Date: 24 Jun 1958
Place: High Legh, Warrington
Harry Baker was found dead in some rhododendron bushes in a field off of the A50 Warrington to Knutsford road near High Leigh in Cheshire on 23 June 1958. He had gone missing on 6 June 1958 30 miles away in Bootle.
It was thought his body had been there for about two weeks. His body was found by a road worker that had lived at Primrose Hill Farm in High Legh.
His wife had reported him missing at 11.15pm on 6 June 1958 after he failed to come home as usual.
His death was due to head injuries and asphyxia. The pathologist that carried out his post mortem said that although Harry Baker had 34 head wounds and 13 small fractures to the skull, he died from strangulation.
His body had been wrapped up in sacks with his feet tied together and it was determined that he had been strangled with a nylon stocking which was found tied around his neck. His body was found only 6ft from a footpath alongside the A50 road which was described as a busy road and had been dumped over a 4ft high barbed wire topped wire fence.
Forensic analysis showed that Harry Baker had not been killed at the place where his body was found. The police said, 'We think he has been brought in a vehicle and heaved over'.
It was determined that a gold-coloured wristlet watch, a 9-carat gold pocket hunter watch and a fountain pen had been taken from his and the police said that tracing them was of vital importance. The 9-carat gold hunter watch had been inscribed 'From Jessie to Harry, 2nd September 1924'.
It was also determined that Harry Baker's dark brown raincoat and his single-breasted jacket from his grey worsted suit were also missing. Harry Baker was otherwise fully dressed apart from his coat and jacket when he was found.
It was said that every piece of identification had been removed from Harry Baker's body, however, the police did find a return railway ticket dated June 5 from Bankhall near Bootle to Stockport in his clothing. His son noted that Harry Baker would travel every day from Southport to Liverpool to make collections.
The police said that it was thought that Harry Baker would have had about £25 on him when he was murdered. However, it was noted that that would have been much less than he might have had if he had been attacked later in the day.
Analysis of the stocking showed it to have been champagne coloured and a size 9½ inches.
The sacks that had been used to cover Harry Baker's partly decomposed body were an ordinary household coal sack and a potato sack. The words 'Scotch', 'Arran, 'Pilot' and GavHam' were stencilled on the potato sack.
His head and upper part had been enveloped in one sack and his legs in another.
The police said that they thought that at least two men or a man and a woman had carried Harry Baker's body away and that he was murdered in the Bootle area or just over the Bootle-Liverpool boundary.
The police said that they had three theories regarding his murder:
It was said that no matter where the murder took place, that it was thought that his body might have been kept in a building in Bootle or the north end of Liverpool before being removed by car, van or lorry to where it was found 30 miles away near High Leigh on 23 June 1958.
Harry Baker was Jewish and had been a credit draper and lived in Melling Road, Southport. He had gone missing on 6 June 1958 whilst making his round of calls on customers in the Bootle area.
His wife said that at the time of his disappearance that Harry Baker was a friendly and popular man and said that he had never been missing before.
After his body was found the police called at an accommodation office in Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool where they took away a register of his customers.
It was determined that he had left home at about 7.30am on the Friday morning, 6 June 1958 to collect from customers in the Bootle area and after making several calls in Bootle he was seen in Anderson Avenue, Bootle at about 12.45pm. It was later thought that he had been seen in Strand Road, Bootle with a man between 1.30pm and 1.45pm. It was said that he had been seen talking to the man but that the police had no description of him other than that he was thin-faced and wearing a grey suit. The police appealed for the man to come forward but he was never traced. The spot where he was said to have been seen talking to the man was at the No. 23 bus stop near the Derby Arms in Strand Road.
It was noted that there was a 15-minute service of buses from Strand Road to Lime Street in Liverpool from the stop and it was known that Harry Baker would often have a quick lunch in a Reece's restaurant in Dale Street, Liverpool when he was on his collection days in Bootle and Liverpool. However, it was not known whether Harry Baker had taken the bus into Liverpool for his lunch or whether he had gone somewhere else. It was also suggested that that it might have only been a coincidence that he was talking near the bus stop and that he had in fact had other calls to make in Bootle before he left for Liverpool.
The police said that one of the main things that they wanted to determine was where Harry Baker had had his lunch on the day he vanished, as well as other Fridays when he was collecting in the Bootle-Liverpool district.
The police said, 'As he was working in a particular district, the odds are that he would not go out of that district to have his midday meal, so we can expect the restaurant or cafe to be either in Bootle or North Liverpool. He was a man who never took sandwiches with him. We know his movements up to between 12.30 and 1pm. Information following those times is not at all certain'.
A timetable of his last hours was thought to have been:
It was noted that Harry Baker had been in the habit when races were being televised or broadcast to ask at his clients house whether he could watch or listen to the race and on the day he vanished the Oaks was being broadcast.
It was not known what had happened to Harry Baker after 1pm. It was said that he should have called at a house in Virginia Street at 1.10pm, but he didn't make the call.
The man that lived in Milton Street where Harry Baker called at 1pm was a process worker. He said that when Harry Baker called at his house that he seemed to have had something on his mind. He said that Harry Baker was normally a jolly man. He said, 'My wife termed him a perky little sparrow, and I thought that was an apt description'. He said that Harry Baker was in his house for about four to five minutes and said that he thought that Harry Baker had had his daughter in mind as Harry Baker had told him that she was expecting a baby and said that that appeared to cause him some worry. He said that Harry Baker visited him regularly every Friday but that on 6 June 1958 he had not been wearing a hat or carrying an umbrella as he normally did. He said that after leaving his house that Harry Baker went towards a bus stop, noting that the bus would have taken him eventually to Liverpool.
The police said, 'It is difficult to understand why a man of such methodical habits and strict timekeeping in making his calls should suddenly vanish in the middle of them. If he did leave Bootle alive we have to find what caused him to leave instead of carrying on his usual round of collections. Anyone who know of any reason why anything like this should happen is asked to come forward. We would be glad to see them. In the normal way, Baker made his calls in the North End and then moved through the various street of customers to the South End of the city. On Friday, June 6, he apparently made his last call at two houses in Anderson Avenue, Bootle, just before 1pm. Then about a quarter of an hour later, the police had been told, Baker was seen talking at the No. 23 bus stop in Strand Road, Bootle. According to the report, he was seen talking to a man with a long thin face at 1.45pm. Then he vanished. We would like this man to come forward. He could be of some help in tracing the last movements of Mr Baker. Baker was due to call at a house in Virginia Street, Bootle, at 1.10pm that day. He did not make the call'.
When the police went to the customers in Virginia Street and questioned them, they said, 'We thought it rather odd when Mr Baker did not call. He was always so punctual'.
It was noted that a man with a similar description to that of the man with the thin-face was seen at a garage in Rimrose Road, Bootle at about 7pm where he bought three gallons of petrol and asked the way to Knutsford. He was described as being dirty and excited and to have had a black or dark green van with a twisted bumper.
It was not known whether the man with the thin-face was the same man that had been seen talking to Harry Baker near the bus stop earlier in the day. It was also not known whether there was a connection between the man seen at the garage and the sighting of a dark coloured van with a battered bumper that had been seen on the A50 roadside at High Legh the night after Harry Baker was thought to have been murdered.
The police also appealed for the driver of the large black saloon car of the limousine type that Harry Baker was seen talking to at 12.40pm to come forward. The police said, 'Despite all the appeals made by us the driver of the large ramshackle type of limousine has not come forward. The driver was wearing a shiny peak cap when he spoke to Baker. The driver sat in the vehicle while Baker stood on the pavement. After a short conversation the driver got out of the car. It was then noticed that he was about 6ft tall and quite heavily built. He returned to the driving seat and drove off towards Seaforrth, while Baker walked off in the Liverpool direction. After a few minutes the large car was seen to turn back and go in the same direction as Baker. We know that Baker later made a further call and it is possible the driver of the car followed Baker and waited for him leaving the house of a customer. We know that while Baker was talking to the car driver he was seen to look at his watch and then point in the direction in which he eventually went. It would help our investigations enormously if the driver of the vehicle could be traced'.
The police focussed their initial search after his body was found to the Bootle and north Liverpool area where they searched derelict or unoccupied premises and demolition sites.
It was reported that 200 detectives massed around a half-mile radius from the spot in the Liverpool dockland area where Harry Baker was last known to have been in order to carry out a dragnet and systematic search of all premises. They worked inwards to the centre, searching, talking to people and making notes, with a detective saying, 'We know Baker was in that area, and there is no evidence that he left that district on the Friday afternoon. Something should come out of this search'.
It was reported that the police were convinced that Harry Baker's murderers lived somewhere in he dockland area.
On Thursday 26 June 1958 it was reported that the police were checking a spot where three cyclists had seen a small dark fawn gaberdine raincoat thrown from a car that had two men in it. It was noted that Harry Baker had been wearing a similar jacket when he was murdered but that it was not with his body when he was found.
The police also questioned 600 of Harry Baker's customers, mainly housewives.
The police also carried out investigations in the Liverpool and Huyton areas where the majority of his customers lived as well as visiting lodging houses in the Bootle and Liverpool areas. They were also said to have kept watch on all-night cafes.
The police also appealed for anyone that had seen anyone handling a bulky package on any of the three days, 6, 7 and 8 June 1958, to come forward. The police said that they thought that whoever might have murdered Harry Baker might have kept his body hidden in a house and then later carted it away wrapped up in sacks in a van, lorry or car.
The police appealed for help from lorry drivers, including the drivers of any vehicle that had been in the Bootle or Liverpool area on 6 June 1958 and had gone off in the direction of Warrington, High Legh and Knutsford areas. The police also appealed for the owners of any goods vehicles in the Bootle and Liverpool area who had either loaned or missed their vehicles on the three days and asked them to come forward.
The police also posted notices appealing for anyone who had travelled along the A50 on the three days and who either parked or saw any cars parked on the road at any point about a mile on the Knutsford side of the Popla Cafe or about half-a-mile on the Warrington side of the Bear's Paw Inn or otherwise saw anything suspicious to contact them.
The police also carried out a road block on the A50 in order to question drivers and it was said that Home Office experts worked in the drizzle with mine detectors in the search for clues. They were said to have searched many square yards of heath land surrounding the spot where Harry Baker's body was found as well as covering the grass verge on the other side of the road. However, nothing of any value to the investigation was found.
Two vehicles were reported to the police as having been seen near the area, a car and a van, and the police appealed for anyone with any information concerning them to come forward. They were seen parked near the spot where Harry Baker was found on 7 June 1958. People from the car were seen to enter the field near to where Harry Baker's body was found and three men were seen with the van.
The police also searched garages, both public and private in the area and asked garage proprietors and dealers if anyone had spoken of or hinted at disposing of a vehicle that might have been used in the crime. The police also visited scrapyards with similar questions.
The police said that they thought that there had been a woman involved in the murder or that there was a woman that held the secrets of the killing. They said, 'A woman is either shielding the murderer or a man is shielding a woman who might be the responsible party. We are more than ever convinced that a woman is involved somewhere in the brutal killing, and we are not losing sight of the fact that a woman may have been the owner driver of the vehicle that removed the body, or she may be the person responsible for seeking the loan of a vehicle for the removal of the body. It is possible that a woman enticed Mr Baker into a strange house on the pretext of becoming one of his customers. We appeal to any of Mr Baker's customers who have any recollection of recommending a new client to him or recommending a neighbour or friend to deal with him, to come forward and give us all the information which we will treat in the greatest confidence. The more the detectives are trying to unravel the mystery of where Baker actually met his death in Bootle or the north end of Liverpool, the more we become convinced that some people can explain his movements after he left customers in O'Neill Street and Milton Street to travel to Virginia Street. We know that he always called on a customer there at 1.15pm on Fridays, but on June 6 he did not arrive. Baker was always a very meticulous business man, and so far as we can find out his books were in absolute order, and it is the surprise disappearance after his leaving O'Neill Street, Milton Street area that makes us believe that he was very likely inveigled into visiting the home of a potential new client and robbed and killed'.
The police were also reported as having said that they thought that Harry Baker might well have known his murderer well or that his murderer was aware of his movements.
On the afternoon of Wednesday 25 June 1958 CID officers went round the premises of cleaners in the Bootle and Liverpool areas and asked staff whether they had had any bloodstained clothing handed in for cleaning.
The exact motive for his murder was not known as it was not thought that it would have been worth murdering him for £25, a gold watch and a fountain pen and it was suggested that his murder might have been planned by someone who was familiar with his regular collections in Bootle and thought that he might have had more money on him than he had.
Harry Baker's relatives said, 'We are certain that whoever committed the crime did it for money. But we are sure he couldn't have had much money with him after only making calls in the morning. We can't understand how anyone could harm such a friendly man'.
It was also suggested that the murder might have been planned but that the dumping of his body where it was found wasn't, it being suggested that the dumping or his body by a main road indicated that the murderer had panicked.
It was suggested that Harry Baker had been murdered in one of the 4,500 houses across the 60 streets in the vicinity of Strand Road i Bootle and then later dumped off the A50.
During the investigation the police received a number of calls from a woman that said she had information regarding Harry Baker's murder, but they had been unable to trace her. She had first called on Thursday 6 November 1958 saying that she had vital information. She then called on Sunday 9 November 1958 at about 11.04pm from a call box in Litherland Road in Bootle near Waterworks Street, but when the police arrived to meet her there was no one there. The newspaper referred to her as Bootle's will-o'-the-wisp woman. The police made repeated appeals for the woman to call again and said that the question of whether she had genuine information to give or whether the calls were a hoax was still unanswered. The police said that it was possible that the wil-o'-the-wisp woman might have been shielding a husband or lover.
The police also received hundreds of anonymous letters during the investigation, but they said that they had yielded no tangible results.
One of the letters related to a man that lived in Brook Road Bootle and said that he had been seen hiding a bloodstained shirt under his jacket, but that lead was followed up early in the inquiry and the police determined that there was no link to the murder.
However, the police said that they remained convinced that someone in the square mile area of Strand Road, Bootle, where Harry Baker was last seen alive on 6 June 1958 was concealing vital information.
The police said that during the investigation that they had spoken to about 30,000 people, taken 900 statements and sent out 10,000 questionnaires.
Harry Baker's inquest took place in Alrincham on Thursday 24 July 1958 and a verdict of murder by a person or persons unknown was returned. When the Coroner summed up he said, 'It is quite obvious that the murderer or murderers, and I should say accessories after the fact, made quite sure, as they thought, that this body would never be recognised, otherwise we would not have had the mutilation of the head and face'. It was also thought that he might have put up a fierce struggle as there were marks on his hands to indicate such.
A representative for Harry Baker's family at the inquest said that it was a 'particularly dastardly crime'.
Harry Baker had died intestate and when his estate was settled on Saturday 13 December 1958 it was found that he had left £15,472 (£13,855 net). His widow was one of two people granted letters of administration.
see National Archives - HO 332/16 - STA 502/3/33
see Liverpool Echo
see Bootle History
see OUR CORRESPONDENT. "Draper's Body Dumped A Fortnight Ago." Times [London, England] 25 June 1958: 13. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.
see "Body Found Hidden Near Road." Times [London, England] 24 June 1958: 8. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.
see Manchester Evening News - Saturday 28 June 1958
see Liverpool Echo - Monday 10 November 1958
see Liverpool Echo - Saturday 30 May 1959
see Liverpool Echo - Friday 05 September 1958
see Liverpool Echo - Saturday 12 July 1958
see Shields Daily News - Tuesday 24 June 1958
see Liverpool Echo - Friday 07 November 1958
see Manchester Evening News - Saturday 13 December 1958
see Birmingham Daily Post - Wednesday 25 June 1958
see Liverpool Echo - Saturday 28 June 1958
see Liverpool Echo - Wednesday 25 June 1958
see Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 28 June 1958
see Daily Herald - Friday 25 July 1958
see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 24 June 1958
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Monday 31 August 1959
see Manchester Evening News - Thursday 26 June 1958
see Newcastle Evening Chronicle - Wednesday 25 June 1958
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Saturday 28 June 1958
see Liverpool Echo - Wednesday 02 July 1958
see Aberdeen Evening Express - Friday 27 June 1958