It was one of the most horrific crimes of the time – the brutal murder of Alice Wiltshaw in her own home in Barlaston. Here we take a look back at the terrible day of 1952 and how a meticulous police investigation saw her killer swinging from the gallows …
The body of Alice Wiltshaw, 62, was discovered by her husband, Cuthbert, on his way home to Estoril in Barlaston on Wednesday July 16, 1952.
Cuthbert, a wealthy pottery maker, had completed the day’s work and returned to the 14-room mansion in the early evening. To his horror, he found Alice lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen.
The trail of blood and other evidence led police to the conclusion that Alice was first attacked in the kitchen, presumably while she was preparing the evening meal. The intruder had picked two large logs from the back kitchen and savagely beat Alice in the head, causing her to pass out.
The assailant had then gone upstairs to steal belongings and shoot Alice’s purse and, on the way back down, discovered that Alice had regained consciousness and was now standing in the hallway. The attack resumed as Alice tried to escape to the kitchen. Her attacker had followed her, knocking in the process.
All kinds of weapons had been used; vases, ornaments and finally a three-foot-long barbed poker – all of which were found heavily stained with blood. Alice had finally returned to the kitchen and while she was lying on the floor, dying, the callous killer stabbed her in the head with the poker. He had also stabbed her in the stomach several times.
There were, however, clues for the police to investigate. The killer had left a fingerprint and a pair of bloodstained gloves. As to the motive for this terrible crime, it was easy to determine. More than £ 3,000 of jewelry was found missing.
Staffordshire Police quickly enlisted the help of Scotland Yard and Detective Superintendent Reg Spooner was dispatched to take over the case. He quickly determined that there was no sign of the break-in and that the crime had taken place while the servants were all on leave.
This suggested that the killer was someone Alice Wiltshaw knew and someone who was very familiar with the household routine. This, in turn, suggested that a former employee would be the right kind of candidate.
One by one, all ex-employees were contacted and removed from the investigation until only one name remained; a man the police could not find.
The prime suspect now appeared to be Leslie Green, 29, an ex-boy who had been employed by the Wiltshaws as a driver-gardener. He had used his employer’s car without permission and had been fired for disobedience. All of this had taken place a few weeks before the murder.
Further investigations led to witnesses describing a man, who fitted Green’s description, eating at the bar at the Station Hotel in Stafford and leaving at 3:30 p.m. on the day of the murder.
The same man was back at the hotel three hours later and that matched the approximate time of Alice Wiltshaw’s murder. Additionally, other witnesses had placed a man matching this description near the house around the time Alice was killed.
A few days later, Green was found and, when his girlfriend was interviewed, she showed them rings that Green had recently given her. These had been removed from the dead woman’s fingers and had linked Green directly to the crime.
The last piece of evidence was a tear in the thumb of the glove on his left hand found at the scene of the crime. The tear matched exactly the mark of a healed cut on Green’s thumb, showing he had cut himself while wearing them. Green’s shoes were also shown to match the footprint found at the scene.
Green was tried for murder in Stafford on December 3, 1952, before Justice Stable.
The proceedings lasted until December 5, during which time Green was represented by MGG Baker and MGT Merdith. The prosecution case was headed by Mr. Ryder Richardson, assisted by Mr. JF Bourke.
Green’s alibi was that he couldn’t be the person responsible for Alice’s death as he had traveled to Leeds that day, by train, to see his girlfriend. Surely he couldn’t be in two places at the same time.
Close inspection of the railroad timetables, however, showed that Green would still have had time to commit the crime and then make it to Leeds, but more evidence was needed. It was then that the hard work of the police paid off.
One of the items removed from the house where the murder took place was an old RAF coat that Cuthbert Wiltshaw had used when he walked around his garden.
Superintendent Spooner contacted the railroad police and asked if any old coats had been found on the day in question. A quick check revealed that a bloodstained RAF coat was found on a train and the blood matched that of Alice Wiltshaw. The train was the one Green would have taken when he left Barlaston.
Green was duly convicted of murder. There was no call and Green was hanged by Albert Pierrepoint at Winson Green Prison in Birmingham on Tuesday 23 December 1952.
Former Police Inspector Alf Robbins, who was a Stone-based Detective Sergeant at the time, was the first on the scene,
Speaking to The Sentinel in 1998, he said: “There is no doubt the most serious crime I have investigated in my 30 years as a police officer. It was vicious murder. by Mrs. Alice Wiltshaw.
“I was at the scene less than half an hour after Mr. Wiltshaw’s tragic discovery. He telephoned Barlaston’s bobby John Bigham, who called us in Stone.
“I went with my boss, Superintendent William Crook.
“At home we encountered a terrible sight. I won’t go into details, but at autopsy Professor JM Webster, a Home Office pathologist, called it the most vicious murder of the century.
“We later established that Mrs Wiltshaw’s assailant used seven different implements – two logs, a saucepan, a porcelain vase, a large brass bowl, a cane and an old-fashioned poker of about four feet. long with a hook at the end.
“I went into the kitchen where the assault had started. There on the floor I spotted wet shoe prints, which were very clear and had a horizontal pattern on the sole.
“They were the most unusual shoes and I immediately understood that the marks had been made by the person responsible for the murder.
“I took something out of the garden to cover them. These footprints have proven to be vital, but I’ll come back to that.
“More clues were revealed in Barlaston. Blood-stained chamois gloves used by the murderer were found in the rose garden. The one on the left had a cut on his thumb.
“Mr Wiltshaw also told us that his old RAF raincoat had been taken. After checking with the railroad, we found that he had been left on a train from Stafford to Leeds.
“The coat had a recent bloodstain on the inside of the right sleeve.
“So the first few days we had the unusual shoe prints, the bloodstained gloves and the raincoat. A villager also saw a man in gray running away from the back of the house towards the train station. we had a list of missing jewelry from Mr. Wiltshaw.
“At that point, we still had no direct evidence against Green, but we had his name listed in the national newspapers as the person we wanted to interview in connection with the murder.
“Then, a week later, Green suddenly showed up at Longton Police Station and said to a policewoman on duty, ‘I’m the man you are all yelling at. I am Leslie Green.
“Reg Spooner went to Longton to bring Green back to Stone. As they walked through the door of Stone’s police station, Mr. Spooner said to me, ‘Robbie, he’s got the shoes. “
“He meant that Green had the shoes with a horizontal pattern on the sole in his stuff. They had been made in Mallorca and were probably the only pair of their kind in North Staffs at that time.
“The evidence against Green was entirely circumstantial, but it all came together like a mosaic.
“Besides the shoe prints, a cut on Green’s left thumb matched the cut in the glove, and a wound on his upper wrist matched the blood stain inside the stolen raincoat.
“In addition, he had a girlfriend in Leeds named Nora Lammey and had given her some of the stolen jewelry, which was recovered from an apartment.
“Green never admitted he had done it. But I had no doubts that he was guilty and knew it, though his demeanor was always so casual.
“During the previous legal process at Stone, he was seen scratching the inside of the dock with a paperclip.
We later found out that he had scribbled the words, “Leslie Green had his last fight here.
“In fact, I found him a smart and likeable character.
“He was not afraid of his situation and was more or less resigned to the consequences of what he had done. He accepted his fate.
“Yet you would not have thought that Green was capable of committing such a terrible crime.
“I am convinced that if Leslie Green had not been drinking that day, the Barlaston tragedy would never have happened.
“As it stands, Mrs Wiltshaw died a terrible death and Green was hanged in Winson Green Prison two days before Christmas. It was indeed a tragic story.”
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