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1869: First Report of the Cuckfield Murder mystery

Hastings and St Leonards Observer - Saturday 04 December 1869


On Monday morning the dead body of a man was found near Newbury Pond, Cuckfield, a man named Packham, under very painful circumstances, death apparently having been caused by a gunshot wound in the head. The man who discovered the body is a rat catcher, 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, 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 an alarm, and the body with assistance, was conveyed to the White Hart Inn.

Newbury Pond from the path where the victim's body was discovered

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 the 24th of November, at different addresses, all in London, and the name given on each by the person pawning was John Williams. The body has been identified, and no weapon was found near the spot. The place where the unfortunate man was found is about 30 yards from Cuckfield Church and 100 from the footpath which runs by the pond. An inquest was held on Wednesday, when two medical men after describing the wounds said they could not have been inflicted by deceased himself, and the man had not been dead twenty-four hours

The inquest stands adjourned till Wednesday next. Over 200 persons visited the White Hart during the the time the body lay there, in order establish an identity, but with no result, although it is plain that it is the same person, according to the evidence of the pawnbroker's assistants, who raised a loan on Nov. 24th, on a pair of men's boots. The boots are of superior make, and but little worn, corresponding with those deceased was wearing.

It is very strange that a person answering the description has not been noticed at all at Cuckfield, Hayward's Heath or the neighbourhood, although the dress is somewhat noticeable, but we understand that such a person is said to have been seen at Crawley, where the police are making enquiries.

According to the evidence of Dr. Saunders and Dr. Byass, it does not seem hardly possible that deceased could have inflicted the wounds that caused his death himself, and this heightens the suspicion that a foul murder has been committed, and causes intense alarm and consternation, and it is also singular, although the strictest search has been made, and the water of the pond let off, no weapon of any description can discovered, by which the act could have been committed, and the distance from the pond, thirty or forty yards, precludes the possibility of his having shot himself and thrown the pistol into the water, as the fractured state of the skull, according to the doctors' statements, must have rendered him senseless at once.

It may perhaps, be as well to give an accurate description of the dress:—Roundabout brown hat, grey coat, black cloth waistcoat and trousers, striped cotton shirt, scarf, and small silk necktie white cotton stockings (new), buttoned-up boots, not much worn. Age apparently from 45 to 50; height, about 5ft 7 in; brown hair, and the head partially bald, with whiskers shaved off beneath the chin.

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