Triple Murder Trial at Tonbridge Police Court

In August 1940, Florence Ransom, a young widow was accused of a triple murder. She had become the lover of Walter Fisher who had separated on amicable terms from his wife. He had purchased a cottage for her and his daughter in Matfield and provided money for a housekeeper. Although living with  Florence Ransom at a farm in Oxfordshire, Fisher continued visiting the Matfield property to check on his family's wellbeing and this became more regular after the London blitz began. The prosecution alleged that this made Ransom jealous and led her to use a shotgun to murder Mrs Fisher, her 20-year-old daughter Freda and their housekeeper Charlotte Saunders on July 9th 1940.

Fleeing the scene, Florence Ransom was identified by three Capel residents: William Smith, a charcoal burner, William Elphick, a general labourer and William Playfoot, a baker, all of The Alders. They each appeared on the second day of the trial and below is the report from a local newspaper on the proceedings in court on that day. Click on this link if you wish to read the press report of day one of the trial held at Tonbridge Police Court: Day One Evidence

Florence Ransom was found guilty of the three murders when the case went to full trial at the Old Bailey in November 1940. Sentenced to hang, she was subsequently adjudged to be insane and was transferred to Broadmoor prison.


Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser - Friday 16 August 1940

SECOND DAY'S HEARING

Norman Knight Lyne, Chestnut House, Matfield, a master butcher, stated that he called at Crittenden about 9.45 a.m. on July 9 and saw Mrs. Fisher and the maid. Albert Ernest Skilton, Uplands, Matfield, stated that Uplands was about a quarter mile from Crittenden. About 12.45 p.m. on July 9, whilst standing in the roadway, he saw Miss Fisher on a cycle and woman who was walking. He recognised her in the photograph (produced).

William Smith, Alders Cottages, Five Oak Green, a young charcoal burner, said on July 9 he cycled past Crittenden about 1.45 p.m. on his way to Matfield and looking up the drive he saw two cycles. About 3 20 p.m., when he returned, he noticed a lady's cycle on the ground, about 50 yards from Crittenden. One of the handlebars was caught in a gate. He went on and just before he reached Colt's Hill he saw a woman walking towards Tonbridge. She was wearing blue trousers, a brown coat, brown shoes with crepe bottoms and a blue handkerchief over her head. She was carrying a long brown paper parcel. At an identification parade at Tonbridge Police Station he picked out the woman, who was the accused.

Witness went on to Alders Village and while talking to John Elphick, the same woman passed by. She was nearly running in the direction of Tonbridge.

John Wm. Elphick, Alders Cottages, Five Oak Green, a general labourer, said that he was talking to previous witness from about 3.30 p.m. July 9 for an hour. He gave corroborative evidence.

IDENTIFIED AT TONBRIDGE

Wm. Edgar Playfoot, of The Alders, Five Oak Green, a baker, said he was outside his shop, which was on the Matfield-Tonbridge road, helping with the loading of his van about 3.45 p.m. on July 9. A woman shouted out to him. She said something to the effect of which was that she wanted to get to Tonbridge quickly. This woman he identified at Tonbridge Police Station on July 15, and she was the accused. After speaking to his father they called her and she came and sat in the van. There were "odd pieces conversation on the way" to Tonbridge. The effect was that she had come from town the name of which he thought was similar to Bolton, that her children had been evacuated to Cornwall; that her husband was in the Air Force; that her mother was seriously ill and she wanted to get to Tonbridge to meet some friends at the station, who were to take her to Tunbridge Wells. He dropped her at St. Mary's Road, Tonbridge, opposite the Police Station, between 4 and 4.15 p.m.

James Botten, 29 Danvers Road, Tonbridge, ticket collector at Tonbrldge Station, said that between 4.15 and 4.30 p.m. on July 9 a woman came up to him and asked if the London train had gone. He told her the 4.11 Sevenoaks-London train had gone, that the next best train was the 4.25 p.m. to Waterloo. She went outside and jumped into a taxi. Subsequently she came back again and he told her she must have misunderstood him. She produced a third-class ticket, monthly return half Tonbridge to Waterloo, and passed through to the platform. At Tonbridge Police Station on July 15, he identified that woman, who was the accused.

RUSHED OUT OF STATION

Alfred Robert Burr, 1 Priory Road, Tonbridge, the taxi driver, said about 4.15 p.m. on July 9 a woman dressed in a light coat and blue trousers rushed out the station to his cab. She was carrying a brown paper parcel. It looked like a bundle of sticks. She said she wanted go to Sevenoaks to get a train and said the collector had told her if she went to Sevenoaks she would get a train straight away. He spoke to Botten, then went back to the woman and told her the next train was at 4.25. She jumped out and went back into the station.

John David Leury, of Gedges, Matfield, carter-cowman, stated that at 6.45 pm on July 9 he went to Crittenden. He went half-way up the drive and saw a body lying on the ground.

Harry Dennis Cuckman, Sergt. Kent Special Constabulary and living at The Grange, Matfield, said about 7 p.m. on July 9 he went to Crittenden and saw the body of a woman. The doors of the house were all open. He searched the house but found no one. The house was in some disorder. He found a lady's cycle some 50 yards from the house.

Dr Ernest Dudley Yarnold Grasby, Medical Supt. at Pembury County Hospital said about midnight on July 9 he saw the dead bodies of three females at Crittenden, Matfield. Death had been instantaneous in each case and had occurred approximately between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on that day. He was present the following day when Sir Bernard Spilsbury performed an autopsy. On July 15 or 16 he examined the accused's arms and legs at Tonbridge Police Station and found a bruise on the right thigh and bruises below the knee. There were four distinct bruises on the left thigh and also smaller ones in the region of the left knee. In his opinion, these had all occurred at approximately the same time and between five and ten days before he saw her.

LYING OUTSIDE HOUSE

Det.-Supt. Francis Smeed of the Kent County Constabulary, stated that at 9:15 p.m. on July 9 he went to Crittenden and saw the body of a woman lying outside the house. In the kitchen he found on the floor some crockery both broken and intact. When the crockery was pieced together, it was found to consist of four saucers, four plain tea plates and three coloured plates. Upstair bedrooms were in a state of disorder. Articles of value were visible in the bedrooms. Later he examined grounds at the back of the cottage which consisted of an overgrown orchard. He saw the body of a young woman in a gateway, and at the far end of the orchard he saw another body of a woman. Underneath the body was a lady's handbag, clutched in one hand, and the bag contained 14s 3d. Wads and pellets were produced in Court and these, said the witness, were removed by Sir Bernard Spilsbury from the bodies of the women. On July 12 he went with other officers to Carramore Farm, and was handed a gun produced by Frederick Guilford [the accused's brother]. On the same day he was present at Greys Inn when Chief Inspector Beveridge stopped the accused. They all went to a solicitor's office and later to New Scotland Yard. After she had made a statement he told her she would be detained at Cannon Row Police Station pending further enquiries. On July 13, he again saw her, told her she was going to be taken to Tonbridge Police Station where she would be put up for identification on suspicion of causing the deaths of the three women. She made no reply.

At 11a.m. on July 15 he was present at an identification parade at Tonbridge Police Station and she was picked out by four people.

At 3p.m. the same day he told her was going to charge her with the murder of the three women and cautioned her. She said, "I didn't do it," Formally charged with the murder of Dorothy Fisher she replied "I didn't do it. I didn't do It, how could I?' In reply to the charge respecting Freda Fisher she said "No no." and she made no reply to the charge in respect of Charlotte Saunders.