Fiftieth anniversary of my aunt's brutal murder

Not every crime writer has personal experience of murder in their family but this year is the fiftieth anniversary of the unsolved murder of my great aunt, Martha Giles. And it is one mystery that it appears I will never be able to solve.

Over the last year, I have been piecing together the evidence of the Martha Giles murder which hit the headlines in the national newspapers in 1959 but I’ve finally hit a brick wall after being denied access to certain ‘closed’ files in the National Archives. In the fifty years since Martha’s death the case has never been re-opened, despite requests from the family, and no one has been brought to justice for her murder.

Martha Giles was the mother of five children, the youngest of whom was only five at the time of her death. She was a nurse at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton. On the evening of 11 February 1959 she left her home to go on night duty but she never showed up for work. No one questioned why, or where she was. Her body was discovered the next morning on the bowling green within the hospital grounds. She had been battered with a rock and the post mortem later revealed that her death was caused by ‘internal haemorrhage due to stab wounds in the heart, also pneumo-thorax due to stab wounds in the lung.’ (Alfred Gordon Marshall – Registered Medical Practitioner and Consultant Pathologist.)

New Scotland Yard were called in to investigate her death with Detective Superintendent Ernest Millen leading the case. He later went on to become Deputy Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and was Head of the Flying Squad at the time of the Great Train Robbery in 1963.

The investigation caused a considerable media frenzy both locally and nationally, and subsequently a doctor at New Cross Hospital was charged with her murder and was sent to trial at Staffordshire Assizes before Justice Elwes on 13,14,15,16th July 1959 where a Not Guilty verdict was brought in and he was discharged. No other person was sought in connection with the killing.

Through the National Archives I gained access to the witness statements, pathologist’s statement and harrowing photographs, and I have the press cuttings from the time, but I could see that there were many gaps in this case. Finally after several telephone calls to the Metropolitan Police and the Staffordshire Crown Court I managed to discover that there existed ‘closed’ files in the National Archives, which included the trial notes and the police case notes. I duly applied to see these under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the same time I contacted the National Association of Retired Police Officers, asking for any information from former police officers who might remember the case. NARPO put an announcement on their national web site and the Staffordshire branch of NARPO also advertised for information. The Wolverhampton press picked up the story and wrote an article on it. As a result several people contacted me including a police officer and a journalist who were at the murder scene at the time, and I have some fascinating anecdotal material from them about the case.

Shortly before Christmas, after several delays, I was finally told by the National Archives that I could not have access to the ‘closed’ files and that it was unlikely I, or anyone else, would see them until the year 2030 at the earliest. One of the reasons they gave for refusing access is the ‘possibility, however remote, that this case could be opened for re-investigation at some point in the future,’ and ‘It is not in the public interest to jeopardise a prosecution for murder by releasing information that could be of later significance.’

It seems wrong to me that the police have never re-examined this case in the light of new forensic techniques. I am used to dealing with fictional murders, researching and constructing complex plots for my novels and it has been strange looking into the murder of a relative. And whilst my novels can have satisfactory endings this real life case it seems cannot. Sadly I have no indication from the police that they are ever likely to re-open the case so here is one mystery I am unable to solve. And without all the facts it seems I cannot even tell Martha’s story.

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