15 extraordinary murders explored

Fifteen extraordinary murder cases are featured in a new book of sensational vintage crimes, including three with Sussex connections – one Eastbourne, one Crawley/Horsham and one Brighton.

Nick Fletcher
Nick Fletcher

The book, Murder Most Bizarre, is written by Nick Fletcher, a former reporter with the West Sussex County Times.

It highlights 15 remarkable murders which took place along south coast of England, most between 1900 and 1950.

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The three Sussex murder cases include multiple killer John Haigh who was charged with murder at Horsham Magistrates Court in 1949, his arrest the result of enquiries by Horsham police officer Patrick Heslin.

“The cases selected are not necessarily the most gruesome nor the most notorious but they are certainly among the most bizarre, either in the characteristics of the killer, the motivation or the eventual outcome,” says Nick, a former crime reporter with national and regional newspapers.Nick worked on the West Sussex County Times in the early 1970s.

Other murders featured in the book took place in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Hampshire, Kent and Essex. One case involves a man who, only hours after being acquitted by a jury of a murder charge, freely admitted he really was the killer.

Another involves a murder considered so sensitive, the trial was held on a ship anchored off-shore to guarantee total secrecy.

Murder Most Bizarre is published by Classic Books at £4.99 and available from bookshops or direct from the author’s website www.nickfletcher.co.uk

“Killing another human being is regarded as the ultimate crime and regarded as an act of evil”, Nick says. “As most of us would never commit murder, we are fascinated by what motivates those who do. We want some insight into the psychology of a killer and find out what drove them to commit such an extreme act.

Among the cases:

“In Eastbourne in 1912, a man was spotted on the roof of a house and police Inspector Arthur Walls was first on the scene of what he thought was an attempted burglary. But when he chal-lenged the man, Walls was shot dead and the mystery man escaped. Later a man was arrested but there was no direct evidence to link him to the murder, though he was a known burglar. The subsequent trial involved an obsessive love story and a controversial verdict.

“In Brighton in 1934, the dismembered body of a woman was found in a trunk in an unoccupied rental property and it was identified as a local woman who was a professional dancer. Enquiries quickly led to the arrest of her boyfriend, a local petty criminal. But though he admitted putting the body in the trunk, he denied killing the woman, claiming he had found her already dead when he got home. That claim was tested in a sensational murder trial which was to have repercussions over 40 years later.

“In Crawley in the late 1940s, professional fraudster John Haigh murdered three people to add to three others he had already killed elsewhere. When arrested, he appeared in Horsham Magistrates Court and when he later went on trial in Lewes, an extraordinary mass of evidence was revealed, including mention of possible vampirism.”

Nick, aged 74, who now lives in Brixham, Devon, added: “As a former newspaper crime reporter, I have always been interested in the criminal mind and police investigations and wanted to illustrate how difficult murder investigation was before the internet and CCTV. I enjoy the research as much as the writing and the book is aimed at anyone who likes reading about vintage crime.

“I started writing because as a child, I loved reading and I wrote my first crime fiction story when I was just ten years old as a school project.”