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William Henry PODMORE






A.K.A.: "William F. Thomas"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Fraud - To silence him
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 15, 1929
Date of birth: 1899
Victim profile: Vivian Messiter (male, 58)
Method of murder: Hitting with a hammer
Location: Southampton, Hampshire, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging in Winchester Prison on 22nd April 1930

The Podmore case was a controversial landmark British criminal case. It involved a murder conviction based on a painstaking police investigation, and from careful forensic evaluation of the evidence.

The crime

On January 10, 1929, two men found the decomposing, rat-bitten body of a man behind some boxes in a locked garage in Southampton; the garage was used as a storeroom by the local agent of the Wolf's Head Oil Company, and the body was identified as that of the agent, Vivian Messiter, who had been missing for some time.

The victim was reported as missing for nine weeks prior to his body's discovery, and while police had checked the garage, they did not pursue the matter thoroughly since they found it locked. It was only when a new oil company agent came to take over the garage when it was opened and the body discovered.

Preliminary examination of the body revealed a puncture over the left eye, which led police to think that Messiter had been shot, but further examination by Sir Bernard Spilsbury indicated that the real cause of death was multiple severe blunt force trauma to the skull, so much so that "it was fractured everywhere except on top".

The examination of the crime scene further revealed the presence of extensive blood splatter to the height of several feet, which meant that the man had been murdered in the same location.

A bloodstained hammer was found near the scene, and upon examination Spilsbury found a hair consistent with that of the eyebrow hair of the dead man. And since the wounds on the victim were also consistent with the hammer, it was Spilbury's conclusion that the hammer, wielded with great force, was the murder weapon.

The hunt

Among the papers that were found was a reply to an advertisement for local agents signed, "William F. Thomas". In pursuing this lead the police were able to discover that a man of that name had worked for a Wiltshire building contractor who had disappeared after allegedly absconding with a large amount of wage packets.

Detectives assigned to the case next went to the lodgings where "Mr. Thomas" had stayed in before his disappearance. Apparently his departure was so hurried that he negligently left a lot of clues behind. From this the police were able to determine that "William Thomas" was an alias for one William Henry Podmore, who was known to police, being wanted for a charge of fraud in Manchester. Suspicion immediately fell on him, and he was subsequently brought in for questioning.

It was determined that Podmore did indeed work as Messiter's assistant, but as the police still did not have enough information to support a murder charge, he was initially convicted for six months for the earlier charge of fraud.

In the meantime, a breakthrough in the case came with a careful examination of a receipt book for oil sale commissions. Based on a study of indentations between the lines of a genuine receipt made by pencilled writing on the sheet above—which had been torn out—it was determined that Podmore had been reporting to Messiter sales of oil to non-existent customers, and collecting commissions on these sales.

Police theorized that upon learning of this, Messiter had confronted Podmore about the swindle, whereupon Podmore, being aware of the Manchester charge, had lost his nerve and murdered him with the hammer.


Fourteen months after the murder, the police deemed that they now had enough evidence to bring Podmore to trial on March 1930 at Winchester Assizes. Because it was obvious that Messiter had still been repeatedly battered with the hammer even when unconscious, public opinion was overwhelmingly against Podmore.

While the hair evidence was played up by the media, it was only part of a painstaking police investigation although it unquestionably identified the murder weapon. Of greater importance was the receipt book, as well the testimony of two fellow prisoners of Podmore who stated that he had confessed in their presence.

The end

William Henry Podmore was found guilty, and was hanged on April 22, 1930 despite some public outcry against the verdict.


William Henry Podmore

On 10th January 1929 the decaying body of 58-year-old Vivian Messiter was discovered behind boxes in a garage in Southampton. Messiter was an agent for the Wolf's Head Oil Company and the body was found by someone from the company who had gone to find out what had happened to their employee.

The man had died from massive head injuries. When police searched Messiter's lodgings they discovered a reply to an advertisement for a saleman's job with the company from William F. Thomas. Thomas was wanted for questioning by the police with regard to a wages robbery. When police got to the address shown on the letter Thomas had left though they did find evidence that Thomas was really William Henry Podmore, a 29 year old motor mechanic and petty thief.

Podmore was apprehended in London and, because there was insufficient evidence to bring a murder charge against him, he was charged with an earlier fraud he had committed in Manchester. He received six months imprisonment.

While he was serving his sentence forensic scientists carried on the search for evidence. A sales receipt book was found. In it were entries paying commission to W. F. Thomas for fictitious sales. While the top two pages had been torn out, forensic analysis revealed the writing on the page below. In the garage a hammer had been found which had been used as the murder weapon. On it was discovered an eyebrow hair that was identified as belonging to Podmore.

This proof of Podmore's swindle, the forensic evidence, combined with statements from fellow inmates from Wandsworth about his involvement, was enough for a jury at Winchester Assizes, in December 1929, to find him guilty. He was hanged in Winchester Prison on 22nd April 1930.

It would seem that the motive for this ghastly murder was fear of being found out. He murdered his employer in order to silence him, as Podmore was defrauding the company and had been found out by Vivian Messiter he felt he had to kill him to keep him quiet.


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