Unsolved Murders

Ferdinand Montgomery James

Age: 24

Sex: male

Date: 12 Mar 1960

Place: Gladstone Road, Sparkbrook

Ferdinand Montgomery James was poisoned.

He was a coloured man and had just spent the evening with some of his coloured friends.

He had lived in Kenelm Road, Small Heath, and had been a truck driver at the Percy Road works of the Rover Company.

His post mortem showed that his death was due to cyanide poisoning and that it was  thought that he had taken about 10 grains probably within half-an-hour of his death.

It was noted that sodium cyanide was used at the Rover works in a hardening process.

A woman that lived in Gladstone Road, Sparkbrook said that she had been friendly with Ferdinand James for five years and that he had previously asked her to marry him but said that his sister did not like the idea and that she had had letters from a cousin and as such she told him to stick by his family and noted that she was too old for him.

She said that on 12 March 1960 that Ferdinand James stumbled into her room, noting that she thought that he had been drinking, and said, 'They have given me too much to drink' and started pulling at his neck.

She said that she thought that he was having a fit and ran for help.

When the woman gave her evidence at the inquest the Coroner asked her whether she knew of anyone that might want to harm him and she replied, 'No. He was too nice a boy'.

When the coroner asked her whether she thought he might have committed suicide, she said, 'He used to say he was fed up but he would never say why'.

When the Coroner was asked whether she thought Ferdinand James had been fed up with his association with her, she said, 'No. He was very happy'.

A cousin of Ferdinand James who lived in Kenelm Road said that in Christmas week Ferdinand James wrote a letter to his woman friend that he wanted her to copy, telling her that the woman friend wanted to marry him but that he was not going to do it. She said that he afterwards got her to write a second letter for him, telling her what to say.

A detective inspector with Birmingham CID said that Ferdinand James was a very bright and popular man and that there was 'not a whisper that anyone would be likely to wish him harm'. He added that there was nothing to make anyone think he would commit suicide and that he was not a heavy drinker.

When the Coroner addressed the jury he told them that the questions that they had to decide were whether Ferdinand James had committed suicide, taken the cyanide accidently, or whether the poison had been administered to him by some person or persons unknown.

He added 'In the latter case it would be a case of murder. It is a puzzling case and rather mysterious to solve'.

He noted that Ferdinand James was apparently unlikely to commit suicide and that no cyanide was found by scientists that had examined his clothes.

He went on to note that 'Ferdinand James's last words were, 'they made me drunk', were the most puzzling feature of the case, because they suggested he had no knowledge of what was making him ill. You can exclude any suspicion of the conduct of his woman friend because Ferdinand James was already dying when he entered the house'.

The jury then returned an open verdict.

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

see www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

see Birmingham Daily Post - Tuesday 29 March 1960