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1869 Cuckfield Murder: Conjecture, theory and further discoveries

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

Maidstone Telegraph - Saturday 01 January 1870


It is now thought that the man who was found in a ditch at Cuckfield and is supposed to have been murdered, had before his death been concerned in an extensive robbery of jewellery at Croydon.

Superintendent Pocock (of Cuckfield) has been to Twickenham, and was told by the landlord of the Coach and Horses that the deceased left his house on the 25th of the last month, saying he was going to Croydon, and thence to Brighton, as he had property in that town. He gave the name of E. J. Williams.

The superintendent of police at Hammersmith is of the opinion that the man's name was James Greenhead, and not Williams, and that he was connected with suspicious persons. The Croydon police, on Tuesday, identifying the photograph of the deceased as that of Greenhead, who was well-known to them, and is suspected of having committed a burglary on 30 September at the shop of Mr Harland, jeweller of Northend, Croydon, on which occasion the thieves carried off about £500 worth of jewellery.

A reward was offered for the arrest of the offenders, and the only clue that was obtained off the robbery was that a tradesman had purchased some rings from a man named Greenhead, and these proved to be part of the stolen property. Greenhead disappeared. On Tuesday, however, a bricklayer named Rowland was arrested on a charge of being concerned in the robbery, a quantity of jewellery being found in his possession, and one of the officers said to him, “where are the letters he received from Williams?” The prisoner denied having received any; but on being asked how it was since he saw Williams, he said “it is not Williams – it is Greenhead you mean. He did the burglary; I did not.”

The prisoner Rowland was brought before the bench of magistrates at Croydon on Tuesday and after some formal evidence had been heard he was remanded.

Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 01 January 1870


Now that the body, or rather the clothes, have been identified, a great deal of the mystery has been cleared away, and it is probable that to account for the paragraph that appeared in the Morning Advertiser and short time since, deceased had represented himself to have friends in Brighton, when in reality his only friends were those belonging to the gang, some of whom might be there, but the probability is they were at Croydon, and instead of proceeding there to get more money, he was in fact only proceeding by a roundabout way to Cuckfield to meet the others, and there to make a further booty by committing another burglary.

It is scarcely possible that deceased had any great sum of money about him, for persons of his class would hardly travel the distance he did on a pouring wet day, taking no other refreshments than beer and bread and cheese; and again to account for his not having been seen, as was stated at the inquest between Lowfield Heath and Balcombe and between Balcombe and Cuckfield it is only a very natural conclusion to suppose him to be intimately acquainted with the country, and with this knowledge to anyone that is acquainted with that part of the country, it can only be very palpable that nothing could be easier for the deceased to pass between these places by taking one of the many foot paths that are in that part, and on such a day, the chances are much against his meeting anyone on the road. There is no doubt but that deceased was well acquainted with Balcombe, from the many enquiries he made after several of the inhabitants, and he's pointing out alterations there have been made at the station to Mr Godsmark, as adduced at the inquest.

With regard to the theory that has been adopted by a contemporary, to the probability of deceased's having been kicked by a horse and so killed, it requires but little perception to confound this idea, for having so been it must have been done 400 yards away from the spot where the body was found, and such an injury as was inflicted would have at once produced a flowing of blood, which must have saturated deceased's upper clothing in passing to the spot where the body was found. That such was not the case has been proved by the state the clothes were found in when the body was discovered. And reviewing the casual circumstances connected with the case, the only reasonable conclusion that can be arrived at is briefly that deceased had a quarrel with his accomplices or companions near the spot, and that they killed him by repeated blows and deposited the body where it was found


All doubt seems now set at rest in the minds of the police that the murdered man’s real name is James Greenhead, and that he was implicated in the robbery on the premises of Messrs Harland on the 30th September, at Croydon, since which time he has eluded the vigilance of the police, to whom he is well known as belonging to a range of desperados and has, as before stated, recently, at least not long since, come out of jail.

A man giving the name of Rowland, but supposed to be Martin, and a native of Horsham, has been arrested at Croydon for the robbery committed at Mr Harland’s and a quantity of jewellery found in his possession. He, however, denies committing the robbery, laying it to Greenhead (deceased), and when questioned as to the communications he had received from Williams, he denied having received any, and said his name was Greenhead and not Williams. A bludgeon was found on the premises loaded with lead, which was since gone.

On Monday the police at Cuckfield made a minute search on the spot and around where the body was found, but no traces could be found of it, either in the ditch or in the field, although a very minute search was instituted.

Mr Caffyn has had the water let off at Newbury Pond, and workmen are engaged in mudding it, with what success in the shape of finding the lead or any other weapon remains yet to be seen. A large bulls-eye lantern was found in some bushes near Bedlam Pond a few days since, rather battered about, but ’tis not supposed the injuries were inflicted on the murdered man with this, but it is surmised or thought probable to have belonged to the gang who passed that way from the scene of the murder and attempted to throw it in the pond, but failed to throw it far enough.

A great many reports are in circulation, some tending to show that there is a woman connected with the affair, but a careful investigation of the events that have so far been brought to light, will not justify giving them credence beyond that above stated, but we have now every reason to hope that this most diabolical outrage will be cleared, and that the perpetrators will meet their deserts.



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