On 1st June 1931 a man walking past a rubbish tip
at Scratchwood railway sidings noticed a human arm sticking out of a
pile of smouldering rubbish.
When Sir Bernard Spilsbury examined the body he
concluded that it was the body of middle-aged man who had been dead
for two or three days. Death had been caused by a rectangular-shaped
object that had fractured the man's skull.
From a tattoo on the forearm the corpse was
identified as that of 45-year-old Herbert William 'Pigsticker' Ayres.
He had been a casual labourer who had lived in a group of shacks by
Another of the workers, John
Armstrong, who lived rough in the shacks told police that he had seen
Ayres attacked by two men, known as 'Tiggy' and 'Moosh', on 30th May.
'Tiggy', 61-year-old Oliver Newman,
and 'Moosh', 57-year-old William Shelley were quickly arrested. A
search of their shacks revealed a bloodstained axe under the floor of
Newman's abode. The shape of the back of the axe matched the
impression in Ayres' skull. The pair said they had caught Ayres
stealing food and had beaten him up to teach him a lesson. When they
realised that they had killed him they had buried the body.
They were tried at the Old Bailey
in June 1931. They were both found guilty and were executed on 5th
August 1931, but not before Shelley had boasted that there were five
more bodies buried in the rubbish tip.
When a hand was spotted
protruding from a burning rubbish dump at Mill Hill, north-west London,
on JUNE 1st, 1931, the rest of the body was uncovered and found to be
that of a man. His nose, left temple and jaws were fractured, and he
had obviously been beaten.
His killers thought they had successfully disposed
of his body when they covered it with rubbish and set the dump alight,
but heat had contracted the muscles, extending the tell-tale hand
before rigor mortis set in.
Tramps and down-and-outs lived in a number of
shacks in a nearby disused lane. Inquiring if one of them was missing,
the police learned that 45-year-old Herbert "Pigsticker" Ayres had not
been seen for two days, and the body was identified as his. Then
detectives were told that on May 29th he had been attacked by two men,
William "Moosh" Shelley, 57, and Oliver "Tiggy" Newman, 45.
Arrested, the pair said that Ayres had been
stealing from them and they had decided to teach him a lesson. He had
died in a fair fist-fight, and they had then concealed his body,
setting fire to the dump. Bruises on the back of the victim's left
hand, however, convinced the Home Office pathologist Sir Bernard
Spilsbury that it was a case of murder.
At their Old Bailey trial Shelley and Newman
claimed that Ayres had grabbed a weapon, and his hand must have been
bruised when they tried to knock the implement from his grasp. But
Spilsbury told the court that Ayres's fractures had been caused not by
fists, but by a weapon or kicks. If he had been holding a weapon, it
would have taken more than one blow to cause the bruises on the back
of his hand. They had more probably been inflicted when he placed his
hand on his head to protect himself from a rain of blows.
Convicted of murder, Shelley and Newman were hanged
on August 5th, 1931.