Unsolved Murders

Emily Armstrong

Age: 69

Sex: female

Date: 14 Apr 1949

Place: St Johns Wood High Street, London

Source: www.scribd.com

Emily Armstrong was beaten to death in the dry-cleaning shop that she managed in High Street, St John's Wood, London.

She was found battered to death in her shop on the afternoon of Thursday 14 April 1949 at about 4pm.

She was a widow and was described as a frail bespectacled old lady. She was a staunch Catholic and was said to have been looking forward to the Easter services at St Joseph's church in Wealdstone.

She had run the shop for Eastmans, her employers, who said that she had turned the shop into a fine business.

Her body was discovered after a queue of customers had turned up and waited outside her shop for it to open at 2pm after she had closed for lunch. Whilst waiting, two women went round the back to find out what was happening and went into the shop and found her body in the rear of her shop

Her post-mortem showed that she had been beaten to death with a blunt instrument and that her skull had been shattered by at least 22 blows. It was thought that she had been beaten about the head with a claw hammer, a stonemason's hammer or a heavy spanner, but the murder weapon was never found.

The pathologist fixed the time of her death as having taken place between 2pm and 3pm which would have been a time when people had begun to queue up outside her shop for their dry cleaning.

The police said that they were interested in identifying a youth who was seen entering her shop between noon and 12.15pm on the Thursday 14 April 1949. He was described as being between 15 and 16 years of age, about 5ft 4in tall and had been wearing a light-coloured jacket. He was seen to go in between noon and 12.15pm and to be asked by Emily Armstrong to close the rear door.

The police said that they were also interested in interviewing a man who had visited the dry-cleaning shop shortly after the youth who had had an argument with Emily Armstrong about a garment. It was said that on the arrival of another customer, the man had left the shop. He was described as being of the 'chauffeur type' aged about 30 years, about 5ft 4in tall and with a dark complexion. He was said to have been clean shaven with dark brown hair and to have been wearing a dark fawn raincoat. He was also noted as having been hatless and to have been apparently of a nervous disposition and to have spoken with a London accent.

Emily Armstrong was last seen when she had gone to the Marigold Cafe along the road for her lunch where she had mentioned that she had had to order a strange man out of her back yard earlier that morning.

The police said that they thought that she had been murdered in a robbery as her handbag was missing and the shop till was found open and empty. The handbag was described as being of black leather with a criss-crossed pattern in relief and with sewn in leather thongs and two handles. It was 14 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches in size and was worn and had a clip top. Before it was found the police said that they expected it to contain Emily Armstrong's weekly season ticket from Cannons Park, her identity card, keys and spectacle case.

The police said that they thought that her murderer had followed her back to the dry cleaning shop at about 2.10pm after she had been out for Easter presents for her son and daughter-in-law which she had brought back to the shop wrapped up in a parcel. The murderer had left the presents behind.

Her handbag was later found nearby along with a handkerchief with bloodstains on it and the laundry mark H-612 on it.

It was thought that the murderer had taken about £10 from her shop, the mornings takings and about £2 10s from her handbag.

The police said that they thought that her murder was motivated in part by robbery as her handbag was gone and the till had been emptied, but said that they thought that it was doubtful that the murderer had gone there solely to rob her as he must have known that there would have been very little money there.

During the investigation the police took the fingerprints of about 30 workmen from a nearby building site.

An identification parade was also held at Brixton prison on Thursday 29 December 1949 in the hunt for her murderer. It was suggested that her murderer might have been a convicted child murderer who was thought to have been in the St Johns Wood area at the time whilst at large after having escaped from Broadmoor Lunatic Asylum. However, witnesses failed to pick him out when he was later put up for identification.

It was also said that some army deserters were also questioned but released.

She had lived in Mountbell Road in Stanmore with her son and daughter-in-law. Her son said that Emily Armstrong seemed to have a fear, although he did not connect it with her death. He said, 'She would be most careful and precise, up to a point of nervousness, about locking and bolting doors when she arrived home here'.

Her husband, who had been a traveller, had died in 1942.

Her inquest, which concluded at St Pancras in London on Thursday 9 June 1949, returned a verdict of 'murder by a person or persons unknown'. The coroner said that it was possible that because Emily Armstrong was going to scream that a murder was 'superimposed upon what would otherwise have been simply shopbreaking'.

It was suggested that her murder might have been connected with the murder of Gertrude O’Leary in Bristol on 30 June 1949, but no connections between the crimes were ever proved.

It was also suggested that her murder might have been connected with that of Kathleen Higgins who was found dead in the grounds of Wingfield House on 12 March 1949, about 100 yards away.


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


see National Archives - MEPO 3/3131

see Wikipedia

see The Scotsman - Tuesday 19 April 1949

see The Scotsman - Saturday 16 April 1949

see Western Mail - Friday 10 June 1949

see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Saturday 16 April 1949

see Daily Mirror - Saturday 16 April 1949

see Daily Herald - Saturday 16 April 1949

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Saturday 16 April 1949

see Aberdeen Press and Journal - Saturday 16 April 1949