top of page

1869: Graphic witness detail at Cuckfield murder inquest ...

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Chichester Express and West Sussex journal- Tuesday 7 December 1869

The mysterious death of a stranger at Cuckfield

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 Butler's green. A bank about four feet high separates the ditch from the footpath, and on the side of the Meadow it adjoins a steep fall of about three feet, and a quantity of brambles growing around partly hid the body from view, so that persons might pass and re pass without noticing it.

Newbury Pond c2018

The first idea was that the man had been dead two or three days, and had probably been lying there during 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 have 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 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 a 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 is soft and there is no hard substance with which his head could have come in contact.

Some footmarks 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, Packam, who discovered the body, is a rat catcher, 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 3 pairs of boots in London on the morning of Wednesday, November the 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 have discovered that a person answering the 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 unnoticed about Haywards 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 seemed to have had much wear; and the clothes he had on were in good repair and respectable. A telegram was received by Mr Myles, the landlord of the White Hart, where the body has 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 a murder it does not appear likely that a man who had so lately been pawning his boots, on which he appears to have only raised 16 shillings, for four pairs at three different shops, should be possessed of property to induce the committal of the crime. The coroner has issued his warrant for the burials, but as the 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.

The inquest

Was held on Wednesday at the White Hart hotel, before L. G. Fullager, a Squire, 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 8:30 o'clock, I was going down the footpath leading from Cuckfield to Butler's 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 stick or weapon of any kind near him. I had never seen him before that I know of. His hat lay just in front of his head, and he lay 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.

Doctor C. E. Saunders, of Cuckfield diposed- yesterday I made a post mortem examination of the body of the deceased. I found it to be the body of a man of apparent age of between 40 and 50, affair muscular development, and fairly nourished. I found both hands contracted, 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, 1 inch and five lines in length, along the margin of the lower jaw bone; But this was only skin deep. There was a third gaping wound, an inch long, half an inch behind the ear and half 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 1/2. Blood was if used under the condention of the right eye, and fresh fluid blood was around the nose. There were no marks or any other injury, or any peculiar confirmation of the body by which it might be known. I removed the scalp and found the temporal bone was fractured in as many as twenty pieces. The bones on the face on that side were all fractured. There was a fracture of the paretal bone, involving one centre half. Another fracture of the jaw bone in a different direction, including a portion of the occipetal. 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 if used over the right hemisphere of the brain; the brain itself was not injured. All the viscera were healthy except the liver which presented 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'm 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 himself by firearms, and that if the firearms had 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.

Doctor 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 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.

PC Thomas Taylor, stationed at Cuckfield deposed- on the morning of the 29th, I was sent for to the court Meadow. I went and saw the deceased lying in a ditch. With the assistance of the witness Packam, I lifted him out of the ditch, and noticed wounds on the right side of the head behind the ear. We went back to the ditch and searched for a pistol or a knife or other weapon, but found nothing of the kind. There was a foot mark 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 grey cloth coat, black waistcoat, with green spots in it, and black cloth trousers. His clothes were not disarranged in anyway whatever. The left hand trousers 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 or any watch. There was no print of a horse or bullock near the man. A hat about 2 feet from his head, the hat was uninjured.

Walter Harvey, of 160, Boro, assistant to Mr Blyard, deposed- I have the fellows to the pawn tickets produced. Deceased is the 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 Rd, assistant to Mr Hollington, a pawnbroker, deposed- last Wednesday the deceased pledged a pair of boots with me, and I gave him the pawn ticket produced. He gave the name of James, no Christian name. I had never seen him before. I am sure he had no jewellery. I know nothing more about him. He pawned the boots for six shillings.

By the coroner- it is not usual to put an initial to the surname when none is given by the person pledging. I am quite sure deceased had no watch or jewellery about him when he came. The boots have no mark on them, and they were pawned for six shillings.

Superintendent 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 of evidence as to how the deceased met his death-that course was to adjourn the inquiry till that day week.

bottom of page