The Kent History Forum

Crime, Punishment and Courts => Famous Kent-related Crimes and Court Cases => Topic started by: Mike Gunnill on March 29, 2020, 01:53:47 PM

Title: 25 Minute Read No.6.
Post by: Mike Gunnill on March 29, 2020, 01:53:47 PM

The unsolved murder of Mrs Caroline Luard in August 1908 could have come straight from an Agatha Christie novel. This was a Kentish murder with golf, a summer-house, suggested affairs, the Chief Constable of Kent as a personal friend, and below stairs gossip. Even after over a 100 years, the story of the Luard’s, is still, a classic “who-done it” and everyone, especially locally has a theory on who was involved and why?

The murder in a remote summer-house in Kentish woodland, would start theories and rumour in the Chart, Ightham, Deal and the Sevenoaks areas, which still continue to this day. The case has taken it’s place in international history as an intriguing unsolved crime.  One that would prevoke comment and anonymous letters accusing General Luard of the murder.  Which ultimately and allegedly, became the cause of his suicide, within weeks of his wife’s murder.

Major-General Charles Edward Luard was born in Edinburgh, on  October 13th 1839 and Mrs Caroline Mary Luard nee Hartley 1850-1908, born in Egremont,Cumberland, now called Cumbria.  Caroline was the youngest daughter of Thomas 1802-1855 and Georgiana Anna Eliabeth Hartley 1839-1878 of Gill Foot, Egremont in Cumberland, a short distance from Kendal.  The Hartley’s were landed gentry and the family thought she had married “ beneath her”, but the couple seemed happy and well suited.  After taking temporary accommodation in Tonbridge, the couple settled at Ightham Knoll, Sevenoaks after his retirement from the Royal Engineers.

He had been a professional soldier, serving in Bermuda, Corfu, Gibraltar and Natal, South Africa.  He was involved, with building the Household Cavalry Barracks in Windsor, planned improvements at Newgate Jail and the United Services Recreation Ground in Portsmouth.  By the time he had retired  from the Royal Engineers in 1887, he had the honourary rank of Major-General.  His wife, had been the expected loyal army wife, supporting and entertaining as required.  They had married in 1875 at Plaxtol Parish Church and had two sons, Charles Elmhirst Luard 1876-1914 and Eric Dalbiac Luard 1878-1903.

The older son was Major Charles Luard of the Norfolk Regiment, Ist Battalion, he was recorded as “missing” at Chivers Hill, Missy, aged 38 near La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre on September 15th. His name is recorded on the memorial in the village, along with others who have no known grave. He married Dorothy Frances Barrett 1885-1978, in 1913 and they had a son, Charles William Hartley Luard in 1914.  In 1928 while at Hawtry’s School, Mildred’s Road, Westgate on Sea in Essex he died.  By this time his mother had married Colonel Frank Roff Phillips 1877-1960, and was living in Holywood, Belfast, Northern Ireland.  The other son,  Captain Phillip Eric Luard of the King’s African Rifles died from a fever while fighting in the Somaliland Campaign, in the Sudan. His body was returned to his parents and buried in St Peter’s churchyard, in Fen Pond Road, Ightham.  His grave would later be shared with his mother Caroline Mary Luard.

A year after retirement Charles Edward Luard and his wife, Caroline Mary moved to Ightham near Sevenoaks on February 1888 to a large house with 8 acres of land called Ightham Knoll, on the main Maidstone-Sevenoaks road, half a mile from the village.  Helping them cope with civilian life where, Frances Martin, 23 from Wrotham-the parlour-maid, Emma Gordon, 28 from Godstone, Surrey-the cook and Florence K. Robin, 22 from Cinderford, Gloucestershire, the housemaid.  The servants ages were recorded in the 1901 census, along with Mrs Luard aged 50 and husband Charles aged 61. By the time of police questioning in 1908, the cook remained, but Harriet Huish was the parlourmaid and Jane Pugmore the house servant.

They quickly became involved with village life, Charles a governor of Shipbourne School, a church warden, a Justice of the Peace and a councillor for Kent County Council. He would later also start a local rifle club, and was a regular golfer at Godden Green, where he kept his golf bag and clubs.  Luard was keen to promote the use of rifle clubs, the volunteering movement and in 1907 founded the patriotic party, a  political organisation.  Mrs Luard mixed well locally, and worked for various charties including the local convalescent home for children.  The couple were considered,  to be “ devoted”, according to a report in the Sevenoaks Chronicle newspaper.  Mrs Luard was tall and considered young looking, active for her age and admired locally as a kind, charitable person.

Reverend Bertram Thomas Winnifrith 1868-1924, was the Rector of Saint Peter’s Church, Ightham 1907-1924 and although he had only moved to the village the year before the murder, he was good friends with Mr and Mrs Luard.  Winnifrith came from Hythe in Kent, where he was the Principle at the Hythe School, in Beaconfield Terrace close to the Imperial Hotel on the seafront. He married in 1897, Miss Edith Maude Blacker 1875-1966 who was from Bristol and for a short time ran the Hythe School together.  One of their five children, became the film actress, Anna Lee.  Born as Joan Boniface Winnifrith 1913-2004 in Ightham, she was married three times.  Mrs Joan Stafford is buried in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Beverly Hills, Los Angles. Her daughter Joanna Venetia Invicta Everly born in 1938, followed her mother and became the film actress, Venetia Stephenson.

Reverend Winnifrith, who was friendly with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 1859-1930, and like the main characters in this feature, Winnifrith is buried in St Peter’s churchyard, Ightham.

The Luard’s were friends with their neighbours, retired stockbroker Horace Wilkinson 1821-1908 and his wife Annie Wilkinson 1832-1912 who had owned the large Frankfield estate since 1869.  The Luard’s had free access across their land and Mrs Luard liked to use the summer-house.  It was called La Casa,  a bungalow with six rooms and a tiled roof.  The Wilkinson family used the property for afternoon teas, entertaining and to sleep there, sometimes during the summer months and during the full spring clean of Frankfield.  It had a large veranda and overlooked a view of the woods and Casa Pond.  At the time of the murder the Wilkinsons were away on holiday. After the murder the property was boarded up and wasn’t used again.  The building was left to gradually fall down and today only the concrete base and a few bricks remain.

On Monday August 24th in the afternoon, the Luards went for a walk together with their Irish terrier, Scamp.  The General wanted to collect his golf clubs from Godden Green, now called the Wildernesse Golf Club.  He kept them at the club normally, but they were due to leave for Cockermouth, Cumberlandand in three days time.  General Luard wanted to collect his clubs to take on holiday.  Mrs Luard went along with her husband but she just wanted a short walk, knowing she had a guest for afternoon tea.  They took a private footpath, according to General Luard across the Frankfield Estate which led past the summer-house.  On reaching a gate, close to Saint Lawrence’s church, Mrs Luard decided to return home for her appointment, leaving her husband to walk on towards Godden Green.  Three witnesses saw him between 3.20pm and 3.30pm, the last in the clubhouse.  Luard collected his golfclubs and started the journey home.  His return was via the main road, instead of retracing his steps through the woods.

Reverend Arthur Benjamin Cotton,1832-1918 the vicar of Shipbourne and living at The Grange in the village was driving along the main road when he saw General Luard walking.  He offered him a lift home, but Luard refused but gave Reverend Cotton his golf clubs.  After delivering his vistors to the railway station, Reverend Cotton returned along the same road, and again saw Luard walking. He again offered him a lift in his car, this time Luard accepted. When he got home, he found his wife’s guest, Mrs Mary Alice Stewart waiting to have tea. She had recently moved to Ightham for the summer months with her retired solicitor husband Frank Stewart and afternoon was her first meeting with Mrs Luard.  General Luard later said during interview he was surprised his wife had not returned from her walk.  Despite his concern, he entertained his wife’s guest.  After having tea, Mr Luard started to walk along the path he had previously taken with his wife, which led to the summer-house.  He asked Mrs Stewart to accompany him, in his search but she refused needing to return home, to meet someone from the late afternoon train.  Mrs Stewart later reported to police, that Luard looked annoyed that she had to return home, as if he wanted an albi.

Reaching the summer-house General Luard found his wife, covered in blood, slightly to one side, laying on the veranda.  She appeared  having been struck on the head and shot behind her right ear. One glove had been removed and three rings had been removed from her fingers, also part of her dress had been cut away. Checking for a pulse, Luard realised his wife was dead and ran for help. 

Shots had been heard at 3.15pm by several people and this was the time, the police accepted that Mrs Luard had died.

The police were alerted, and the first on the scene was Folkestone born, PC John Joseph Marsh 1872-1937 from the police house, at 2 High Street, now number 63 in Seal.  He realised how serious the situation was, and left the crime-scene almost immediately to telephone Sevenoaks police station.  Newspapers seemed to pick up the story quickly, indeed one journalist, Mr. A.Foster McAdam, the Editor of The Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advisor, arrived in his car before most of the police officers. He was able to witness Superintendent Albert Taylor 1855-1932, who lived at Redcot, Seal and Doctor Percival Mansfield 1870-1919 from Church Farm, Seal bending over the body.

Most national newspapers sent reporters, as further police were also deployed to the area.  The Chief Constable of Kent, Colonel Henry Warde, a close friend of Charles Luard, asked for the assistance from Scotland Yard. Chief Detective Inspector James Scott was sent to head the murder team and work alongside Superintendent Taylor who was in charge of the local police team from Sevenoaks.  Police enquiries provided no clues to the crime and soon the husband fell under suspicion.  Chief Detective Inspector Scott seemed to be happy with Luard’s alibi, but Luard soon started to receive anonymous.  The lack of success by the police seemed to increase the number of letters and postcards received.  Luard decided to sleep away from his home, staying with a number of different friends, but returning to work at Ightham Knoll during the day.

The body was removed from the veranda, placed on a mattress from the summer-house and taken back to Ightham Knoll at the request of Mr Luard.  Here in his home, a post-mortum was performed on his wife. Later, the 1st inquest  was held in the house on Wednesday August 26th.

The Evening Post, in Wellington New Zealand followed ‘the brutal murder’, and Doctor Mansfield based on his post-mortum findings said:

 “ The doctor was of the opinion that she ( Mrs Luard ) was struck from behind with a bludgeon and then shot twice as she lay stunned.”

Seventeen jurymen were chosen for service, which included viewing Mrs Caroline Luard, laid out in an upstairs bedroom. 

Those chosen for jury service were:
George Auston Anquetil, Arthur Samuel Bouts, Edward Henry Bulpett, William Briggs, Albert Henry Daniels, William Smart Durling, Dennis John Goldsmith, George Gibson, William George Nordeman, George Allen Higlett, Frederick Vincent Kirk, John Kettel, John Kemsley, Stanley Bicknell, James Williams and George Thomas Webb.  Thomas Elliott was elected as jury foreman.

Any Inquest is a public event, and this allowed anyone from the village, access to the house.  A large number from the village took advantage of this and of course, the chance to view and look around the house, much to the disdain of the Luard servants.

“ Not the sort, Mrs Luard would normally entertain” was the comment from parlourmaid Miss Huish.  Although she proved helpful to the police, when asked by Chief Detective Inspector Scott to compile a list of those present, that she thought would send,an anonymous letter.  Her subsequent list was extensive, and the police over the next few days visited most to interview them, and where possible search their homes.

With mounting claims, counter claims, a whispering campaign and gossip on General Luard, the house at Ightam Knoll was offered for rent and the furniture put up for auction.  He mentioned to the Reverend Winnifrith, he found the house ‘painful’ to visit, and stayed away whenever possible.

The second Inquest into Mrs Luard death, was held in the George and Dragon public house on September 9th.  Several jury members reported to the Sevenoaks and District Coroner, Thomas Buss, that they had received anonymous letters or notes.  These had been sent to jury members trying to influence their opinions.  At the request of the Chief Constable, he asked the Coroner to adjourn the Inquest and not reach a verdict.  This surprised everyone in the room, reporters, public and Coroner Buss. The request was granted after a few questions  as it was clear, or so the Chief Constable implied, that perhaps an arrest was expected.

Although he had sent a telegram to his son, Captain Charles Luard not to return from South Africa, he had decided to do so, and his return, was expected at Southampton on September 19th. The day before, Friday 18th General Luard was due to travel to Southampton to meet him.

Luard by this time had taken up residence with Colonel Charles Edward Warde 1845-1937, at Barham Court,Teston overlooking the River Medway.  Warde was a member of parliament for the Medway constituency between 1892-1918, and the brother of the the Chief Constable of Kent, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Murray Ashley Warde, 1850-1940.  Instead of travelling to Southampton as he had planned, Luard took breakfast, then walked across the Tonbridge Road towards the railway line, and hid by a white gate, at the end of a public footpath. The path is still there, the one he took on his last walk on and the unmanned gate leading across the railway line to the river bank.  He waited for the 9.09am train and threw himself in front of the engine.  The train braked but didn’t come to a halt until the level crossing by Teston river bridge.  The train, the usual service from Maidstone West to Paddock Wood, was driven by Frederick Bridges.  Newspaper reports later in the Maidstone Journal said, “ his body was nearly cut in two by the impact of the train.”

A note was found in his jacket with instructions to take his body to Barham Court. There was a further note in his room addressed to Colonel Charles Warde explaining he was sorry for his actions but didn’t have the strength to continue and “ I care for nothing except to join her again. “  The note ended with a P.S. “ I shall be somewhere on the railway line.”

The full letter says:

I am sorry to have to return your kindness and hospitality in this way, but I am satisfied it is best to join her in the second life at once, as I can be of no further use to anyone in this world, of which I am tired, and in which I do not wish to live any longer.  I thought that my strength was sufficient to bear up against the horrible imputations and the terrible letters which I have received since that awful crime was committed which robbed me of my happiness.  And so it was for long, and the goodness, kindness and sympathy of so many friends kept me going.  But somehow, in the last day or two something seems to have snapped.  The strength has left me and I care for nothing except to join her again.  So goodbye dear friend.  Yours very affectionately, C.E. Luard.
P.S. I shall be somewhere on the railway line.

He had prepared his own Will, dated two days before his death, naming his brother-in-law Thomas Hartley 1847-1929 of Armathwaite Hall, Cockermouth as the executor.  The Will had instructions to leave everything to his surviving son, Charles Elmhirst.  Also personal letters were provided to: his wife’s family in Cockermouth, his son Charles, his host Colonel Warde, his brother-in-law - Thomas Hartley and his maid at Ightham Knoll.

The only surviving Luard son, Charles Elmhirst arrived on the ship, SS Norman owned by the Union Steam Collier Company at Southampton Docks on Saturday, September 19th.  He had sailed from Durban, South Africa, expecting to be greeted his father but instead,  in his cabin he was told of his death, by Henry Warde, the Chief Constable of Kent.  The waiting press, caught a brief view an ashen-faced Luard, as he was guided to the London train.  He later moved to Barham Court, Teston where he stayed until the Inquest and funeral of his father.

Charles Elmhirst Luard was requested to attend the Inquest into his fathers death.   He was asked by the Coroner to read out the contents of the letter left by his father, at Barham Court.  He read the letter to himself but declared to Coroner Buss, that there was nothing of interest in the letter for the court.  After reading the letter himself, the coroner agreed and the contents remained private.

Captain Charles Elmhirst Luard returned to his regiment after the deaths of both parents.  He died in 1914 in action, while serving in France, by which time most of his father’s legacy of nearly £8,000 had gone.

The Inquest on General Luard recorded a verdict of “ suicide while temporarily insane.”  The Coroner made comments, that the letters written accusing the general, had added to his grief and no doubt drove him to suicide.  Three days later at the final inquest for Mrs Luard at the George and Dragon, no further details were provided by Kent police as had been mentioned at the 2nd Inquest.  The verdict given by the jury was “ wilful murder by person or persons unknow.”  Again the anonymous letters were condemmed by both the jury and the Coroner.  Reporting the Inquest, an editorial in the Maidstone and Kentish Journal newspaper said, “ Two murders have been committed in Kent this month.  Mrs Luard was killed by a pistol.  General Luard was killed by a pen.”

A number of letters were received, most had local postage franks, but the writers were never traced and after General Luard’s death, the letters stopped.  One hand written letter, received in the evening post, on Wednesday 26th of August was typical of those received at Ightham Knoll, it read:


A large number of the village thought the General had shot his wife, but were divided on why, he had done so.  Some said she had a lover, and others because he had a lover, she had found out or he had found out about her lover.  The village perminitions on the crime were endless!

Mrs Luard was however, very friendly with the 44 year old son of the local Doctor, a friendship General Luard was aware of.  According to several locals and servants from the doctor’s house, General Luard was very jealous about the relationship.  On the day of the murder, the son was in London at his surgery.

Hoping to break the silence and obtain further public help, the police offered a reward of £1,000.  It was a huge amount of monet and although various theories were offered, the police were at a total loss to explain the crime that, had “the entire absence of a motive.” The reward did little to advance a conclusion.  A year after her death, police arrested a tramp, 62  year old David Talbot Woodruff. He was produced at Sevenoaks Magistrates Court but it was quickly found, that on the day of the murder, he had been in Maidstone Prison.  The Chief Constable, Colonel Warde said he had evidence against Woodruff but he declined to reveal what this was, in an open court.  Many thought this was a ‘convenient arrest’ to solve the crime.  The sitting magistrates after a short recess condemned the so-called evidence provided by the Chief Constable, and Woodruff was released from custody. They also called for a full enquiry into the behaviour of the Chief Constable and questions were asked in the House of Commons on court appearance.

A little known story, filed with the Luard murder details was revealed by an American University about 10 years after the deaths.  This added to the number of theories.

Forty years before his death, Lieutenant Charles Edward Luard was stationed in Rawalpindi, India. He was a dashing and brave, and made several influential friendships in high circles during his posting.  He met and fell in love with the daughter of a local Indian banker. Her beauty was well known throughout the region and as a token of her love gave the lieutenant a ring, said to possess magical powers.  The large diamond had been taken from the eye of a statue from an ancient Hindu temple.

They kept their romance secret and the lieutenant kept a secret bungalow in the hills for his young lover.  One day returning to his secret hideaway, he found his lover had given birth to a son.  Knowing this would be the end of his army career, he abandoned both of them.  On the night of a celebration ball, the woman tried to gain access to the army but was turned away shouting and yelling.

In the spring of 1908 an unusual story was reported from Southampton, a gray-haired Hindu woman, accompanied by a younger man, applied to a local magistrate for government assistance. The woman told a story of her abandonment at the hands of General Luard in India.  Dismissing the story as pure fiction, the pair was turned away from the court.  A year later a British naval officer stationed in India heard the remarkable story. For decades, there had been an idol at a local temple with a missing eye. Worshippers from the temple had scoured the globe in search of the missing relic,  a large, brilliant diamond.  In 1909 the worshippers were stunned to discover that the long-lost jewel had been secretly returned to the temple, by a person or persons unknown.

The story and versions of it, were printed in a few newspapers in the United Kingdom and in America.  There were several mistakes with dates and it is unclear, even with checking army service records and the National Archives at Kew, whether General Luard ever served in India. Perhaps this was just a piece of written fiction, but an interesting one.

Another theory, one of the more credable stories mentions John Alexander Dickman 1864-1910 from Newcastle. Sir Sidney Orme Rowan-Hamilton 1877-1949, the Chief Justice of Bermuda wrote a book, as Rowan Orme linking Dickman to the murder of Mrs Luard. John Dickman was hanged for a murder in 1910.  He was convicted of shooting John Innes Nisbet while on a train journey.  Dickman stole a large amount of money in a bag, containing wages for a colliery and they part hiding the body under the carriage seat.  Nisbet was shot in the head, using the same type of pistol, as in Mrs Luard murder.  In 1908 Dickman had placed an adverisment in The Times newspaper of London, asking for financial help.  Seeing the appeal, Caroline Luard sent him a cheque, which Dickman then altered and increased the amount given.  Mrs Luard contacted him and arranged to meet, without telling any of the story to her husband.  Author Rowan Orme claimed, that the meeting place was the summer-house and she was then killed to cover John Dickman’s tracks.  Copies of the cheques were recovered by Sevenoaks police, showing the altered amounts.

Anthony Monty Parkin 1943-2012, Anthony to his art friends and Monty to locals was based in Kemsing, and as writer A.M. Parkin, he was also a local historian.  He had followed and researched the Luard saga over a number of years.  In 1995 he produced a booklet, The Seal Chart Murder.  This repeated the story of the murder of Mrs Luard and the death of Mr Luard at Teston but importantly, he added several items of research provided from local residents.  This area in the Weald is still divided on the guilt or innocence of General Luard or even the motive.  Even after over 100 years the stories handed through family histories, still made some residents ask for anonymity when making published comments to Parkin. It was clear to Anthony Parkin that locals knew far more than they were willing to share. Part of his research concerned the case of the missing pistol.

A lady clearing the house of Admiral George Stanley Bosanquet 1838-1914 after his death ready for sale, found a small hand gun hidden very high on a shelf in the library.  Knowing well the story of the summer-house murder, she took the pistol, wrapped in her skirt and removed it from the house.  It was thrown later into a pond at Fawke Common.  Various small lakes and ponds have been searched over the years, but the pistol has never been found.

The Admiral was the father of Doctor William Cecil Bosanquet 1866-1941, the younger man Mrs Luard was “ friendly “ with.  The house at Bitchet Wood is not far from the murder scene, and General Luard could have visited.  Not finding Doctor Cecil, as he was known locally, at home, he could have hidden the murder weapon in the library.  The gossip “below-stairs” at Bitchet Wood was that Mrs Luard was having an affair with the doctor.   Doctor Cecil Bosanquet, a bachelor died in 1942 and is buried with his parents in the churchyard of Saint Lawrence, Ightham.

The summer-house, La Casa was boarded up by the owner, Horce Wilkinson after the murder.   It was never used again by the family and was left to fall down.  Little remains today, except a concrete base and a few odd bricks.

Regarding the death of General Charles Edward Luard, it was generally thought in the village, that they believed his friend, the Chief Constable of Kent, Colonel Warde had tipped him off.  Saying that the police were to arrest him and that was the reason for his suicide.

Edwin John Churchill 1856-1910 of Churchill Gunmakers Limited based then in London, and a ballistics expert visted the murder scene and inspected the two bullets. Three shots were heard, but only two bullets were recovered, one was whole and intact the other in fragments.   He stated at the Inquest they were from a .320 revolver, which was a very common firearm and could be purchased for as little as £1.   This was the same type of gun, as used by John Dickman in the Nisbet murder.  The .320 gun wouldn’t have made a large amount of noise, it was said in court.  So the gun-shots heard at 3.15 pm in the woods, might not indicate the correct time of death of Mrs Caroline Luard.  A time the police heavily relied upon for a murder time-line and major part of General Luard’s albi.

Today two small headstones in a slightly overgrown area of Saint Peter’s churchyard in Ightham are an every day reminder of the story.  The grave contains Captain Charles Luard returned from Africa after he died of fever and his mother, murder victim Mrs Caroline Luard. In the same grave, with a matching headstone is General Luard.

Joan Winnifrith, also known as the Hollywood film actress Anna Lee was the daughter of Reverend Bertram Winnifrith, the Ightham vicar at the time of the deaths.  In her book ‘Anna Lee: Memoir of a Career on General Hospital and Film’:she says:  “ Despite many parishioners objecting to a suicide being buried in consecrated ground, my father stood firm.  Today because of his staunch commitment, to what he thought was right and just, the General and Mrs Luard lie side by side.”

A press agency report of General Luard’s funeral, mentions the grave being prepared for his coffin on September 21st 1908. “ The brass plate of Mrs Luard’s coffin could clearly be read.”

It seems whether guilty or not, General Luard and his wife, Caroline,  were buried together.

© mikegunnill.

This was first published in Bygone Kent Magazine in two parts. Stephen Rayner the publisher entered it into the Kent Press and Broadcast Awards two years ago. Much to my surprise it won the, Kent Feature Writer of the Year category. I had to be told three times by others on the table to go up and accept the award from BBC's  Simon Mccoy. I hadn't heard the announcement and was drinking!  Most of the stories I have posted here are from, or about to be used by Bygone Kent.