Unsolved Murders

Frances Alice Knight

Age: 65

Sex: female

Date: 5 May 1960

Place: 35 West Kinmel Street, Rhyl, North Wales

Frances Alice Knight was found mummified in a cupboard at a house.

She was found to have had a ligature around her neck and the woman whose house it was, a 63-year-old woman, was tried at Denbighshire Assizes in Rutlin on Thursday 13 October 1960 on the charge of having murdered her by strangling her with a stocking, but acquitted. At the trial a Home Office pathologist said that he was in no doubt that there was a ligature round Frances Knight's neck but that he was not in a position to say whether it had been placed there before or after death or even determine the cause of death.

It was thought that Frances Knight had died 20 years earlier in 1940 shortly after securing a maintenance order of £2 a week from her husband which was claimed for the next 20 years by the 63-year-old woman. The prosecution said that Frances Knight had been strangled after giving written permission for the 63-year-old woman to draw her weekly maintenance order from the local court. It was heard that up until the time that the body was found that that the 63-year-old woman had drawn a total of £2,009.

Frances Knight's body was discovered by the 63-year-old woman's son in a locked cupboard when she went into hospital in 1960 and he decided to do some decorating.

When the body was found it was mummified and later determined to be that of Frances Knight who had been a previous lodger.

In her statement to the police the 63-year-old woman said that she had found Frances Knight dead in her room. Her statement read, 'I was on my own in the house and I was scared stiff, so I pulled her along the landing and put her in the empty cupboard. I put flypaper in the cupboard and then locked it'. She also said, 'I didn't tell anyone she had died and to keep things quiet I kept going to the magistrate clerk's office to collect the money each week. I realise now that I have been very foolish in not reporting that Mrs Knight had died but I kept trying to keep things covered up. I have gone through hell ever since'.

She also said, 'She was a semi-invalid and told me that she had a court order against her husband for £2 a week. She said that she could not go to the court office because she could not walk properly, and asked me to collect the money for her. Mrs Knight was having treatment from the doctor and in a few weeks she became very frail and weak. She was having great pains in her knees. About four or five weeks after she came to me I was getting ready to go to bed in the back bedroom when I heard Mrs Knight screaming in her bedroom. I went into the room and saw her lying on the floor in a nightdress and coat. I asked her what had happened and she said, 'I am in an awful lot of pain and would rather be dead'. I tried to pick her up and put her in bed but could not. I got dressed and went downstairs to make some tea leaving her lying on the floor. I took a cup of tea up to her and then realised that she had died. I was on my own in the house, and I was scared stiff so I pulled her along the landing and put her in the empty cupboard. I put flypaper in the cupboard and locked it'.

The case was first heard before magistrates in July 1960 in the ballroom at Rhyl Town Hall. It was said that three hours before the hearing of evidence was due to start that queues had formed outside the hall for admittance. It was said that the queue had included women in summery dresses and men in open-necked shirts. The case had been held in the ballroom because of the number of witnesses to be called and exhibits to be shown. It was reported that special tables for lawyers, magistrates and witnesses were spread across the ballroom floor and that a temporary 'public gallery' was arranged at one end of the hall.

The 63-year-old woman was sat at the end of a horseshoe shaped group of tables with a table behind her on which there were two X-ray viewers to show X-ray plates.

When the 63-year-old woman arrived at the hearing she had lain across the backseat of a police car with her head covered with a blue and white scarf.

The prosecution alleged that the 63-year-old woman had strangled Frances Knight in 1940 and kept her body in the cupboard ever since.

Frances Knight had moved in to 35 West Kinmel Street in 1940, having taken up a 'bedsitter' in the property, paying 30/- a week.

The 63-year-old woman pleaded not guilty.

The defence said that suggestions of a 'ritual orgy and ghoulish practices' associated with the mummy were completely untrue. The defence referred to the 'irresponsible speculation' over the previous six weeks that claimed that 'there was some dreadful ritual in which all the internal organs were cut out', saying that they were absolutely untrue.

The cupboard, which was a landing cupboard, had been 6ft 11in high, 3ft 9in wide and 1ft 3in deep. The body  was found on its back with its knees bent and neck turned and pressed into the right shoulder.

Her body was found to have been mummified. A Home Office pathologist that examined the body compared the mummification to that of the ancient Egyptian mummies which he said were caused by burying the body in hot sand, but noted that the effect could also be brought about by being subjected to smoking.

He went on to say that without those aids that it might occur if the atmosphere was particularly dry and the body was subjected to a current of air over a long period.

In the case of Frances Knight he said that he thought that the process had been natural and said that he found no evidence of artificial mummification.

The 63-year-old woman, who had lived at the address, 35 West Kinmel Street, was accused of having murdered Frances Knight as well as obtaining £2 on 2 May 1960 from the Clerk of the Justices at Rhyl by pretending that Frances Knight was alive along with a similar charge of false pretences on 22 April 1960.

The 63-year-old woman's son, who was 29-years-old, said that the cupboard had been locked since he was a child. He said that whenever he asked his mother about it that she told him that she was keeping the belongings of a former lodger in it. However, he said that when she went into hospital he decided to remove the cupboard in an effort to modernise the house. He said, 'I found the doors locked. I did not want to break the cupboard completely so I sprung the lock. I got the right hand door open. At first I saw something folded up. I could not tell what it was. It was covered in dust. I got a torch. I moved some material and shone my torch into the cupboard. I saw a human body'.

The court heard that the 63-year-old woman had lived in West Kinmel Street, Rhyl, for many years and that her son had lived with her there from infancy up until two years after his marriage in 1953. However, latterly the 63-year-old woman had not been living at the house as she was employed at a hotel and visited it not infrequently. Then, in the latter part of 1959 her son and his wife intended to return to the house and live with his mother. The 63-year-old woman was admitted to hospital on 25 April 1960.

Whilst she was in hospital her son started redecorating the house and on 5 May 1960 he started to clear the landing and came to the cupboard which was built into the wall. The son said that he had never seen the cupboard open before, although noted that as a child he had asked his mother about it. He said that she had told him that it contained property that belonged to Mrs Knight, noting that he had some slight recollection as a boy of a woman of that name living at the house as a lodger. He added that more recently he had wanted to use the cupboard for storage but said that his mother would not allow it to be opened.

He said that after he discovered the body that he took his wife and child to in-laws and then brought his father-in-law back and that they then both opened the cupboard and confirmed there was a body inside.

Following the discovery of the body the 63-year-old woman was apprehended at a relatives where she was staying at Oaklands, Marine Road, Pensarn, Abergele.

When the police first told the 63-year-old woman that they had found a mummified body in the cupboard at 35 West Kinmel Street she replied, ''Oh, good gracious'. A detective said, 'We asked her if she could help us in the matter and she said, 'No, I can't help you, I don't know anything about it''.

When she was asked about the key to the cupboard the 63-year-old woman told the police that she didn't have the key and then said that a couple had come to stay during the war and that they had had the cupboard to keep their things in and had had the key and had kept it locked. She said that after the war that they had left but had told her that they would come back for their belongings but that they never did. A police detective said that the 63-year-old woman then said, 'I never saw them after. They sent me cards for the first two Christmases after they left. They came from the South Coast. I took them in at the door'.

When the 63-year-old woman was asked about Frances Knight she told them that she remembered Frances Knight living with her, saying, 'Yes, she had the front room as a bed-sitter. She was brought to my house by a couple from Grange Road'. When the 63-year-old woman was asked how long Frances Knight had lived with her, the 63-year-old woman said, 'Until about the end of the war', adding that Frances Knight had then gone to live in Penymaes, Llandudno, noting that she was a semi-invalid and had something wrong with her knees.

The police said that when they had asked the 63-year-old woman what Frances Knight had been living on that she told them that Frances Knight had been separated from her husband and had got £2 a week from the Receiving Office at Rhyl.

At the trial it was noted that at that time the police had no knowledge of the maintenance order, and when the judge questioned that, they admitted that it was the first they had heard of it and that the 63-year-old woman had told them about it of her own free will.

The police went on to say that the 63-year-old woman then said, 'I have been collecting it ever since. The last time was a week before I came to the hospital'. When they were asked about how she was forwarding the money to Frances Knight, the police said that the 63-year-old woman said, 'I sent it regularly every week care of the woman at Penymaes. The name of the street has gone out of my mind for the moment. I will remember it later on'.

However, the police noted that the 63-year-old woman had been very hesitant to answer their questions and that it had taken her some time to answer each one. A Sergeant said that they had started the interview with the 63-year-old woman at about 4.45pm and that it wasn't until about 6pm that they got that information.

Later that night the 63-year-old woman was discharged from hospital and was taken to the police station where she made a statement in which she continued to deny knowledge of the mummified body and after she signed the statement she was charged with obtaining the sum of £2 by means of false pretences.

Her initial statement read, 'I have lived at 35 West Kinmel Street, Rhyl, since 1918. I remember Mrs Knight. She came to live at my house at the beginning of the war or when there were rumours of war but I am not sure which. I do remember I was a widow when she came but my husband was not long dead. I think there was only my son and me there when she first came. She came from somewhere in Grange Road, Rhyl, where she had been staying with some people. A woman came first to the room and she took the room there and then. In the course of a few days Mrs Knight came with the woman and her husband in a car. The woman's husband was a war reserve. Mrs Knight occupied the front bedroom as a bed sitter and stayed with me until the end of the war. She left me at the end of the season of the year the war ended. When she left me she went to live at Llandudno. A woman from Llandudno came down to fetch Mrs Knight and they went off in a car.

I had met the woman about twice before Mrs Knight left. The woman lived in a house known as Penymaes at Llandudno. The name of the street has gone out of my mind, but Mrs Knight did not go and live with the woman straight away. She went to live in furnished rooms on her own at the seafront near to the pier at Llandudno. Why she wanted to be on her own was that she did not want her husband to know where she was.

I never met him, but Mrs Knight was getting money from her husband every week to support her. She was getting it from the court receiving office at Rhyl and it was £2 a week. She was already drawing this money when she came to stay with me. The people with whom she had been living went with her to court when she first claimed money off her husband. I remember now these people’s names. Mrs Knight was a semi-invalid and could not get around much and that is how I came to go and collect her money from the court receiving office.

I know she wrote a note to the court office authorising me to collect the money for her. I cannot remember whether I took the note or whether she sent it. I used to collect this money every week for her and I used to sign the book for it. After Mrs Knight went to live in Llandudno I used to send this money to her regularly every week c/o the woman in Penymaes.

The last time I drew this money for Mrs Knight was a fortnight today, that is Friday, 22nd April, 1960, and I sent it as usual c/o the woman. I just used to put the money in an ordinary envelope but a few times I sent the postal order.

It was a shock for me to hear about a body found in the cupboard in my house. I do not know anything about it but I remember during the war sometime a couple coming to stay at my house. I have a feeling it was when the bombing started down south, but I am not sure. They wanted somewhere to store stuff and foodstuffs so I let them use the landing wardrobe and they kept their stuff in there and kept it locked. No one else had access to it, only them, and they had the key. Before these people came we used to hang clothes in it and it was never locked. I think their name was White or Wright. They left at the end of the war and I can remember them saying, 'Cheerio, we will be back to collect our things'. They never came back. I had a card from them for the first two Christmases after they went, but have not heard from them since.

They left the cupboard locked and they had the key. I do not know where they were from for I took them in at the door so I did not bother about the cupboard. They had locked it and it was not for me to open it. It has been locked ever since and that is about 15 years. I cannot understand the body being there and I don't know who it is'.

When she was charged with obtaining money by false pretences, the 63-year-old woman said, 'I don't know what to say'.

The police later charged the 63-year-old woman with murder on 9 June 1960 at 6am. When she was charged she denied it.

At the magistrates hearing it was heard that Frances Knight had married at the age of 28 or 29 in 1912 and that she had lived with her husband in Rhyl until 1936. However, it was heard that their marriage was not a happy one and that her husband left her in March 1936 and never saw her again. Her husband was a semi-retired dentist and had been living in Hove, Sussex when his wife's body was found.

It was heard that Frances Knight applied to Rhyl Magistrates in 1940 for a maintenance order of £2 a week which was granted and which had been paid regularly into the court ever since that time. The magistrates hearing heard that the assistant clerk to the court at the time in 1940 recalled Frances Knight making the application, stating that she had had to be helped into court.  The court heard that the first payment was on 2 March 1940 and that it was purported to have been signed for by Frances A Knight. However, it was heard that after that date there was no trace of Frances Knight until her body was found.

When Frances Knight's body was found it was on its back with its legs bent and its neck turned so that its chin was on a shoulder and a blanket over it which was disintegrating into dust. The upper part of the body was in a blue coat or dressing gown and it was lying in a nightdress on a piece of linoleum. Underneath the blanket there was a cotton-like material which turned out to be a bedspread that had been tightly packed between the mummy's legs.

After the body was found it was taken to Bangor where a pathologist carried out a detailed examination and determined that the body was 'quite mummified' into a state of extreme hardness such that he had to take steps to render it more malleable for an internal examination by putting it in a bath of glycerine for a few days. It was described as having been hardened to such a state that it was resistant to a chisel. He said that it took three days to soften up the body such that he could make an incision through the skin and that after he did so he found a deep depression on the right of the neck and the mark of a stocking on the other side.

In conclusion he said that there was nothing to suggest that the mummification had been brought about artificially. He said, 'The body was put into the cupboard soon after death and conditions were such that there was a current of air running through the cupboard and for more of the time it was reasonably warm air’.

He added that he found at the front of the neck two portions of a string-like material about two inches in length and brown in colour. He said that the material was in the shape of an arc and had a reef knot and that around the neck there was a groove consistent with having been caused by a ligature.

He said that decomposition had proceeded for a time and then ceased and that the operation of warm air had then hardened the body and dried it out. He noted that most of the internal organs had disappeared owing to the decomposition.

He said that he came to the conclusion that the body was that of a female about 5ft 3in tall and aged between 45 and 56, it being noted that Frances Knight would have been 56 or 57 in 1940.

Another doctor said that he found pieces of material like a woman's stocking on the linoleum. When the body was further examined a portion of stocking was extracted from the neck and was found to have been rope-like in shape and form and tightly tied with a reef knot.

The prosecution later said at the trial, 'It is the submission of the prosecution that it is inescapable that the groove round the neck was caused by the stocking being tightly knotted round the neck of the deceased woman'.

The Home Office pathologist noted that due to the condition of the body that he could not say what the cause of death was, but that the ligature could have caused death by strangulation.

The issue of the ligature was argued over as it was noted that the knot appeared to have moved and that it could have been a neutral ligature such as a collar that after death had become tight and left signs behind. It was also suggested that the stocking found would not have been long enough to have gone round her neck.

The pathologist disagreed that when he first saw the knot that it had been twice the size of the band of the ligature. When he was asked how the knot could have moved from the position at the front of the neck, where there was a depression on the thyroid cartilage, to the side, the pathologist said that at the time it was very compact. He said that it was his theory that the foot of the stocking had become anchored to the floor of the cupboard and that with the movement of the body that the knot had been moved round.

The trial heard that whether or not the stocking had been stretched was a vital question, with it being asserted that if it had been used to strangle Frances Knight that it would have been stretched. However, it was heard that when the stocking had been given to a famous textile testing house, the Shirley Institute which was used by the Lancashire textile industry for testing fabrics, that the question had not been put.

The stocking had been sent to the testing house by a biologist from the North-West Forensic Science Laboratory at Preston and when he was asked whether the institute was asked whether the stocking had been stretched, he replied, 'No I don't think they were'. The defence then said, 'And this is the vital question, whether it had been stretched'. However, the biologist noted that the question must have been asked by implication to the which the defence replied, 'I suggest that it is absolute nonsense'.

The biologist agreed that one method of deciding whether the stocking had been stretched was to count the stitches and when he was asked, 'Why didn't you ask the institute to make a count?' the biologist said, 'I only put the questions I had been asked to put'.

The judge then said, 'The allegation has been made that this stocking was used to strangle Mrs Knight. One vital question is, was it unduly stretched? I should have thought that one of the first questions to the Shirley Institute would be if it had been unduly stretched'.

When the dealings moved on to the dress found on the mummy's body, the defence asked the biologist, 'Can you distinguish between Egyptian, Indian or American cotton?', to which the biologist replied that he could not and the defence said, 'And you call yourself an expert on fabrics?'.

Another forensic science expert was questioned in the witness box for 10½ hours and it was reported at one time tempers became high when the forensic science expert complained that the defence had twisted his words causing the judge to intervened, saying, 'Now, now, now, don't let's have a wrangle'.

When the defence questioned the forensic science expert about the stitching of the stocking being under tension, he suggested that if the ligature had not been under tension that 'the theory of the prosecution would be gone'. The judge then asked, 'If this had been a homicidal ligature it would have had to be drawn tight?' to which the forensic science expert agreed.

The forensic science expert later said that when he first saw the piece of material described as the ligature when it was brought out into one fold it  was broader than the knot. He said that in the process of mummification that he would expect the neck to shrink which would create a larger space in the tunnel. The forensic science expert said that if a stocking was tied tightly round the neck as a homicidal ligature it would fall into an arc if it was kept in contact long enough, and noted that the ligature had fallen into an arc when he took it off.

There was also an issue with photographs of the neck area and at the trial a barrister asked the pathologist why photographs had not been taken of the back of the neck and of the collar and then said, 'Neither you or the other doctor had the frankness to tell my lord and the jury that there were photographs in existence' to which the pathologist said, 'Photographs were taken and these were handed to the police in due course'. The pathologist then agreed that there were four photographs, but that he did not agree that none of them showed there was damage to the thyroid cartilage. He said, 'I do not wish you to infer that I was trying to hide anything. During your cross-examination I was abundantly aware that your experts had seen the thyroid cartilage'.

It was noted that there had been an accident during the examination of the body parts in which the thyroid cartilage had been accidently fractured whilst it was being handled by an ear, nose and throat consultant.

However, the pathologist noted that he first saw the displacement, distortion in the thyroid cartilage, in the body itself after the dissection of the neck.

When he was asked whether the decomposition and mummification drying had had a pulling or shrinking effect, the pathologist said, 'We do not know how much decomposition there was. The question here is, after decomposition had gone to the state of real swelling of the tissues of the neck, whether mummification would ever have occurred. In my opinion I doubt it'.

The pathologist noted that when he examined the left hand of the mummy that he found a groove on the ring finger but found no ring.

A professor from Liverpool University who was a specialist in the study of Egyptology, said that he had carried out some experiments and said that a depression in the thyroid cartilage taken from the mummy could not have been caused by extreme rotation of the head after death.

Another professor from Liverpool University said that he thought that the woman had had a certain amount of arthritis and it was noted that Frances Knight was known to have had arthritis when her husband left her and that she had had to walk with a stick. It was added that it was known that her condition had also deteriorated and that she had had difficulty in walking.

It was noted that poison tests on the mummy came back negative. However, when the chief chemist at the North Western Forensic Science Laboratory at Preston was asked whether the possibility that Frances Knight had met her death by poison could be ruled out he replied, 'Not completely ruled out'.

It was noted that On 1 June 1960 that chemists from the Home Office forensic science laboratory at Preston carried out tests on soil taken from the grave of two other people that had died at 35 West Kinmel Street in order to decide whether it would be worth exhuming them following the discovery of the mummified body. However, nothing more of that is known.

After the magistrates hearing in Rhyl, the 63-year-old woman was sent for trial at the Assizes and appeared at the Denbighshire Assizes in Rutlin on Thursday 13 October 1960. The trial was known as the 'mummy in the cupboard' case. However, she was cleared on Tuesday 18 October 1960 at the direction of the judge.

At the trial it was heard that when the cupboard was examined by a forensic experts they found flypaper and an empty disinfectant bottle by the right of the body. It was covered with flies and insects. Two other portions of flypaper were also discovered in the cupboard.

When the 63-year-old woman's son gave evidence of finding the body in the cupboard at the trial the 63-year-old woman suddenly slumped forward in her chair and buried her head in the lap of one of the two wardresses sitting with her and sobbed bitterly after which the clerk of the assizes spoke to the judge who then adjourned the court early for lunch.

When the statement that the 63-year-old woman had made to the police was read out the Solicitor General said, 'You may think that the presence of that flypaper is of considerable importance. It is suggested that the 63-year-old woman was cool enough to think what would be the effect of concealing the body in the cupboard, the attraction of flies, and taking steps to mitigate it'. The Solicitor General then noted that there had been a code number on the flypaper that indicated that the cover for the flypaper was printed in November 1941 and said that that particular line in fly paper boxes had been on sale from April 1942, two years after the body had been placed in the cupboard. He then noted that the fact that the flypaper had not been on sale until well after Frances Knight died proved that the 63-year-old woman's claim that she never went back to the cupboard after hiding the body there and locking the door, was 'a palpable lie'.

He also added, 'Her statement does not explain the stocking round the dead woman's neck'.

Evidence was heard from a lodger that had lived at 35 West Kinmel Street in 1949 who said that the 63-year-old woman agreed to sell him a large black trunk that had been on the landing for £2, noting that it had had the initials FAK on it and that when he asked her what the initials stood for she told him that it had belonged to someone that had stayed there previously and that she didn't think that they were coming back for it.

However, after most of the prosecutions evidence was heard the judge directed the jury to find the 63-year-old woman not guilty.

He  came to the decision after the court returned following a break after a forensic science biologist collapsed whilst under cross-examination. After the court resumed the Solicitor General said, 'I have been considering the state of the case and the evidence as it stands at the moment, and I have come to the conclusion that it would not be right for the prosecution to invite the jury to find a verdict of murder in this case', the judge said, 'I entirely agree with you', saying that he had considered the case and thought that there seemed to be 'manifold circumstances of suspicion in it'.

The judge then noted the pathologists evidence, stating that the pathologist had not been able to say what the cause of death was, could not say whether it was natural or unnatural and could not say whether the ligature had been put on before or after death. He said, 'If it could not be true that the stocking stretched then the prosecution failed. Without saying any more, because we have not heard the defence evidence, it does appear that the prosecution were in no position to prove the stocking stretched'.

The judge then went on to say that that it would not be safe for the prosecution to invite the jury to find a verdict of murder.

Although the 63-year-old woman was acquitted of murder, she was sentenced to a total of 15 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to two charges of obtaining sums of £2 on dates in May 1940 and April 1960 and falsely pretending that Frances Knight was still alive. The judge said, 'You have pleaded guilty to two counts of obtaining money by false pretences. It is quite impossible for me to shut my eyes to the fact that during the whole of the intervening period you have been obtaining week by week this £2, and, in fact you have swindled Frances Knight's husband out of something like £2,000. I have taken into account all your learned counsel has said on your behalf, the frightful anxiety that you have undergone, and the fact that you have been in prison now for four months. It is impossible to overlook this case. The sentence is that you go to prison for 15 months'.

The remains of Frances Knight were cremated in Birkenhead on Monday 24 October 1960.

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

see www.amazon.co.uk

see National Archives - DPP 2/3098, PS/X/1

see Daily Post

see Daily Express Sat 7 May 1960 Page 9

see Newcastle Journal - Friday 01 July 1960

see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Friday 01 July 1960

see Daily News (London) - Friday 01 July 1960

see Newcastle Journal - Tuesday 18 October 1960

see Daily News (London) - Friday 14 October 1960

see Belfast Telegraph - Wednesday 22 June 1960

see Torbay Express and South Devon Echo - Friday 14 October 1960

see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 25 October 1960

see Liverpool Echo - Friday 14 October 1960

see Belfast Telegraph - Saturday 15 October 1960

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Thursday 09 June 1960

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Thursday 30 June 1960

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Wednesday 01 June 1960

see Belfast Telegraph - Thursday 13 October 1960 see Belfast Telegraph - Tuesday 18 October 1960

see Aberdeen Evening Express - Thursday 13 October 1960