Unsolved Murders

Susan Southgate

Age: 83

Sex: female

Date: 17 Apr 1958

Place: The Mill House, Writtle Road, Writtle, Chelmsford

Susan Southgate was found murdered at her home, The Mill House in Writtle on 17 April 1958.

She was found in the early hours of 18 April 1958 gagged and bound to a chair with insulating tape and electric flex and had died from asphyxia and the police said that they thought that she had suffocated after having been tied up. She had had a duster stuffed in her mouth which was then secured with black insulation tape. The chair itself, an old family heirloom and Susan Southgate's favourite chair, was found halfway up the stairs where it was thought her killers had carried her up whilst tied up in it and then left her after the chair became jammed in a turn.

She was found by the police after they received a mysterious 999 call at Scotland Yard just before midnight. They said that they thought that the call had been made by someone that had been involved in the raid. They said that the caller spoke of an old lady being tied up at the house after a hold-up.

The police later traced the call box from which the 999 call was made to the corner of Gascoigne Road and Bifrons Street in Barking, Essex. The number of the box was RIPpleway 2095. After tracing the call box detectives worked for three hours on it taking fingerprints.

The police said that the man had said, 'You had better get this down right the first time. I am not going to repeat it. We have broken into an old house, a millhouse, near Chelmsford. We have left an old lady tied up. You had better go and release her'. It was said that after the call that Scotland Yard called the Essex police who then went out to every millhouse in the area to check. However, they did not get to The Mill House in Writtle until about 1.30am by which time it was too late as Susan Southgate was dead.

Susan Southgate was described as a silver-haired spinster who had not been out of doors for a year and who hobbled around with a stick.

After her body was found the police found over £1,300 in bank notes, silver and copper in her house which included £5 in a tea caddy, £104 in a letter rack and £320 in a strong box. They also found money in the hollow base of a table lamp, silverware and other trinkets and it was reported that in total there was about £5,000 worth in the house. The police later appealed to jewellers to watch for people selling sovereigns and other valuable curios.

However, it was also reported that her house had been ransacked although the police said that they was no sign of any forceable entry to the house.

She had lived alone at The Mill House and was last seen alive at about 9.15pm on 17 April 1958 by her neighbour who lived in the next cottage and had left Susan Southgate preparing her bed. The neighbour said, 'The old lady, who had not been out of doors for a year, hobbled around with a stick. I used to go in every night to get her bed ready. Last night I took up her hot-water bottles and put them in place. I laid her nightie on the electric aluminium warming pan in the bed. I chatted with her about her nephews and she showed me some wedding pictures. While I was at her house I thought I saw someone on the path at the side. I went out to have a look but could see nothing'.

A chisel and some insulation tape were found at the scene and the police later released pictures of them in the hope of tracing the person that had owned them. The police said that they thought that the chisel and two reels of insulation tape might have been bought together.

The chisel was noted as having been a new cold chisel with the impression of a foot on it along with the words, 'Footprint, England' and was 11 ¾ inches long. The police appealed to shopkeepers and assistants in ironmongery and tool shops throughout the country to try and identify it. The makes of the chisel were later traced to a company in Sheffield.

The insulation tape had been used to gag Susan Southgate and had consisted of two reels of black tape wound on blue cardboard reels with the letters 'HVHVH' in black on a white band at the inside end of the reel.

The police searched all the rooms in the house as well as the disused watermill nearby. They were later seen to carry out two trunks, four wooden and cardboard boxes and some deed boxes containing Susan Southgate's treasures to be taken away by police car for examination. They were also seen to take a red alarm clock with the back missing from it from the house for examination and it was reported in the  Liverpool Echo on Saturday 19 April 1958 that it was possible that Susan Southgate might have picked up the clock and thrown it at one of her assailants.

It was reported that whilst police officers and police photographers and fingerprint experts were at work inside the house, several of Susan Southgate's cats roamed about the garden which was partly overgrown and wooded. It was noted that in the window of her house there were brightly-coloured cyclamen and other plants.

During the investigation the police said that they were trying to trace several cars that had been seen near the time.

The first was a 1952 black Humber saloon that was seen parked with two men sitting in it about 150 yards from The Mill House between 9.15pm and 9.30pm on the night of the murder. The police said that they thought that the first man was a brutal stop-at-nothing type of gangster whilst the other man was a nervous, more compassionate man with little liking for his partner's callous methods.

The police said that they thought that the first man was the man that had bound and gagged Susan Southgate and stuffed a duster in her mouth and then stuck black adhesive tape tightly across it.

They said that they thought that the second man was a thief with a conscience and that he had made the midnight 999 call to Scotland Yard from the kiosk in Bifrons Street in Barking.

Another car said to have been seen was a dark-coloured car which was said to have roared through the village street.

The police also said that they were trying to trace a faded green car and  its driver that had been seen in the area, the driver having asked questions near The Mill House about the occupant of the house. It was thought the the faded green car had been a Standard Vanguard (Phase III).

The car had been seen by a man that had been working near The Mill House a few days before the murder along with two other men. He said that the van had been a faded green 1952 Humber Hawk and that it had had scratches along one side and that the driver had questioned him about the occupant of The Mill House. The man was described as:

  • About 35-years-old.
  • Black Greasy hair.
  • Wearing a herringbone raincoat and light gloves.

One report stated that the three men seen in the green car had been aged between 18 and 22.

During their search for the green car the police went to the East End in London to follow leads up there and to search for a man with wavey-hair.

The police also said that they were trying to trace a dark stranger that had been seen in the village on the Thursday night. The man was seen by the landlord of the Cock and Bell public house in Writtle. He said, 'I particularly noticed his fingers were heavily stained with nicotine. The stranger came into the public bar each night of last week. He had not been seen since. He was swarthy, with the complexion one associates with a Gipsey. On the night of the murder he came in at 7.30pm and left shortly before 8pm'. He was also reported to have said that the man had come into his public house on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights and had asked a number of questions about the village and seemed to have been listening to the conversations of others in the bar.

The landlord of the Cock and Bell public house added that he had also seen the dark car on the night of the murder, saying that at about 10.45pm he had been standing outside his public house with the local police constable and that he had heard a car approaching very fast from the direction of The Mill House. He said, 'It was travelling between 40 and 50mph, so fast that we could not read its number. It went on towards Ongar on the Epping London Road'.

The police additionally said that they were anxious to trace any person or vehicle that had passed the house between 9pm and midnight on the night of 17 April 1958.

The police also carried out house-to-house checks in and around Writtle, taking in about 1,000 people who they asked where they had been between 9.15pm and midnight on the Thursday 17 April 1958 and whether they had noticed anything suspicious near the house.

The police also later blocked the Ongar to Chelmsford road on the night of Friday 18 April 1958 and questioned hundreds of people.

It was also reported that 12,000 workers at three factories in Chelmsford paused at their benches on Thursday 24 April 1958 to hear an appeal from the police over the murder. They were said to have been the workers at the Chelmsford works of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company and two other Chelmsford companies.

The police said that they thought that there had been at least two men involved in the crime, that they had had a car and that they had some local knowledge. They said that the men must have had some local knowledge and to have known that Susan Southgate had been a wealthy woman.

The police additionally said that they thought that the men had probably been disturbed whilst searching for Susan Southgate's treasures and that they had then gagged her and tied her to the chair.

It was noted that Susan Southgate kept an open house and that her back door was always open and that it was thought that her killers had come in through it. It was also noted that Susan Southgate had kept a big old-fashioned mirror hanging on the wall opposite her favourite chair so that she could see who ever came in through her open back door, and that as such it was possible that she had seen the men come into her house via the back door and across the flag-stoned kitchen in which Susan Southgate was said to have baked her own bread twice a week.

It was reported that the local police constable used to call Susan Southgate 'My best girl' and would visit The Mill House to make sure that she was all right but that he had not looked in on the night of the murder.

Susan Southgate's daily help said, 'Miss Susie was a very kindly woman and she loved all animals'.

Although Susan Southgate was described as a wealthy woman, her nephew said, 'Her idea of a treat was to go to the village whist drive'.

Susan Southgate's niece, who lived in Finchley Avenue in Chelmsford, later called at The Mill House after Susan Southgate's murder to feed Susan Southgate's six cats and two geese. She said, 'My aunt always paid everything with cash. She did not have a cheque book. She left loose change all over the house. She had a private income from property which she owned in the district'.

Her inquest, which was held in  July 1958 returned a verdict of murder by some person or persons unknown. The pathologist said that her death was caused by the gag which had choked her to death, with the official report stating that her death was due to obstruction of the air passages.

Her will was heard on Friday 1 August 1958 in which she left £13,299, (£13,195 net), duty paid being £758. Her will detailed that she left The Mill House and her four-poster bed to her niece as well as a number of other bequests to relatives and friends.

On 5 November 1958 it was reported that a man in Broadmoor was interviewed by Scotland Yard police in connection with the murder.

It was reported on Thursday 16 October 1958 that the murderer might have been the same man that had murdered Joyce Green in Denham in August 1958 as well as Muriel Maitland who was strangled in Cranford in 1957.

Susan Southgate was a spinster and was known as 'Miss Susie' and had lived in Writtle for about 30 years.

The Mill House, a 'Tudor period' dwelling, which is currently a Grade II listed building, was built around 1810 and has ten rooms. The Mill House was said to have served a windmill for grinding corn nearby that was pulled down at some point but the mound that it stood on can still be seen. The Mill House was near the Writtle Watermill which was on the River Wild, but the watermill was closed in 1957 and the River Wild was infilled and realigned about 100 yards further south. The watermill later burnt down in the 1980s. It was said that her family had been millers in the Chelmsford area since the early 1800s and that her father had built the windmill opposite The Mill House where he started a water-mill in 1887.

It was said that the mill had been run by her brother and two nephews until about 1956.

It was said that Susan Southgate had been born in The Mill House and that her family had lived there for generations.

Writtle was reported at the time as being reputed to be the prettiest village in Essex.

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

see www.flickr.com

see National Archives - HO 332/16 - STA 502/3/33, MEPO 2/9827

see Shields Daily News - Friday 01 August 1958

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Thursday 24 April 1958

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Friday 18 April 1958

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Tuesday 22 April 1958

see Western Mail - Monday 21 April 1958

see Daily Herald - Thursday 08 May 1958

see Liverpool Echo - Saturday 19 April 1958

see Leicester Evening Mail - Friday 18 April 1958

see Western Mail - Thursday 16 October 1958

see Manchester Evening News - Wednesday 23 April 1958

see Daily Herald - Monday 21 April 1958

see Manchester Evening News - Tuesday 22 April 1958

see Manchester Evening News - Thursday 24 April 1958

see Halifax Evening Courier - Tuesday 22 April 1958

see Daily Herald - Saturday 19 April 1958

see Manchester Evening News - Monday 21 April 1958

see Weekly Dispatch (London) - Sunday 20 April 1958

see Daily Herald - Tuesday 22 April 1958

see Manchester Evening News - Friday 18 July 1958

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 05 November 1958

see Shields Daily News - Wednesday 23 April 1958

see Shields Daily News - Thursday 24 April 1958

see Belfast Telegraph - Friday 18 April 1958

see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Monday 21 April 1958

see British Listed Buildings