The Murder Of Florence Chadwick In Burnley, England, 1967: The Senseless Killing Of A Good Samaritan

In Burnley, England, in 1967, 68-year-old Florence Chadwick was brutally stabbed to death for no apparent reason after visiting an elderly friend. The killer, Douglas Gardner was sentenced to life in prison in 1968.

The murder of Florence Chadwick in Burnley in 1967
The murder of Florence Chadwick in Burnley in 1967

Motiveless murder is usually one of the hardest types of crime for detectives to solve. With no obvious suspect and few clues, it is often down to pure chance that the guilty are brought to justice.

The pointless killing of an elderly lady in Burnley during the autumn of 1967 was, fortunately, one of the rare cases in which the police had the case wrapped up within 24 hours.

Sixty-year-old Florence Chadwick, a kindly widow who lived with her youngest son Arthur at 106 Every Street, Burnley, England, worked as a barmaid at the Concord Bar in Burnley town centre. It was the policy of the bar to provide staff with a taxi after closing time and shortly before midnight on Friday, October 13, 1967, Florrie, as she was known to her friends, bought a bottle of stout and asked the taxi to drop her off at Sandygate, as she planned to share the bottle with her friend, 78-year-old Annie Cocker.

Mrs Cocker lived at 27 Lord Street, in an area awaiting slum clearance by Burnley Corporation. Her house and one other were the only ones that had not been boarded up ready for demolition. The old lady was partially disabled and Mrs Chadwick, a friend for close to 40 years, was a frequent visitor who would run errands and do other chores.

Florrie arrived at the house a few minutes after midnight, and the ladies shared the stout and chatted for around three-quarters of an hour before Florrie set off for the short walk to her own home. Twenty minutes later, just as Annie was preparing for bed, she heard a faint cry from the street outside. The voice seemed to be calling her name, and opening the door she found Florrie lying face down on the pavement.

Annie shrieked at the sight of her friend in distress and called out for help. Two young men walking on the opposite side of the road rushed over and while one administered first aid, the other ran to fetch help.

The old lady's screams echoed through the deserted streets and were heard by a chip shop owner, Mrs Joan Phillips, who was unwinding after a busy night behind the counter at her shop at 93 Piccadilly Road, a hundred yards away from Mrs Cocker's house. Walking back into the shop area, she saw a young man she recognised as her next-door neighbour, running across the road, and as he approached his own front door he dropped something that made a distinctly metallic sound as it struck the hard ground. Unseen in her by now darkened shop, she saw the youth enter his house and close the door behind him. She thought nothing more of it and returned to her cup of cocoa.

By the time the police had arrived at Lord Street, Mrs Chadwick had succumbed to her injuries and a murder enquiry was set up. At first light, a team of officers combed the area aided by police dogs, and they quickly located the old lady's lower set of dentures, a pair of spectacles, and a key ring. A police car with a loudspeaker patrolled the area appealing for anyone with information to come forward and newspaper placards were posted outside every newsagent with a similar message.

A post-mortem was held later that morning and Dr Charles St Hill, the pathologist, told detectives that the killer had stabbed the old lady twice: once in the lower back and the second time in the left side of her chest, a four-inch deep cut which had punctured the aorta. A third cut was found in her handbag which she had probably used to fend off a further attack.

The police set up their headquarters in the concert room at the local police station as teams of officers began the rounds of door-to-door routine enquiries. These were the first steps taken in most murder investigations and they instantly paid off.

An officer called at the chip shop on Piccadilly Road and interviewed the owner. She mentioned seeing her neighbour, 19-year-old Douglas Gardner, running down the street away from the Sandygate area. Furnished with this vital tip-off, Detective Inspector Slater and Detective Seargent Johnson from the regional crime squad, visited Gardner at his home later that Saturday afternoon.

He said that he had heard of the murder from his mother who had told him about it after she had returned from shopping just before dinner. Gardner was asked about his movements on the previous evening and said that he had finished work at 7.30 and arrived home about 10 minutes later. He added that he was an apprentice with a firm of bookbinders. After a wash and change, he had sat down and watched an episode of Danger Man on television before calling at a friend's house, and together they went out into town.

Continuing, he told Johnson that they visited the Casino Club in the town where they had watched a beauty contest, and after drinking around five or six pints of "black and tan" he left the club with another friend, Michael Wilson, at around 12.30 am. They walked to the bus station and chatted while queuing for a taxi. Tired of waiting for a cab, Gardner decided to walk home and arrived there at 1.15 am. He claimed that he did not see anyone while walking home nor did he hear any noise, and when he reached home he went straight to bed. Asked if this was a true account, Gardner pondered for a second before replying, "Yes, as far as I know."

While Gardner was giving the account of his movements, Detective Inspector Slater was searching through his room. He noticed a large cupboard which was secured by a padlock and chain, the key to which he found in a pocket of a jacket hanging behind the door. The inspector opened the cupboard and found a sheathed knife covered with what looked like blood. He showed the knife to Gardner and asked him if he could identify it. Gardner admitted that the knife belonged to him but claimed that he had got it when he was in the Scouts and had never carried it.

While Gardner was being taken to the police station, an officer was sent to question Michael Wilson about his movements the previous evening. Wilson confirmed most of the alibi except for one vital point. Asked what time they left the club, Wilson replied, "About 11.30 pm", a good hour before the time Gardner claimed.

Back at the station Gardner was interviewed again: this time Inspector Reavely of the Burnley Borough Force took notes while Detective Inspector Parkinson asked the questions.

DI Parkinson: "Would you care to tell me what you did last night?"

Gardner: "I finished work at 7.30, watched TV, went to my mate's house, and from there to the Casino. I left the Casino about 1 am and went to the bus station to get a taxi. I didn't get one so I walked home."

DI Parkinson: "You left the Casino before 1 am, Wilson stated he was home before midnight. You were seen running into your home after one o'clock, and you dropped something on to the road."

Gardner: "I didn't drop anything. I wasn't running."

DI Parkinson: "Why don't you tell me the truth?"

Gardner: "I think I did it but I don't remember."

DI Parkinson: "What do you mean?"

Gardner: "I vaguely remember."

Gardner then made a statement in which he admitted the attack: "After leaving Wilson I remember going home. I took my coat off then put it back on. I remember hitting her and had the knife in my hand. I stabbed her and it were in Sandygate. I didn't know I had killed her until my mother came home from the shop."

He admitted that he felt bad about the attack, even more so when he learned that the victim was the mother of one of his former classmates. He concluded the statement by saying, "I would like to apologise if I can."

On February 12, 1968, he stood in the dock before Mr Justice Fenton Atkinson and entered a plea of not guilty to the murder of Florence Chadwick. The trial lasted five hours and ended when the jury returned a guilty verdict. Mr Justice Atkinson sentenced the prisoner to life imprisonment and he was ushered from the dock.

Why did the 19-year-old, perfectly sane young man, with previous good character, suddenly resort to murder? No motive was ever suggested or proven. The victim had been carrying a small amount of money but that was still in her possession after the crime. Although the killer knew Mrs Chadwick, as he claimed. It has been suggested that after witnessing the beauty contest, he became sexually frustrated, which combined with his drunken state drove him to kill the first female he saw as he walked home alone.

Unfortunately for Mrs Chadwick - the Good Samaritan, returning from comforting an elderly friend - she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Fortunately for the police, Mrs Phillips, in her small fish and chip shop, was in the right place at the right time.

Now you have read about the murder of Florence Chadwick, make sure you take the time to learn about Tragic Murder Of Eliza Caldwell & The Hanging Of Her Husband Charlie At Strangeways In 1938.


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