Unsolved Murders

Sarah Ann Austen

Age: 69

Sex: female

Date: 15 Dec 1948

Place: The Warren, Groombridge, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Sarah Ann Austen was found dead in a stream. She had been asphyxiated by pressure to the neck.

Her body was found at the Warren between Groombridge and Eridge on 15 December 1948.

She had been missing since 6 July 1948.

She had lived in Thorncote in Speldhurst.

Her husband said that he last saw her when she left home on 6 July 1948 to catch the 3pm bus to Tunbridge Wells to do some shopping. However, he said that she never returned, and he later reported her absence to the police.

He said that when she went out to go to Tunbridge Wells that he went off to a Conservative meeting. He said that she took little money with her and that he had never known her to remove her shoes when she was out.

He added that she was absolutely helpless without her glasses.

Her body was discovered by a farmer from Bridgers Farm, Groombridge in a stream. He said that he had been out gathering moss at the Warren on 15 December 1948 when he saw a handbag, a hat and a pair of shoes on a bank and then subsequently saw the body of Sarah Austen lying face downwards in a stream. He said that her handbag, hat and shoes were about six to eight feet away from the water.

The doctor that carried out her post-mortem examination on 17 December 1948 said that there was no evidence of any natural disease. He said that her cause of death was asphyxia and that it had been produced by pressure to her neck that might have been due to external pressure by hand but might also conceivably have been caused by falling on some object in the stream. He added that there was no water in her lungs and so her death was not due to drowning. He also added that owing to decomposition, he was not able to form a reliable conclusion as to whether her death was due to manual strangulation or a fall on some object that had caused an obstruction.

A person who lived nearby at The Forstal in Eridge told the inquest that the place where Sarah Austen's body was found was off the beaten track.

A policeman that was called out to the scene on 15 December 1948 said that he found Sarah Austen's body lying in about 4ft of water. He said that later on 19 December 1948 he recovered a pair of spectacles near to where her handbag was found.

He added that there was almost a sheer drop into the stream where Sarah Austen's body was found and that there was also a tree stump immediately below the bank.

When her husband spoke of Sarah Austen's glasses, he said, 'I think if she had not taken her glasses off at the time, she would have been alive now'.

When the coroner summed up, he noted that the pathologist had stated that her death had been due to asphyxia due to an obstruction of the windpipe which might have been caused by hand or by a bang on the neck. He noted also that there was no evidence of drowning. He then said that he thought that it was possible that Sarah Austen might have taken off her glasses and sat down on the bank to have a rest and that when she had got up without her glasses that she might had fallen over the bank into the water and that something on the bed of the stream had pressed on her larynx and caused asphyxia. He noted that there was no evidence that she had contemplated suicide.

However, the coroner told the jury, 'The only other matter the jury had to consider was whether she was attacked by some person whilst sitting on the bank and manually throttled and possibly thrown into the stream'.

The jury then returned an open verdict, stating that there was no evidence to show how Sarah Austen had got into the water or as to how she had been asphyxiated.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Kent & Sussex Courier - Friday 07 January 1949