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Author Topic: The Murder of Joan Woodhouse, Arundel, 1948  (Read 7796 times)
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John
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« on: January 17, 2012, 09:58:34 AM »

On August 10th, 1948 the decomposed body of 27-year-old London librarian Joan Woodhouse was found at Box Copse in the grounds of Arundel Park, Sussex, by a labourer named Thomas Stilwell. The body, clad only in underwear, lay a few yards from a neatly folded pile of clothing. Joan had informed her father that she was coming to spend the Bank Holiday weekend with him in Barnsley, so how she ended up in Sussex added to the mystery of her death. Had she been kidnapped? Had she made her own way there for some unknown reason - maybe to meet a boyfriend?

The pathologist who examined the body thought she had either taken off her clothes to sunbathe and had been surprised, or had agreed to some form of sexual foreplay short of intercourse. Despite the advanced decomposition of the body, he suspected that she had been raped. The police thought that Stilwell, the man who found the body, was the prime suspect in the killing but despite intensive interrogation they could not get him to admit anything. There was no evidence linking him to the crime, and no apparent link to Joan either, and he was released from custody.

Joan's family believed that the police had actually got the right man, and tried to launch a private prosecution against Stilwell but the case wasn't permitted by the magistrate to go forward. A few months later, the family tried another tack - seeking a bill of indictment from Mr. Justice Humphreys at Lewes Assizes against a named person. He refused to grant it.

Archie Greenshields, a police officer at the time, mentions the murder in part of his memoirs published in the West Sussex Gazette on July 5th 2001. He says:

"Following a very hot August Bank Holiday in 1948, the body of a young woman was discovered in a lonely spot in Arundel Park. Following an examination by a pathologist it was found that she had been strangled and, on attending the Police station for duty that day, I discovered that there was a tremendous hive of activity. Not long afterwards I was sent with others to assist enquiries that pointed to the fact that her last known place, before the discovery of her body, was believed to have been at a hotel in Worthing. Each of us from the Littlehampton and Arundel Division were to work with a member of the Worthing Borough team. Armed with a recent photo of the girl, Joan Woodhouse, we were told to visit every hotel in Worthing in an attempt to discover where she had been staying prior to her death. I worked with a D.C. Stoddard, who subsequently reached the rank of Chief Inspector, and we had the task of visiting each hotel on Marine Parade from the Pier westward. It was never discovered where she had stayed and what is more, her murderer never came to trial. The man who discovered the body was a prime suspect and Miss Woodhouse's family took the very unusual step in those days, to apply for private summons to bring this suspect to trial once again. The original charges against him had not been accepted at the Magistrates' Court. Out of interest, I met this man quite by accident again in the early 1980's."

The murder remains unsolved. There are documents held at the National Archives relating to the private prosecution - file MEPO 3/3022, 'Unsolved murder of Joan Mary Woodhouse at Arundel Park, West Sussex, on 31 July 1948: private prosecution' - but this file is closed to the public and is not due to be opened until January 1st 2033. A relative might, however, be granted access under FoI legislation.
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John
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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2012, 14:24:42 PM »

During my gathering of information on murders in Kent and Sussex I have got hold of many, many photographs that can only be described as 'disturbing'. I made the decision that they shouldn't be shown on here, although if anyone asks me for a particular 'victim' then I will, after discussing the case with them and ascertaining their reasons, provide the images privately. In the case of Joan Woodhouse I will show this one picture, but only because it appeared in the public domain in the 'Evening Argus' of August 11th, 1948.

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Ron Stilwell
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« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2014, 11:06:20 AM »

This is quite an interesting case, and worth a bit of research.  
I'll leave any research to others, and as you will see if you do, there is a reason for that.

Thanks for moving my topic, John.  I did search for this case on the forum but didn't find it.  In our family we do have our own ideas on this case, but wanted to see what has come up since.  Pity that the files are closed for such a long time.
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Weebouy
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« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2014, 21:12:09 PM »

I knew a lot about this case as I served as a police officer at Arundel for some years. The main suspect lived a few doors away from me in Pearson Road and for all of his life he remained a suspect in the eyes of many of the townspeople although all they had was suspicions. Tom used to collect my football coupons!
In 1967 when the new police station was completed at Littlehampton, all us PCs were employed moving all the confidential stuff from the old station. I was down in the cellars and picked up a large cardboard box and lugged it upstairs where I threw it onto the back of a van. I was then brusquely told by a sergeant to be a bit more careful with 'evidence from an infamous unsolved crime' and he pointed out the name 'Joan Woodhouse' on the box. It had contained her clothing and effects since 1948 and probably still does.
That photo would not be allowed publication today!

  
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Martin Knight
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« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2014, 22:18:46 PM »

I have written a book on this case which is due for publication later this year. I have had extensive access to police files and material obtained from National Archives under the Freedom of Information Act. In addition I have Woodhouse family papers and have interviewed relatives of some of the key players.

If any posters have any knowledge/memories/thoughts they would like to sure that would be marvellous. I am particularly interested in the impact on the Arundel community.

Thank you,

Martin Knight
Martin.knight@hotmail.com
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John
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« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2016, 10:30:43 AM »

Big article on this murder in today's Daily Mail.
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John
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« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2017, 14:40:53 PM »

Belfast News-Letter - Monday 23 August 1948

"TRAP" LETTER

Another new turn in the hunt for the murderer was the disclosure of the disappearance of two letters, addressed to Joan Woodhouse and delivered at a club near Bognor nearly a fortnight after her death. Another letter, a "dummy," was grabbed by a man of whom the receptionist, Miss Joan Bates, drew a sketch for the police.

It was Miss Bates who told the police about the letters. To a Press Association reporter she said: "Two letters for Joan Woodhouse arrived at the club about ten days ago. The postman remembered delivering them and the name aroused his interest. Two days later he asked me if they had been collected and we could not find them. We were very suspicious and the club manager, Mr. Ernest Rogers, put a dummy letter addressed to Miss Woodhouse on the reception desk. Last Tuesday a man came in, grabbed the letter, and ran out. I ran after him but he disappeared. He was about 35 and had very wavy hair and a long nose. He was wearing sports clothes. His face was so easy to remember that I made a sketch of it and gave it to the police."

There was no record of Miss Woodhouse having stayed at the club, said Miss Bates, and Why letters were addressed to her there was a mystery.
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"You know, if you don’t read history, you’re a bloody idiot." - James Clavell
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