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
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
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.
Reign of terror:
24 May 1953 - 12
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
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.
Whiteway was sentenced to death and was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on
23 December 1953.
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.
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