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Alfred Charles WHITEWAY






The towpath murders
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Serial rapist
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: May 31, 1953
Date of arrest: June 28, 1953
Date of birth: 1931
Victims profile: Barbara Songhurst, 16, and Christine Reed, 18
Method of murder: Beating with an axe and stabbing with a Gurkha knife
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Executed by hanging at Wandsworth Prison on December 22, 1953

The towpath murders was a case that involved the murder of two teenage girls on the towpath near Teddington Lock on the River Thames, England, on 31 May 1953. The case garnered a great deal of press attention and was described at the time as "one of Scotland Yard's most notable triumphs in a century.


The victims were 16-year-old Barbara Songhurst and 18-year-old Christine Reed. The girls had been on a bicycle trip on Sunday, 31 May 1953, and were seen cycling along the towpath beside the River Thames at about 11am. They failed to return home. Songhurst's body was found the next day on 1 June, the day before Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, and Reed's body was found on 6 June. They were examined by pathologist Keith Mant. Both had been beaten and raped.


Alfred Charles Whiteway, separated from his wife and living with his parents in Teddington, was arrested after two later attacks on women in Surrey. At first, he denied any involvement. Later, an axe was found hidden in his car. It was lost, and found at the house of a police constable, who was using it to chop wood. Forensic tests linked traces of blood on the axe, and on Whiteway's shoes, to the murders, and he confessed.


Whiteway was tried at the Old Bailey in October and November 1953 before Mr Justice Hilbery. He was defended by solicitor Arthur Prothero, who instructed Peter Rawlinson, then a relatively junior barrister. Rawlinson cross-examined murder squad detective Herbert Hannam at length, opening large holes in his evidence of the confession, which Whiteway claimed was a work of fiction. Press reports complained at the implication that the police were lying.

On 2 November, after forty-five minutes of deliberation, the jury found Whiteway guilty. An appeal was heard by the Lord Chief Justice Baron Goddard, Mr. Justice Sellers and Mr. Justice Barry but was rejected on 7 December. Whiteway was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 22 December 1953. The axe is in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard


Whiteway, Alfred Charles

On 31st May 1953, teenagers Barbara Songhurst and Christine Reed went missing. They had been out cycling together and did not return to their homes in Teddington. They had both been spotted on their bikes on the towpath at the side of the Thames between 11 and 11.30pm that day. They had been heading in the direction of their homes.

The following morning Barbara's body was recovered from the Thames near Richmond. She had been raped, stabbed and battered. It was another five days before Christine's body, with similar injuries, turned up also in the river.

At the end of the following month Alfred Charles Whiteway was arrested for raping a woman and assaulting another on Oxshott Heath. Whiteway was married but because the couple were unable to get accommodation Whiteway lived with his parents in Teddington while his wife lived in Kingston. What police officers did not know at the time was that when they had apprehended Whiteway he had been carrying an axe.

Somehow during their car journey to the police station Whiteway had managed to hide the axe under a seat in the patrol car where it remained until later when an officer was cleaning the vehicle and realised the significance. When shown the axe and the fact that his shoes showed traces of blood Whiteway broke down and confessed to the killings and signed a statement to that effect.

Whiteway's trial for the murder of Barbara Songhurst opened at the Old Bailey in October 1953. He denied killing the girl claiming that his confession statement had been fabricated by the police.

The jury preferred to believe in the integrity of the police and took less than an hour to find him guilty. He was sentenced to death and was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 22nd December 1953.


Alfred Whiteway

Reign of terror: 24 May 1953 - 12 June 1953

Motive: Sex

Crimes: On 24th May, Whiteway sexually assaulted a 14 year old girl on Oxshott Heath, in the suburbs of London. On 12th June, he sexually assaulted a woman in Windsor Great Park. On 31st May, he raped and murdered Barbara Songhurst, 16, and Christine Reed, 18, on the towpath between Teddington and Twickenham.

Method: Whiteway knocked the girls out by throwing an axe or something similar at them. Both girls had very deep stab wounds to the chest and severe head wounds. Their skulls had been fractured.

Sentence: Whiteway was sentenced to death and was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 23 December 1953.

Interesting facts: The body of Barbara was found half a mile downstream from the site of the murder the day after it took place. To be able to find the body of Christine, the police had to drain the Thames between Teddington and Richmond, by using the locks at Teddington. She was found some miles downstream 6 days after the murder. Whiteway was arrested after two builders recognised him from his photofit and called the police.

Whiteway hid the axe under the seat of a police car. It was found by a police officer and taken home to chop wood. By the time it as realised it was the murder weapon, the axe had been severely blunted, and no forensic evidence was found on it. However, traces of blood were found in the seam and eyelets of a pair of Whiteway's shoes. When confronted with this evidence, Whiteway admitted to the police that he had murdered the two girls.



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