Date: 14 Jan 1938
Place: 25 Gordon Road, Southall
Frederick Priddle was stabbed at his lodgings in Gordon Road, Southall in the early hours of the morning of 2 January 1938.
The police were called at about 1.45am on 2 January 1938 by the landlord of 25 Gordon Road to say that he had found Frederick Priddle, his lodger, outside his house, saying that he was bleeding profusely from wounds to his stomach and head.
The police said that they arranged for an ambulance to be sent and went along themselves. When they arrived, they found Frederick Priddle fully clothed, lying in the hall of 25 Gordon Road, with his head resting against the bottom stairs.
His clothing was saturated in blood and he was suffering from a wound to his chest and another to the left side of his head. He was then taken to Southall Hospital.
When the doctors examined him, he was found to have a wound in his chest, slightly to the right of the breastbone and about level with the fifth and sixth ribs. The wound was about half an inch wide and shallow at one end and extending to a depth of about two inches into the chest at the other.
He also had a wound behind his left ear that was a clean-cut wound about three inches in length and about a quarter of an inch in depth, extending to the bone.
The doctor said that he formed the opinion that his wounds were consistent with them having been caused by a sharp narrow instrument, and that when he had arrived he had been suffering from shock and the after effects of excessive alcohol.
The CID took charge of the enquiry at about 2.30am after hearing about it and went to 25 Gordon Road. They said that the premises were in the poor neighbourhood and were occupied by a married couple with whom Frederick Priddle had been a lodger for the previous nine months.
The house was semi-detached and had a passageway between it and number 23 that gave access to the rear of the premises in Gordon Road and the front and rear of premises in Inverness Terrace, a parallel thoroughfare. When the police examined the outside of the property they only found three signs that anything untoward had taken place. First, that there was a small patch of blood immediately behind the front gate where Frederick Priddle was apparently found by his landlord. Second, a bunch of keys, which were the property of Frederick Priddle, that the landlord found in the presence of the police by the left-hand side of the pathway leading to the front door. The third sign was a small plant pot that was found on the ground in front of the ground floor rear window, which was the window of the dining room in which it was said that Frederick Priddle had met with his injuries. It was said that the landlord had averred that it was not in the position that it had been left, ie, on the window sill, however, the police said that when they examined it, they found a considerable amount of moisture and dirt underneath it which led them to believe that the article had not been standing in its usual position for some time.
The police noted that they found no evidence whatever of any forcible means having been adopted to gain access to the premises.
The police said that when they searched the interior of the house they found very little. They said that there was no sign whatever that a struggle had taken place, either inside or outside the house.
The landlord noted that he had left a sum of eight shillings and sixpence out on the dining room mantelshelf before retiring and that he later found that it was missing. He also said that a packet that had contained twelve boxes of matches that he had left intact, had been opened and that two of them were found to be missing. The packet of matchboxes had been left in the scullery range and when it was found opened it was on the dining room table.
They said that there were two or three very small bloodstains on the passage floor leading to the dining room, but none anywhere else.
The police found the dining room fire, which was a small one, still burning. The landlord said that he was quite definite that the fire had been made up since they had gone to bed.
The landlord also said that he had found that the electric light bulb in the dining room had been removed from its holder but said that he had replaced it after he had first attended to Frederick Priddle. The police said that they examined the light bulb, as well as other items around the house, for fingerprints but found none.
He also said that when he came down he found both the front and side doors to the house open. It was noted that the side door led into the passageway between the houses.
When the police went to see Frederick Priddle at the hospital they were unable to get any information from him due to his condition. However, they examined his clothes and found that his shirt was extensively bloodstained and bore a 27mm wide cut slightly upward and to the right of his corresponding chest wound and said that they found a clearly defined indentation on the band of his hat with a corresponding cut in the leather on the inside that corresponded with his head wound.
After statements were taken from the landlord and his wife it was found that the landlord was employed as a foreman for Ryder & Sons, Estate Agents, of 132 Ladbroke Grove in North Kensington and had first come to live at 25 Gordon Road with his wife on 13 March 1937 and that they had taken Frederick Priddle on a fortnight later as a lodger via an advertisement.
The landlord and his wife described Frederick Priddle as a very quiet and reserved young man and said that they had only known one occasion before when he had stayed out later than 10.30pm.
The landlady said that Frederick Priddle associated with a young lady who lived at The Crescent in Southall who she said was in the habit of bringing his washing home.
The landlady said that on 1 January 1938, Frederick Priddle came home at about 12.15pm, bathed, and changed his clothing and then went out. She said that she asked him if he was going to a football match but said that Frederick Priddle replied in the negative but gave no intimation as to what his plans were.
The landlady said that she went out at about 6pm on 1 January 1938 and went with a friend to Westbourne Park where they had both resided before moving to Gordon Road. She said that they got home at about 12.15am on 2 January 1938 and said that she left her friend at her door. She said that when she got home she made sure that the fire was nearly out in the dining room and then retired to her bedroom on the first floor, in the front of the house, where her husband was already in bed.
She said that after she had been in bed for about an hour she heard a noise at the front gate and asked her husband if Frederick Priddle was in but said that he told her that he wasn't. She said that she then heard someone open the front door and proceed into the dining room. She said that it was not unusual because it was Frederick Priddle's habit to go to the lavatory before retiring to his room, and that it was necessary for him to pass through the dining room and scullery to do so.
She said that about a quarter of an hour later she heard some groans coming from the front of the house. She said that her husband also heard the noises and said that he got out of bed to look and then told her that Frederick Priddle was lying in the gateway.
It was said that before going to Frederick Priddle's assistance, the landlord had gone into the dining room to get his shoes and to assist in his search he had tried the light switch but had found that it didn't work.
He said that he then went to the front door, which he found was open, and then to the front gate, where he found Frederick Priddle, fully dressed and wearing his hat, in a sitting position leaning against a gate. He said that he asked Frederick Priddle what the matter was but said that he got no response. He said that he then dragged Frederick Priddle to the front door where he noticed that he was bleeding from the chest, and then called his wife to his aid and then with her assistance moved him into the passage where they propped him up against the stairs.
The landlord said that he then went back into the dining room where he found the electric light globe on the table and placed it back in its socket. He said that it was then that he noticed that his eight shillings and six pence, the proceeds of a football sweep, which he had placed on the mantelshelf before retiring, was missing. He said then, that after further investigation, he found the scullery door that led into the garden was open. He initially said that he had locked the door, but when he was told that the lock was defective, said that he was not certain owing to the fact that he also found that the side door leading to the alley was also open. It was noted that that side door was not locked but was kept in place by a latch.
It was noted but both the landlord and the landlady said that the packet of matches which was found on the dining room table was not there when they had gone to bed.
They also both said that they were confident that the fire in the dining room had been made up after they had retired for the night, noting that the reason they had taken notice of that point was that they were most particular with regards to the fire as there had been a serious conflagration at their address some years previously.
The landlord noted that there had never been any bad feeling between them and Frederick Priddle, saying that both he and his wife had both taken to him as soon as he came to lodge with them.
When Frederick Priddle was interviewed at his bedside in hospital he said that he was a single man and a native of Cardiff. He said that he had come to work at Clarkes, Engineers, in Pluckington Place, Southall, in April 1937 and had taken up residence at 25 Gordon Road, paying the landlord the sum of ten and sixpence a week for his room. He said that he didn't partake of meals in the house as he was in the habit of purchasing them at a coffee stall on Southall Railway Bridge.
He said that on 1 January 1938, he left work at 12 noon and that after having taken a bath and changing his clothes, he had gone out to the coffee stall and purchased some food. He said that whilst there he met his young lady and that after accompanying her to Freeman's Sausage factory in Norwood Green, he returned with her to her address at the Crescent, Southall.
He said that they then went to a party that they had been invited to at about 6.45pm at 29 Portland Road in Southall.
He said that the party was orderly and that during the evening he partook of sandwiches and three glasses of wine or beer. He said that he didn't know which as it was the first occasion that he had taken intoxicating liquor.
He said that the party broke up at about 12.30am on 2 January 1938, and that he had his young lady walked to her address where he left her at about 12.45am. He said that he then proceeded to the coffee stall on Southall Railway Bridge and partook in refreshments in the shape of a sausage sandwich and a cup of tea after which he walked to his lodgings.
He said that after he arrived at 25 Gordon Road he took his keys from his jacket pocket and unlocked the front door and then put the keys back in his pocket and walked in, closing the door behind him. He said that he then proceeded to the dining room without switching on the light in the passage and opened the door. He said that he had no intention of switching on the light as he was going to the lavatory. However, he said that after taking about three steps into the room he saw by the light of the fire a figure rush towards him. He said that he then received a blow in the stomach that winded him and caused him to half double up. He said that when he then shouted for help, he received a further blow on the side of his head, which he said didn't displace his hat.
He said that he then made his way out of the dining room and that as he did so, the figure which was at that time bending down by the fireplace, straightened up and ran into the scullery.
He said that he remembered opening the front door and getting as far as the front gate with a view to getting some air, but no more until he found himself in the hospital.
He said that he believed that his assailant had been wearing a light coat and a cap and had been about 5 feet 8 inches tall.
He concluded his statement saying that he had no enemies and had no idea who had struck him.
Because of the gravity of his condition, the police suggested that he make a statement under oath, which was done. It was noted that there was no discrepancy between the two statements other than the fact that he added that his assailant had been rather thin and that no words had passed during the encounter.
When the police spoke to Frederick Priddle's lady friend she confirmed what he said about meeting up and going to the party and said that he had left her at 12.45am and that at that time he was not drunk. She said that Frederick Priddle spent all his spare time with her and had no men friends as far as she knew and said that he had no enemies. She said that she lived with her brother as housekeeper and said that her brother was quite friendly toward Frederick Priddle as far as she knew. She noted that they had been engaged to be married for over three years and added that Frederick Priddle had remarked from time to time how good his landlord and landlady had been to him.
The coffee stall attendant at the Elite Cafe on Station Approach in Southall said that Frederick Priddle was a regular customer and remembered him calling at his coffee stall at about 12.50am on 2 January 1938. He said that he partook of refreshment and then left the cafe at about 1.20am. He said that he was quite sober at the time and said that he asked him about the buses and said that when he told him that the last bus had gone he saw him go off unaccompanied in the direction of his home.
The police said that as they had no murder weapon, they directed a thorough search of Gordon Road, which was a cul-de-sac, and the gardens in Gordon Road and Inverness Terrace, which was the only adjacent thoroughfare, but found nothing. They said that they also carried out a house to house enquiry in search of information, but again found nothing.
The police stated that as far as the landlord and landlady were concerned, they said that they had no information whatever to lead them to believe that they had any knowledge of the crime other than they had already stated. They said that both the landlord and landlady seemed perfectly happy in their home life and respectable and nothing could be gleaned to give cause to the believe that they might have wanted to attack Frederick Priddle, and also noted that Frederick Priddle himself had said that they had treated him very well.
The police noted that they made numerous trips to see him and said that he seemed quite rational up until shortly before his death on 14 January 1938.
The police said that during his visits, Frederick Priddle ridiculed the idea that his landlord could have been or had any reason to be his assailant.
The police said that in the absence of any reason to do otherwise, they should accept Frederick Priddle's story of what had happened when he got back to the house and added that if they were to give credence to the landlord’s story, then it was not difficult to find a reasonable and probable explanation for the attack on Frederick Priddle.
They stated that so far as Frederick Priddle was concerned, his story of his movements up to his arrival at the coffee stall were all found to be perfectly true and said that the time between his leaving the coffee stall and being attacked, fully accounted for the distance from the coffee stall to his address. The police also stated that the findings at the house were also all consistent with his story that immediately after he was attacked, that he had made his way out for air, noting that the front door was found open and that Frederick Priddle was found lying against the front gate.
The report also noted that seeing that Frederick Priddle made no attempt to defend himself or grapple with his assailant, that it was quite easy to understand that on investigation, the room and the contents were found to be quite orderly. Further, the finding of the scullery door and side door being open also led colour to his story that the assailant had made his escape by way of the scullery door.
It was noted that the marks on Frederick Priddle's hat were consistent with him having been struck twice, and it was said that there was little doubt that the mark on the outside of the hat was caused by the downward movement of the weapon, but that the 7/8 inch long cut in the leather on the inside and the wound to his head had been caused by the following upward movement from the knife, and that as such, his hat had protected him from injury on the downward movement and that it was the upward movement that had penetrated.
The police report noted that it might appear strange that his hat had remained on his head, but it was found that his hat had fitted him very tightly, which was commented on by the landlord and later verified by the police themselves.
The police said that when coupling the story of the landlady and Frederick Priddle, a quite reasonable story could be made out, that being that the intruder had gone into the dining room and taken the money that had been on the mantelpiece and that when Frederick Priddle had disturbed him, the intruder had, perhaps in terror of being caught, stabbed him. However, the police noted that the only difficulty with that theory was that there was no sign of forced entry to the premises. However, the police noted that whilst the scullery door was quite tight, it was quite easy for the tongue of the lock to strike the box and fall back, instead of securing the door, which the policeman that examined the premises said was exactly what happened to him when he attempted to lock the door.
The report then went on to state that assuming that entry had been gained by the scullery door which might not have locked, there were other unusual features present. In the first place, the packet of matches that was found on the dining room table that the landlord had said he had left intact in the scullery range. However, it was observed that the intruder might have found them and opened them and taken two boxes and left them on the dining room table where they were found. The report noted that the electric light bulb being found by the landlord on the dining room table might have been removed by the intruder to prevent anyone who entered the room from switching on the light and thus destroying any chance of his being recognised or his description obtained, should he be surprised.
The police report noted that that left just one other curious point to dispose of, and that was the fire, which, if the story of the landlords was to be believed, must have been made up by the intruder. The report noted that both of the landlords had been adamant that the the fire had been made up after they had gone to bed, and that they had both given a perfectly good reason for their contention, that being that they had been victims of a serious fire some four years previously and had since been most careful to see that the fire was low before going to bed.
As such, the police report stated that it then appeared that not only did the intruder enter the house to steal but was also in need of shelter and warmth.
The police report stated then, that acting on that assumption, enquiries were made at lodging houses and casual wards etc. They also caused an intensive search, at night, for a radius of five miles, by Aids to CID of all parks, empty houses and open spaces, with instructions to bring any person found to the station for interrogation but said that that availed nothing.
The police said that they then looked into crimes that had been committed in a similar manner and found that between 9pm 25 December 1937 ad 10am 26 December 1937 at 65 Hanger Lane in Ealing, a thief had entered the building by way of an open lavatory window and had besides consuming a quantity of food, had remained on the premises for some time.
It was then found that fingerprints had been taken from the crime scene at Hanger Lane and when they were obtained they were found to be those of a known criminal from Scotland. They then began a search of lodging houses, paying particular attention to those in the Westminster and Aldgate areas, observing that they had a man in custody for a burglary charge whose accomplice had escaped, and from information gained from the man in custody matched the description of the Scotsman, but was also actually a Scotsman and who was said to frequent the Aldgate and Westminster districts.
The Scotsman was later arrested on 6 January 1938 by two policemen that had the Scotsman's description and a photograph.
When he was arrested, he strenuously denied his identity and suggested that his fingerprints be taken to prove that he was not the wanted man. However, his fingerprints were taken, and it was proven that he was the Scotsman that they were looking for and he was searched and taken to Acton police station and charged with larceny from the Hanger Lane property on 25/26 December 1937.
When they searched him, they found that he had a bloodstained handkerchief and a clasp knife, commonly known as a Jack knife, the blade of which had a small piece broken off.
He was then interrogated and after a great deal of hesitation, gave an account of his movements and made a statement in which he admitted a number of offences.
He said that on the night of 1 January 1938 he had been in the vicinity of Marble Arch at about 7pm and had then proceeded to Hammersmith where, after having had a look around, he had attempted to enter a house between the hours of 9pm and 10pm and described his method of attempted entry in detail. He said that he then wandered about and eventually at about 2pm, 2 January 1938, broke into a vicarage in Shepard’s Bush and stole some clothing which he was wearing when he was arrested, leaving his other garments behind.
The Scotsman went on to make a further statement in which he accounted for the bloodstains on the handkerchief, stating that he had had a nosebleed, which he said he was subject to. He added that the handkerchief had come from the overcoat that he had stolen from the vicarage. He offered no explanation as to how his knife was broken. His clothes and possessions were then retained for examination at the police laboratory.
When the police looked into the Scotsman’s statement, regarding his movements they found that his story of having attempted to break into a house was perfectly true, as was his story of having broken into the vicarage at Shepherds Bush.
The vicarage was St Luke’s Vicarage at 450 Uxbridge Road and had been entered by way of breaking a dining room window with a stone and going in between 11.30pm on 1 January 1938 and 4.40am on 2 January 1938. It was determined that the property stolen had consisted of an overcoat, scarf and a pair of shoes. He had then left an overcoat, green scarf and a pair of brown shoes behind. It was found that the shoes that he had left behind were heavily coated with mud and they were sent, along with the other items that he had left behind, for examination at the police laboratory in Hendon.
However, the police report stated that their hopes that the Scotsman was the person that they had been looking for were rudely shattered, as they found that not only had the handkerchief that he was found with, that was bloodstained, prove to belong to the reverend at the St Luke’s Vicarage, but it was shewn that he had been on the premises at 4am, 2 January 1938.
It was noted that seeing that Frederick Priddle had been attacked at about 1.30am, and it was obvious that the bloodstained handkerchief was in his possession, then it could not have been used as they had assumed, to wipe the blood from the murder weapon used to stab Frederick Priddle.
However, the police stated, that assuming that the Scotsman was the murderer, then he would have had to have attempted to have broken into the house at 464 Uxbridge Road between 9pm and 10pm, gone on to Gordon Road in Southall, broken and killed Frederick Priddle, leaving at 1.30am, and travelled back to the vicarage at 450 Uxbridge Road and broken in between 2pm and 4pm and then stolen the handkerchief and then wiped the knife, which considering there was no public transportation in the way of omnibuses etc, was thought to bevery unlikely.
It was further found that a doctor that had examined his knife said that there was no way that it could have been the one used to inflict the wounds found on Frederick Priddle. It was also noted that the tip of the blade on the Scotsman's knife, which was broken, have been broken for a considerable time and that there were no blood stains on it.
It was also found that the blood type of the blood on the handkerchief was Group A, which was the group of both the Scotsman and Frederick Priddle, which was also noted as being that of 72% of people.
It was also found that the soil found on the Scotsman’s shoes and that from the alleyway at 25 Gordon Road bore no relation whatever.
As such, the police concluded that it appeared that the Scotsman was not the man that had murdered Frederick Priddle.
The police report noted that there were some other lines of enquiry that were worth mentioning although they led nowhere.
First was a newsagent that called the police to say that a person had called at her shop on 8 March 1938 to ask for two copies of a local newspaper to be delivered to a person, c/o Post Office, 145 Gascoigne Road, Barking. The police said that with a view to ascertaining why two copies of the newspaper were required, they arranged to keep observation on the post office and when they presented their authority to the postmaster there to request assistance in the matter, they found that the postmaster himself was the person that had required the newspapers, saying that he had attended the funeral of a relative at Southall on 8 January 1938 and wanted the newspapers to read the account.
Another instance was on 17 January 1938 when the detectives were contacted by the police at Clacton-on-Sea who told them that they had a man in custody on housebreaking charges who told them that he had made the acquaintance of a man in Winchester in November 1937 who committed offences in the district whom he said carried a stiletto knife and who would take out the electric light bulbs whilst committing burglaries as had been done at Gordon Road. The police said that the man followed up with a letter saying that he could give further information respecting the case and so they went to interview him at Pentonville Prison and took a statement from him. However, the police report stated that the man was obviously weak minded and wished them to believe that he was the culprit. However, the police report stated that the statement that he made did not in the smallest degree tally with what they knew did happen, and that it was obvious that he was following his usual practice of putting the police to as much trouble as possible on his arrest being effected.
Another line of enquiry arose after information was received following a complaint at 39 Davisville Road in Shepherds Bush. It was found that a lodge had absconded on 7 January 1938 and that he had been in the habit of staying out on Saturday nights. It was heard that when his possessions were searched, amongst his clothes, a knife was found that was thought to be blood stained.
The man was known to use several names, and enquiries were set on foot to trace him and his clothes and the knife were sent away for examination. The man was later found on 21 January 1938 at the Acton Labour Exchange and brought to Acton police station for interrogation. In his statement he said that he had been staying with a married woman at Berrymede Road in Acton on the night of the murder and his statement was corroborated by the woman. It was also found that the stain on the knife was not a blood stain, although a minute smear of blood was found on the outside of his trousers and inside pocket, but the police laboratory stated that the stains were produced a considerable time before 1 January 1938.
It was also noted that there was no reason to believe that his disappearance from his lodgings on 7 January 1938 was prompted by anything other than the fact that he was out of work and he was in debt to his landlady to the extent of £4-5-0d.
The police report noted that whilst the people mentioned were the only ones they had reason to suspect, a large number of inhabitants of the district who might have been able to give them information respecting the crime were seen, but all to no purpose.
The police report noted that following Frederick Priddle's death they renewed their enquiries with the inhabitants of Gordon Road and extended their investigations to a two-mile radius, but to no purpose. They noted that every endeavour was made to rouse the inhabitants from their apathy and get them to take some interest in the case, but the result was most disappointing.
The police report noted that as an indication of the lack of interest in the case by the public, despite calling at 27 Gordon Road twice and getting no reply, they later found out through gossip that the woman who had lived there had heard something. When they called on her again on 19 January 1938, the woman there said that she had heard someone groaning at 1.30am on 2 January 1938 and that when she got out of bed she saw the landlord come out of his house and say, 'Get up! Get up!' to someone that was lying on the ground. She said that she thought that it was someone celebrating new years and went back to bed and only found out the next morning that Frederick Priddle had been attacked.
When the doctor carried out his post-mortem, he said that the cause of death was:
At his inquest the Coroner said:
'Gentlemen, I think we can clearly rule out suicide. If it had been suicide we should have found the knife or instrument. Then there was the money missing, the fire made up and the flower pot altered, and the matches used. If you decide that it was not suicide you will probably find a verdict of wilful murder. In that case it would be murder against some person unknown. I only hope that if anyone hears anything they will inform the CID. We know that they are very able, but in this case they have so very, very little to work on'.
The jury returned a verdict of 'Wilful murder against some person or persons unknown' without retiring.
The police report concluded by noting that it was their belief that the murderer had been a petty thief that had been in need of warmth and shelter and by the ferocity of his attack was in all probability youthful and inexperienced in crime, which they said with faith could as a result at some future time bring the case to a satisfactory conclusion.
see National Archives - MEPO 3/1728
see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 08 February 1938