Unsolved Murders

Kathleen Florence Cornish

Age: 20

Sex: female

Date: 17 Mar 1944

Place: Prittlewell Path, Southend-on-Sea

Kathleen Cornish was stabbed to death after waiting to catch a train to Chelmsford. She had been stabbed through the heart.

She was found dead in Prittlewell Path in Southend-on-Sea on the morning of 17 March 1944.

Her body was examined at Southend General Hospital at 7.40am by a doctor who found her to be dead, but still warm. He said that she was dressed in a coat that had a blood stain on its left lapel and an incised cut immediately below which there was an incised wound. The doctor said that apart from the incised wound there were no external injuries. He said that the wound had passed downwards and outwards so that it penetrated the border of her left lung where it had penetrated into her left pericardial cavity where it then transfixed her aorta (the main blood vessel of the body) immediately above its point of emergence from the heart itself.

He said that the entrance wound was 7/10ths of an inch wide and that the exit from the aorta was half an inch wide, the total length of the wound being 4 1/2 inches.

He gave the cause of death as being due to haemorrhage from the incised wound and said that her death must have been almost instantaneous. He added that a sharp cutting instrument would have been required to have produced the wound.

A 27-year-old lorry driver was tried for her murder and convicted and sentenced to death. However, he appealed and his conviction was quashed on 14 July 1944 and he was released.

Kathleen Cornish and the lorry driver had been sweethearts and they had been seen together shortly before Kathleen Cornish was found dead on the footpath.

Kathleen Cornish and the lorry driver were said to have been on affectionate terms and letters were read out in court to that effect, however, Kathleen Cornish’s father objected to their association.

At the lorry driver's trial, the prosecution said that he stabbed her with a sheath knife that he was known to own that had since disappeared.

The lorry driver had been arrested on 27 February 1944 on another charge during which his bedroom was searched by the police who said that they had found a sheath knife in a leather sheaf in the top long drawer of a chest of drawers there, which was described as being about five inches in length. The policeman that found it said that he didn't measure the length of the knife, but did take it out of its sheaf and said that it was the sort of knife that could be bought at any fancy goods store such as Millets and that it was the sort of knife that might be found in the possession of thousands of people and be owned by Boy Scouts. He added that it was in the top drawer along with other possessions and that it was not in any way concealed.

A munition worker who lived in Tintern Avenue in Westcliff-on-Sea said that on the morning of 17 March 1944 he left home at 5.30am and caught the 5.40am bus. He said that at the Ramuz Drive stop he saw the lorry driver and Kathleen Cornish board the bus. He said that the lorry driver was wearing a warden's coat that was turned up at the collar. He said that they stayed on the bus until they reached the station where the lorry driver got off, followed by Kathleen Cornish. He said that the lorry driver went to the railings at the edge of the pavement and that Kathleen Cornish then went to the back of the bus to get off and that he then heard the lorry driver say, ''Come on Lizzie', and that Kathleen Cornish then got up to the lorry driver and that they then went off arm-in-arm towards the coal yard, walking along Bradley Street. The munitions worker said that he then got off the bus and went straight to the booking office.

The munition worker said that he had got on the bus before the lorry driver and Kathleen Cornish and said that when they got on they shared the same seat together on the opposite side of the bus to him and that they appeared to be quite happy together and were not quarrelling or anything like that. He said that he had never spoken to the lorry driver but had seen them almost every morning getting on the bus and said that they had always appeared quite happy. He added that they always appeared as though they were very much in love with each other.

The munition worker said that he had been going to Chelmsford that morning and was catching the 6.01am train.

The munition worker said that the bus had sometimes been a few minutes late but that it would usually reach the station at about 5.50am and sometimes a little after, about 5.53am or even as late as 5.55am. He added that one day was the same as another to him, going to work, and that he didn't take much notice as to the exact minute that he got there but that on that particular morning he noticed that the time was 5.50am, noting that he saw the time at the station by the clock that said that it was exactly 5.50am.

The munition worker added that he did not see Kathleen Cornish or the lorry driver after he went into the station and didn't see them reach the coal yard.

A factory hand who lived in Guildford Road said that he knew Kathleen Cornish quite well and saw her on the morning of Friday 17 March 1944. He said that he left home at about 5.45am and walked along Guildford Road into Milton Road from where he then went into Bradley Street. He said that on his way to the station he saw Kathleen Cornish with the lorry driver at the stonemason's place just before prittlewell path. He said that he was walking to the station and that they were coming away in the opposite direction to him, walking arm-in-arm. He said that they were both walking on the same pavement and that they passed each other at the shop. He added that when he got to the station it was 5.50am.

The factory hand said that when he saw then walking along they were not quarrelling and added that he looked at them closely because he was wondering why Kathleen Cornish was walking away from the station. He added that he was catching the 6.01am train to Chelmsford and that he had plenty of time before his train left.

A short while later, a watchman employed at Frith's Factory and who lived in St Leonards Road, Southend-on-Sea said that he had left the factory at 6am and that as he was walking from the factory to Prittlewell path he heard St Mary's Church strike six. He said that when he got to the path, he walked down towards Albion Road and that when he got to the portion where the Corporation Yard started, he saw something about 40 yards ahead of him on the path and that as he got closer found that it was the body of a young woman, Kathleen Cornish.

He said that she was lying on her back and that her body was at a slant and that near her, on the ground, he could see a handbag and a case, noting that as far as he could tell that the case was closed. He said that shortly after another man also came along and that he then waited for the police to arrive.

The lorry driver was later seen by a motor-fitter that he knew shortly after 6am on Friday 17 March 1944 at The Blue Bird Cafe near the station. The motor-fitter said that he had left home at 5.50am and had caught the 5.53am bus and had gotten off at the junction of Milton Street and Bradley Street from where he had gone along Bradley Street and past the station entrance, noting that as he passed the station he had looked at the clock and had noted that it was about 6.02am. He said that he then walked over to the pillar box at the station and posted a letter and from there went to The Blue Bird Cafe where he had a cup of tea. He said that he left The Blue Bird Cafe at about 6.10am and that as he was leaving, he saw the lorry driver and said hello. He said that the lorry driver was standing by the counter at the door of the cafe, noting that the lorry driver spoke to him fist, saying, 'Good morning'. The motor-fitter said that he replied, 'Good morning, sorry I can't stop. I've got to catch a bus'.

The lorry driver was next seen by a conductress employed by the Westcliff Motor Services. She said that on the morning of 17 March 1944 her bus left Victoria Circus at 6.30am on its second trip that morning and that she issued a ticket to the lorry driver that she later identified, noting that it was a ticket to Ashington.

Later, on 19 March 1944, the lorry driver went into Rochford Police Station at about 1.35am. He didn't speak and was carrying a copy of 'The Evening Standard' and walked up to the counter and pointed at it, pointing to a column entitled 'Murdered girl - police search'. The policeman that saw him said that he took the newspaper from the lorry driver and asked him his name but said that the lorry driver didn't reply and pointed to his mouth. The policeman said that the lorry driver was in a very dazed condition. The policeman said that after looking at the lorry driver’s identity card he told him that he matched the description of the man wanted in connection with the murder of Kathleen Cornish and told him that he was going to detain him.

When the lorry driver was arrested for the murder of Kathleen Cornish, he denied murdering her, saying that he was much too fond of her for that.

After he was arrested for her murder he was sent to hospital after losing the power of speech.

It was heard that on the morning of the murder that the lorry driver had been due to attend court that morning on three charges of theft and that he had told Kathleen Cornish that he did not intend to appear at the court. When he was asked why, he said that he was afraid that certain things would come out, such as the fact that he had married in 1938 but that the marriage was an unhappy one and that his wife had left him. The lorry driver said that there was nothing that would come out that Kathleen Cornish didn't already know but said that her father didn't know that he had been married.

The prosecution then asked the lorry driver whether he thought that Kathleen Cornish, a perfectly respectable girl, would have accepted a ring from him if she had known that he was a married man, and the lorry driver said that she would.

A statement that the lorry driver wrote out at Rochford police station in the early hours of 19 March 1944 read, 'I had told her (Miss Cornish) that I was not going to Court that morning as I was going to London, and I was not going to face these charges because of something that had happened in the past coming out. I had been told it might not be avoided, the same thing as I am being questioned about now, the murder of Kathleen Cornish'.

When Counsel asked him what he was afraid of coming out, the lorry driver said that there was nothing that would come out that Kathleen Cornish didn't already know but said, 'Miss Cornish knew I was married, but her parents did not. It was for her sake that I did not want it to come out'. When he was then asked whether he preferred to skip bail and go away rather than face it, the lorry driver said, 'Yes'.

However, when the prosecution gave further evidence, they suggested that both Kathleen Cornish and her mother had thought that his wife was dead. The prosecution said that if he had been as such leaving Southend-on-Sea that morning then it would not have been unnatural for him to want to say goodbye to which the lorry driver agreed, and suggested that he had persuaded her to go along Prittlewell Path with him saying that he wanted to say goodbye and that he had then stabbed her to death, but he said that he did not.

When the prosecution noted that after the lorry driver was informed of Kathleen Cornish's death that he took a large number of aspirins, the lorry driver was asked why and he said that 'There was nothing else left in life for me'.

When the prosecution addressed the jury they said that the lorry driver had been frightened of something coming out in court that would put an end to his chances of marrying Kathleen Cornish, the girl he loved, and that he was ashamed of the position that he was in and in a miserable state and was prepared to kill her rather than have anyone else have her.

After he was convicted of Kathleen Cornish's murder, it was revealed that the lorry driver had previously been convicted of the manslaughter of a 14-year-old girl when he himself was also 14-years-old. He had stabbed her in the same way as he was said to have stabbed Kathleen Cornish and was charged with her murder but convicted of her manslaughter and sent to an approved school for three years. He had said that while he was showing her his new Boy Scout dagger that she had pulled it towards her and that it had entered her chest.

The lorry driver had previously served in the army but was discharged after his trigger finger in his right hand was shot away.

At his appeal it was noted that the facts showed beyond dispute that the lorry driver had been the last person to be seen with Kathleen Cornish a few minutes before her death but that his conviction was based on circumstantial evidence. The grounds of his appeal were that the Judge had been wrong in law in admitting in evidence certain documents, namely, a written statement made by him, two type written statements made by him, two written letters and a series of written questions to and answers by him and that in admitting the evidence to show that he had been previously convicted of a crime or was a person of bad character was contrary to the Criminal Evidence Act, 1898. The grounds of the appeal also stated that in permitting him to be asked and required to answer in cross-examination, certain questions, and the judge himself further putting similar questions, was contrary to the Criminal Evidence Act 1898 and misdirection.

As such, the appeal judge said that his trial was so unsatisfactory that he felt that it was the duty of his court to allow the appeal and to quash the conviction.

It was also heard that while the lorry driver had been in custody awaiting trial that a man who committed suicide in Southend left a note in which he confessed to the murder of Kathleen Cornish, but the police said that after enquiries that they were satisfied that the man could not have murdered her. When the coroner summed up at the man's inquest, he said that he thought that the man had been trying to get some money for his wife on the publication of the statement that he made about killing Kathleen Cornish by selling it to the newspapers.

His statement read, 'The lorry driver did not kill her. I did. I stabbed her in Prittlewell Path, and he saw me. I stole the knife from his room and intended him to take the blame. She threatened to tell my wife of my association with her. The lorry driver did not know about me. I guess he got scared when he kept his appointment and found her dying'.

After the lorry driver was acquitted of the murder of Kathleen Cornish, he was convicted of the theft of a dressing gown, a bicycle and 6 1/2lb of coal, with six other offences taken into consideration and sentenced to three months imprisonment.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Gloucestershire Echo - Wednesday 12 July 1944

see Essex Newsman - Tuesday 13 June 1944

see Essex Newsman - Friday 14 July 1944

see Chelmsford Chronicle - Friday 12 May 1944

see Gloucestershire Echo - Wednesday 12 July 1944

see Evening Telegraph - Monday 20 March 1944

see National Archives - ASSI 36/71, ASSI 90/10