Date: 15 Feb 1952
May Rebecca Thompson was found dead the kitchen at her home at 31 William Street, Low Spennymoor at 7.45pm on Friday 15 February 1952.
She had 36 stab wounds. The police said that they thought that the murder weapon might have been a jack knife, but the murder weapon was never found.
She was found by her neighbour dead in the kitchen after she called for her. She said that after she got no answer to her call, she went in through the kitchen back door which she said was open, noting that the light was on and the wireless was playing.
She said that May Thompson was lying there between the press and the kitchen door.
The police said that they had not determined a motive for May Thompson's murder, noting that nothing had been taken from her house.
The police said that she might have been the victim of a savage attack by a homicidal maniac. The police said that a pointer to that possibility was the fact that May Thompson had been stabbed 36 times, both in the back and chest, stating that they thought that the fatal blows where inflicted in her back and that they thought that she had been surprised by her murderer. The police noted that there were few signs that there had been a frenzied struggle in the kitchen where her body was found.
She had worked in a radio factory on the Spennymoor Trading Estate and the police went there to question other girls that she worked with to see if they could get any light on her movements.
May Thompson was said to have helped a friend that lived in Front Street, Kirkmerrington, a nearby village, on the Friday 15 February 1952 to purchase a wedding dress for a friend after which she was said to have gone home.
It was also said that May Thompson had then arrived home on the Friday afternoon from work at about 4.45pm. However, nothing was known of her movements or of what happened after 5.45pm when her father left the house, leaving her alone, and when she was found by a friend who called on her at 7.45pm to go to the pictures.
The police later appealed for a youth to come forward after they were given reports of a youth having been seen leaving her house at about 6pm on the Friday 15 February 1952. He was said to have got on a bicycle and to have ridden off. The bicycle was described as having white mudguards and a carrier bag behind the seat. It was said that he had been seen by a number of children playing in the back lane to her house leave her house about two hours before her body was found.
It was suggested that he might have been the last person to have seen May Thompson alive.
On 7 March 1952 the police said that they found a letter written to May Thompson and appealed for the writer to come forward. The letter read:
Dear May, Am writing these few hasty lines to ask your forgiveness at not keeping the last date I had with you, and I know how awful it must have been for you standing waiting. But, dear, I promise I will be there if you will make another date with me. I won't let you down again. May, so think it over and let me know. Yours, Arthur'.
However, on 18 March 1952 it was reported that the police had traced and interviewed 'Arthur' and concluded that they had no reason to think that he had been connected with her murder.
The police said that they were also trying to trace a man who was said to have called at a farm cottage at Cross Lanes, Barnard Castle the day after the murder asking for food and who had scratched hands and face. The woman that that the man begged a cup of tea from said that he was unkempt and looked as if he had not shaved for two days. She said that he had been wearing dark trousers and a dark jacket and a scarf tied round his neck and that he was about 25 or 28 years old although she said that he could have been older. She said that he seemed surly when she asked him to repeat what he said, saying that he said, 'Give me a cup of tea, I'm on the roads'. She said that he had a scratch on his face that showed dried blood. However, the police later said that they were fairly certain that the man had nothing to do with May Thompson's murder.
On Wednesday 20 February 1952, the police said, 'We have had a number of red herrings drawn across our path already, but we can't afford to discard any report which might help us in our investigations'.
During their investigation the police apprehended a man in Durham on the night of Wednesday 20 February 1952 but after being approached by a police officer, he ran away. Motor patrols were then called out and concentrated in the area and police dogs were used to trace him, but they lost the man's scent near Elvet Station in Durham, and he was never seen again. The police said that he was about 6ft tall. It was thought that he had been seen earlier sleeping in a field by some school children and the police questioned some school children in their search for the man.
The police said that they first thought that May Thompson had had no known men acquaintances.
However, during the investigation the police said that they were able to establish that May Thompson did in fact have a number of men friends. The police said that they questioned three men, in that line of enquiry, but said that they were all able to give a satisfactory account of their movements on the night of the murder.
One of the men later told a reporter that he had known May Thompson about eight months earlier when she had been a domestic servant at Durham Castle and said that he had taken her to the pictures on several occasions, noting that he considered her as a 'very quiet, reserved', type of girl.
It was also considered that May Thompson might have been murdered by a woman after the police noted that her murder could just as well have been committed by a woman as a man, noting that a great deal of strength would not have been needed to inflict her fatal stab wounds. However, her inquest, which concluded on 26 June 1952, stated that some of the wounds in fact would have required a great deal of force and that wounds to her head had penetrated her skull.
During their investigation the police took a statement from a 14-year-old girl, however, a detective said that that after thoroughly investigating it and interviewing several people, they said that they were satisfied that there would be no further developments in the case as a result of her statement. The detective added 'I do not think that the statement was made in an attempt to hoax the police'.
The police took statements from over 700 people during the first week of the investigation, which was said to have totalled over a million words, and said that between 40 and 50 plain clothes and uniformed police had been involved in the hunt for the murderer. By 25 February 1952 the police said that they had taken more than 1,000 statements. By the time of her inquest in June 1952, the police said that they had spoken to about 50,000 people during their investigation.
May Thompson's funeral took place on Tuesday 19 February 1952 following a service at Holy Innocents Parish Church in Spennymoor where May Thompson had been a member. Her cortege left from a sister's house in Half Moon Yane, Low Spennymoor.
At her inquest her neighbour said that May Thompson was always saying to her that she thought someone would attack her and that she had even dreamed of being attacked. It was said that a great deal of force must have been used as the head wounds had penetrated her skull and another of the wounds was five inches deep.
It was said that May Thompson had 16 stab wounds to her back, 12 to her left arm, 5 in her chest an 3 in her head.
May Thompson's inquest was concluded on Thursday 26 June 1952 with a verdict of murder by some person or persons being returned.
see Portsmouth Evening News - Monday 18 February 1952
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Thursday 21 February 1952
see Daily Mirror - Saturday 08 March 1952
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Thursday 25 September 1952
see Birmingham Daily Gazette - Tuesday 18 March 1952
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Monday 25 February 1952
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Saturday 23 February 1952
see Newcastle Journal - Wednesday 20 February 1952
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Tuesday 19 February 1952
see Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Friday 22 February 1952
see Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail - Monday 18 February 1952
see Newcastle Journal - Thursday 26 June 1952