sign of drowning. Preceding this fall by a very short period, possibly only a few minutes, deceased was subjected to an attempt manually either to pin her or throttle her whilst her body was held against some surface like the ground or a wall or parapet. The group of injuries to the throat and counter pinning injuries to the back are incapable of any other interpretation. The cause of death was shock from multiple crushing injuries.

The police then later detained the Canadian soldier and took a full statement from him in which he admitted his association with Peggy Richards but was, it was said, conveniently reticent about what happened on the bridge, even though he said that he could remember what happened after he had left it.

When he was later charged with murder, he said, 'Yes Sir' and when he was charged and cautioned, he said, 'Yes Sir I understand'.

It was noted that when he was taken back to the police station by a police sergeant his remarks to his friends as he left were somewhat significant. When he left, the Canadian soldier said, 'Goodbye, I'll see you again if they don't hang me'. It was noted that up until that time he had not been told why the police wished to interview him.

It was also noted when he was first approached by the police in the YMCA canteen that he had given a false name, although it was a Christian name that he did appear to use ordinarily.

It was heard that when the Canadian soldier arrived back at Bow Street police station he was put in the detention room under the care of a detective, and that whilst so detained he asked, 'What's going to happen'.  The detective then immediately cautioned him, and he then said, 'Is your chief going to charge me with murder?'. The detective replied, 'I do not know, you are merely detained whilst further enquiries are made'. The Canadian soldier then said, 'I am not going to remember too much of what happened on that goddam bridge until I hear what he knows and what the witnesses say'.

Peggy Richards was then later identified as being identical with Margaret McArthur CRO 13069-19 who had 29 convictions recorded against her for prostitution and larceny.

The Canadian soldier was later tried for Peggy Richards murder at the Central Criminal Court on 20 April 1942 but acquitted on 22 April 1942.

However, the police report states that, 'In spite of the Jury's verdict there is no doubt that the Canadian soldier was responsible for Peggy Richard's death. As it always will, the chain of evidence snapped at its weakest link. There was no evidence that the Canadian soldier was in Peggy Richards's company after 10.30pm on the fatal day and his presence with her on the bridge at midnight could only be inferred from his own statements'.

However, the police noted that after the Canadian soldier was acquitted, the police went to see him to return some personal property and noted that his attitude was cynical and that his only comment was the rather ghoulish question as to whether he was entitled to the money that had been in Peggy Richards handbag.

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

see www.truecrimelibrary.com

see National Archives - MEPO 3/2208

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Thursday 23 April 1942

see Birmingham Mail - Wednesday 11 March 1942