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1869 Brutal Murder in Cuckfield, media speculation and The Inquest begins ...

Updated: Oct 18, 2020


On Monday morning, the dead body of a man was found near Newbury Pond, Cuckfield by a man named Packham, death apparently having been caused by a gunshot wound in the head.

The man who discovered the body is a ratcatcher, and was going in the direction where the body was found when he was attracted by one of his dogs showing symptoms of having found something in a ditch. He proceeded to the spot and found the dead body of a man, having two wounds, evidently caused by shots, in his head. He at once raised the alarm, and the body, with assistance, was conveyed to the White Hart Inn. The body is apparently that of a man about 45 years of age, and respectably attired. Three pawnbrokers tickets were found on the person of the deceased, and four penny pieces. The tickets are all dated 24 November, at different addresses, all in London, and a name given on each by the person pawning was “John Williams.” The body has not been identified and no weapon has been found near the spot.

Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Express - Tuesday 07 December 1869


The greatest excitement has been aroused at Cuckfield, respecting the fate of the stranger found dead on Monday morning with dreadful wounds on the head, and the impression that he was the victim of a foul murder gains ground. The spot where the body was found was about 30 or 40 yards from the Newbury Pond, by the side of the road leading from the churchyard to Butlers Green. A bank about 4 foot high separates the ditch from the footpath, and on the side of the meadow it adjoins is a steep fall of about 3 feet, and a quantity of brambles growing around partly hid the body from view so that persons might pass and repass without noticing it.

The first idea was that the man had been dead two or three days, and had probably been lying there that time, but this is precluded by the fact that his clothes were not in a state to show that he had been exposed during the heavy rains on Saturday and Saturday night. The non-discovery of any kind of weapon he could had inflicted the injuries with himself, although a most diligent and careful search has been made by the police, increases the suspicion of foul play. Had it been possible for him to have committed suicide, the weapon he must have used to inflict the wounds would have been a pistol or revolver that he might have thrown away; but this is not feasible for there is no doubt the wounds he received would have rendered him senseless, and had he thrown in the weapon into the pond he could not have reached the spot where he was found.

The water has been drained off the pond, but nothing can be found to elucidate the mystery, and the body, from the appearance of the bushes and bank appears to have been thrown into the ditch from the meadow side, there being the mark of a person having slipped down the bank on that side, but no signs of a struggle, nor could the injuries have been received by his falling into the ditch, as the soil

The spot where Greenhead's body was found

is soft and there is no hard substance with which his head could have come in contact. Some foot marks were found near the pond showing that two or three persons had passed out of the meadow into the path, but these are not fresh, and there seems to have been a good deal of rain since they were imprinted, and the road is not much frequented at this season of the year, although much used during summer.

The man, Packham, who discovered the body, is a ratcatcher and was going to his work, accompanied by his dogs; but it does not appear, as was stated, that they drew his attention to it. He noticed it as he was passing along the road. Had he been coming the other way, he would most probably have passed by without seeing it.

A great number of persons have been to view the body, but no one can recognise it except two pawnbrokers’ assistants, who identify deceased as a person who pledged three pairs of boots in London on the morning of Wednesday, November 24th , so that there was ample time for him to have reached Cuckfield on foot by Saturday night, and we hear today (Thursday) that the police had discovered that a person answering his description lodged at Crawley one night at the latter end of the week, but it is strange that no one should have noticed him in the neighbourhood where he was found, and more so still how a perfect stranger should have found his way to so secluded a spot without passing through the town; or if he came the other way, he would probably have been seen and noticed about Hayward’s Heath or on the road. The boots he pledged were of a first class make, and all of the same pattern with those he was wearing, and none of them seem to have had much wear; and the clothes he had on were in good repair and respectable.

A telegram was received by Mr Miles, the landlord of the White Hart, where the body had been lying, from Bedford, describing a man missing from that place, but the description does not answer, and as yet the whole affair is involved in the greatest mystery. Only four penny pieces were found on him, a piece of paper with an inscription on it “the Prince of peace. Prince of the world”, a small cotton handkerchief, and some bread and cheese, and on the bank another penny piece was picked up, so that if it is a suicide he did not do it from abject destitution, and if murder it does not appear likely that man who had so lately being pawning his boots, on which he appears to have only raised 16s for four pair at three different shops, should be possessed of property to induce the committal of the crime. The coroner has issued his warrant for the burial, but as decomposition had not set in it was ordered to be removed to the dead room at the union house for identity, until in a state to require being buried.


was held on Wednesday at the White Hart Hotel before L.G. Fullager, Esq, coroner, and a highly respectable jury. The jury having been to view the body and the spot where it was found, the following evidence was taken:-

Edward Packham, labourer, of Anstye, deposed–

Last Monday morning, about half past eight o'clock, I was going down the footpath leading from Cuckfield to Butlers Green, and saw the deceased lying there in the ditch, at the spot I pointed out to the jury. He was dead. There was very little water in the ditch, not enough to cover him. I just took hold of one hand, but did not move him. I gave notice to the police: I saw no stake or weapon of any kind near him. I have never seen him before that I know of. His hat lay just in front of his head, and he laid partly on his right side and partly on his face. His waistcoat was buttoned up tight, and I believe his coat was buttoned with one button. His feet were rather lower than his head. The left-hand trouser pocket was wide-open, not inside out. His right hand was under his head, his left hand drawn up across his body. There was blood under his head, but I noticed no blood elsewhere on the ground. The pocket that was open was empty.

Dr. C.E. Saunders, of Cuckfield deposed–

Yesterday I made a post mortem examination of the body of the deceased. I found it to be the body of man the apparent age of between 40 and 50, of fair muscular development, and fairly nourished, the tongue livid, and firmly clenched by the teeth to the extent of half an inch. Under the right eye there was a gaping wound, 11 lines in length, and there was also a linear wound, one inch and five lines in length, along the margin of the lower jawbone; but this was only skin deep. There was a third gaping wound, an inch long, half an inch behind the ear and an inch from that lower down, a lacerated wound of five lines in length. The helix of the ear was split in an irregular manner to the extent of an inch and a half. Blood was effused under the condention of the right eye, and fresh fluid blood was around the nose. There where no marks or any injury, or any peculiar conformation of the body by which it might be known. I removed the scalp and found the temporal bone was fractured in as many as 20 pieces. The bones of the face on that side were all fractured. There was a fracture of the paretal bone, involving one centre half. Another fracture of the jawbone in a different direction, including a portion of the occipital. All the external wounds which did not involve deeper structure, led directly to these broken bones. On removing the skull cap, I found clotted blood effused over the right hemisphere of the brain; the brain itself was not injured. All the viscera where healthy except the liver, which presented that some signs of degeneration. The stomach was full, and emitted a strong odour of cheese in a primary state of digestion. The wounds were sufficient to account for death.

From the character of the wounds, and also from the fact of there being a considerable quantity of arterial blood where he lay, I am satisfied that these wounds were received during life. I should judge that they were not gunshot wounds, but I cannot say certainly that they were not. They had the appearance of having been caused by repeated blows from some weapon. I believe the deceased could only have caused those wounds to himself by fire arms, and if the firearms has been fired so close, I should have discovered traces of powder and burning, and that the wounds would have presented a different appearance. I should imagine that when found deceased had been dead not longer than 24 hours.

Dr Thomas Spry Byass, of Cuckfield deposed–

I was present at the post-mortem examination made by Dr Saunders. I have heard his evidence, and entirely confirm it. The wounds must have been occasioned by some great violence, but by what means I cannot say. My opinion is that it is most improbable deceased could have inflicted those wounds himself. I think so from the great extent of the wounds, and to the absence of evidence on the body of firearms having been used. If the man had caused the wounds himself he must have held the weapon near his head, and one of his hands would probably have been smoky, and the hand would in all probability have clenched the weapon or been found open from the recoil. The wounds are of such a nature as might I think have been occasioned by firearms. From the extent of the wounds I think they could not have been inflicted by one blow.

P.C. Thomas Taylor, stationed at Cuckfield deposed–

On the morning of the 29th ult., I was sent for to the Court Meadow. I went and saw the deceased lying in a ditch. With the assistance of the witness Packham, I lifted him out of the ditch, and noticed wounds on the right side overhead behind the ear. We went back to the ditch and searched for a pistol or a knife or other weapons, but found nothing of the kind. There was a footmark down the bank, as if someone had slipped to where he was lying. There was blood under his head, but no blood on the bank. There was no appearance of any struggle about the place. The body was dressed in a great cloth coat, black waistcoat, with green spots in it, and black cloth trousers. His clothes were not disarranged in any way whatever. The left-hand trouser pocket was open, but nothing in it. I searched him and found 4d in his waistcoat pocket, and three pawn tickets. There was no mark on his clothes; there was no more money upon him nor any watch. There was no print off a horse or bullock near the man. A hat about 2 feet from his head, the hat was uninjured.

Walter Harvey, of 160, Borough, assistant to Mr Blyard, deposed -

I have the fellows to the pawn tickets produced. Deceased is the same man to whom the pawn tickets were given. He gave the name of John Williams. He pawned two pairs of boots last Wednesday, the 24th ult. He did not say where he was going. I know nothing more about him.

Thomas Wragg of 25, Walbrook road, assistant to Mr Hollington, a pawnbroker, deposed -

Last Wednesday the deceased pledged a pair of boots with me, and I gave him the pawn tickets produced. He gave me the name of James, no Christian name. I have never seen him before. I am sure he had no jewellery. I know nothing more about him.. He pawned the boots for 6s.

Superintendant Pocock said deceased had pledged another pair of boots in the Kennington Park Road, but the pawnbroker would not attend, saying it was useless, as he knew nothing of him, nor did he recollect anything about the circumstance; but at this place he (deceased) gave the address of Southampton Place, Borough Road, but no such place could be found.

The coroner, in addressing the jury, said there was but one course they could pursue in the absence of any identity and all the evidence as to how the deceased met his death– This course was to adjourn the enquiry till that day week.


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