Unsolved Murders

Dorothy Mills

Age: 32

Sex: female

Date: 21 Jan 1961

Place: Wesley Tennis Club, Bratt Street, West Bromwich, Staffordshire

Dorothy Mills was murdered at the Wesley Tennis Club, West Bromwich, Staffordshire on 21 January 1961.

She was found in the grounds of the tennis club off Bratt Street, with her head battered in. The police described the murder weapon, which was not found, as 'a brutish instrument, possibly a hammer or some form of tool'.

Her body was found on the Sunday morning 22 January 1961. It had been partially covered by part of the tennis club gate which was previously broken. The club was about a quarter of a mile from her home.

It was reported that the watch that Dorothy Mills had been wearing had been stopped by one of the blows, indicating the exact time of her murder, but the police didn't reveal the time.

It was later determined that she had been associating with the chairman of the tennis club where she was a member even though he was married and that she had told people that she had wanted to marry him and would not marry anyone else and that they had been away on a secret holiday together. However, the chairman denied that they had been intimate or that he was aware that Dorothy Mills had been pregnant or that he was the father or that he had killed her.

When the coroner summed up he said that suspicion against the chairman was not evidence and a verdict of murder by some person unknown was returned. However, following the inquest the chairman resigned his position and membership at the club.

Dorothy Mills was described as a club singles champion having one numerous competitions.

Dorothy Mills had left home on the Saturday 21 January 1961 at 6pm apparently to go to the cinema with two friends that were also members of the tennis club, but it was not known whether she had gone to the cinema. The police later found that she had made no arrangements to go to the cinema with any of her friends. Dorothy Mills's parents had said that Dorothy Mills had been in the habit of leaving home at about the same time each Saturday evening for some months and that they had assumed each time that it was to go to a cinema.

The police said, 'We appeal to anyone who saw her at any time on Saturday night, or to anyone who believes he might have information, to come forward to help us'.

Dorothy Mills was described as:

  • 5ft 2in tall.
  • Slim build.
  • Dark, short wavy hair.
  • Blue eyes.
  • Wearing a heather tweed skirt, snuff coloured loose-fitting mushroom coat with a lambswool collar turned down and black low-heeled shoes. Hatless.
  • Carrying a black leather handbag.
  • Noted for having walked with quick, short steps.

On Wednesday 25 January 1961 it was reported that a 12-year-old schoolgirl had seen a man wiping stains from his hands with a newspaper in the light of a street lamp only a few yards from the tennis club. She said, 'Just after it got dark I saw him standing under a lamp post. He was wiping his hands on a newspaper. Then he put the paper in a little basket on the lamp post, got into a car and drove away'.

It was hoped that the girl would be able to identify the man at identity parades. The girl's mother later said, 'My daughter has done all she can to help the detectives. But we are frightened in case the killer should try to do anything to our child'.

Her post mortem established that she had died sometime between 6pm and 9.45pm. It was noted that there was nothing to suggest that Dorothy Mills had been dragged any distance or that she had been sexually assaulted. The post mortem stated that she had been struck at least eight blows to the head.

Her body was formally identified by her brother who had lived in Sheffield.

She had been about three months pregnant at the time and evidence indicated that an attempt had been made to interfere with the pregnancy. A doctor said, 'She was particularly worried in case her parents got to know'. At the inquest her 73-year-old foster-mother said that she had no idea who the father of her child might have been.

When the foster-mother was asked whether she had any idea who could have murdered Dorothy Mills she said, 'I hadn't the faintest idea'.

During the investigation the police appealed for anyone that might have been approached in any way regarding assistance with the termination of her pregnancy. A detective at the inquest on Friday 14 July 1961 said, 'It is now known that Dorothy Mills, or some other person on her behalf, sought and obtained the assistance of somebody in connection with her pregnancy. It is urgently requested that any person who was so approached, or has knowledge of such approach should contact me'.

The police also said that they could not rule out robbery as a motive, noting that her black leather handbag, which was found before her body was discovered at 9.45pm on the Saturday night, contained no money. The handbag, which she had left home with was found on the pavement in Sandwell Road, only a few hundred yards from her home and the scene of the crime.

The police carried out a search for clues in the tennis club grounds, the gardens of nearby houses, among the graves in the burial ground at Christ Church and around the Labour Club in Sandwell Road.

Television appeals were also made for information about her murder.

On Tuesday 31 January 1961 it was reported that the police had carried out checks on hotels, boarding houses and lodging houses in order to find out whether any regular visitors or residents had been missing since Dorothy Mills's body was found on 22 January 1961.

The police also searched the canal near Galton Bridge, Roebuck Lane in Smethwick with an electromagnet in a bid to find the murder weapon. The magnet was operated from a 10ft long flat-bottomed pontoon from Dartmouth Park in West Bromwich. A police inspector said that it had been lent to other police forces with successful results. He said, 'It is the only piece of apparatus I know of which can successfully be employed in an operation of this kind'. He said that it could penetrate mud and, being light in weight, could be manhandled with more efficiency than a permanent magnet of the same strength.

He said that whilst in use the previous day that the electro-magnet had brought to the surface of the canal in Roebuck Lane in Smethwick, near the Summit Bridge, a collection of chains, bicycle parts and an odd assortment of pieces of metal. He noted that it had once touched an object too heavy to lift and that the current had to be switched off in order to release the magnet.

He added that it was also proposed to use the magnet in the canal under Galton Bridge in Roebuck Lane, near the two canal bridges in Spon Lane and also at Black Lake, West Bromwich.

The inspector said that sewer drains in Bratt Street had been cleaned under police supervision and several heavy objects taken away for examination. A detective said that about twenty objects, including some curious ones, had been picked up in various places in the town and had already been examined. He said 'It is not impossible for the murder weapon to have found its way into a dustbin. Someone may have picked up a strange object in the street, taken it home, and finding it of no use, thrown it away. If such a thing has happened we should like to know about it'.

He went on to say that the object they were looking for was at least as heavy as a hammer.

The grounds of the tennis club were also searched by sappers using mine detectors but with negative results.

The police also made appeals to laundries and cleaning businesses in the town and surrounding district to report any clothing with suspicious stains coming into their possession.

The police later said that they had questioned about 500 people in the area between Dorothy Mills's home in Bernard Street and the scene of the crime in Bratt Street, stating that 'some reasonable information had come in'. They later reported that they had interviewed a total of about 4,000 people during the investigation and following the inquest they said that they had interviewed 8,500 people in the 13 week long investigation and taken almost 1,000 statements..

However, they said that there was still an absence of positive information about Dorothy Mills's movements after she left her home at 6pm on Saturday 21 January 1961 resulting in a blank of 3¾ hours between then and her death. The police said, 'It is inconceivable to us that this girl could have disappeared into thin air as soon as she left home. Someone, somewhere, must have seen her. We are still hoping that people will make it their duty to come forward and help us. We do not mind how much information we receive which may subsequently prove immaterial'.

The police said that they were trying to determine whether Dorothy Mills had walked from her home to the tennis club or whether she had been taken there by car. The police said, 'We should be pleased to have information from anyone who saw a woman, who may have been Miss Mills, meeting someone in a car or getting into a car within a radius of about half a mile of Bernard Street between 6pm and 9.45pm that evening'.

The police said that they had met two major difficulties during the investigation, first the absence of any sign of the murder weapon, and secondly a serious lack of volunteered information from the public.

On Tuesday 28 February 1961 it was reported that the police were trying to trace a woman and two youths who they thought could help with the enquiry.

The police said that the two youths, aged about 17 or 18, and apparently wearing working clothes, had been seen walking along Sandwell Road almost at the junction with Bratt Street at about 6.15pm on Saturday 21 January 1961. The police said, 'These youths may have seen something of Miss Mills, but unfortunately they have not come forward to help us'.

The police said that the young woman that they were trying to trace had been seen standing at the corner of Bratt Street and Sandwell Road at about 7.30pm on the evening of 21 January. She was said to have been wearing a long coat, to have been about 5ft 5in tall and appeared to have been waiting for someone, possibly to go into the Labour Club. The police said, 'It may be that this girl could also help in our enquiries'.

Dorothy Mills had worked as a council filing clerk at the Borough Surveyor's Department of West Bromwich Corporation in West Bromwich for the previous 18 years. Following her murder her desk and the small office that she had worked in were searched by the police and it was understood that some documents were taken away.

Dorothy Mills had been an adopted daughter of a couple with whom she had lived in Bernard Street, West Bromwich. She was single.

The police found two diaries, one at her office and the other at her home and it was reported that they had contained certain secret symbols that the police hoped would trap her killer. A detective said, 'There are no mysterious names or initials in the diaries, but there are certain symbols which we are investigating'.

She had been a member of the Wesley Tennis Club for the previous 12 years which was also known as the Chapel Tennis Club. The chairman of the tennis club said that the club pavilion and grounds, which included three hard courts, had been closed in October 1960 for the winter but noted that a committee meeting had been held in the pavilion on the Tuesday evening, 17 January 1961 which Dorothy Mills had attended as a member of the committee. He added that he could give no explanation as to why Dorothy Mills would have been near the club on the Saturday night.

It was noted that Dorothy Mills had had keys to the lock on the tennis club pavilion but it was understood that the pavilion had been locked when her body was found.

A relative of Dorothy Mills said, 'She was not one to go out every night of the week like so many modern girls. She spent a lot of time at home with her foster parents to whom she was greatly attached. In fact she made many sacrifices for them.

At her inquest, a woman friend at her place of work, the private secretary to the West Bromwich borough treasurer, said that Dorothy Mills had once told her that there was only one man that she would like to marry but that he was already married. The woman said that she had assumed that she had been talking about the 48-year-old chairman of the Wesley Tennis Club. The chairman had otherwise been a jobbing builder of High Street in Smethwick. He had joined the club in 1924 and had become the chairman in 1951.

The chairman said that he had known Dorothy Mills since she had joined the tennis club in 1948 and that the last time he saw her was when he drove her to work on the Friday morning, 20 January 1961, the day before her murder. He denied murdering her.

He noted that their friendship had been quite open, saying, 'I have known Dorothy for about 12 years, both at the club and at chapel. My wife knew all about our friendship and we frequently went out together'.

It was noted that the chairman's blue Austin car had been examined by Scotland Yard detectives.

He said that at the last committee meeting on Tuesday 17 January 1961, which Dorothy Mills had attended, that it was agreed that certain repairs to the club should be done, starting on 21 January 1961 and that as usual it was decided that the work should be carried out by club members.

He said that he went to the club on the Saturday, arriving at about 2.30pm, going in his car which he parked outside. He said that during the day that he visited some people that lived in Bratt Street and worked with other club members on roof repairs.

At the inquest he was closely questioned by the Coroner about the entrance gate to the club which needed repair and was asked whether he had intended to do anything about it on the Saturday to which the chairman said, 'Not particularly. It was a job which I had had in mind for some time but it had just fallen by the wayside. As I was going down to collect a ladder I noticed the gate propped against the boundary wall. I picked it up and looked at the hinges'.

He then went on to say that he left the club at about 5.10pm or 5.15pm and went to see his friends in Bratt Street after which he returned to the tennis club to use the toilet and that whilst he did that he went to the tool shed, the door of which was wide open, and that he pulled the door to and then returned home at about 6.20pm and then went to the paper shop, washed, changed and shaved and went out for a bottle of scotch and then later went out again to visit a man that lived in Salisbury Road, arriving there at about 7.15pm or 7.20pm. He said that he remained there until 9.15pm or 9.20pm after which he visited a woman in Edward Street for 'purely business reasons'. He said that he then returned home 'just a fraction or two after 10pm'.

After he gave his evidence the Coroner asked him, 'Between 6 o'clock, or shortly after, when you left the tennis club and until you arrived home, did you travel along Sandwell Road, Bratt Street, New Street or Walsall Street?' to which the chairman replied, 'No sir, not since I went from the tennis club, when I travelled up Bratt Street'.

When the Coroner turned his attention again to the question of the broken gate, he had the gate physically brought into the courtroom. When the chairman saw the door, he first of all said, 'Yes, sir, that is the gate at the tennis club' but after further examination said, 'I am not altogether sure on second examination whether that is the gate. It is very similar to it, but it is one which has been mocked up to look like it', but then after further study said, 'I think in all probability it is the door'.

A friend of Dorothy Mills, who had lived in Stanley Road, West Bromwich, said that Dorothy Mills had associated with the chairman of the Wesley Tennis Club for about three years. She said that the chairman often drove Dorothy Mills to work in his car and also called to see her at the borough treasurer's office where she worked.

When the chairman spoke of his relationship with Dorothy Mills he said that he had become extremely friendly with her during latter years, or after a year or so of her joining the tennis club in 1949. He said that she would do typing for him and that he took her out on quite a few occasions and they would go for a ride in his car and perhaps call at a local hotel and have a drink. He noted that he had taken her out for a meal two or three times to the Bull in Shenstone.

When the Coroner asked him whether there was any particular evening of the week that he took her out he said, 'During the summer, possibly Saturday, but not every Saturday, of course'.

When the Coroner asked whether he had any affection for Dorothy Mills and he said, 'Not emotional affection, certainly not' to which the Coroner replied, 'I do not know quite what you mean 'emotional affection. Is that opposed to physical affection?'. The chairman then said, 'Oh, no. Dorothy and I were extremely good friends. I don't quite know how to put it. On the question of anything amorous, shall we put it that we... well, it never arose'.

The inquest next heard about a secret holiday that they had had. The chairman said that they had gone on a secret seaside holiday together in July 1960 to Middleton near Bognar in Sussex where they had stayed in a hotel.

It was further heard that the chairman of the Wesley Tennis Club, although admitting that they had shared a bed together, had said that during their holiday he had 'never even kissed her'. He said, 'Dorothy and I were extremely good friends, but the question of anything amorous never arose as far as we were concerned'. He denied several times at the inquest that he had ever made love to Dorothy Mills. However, he admitted to having kissed her once on her birthday.

When the Coroner asked him, 'In the last stages of her life you must have been closer to her than anyone. You have heard that she was pregnant. Do you say she never even mentioned this to you?', the chairman replied, 'I was not aware of it at all. It came as quite a shock. I did not know she had consulted a doctor and I do not know who could have been responsible. Certainly it was not me'.

He went on to say, I used to look on it as though we were two people who had no physical impact on one another and preferred to get along without any complications like that'. When the Coroner asked, You were quite satisfied to take her out, even go on holiday with her, sleep with her without any intercourse?', the Chairman replied, 'I was'. He added that he had told his wife that he had gone on a revisionary building course. When the Coroner asked the chairman whether his wife had believed him, the chairman replied, 'Quite. But she now knows what actually happened'.

The chairman also said that they had bought a wedding ring for the holiday.

However, he said that on no other occasion had they spent the night together and added that neither of them had been very proud of that week.

When the chairman was asked whether he believed Dorothy Mills could have been associating with a second man without his knowledge, the chairman replied, 'Well, she must have been. But I had no knowledge of it'. When he was asked by the Coroner whether he had been absolutely honest, the Chairman replied, 'Absolutely, sir'.

A 22-year-old friend of Dorothy Mills, a short hand typist who had lived in Clarkes Lane, West Bromwich said that towards the end of 1960 that she had been perhaps Dorothy Mills's closest friend. When she was asked at the inquest whether Dorothy Mills had spoken of any other friendships, she said, 'Only about the chairman', who she said had told her she was very fond of.  When the Coroner asked her whether she had ever talked about marriage she said, 'She said that was why she never married, because she could not marry the chairman. She wanted to marry him, but when she could not, she would not marry anyone'.

When the Coroner asked her whether during the whole time that she had been friendly with Dorothy Mills whether she had been aware of her associating with any other man, she replied, 'No'.

Dorothy Mills friend noted that their relationship had been quite open and that everyone knew about it. She said, 'It was well known and talked about in the town'.

When the Coroner addressed the jury, he said, 'We can easily have our suspicions. Suspicions can well accrue in this case. But there must be some other definite evidence before a person can be accused of the crime'. He also said, 'Of course, one can so easily have suspicions, but in a matter of this kind suspicion is not enough. There must be some more definite evidence before any person can be accused'.

Dorothy Mills's inquest, which concluded on Wednesday 19 April 1961, returned a verdict of 'murder by person or persons unknown'.

Following the inquest the chairman resigned his chairmanship and membership of the Wesley Tennis Club on 25 April 1961 which was said to have been accepted without question by the minister of the Wesleyan chapel on behalf of the club committee without question or comment.

In July 1961 the police reported that they had a new line of enquiry and were looking for a particular person who they believed could help them. However, nothing more is known.

The Wesley Tennis Club is now a car park.

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

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - DPP 2/3289, MEPO 2/11520, MEPO 2/11521, MEPO 2/11522, MEPO 2/11523, MEPO 2/11524, MEPO 2/11525, MEPO 2/11526

see Daily Mirror - Friday 14 July 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 24 January 1961

see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 19 April 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Wednesday 12 July 1961

see Daily Herald - Wednesday 19 April

see Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 20 April 1961

see Daily Herald - Thursday 26 January 1961

see Daily Mirror - Wednesday 25 January 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 31 January 1961

see Belfast Telegraph - Tuesday 25 April 1961

see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 28 February 1961