Date: 11 Jul 1934
Robert Venner was found unconscious on the floor of his shop but later died in hospital.
In the police report into his murder, the police said that they highly suspected two people as having been involved, but didn't have enough evidence against them.
Robert Venner was the manager of the shop which was owned by a tailor and outfitter. He was the only employee at the shop.
He was found shortly before 6.26pm on 6 July 1934 by a policeman who was beckoned over by an unknown man. Robert Venner was standing just inside the shop at 187/189 New Cross Road, SE14, with his head and face covered in blood.
The policeman said that when he found Robert Venner and asked him how it had happened, Robert Venner, who was described as dazed, made no reply, and was stated to have in fact been unconscious.
An ambulance was called at 6.25pm by a tram regulator which arrived at 6.28pm and took Robert Venner to the Miller General Hospital in Greenwich, arriving at 6.40pm. He was still unconscious, and police remained at his side until he died, without regaining consciousness, on 11 July 1934 at 1pm.
Robert Venner was first spotted by a man who had been standing at New Cross Gate waiting for a tram car between 6.20pm and 6.30pm on 6 July 1934 when he saw him stagger out of his shop. The man said that Robert Venner had not been wearing a coat or vest and that he was bleeding profusely from the top of his head. He said that when he went over to see Robert Venner he asked him, 'What is the matter old chap?', but got no reply. He said that he then asked the tram regulator to call the ambulance. The man said that he had been outside 187/189 New Cross Road for about four minutes before he saw Robert Venner and said that during that period he saw no one enter or leave the shop.
It was also noted that another man said that he also saw Robert Venner and actually claimed to be the first to go over to him.
The police said that when they arrived at 7.35pm on 6 July 1934 they found two pools of blood inside to the right of the shop behind a large table, which could not be seen from outside or seen until behind the table. The table itself was directly in front of the entrance. The place were the pools of blood were found were said to be undoubtedly where Robert Venner had been attacked.
It was said that lying between the two pools of blood, lying partly in one of them was a roll of brown striped suiting on which were several large patches of blood. The roll had been unrolled about six to eight inches. In addition, there were several spots of blood about the shop which had apparently been caused by Robert Venner walking to the door. There were also two other rolls of cloth on another table lying on some other cloth that looked like they had been draped as though they had been being shown to a customer. Then, immediately behind the large pools of blood there was a large clothing stand, about six feet long, and on one of its feet there was some blood that gave the impression that Robert Venner might have struck himself on it when falling.
A pair of horn rimmed spectacles with both lenses broken were found near the pools of blood which were thought had been broken during a struggle. There was also a white metal cigarette case, a small note book, a piece of black lead pencil, a piece of newspaper and a cigarette lighter, all of which were identified as having belonged to Robert Venner, on the floor near the blood, which were all thought to have been turned out of Robert Venner's trouser pocket.
It was noted that the large table in front of the shop door, which had a large vase containing artificial foliage and two dummy stands displaying two small rolls of cloth, practically obscured the interior of the shop from outside.
There was also a gent’s raincoat on a tailor's dummy just inside the shop door on the right, which was upon examination also found to have two small bloodstains on it, which were thought might have been caused by Robert Venner as he walked to the door.
It was noted that to the left side of the shop on entering, there was a small table hidden from view by a number of rolls of draped cloth, at which Robert Venner would have his meals. Blood was found on a face towel on the table there which indicated that after Robert Venner received his injuries that he he had been there. There were also several patches of blood found leading in to the area.
On a counter at the rear of the shop there was a vast amount of correspondence, amongst which a Commercial Diary for 1926 was found in which Robert Venner would record his measurements, in rough, until a deposit was paid for any clothing ordered, at which point it would be transferred to his official measurements book. The last entry, written on Pages 52/53 in red pencil, had the name John JC 13 Malpas Rd, SE on page 52 and the measurements on page 53.
It was noted that apart from the three rolls of cloth and articles on the floor, nothing else appeared to have been disturbed. His coat, vest and overcoat which were hanging up in the shop also, did not appear to have been ransacked.
There was no till in the shop, but there was a small desk used for clerical purposes, inside of which there were a number of papers, and the police report stated that it was fairly evident that they had not been interfered with. It was noted however, that Robert Venner kept the shops takings in his trouser fob pocket which was fitted with a zip fastener.
No weapon of any sort was found in the shop, nor was there anything found that belonged to the shop that might have been used to attack Robert Venner. It was also stated that there were no available means of ingress or egress to the shop other than by the shop front door.
Fingerprints were later searched for but nothing was found other than a fingerprint on the lighter which was later determined to belong to Robert Venner.
The police stated that they thought that whoever had murdered Robert Venner might have had blood stains on their clothing when they had left.
Extensive enquiries were made and on 11 July 1934 a broadcast was made and although 350 statements were taken, none of them proved to be of much value.
The police said that it was fairly evident that the persons responsible for the attack were well acquainted with Robert Venner's habits and that in consequence of that, special attention was paid to local thieves, several of whom were asked to account for their movements on the day, as well as past employees and a number of customers. However, the police stated that they were quite satisfied that none of them had anything to do with the murder.
The police said that they were able to trace all persons that had had legitimate business with Robert Venner on 6 July 1934 and that the only person that they could not trace was the man, 'JC Johnson', who was referred to in the Commercial Diary.
The doctor at the hospital said that when Robert Venner arrived he had six scalp wounds which were then stitched.
Another doctor that carried out the post-mortem said that Robert Venner's injuries might have been caused by a blow from a blunt instrument such as a piece of iron or wood. He said that one of the wounds had caused a fracture that was about three inches long and that he thought that in all probability that it had been caused by a kick after Robert Venner was on the ground. The doctor said that he totally excluded the possibility that Robert Venner's injuries had been caused by him striking his head on the foot of the clothes stand when he fell. However, another doctor that went to the premises and looked at the foot of the clothes stand said that he thought that the head injury could have been caused by a fall on to it.
Robert Venner had been seen at 3pm at the shop on 6 July 1934 by the owner who said that Robert Venner had told him that a man had ordered a suit at 1.30pm but had paid no deposit and who had said that he would call back at about 6pm but gave the owner the impression that he would not return. The owner said that Robert Venner didn't say that the details in the Commercial Diary were those of the man that had called, but said that he did get the idea that they were. The owner then left the shop at 3.45pm.
Another man that used to call on Robert Venner each day to have a chat said that he called at the shop at about 12.45pm but found that Robert Venner was engaged in conversation with a man and so went away.
The last person traced to have seen Robert Venner was a bank messenger who would call each day. He said that he saw Robert Venner standing at his shop doorway at between a quarter and five minutes to six and said that Robert Venner said to him, 'You lucky begger to be finished at this time of the day', and the bank messenger said that he said, 'You wait till I come back, I'll see you'. The bank messenger said that when he passed again five minutes later he saw Robert Venner standing on the right hand side of the shop in conversation with a man but was otherwise unable to describe the man. The police report stated that the man would have undoubtedly been one of the men concerned in the murder.
Soon after at 6.10pm a woman that lived on Nynehead Street in New Cross said that she was passing the shop on a tramcar when she saw three men come out of the shop and get on the tram car. She said that one of them was deathly white like a corpse. She said that they jumped in and sat on the inside but that when she went to get off at The Marquis of Granby pub, they were gone. The police said that they were able to trace the conductor of the tram that the woman had been on but said that he had no recollection of the incident.
The police said that they identified another woman that recalled seeing two men waiting for a tram standing in the shop doorway. She said that they looked nervous. She said that she was at the tram stop for about five to seven minutes.
The police said that they found another woman that said that she had been standing on the corner of Pepys Road in New Cross which was practically opposite the shop at about 6.30pm and said that she saw a blue saloon motor car slowly moving around the bend of New Cross Road proceeding towards Deptford. She said that she then saw two men walk from the direction of the shop, and then start to run, but said that she was unable to say whether they got in the car.
On 13 July 1934 a credit drapers collector said that he was cycling along New Cross Road in the direction of Old Kent Road at about 6.15pm when he was cut off by a motorcar that stopped outside the shop and that just as he was about to complain, he saw a man come out of the shop with his hands dripping with blood and get pulled into the car by a third man, other than the driver, in the back, and that the car then drove off in the direction of Old Kent Road at a terrific speed. However, he said that he had formed the opinion that the man had gone off to hospital for treatment and it wasn't until he returned on his way back that he found out that there had been a raid. He said that as he was passing on his bicycle he saw a crowd and asked what had happened and was told that a person had cut their throat and had been taken off in an ambulance but that after he then spoke to a woman he said that she told him that there had been a robbery and that when he asked if they had got away he was told that they had and so he went home and didn't think much more of it until 13 July 1934 when he read about it in the Daily Herald, and then went to the police. However, he later went back to the police on 24 July 1934 and told them that he had been standing under a railway arch when he had heard five men talking and said that they mentioned a man that had been caught whilst doing the shop previously but had got away this time. He said that he heard one of the men say, 'They did not get him either. The poor old sod got time last time he did the shop, but they were too slow this time as they had got the right machine to get away with, but he bloody nigh got caught in the tea shop but I have not seen him since it happened'. The police said that when they asked him to attend an identification parade he declined saying that he had noticed people following him about and thought that some injury might befall him. The police said that they looked into the credit drapers collectors story and concluded that he was of weak intellect and imaginative. The report stated that the credit drapers collector had even joked that at times he felt half mad and at others he felt quite normal.
The police report also stated that a motor mechanic had made a statement to the effect that he had been passing New Cross Gate on an omnibus at about 6.15pm on 6 July 1934 when he had seen a man standing outside the tailor’s shop close to the door looking inside. He said that he then saw another man come out of the shop, push the taller man and said that they then both ran off towards New Cross Railway Station. The police noted that the man had been brought to the police station by a Press representative to whom the motor mechanic had gone to first with the information. He was also known by the police for many years and had four convictions against him for crime and was described as a bogus informant and an inveterate liar, and it was concluded that little or no importance could be attached to what he said.
Another statement was taken from a consulting engineer who had said that he had got onto a tramcar at about 6.55pm at Beresford Street in Woolwich and said that his attention was drawn to three men that he saw sitting in the back who appeared to be very agitated and who were all looking through the rear window all the time as if watching the overtaking traffic. He said that when the tram got to Plumstead one of the men said, 'We get off here', but that another had said, 'For Christ Sake, we must not be seen getting off together', and that another of the men then said, 'You get off at the next stop and we will walk back and meet you'. The consulting engineer said that he then saw the three men walk down the tram and saw two men get off but said that he didn't see the third man get off. The police report stated that they thought that the man's statement could have had some bearing on the matter as if the men had got on at New Cross at about 6.15pm then they would have been at Woolwich at about the time the consulting engineer gave.
Another man said that he had seen a man standing on the footway near to the shop at about 11.25am on the day, and looking suspiciously into the shop.
The police stated that an inspector of the river department, Port of London Authority, said that he had been in a tram at 6.10pm on the day and had seen a man aged about 45 years, 5 feet 10 inches, with a fresh complexion and a heavy growth of beard, whose hair was turning grey, dressed in an old brown coat, an old pair of grey trousers and wearing a peaked cap, standing on the foot way between the kerb and the shops doorway. He said that he then saw the man suddenly pull himself up rather sharply and go into the shop. He said that the man was carrying a black stick in his hand. However, it was later considered that the inspector of the river department was the only witness to mention a man with grey hair and it was later thought that he might have got his dates mixed up.
The police said that another man, a racing tipster, also came forward to say that he had been passing and had seen blood coming out of the door and had chased some men off towards Deptford shouting after them. The police said that the man was to later become, along with another man, the lead suspect in the case.
The police report stated that the eleven witnesses whose statements they had taken all later attended the Crime Index but all failed to recognise anyone.
The police added that when they went to 13 Malpas Road, SE, they found that no one of the name Johnson JC lived there. They said that it was the address of a railway porter who worked at Victoria Station and that he had lived there for 15 years.
The shop owner said that he would call on Robert Venner each Monday morning. He said that business had been very bad of late and that the average takings were about £15 - 0 - 0 per week. He confirmed that there was no till and that Robert Venner would keep the money in a fob pocket that was fastened with a zip fastener. He said that the actual money that he thought that Robert Venner would have had on him would have been about £7 - 11 - 3 but added that Robert Venner always deducted his pay on Fridays. The police noted that Robert Venner's wife said that Robert Venner had given her £2 - 10 - 0 before leaving home that morning, 6 July 1934 and so it was thought that the murderer had probably only got away with about £5 - 0 - 0.
The owner of the shop said that he thought that the man whose measurements had been taken in the Commercial Diary would have been about five feet six or seven, with a slim build, 34in chest, and small waisted. After certain adjustments were taken into account, it was later stated by the police that the measurements taken and entered in the Commercial Diary corresponded to the size of the racing tipster who was a prime suspect.
The racing tipster had gone to The Daily News Chronicle at about 11.30pm and seen the night editor and told him that he had been near 187/189 New Cross Road at the time of the robbery. He told him that he had seen blood coming through the threshold and said that another man then ran off for the police and that he then saw three men dash from the shop and run towards Deptford. He had said that one of the men was tall, another wore a grey trilby hat, and the third was wearing a black cap. He had then said that the police had hurried to the shop and found Robert Venner lying in a terrible condition just inside the door, and added that he believed that Robert Venner's skull had been fractured. The racing tipster was then asked by the night editor if he had done anything to stop the men but he had said that he hadn't, noting that it all happened so quickly.
The police said that a statement was not taken from the night editor to avoid bad publicity, but said that the night editor gave the police a copy of his notes.
The night editor said that after meeting the racing tipster and taking his story he advised him to go to the New Scotland Yard which the racing tipster did at 1.15am on 7 July 1934. When the racing tipster gave his statement to the police he said that he had been standing near the door of the shop when he had seen some blood and had said, 'We had better fetch a policeman'. He said that a man that he was with went off to fetch a policeman and that he remained at the door and then said that three men came out and rushed passed him, but on this occasion, he went on to say that he chased after them as far as The Marque of Granby pub where they disappeared. He said that after he lost the three men he didn't go back to the shop and instead went to a Cafe in Deptford.
When the police later questioned the racing tipster, they asked him why he didn't go straight to the police and he said, 'I thought I would get a few shillings off the paper. The question of catching the men is nothing to do with me. I only chased them out of curiosity as I thought it was an accident what had happened at the shop'. The police then asked the racing tipster if he could assist them any further and the racing tipster said no, and the policeman then said, 'It is quite clear to me that your information is false as the injured man was removed from the shop to hospital at 6.30pm and not after 7pm as your statement suggests. On the other hand there was no blood running from under the door as you suggest'. The racing tipster then said, 'Well, I'm only telling you what I saw and if I'd known what I know now I wouldn't have said anything about it. You know that I've done time so that’s why you don't believe me'. He then left the police station.
The police report went on to say that after the information that the racing tipster had given the newspaper was published it was common knowledge amongst the underworld that the racing tipster had been closely associated with the crime.
The police report stated that after enquiries were made with a number of well known thieves and careful enquiries were made in cafes and lodging houses around the district, the information gained strongly pointed to the racing tipster as a suspect.
The racing tipster was known to be a violent man and on 9 July 1934 he went to see his wife with whom he had been living apart for the previous two years and asked her to drop a warrant that she had out for him for assault. He said, 'You drop that warrant out. I've got mixed up in a bit of trouble at New Cross. I saw some blood in the shop and I saw a tall man hopping about and then they ran off. A man got knocked down at New Cross but they only got six pounds'. It was heard that when the wife had said, 'Oh, I expect you were the outside man', the racing tipster had said, 'I'll knock you in the blinking eye if you say that'. The racing tipsters wife said that another man that she had previously seen in her husband's company later called at her address and said to her, 'If you go about saying that your husband is the outside man, he say's he will kick you up the cunt'. However, the police said that they were unable to identify who that man was.
The police had contact with a known criminal who was a close associate of the racing tipster and said that he had given them information before. The police said that the first time that they saw the informant he had told them that he would not be surprised if the racing tipster had been involved in the New Cross attack. The police said that they saw the informant a number of times but could get nothing definite from him until 21 July 1934 when he told them that he was quite definite that the racing tipster and a man known as Charlie the Navvy were the two men concerned in the New Cross Murder and that there was the possibility that a third man from the West End known as Flash Joe had also been involved.
The informant later said that he had seen the racing tipster on 5 July 1934 and had asked him if he had done well that day, meaning tipped any winners but said that the racing tipster replied, 'No, I never done any good today. We are going up to New Cross tomorrow to get measured for a suit'. The informant said that he then said, 'What, are you having it off then. Can't you row me into it?', but said that the racing tipster said, 'No. We are enough handed now'. The informant said that on 7 July 1934 he saw the racing tipster again and said that he said to him, 'Have you seen my name in the newspaper?. I was walking past the tailors at New Cross Gate last night when two policemen got hold of me and took me to Scotland Yard and put my coat and vest under a test'. When the informant asked the racing tipster why, the racing tipster said, 'The old tailor at New Cross got cracked on the head and I was walking past the shop at the time. I saw the blood running out of the shop and I also saw three men run out of the shop. One was a tall man'.
The informant said that he met the two main suspects on 12 July and said that they wanted to fix up an alibi with him, but he said that he couldn't. He said that Charlie the Navvy said, 'You know we told you last week that we were going up to New Cross to get measured for a suit. We went up there and the old man got a bit naughty and had to be cracked. We want to say we were with you at the time'. The informant said that he had been playing darts at the time and that the people that he had been with would have known that the two suspects had not been with him.
The police said that they then started to look for the racing tipster so that they could arrest him on the warrant for assault and then question him over the murder. When the police sent out the message that a search of lodging houses etc was to be carried out it was also made quite clear that the information should not be given to the press but on 22 July 1934 a description of the racing tipster appeared in the Sunday Pictorial together with a statement that the police wanted to interview him in connection with the murder.
When the racing tipster presented himself at a police station after reading his description in the newspaper he gave a full and extended account of his movements for 6 July 1934, some of which was later found to be uncorroborated which led police to believe that he was strongly suspected in the case.
Charlie the Navvy was later located in Walworth and taken to the police station where he gave a full statement regarding his movements, some of which later was found to be uncorroborated. It was noted that on the day after the murder Charlie the Navvy had gone to The Marquis of Granby pub where he reminded the barmaid that he had been in there drinking the day before. However, when the police went to check his statement the landlady there said that she remembered the day because Charlie the Navvy had been in to remind her the following day that he had been drinking there the previous day, even though she remembered that she hadn't seen him at all the previous day, 6 July 1934.
Both of the suspects were put up for identification on 23 July 1934 along with 17 other men to take account of the fact that the two men were totally dissimilar in appearance, but none of the witnesses were able to identify them.
As a consequence, Charlie the Navvy was released but the racing tipster was charged on the assault warrant. He later appeared at Tower Bridge Police Court where he was found guilty and sentenced to 14 days hard labour. A policeman involved in the murder investigation said that when he gave evidence at the court he informed the Learned Magistrate that the racing tipster was a very violent man and said that after he was sentenced and was being conveyed to the cells, the racing tipster rushed at him endeavouring to strike him, but he was quickly overpowered without any injuries being caused.
Whilst the racing tipster was in prison he got talking to a man that was serving three years. The man said that he had spoken to the racing tipster about the murder and said that the racing tipster had admitted to being there to him and had told him that Robert Venner had been hit on the head with a bar of iron. He said that the racing tipster also told him that the robbers had got £6 - 10 and some cloth and also told him that he was trying to fix up an alibi.
When the police later went to the cafe, Norman's Cafe on 350 East Street in Walworth, that the racing tipster said that he had been to on 6 July 1934, they said that the proprietor who said he knew the racing tipster quite well had not been in at all on 6 July 1934 although also said that he was not prepared to swear to that. He said that the racing tipster came in the following day and said to him, 'I got into trouble last night. I was running away and got stopped. Some other men were running and I ran away with the two men. The police stopped me and asked me what I was running for and I told them I didn't know. I saw the two men running and ran with them'. The proprietor said that he told the racing tipster, 'You must have been a fool to runaway just because other people were running'.
The police said that they also went to another cafe that the racing tipster had said that he had been to, Micks, at 166 Old Kent Road and said that the owner said that the racing tipster had not been in his cafe on 6 July 1934.
The police report concluded that, they were firmly convinced that the two men are responsible for the attack on Robert Venner, stating that the evidence against the racing tipster was:
In addition to the main facts, the report stated that there were a number of other minor items that would also indicate the racing tipster's guilt.
The report went on to state that evidence against Charlie the Navvy was not strong but included:
The police concluded that their enquiries were still proceeding against the two main suspects but that the possibility that some other person or persons was responsible for the crime had not been overlooked and searching enquiries had been made in every possible direction.
However, the report concluded 'I would suggest that the evidence summarised against the man points very clearly to the fact that they are beyond all reasonable doubt the persons who committed the crime, but there may not be thought sufficient evidence for the Police to institute proceedings at this stage.
see "Shop Manager's Death." Times [London, England] 13 July 1934: 11. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 4 Mar. 2013.
see National Archives - MEPO 3/895
see Western Daily Press - Friday 20 July 1934
see Ballymena Weekly Telegraph - Saturday 13 October 1934
see Yorkshire Evening Post - Saturday 07 July 1934
see Western Morning News - Saturday 14 July 1934
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Friday 20 July 1934