Unsolved Murders

Phoebe Amelia Stokes

Age: 61

Sex: male

Date: 7 Sep 1919

Place: Lea Road, Luton, Bedfordshire

Phoebe Amelia Stokes was knocked down by two boys on bicycles on Saturday 6 September 1919 and died the following day.

The two boys, both brothers, aged 13 and 14 were charged with riding a cycle to the danger of the public in Lea Road, Luton, on 6 September 1919 and also with causing bodily harm to Phoebe Stokes at the same time and place.

They were said to have ridden down Lea Road at great speed and to have knocked her over.

At her inquest it was heard that the jury, after several adjournments and great consideration, could not decide whether they should commit the boys for trial on a charge of manslaughter, and eventually decided not to commit them on the charge.

A woman that lived in Lea Road said that she saw the two boys coming down Lea Road very fast on their bicycles and then heard a crash and then saw Phoebe Stokes lying in the road and the two boys near her, one of them knocked off his machine and all in a heap.

She said that she heard no bell rung or any warning.

The daughter of the woman said that she also saw the boys riding their bicycles and said that she thought that they were apparently racing each other.

A man that lived in Crawley Green Road said that he had been walking down Lea Road at about 8.15pm when he had seen the two boys cycling towards him at which point he was about 70 yards from the Lea Bridge Inn. He said that they were riding one behind the other at a very rapid rate and on the wrong side of the road.

He said that he saw a little child playing who then ran into the road but that a woman saw it and quickly jumped into the road and snatched the child back, noting that it was only the quick actions of the woman that saved the child from being hit by the two boys on their bikes. He added that the woman shouted something at the boys but that he didn't hear what it was.

However, he said that he did hear the second boy call out to the woman as he passed, 'Come out of the way'.

He said that the boys only had only gone on a short distance further down the road when he heard a crash and then saw the two boys and Phoebe Stokes in a heap.

It was additionally noted that the road had been very busy at the time.

When the elder of the two boys gave evidence he said that they had cycled from Bendish near Welwyn that night into Luton and had arrived at about 8.30pm and had put their bicycles at the Crown Inn in Market Hill. He noted that they had had their lights on and said that soon after they walked with their cycles to the Salvation Array building and then got on them and rode slowly down the road. He said that he did not remember seeing the child or the woman and or hear his brother say anything to a woman and said that they were going at their normal pace and were not hurrying to get home. He said that there were a decent few people in the road and that his brother rang his bell frequently along the way.

He said then that as they went along Lea Road that Phoebe Stokes stepped into the road and that his brother rang his bell twice and hollered and tried to twist round her and that Phoebe Stokes then stepped back. He said that his brother then got off his cycle and that neither of them had hit Phoebe Stokes.

He said that he was sure that his brother got off his cycle and had not fallen off, and said that he didn't fall off either and suggested that the woman had fallen backwards.

When the younger brother gave evidence he denied shouting at the woman, saying that it was another cyclist that did that and also denied hitting Phoebe Stokes. However, he later contradicted himself and admitted that he might have said 'blooming' or 'blinking' and admitted to the coroner that what he had initially said was a lie.

However, when the Coroner made the boy repeat his evidence he admitted that his cycle hit Phoebe Stokes and that his shoulder also bumped against her.

A doctor that was called out soon after said that when he saw Phoebe Stokes at the Lea Bridge Inn at about 8.45pm that she was sitting in a chair and quite unconscious.  She was then taken home where the doctor continued to examine her but she died the following night at 7pm.

When the dotor carried out the post mortem had said that he found that Phoebe Stokes had a fractured skull that had lacerated her brain although he noted that her skull was thinner than the average skull. He said that the blow was two inches above her left ear and that her injuries were quite consistent with her fallen and hit her head on the kerb, but noted that it was a severe wound.

The defence for the boys noted that they had been on the right side of the road at the time of the collision but noted that they had just had to pass some carts on the wrong side that were in the road.

When the Coroner summed up he noted that there was little more that they could get out of the boys and said, 'I have never met two more accomplished young liars in my life' which the jury agreed with, saying that they did not believe a word of what they had said.

He said that if the jury believed that the boy had ridden recklessly and had not used ordinary care, they could, despite his age, return verdict manslaughter against him. He said that they had had the opportunity of judging his intelligence and said that if they concluded that he knew the seriousness of what he was doing at the time that they would have no other option as to the verdict. However, he added that they might regard it as a boy's escapade and administer a severe reprimand. However, he noted that the boys evidence had been a tissue of lies from beginning to end and said that the jury would have been justified in returning a verdict manslaughter although he said that he did not want to advise that course, but said that the facts deserved such a verdict.

He added that if an adult had done such a thing that there would be no doubt as to the verdict.

The Coroner also added that he had little doubt that the boys had put their heads together and tried get out of the mess by concocting their story which at first sight was reasonable. However, he said that unfortunately for the story, other people also saw what happened.

The boys were each made to pay a fine of 20s. It was noted that there were 14 children in their family, nine of them being under the age of thirteen, and the Alderman said he hardly knew how to deal with them owing to the size of the family noting that they could not impose too large a fine on them as it would fall upon their parents rather than them to pay it.

The Alderman concluded by noting that they had narrowly avoided going to prison and told them that they must keep their mouths clean, speak properly and behave themselves.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Luton News and Bedfordshire Chronicle - Thursday 11 September 1919.

It is not clear why the boys were not committed on a cahrge of manslaughter.

Most of the Lea Road area in Luton has since been redeveloped.