Date: 18 Mar 1932
Place: 61 Addiscombe Road, Croydon
Susannah Emberton was beaten to death at a house on Addiscombe Road, Croydon.
She was the housekeeper.
The owner of 61 Addiscombe Road was an actor, theatrical manager and playwright and had left home at about 10.45am on 18 March 1932 to visit his daughter at 28 Ormond Mansions in Southampton Row WC1. Before going he had told Susannah Emberton, who was the only other person residing in the house, that he would be home late, from which she would have understood that he meant about 7.30pm to 8pm.
The actor returned home at 9.10pm and found the house in darkness. When he entered the hall with his latch key he switched on the electric light and noticed a suitcase near the foot of the stairs. He said that he called out 'Sushan' several times but got no reply and that when he went into the dining room and saw that the drawers of the sideboard were open, and that the sideboard had been nearly cleared of plate and found that the drawers of the cabinet in the sitting room were open he feared that burglars were in the house and telephoned the police station.
Within three minutes two policemen in police cars arrived at the house and found the actor at the foot of the stairs and they at once made a thorough search of the house and garden at the rear but the thief or thieves had gone. Then, when going upstairs with the actor they found Susannah Emberton lying in her bed with a blanket pulled over her. The pillow case and sheets near her head were soaked in blood and she had a wound to the top of her head.
The sergeant that found her said that he spoke to her but said that she could only whisper and that she said, 'Oh my poor head'. Another police sergeant there said that he asked, 'Did you see a man?' and Susannah Emberton replied 'No. I don't know what happened'.
When a doctor that lived next door was called she attended immediately and when she examined her she found two wounds on the top of her head, although the bleeding had ceased.
Whilst the doctor was examining Susannah Emberton she said 'My head hurts. Who did it?', and she then lapsed into total unconsciousness from which she never recovered.
An ambulance was called and she was removed to the Croydon General Hospital accompanied by a detective sergeant who remained at the hospital all night in case she should make a statement. The detective sergeant was relieved by another detective sergeant the following morning and continuous observation was kept at the hospital until she died two days later on 20 March 1932 at 12.20pm. She had died without saying anything since her remark to the doctor at the house.
The house was later examined. There was a small garden in front of the house and the front door was in full view of the footpath at the side of Addiscombe Road. The footpath was about 9 feet wide and was separated from the main road by a shrubbery about 5 yards wide which hid the house from the view of anyone passing in the main road. It was described as a lonely spot.
There was a side entrance down a passage from the front and the door to the passage was bolted on the inside, but the door could be easily climbed over, thus allowing anyone to reach the side door which may have been left unlocked.
The house was a small one consisting of two floors. On the ground floor there was a dining room at the back and a sitting room at the front and a small kitchen and scullery to the rear. There were three bedrooms upstairs, two at the front and one at the back, as well as a bathroom and adjoining WC.
The maid's bedroom was very small and was in the front of the house over the hall. The actor’s bedroom was a large one and was also at the front of the house. The other bedroom was furnished but unoccupied.
The police found an old police truncheon dated 1848 on the landing lying near the bathroom door and opposite the back-bedroom door. They also found one of Susannah Emberton's house slippers near the back-bedroom door and her white lace cap, which she wore during her domestic duties, lying just outside of the back-bedroom door steeped in blood which looked as though it had been used in an endeavour to staunch blood. The police also found an old brown suitcase that belonged to Susannah Emberton on the landing which was empty except for a feather trimming, a small white metal mesh bag and a pair of yellow gloves, all of which were said to have belonged to Susannah Emberton.
Just inside the back-bedroom door there was a large pool of blood near the corner on the left of the doorway as one entered the room and the door was found wide open. There were also splashes of blood on the door frame on the side near the bottom and between the back room and Susannah Emberton's room there were a few patches of blood on the carpet.
When Susannah Emberton was found she was dressed in her working clothes, except for her hat and shoes. The other shoe was found on the floor in her bedroom.
There were very few blood stains on her dress and the police report stated that there was little doubt that she had not stood up whilst bleeding. It also stated that it was thought that she had received her injuries whilst on the landing and had fallen with her head inside the back bedroom door, or that she had been struck whilst in the back bedroom and had fallen with her head near the door post. It further stated that having regard to the fact that the blood had not run down her dress that it seemed almost certain that she was carried from the back bedroom to her own bedroom and there placed as she was found, which was a comfortable position.
The police report stated that the suitcase in the hall contained silver plate which had been taken from the sideboard in the dining room and was practically full. It was also noted that the suitcase belonged to Susannah Emberton.
There was no evidence of any forcible entry anywhere.
It was stated that the actor had gone out that morning leaving one of his wardrobes unlocked and the other locked, as he always did, but that the locked wardrobe had been forced with a half inch jemmy and a 15-inch-long cashbox which contained jewellery valued at £177 and papers had been stolen. A writing desk in the corner of the actors room near the window had also been forced open with a half inch jemmy and £15 in £1 and 10/- notes had been stolen, and a drawer had been removed from a chest of drawers in the room and had been left lying on the floor and the other drawers in the chest had apparently been ransacked. Also, some of the articles taken from the drawers were found on the actors bed.
Two chests of drawers in Susannah Emberton's room had also apparently been searched for money or any articles of value and the room was found in general disorder, with articles taken from the drawers left strewn about the floor.
The police report stated that the rooms bore the aspect of having been visited by a professional housebreaker.
The actor said that he was not certain whether or not the back door was locked when he returned to the house, but the police sergeant that responded said that he felt certain that the door was not locked when the actor had opened it to let him go out to search the garden.
The garden itself was about 24 yards long and bounded by a wooden fence about 5ft 6in high which turned at right angles at the bottom, along the end of the doctor’s garden next door to Brickwood Road, the entrance being through double wooden doors about 6ft high which were kept locked. No footmarks or indications of any kind in the garden were found to suggest that anyone had entered or left that way, but anyone could have walked along the footpath without leaving any trace.
Initially it was thought that the house had been entered from the rear because a piece of wood was found broken off from one of the boards of the doors at Brickwood Road, but it was later determined that the piece of board had been broken away by one of the sergeants whilst he was searching for thieves.
The suitcase containing the silver plate was taken to the finger print department and it was found that there were fingerprints on three of the articles, the egg cup, the biscuit barrel and the lacquer box, but they were all found to have belonged to Susannah Emberton. Also, on the morning of 19 February 1932 a policeman from the finger print department made a thorough examination of the whole of the premises but after spending several hours there no finger print of any kind was found and they came to the conclusion that the thieves had been wearing gloves.
During their investigations the police found a man that said that he had seen a woman leave 61 Addiscombe Road at about 11.50am on the 18 March 1932. He described her as being between 5ft 7in or 5ft 8in tall and rather good looking. He said that he didn't get a good look at her face and said that he would not know her again. He said that she looked flushed and had looked up and down the road as she had left the house and that she had gone off towards East Croydon Station. The police said that they could not ascertain who that person was and said that the actor was unable to give any information as to who she might have been.
It was also found that a carman employed by Messrs H Leppard Ltd, Wine Merchants, had called at the house at about 12.45pm on 18 March 1932 and left a crate of beer which was taken in by Susannah Emberton who was said to have been all right then.
Later, a contract officer from the London Telephone Exchange called at the house at about 3.45pm, but said that he got no reply from his knocking. Also, at about 5.20pm, a woman said that she had been passing the house and had seen a young man, aged 20 to 25 and about 5ft 7in tall, dressed in a dark coat, standing at the door. She said that she saw the door opened by a woman wearing a white apron but said that door was not opened very wide. The police said that the woman said she would not recognise the man again and said that they were unable to ascertain who he was.
It was also found that a woman that was passing the house at about 5.55pm saw two men being admitted to the house by a woman that was standing just inside the door. She said that when she saw them one of the men was just entering the house and said that he was very tall, dressed in a smartly cut overcoat shaped at the waist, a dark hat, either a bowler or a trilby and had a slim build. She said that he had been carrying a small suitcase or attache case and that the second man was just bending down to pick up a light brown suitcase. She said that the second man had been wearing a black loose-fitting overcoat, possibly with a cape attached, a broad brimmed black felt hat and a white scarf. She said that both men were of smart appearance and apparently youngish. The police report stated that the description of the woman that had let them in tallied with that of Susannah Emberton.
The police said that the woman seemed certain that the house that she had seen the two men at was 61 Addiscombe Road which she said she passed daily and recognised the for sale board outside which had been there for two and a half years. The police also said that they checked all the other houses along the road to see if the incident had taken place at one of them but found that it had not. The police concluded that the woman seemed like a sensible woman and concluded that there was no reason to doubt her statement.
The woman also said that at the same time that she noticed the men go into the house she saw a large blue saloon motor car standing at the corner of Brickwood Road which was only a few yards away at about 5.55pm and although it was perfectly light, the lights of the motor car were on. She said that she didn't notice anyone in the car and said that she got the impression that the car had belonged to the two men that she had seen go into the house.
The police report stated that the woman had initially said that the lights of the car were not on but that when she went to the address with a policeman she said that she had seen the headlights before she had reached the car.
The police report stated that it was considerable time before lighting up time and said that if the lights were on it seemed to indicate that the car belonged to someone who was making a call which would extend until after lighting up time.
Later, at 6pm a woman said that she was proceeding home when she passed Susannah Emberton who she said she knew very well by sight at the corner of Cherry Orchard Road which was about 300 yards from 61 Addiscombe Road. She said that Susannah Emberton had been going in the direction of Croydon and had been carrying a large shopping basket. The woman described Susannah Emberton's coat and hat which was said to have indicate that she had been going off on an errand.
It was noted that Susannah Emberton usually called at the United Dairies in George Street at about 4pm on Fridays but it was found that she had not called at all on the 18 March 1932 and no evidence could be obtained indicating that she had called at any other shop. The police report also noted that the woman that gave that evidence appeared intelligent and sensible and stated that there was no reason to doubt her story.
The police report stated that there was no evidence that Susannah Emberton had been seen after that time until 9.10pm when the actor had returned home.
It was found that later in the day, at 9.20pm, a washhouse attendant found some legal documents pushed behind the lavatory pan in one of the 1d-in-the-slot public lavatories adjoining the public baths in Windmill Road next to the Glos'ter public house. The documents were a will, a lease and two insurance policies and they were all in the name of the actor at addresses other than 61 Addiscombe Road. The envelopes had been pushed behind the pan in a place that was not uncommon for the lavatory attendant to find old socks and bits of clothing discarded probably by inmates of Common Lodging Houses. There had been no attendant on duty in the lavatories which consisted of only four compartments, but an attendant visited them from time to time and they had last been visited at 6.20pm earlier on in the day.
The envelopes had initially been forwarded by the superintendent of the baths to Croydon Town Hall where they were later recovered by the police. The actor said that the documents had been locked in the cash box that had been stolen from his wardrobe. It was noted that along with the documents found, there had been a buff coloured envelope about 11 inches long that had contained the actor’s original will which was still missing.
After the documents were found the police made a searching enquiry around the locality of the baths but nothing good could be found out. The lavatory and baths were about a mile apart and it was noted that the lavatory was situated in the worst district in Croydon where most of the local thieves resided and seemed to indicate that the crime had been committed by a local criminal. As such, all the local thieves who could be found were brought to the police station and interrogated and in many cases, their addresses searched with their permission, but no one could be found to whom any tangible suspicion could be attached and no articles from 61 Addiscome Road were recovered or any trace of the stolen property obtained.
A post mortem was carried out on Susannah Emberton at 5.15pm on 21 March 1932. She was 5 feet 8 1/2 inches tall and was of a slim build. A 2 inch lacerated wound was found on the crown of her head and another lacerated wound about 2 inch long was found towards the left of her head on the top. The pathologist said that both wounds were consistent with having been caused by the truncheon that was found on the floor. He also noted that her left eye was blackened but stated that that had been caused apparently from the injuries to the head. He said that her skull was fractured in three places, two under the external wounds found and a third at the extreme base of the skull towards the right. The pathologist said that the third fracture was consistent with having been caused by a blow with the end of the truncheon whilst she was lying on the floor. He noted that there were no other injuries or bruises of any kind to indicate that she had been struggling with her assailants.
At her inquest it was heard that Susannah Emberton had been employed as a cook by the actor and his wife for the last eight years and that when the actor’s wife died in October 1931 she had been made housekeeper. She was said to have been very faithful and had taken great pride in keeping the house nice and so far as was known, she had only one friend, a woman that lived on Upper Kennington Lane who she had known for between 30 and 40 years. The friend said that Susannah Emberton had no male acquaintances whatever.
At the inquest the friend said that Susannah Emberton had permission from the actor to show anyone over the house that called with a view to purchase and that as far as she knew she had shown a good many people over the house. She said that Susannah Emberton had told her that she used her discretion as to whom she would admit and had stated to her that she had refused admission to people who had called that she didn't like the look of. The friend said that Susannah Emberton had told her that she was not afraid of being alone in the house and had told her that if anyone interfered with her that she would hit them with the first thing that she could get hold of. It was noted that the truncheon found in the house had belonged to the actor and that it had been usually kept on a small shelf in the actor’s bedroom and it could have been that Susannah Emberton had got the truncheon to defend herself with. It was also noted that it was not certain that her injuries were caused by that weapon and that there was only one spot of blood found on it, which was close to the strap.
The actor said that he was certain that if Susannah Emberton had admitted anyone to the house to view the premises she would not have gone out leaving them indoors alone. It was said that if the two men seen entering the house had killed Susannah Emberton then the statement made by the woman that said she had seen her going in on errand must be incorrect. However, it was also noted that it was a possibility that the men had got into the house on the representations that they were relatives of the actor in which case she might have gone out shopping and then returned before they expected her to. However, the police said that that theory did not fit the facts. It was noted that when she was attacked she had been wearing her indoor slippers and had been wearing a grey mixture working dress and her lace cap and that there was also no evidence that she had brought back anything that she had purchased from any shops. Further, it was noted that the basket that the woman that had said that she had seen Susannah Emberton going on an errand was found in the larder empty.
It was noted that there were some steps open in the kitchen with a duster on the top and some articles had been taken from a shelf nearby and placed on the kitchen table and the actor said that he thought that Susannah Emberton was disturbed whilst she was about to dust the shelf.
The doctor said that by the state of the blood found which was not congealed he thought that her injuries had probably been caused 2-3 hours before she was found.
Also, it was noted that the fire in the dining room which was always kept up well was just dying out when the actor returned, and tests were carried out from which it was found that a good fire would take about 2-3 hours to reach the same state as was found upon the actors return.
The police stated that every possible enquiry that could be thought of was made including enquiries at tram and bus depots, local railway stations, pawnbrokers, jewellers, dealers and at all places where there was any possibility of getting information, but that no tangible clues were found.
It was heard that the son of the licensee of the King William IV pub in Norbury said that at about 11pm on 19 March 1932 he had been shown a cash box, a cameo brooch, a cigarette holder and a tie pin, which he made sketches of. However, he said that he was certain that the cashbox was only 9 inches long whilst it was remembered that the actor’s cashbox had been 15 inches long and as such it was thought that the cashbox and articles could not be connected to the crime. Also, the men described selling the articles were stated as being rough looking men who were apparently engaged in selling floor polish in tins. Their descriptions were circulated but they were never traced.
The police report stated that 50% of cases of housebreaking committed in the district during the past five years had been committed by men other than local thieves.
The report also states that the only car reported stolen that matched the description of the blue salon car mentioned by the woman was one stolen at 1.30pm from outside 1 Hackney Road in Shoreditch on the 18 March 1932 and that it was later found abandoned at 6.48pm at Fanshaw Street which was not far from where it was stolen.
It was also noted that the police made enquiries in the West End district in case the crime had been committed by someone who was conversant with the fact that the actor was a member of the Green Room Club in Leicester Square and thus in a position to know his movements on the day of the crime.
It was also noted that an inside knowledge of the house could have been obtained from a Fulham chauffer who had worked for the actor’s son and discrete enquiries were made of the chauffeur's associates.
It was also noted that the lavatories where the papers were found were between Addiscombe Road and London and that anyone that had known the locality well that had been driving a motor car would have passed the Glos'ter public house if they were going to London from Addiscombe Road in order to avoid traffic and that they could have put the papers there purposely to lead the police to suppose that the crime had been committed by a local thief.
A dark brown bone button was also found in the house on the night of 18 March 1932 by a woman who had washed the blood from the floor in the back bedroom. The police said that too much importance could not be attached to its finding because the area had already been carefully searched and it was thought that it could have been washed from underneath the skirting board by the woman or the edge of the carpet where it might have been for some considerable period. However, the button did not correspond with any of the garments found in the house and was thought that it could possibly have been left by the thieves.
Later on 31 May 1932 the police reported that a police informant that they had worked with for many years had told them that he had been in a cafe in Blackfriars Road opposite the Ring when a man that he knew as Bottles and a second man known to him as Musha had been in and that whilst there Bottles had told him that he had had to knock out a woman at Croydon because she had gone for Musha. The police informant said that he was satisfied from the conversation that Bottles and Musha had been responsible for the Croydon murder and informed the police.
The police were able to arrest the man known as Bottles but were unable to find any evidence against him. However, in their report they stated that 'Although there appears to be little doubt that Bottles was concerned in this murder there is not at the moment any real evidence against him, but enquiries are being pursued to trace the other man referred to in the hope that some tangible evidence may be forthcoming.'.
When they had arrested the man known as Bottles and informed him that he was being put up for identification for a case of housebreaking at 61 Addiscombe Road in Croydon he had said 'When was it?', and when the policeman had said, 'On the 18 March this year' Bottles had said, 'What day of the week was it?', and that when he was told that it was on a Friday he had said, 'Then I know what I was doing. I took a bedstead round to my sister'. It was later noted that it was thought that he had prepared the alibi in advance in case he was arrested and that when he was informed that he was being put up for identification his first thought was not to deny the crime, but to put up an alibi. The police report stated, 'It is significant that he should have an alibi on the tip of his tongue as soon as he is spoken to about this offence, and he puts up his alibi before he takes the trouble to deny the offence.'. It went on to note that the crime was thought to have been committed by a professional housebreaker and noted that Bottles was a professional housebreaker and was associated with another man who was sentenced to three years in December 1932 for housebreaking in the Addiscombe district.
It was noted that the woman that had seen the two men at the door to 61 Addiscombe Road had said that one of them had been wearing a dark waisted overcoat, a bowler or trilby hat, and that he had been carrying a small suitcase or attache case. When he was put up for identification his solicitor had desired that he be put up without his overcoat and hat but the police refused. The police said that when he was put up he unbuttoned his overcoat and pulled it sideways so that it hung loosely.
After the identification parade the man's father went to speak to him at his cell and the conversation was overheard by a guard that made notes. The guard said that the man said 'Go to 40 Army Street and tell her what position I am in. Tell mum to go to the girl's place and tell her not to worry over the Croydon job but to get hte time off that I spent with her in case they pick me out next week. I have been picked out this morning by one man but that will not be sufficient for them to go for me'. His father, who was also a known criminal then said, 'Don't let them try to work anything on to you son'.
When he was later told that the police were investigating the murder of Susannah Emberton and asked him if he wanted to make a statement he said, 'Yes, I remember where I was that day because I took a bedstead to my sister'. In his statement he said that he had got up at 10am and gone to Hoxton and met two men there who were also known convicts. He said that they then went by rail and bus to Hight Street in Battersea for the purpose of robbing a man on his way to the bank who was expected to be carrying money but that they were late and didn't see him even though they hung about until 1.30pm. He said that they then all went to Southwark Street in Borough, and then he left the other men and went to his parents’ house in Blackfriars Road. He said that whilst he was there he met another convict on licence who had been arrested on 14 March but had escaped and was apparently without means and so the man said that he wanted to get some money for him to help in his defence and decided to sell his put-you-up bed and asked his sister if she wanted to buy it. He said that she agreed but asked him to make sure that he took it round that evening. He said that he then left at 4.45pm and went home and asked a haulage contractor if he would take the bedstead to his sisters and said that they then left together and arrived at his sisters at 8pm. He said that his sister gave him £4 for the bed.
The police said that after the man had given his statement they went to the various addresses to confirm his story. They said that at the first address, which was on Olney Street (Army Street), the person there first denied that he had lived there but then agreed that he did and that he had stayed there until about 21-22 March 1932. she said that he had gone out late in the afternoon on 18 March 1932 saying that he would be back by 8pm to go with her and another person to the cinema but she said that he didn't return until about 11.30pm. She had also said that she was certain that it was the 16 or 17 that he had taken the bed to his sisters. When the police also interviewed another convict, he said that he was certain that it was 16 March that the man had taken the bed to Drury Lane. He said that on their return they had called at a club in Walworth Road and whilst there a policeman had asked him about his lorry. He said that the man stayed until 18 March at his house but that he didn’t see him after 17 March. Further, a steward that the Constitutional Club at 120 Walworth Road said that he remembered seeing the lorry and said that he was certain because it was a Wednesday which was a day he took the evening off and that after returning from the theatre and as he was entering the club a policeman had spoken to him about it. The story was also confirmed by a number of other people including the policeman that had seen the lorry.
The police report noted that there was no doubt that the man known as Bottles had related something that had actually occurred but stated that it hadn't occurred on 18 March.
It was also noted that when they searched his parents house they found a brown fibre case which could well have been described as a small suit case or a large attache case. They said that the man's father said it was his and that he had bought it the summer before to take food to his son whilst he was in custody in Oxford. The police report stated that it showed signs of little use and that it had apparently at some time contained an object so large that it necessitated a straining of the case in order to get it fastened and that the steel rim in the front had been pulled away from the fibre. The police report stated that it might well have been that case that was used to carry the cash box which was 5in deep from 61 Addiscombe Road.
The report stated that a prostitute who lived on Kennington Road said that she had seen the man with an exactly similar case at a property in Princes Square in Kennington which was known as a rendezvous of thieves and said that he used to take it out on his housebreaking expeditions with a few silk stockings in it which were offered for sale if anyone happened to be in at the house where he called.
The police report concluded that there appeared to be little doubt that he had been involved with the murder and stated that they hoped more evidence would come to light if they found the other man known as Mocha. However, by August 1932 he had not been traced. However, on 27 May 1932 a man was arrested who was thought to have been Musha and was identified as Musha by the police informant that had seen him with Bottles, and when questioned the man said that he had broken into the residence of the Mayor of Ealing and stolen some valuable jewellery on 18 March and after his story was verified the police said that they were satisfied that he was not involved with the murder of Susannah Emberton and he was released.
However, they later interviewed another criminal who the police informant then confirmed was the man known as Musha and not the first man. However, when they questioned the man he had at first said that he could not remember what he was doing on the day of 18 March except for the fact that he had gone to the Harringay dog races in the evening. A girl that he was with then said, upon being told that the Grand National had run 18 March, that she was certain that the man had been in Liverpool on 17, 18 and 19 March but the man then declined to accept that saying that he had been at a race meeting in Lincoln on 14, 15 and 16 March and that whilst he had intended to go to Liverpool he had not done so as he had had no luck in Lincoln. The police report stated that on account of the fact that he could have accepted the alibi of being in Liverpool on 17, 18 and 19 but chose to reject it they were inclined to think that he had not been involved with the murder.
The police report later said that the fact that the police informant had stated on two occasions that the men shown him were both the man he had called Musha, that their confidence in him to positively identify the wanted man was shaken. However, they said that they were confident that his original information was genuine and that he had done all in his power to assist the police to clear up the crime.
The police report notes that the press had connected the murder of Susannah Emberton with another crime in which a man with a limp had been sentenced to robbing a woman with violence at Wickham Road in Croydon on 22 February 1932. It stated that there was strong opinion in the press and locally that both crimes were committed by the same man. However, the police report stated that at no time was a man with a limp mentioned in their findings and that they had never themselves made a connection between the two crimes.
see National Archives - MEPO 3/887