Date: 11 Feb 1954
Isobel Veronica Chesney and Mary Menzies were found dead at their house in Montpelier Road, Ealing on 11 February 1954.
Isobel Chesney's husband was found shot dead in Germany five days later on 16 February 1954. He was said to have been a gun runner and smuggler. However, before he died he sent a letter to a woman in Germany saying that he didn't murder Isobel Chesney and Mary Menzies. However, the inquest on Isobel Chesney and Mary Menzies's death returned the verdict that he murdered them.
Isobel Chesney and Mary Menzies were found dead at their house which they also used as a nursing home for fourteen elderly women. It was thought that they had both been manually strangled.
Mary Menzies had lived as a self-styled 'Lady' and was known as Lady Menzies and had been in charge of the home for several years, running it with her daughter Isobel Chesney as a nursing home for the fourteen elderly women patients.
One of the residents said that as she was leaving that she thought that she saw Mary Menzies as she was going to bed on the Wednesday night and said that she wished her 'good-night' as usual.
Another resident said, 'I heard a noise in the night and thought it was the daughter coming in late. Somehow, I was unable to sleep. I did not hear any other noise'.
A neighbour said, 'Lady Menzies was a woman who did very much good for this borough, a really good woman'.
Their deaths were discovered by a housemaid at 2.30pm on 11 February 1954 when she went into Mary Menzies room after nothing had been heard from her all day. When she went in she found her dead with her head battered.
When the police were called, they found that Mary Menzies had been battered on the head and also strangled.
When they went into the bathroom they found Isobel Chesney in the bath having been strangled. It was noted that the position of Isobel Chesney's clothes indicated that she had got undressed in the normal way and had been interrupted during her bath.
Soon after their bodies were discovered fingerprint and photographic experts from Scotland Yard arrived at the scene and examined the house, concentrating on the two rooms that Isobel Chesney and Mary Menzies were found in.
It was noted that shortly after the discovery of the bodies that the police found a makeshift bed of blankets and sheets, untidily made, in a ground floor room and it was heard that none of the old people who were in the house on the night of the murder knew of anyone else staying there that night. It was thought that one possibility was that the bed was there for Isobel Chesney to sleep in so that she could be nearer to Mary Menzies, but it was also considered that the murderer might have spent the night in the house, and had later left unsuspected before the household woke up the following morning.
It was heard that one of the first problems that the police faced was the identity of Mary Menzies. It was heard that the police were not sure that Mary was in fact her Christian name or either how she came by the title of Lady.
The police noted that Mrs Menzies was Mary Anne McClearn Bonar, who had been a widow when she had married Thomas Chalmers Menzies, who had been a widower, in 1930. It was noted that two days after the wedding a London Gazette notice said that Mr Menzies had established no claim to the rank of baronet. It was said that he had claimed to be the 10th holder of the baronetcy which, according to Derbrett's Peerage of that time, became extinct with the death of Sir Neil James Menzies in 1911.
On 13 February 1954 detectives said that they thought that the person that had strangled Isobel Chesney and Mary Menzies was known to them, but they said that the motive for their murders remained obscure. They said that they had arrived at that conclusion as neither of Mary Menzies's two chows had raised the alarm by barking and thought that the murderer might have been known to the dogs who were described as Mary Menzies's constant companions.
It was also noted that one of the Chows and Mary Menzies's cat were believed to have had traces of blood on their coats.
The police also said that they thought that the murderer had known the layout of the house well.
The police said that they thought that one of the murder weapons used in he attack on Mary Menzies, whose head had been battered in, was a pewter jug.
In the early stages of the investigation the police said that there were two possible suspects in their preliminary enquiries, but noted that there was the additional difficulty in the fact that the murderer had at least a 14 hour head start in which to escape, noting that the two women were murdered before midnight and that the crime was not discovered until 2.30pm the following day, which they said would give the continent. It was added that the police had circulated the description of a man through their communication network to their officers at the ports.
The police said that one of the men that they were looking for was a middle aged much travelled Englishman and said that they thought that he had driven a car from London to Harwich in the early hours of Thursday morning. It was reported that immigration officers at Harwich said that they had seen a man answering the description given by the police, saying that he had sailed as a passenger for the Hook of Holland that day and that it was thought that he had since returned to England. The police said that the man that they were looking for was thought to have left for Harwich for business reasons only and that he might not have known about the deaths. However, the police said that they thought that the man might be able to tell them something about the lives of Isobel Chesney and Mary Menzies that would helt them find the murderer.
The police later said that they had wanted to question Isobel Chesney's husband over the murders.
The police also noted that they had taken plaster casts of tyre marks and footprints that were found in the gravel and earth in front of the house.
On 12 February 1954 the police carried out a reconstruction of the murder using two detectives to play the parts of the murdered woman. The reconstruction showed that apparently a car was driven to the old folks' home and that a man had slipped in unobserved and that Mary Menzies was apparently attacked first and that the man had then gone into the bathroom and murdered Isobel Chesney.
It was stated that a smashed clock was found in Isobel Chesney's bedroom which had stopped at 1.10 and that it was thought that that might have pinpointed the time of the murders.
It was later found out that Isobel Chesney's husband had been found shot dead in a wood on the outskirts of Cologne in Germany. He was a self-confessed smuggler and arms dealer.
Isobel Chesney had married her husband in 1928 and during the war her husband had served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and later left the Navy in 1945. After the war, Isobel Chesney's husband had stayed at the mansion in Montpelier Road for an odd night maybe once a year and the couple separated by mutual arrangement in 1945 after Isobel Chesney refused to return to Germany with him. It was heard at the inquest that there had been a marriage settlement, but that it was not known what it was.
At the inquest, a cousin of Isobel Chesney gave evidence and was asked by the Coroner if she was ever told what would happen if either one of the parties died, and the cousin said, 'Yes, I heard both parties at different times say in the event of the death of one the other would benefit, and I heard Mrs Chesney say that she was worth more dead than alive'.
The cousin was also asked by a representative of Isobel Chesney and Mary Menzies's family’s whether Isobel Chesney's husband had had a great passion to be divorced and she said that, 'I knew he wanted to be'.
The inquest further heard that Isobel Chesney's husband had been interested in a certain girl and that that girl had been the cause of unhappiness with Isobel Chesney and said that Isobel Chesney had told her that the girl had visited England with her husband and that when they had that they had stayed at 22 Montpelier Road whilst Isobel Chesney's mother was away.
The inquest was shown some letters and Isobel Chesney's cousin said, 'He says in the letter, 'I don't think we have anything more to discuss about a divorce. I know where I stand if you don't change your mind, but I hope we shall be able to get on and get cracking soon. It will be best for both of us'. It was further noted that the other letters were all in the same strain, asking Isobel Chesney to see solicitors and get on with the divorce. The cousin said that Isobel Chesney's husband, 'wanted his freedom to marry this other woman'. It was also noted that Isobel Chesney's husband had previously wanted his freedom to marry another German girl in the past. The cousin noted that Isobel Chesney had told her that she was not prepared to divorce her husband, saying that no German woman would hold a British passport through her. It was also noted that Isobel Chesney was a Roman Catholic.
Isobel Chesney's cousin said that she believed that Isobel Chesney's husband had met the first woman that he had wanted the freedom to marry in a naval camp or barracks in Germany. She said, 'I was told she had come either from Russia or the Russian sector'. She said that on 24 January 1954 that Isobel Chesney's husband had been to see her and that they had talked about the second woman that he had wanted the freedom to marry, and said, 'He said they had had a violent quarrel at Christmas and they had broken it all off and finished. He said he had already found another woman'.
Whilst the cousin was giving her evidence the Coroner asked her whether Isobel Chesney's husband had mentioned anything about smuggling, and she said that he had treated it like a joke. She said, 'I asked him where he had been and he said he had had his usual 'rest cure', which she added she had understood to mean that he had been in prison.
Another letter was shown at the inquest which had been written by Isobel Chesney's husband whilst he was in prison in Belgium in which he had written, 'I am now a good way to being a bigger rotter than I normally was unless I start a new life. I am still fond of you and do not want to part enemies. This existence of mine during the last few years has been hell, even though I deserved it. Do still remain my friend. I have no others'. He had added a PS to the letter, saying, 'Please write to me, but if you do, do it in the name of John Milner, in which I have been convicted'.
Other evidence heard at the inquest was given by a policeman who said that Isobel Chesney was addicted to alcohol which had at times made her incapable. He said that in a bedroom near her room the floor was half covered with empty bottles of every conceivable description of alcoholic drink, noting that there were even some concealed in furniture and other under the bed.
Another witness at the inquest said that Isobel Chesney's husband had offered him £2,000 to 'get rid of' Isobel Chesney. The man said that when he was in prison in 1951 that he had become friendly with a couple of prisoners, one of whom was Isobel Chesney's husband and that when he later met Isobel Chesney's husband and a German girl in about 1951 after his release that Isobel Chesney's husband had told him that he wanted a divorce, but that Isobel Chesney would not grant him one. He said that Isobel Chesney's husband had told him that he had wanted a divorce so that he could marry the German girl. However, when the Coroner asked the man if Isobel Chesney's husband had ever mentioned doing his wife in himself, he said, 'No'. When the Coroner asked the man whether Isobel Chesney's husband had ever mentioned anyone else getting rid of Isobel Chesney, the man said, 'He asked me to do it. He asked me to get rid of his wife'. When the Coroner asked the man in what way, the man said that Isobel Chesney's husband had left it to him., but said that he had offered him £2,000 to do it and that he had intimated to him that he would get the £2,000 from some agreement or trust fund. He said that the day after that conversation that he saw Isobel Chesney 's husband again and that Isobel Chesney's husband gave him £15 in notes which he said was to get him out of the country after getting rid of his wife, saying that Isobel Chesney's husband told him to leave the country after getting rid of Isobel Chesney by plane to Paris and gave him the address of a friend of his who he was to contact there, but said at the time of the inquest that he no longer had the address. He noted that to identify himself he was given half of a ten-franc note and was told that the contact in Paris would be given the other half so that they would be able to identify each other.
However, when the man was asked whether he had agreed to the arrangements, he said 'No, sir'. When he was asked whether he returned the £15, he said, 'No'. When he was asked whether he thought that Isobel Chesney's husband was serious about having his wife killed, he replied, 'Oh, yes sir'. He noted that Isobel Chesney's husband had given him a plan of the house in Montpelier Road that he had drawn himself saying that it was so that he could get into the house and know where his wife's bedroom was.
During the investigation, the police questioned both of the women that Isobel Chesney's husband had been friendly with in Germany. They said that the most recent woman that he had been friendly with had told them that she and Isobel Chesney's husband had been living as man and wife and that she had been financing him, but that he had later forged an entry in her savings book and stolen 500 marks from her. The earlier woman said that she had had a similar association with Isobel Chesney's husband but said that when she found that a ceremony that she had gone through with him was not a valid marriage ceremony she had left him. She said that her intentions all the way through had been perfectly honest and honourable and that she stayed with him until she found that he had betrayed her.
It was noted that when Isobel Chesney's husband died he had been penniless.
A woman that lived in Montpelier Road in Ealing said that on 10 February 1954 that she had left her flat to go out and walk her dog at about 10.15pm and said that whilst she was doing so she saw a man walking up past her flat. She said that she passed in front of the man and saw that he was limping on his left leg and that he was very tall and heavily built. However, she said that she could not see his face clearly as he had been stooping forwards. She later picked out a photograph from 11 others as the man she had seen, but it was not stated whether it was Isobel Chesney's husband's photo.
Another man also gave evidence at the inquest about having been out with his dog and seeing a man. The man had lived in Cecil Court in Ealing and said that he had gone out of his flat at about 10.30pm on 10 February 1954 to take his dog for a walk and that when he did so he saw a man standing with his back to the Cecil Close flat at the corner of Helena Road. When he was then shown a photograph of Isobel Chesney's husband, he agreed that that was the man that he had seen in the street. When the man was questioned, he said that he could not recall what sort of coat the man had been waring at the time, bu and said, 'I just concentrated on looking at his face under he lamppost as he had already made me suspicious'.
At the inquest, it was submitted that Isobel Chesney's husband had two motives for the murders, the first was that he had wanted a divorce, but that his wife would not agree to one, and the other was that he wanted the money from the marriage settlement under which either his wife or he would have benefited in the event of the others death.
The inquest heard evidence that suggested that Isobel Chesney's husband had flown into London from Amsterdam on 10 February 1954 under the name of Chown, one of the many aliases that he had used, and that he had flown back the next day.
The inquest was shown a passport and passport application form. It was noted that the passport application form had a photograph of Isobel Chesney's husband on it but that it was signed in the name of LBT Chown. Further, the passport had a photograph of Isobel Chesney's husband in it but the name was John D Milner.
Other evidence was given by a Leslie Bernard Treville Chown at the inquest. He was a photographer and had lived in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea and said that in the early summer of 1952 that he had been introduced to Isobel Chesney's husband. He was shown a piece of paper which was described as a receipt from the Dutch Air Line KLM and was asked whether the signature at the bottom was his and he replied, 'No, definitely not'. It was noted that the receipt was dated 6-2-54. He was then shown the passport application dated 25-6-53 which was made out in his name with his date of birth on it and address in Cheyne Walk, but said that he could not explain it and did not know why it had Isobel Chesney's husbands photograph on it. He said that the last time that he had been abroad was in 1944 with the Army and that he had never let Isobel Chesney's husband borrow his birth certificate, stating that he didn't have a copy of it.
The photographer denied that the signature on the passport was his, but admitted that it was a very good copy, and was then asked whether he had ever seen the passport before but at that point his solicitor objected, stating that because of certain things that had happened to the passport since it had been issued that he might incriminate himself. However, after the photographer conferred with his solicitor, he said that he had seen the passport in the early summer of 1953 in the possession of Isobel Chesney's husband. However, when the Coroner asked the photographer whether any conversation occurred over why Isobel Chesney's husband had possession of the passport, his solicitor again objected.
The Coroner then asked the photographer whether he had ever heard Isobel Chesney's husband say anything to the effect that he hoped Isobel Chesney might die, he said that Isobel Chesney's husband had given him the impression that Isobel Chesney was a nuisance, and when he was asked whether Isobel Chesney's had mention any way of she might be put out of the way, the photographer said that Isobel Chesney's husband had mentioned a method involving an accident of some kind. However, he said that there was no mention of him ever being involved in such activity.
When the Coroner returned to the subject of the passport, he asked the photographer whether he had ever seen Isobel Chesney's husband looking as he did in the photograph and he said that he hadn't. The Coroner noted that the glasses that Isobel Chesney's husband was wearing were very similar to his own, and the photographer agreed. The Coroner then said, 'It looks like a form of attempting to look like you, doesn't it. No moustache, glasses and the hair brushed back?', and the photographer agreed. The Coroner then asked again, 'From first to last have you ever had anything to do with that application for that passport?' nd the photographer replied, 'Nothing whatever'.
Evidence was heard from a clerk in the passport office in London who said that on 26 June 1953 that he had checked an urgent application from a man named Leslie Bernard Treville Chown on a form for a passport that had been sent from a travel agency. He said that the particulars were in order and that he issued the passport on the same day., noting that he understood that the passport was to be collected by a travel agency representative.
The inquest then heard further evidence from the emigration officer at Harwich who said that the person in question that had left the country that day, 11 February 1954, had been a John Donald Miller. He said that he remembered as he checked his passport carefully for two reasons. He said that firstly, his manner seemed very jolly which he said was out of the ordinary for passengers and secondly that he recalled that an individual named John Donald Milner was of interest to Customs authorities, noting that it had previously come to his attention that he had been involved in Customs offences before and so he took steps to warn Customs of his presence.
When the emigration officer was asked whether it seemed that the man had been wishing to impress on him the fact that he was there or that he wanted him to notice him, the emigration officer said that he didn't know, but added that he certainly succeeded in doing so.
Other evidence was heard from a receptionist at London Airport who identified a health declaration signed by a LPT Chown and then stated in the court that the man that had appeared on the manifest of KLM flight 137 arriving from Amsterdam on 10 February 1954 was not the man that she saw in court, the photographer. She described the man that had taken the flight as tall and when the photographer stood up she said that it was not him.
A detective said that on 11 February 1954 that he had been at London Airport dealing with the embarkation of passengers for Amsterdam on KLM flight 118 which was due to leave at 8a, and said that he recognised a name on the manifest that merited special attention at the time as he thought that it sounded familiar. He said that the name was Leslie Bernard Treville Chown and that the year of birth was 1903. He said that he was shown a number of photographs and selected one as that of the man who had presented the passport. He then said, 'As it proved, there was no suspect named Chown. It was a name similar to Chown. My enquiries later showed my memory had served me wrong about the name'.
A solicitor from St Leonards-on-sea gave evidence at the inquest and said that on 15 February 1954 that Isobel Chesney's husband called him from Cologne and denied any involvement in the murders, adding that he had not even been in England on the day of the murders. The solicitor said that on 17 February 1954 that he received two letters from Isobel Chesney's husband dated 15 February 1954 and 16 February 1954.
He said that the former letter read, 'after our telephone conversation this afternoon I enclose a letter to the Public Trustee asking him to transfer the funds from the Settlement Trust to your firm. On receipt please arrange to transfer the total amount, less £3,000, which I should like you to retain for me, and send to the latest woman in Germany at 51 Josefstrasse, Duren, Germany'.
He said that the second letter read, 'I have given the matter of my future much thought, and I realise that though I am innocent I have not the chance of the proverbial snowball in Hades of getting out of this mess. I wish only to make sure that the second woman in Germany gets everything which devolves upon me, ie the settlement money of £10,000, the carpets, silver and chest of drawers at 22 Montpelier Road'.
Isobel Chesney's husband was found dead in a wood in Germany on 16 February 1954 after having written a letter protesting his innocence and indicating that he was going to take his own life.
When the Coroner summed up he said, 'Suppose the husband, who desired his wife's death, had gone to Montpelier Road, hoping to stage the accidental death of his wife, to bring about her death by drowning, and leave with it looking like an accidental death. Had he planned that and had he very nearly succeeded but was caught by 'Lady' Menzies before he could get away? If so, there was of course, no question of Mrs Chesney's death being accidental. She was dead and in suspicious circumstances. He would be suspected. Did he then decide, for his own safety, he had better deal with Lady Menzies?, and did he batter her on the head and finally strangle her with a stocking?'
After hearing the Coroner's summing up the jury decided that such was the case.
It was noted that Isobel Chesney's husband had been tried for the culpable homicide of his mother in 1926, but a verdict of not proven was returned. It was alleged that he had shot her in the head with a pistol on 17 March 1926 causing her injuries from which she later died in the Royal Infirmary on 1 April 1926. Her death was first thought to have been suicide at the time, but it was found that Isobel Chesney's husband had been defrauding her by writing false cheques. At the trial cheques were produced that were said to have had forged signatures and that the signatures had been traced. Although a verdict of not proven was returned at the trial, Isobel Chesney's husband was charged with drawing £457, 13s, 6d with the forged cheques from the Clydesdale Bank (Ltd.) at 29 George Street, Edinburgh. After the 1926 trial, Isobel Chesney's husband later changed his name.
see Northern Whig - Saturday 13 February 1954
see Birmingham Daily Post - Friday 12 February 1954
see Daily Mirror - Saturday 13 February 1954
see Birmingham Daily Post - Thursday 25 March 1954
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Wednesday 24 March 1954
see Birmingham Daily Post - Saturday 13 February 1954
see Daily Herald - Wednesday 17 February 1954
see Coventry Evening Telegraph - Thursday 25 March 1954
see Belfast News-Letter - Saturday 13 February 1954