Unsolved Murders

Nellie Florence Ruby Rault

Age: 21

Sex: female

Date: 9 May 1919

Place: Welstead Wood, Haynes Park Camp, Bedford

Nellie Rault was stabbed to death in Welstead Wood at Haynes Park Camp on 9 May 1919. Her body was later found on 12 May 1919.

It was thought that she had probably been on her knees when she was killed.

She was in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC).

A man was charged with her murder but on 3 June 1919 the Public Prosecutor at Bedford withdrew the charge. Then on 11 August 1919 the Director Of Public Prosecutions decided to abandon the investigation.

On 27 June 1919 police reconstructed Nellie Rault's murder. A man took the role of the murderer and another of Nellie Rault. They said that on the whole, whoever killed her probably walked with her in a friendly way for a few paces off the lane into the wood where they talked and then probably started to quarrel and suddenly he struck her three blows in the face with his fist. Nellie Rault then probably turned and ran away and the murderer then stabbed her twice in the back with a sharp knife or dagger. Nellie Rault then probably half turned around and fell to her knees and was then stabbed four times in her chest and fell back dead.

It was thought that the murderer then covered her face with her dress and then tore branches from trees and attempted to cover her up. When she was found Nellie Rault had her wallet in her hand which contained the photographs of three soldiers.

The police then considered the terrain to determine which way the murderer would go to make his escape. It was thought that the escape route might have been different for a soldier as for a civilian and that a soldier would have been better placed to escape un-noticed as hardly anyone other than soldiers were in the area.

Nellie Rault had been seen near the time of her death sitting in a wood reading a book by a school boy who said that at the time he saw the man that was charged with her murder sitting in the back of a military lorry coming from camp. The man that was charged was said to have been absent from his hut at the time the murder was thought to have taken place. A sergeant said that when he went to bed at 9 o'clock in the evening of 9 May 1919 when the murder was supposed to have been committed the man was not in. After being asleep for some time he woke up and found the lights were out. The man was in the hut then, but the sergeant did not speak to him.

A doctor who examined Nellie Rault's body said that she had abrasions on her forehead and upper right eyelid which could have been caused by a fall on hard turf. He said that if she had been in a kneeling position when the wounds were inflicted, he would have expected her to fall with her legs under her. He also said that she might have survived a minute or two after the wounds had been inflicted. He also said that there would not necessarily be any spurting of blood on the killer's clothes and the bruise on her right wrist could have been caused by being gripped.

On 11 May 1919 a sergeant-major said that the unit administrator made enquiries to him about a sergeant-major saying that he was a little dark man and wearing black leggings. The sergeant-major said that he could only think of one man that matched that description and that was the man that was charged with her murder. However, he said that he also said that the sergeant-major he had identified was the most unlikely man to make an appointment with a girl and that he had never seen him with a girl. He also said that the sergeant-major was a teetotaller and was not often in the mess and usually went to the YMCA.

The sergeant-major charged was actually a company sergeant-major in the Royal Engineers.

However, another man said that he had seen the sergeant-major that was tried on the Friday 9 May 1919 and said that he was wearing putties and not leggings, which was said to be of significance. He also said that the sergeant-major had been helping him in the demobilisation office that day and had only left it while they were working for about five minutes at 3pm. The demobilisation office was about 200 yards from the spot where Nellie Rault's body was found.

A search of the man's room however turned up a bloodstained handkerchief but the sergeant-major said that he had had a nosebleed.

At the inquest a Lieutenant from the RAF Meteorological Department gave evidence regarding the weather saying that he did not agree that it was a still calm day. He said that he thought the wind velocity would be sufficient to move small trees in leaf and to raise dust. He said that it was a day of moderately fresh breeze.

There were also reports of a man on a bicycle, but the police were unable to trace any cyclists.

A red-handled kitchen knife was also found but it was thought not to have been the murder weapon and the police thought it's only value in the investigation was whether or not it had been left by the murderer as a decoy.

Also, even though a large number of soldiers had passed by only a few people actually saw Nellie Rault on the day.

Nellie Rault had gone to a dance on the Thursday evening 5 May 1919 and on the Friday 6 May 1919 she had left the camp intending to go to Bedford to go rowing on the river but from that time until her body was found not much was known of her movements.

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

see discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

see National Archives - MEPO 3/262B

see Diss Express - Friday 04 July 1919

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 08 July 1919

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Monday 26 May 1919

see Dundee Courier - Tuesday 27 May 1919

see Dundee Courier - Saturday 28 June 1919

see Dundee Evening Telegraph - Tuesday 20 May 1919

see Hull Daily Mail - Thursday 22 May 1919

see Lincolnshire Echo - Monday 11 August 1919

see Sheffield Independent - Thursday 29 May 1919

see Sunday Post - Sunday 25 May 1919

see Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser - Wednesday 04 June 1919

see Western Gazette - Friday 16 May 1919

see Commonwealth War Graves Commission