Unsolved Murders

Vera Hilda Irena Hoad

Age: 11

Sex: female

Date: 25 Feb 1924

Place: Regnum Field, Graylingwell Mental Hospital Farm, Chichester, Sussex

Vera Hoad was found dead in a field near a mental hospital.

She lived with her family at 147 St. Pancras Road. Her sister last saw her at 5.30pm on the Monday 25 February 1924 when she had left for her music lesson. Vera Hoad had gone off to see her music teacher but she was not there and so she had her lesson with the music teacher's mother and then left at 6.40pm.

She was found 61 hours later at 8.40am on 28 February 1924 by a deaf and dumb patient who worked at the farmhouse at the mental hospital. He returned from having delivered some milk and made some signs to say that he had seen something unusual along the back of the drive. The farmhouse bailiff and some of the inmates then went out to look and saw the body of Vera Hoad partly covered in snow lying on her back in the corner of a field. There were signs of a struggle and nearby marks which looked like they were made by boots.

The farmhouse bailiff said that he had twelve patients working at the farm and said that they all had to be in by five o'clock and that they were all in on the night of the murder.

She had distinct bruises on her neck and the post-mortem revealed that she had died from asphyxia due to violent pressure on her throat and that she had been outraged.

Blowlamps were used to melt the snow in the field and a number of footprints were discovered and casts taken of them. However, they were very indistinct and at best only about 3 inches of the fore part of two square toed boots could be seen. It was also difficult to say what size they were and could have been boots sized 7 to 10.

The doctor who carried out the post-mortem said that she had died from asphyxia due to pressure on the Thyroid Cartilage from outside by violence. He said that her thighs and legs were flexed from her trunk and that her thighs were apart and partially bare. Her frock had been pulled up exposing her underclothing and her shoes and stockings were much covered with soil similar to the soil found in the field. He said that her eyelids were closed, lips livid, mouth partly open and that she had two marks over her Thyroid Cartilage. He said that over the thyroid muscle he found two livid spots, one on the left side about the size of a six-penny piece and circular, and on the right side a similar but smaller spot, and formed the opinion that they had been made by a thumb and smaller finger. He also noted that the skin was broken as though by a finger nail and suggested that considerable violence must have been used. He said that death would be the result of this pressure but not instantaneous. He said that there was blood in the white portion of the right eye and that both pupils were dilated.

He said that the superficial veins all over the body and arms and legs were distended. He said that there was considerable bruising  on the folds of the vagina and that the hymen had been ruptured vertically. He said that arterial blood was present in the vagina and complete penetration had taken place and that from what he had seen he was convinced that she had been 'Virgo-intacta'. He said he took four swabs for examination but none showed signs of male semen. He said that both lungs were collapsed, especially the left one, and that the left lung and lower lobe were engorged with venous blood. He said that the external veins of the heart were engorged and the left auricle and ventricle were empty. He said that her womb was small and showed haemorrhage of the inner surface.

The doctor said that she had unquestionably been violated and expressed the opinion that she must have experienced considerable pain. He said he examined two pieces of cloth cut from her bloomers to which a starchy matter was adhering and found abundant evidence of male semenial fluid. When he was asked by a member of the jury whether the outrage had taken place before or after death the doctor said 'There is no doubt she was asphyxiated and unconscious, but the heart might have gone on beating two or three minutes after respiration had ceased. Owing to the fact that I found arterial blood in the vagina, the heart must have been beating when connection took place'.

He went on to say that he thought she had died sometime between 6.40pm and midnight on 25 February 1924.

The police made enquiries with the majority of the male inhabitants of Chichester, particularly in the vicinity of St. Pancras, East Gate, East Street, North Gate, North Street, St. Pauls Road and upon the four roads along which Vera Hoad must had taken to Regnum Field. They took upward of 1200 statements including those of soldiers, recruits and band boys at Chichester Barracks. They also took statements from the officials, attendants and nurses at Graylingwell Mental Hospital, students at Otter's College and practically every person in it. They also questioned Vera Hoad's friends and others belonging to the boy scouts, girl guides, Band of Hope, Sunday and Day Schools, Salvation Army and Church friends.

The police report referred to claims in the daily papers that Chichester was more immoral than any other City of its size and that the authorities refused to take any action whereby immorality could be checked and stated that they had found only two girls in the City that could be classed under the heading of prostitutes. They went on to say that there had been no complaints of interference by men or boys with children of tender age for the past four years and only about six persons had been convicted during that period for indecent exposure. They said that it spoke well of a City that had a population of 12,000 and had only seven police officers under ordinary circumstances to keep order.

The police said that it was difficult to determine whether or not Vera Hoad had been taken into the field by force or whether she had gone there willingly. They said that if she had been taken there by force then how was it that her music case, hat and gloves were found in such close proximity to her body in the field.

The police said that they were able to deduct from the impressions left in the field by the heels of her shoes and the soil adhering to them that she had struggled severely whilst on the ground. They went on to say that it must be remembered that she was wearing blue bloomers with an elastic waistband and elastic at both knees and so it was assumed that her assailant was unable to ravish her whilst she was on the ground because the elastic in the bloomers prevented him and so it appeared that he had lifted her onto the bank in a semi-conscious state and whilst still alive had outraged and strangled her there. They also said that it might be that she was well known to her assailant and that she had willingly accompanied him to the field with a view to committing an indecent act upon him and that the fact that her right hand glove was off led colour to that suggestion and that it might be the correct one. It was also suggested that she might have got to the field in a motor car or even the step of an ordinary push bicycle. They then suggested that the murderer's lustful passions might have overcome him whilst the act of indecency was being performed and that he then outraged her and out of necessity he then strangled her to prevent her from telling her parents what had taken place. However, they added that of all the persons that they had interrogated concerning the forwardness of Vera Hoad, not one of them had in any way or manner hinted that she was a child addicted to those habits.

She was described as a precocious child, very forward, loving and fond of throwing herself into the arms of any grown person who came to her parents’ house, but at the same time was spoken of as a clean living innocent girl.

At the Coroner's inquest the estate bailiff to the Graylingwell Hospital, when asked whether he had known that the lane passing up to the Hospital entrance was known as Love Lane, said that he did. He also agreed that it was not uncommon to see soldiers and civilians walking along with girls there. He also said that there was no light at all at the spot where Vera Hoad was found.

Near to where she was found, along with her music case there was found an empty wine bottle but enquiries later indicated that it had been there for some time.

Vera Hoad had been wearing a nigger brown coat on which there were earth stains. In her right pocket there was a snapshot of herself with writing on the back and a piece of blind cord. In her left pocket there was a wooden dice, a yale key and a cigarette card. Under her coat she had a woollen sports coat and in its right pocket there was a spring hook, and handkerchief and a piece of cretonne. The policeman said however, that there was nothing in her pockets to help them with their enquiries.

A policeman noted that certain information presented by a bootmaker should be ignored and added that many bootmakers then made Infantry pattern boots or what was more generally known as the Australian field boot pattern. He said that the boots were more or less square toed and had no toe irons, hob nails or steel points on the sole and that many had only half tip irons on the heels. He said that the absence of the heavy toe irons and hob nails made the boot a far more comfortable one than a regulation Army boot and that as a result civilians bought them in preference to the Blucher Boot which prior to the war was recognised as the standard boot for heavy work. He also said that all patterns of boots had also been available to the Army since the war.

The policeman went on to comment on the notion that Vera Hoad was not in the habit of being  out very late and said that she was ordinarily home by 7.45pm but said that on this occasion her mother was away in London and her older sister was supposed to be in charge of the home. He then asked whether or not her older sister really looked after Vera Hoad as she should have and stated that they found that on 25 February 1924 the sister had had her sister and two boys over with them in the house that evening. He said that one of them left the house with Vera Hoad's father at 7.30pm to attend a slate club held at the Hornet (a narrow street about 200 yards from St. Pancras) from where they then went on to Portfield and then returned to Eastgate Square where the boy left Vera Hoad's father and went back to Vera Hoad's home. He then said that Vera Hoad's father then went to the Bill Inn on Market Road. The other man arrived at 8.00pm and Vera Hoad's father then returned at 8.15pm and they then played cards and at 8.30pm it was said that Vera Hoad's sister then remarked on the fact that Vera Hoad was not there and only then did they start to look for her.

At the same time the policeman then said that it should be noted that a woman said that she had seen Vera Hoad at 8.15pm opposite the Fire station at Eastgate Square and noted that if she had been there then her father or the boy/man should have seen her there too as they were both within site of the spot at the time between 7.55pm and 8.10pm.

However, the policeman said that the woman admitted that she had also been to the pictures on Friday 22 February 1924 and that it might have been on that date that she had seen Vera Hoad and the policeman said that it was their opinion it was 22 and not 25 February that the woman had seen Vera Hoad. They said that they were inclined to that decision as they also had other witnesses who also said that they also saw Vera Hoad on 22 February at that spot at 8.10pm.

The police said that they made inquiries to determine whether Vera Hoad had been receiving presents of any kind or had been in possession of more money than she would be expected to have and failed to find any evidence that she had spent more than the penny or so a week that her mother gave her or that she had received any presents from people outside of her family other than at Christmas or her birthday.

During the police enquiries it was found that an insurance agent who lived about 20 yards from Vera Hoad and had known her all her life had been in the habit of meeting her upon her return from the Band of Hope on Tuesday evenings. However, it was not suggested that he had acted in any way other than an ordinarily friendly manner and he had apparently never given her any presents, sweets or money. The police made enquiries and found that Vera Hoad was not the only girl that he had spoken to and that he would often speak to about 4-6 other little girls but none of them ever suggested that he had acted in an indecent manner. However, the police report noted that after Vera Hoad went missing from her home the rumours were rife that the insurance agent had started neglecting his business, was drinking heavily and was generally of a different demeanour then before. When they questioned the insurance agent he said that he never spoke to the children until they ran up to him or spoke to him and that he was a well-known person in Chichester having been there for 27 years working with the Prudential Insurance Company and that he had never had a complaint made against him.

The police later interviewed a 24 year old man that they said they thought was their man. They said that he lived about opposite Vera Hoad and that when they had questioned him he had made a statement with obviously misleading facts. They said that it did seem that he was the man that they were looking for but that they were unable to prove conclusively where he was and what he was engaged in from 5pm until 10pm on the evening of 25 February when he said he went to bed. He said that certain omissions in his first statement that he had made in his second were made in advertently by him. The police report stated that their enquiries were still ongoing but that they were unable to definitely successfully connect him with the crime but that everything pointed in his direction.

The police report stated that other than the insurance agent and the young man that lived about opposite Vera Hoad they had had only a few other suspects all of whom presented little likelihood of being suitable for arrest.

Police noted that statements given to them by a man and a woman who had been out for the evening and said that they had sheltered for an hour and a half in the doorway of a house due to the inclemency of the weather and whilst there had seen a man at about 8.15pm hurriedly approaching from the direction of Franklin Place were followed up. They had said that they had him in view for about 50 feet and said that he was walking very fast and breathing heavily. They described him as being aged 25 to 30 and about 5 feet 8 to 10 inches in height, of medium build, wearing a light coloured mackintosh with belt, or trench coat and with a cap well pulled over his face which they could not describe. The report stated that as it was assumed that the couple were sweat-hearting they did not pay much attention to the man but did comment on his hurried walk. Enquiries were made in the press and on the screens of the local cinemas with the result that three persons came forward to say that they had passed through New Park Road at 8.15pm that evening. The police said that one of them was undoubtedly the man that the couple had seen and found that he had lived on the corner at Franklin Place and New Park Road and at 8.15pm he had hurried through New Park Road to the Drill Hall in East Row to attend a band practice where he should have been at 8.15pm but was a few minutes late.

When Vera Hoad's friends were interviewed one of them who was a cleaner at salter's Dye Works said that he had been at her house that evening. He said that he had left home at about 6.50pm and went to Vera Hoad's house where he saw Vera Hoad, her father, sister and a couple of other people. He said that he got there at about 7pm. He said that he was walking out with one of the girls that was there and left about two or three minutes later and went to Voke's Rea Rooms to pay his club. He said that they returned at about 7.10pm and that Vera Hoad's father and another man then went out as Vera Hoad's father had to see somebody. He said that sometime after the other man came back by himself followed about 10 minutes later by Vera Hoad's father. He said that they then started to play cards at about 8.20pm a few minutes after Vera Hoad's father had returned.

He said that just before they started playing cards Vera Hoad's sister said to Vera Hoad's father 'Vera ought to be home, she is a naughty girl for staying out so late'. The sister then went out to post a letter and returned at 9pm and opened the window and looked in and said 'Has Vera come home yet?' and Vera Hoad's father said 'No. Haven't you called the music teacher?' and Vera Hoad's sister said 'No, I haven't'. Vera Hoad's father then got up from playing cards and went outside with the sister. Then at 9.30pm they came back and asked if Vera Hoad had returned and when they said she hadn't they said that they had been to see the music teacher but that she had told them that Vera Hoad had left at 6.40pm. The cleaner said that he had known the family since he was a schoolboy and had visited their house for the last seven years. He said that when Vera Hoad had been to the Band of Hope she generally got home around 7.30pm to 8pm. He said that in the summer he had known Vera Hoad to play in the street until about 8.30pm to 8.45pm but never that late in the winter saying that then she was normally out no later than 7.30pm to 7.45pm adding that that was when she had been to the Band of Hope.

He added that Vera Hoad's sister had told him as they were sitting down talking that she had scolded Vera Hoad earlier for not being able to find her music before she went to her music lesson that night. He also said that he did not know of any men that Vera Hoad would stop and speak to and that she generally played with her little girl friends and that she was always shy with strangers.

The murder of Vera Hoad was unsolved but in 1928 New Scotland Yard exchanged correspondence with the Office of Police for Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada regarding the execution of Earle Nelson who was executed for the murder of a number of people including young girls who he had strangled. They wrote a letter regarding the murder of Vera Hoad suggesting that he might have been responsible and included photos of him and his finger prints. He had been in the Navy but was later taken to the State Hospital for the Insane at Napa in California but he escaped on 4 December 1918 and was later caught when he tried to strangle a woman in 1921. He was returned to Napa but escaped again on 2 November 1923 and was not caught again and from that date to 1925 nothing is known of where he had been. In 1926 he was known to have been in California and was connected with murders there and that in early 1927 he had gone across to the Atlantic seaboard where he had committed murders and in May and early June was in Chicago, Buffalo and Detroit where it was believed that he had strangled and robbed four women. It was noted that when he was captured he had no newspaper extracts relating to murders in England and there was no knowledge of him ever being out of the United States other than his recent visit when he was captured. Earle Nelson, alias Earle Ferrell was executed at 7.45am on Friday 13 January 1928 in the yard of the common Gaol in the City of Winnipeg. He was also considered by the Canadian authorities as a suspect for the murder of Nellie Clark aged 11 in Liverpool on 11 January 1925. However, nothing much more of this line of enquiry was ever made.

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

see www.truecrimelibrary.com

see Nottingham Evening Post - Saturday 11 February 1933

see Shepton Mallet Journal - Friday 21 March 1924

see National Archives - MEPO 3/1603

see West Sussex Gazette

see Europeana photo of Vera Hoad