Murder by some Person or Persons unknown
By Chief Supt. W. Worrall
The investigation into murder is always a challenge to the police, which is met with their determination to trace the offender, and the success achieved by this force in this field is evidenced by the fact that only five murders committed in Birmingham during the past twenty years remain undetected.
The endeavours of the police, however, are sometimes completely frustrated by a silent witness or the absence of a vital clue and there is no sure formula for solving a murder, or any other crime for that matter.
It is certainly not through lack of effort that the person responsible for the murder of Frederick Walter Jeffs, some fourteen years ago, has never been traced.
Shortly before six o'clock on the morning of Good Friday, April 19, 1957, the discovery of an Austin A30 motor van, TOM 89, in a right-of-way between Brantley Road and Westwood Road, Witton, sparked off intensive enquiries, for not only were there splashes of blood on the bonnet, windscreen and roof, but a considerable amount of blood and some vomit inside. A brown leather wallet, containing only documents and a pair of spectacles, was found on the shelf below the dashboard.
It was quickly confirmed that the van was the property of Frederick Walter Jeffs, the owner of a sweets and tobacconist's shop at 12, Stanley Road, Quinton, where he also lived. Detectives who hurried to this address found the premises to be secure. Upon forcing entrance, they saw that nothing appeared to have been disturbed in either the shop or the living quarters, and the bed had not been slept in.
Massive police enquiries were commenced with Press, radio and television posing the question, "Where is Frederick Jeffs?"
The answer was not long delayed for, at about 4.30 p.m. on the same day, the body of Jeffs was found by two boys who had been looking for birds in a spinney off Park Lane, Handsworth, about fifty yards from the road.
Police who were informed and hurried to the spot saw that the body lay in a prone position in a hollow under an elder tree and had been covered by leaves and twigs. There was a large piece of concrete covering the head and other pieces of masonry were found nearby. Dr F. E. D. Griffiths, the Home Office pathologist who attended the scene, expressed the opinion that Jeffs had died some twelve to sixteen hours earlier, on Good Friday.
Skid marks were noticed on a track leading from the road indicating that a vehicle had stopped hurriedly, and it appeared that the deceased had been dragged about ten yards from the vehicle to the spot where his body had been found. The belt of a mackintosh was tied round the neck suggesting that it had been used to pull the body away from the van and into the spinney.
It was the opinion of Dr Griffiths, who found multiple fractures of the skull, that the injuries had been caused at different times and that Jeffs had been struck, initially, whilst standing near the front offside headlamp of his vehicle. It was thought he had then been placed in the van and a partial recovery had taken place. He may then have been struck again, but was almost certainly dead when he was placed under the elder tree. No defensive injuries of any description were found.
There were no indications as to the place of the first attack upon Jeffs but a significant clue as to where this might have been carried out was provided by a black miniature poodle dog, 'Perro', belonging to the deceased, which was seen by a number of persons in Reservoir Road, Langley, and the vicinity at about 10.30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18, 1957, some two miles from Stanley Road. The animal had no doubt been in the company of its master when the initial attack had been made, and had been turned loose afterwards as it was not wearing a collar. It eventually took refuge in a garage in Reservoir Road and, some days later, was captured.
During the ensuing months widespread police enquiries unearthed a mass of information about the deceased from which certain firm conclusions could be drawn. On the other hand, much of what happened on the night of the murder remains a matter of conjecture.
What are the facts, which emerged about the deceased and his activities?
Frederick Walter Jeffs was born in Stirlingshire on April 23, 1919, and came to Birmingham at an early age. For a number of years he was employed as an electrician by the Austin Motor Company, at Longbridge. He served in the Royal Army Service Corps during the Second World War, and was taken prisoner in June, 1940. He returned to Birmingham at the conclusion of hostilities and married in February, 1948. For a time he lived in Northfield and worked for the Public Works Department as an auto electrician, but in May, 1953, he took over tenancy of a vacant shop at 12 Stanley Road, Quinton. He established this as a sweet and tobacconist's business and, assisted by his wife, made a success of the venture. Trade flourished and the deceased proved to be a resourceful, hard-working businessman. His marriage, however, deteriorated and his wife left him in September, 1956.
Up to that time there is no question that Jeffs had any associations with other women but it is apparent that following the departure of his wife he became lonely and changed his mode of life. He was, however, preoccupied with his business, and his shop continued to remain open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on every day of the week. He lived alone but relatives, together with one lady assistant, helped him in the running of the shop. He was devoted to his black poodle dog, 'Perro', which he frequently exercised in the evenings in Warley Woods. It was also his custom to visit local cinemas, usually on Thursday nights. There is evidence that he sought the company of other women following the parting from his wife and he frequented licensed houses, particularly the 'Abbey' Licensed House, Three Shires Oak Road, Bearwood, where, occasionally, he was seen drinking with a blonde, a brunette, and a dark, heavily built man.
Unfortunately witnesses who knew Jeffs were unable to identify any of the persons in whose company he was seen whilst visiting the 'Abbey' Licensed House or elsewhere.
During the course of enquiries a number of women of doubtful character came forward and claimed association with the deceased, but none knew him by name and all spoke of a man who was similar to him in appearance. This, of course, widened the field of investigation and, regrettably, tended to confuse the issue.
Only one woman was, in fact, traced who visited his living quarters and to whom Jeffs made any amorous approaches following his separation from his wife. The relationship, however, was quite brief and innocent, and obviously had no bearing on the murder. An incident which may have been relevant was a burglary committed at the deceased's shop during the late evening of December 21, 1956, when £140 was stolen from a till, together with a wireless set and a watch from the living quarters. Police officers from Warley investigated the crime, without success, and it is significant that, on the night in question, Jeffs arrived home shortly after midnight when he seemed reluctant to discuss his movements with the sergeant who attended. Following the burglary Jeffs purchased an air pistol and it became his practice to conceal his money under floorboards and in other hiding places on his premises.
Let us now look at the sequence of events leading up to the crime. On Thursday, April 18,1957, business proceeded quite normally at the deceased's shop and, during the evening, his sister and his wife's grandmother were assisting. At about 7 p.m. a woman called at the shop and Jeffs immediately came from the rear and served her with some chocolates. His sister, who was dealing with other customers, noticed him mouthing a message to the girl and he appeared to say, "] will see you later." He was clearly embarrassed by the girl's presence in the shop and she was described as aged 20-22 years, 5 ft. 213 in., very respectably and neatly dressed, hatless, with dark brown medium length hair, and wearing a dark grey coat. The deceased's sister had never seen her before and was rather taken aback by the incident.
At 7.30 p.m.. Jeffs' sister left the shop and his wife's grandmother departed half an hour later when the premises were closed.
At 9.10 p.m. a woman living nearby saw him drive his van down the passage at the side of his shop into the street. He was alone at the time and she did not notice which way he went. What happened during the next few hours remains a mystery for no witness has ever been traced who saw him alive after that time.
It is, however, fairly certain that a van seen at about 10.30 p.m. by a man in Vicarage Road, Langley, was that of the deceased. The vehicle was stationary and the witness noticed the registration letters to be 'TOM' followed by two numbers. There was no-one in the vehicle as far as could be seen and it is significant that Reservoir Road, where the dog 'Perro' was observed at about that time, is only a quarter of a mile away.
The deceased's van was next seen at about 10.45 p.m. at the rear of his premises in Stanley Road by a youth who lived next door to him. This witness was returning home after visiting the local cinema and, as he reached the drive at the side of Jeffs' shop, he heard the rattle of keys and the slamming of the van door. Upon passing the vehicle to go to the rear of his home he noticed a man, whom he could not identify, sitting in the driver's seat but there was no person in the passenger's position. The youth thought it unusual for the van to be parked there and it had been driven into the reverse position to that in which Jeffs normally garaged it.
It appears that the van was then placed in the garage for at 11 p.m. a relative of Jeffs, living at 8 Stanley Road, rode his motorcycle up the passageway alongside the deceased's shop and felt quite sure that there was no vehicle at all parked outside the garage at that time.
At approximately 11.10 p.m. a young woman, walking past the shop, saw the van emerge from the drive at the side. She also noticed a girl standing in the doorway of the shop. When the vehicle reached Stanley Road it stopped and the girl ran from the doorway to sit in the passenger seat. The witness did not see the driver, but her description of the girl is similar to that of the one who called at the shop earlier in the evening. The van was then driven towards the Hagley Road West and nothing is known of the activities of the perpetrators of the crime during the rest of the night, but the gruesome discoveries later in the day have been described.
It will be appreciated that during the protracted enquiries a great deal of additional information was obtained, some of which might have been valid, but the facts so far related are those about which there can be little dispute.
Let us now attempt to draw conclusions from these facts.
Firstly, what was the motive? Robbery is certainly the obvious one for there is no doubt that property was stolen from the deceased. When his body was found it was noticed that all his pockets had - been turned inside out and contained nothing of value. Only £10 was discovered at his home by the police on the day following the murder. If robbery was the motive then it was certainly premeditated for there were indications that those responsible acted calmly and with determination, as indicated by the visit to the shop at 10.45 p.m. on April 18, the time taken in disposing of the body, and the abandonment of the van shortly before 6 a.m. on the following day. It was estimated, from enquiries at that time that Jeffs would be likely to be in possession of at least £100, either on his person or at his home, and any acquaintance intent on robbing him might anticipate a haul of considerably greater magnitude.
Other motives, which might be considered, are revenge and jealousy, but there is little evidence of either. The excessive injuries inflicted on the deceased might be an indication that some person was seeking vengeance but, on the other hand, the murderer might have been making absolutely sure that his victim was dead. Quite apart from the fact that Jeffs may have formed some undesirable associations during the six months prior to his death, all the evidence points to him as being an inoffensive, kind and. pleasant individual and this would tend to discount a theory of revenge or jealousy.
Perhaps we might now surmise what did happen on the night of the murder.
It would seem that then Jeffs set out in his van with his dog 'Perro' at 9.10p.m. On Thursday, April 18, from his address at 12 Stanley Road, Quinton, he intended to keep an appointment with the woman acquaintance that had visited his shop some two hours earlier. It must be assumed that the sinister rendezvous took place in the Langley area, as is evidenced by the sighting of the dog there at about 10.30 p.m. Was he then enticed to a quiet spot by the woman where a male accomplice was in waiting? This is feasible; and he may first have been assaulted in Warley or Langley, unobserved by members of the public. At the time it was thought that the attack took place in Warley Woods, which was so familiar to the deceased, and, needless to say, extensive searches were carried out in an effort to find traces of blood or weapons which may have been used but these proved fruitless.
There is little doubt that the man and woman concerned visited Jeffs' home when his van was seen at the rear of the premises at 10.45 p.m. and were in possession of keys with which they gained access to his premises. Where the deceased was at the time can be anybody's guess. He could have been lying unconscious in a quiet spot where he had been attacked, or he might have been in the rear of the van. In any event there is no doubt that his assailants were taking an appalling risk by visiting the premises.
What was the purpose of this visit? Most likely it was to search for cash but it may have been to find and destroy evidence, which might have led the police to the perpetrators of the crime. It is significant, however, that when the police searched the shop on the following morning no money at all was found in the usual' hiding places, which would tend to indicate that the intruders were successful in their quest. Those who visited the shop were certainly in no hurry for there is evidence that they remained there for at least twenty-five minutes.
We move next to Park Lane, Handsworth, and consider the choice of this location for the disposal of the body. Again the culprits exposed themselves to unnecessary risk for it would be difficult to reach from Stanley Road without driving through a built-up area. The most direct route would be through Smethwick and the outskirts of West Bromwich. Local knowledge is indicated because the improvised grave was certainly remote and the murderer would be in little danger of being interrupted in his sordid task once he had arrived there. One would have thought, however, that it would have been far safer to have driven along Hagley Road West into the quiet Worcestershire countryside which was only a couple of miles from the shop.
The final, and apparently unnecessary, blows struck in the spinney where the deceased was concealed would point to the fact that the murderer was known to Jeffs and to demonstrate his anxiety that there would be no possibility of a recovery and possible identification.
Does the fact that the body was dragged from the van to its temporary resting place tend to show that one person was concerned in hiding the body and that his female accomplice had been dropped off somewhere en route?
The final journey made by the murderer on the night in question would appear to have been from Park Lane to Brantley Road, Witton, but, again, the reason for driving to the latter place is obscure. There is a fairly direct route, but why go there? This is also a thickly populated district and there are a number of theories on the choice of this spot for the final abandonment of the deceased's vehicle. Perhaps the murderer lived or worked in the area. In any event, one must conclude that there was local knowledge.
The most intriguing aspect of the case is the link between the various focal points and if this could be established we might have the answer to the mystery.
There will be some who disagree with this reconstruction of the case and it is known that a number of different theories have been expounded. What is not and never has been in dispute is the verdict at the inquest upon Jeffs at Birmingham Coroner's Court on June 20, 1957, namely "Murder by some person or persons unknown," which remains as valid today as it was fourteen years ago.
*From 1951 to 1970 inclusive, 95 murders were recorded in Birmingham. Victims of the four other undetected murders, in addition to that of Jeffs, were two newlyborn babies-one in 1957 and the other in 1967; Jacqueline Thomas, whose body was found on Bordesley Green allotments in 1961, and Laurie Venables, a money lender who was attacked at his place of business in New Street, in 1964.Ed's comment- The above is a transcript of an article that appeared in Birmingham City Police Journal, Number 7, Summer 1971. The article and the photos were sent to me by Mrs M Lord from Peterborough. At present all I can say is that Mrs Lord had close family connections with the deceased. I am extremely grateful to Mrs Lord for sharing with us all a significant part of Quinton history.
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