The Body On The Beach: The Murder Of 22-Year-Old Joyce Jacques In Morecambe, England, 1946

Joyce Jacques was strangled in Morecambe in 1946 by her jealous married lover. Her corpse was left at the crime scene whilst the perpetrator returned home with his wife.

Morecambe Bay Murder
Joyce Jacques was 22-years-old when she was murdered in Morecambe, England, in 1946

Joyce Jacques, a pretty 22-year-old brunette, was determined to enjoy herself despite the austerity of post-war life. She was regularly to be found in one or another of Morecambe's dance halls and ballrooms, enjoying the attention of young soldiers eager to put the war behind them.

On 5 April 1946, she met Walter Clayton, married and recently demobbed, while out dancing. Many a marriage had been unsettled since the end of the war, and the two began an intense and passionate affair, spending every night together at her lodgings. Just seven days later she was dead.

Her body was discovered at 9.45 pm on Friday, 12 April by a young girl returning home from the cinema, lying on the foreshore near the Beach Street bus stop, immediately under the sea wall. It was clear that she had been strangled - a scarf was tightly knotted around her neck and her tongue protruded, making the body a grotesque sight. There was no sign of sexual interference and her clothing was not disheveled, which suggested that she had been killed in the spot where she was found.

Superintendant Hogg and Inspector Price from Morecambe CID took charge of the investigation. A wire was sent to the headquarters of the Lancashire Constabulary and Superintendant Floyd and Detective Superintendant Woodmansey from Blackburn and Preston respectively were informed and traveled at once to the town. Within the hour a wireless car and bloodhounds were at the scene. A generator was set up and police searched for clues under powerful arc lights, while a crowd of curious locals gathered to watch from a distance.

Papers found in Joyce's handbag, recovered from beside her body, led police to an address at Christie Avenue Morecambe. It was approaching midnight when detectives called at the house and broke the news of the tragedy. The occupier was Mrs Doris Walker and in tears, she told police a little about the victim.

Joyce was a native of Barnsley but had moved to Morecambe in her childhood, when her parents split up, and had been living there with her mother and stepfather when war broke out. In 1941 she had enlisted in the WAAF and rose to the rank of Flight Sergeant before her discharge. On leaving the force, she had begun training as a nurse but this only lasted a short time and she took a job in a local laundry. Toward the end of the war, she divided her time between her grandparents in Barnsley and her mother in Morecambe, but when her mother died in December 1945 she moved in with Mrs Walker.

Joyce's reputation as something of a 'good time girl' gave the police their first indication of the possible motive for her murder. From Mrs Walker, they learned of her recent intense relationship. Asked who the boyfriend was, she told them he was called 'pat', and from letters found in Joyce's room, they learned that his real name was Walter Clayton.

Clayton was 22-years-old and had recently returned from serving in Burma and the Far East. He was native to Clitheroe, Lancashire, where he had married his wife soon after the war broke out, but when her husband was posted overseas, Mrs Clayton returned to live with her parents in Morecambe. On his discharge from the army, Clayton came to Morecambe to stay with his wife while they sorted out a place of their own.

When superintendent Floyd and Detective Constable Williams visited the house in Balmoral Road at 2.30 the next morning. Clayton opened the door. They were shown into the lounge where Clayton's wife and mother-in-law stood in their dressing gowns. Clayton faced the detectives, and after looking over his shoulder towards his wife, he said, 'I know what you've come about. I suppose you've found her. Don't say anything here.'

He was taken by police car to the local station, where he spoke freely of his affair with Joyce Jacques. He had spent the first night with her at Christie Avenue, and also the subsequent five nights, returning each morning to his 'home' on Balmoral Road. What his inlaws thought about this arrangement was never made clear. On 10th April the first signs of friction had appeared, Joyce seeming to be on the verge of leaving him. They had quarreled but soon made it up.

On the night of the murder, they met up and went on a pub crawl. starting in The Battery and visiting five different pubs during the evening before finishing in The Elms. Clayton's statement badly described what followed. 'On returning to The Elms, Joyce said that she felt a little drunk, so we decided to go for a stroll along the front, where we had a quarrel and I strangled her with my silk scarf. I then left her on the beach and carried on by taxi to The Battery.'

Later Clayton went to the Central Pier to find his wife, who was spending the evening there dancing. Curiously polite, he waited for the dance to finish before asking her to 'go for a stroll, to which she gave permission.' Then followed the painful admittance of his love for Joyce and his dreadful crime. Yet his wife was not about to forsake him, even now. She asked if she could go to the scene of his crime - perhaps doubting if things could actually be as awful as Walter made out - but on his refusing she simply 'asked me to go home with her for the last time.'

Morecambe Bay in 1946
Morecambe Bay in 1946

Less than six hours after the body was discovered, Clayton was charged with murder. When searched, police found four rings belonging to the dead girl, all gifts from different soldiers, and presumably what caused Clayton to become jealous and kill her. On Wednesday 16th July, Walter Clayton stood trial at Manchester Assizes. Wearing his Khaki uniform which sported his service medals and chevrons, he glanced around the court rubbing his nose nervously and as the charge was read out he replied 'Guilty my Lord!'

The judge, Mr Justice Stable, leaned forward and asked him a number of questions. 'Clayton, do you fully understand the nature of the charge to which you have pleaded guilty?' 'Yes, my Lord.' 'You appreciate what pleading guilty to this charge - that you took this woman's life with no mitigating circumstances - involves?' 'Yes, my Lord.'

When the commissioner of the Assizes asked him if he had anything to say why sentence of death should not be passed, Clayton replied in a firm voice 'No, my Lord.'

The prisoner's eyes were fixed on the floor as the judge donned the black cap and pronounced the sentence. The whole proceedings took less than three minutes, and as Clayton was ushered from the dock his wife could be heard sobbing loudly at the back of the court. On a warm summer morning, 7th August 1946, he was hanged for his crime of passion at Walton Prison, Liverpool. Now you have read about the murder of Joyce Jacques in Morecambe, make sure you learn about the double murder of two young boys in Wigan in the 1950s.


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