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Eric James BROWN






The Rayleigh Bath-chair Murder
Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Parricide - Suffered from constant bullying from his father
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 23, 1943
Date of birth: 1924
Victim profile: His father, Archibald Brown, 47, confined to a wheelchair
Method of murder: Hawkins 75 landmine (a type of anti-tank mine)
Location: Rayleigh, Essex, England, United Kingdom
Status: Found guilty but insane. He was sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure on November 4, 1943. He was released in 1975

The Brown family lived in Rayliegh in Essex. Eric Brown was a 19 year old bank clerk who suffered from constant bullying from his father. His father had been involved in a motorcycle accident and developed paralysis. He was eventually confined to a wheelchair. Ever bitter about his accident he led his wife and two children a miserable life.

On 23 July 1943 nurse Mitchell took Archibald Brown out for his daily air when she was suddenly thrown violently to the ground. A grenade had been fitted to the Wheelchair and had blown Mr Brown to pieces. The investigation revealed that Mr Brown had been a very difficult man to live with and Eric had been unable to watch him treat his mother in that way so he had killed him. He was tried for murder in November 1943 at Chelmsford Court and found guilty but insane.


Eric Brown

The Brown family lived at Summerfield, London Hill in Rayleigh in Essex. The father, 47-year-old Archibald Brown, had been involved in a motorcycle accident when he was 24 that had damaged his spine and he was left with an increasingly painful creeping paralysis that confined him to a wheelchair. Brown constantly bullied his wife, Doris Lucy, and two sons and completely dominated the family.

Brown's wheelchair was kept in an air-raid shelter in the garden. Nurse Doris Irene Mitchell, one of Mr Brown's three carers, went to the shelter on the afternoon of Thursday 23rd July 1943, to fetch the chair for his daily trip out. She was puzzled to find that the shelter was locked from the inside. Soon the door was unlocked and Eric Brown, who was home on compassionate leave from his army unit in Spilsby, Lincolnshire, emerged and Nurse Mitchell collected the wheelchair. Mr Brown was made comfy in the wheelchair and the pair went down the road

They had gone about a mile from the house when Mr Brown wanted to smoke a cigarette. No sooner had he lit the cigarette and they started again than a massive explosion destroyed the chair. Nurse Mitchell was thrown to the ground and escaped with cuts and bruises but Archibald Brown decorated the area for quite some distance.

Subsequent forensic examination of the remains of the wheelchair showed that it had been destroyed by a Hawkins 75 landmine. When interviewed all Eric Brown could say was that his father's suffering was at an end.

At his trial at Essex Assizes on 4th November 1943, nineteen-year-old Eric Brown was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia and was found guilty but insane. He was sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure. He was released in 1975.


The Rayleigh Bath Chair Murder occurred in England in 1943.

The victim was Archibald Brown, aged 47. He and his wife Doris Lucy Brown lived in London Hill, Rayleigh and had two sons, Eric and Collin. Due to a motorcycle accident Archibald Brown lost the use of his legs at the age of 24 and thereafter required the use of a bath chair and was cared for by three nurses


At 1:45 pm on Friday 23 July 1943 nurse Doris Irene Mitchell went to the air-raid shelter where Brown's bath chair was kept. She found that the door was locked from the inside and upon returning with Mrs Brown they had met Eric Brown, then aged 19, coming out. Eric was irritated and evasive. Both women took the wheeled chair to the house and helped Archibald to get in. Brown was dressed in pyjamas and a dressing gown and was covered with a plaid travelling rug. Mitchell took Archibald Brown out of the house. After walking for about a mile, Brown had shifted his weight apparently while feeling for a cigarette in his pocket. Mitchell, having stopped to light the cigarette returned to the back of the chair and pushed it forward. Within half a dozen paces there was a violent explosion.

Mitchell suffered leg injuries and as far as she could see Brown and his bath chair had completely disappeared. The police found portions of the body at the side of the road and in nearby trees and gardens.


Enemy action was soon ruled out as the cause of the explosion. Experts found the cause to be a British Hawkins grenade a type of anti-tank mine that is detonated when an acid filled glass ampoules is broken. The device had been placed under the bath chair's cushion.

A formal murder investigation was begun. Doris Brown was interviewed at length at Rayleigh Police Station. It emerged that although Archibald Brown had been crippled and unable to walk, his will power was undiminished: he ruled his wife and elder son with a rod of iron. His wife was not allowed to visit her mother in nearby Rochford and Archibald Brown would constantly ring a bell to get his wife's attention, even if he perceived that a single flower was out of place in a vase.

Eric Brown was constantly beaten and humiliated. Doris Brown stated that her husband had increasingly appeared to take a dislike to her. Eric too, had noticed the deterioration in Archibald's behaviour, he had taken a liking to his new nurse and their walks together.

Arrest and trial

The blame fell on Eric Brown. He had previously attended lectures on the same mine used in the murder, and, having joined the army some years previously, had access to a weapons store in Spilsby. Eventually Eric Brown gave a confession in which he blamed his actions on Archibald Brown's abusive attitude to both him and his mother. On 21 September 1943 he was committed to trial at the Essex Assizes. The trial started on 4 November Eric Brown was tried at Shire Hall, Chelmsford and declared insane.



The Rayleigh Bath-chair Murder

By Fred Feather (Issue No.35)

Residents of Hockley Road were not unused to enemy action during World War ll, but although there were aircraft in the vicinity during the afternoon of 23rd July 1943, there had been no prior warning of enemy action. There was a lunch time explosion, near a house called "Gattens" less than a half mile from Rayleigh town centre. Bombs were soon ruled out as the cause of the incident, though there was a devastating tangle of metal and human remains in the road. The left leg of a victim was hanging 15 feet high in a nearby tree, the right was found 48 feet away in a front garden. It was soon obvious that there was a fatality and nothing could be done for the man concerned. A woman lay screaming and barely conscious in the road nearby.

Experts were called and soon discounted the possibility of a bomb and it was eventually decided that the detonation had been that of a British anti-tank mine known as the number 75 Hawkins Grenade. The wreckage was found to be that of a wheelchair and the woman identified as Mrs Doris Irene Mitchell of Hillview Road. She was one of three private nurses who had looked after a 47 year old invalid, Archibald Brown of "Summerfield", 19, London Hill in Rayleigh. This is a very steep incline, between London Road and Hockley Road. Brown belonged to a family that had long owned Rayleigh Mill, T.J. Brown & Son.

Under the aegis of Assistant Chief Constable Crockford the investigation was initially put in the hands of Chief Inspector Draper, then, on his return from leave, passed to Superintendent George H.Totterdell, the head of Essex C.I.D.

The story that emerged was that Archibald Brown, after three years service as a soldier of the Great War, had become a successful miller. He had been seriously injured in a motor cycle accident at the age of 24, had become bitter and was speedily deteriorating. Twenty-three years later, he was crippled, pain-ridden and unable to walk. His will power was undiminished and he ruled his wife and elder son with a rod of iron. His wife was not allowed to visit her mother in nearby Rochford. One example of his style was the bell that he rang constantly to get his wife's attention, even if he perceived that a single flower was out of place in a vase. His elder son was constantly beaten and humiliated in what would now be considered a classic pattern of child abuse, though to be fair, in 1943 their relationship appeared better. It was soon discovered that this nineteen-year-old son was currently serving as Private Eric James Brown of the Suffolk Regiment, but was presently at home on compassionate leave. Also, Private Brown had been trained in the use of the Hawkins Grenade that was designed for use by infantrymen to blow the tracks from tanks.

Archibald Brown was identified as having been sitting in the wheelchair as nurse Mitchell pushed him past Rayleigh Church towards Hockley, down a road that is still hilly and bumpy.

Author's Note: Totterdell in his autobiography had given their home as London Road, which was at the bottom of a considerable slope. I found this difficult to understand and had never previously been clear as to why she walked him up the steep hill from London Road or chose the Hockley Road route. I have concluded that Totterdell was mistaken.

The Essex Constabulary considered it quite feasible that such a mine had been fitted under the seat of the bath chair. How was it detonated and why had it not gone off previously was a question which vexed them. Nurse Mitchell was interviewed when she had recovered. It was miraculous that she had not been killed. She was but a few feet from the explosion, which was calculated as being about two feet in the air, and had actually heard the sound of her employer's body parts falling around her. The victim had taken the full force but the frame and cushions had shielded her.

The chair was normally kept in the air-raid shelter beside the invalid's home and at 1.45pm on 23rd July the nurse had gone to get it. She had found the shelter door locked from the inside, and returning with Mrs Brown, had met Eric coming out. He was irritated and evasive. Both women had wheeled the chair to the house then helped Archibald to get in. He was wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown and they covered him with a plaid travelling rug. Finally they adjusted two pillows and a blanket around him, tucking the rug under the cushion of his chair. One mile down the Hockley Road the patient wanted a cigarette and fumbled in his dressing gown pocket. The nurse went to the front of the chair to light his cigarette, after which she went back behind the chair and pushed him forward. Within half a dozen paces there was the tremendous explosion.

The widow, Doris Lucy Brown, in the course of a five-hour interview at Rayleigh Police Station, stated that her husband had increasingly appeared to take a dislike to her. Eric too, had noticed the deterioration in Archibald's behaviour. His father had taken a liking to his new nurse and their walks together. There was no suggestion of impropriety or jealousy. She had considered her son Eric to be mechanically minded, he was capable of repairing their radio. Eric Brown himself suffered mood swings and the relationship with his family was such that he had been moved from his school at Rayleigh to a boarding school near Walthamstow. From 1940 to 1942 he had worked at Barclays Bank in Rochford, until a period of bizarre behaviour had caused the manager to seek his resignation. On 1st October 1942 he was called up for the army and posted to Spilsby in Lincolnshire. In his camp was a store of about 200 Hawkins Grenades, at least 144 of which were operational. The explosive device was about 7" x 4" and looked rather like a large cycle lamp.

Before Eric Brown was interviewed the police held a conference at Headquarters. Tests were carried out on similar chairs. It was decided that it was reasonable to assume that a pressure plate had been adapted to lessen the weight required to explode the mine. There was considerable difference between pressure from a tank and that of a human body.

At Rayleigh Police Station the young soldier was interviewed by Totterdell, in the presence of Detective Chief Inspector Draper and Detective Inspector Jack "Trapper" Barkway. The latter then wrote down Brown's confession, which asserted that his mother had been made a drudge and was living a completely intolerable life. "I decided that the only real way in which my mother could lead a normal life and my father to be released from his sufferings was for him to die mercifully." He said that he had brought the grenade home from the army and put it under his father's seat, having adjusted the top plate. He was arrested and charged with murder, which was then a capital offence. (Southend Standard).

At Southend County Petty Sessions on 21st September 1943 he was committed for trial at Essex Assizes. On 4th November that year he appeared before Judge Atkinson at Chelmsford and pleaded "not guilty." Most of the facts were undisputed, although a suggestion was made to Detective Inspector Barkway that Chief Inspector Draper had intimated that "if Brown did not confess, things could be worse could be worse for his mother." This was strenuously denied. But, the prisoner's main defence rested on the question of his sanity. Barkway gave evidence of previous family background and behaviour. One defence doctor diagnosed Eric as "schizophrenic". The prison doctor gave his opinion that Brown was sane, but reported that, whilst in custody, he had attempted to cut his own throat. The jury found him "guilty - but insane" and he was sentenced to be detained during "His Majesty's pleasure."

Totterdell's biography was published by Harrap in 1956 with the title "Country Copper." His supposition was that Archibald Brown shifted his weight after the nurse lit his cigarette and that, Eric Brown having altered the pressure plate, this triggered the explosion. His conclusion was that the mystery remained - and still remains - why the explosion did not occur when the victim was first lowered onto the chair at the back of "Summerfield"? Perhaps that was what Eric intended, but at that location he might also have killed his mother as well as his father and the nurse. There was no apparent financial reason for his action and he must have known that he would be a prime suspect. Did he not consider the possibility of the death or serious injury of Nurse Mitchell? He must also have been certain of their route. Had the nurse chosen to make a right turn into the High Street there could have been many more casualties.

Some years ago, when giving a talk at Rayleigh, someone in the audience informed me that Nurse Mitchell had nursed members of their family after the explosion. She had partially recovered but was left with a limp and permanent injury to her arm. The subsequent life of Mrs Brown is not known. Eric Brown was released in 1975 after 32 years in the asylum and still only 51 years old. "Trapper" Barkway was later to become the head of Essex CID.



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