Date: 26 May 1938
Phyllis May Spiers was found dead in a wood in Folkestone.
Her body was found on 26 May 1938. She was last seen alive on 23 May 1938.
A 50-year-old labourer was tried for her murder but acquitted.
The murder was known as the Green Scarf Murder after she was found in the coppice with a green scarf tied around her neck.
She had died within two hours of eating her last meal. The coroner said that she had been dead for three days when she was found.
The man who was tried for her murder was noted for the fact that he was a widower himself after his wife, Ellen Margaret Mary Whiting 36, had been strangled in May 1936 by George Arthur Bryant who was later convicted for the murder and executed.
Phyllis Spiers was found by a youth at 6.10pm on 26 May 1938 who had been birds-nesting in a coppice at the foot of Caesar’s Camp, Castle Hill. He said that when he saw what he thought appeared to be the body of a woman covered with a blue coat lying in a small clearing he became frightened and immediately ran off and informed a policeman who he found in Black Bull Road, Folkestone.
It was noted that the spot where her body was found was a clearing just large enough to secrete the outstretched body of a woman. It was surrounded by trees, bramble bushes and thick undergrowth. Access to the place was gained by proceeding across an oats field from Hill Road and then climbing through barbed wire surrounding that part of the coppice, or, by coming from Crete Road over the summit of the hill or the more probable way, by proceeding along Castle Hill, over a stile and along a footpath that led directly to where Phyllis Spiers's body was found. The tiny glade that it was found in sloped in two directions, towards the field in a southerly direction and also downwards towards the east or Sugar Loaf Hill.
Her body was covered with a blue coat from above her forehead to halfway between her legs and feet. Her hair was protruding beyond her head and it appeared as though she had been dragged to the spot by her feet. Her clothing, a green dress and a vest had been pulled up to breast level and her knickers were also forced up into the crutch, which was stated as being further evidence of dragging.
Her handbag was lying near her right hand. Her legs were crossed and round her neck there was a green scarf with white spots. The scarf had been twisted tightly round her neck twice and knotted.
A policeman there said that he noticed the smell of putrefaction and it was also noted that the ground around her body was wet and that the coat over her body was sodden, and the police came to the conclusion that her body had been there prior to the rain that had commenced to fall on Wednesday 25 May at about 1.30pm.
The police surgeon arrived at the scene shortly after 7.25pm and pronounced her dead. The scarf was cut on the opposite side to the knot and when removed, revealed a deep indentation round her neck. Her face was a natural colour and there was no cyanosis, but the tip of her tongue was protruding between her teeth. There was also extensive bruising found at the bridge of her nose as might have been caused by a blow. It was also found that both nostrils were exuding blood. She had multiple bramble scratches on both sides of her legs, extending to the groin. She also had light bramble scratches on the right forearm and a light scratch on the back of her left hand.
The doctor confirmed the condition of her clothes and endorsed the opinion that she had been dragged by her legs whilst on her back to the place where she was found.
The doctor also confirmed the finding of dry twigs in her clothing at her back and agreed that the dryness of the ground under her body and the damp condition of the grass surrounding it, clearly indicated that her body had been deposited there prior to the rain that had fallen after 1.30pm on the Wednesday 25 May 1938.
After the doctor carried out his initial examination of her body, he stated that rigor mortis was present but was passing off. He said that her lower jaw was immovable, but her head and shoulder joints were moveable. However, he said that her elbow joints, wrists and finger joints still rigid. He said that her trunk was rigid but that her hip joints were moveable to some extent whilst her knee, ankle and toes joints were all still rigid.
After the initial examination her body was removed to the Folkestone Mortuary where the doctor further examined it.
He said that she had a bruise three inches long on the inner side of her left collar bone and three small bruises on the inner side of her right arm as though caused by fingers. He said that he found fly ova on the hair of her vulva and also on the hair of her head above her right ear. The fly ova were then removed from the body and retained by the Coroner's Officer.
Before the doctor began the post mortem he noted that he could detect the definite smell of putrefaction. He said that as a result of the post mortem examination he concluded that her death had been due to strangulation and said that it could not have been self-inflicted.
The doctor said that at the time of examination he thought that the time of death occurred at least 48 hours before her body was found, and quite possibly 72 hours. He then later said aftr giving the matter further consideration that she had been murdered either on the Monday 23 or Tuesday 24 May 1938 but said that he was inclined to believe that she had died on 23 May 1938. He said that his reasons for that were the definite smell of putrefaction which was usually only present after the third day. He noted that rigor mortis was usually complete in eight to twelve hours or more and generally lasted from ten hours to three days or even longer and passed off in about 48 to 72 hours, according to climatic conditions.
He said that the condition of her body on Friday 27 May at 8pm when he saw it showed rigor mortis had completely passed off.
He added that fly ova was usually laid on a body after putrefaction had commenced and that they took, at a temperature of 50F, three fays to hatch. However, he said that too much importance could not be attached to that point and he said that he had consulted with a doctor, the Assistant Keeper at the Entomology Department at the British Museum of Natural History, who he said informed him that he had known cases where fly ova had been laid on a human body in life, and that the theory that the fly would wait until putrefaction commenced was untenable. Nevertheless, he said that he supposed a fly would be more likely to deposit its eggs on a putrefied corpse than one freshly killed.
When the police went to the scene of the crime on 27 May 1938 they found evidence that Phyllis Spiers had been killed at one place and dragged through a gap under an obstruction to the place where she was found. When the place was searched certain pieces of fibre, hairs and a broken comb were found and sent away for analysis.
When the gap through which it was thought that Phyllis Spiers had been dragged was examined it was decided to have it secured into a rigid condition by a carpenter and was then sawn away and taken off for use as an exhibit.
After a further post-mortem was carried out with another pathologist it was concluded that Phyllis Spiers had died from manual strangulation and that the ligature had then been placed around her neck about 15 minutes after.
After Phyllis Spiers was identified her background was looked into and it was found that she was 22 years old and had been born on 9 November 1915 out of wedlock to a woman who later married and who resided at Primrose Road in Dover. However, Phyllis Spiers had been adopted at an early age by a woman that brought her up in a lodging house in Folkestone. It was reported that her childhood surroundings, like her birth, had been squalid. She had married at the age of 16 by a young man that bought himself out of the Army. They then went and lived in the lodging house, Radnor, that her step-mother owned and managed it for her. However, the step-mother became dissatisfied with their management of the lodging house and Phyllis Spiers and her husband went to live in with the husbands parents in Bexhill-on-Sea.
However, during 1933 Phyllis Spiers left her husband and from that time onwards she had lived with a number of men.
She had a child with her husband and after leaving him had three more children, although only one of them survived, the other two being stillborn. The doctor at her second confinement said that he became suspicious about her health and took a blood test and said that he recalled that her Wasserman reaction showed that she had been suffering from syphilis. He said that he recommended treatment and said that she told him that she was attending Dover Hospital.
The supposed father of the girl that Phyllis Spiers gave birth to in October 1937 was a male nurse at Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting and said that he had lived with Phyllis Spiers from Christmas 1934 until the beginning of 1937 when he broke away from her for a period until April 1937 when he again lived with her at 31 Shaftesbury Avenue in Cheriton, Folkestone for a time.
It was noted that the male nurse was working in Tooting at the time of the murder and said that he had not seen Phyllis Spiers since 18 March 1938.
However, it was noted that in the period that the supposed father of the second child was away, Phyllis Spiers had lived with a miner in Dover as man and wife and the miner was also alleged to have been the father of the second child and it was said that there was some doubt over its parentage.
The police said that they could rule out the miner from their enquiries as it was clear that he was in Dover at the time of the murder.
The miner said that Phyllis Spiers left the girl at Dover and was later being cared for in the Dover Institution.
It was found that Phyllis Spiers had more recently had an association with a private from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. They had met in March 1938 in the lifeboat Inn at Folkestone and had afterwards visited her in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Folkestone where Phyllis Spiers had undergone a slight operation. He had then continued to associate with her and lived in the same room as her at 25 The Crescent in Sandgate with a woman from 14 May until 19 May 1938 when he left Shorncliffe Camp with a detachment for duty in connection with the Aldershot Tattoo. It was determined that he had since then been in Aldershot continuously through to 28 May 1938.
The police noted that it was possible to trace Phyllis Spiers's movements from 19 May until between 2pm and 3pm on 23 May 1938 almost continuously and it was stated as being sufficient to say that on the nights of Thursday 19 May and Friday 20 May 1938 she had stayed at the house of a woman at 68 Foord Road in Folkestone.
However, it was said that she had then left 68 Foord Road on 21 May 1938 without paying her rent and the landlady took steps to find her and she said that she saw Phyllis Spiers twice more, once on the Sunday evening 22 May 1938 outside the Alexandra pub in Tontine Street, Folkestone and then again at 1.25pm on the Monday, 23 May 1938 in Bradstone Avenue when she saw her with the labourer.
Phyllis Spiers spent the nights of 21 May and 22 May 1938 with a married woman at 9 Garden Road, Folkestone.
It was noted that the landlady at 9 Garden Road was an important witness as she was able to identify all the clothing that Phyllis Spiers had been wearing and was also able to speak regarding her last meal which she had taken her between 8am and 8.30am on 23 May 1938, when she took her a cup of tea and two slices of bread and butter.
After breakfast, between 9.30am and 10.30am Phyllis Spiers and the landlady then went shopping in Folkestone, during which they visited Messrs Woolworth's stores in Sandgate Road. The landlady said that she then left Phyllis Spiers, but made an arrangement with her to meet up later that evening at 8.30pm at The Lido, a pleasure resort on the front at Folkestone. The landlady said that she kept the appointment, but that Phyllis Spiers did not, and noted that she didn't see her again after 10.25am that morning when they parted.
It was noted that on Sunday 22 May 1938, Phyllis Spiers had deposited her blue attache case containing all her belongings, save the articles of clothing that she had been wearing, at the office of the East Kent Bus company on Sandgate Road, Folkestone. Her landlady said that she was able to provide a list of what her case had contained. It was therefore stated that it was safe to assume that Phyllis Spiers did not have access to her case again, which was later collected from the bus company by the police after her death, and so could not have changed her clothing, which was said to have been a point of some importance. It was further noted that the landlady detailed the clothing that Phyllis Spiers had been wearing when she had left her and it was found that that clothing matched up with that in which she was wearing when she was found dead, with the exception of the green scarf with white spots on it which was assumed must have been the property of the killer.
It was stated that Phyllis Spiers was next found in the company of a Belgian waiter on 23 May 1938 who she met near the hotel where the waiter worked, the Royal Pavilion Hotel. They had met near the Royal Pavilion Hotel at about 11am and walked about from then until 12.25pm, passing through various roads in the town and walking along the sea front. At about 11.45am, an operator employed by a firm known as Holiday Snaps based in Charlotte Street in Margate, took a photograph of them, numbered A4249, walking along. It was noted that in the photo Phyllis Spiers had been wearing a striped plaid scarf which was totally dissimilar to the green scarf later found round her neck, although it was noted that her other clothing appeared to be the same as was found with her body.
It was said that from then on, the labourer was seen with Phyllis Spiers at a variety of locations between 1.15pm and 2.00pm to 2.30pm.
The first point at which they were seen together was in New Street, Folkestone, between 1.20pm and 1.40pm by a man from New Street and his wife. The man said that he was quite clear about the date and the identities saying that he knew both parties quite well. His wife said that she was equally clear about the labourer who she knew and was able to describe Phyllis Spiers quite clearly. She said that she remembered the day because she had bought pickles from a shop in New Street to eat with the cold Sunday joint. She said that she spoke to the labourer in the shop where he was buying some cigarettes and said that he spoke to her. She said that after the couple turned left the labourer gave Phyllis Spiers a cigarette at the corner of Bradstone Road and New Street, and that they then went away in the direction of Bradstone Avenue.
They were next seen by the landlady at about 1.25pm. The landlady said that she spoke to Phyllis Spiers who promised to call on her later that evening and pay off her debt to her for the lodging at 68 Foord Road. The landlady also accurately described the labourer as the man that was accompanying Phyllis Spiers. However, it was noted that Phyllis Spiers did not call on the landlady as she said she would.
It was said that in order to reach the next point that they were seen at together, the labourer and Phyllis Spiers must have passed along Bradstone Avenue, Black Bull Road to Foord Road, across Foord Road, along St John's Church Road and then gone into Radnor Park Avenue where they were seen at about 1.30pm by a man who lived in Allendale Street. He said that he recognised the labourer but did not know Phyllis Spiers but described her quite accurately. The man said that he had some difficulty remembering the day of the week that he had seen them but said that it was on the day that a certain corporation employee had been working in the avenue. The police said that they made enquiries and identified the corporation employee who said that he had worked there every day from Monday 23 to Thursday 26 May 1938, but also said that he remembered seeing the labourer pass through the avenue with a woman on Monday 23 May 1938. The corporation employee said that he was sure of the day, and the police report notes more emphatically that he was certain that he did not see the labourer walk through the street again that week.
Phyllis Spiers and the labourer then continued on their way and were next seen at the entrance to Folkestone Golf Course by a groundsman who lived on Pavilion Road and a caddy that lived on Allendale Street, at about 1.30pm. Both the groundsman and the caddy were both employed by the Folkestone Golf Course and were in the course of their duties at the time. They both described Phyllis Spiers accurately whilst the groundsman said that the labourer averted his face as though he didn't want to be recognised. The caddy said that as the couple passed him they appeared to be quarrelling. They said that Phyllis Spiers and the labourer remained at the entrance to the golf course sitting on a grass bank for a short time and then moved off towards Cherry Garden Avenue, going across the golf course. The groundsman later identified Phyllis Spiers at the Borough Mortuary as the girl that he had seen with the labourer.
It was noted that the labourer said in his statement that he had gone with Phyllis Spiers as far as the further side of the course where it adjoined Cherry Garden Avenue and had then turned left and gone in a southerly direction towards Cheriton, but that he then actually left her in Cheriton Road near Ashley Avenue, which was noted as being the best part of a mile from the footpath on the golf course.
He said that when they were on the golf course Phyllis Spiers threatened suicide, saying that she was fed up. He said that when he asked her how she was going to do it, she said, 'Strangle myself with a scarf round my neck', and then went on to say, 'She was wearing a green spotted scarf, I might tell you that she was partly the cause of another girl leaving me'.
He said that when he left her, Phyllis Spiers told him that she was going to her address at 89 Ashley Avenue, but the police found that Phyllis Spiers had never lived there.
It was also noted that no person came forward to say that they had seen Phyllis Spiers and the labourer on that alleged journey from the golf course to Cheriton Road near Ashley Avenue.
However, it was said, on the other hand, that another groundsman on the golf course that had lived on Invicta Road in Folkstone, had seen the labourer, who he knew quite well, having served with him in the army in India, and a girl between 2pm and 2.30pm on 23 May 1938 walking in a northerly direction along Cherry Garden Avenue, which was an unmade road and referred to by a number of witnesses as New Road, towards Castle Hill. The other groundsman said that he watched them casually until they were out of sight along Castle Hill, which he referred to as Waterworks Hill. The other groundsman said that at that point, the labourer and Phyllis Spiers would have been quite near to a stile over which there was a footpath that led to the scene of the crime, and which was no more than six or seven minutes’ walk from where the body was found. The other groundsman was able to describe the woman that he had seen accurately as Phyllis Spiers and also identified her at the mortuary on 1 June 1938.
The labourer was a widower, his wife, Ellen Whiting having been strangled by George Bryant in Dover on 21 May 1936. George Bryant was convicted for the murder at Maidstone Assizes and afterwards executed. The police report noted that it was curious that the labourer, whose wife had been murdered, should then be found in legal jeopardy. It was also noted that it was a well-known fact that George Bryant had gone to Folkestone after killing Ellen Whiting looking for the labourer and it was said that he would have killed him too if he had not given himself up to the police instead first.
The police report stated that the labourer was undoubtedly a brutal husband, an allegation which it stated other reports supported, and stated that a certain report writer was unquestionably correct when they said that George Bryant had only murdered Ellen whiting to prevent her going back to her husband, the labourer.
It was noted that after Ellen Whitings murder, their three children had gone into various homes and that none of them remained in the labourer’s care at the time of Phyllis Spiers's murder.
The police report noted that the labourer was fond of another woman and suggested that he had actually had a grudge against Phyllis Spiers because he thought that she had come between him and the other woman. The woman said that she had known the labourer for about six years. She had married a man at one point with whom she lived for a short time but then left him on 16 October 1936. On that same day she met the labourer and at his invitation went to live with him on Clarendon Street in Dover, after which they then moved into another furnished room at 87 Folkestone Road in Dover where they stayed until about a fortnight before Christmas.
The woman said that she had known Phyllis Spiers from a time before she was married. She said that whilst she was living in Dover with the labourer, Phyllis Spiers had been a frequent visitor to the house. The woman said that Phyllis Spiers was at that time living with a miner in Dover. She said that she and Phyllis Spiers would sometimes go out together and said that on one such occasion they were in the Alexandra pub in Folkestone when they met some soldiers who asked them to go to London with them. The woman said that when she related that incident to the labourer, he got into a violent temper and said, 'You keep away from her, I will do her in, I will strangle her', referring to Phyllis Spiers. The woman said that she pacified the labourer but said that he threatened that if ever she left him that he would, 'Do her in'.
The police report stated that there was still no question that the labourer was still extremely fond of the woman and also very jealous of her. It was heard that the woman spoke of a quarrel and said that after the quarrel, the labourer tried to strangle her with his hands at her throat. She also said that apart from that, he frequently told her to break her association with Phyllis Spiers because he was afraid that she would come between them.
The woman said that shortly after the quarrel in which the labourer had tried to strangle her, her mother came to visit her in Dover and said that when she told her about it and told her that she wanted to leave the labourer, her mother had advised her to leave him forthwith, and so she did. It was noted that the woman said that she could speak with certainty regarding the labourer’s clothing during the period of their association which commenced on 16 October 1935 and lasted for just over 12 months.
The police report noted that whatever the reason for their separation, the labourer still had what amounted to an obsession for the woman. It was noted that in the labourer’s statement of 30 May 1930 that he had said that he loved the woman. It was also noted that other witnesses spoke of his constantly reiterated idea that he would like to be with 'his girl'. It was also stated that he had been heard to say more than once that he would like to know who was responsible for separating them, and noted that there was evidence, by inference from the women he liked, that he harboured a suspicion that it was Phyllis Spiers that had been the cause for them separating.
It was also noted that a friend of Phyllis Spiers who had known the woman that the labourer liked a lot, had spoken to the woman when she was living with the labourer and had expressed her surprise to her that she was living with him, referring to his reputation for brutality. The friend of Phyllis Spiers said that after the woman left the labourer, the labourer went to live with a couple at 16 Great Fenchurch Street in Folkestone and said that when she went there one time and saw him, she said that he was in a very peculiar temper and was saying that if he found out who had separated him from 'His Girl', he would strangle her. She said that she got the idea that he believed that it was either her, or Phyllis Spiers that he was referring to as having come between them.
It was however, noted that there was some confusion as to why the woman had left the labourer. It was heard that the woman’s mother had received a visit from the woman’s erstwhile lover, shortly before Christmas 1937 who she said told her that the woman was going out at night with men. As such, the mother said that she then went to see her daughter, who she said denied that she was going out with men at night but did tell her about the attempted strangulation. The mother said then that she told the labourer that she was going to take her daughter away and said that the labourer replied, 'She will soon be back with me'.
It was also heard that there had been some discussion about an anonymous postcard that the labourer had alleged was in the handwriting of the erstwhile lover.
However, the erstwhile lover said that he had received a postcard whilst he was working on a boat that had called at Dover. He said that he had met the woman that the labourer was fond or once or twice, and that at that time she was living with the labourer, and that the postcard had warned him that the woman he was meeting had a serious disease. He said that he showed the card to the woman and they compared it to some of the labourers handwriting and said that they came to the conclusion that he was the author.
The police report noted that there was not much point to the card which was at the time of the investigation missing but said that the labourer had attributed his separation with the woman in his statement of 30 May 1938 to an anonymous letter which he said had been sent to the woman, although the police report stated that that did not seem to be true.
It was said that after the woman left the labourer, he had gone to London where he had spent a few days in more than one institution before he finally returned to Folkestone, and was then on 5 January 1938, admitted to the Poor Law Institution in Etchinghill where he remained until 15 January 1938 when he left of his own accord.
It was said that after leaving the institution he had gone to live with a couple at a certain address and had then gone into a lodging house in Great Fenchurch Street for a short time, before moving to the lodging house at 50 Dover Street in Folkestone where he was living up until the time of his arrest.
The police report noted that there was the clearest possible evidence that the scarf that was found tightly secured round Phyllis Spiers's neck was the property of the labourer. The police report noted that although there was no laundry mark or similar manner of identification, there were a great many reliable witnesses who had seen the scarf in the labourer’s possession. It was also stated that more importantly, the labourer had denied that the scarf was his or had had any scarf at all for some time past.
The police report also noted that everything that the labourer had possessed was taken from him for examination and a list of the items drawn up and it could be seen that the labourer possessed no scarves or mufflers at all. The police report noted that the importance of that would be seen after a number of witnesses gave statements in which they had identified the labourer as having a green scarf with white dots. The report also noted that at no time were any of the witnesses permitted to see the scarf until they had made the fullest possible description of it and that they were in no way led in the slightest degree as to its description or identification.
The police report noted that the first person to speak of a muffler was the woman that the labourer was fond of. She said that she was able to describe the clothes that he had had minutely and remembered the scarf well, having worn it herself at times. She said that it was one that he had told her that he had bought, with a handkerchief of similar colour, at Hepworth’s in Sandgate Road, Folkestone. She said that from her recollection, he had paid 7/11d for it. The police report noted that the manager of Hepworth’s, outfitters, on Sandgate Road, was able to corroborate her statement, stating that he had stocked similar mufflers for the Christmas trade of 1936 and 1937.
The next people that were able to identify the green scarf were the couple from Great Fenchurch Street in Folkestone who took the labourer in after he was discharged from the Elham Union, which was their term for the Etchinghall Poor Law Institution. They both said that they were quite empathic that he had possessed the scarf with white spots and it was said that they could both describe all his clothing so accurately that a mistake in connection with the muffler was impossible. It was also noted that the wife had also done the labourers washing whilst he stayed at her house and so had good reason to remember his clothing and described how he folded the scarf and wore it. The husband endorsed his wife's statements as to how the labourer wore the scarf and added that when he was in the house he would continually say that the woman that he was fond of was driving him mad.
The couple also said that the labourer’s behaviour frightened the wife of the couple as well as their children, and said that he was constantly suggesting that he would commit suicide. They said that after the labourer had been in the house for a month he had told them that he could stand it no longer as the memory of his wife in the house was too much for him. It was noted that he had at one time previously lived in that house with his wife before she was murdered. The husband said that the labourer then went off to London but turned up a week later and stayed on the sofa for a few days before going into Clifford’s Lodging House next door, and then after that transferring to 50 Dover Street. The husband said that as to the green scarf, he was quite positive that the labourer had brought it from Elham Union when he had come from there to live with them.
The police reported that a most reliable witness as to the possession by the labourer of the green scarf was a clerk in the employ of the Public Assistance Department in Folkestone. It was said that he knew the labourer and remembered his visits to the office of the Department on a day in the middle of March 1938 when he was making an application for re-admission to the Poor Law Institution. He said that his application was refused but noted that he did get a good look at the labourer's dress and was able to describe it quite accurately. It was noted that he had described the labourer’s green scarf with white spots and then afterwards identified it.
It was also heard that the labourer had been in the Prince Regent pub in Dover with a 19-year old woman about a fortnight before the murder, and she said that he had been wearing the green scarf with white dots on that occasion and said that she had seen him wearing it frequently before. It was also reported that she had described his other clothing with equal accuracy.
He was also seen wearing the green scarf with white dots by the clerk at the Employment Exchange who had got to know the labourer quite well. It was noted that from the time that the labourer had left the Institution in January 1938 he had been continually out of employment and that from 11 April 1938 he had been signing on at the Employment Exchange in Ingles Lane, Coolridge Road, Folkestone and had for that period been in receipt of Unemployment Benefit. It was noted that he had, in common with other unemployed people, had to sign his name three days a week, viz: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. As such, the clerk engaged in he Exchange who dealt regularly with the labourer got to know him pretty well and became familiar with his appearance and dress. When the clerk at the Exchange gave his statement he said that he had seen the labourer wearing the green scarf with white spots as recently as on Friday 20 May 1938 and it was said that he would have no doubt have been able to have spoken for Monday 23 May 1938, but for the fact that he had proceeded on Leave on Saturday 21 May 1938 and for the week commencing 23 May 1938, another clerk was entrusted with the duty of dealing with the labourer. However, the new clerk was unable to say how the labourer had been dressed on 23 May 1938 but did say that he was as late as 12 noon in signing on. It was noted that he should have signed on between 11.15am and 11.30am. It was also noted that the clerk that had become familiar with the labourer at the Exchange said that when he again saw him on 30 May 1938, he was wearing his usual dress, but was not on that occasion wearing the green and white scarf in question.
Another clerk at the Employment Exchange who was employed as a vacancies officer, said that he had seen the labourer before wearing the green and white scarf and said that he was quite certain that he had not been wearing it on 30 May 1938, and commented that the labourer had looked smarter than usual on that date.
The labourer had also been arrested for arrears of maintenance on 9 April 1938 in connection with his son who was in Dr Barnardo's Homes, and held by the police at Dover who had the warrant. It was noted that the policeman that had conveyed the labourer from Folkestone to Dover emphatically stated that the labourer was at that time wearing the green scarf with white spots.
Another man, the licensee of the True Briton pub in Harbour Street, Folkestone said that he knew the labourer well as a customer and said that he had been barred from the pub for disorderly conduct and was able to describe the labourers dress quite fully, noting that he had seen him wearing several mufflers of different colours, including a green one. However, when he was shown the green scarf that was found round Phyllis Spiers's neck, he was unable to positively identify it. However, it was noted that his evidence was of some value because in the same way as other witnesses, he had remembered that the labourer often wore a scarf.
Several people who had said that he had worn a green scarf were also able to identify the manner in which he wore it, that being wrapped twice round his neck and knotted on one side, which was said to have been similar in manner to the ligature used on Phyllis Spiers.
A woman that had lived opposite the labourer when he was living at Great Fenchurch Street said that she could positively identify the green scarf as the possession of the labourer as she had seen him putting it on when she had been in their house. It was also noted that on 22 May 1938 she had given Phyllis Spiers a voile triangular wrap and positively stated that Phyllis Spiers did not at that time possess a green scarf with white spots similar to the labourers one. The police report concluded that it was therefore provable that the labourer did possess a green scarf with white spots and that Phyllis Spiers did not.
The police report then referred to the snapshot of Phyllis Spiers that had been taken at about 11.45am on 23 May 1938 when she was with the Belgium waiter, which it was said, clearly showed Phyllis Spiers wearing an entirely dissimilar type of scarf. When the Belgium waiter was questioned, he stated that Phyllis Spiers had been wearing a striped black and grey muffler and he later identified a small piece of material that was found in Phyllis Spiers's handbag near her dead body as being part of that scarf. He said that there was some colour in it which could not be found in the pattern of the handbag.
It was noted that the muffler that she had been wearing had been given to Phyllis Spiers by a soldier, or more truly, she had used it when she was with him and he had not asked for its return. The soldier said that he had received it as a present from his sister when she had returned from abroad the previous year and he positively identified the small portion of material that was found in the handbag as being part of it.
The woman that had last seen Phyllis Spiers when they had gone out shopping on the morning of 23 May 1938 said that Phyllis Spiers did not have a green scarf with white spots, but did mention in her statements both the scarves given to her by the soldier and the women living opposite the labourer on Great Fenchurch Street.
The police further took a statement from a friend of Phyllis Spiers who said that she had been with Phyllis Spiers on the Saturday 21 May 1938 when two photographs of her and Phyllis Spiers were taken, referred to as B1171 and A3371, taken by separate photographers, in which Phyllis Spiers was wearing a striped scarf, quite different to the one found round her neck.
The police stated that after having taken the labourers clothes and examining them they found that amongst his things was a dark black jacket, which when examined was found to have a small tear at the point which comes outside the base of the left shoulder blade. It was a small right-angle tear that was made in an upward direction. The police said that when they asked the labourer to account for the tear he could not do so. They stated that the significance was that Phyllis Spiers's body was found in a spot to which it was alleged had been dragged from a place thirty feet away. It was noted that at the place where the murder was thought to have taken place they found a comb which was identified by the woman that the labourer was fond of as being his. It was also noted that there were signs there of broken brambles and undergrowth which was evidence that some sort of struggle had taken place as well as evidence that a heavy object had been dragged from that spot. It was said that the murderer could not have left Phyllis Spiers's body at that spot as it would have been too easily within the view of such people as pass on the paths that intersected the hill. It was stated then that the murderer had dragged the body to the glade where it would be less likely to be seen, and that to do so, it was necessary to pass through a gap in an obstruction that had been placed there by farmers to prevent cattle from straying down a rough track to the swampy piece of ground below.
Photographs and plans were made of the ground showing the gap and the levels, as well as the gap itself being fixed and taken away as evidence. It was as such demonstrated that to drag a body through the gap that a person would have to have done so backwards. As such, the police report stated that they believed that the labourer had pulled the dead body backwards through the obstruction and that in doing so had caught his jacket on the barbed wire that had occasioned the tear.
A forensic specialist in London examined the tear and the photographs of the barbed wire and verbally confirmed that the rent was consistent with that theory.
It was noted that the tear could have been caused by any object similar to a barb, but the police stated that the labourer was unable to account for the tear and as such stated that they believed that he had caused it whilst dragging Phyllis Spiers's body backwards through the gap in the obstruction.
The forensic expert also later said that he found a hair on one of the barbs which was thought might have been the labourer’s hair.
It was further noted that the man with whom the labourer had lodged in Great Fenchurch Street before he had gone into the lodging house said that he had seen him pretty often and had never noticed his jacket to be damaged in any way. It was further noted that the man had last seen the labourer a few days before the murder.
The police noted that the labourer made several statements and said that it was a shame that he had not signed his first statement as it differed from later statements. It was stated that the labourer was first questioned by the police two days after Phyllis Spiers's body was found. It was said that he made contradictory statements covering his movements for the few days before 26 May 1938, as well as stating that the last time he saw Phyllis Spiers was on the Tuesday 24 May 1938 when he walked with her from South Street in Folkestone out along a route that took them over Folkestone Golf Course. In the statement it was stated that he described how they had turned left from the course and gone to Cheriton Road. The police said that it was also significant that the labourer said that Phyllis Spiers had told him that in was her intention to go out that night with her landlady in the evening to the pictures.
However, when the police took a second statement from him on 30 May 1938, he said that it was not the Tuesday 24 May that he had walked along that route, but 23 May 1938. He also said that when he had left her, at her request, she had told him that she was going to her lodgings at Ashley Avenue in Chriton where it was noted that she was not known.
The police said that they then took another short statement from the labourer on 1 June 1938 under caution in which he said two things which were described as damaging to him, first that he suggested that Phyllis Spiers had possibly committed suicide and that the crime was not murder, and secondly in which he expressed the view that Phyllis Spiers was partly the cause of separating him from the girl he was fond of.
It was also noted that on 3 June 1938 that the labourer was turned out of the Guildhall pub for wild and disorderly conduct and that when he was he was alleged to have said by another customer, 'You fucking bastard I'll serve you the same as I served the blonde girl'. However, the only corroboration of that was from the landlord who said that the customer repeated what he was alleged to have said allowed to him in front of the labourer.
It was further reported that the labourer had gone to various pubs in Folkestone with a woman who was well known to Phyllis Spiers and had just heard of her death on 27 May 1938. When they went to the North Foreland pub they were heard to have a conversation about either footprints or fingerprints. The landlady said that after the woman had said something to the labourer, the labourer had replied, 'Use your brains or I'll put you on the spot'. However, the woman said that the conversation was a little different although she did say that the conversation about fingerprints did take place, she said that she had said to the labourer, 'You might have done it', meaning the murder, and that the labourer had replied, 'You might be found strangled one of these days the way you go on'.
The police report also noted that it was curious how the woman said that the labourer had tried to persuade her to allow him to have sexual intercourse with her and had suggested that they go by bus to the Valiant Sailor pub on the Dover Road, which they noted was at the end of Crete Road which was the road that ran along the summit of Caesar's Camp.
The police report stated that if the medical evidence regarding the date of the crime was accepted, 23 May 1938, then the case against the labourer was quite strong, noting that he was seen a few hundred feet from the crime with her, that his scarf was found round her neck, and that there was a tear on his coat indicating that he probably tore it taking her body through the gap in the obstruction, as well as the addition of the clear motive of revenge and subsequent statements indicating his guilty state of mind. The police also added that the fact that none of Phyllis Spiers's close friends had seen her after her landlady had seen her and that it could not be shown that she had lived at any address after the night of 22 May 1938 or that she had taken a meal subsequent to that date, brought them to the inevitable conclusion that she had died on 23 May 1938 and had been murdered by the labourer.
However, it was further noted that there were several groups of people that had said that they had seen Phyllis Spiers alive after 23 May 1938. The police report divided them into three groups:
Under the first group, for Tuesday 24 May, there were two men who said that they saw the labourer and Phyllis Spiers pass them when they were working outside the Castle pub in Foord Road at about 2pm. It was noted that the time was not too far removed from the time that they must have passed that location on the Monday, and while it was noted that the first man was certain that it was not the Monday that he had seen them, the other man agreed that he might have been mistaken.
Under the first group for Wednesday 25 May there was also the licensee of The Brewery Tap pub who said that he them together in Bradstone Avenue at 1.30pm. However, the police report state that that was absent the medical evidence and noted that other witnesses had mentioned the same time and route but had said that it was the Monday. It was further stated that he must have been obviously mistaken as it had started to rain at 1.30pm that day and Phyllis Spiers was definitely dead by them.
Another witness under the first group was a golf caddy who said that he saw them on the Thursday 26 May passing over the golf course between 3pm and 4pm. However, the police report stated that he must be wrong owing to weather factors and medical evidence.
Under the second group, it was heard that two men said that they had seen Phyllis Spiers walking along Harvey Street in Folkestone at about 9.45pm on 24 May. However, it was said that neither of the men knew Phyllis Spiers well, and that they could be disregarded completely.
The police report noted a woman that fell under the second group who said that she saw Phyllis Spiers either on the Tuesday or the Wednesday morning. However, the police report stated that she was constantly out, newly married, and visited her mother daily for meals and so on and could not be regarded with importance.
Another man under the second group said that he saw Phyllis Spiers on Wednesday 15 May alone on Foord Road at 9.50am. However, he was noted as a newspaper seller with a bad criminal record who had fixed the day because he had signed on at the Labour Exchange. However, it was noted that he signed on on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and said that he could be disposed of quickly.
Under the third group, was a woman who the police report noted was the most disturbing witness for the prosecution, who was the only person who could say that she had seen Phyllis Spiers wearing a green scarf, and said that she had seen her wearing it in Messrs Woolworth's Stores in Folkestone on 25 May 1938 at 12 noon with another woman who she described and who had bought some greaseproof paper. As such, to check her story, the police made a press appeal to locate the woman who had been with Phyllis Spiers and who had brought the greaseproof paper and Phyllis Spiers's landlady came forward to say that it was clearly the Monday that she was referring to and that she was the woman that she had been seen with. However, although she had said that Phyllis Spiers had been wearing a green scarf, she also gave a very good description of the woman that Phyllis Spiers had been with, who was the woman with whom she was staying, and as such, as that woman was certain that Phyllis Spiers had not been wearing a green scarf, and that the photo taken a while later showed no green scarf, it was considered that she was wrong about Phyllis Spiers having been wearing a green scarf.
It was also noted that two girls that knew Phyllis Spiers fell under the third group of people, and the said that they had been together and had seen Phyllis Spiers on the Wednesday 25 May at Dover Street in Folkestone on the back of a motorcycle. They said that it was only a fleeting glimpse, but the police said that that was clearly impossible as Phyllis Spiers was already dead at that time beyond any shadow of doubt.
Two other fishermen also fell under the third group. They said that they saw her with a man at a bus stop in Tontine Street in Folkestone at 10.30pm on Thursday 24 May. However, one of them who was described as the more reliable said that it must have been the Wednesday that he saw them because of the tides, and the other person was described as a drunken fellow and had no real recollection of the time. However, it was thought that they were mistaken as Phyllis Spiers was not alive at 10.30pm on Wednesday 25 May.
The police report noted that it was an odd thing that no matter what day the Crown chose to take between 23-26 May, it was possible to find witnesses who spoke of seeing both the labour and Phyllis Spiers together.
However, the police report stated that 23 May 1938 was undoubtedly the date of Phyllis Spiers's death, noting that it probably happened a very short time after the second groundsman saw the couple walking off towards Caesar’s Camp. The report also noted that one thing that was clear, was that none of Phyllis Spiers's close friends or associates with whom she was in daily contact saw her after 12.30pm on Monday 23 May 1938.
The police report concluded that the case looked very promising, noting that the labourer was an associate of Phyllis Spiers, had a motive and undoubtedly committed the act, and that there was a strong case against him.
When the judge summed up he said that Phyllis Spiers had met her death sometime between 23 May and 26 May, but how long before 26 May was in dispute. He also said that it was clear that she was alive, and in the company of the labourer on 23 May 1938. However, he said that the defence relied most strongly on the evidence of the witnesses who said that they had seen Phyllis Spiers after the time that the Crown said that she had been murdered and said that the witnesses had been found by the police themselves and honestly believed what they had seen. The judge then said that if the jury thought only one of the witnesses that had seen Phyllis Spiers after 23 May was not making a mistake, then they had no choice but to find the labourer not guilty.
However, on 17 September 1938 the labourer was acquitted at the Old Bailey. The jury were absent for two hours and twenty-five minutes before returning with their verdict.
see Lincolnshire Echo - Friday 16 September 1938
see Kent Online
see National Archives - DPP 2/554, CRIM 1/1030, MEPO 3/803
see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Monday 30 May 1938
see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 14 September 1938
see Daily Mirror - Friday 16 September 1938