Unsolved Murders

William Leonard Sowden

Age: 51

Sex: male

Date: 22 Feb 1953

Place: Seven Stones Lightship, Lands End, Cornwall

William Leonard Sowden was found dead in his bunk on a lightship.

He had died from opium poisoning, but it was not known how it had been administered and an open verdict was returned.

He had been a watchkeeper on the Seven Stones lightship seven miles off Lands End along with six other crew members and had been onboard for about two weeks and was due to be relieved in a fortnight. The Seven Stones location was a reef off of the south-west extremity of Cornwall.

He had employed by Trinity House as an extra man and had worked on the lightship for about a year.

He was discovered dead by a shipmate that had gone to call him for duty.

Following reports of his death a detective and a doctor set out from Penzance in the Trinity House vessel Satellite to go to the lightship and investigate. William Sowden was replaced by one of the crew from the Satellite and was taken back to Penzance but because of the tide the Satellite could not enter Penzance Harbour and so his body was taken to the quay by launch.

Following the return of his body, a detective said that no arrest had been made.

His inquest heard that five tablets of morphine had been taken from the locked ship's stores but that it was not known how they had got into his body. It was also heard that another morphine-derived drug was found in his body, but its origin was a mystery. The doctor said that the amount of drug that he found, if eaten after a full meal would have made William Sowden sleepy within 20 minutes or half an hour and unconscious within an hour.

Another doctor said that he experimented with six morphine tablets which he dissolved in two ounces of water and tasted it and said that it tasted surprisingly less strong than he thought it would and that in a strong, well-brewed tea, it would have been almost tasteless.

The Second Officer of the Trinity House vessel Satellite which had gone out to relieve the crew said that he found a tin in which there were some morphine syringes and an opened container of morphine tablets, five of which were missing. He said that the five tablets would have totalled one and a quarter grains. He said that the remainder of that type of store seemed intact.

The acting master of the lightship said that when he, William Sowden and a third lightship man had their evening meal together that William Sowden had been in good spirits. The acting master, who was ordinarily the lamplighter in the ship said that because of an illness that he had been acting master at the time. He added that he thought that the dangerous drugs were kept in the medicine chest and not in a drawer under his bunk.

Another member of crew on the lightship said that he had never known William Sowden to take any pills other than indigestion tablets and that William Sowden had not complained about his health to him and that he had appeared to be in a cheerful mood throughout the evening prior to his death.

William Sowden had lived in Belle Vue Terrace in Penzance. His landlady said that Leonard Sowden had been concerned about a case of maintenance arrears to his wife.

It was noted that as a coincidence the Trinity House men in Penzance had just been given a special preview on the Friday night of the film 'Night Watch' which had been photographed in the area and in which a man was taken ill aboard the Seven Stones lightship and is then taken to Penzance by the vessel Satellite.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Dundee Courier - Monday 23 February 1953

see Daily Herald - Saturday 07 March 1953

see Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer - Saturday 07 March 1953