Was this newlywed frightened to death?
TERROR may have killed a frail young woman as she walked across a patch of waste land near her home, say police as they probed the terrible murder of the newlywed.
The Crime Scene: The Patch
TERROR may have killed a frail young woman as she walked across a patch of waste land near her home, posited police as they probed the terrible murder of the newlywed.
But what devilish appearance could have proved so unhinging as to have struck down 25-year-old Lillian Collins that cold December night in 1954?
The police investigation would later find the motive to be far more mundane.
But the case gripped the Black Country community and ended with a man sentenced to hang.
Mrs Collins was known to friends and family as a quiet but popular woman, devoted to her new husband, who worked at as a machinist at the Rubery Owen factory, in Moxley, near Wednesbury.
She had married sweetheart Raymond Collins at Moxley Parish Church that August.
The pair had met in Southsea three years earlier and honeymooned in a caravan in Bridgnorth before he returned to his base in Rosyth, Scotland.
During the following months, she wrote long letters to him and was even knitting him a jumper.
That fateful night of December 1, 1954, Mrs Collins left work as normal for the walk home with her colleagues Elizabeth Freeman and Joyce Collett, who described her as “happy” that evening.
However, Mrs Collins did not make it home.
Three hours later and worried for her wellbeing, her brother, Jack Lloyd, and brother-in-law Stanley Worrell began to search the streets by torchlight.
At 10pm they made the shocking discovery.
Recounting the moment, Mr Worrell told reporters at the time: “We found her lying beneath a wall on waste ground, but she apparently was not injured.”
Immediately, her husband was allowed leave. Arriving home he said: “I feel too sick and too numb to speak about it.”
A relative added: “Lillian’s death has cut Raymond to pieces. They were so very much in love.”
Within hours of the discovery of Mrs Collins’ body, Staffordshire police were convinced she had been murdered and a howling wind that night had drowned her screams. “She died from fright, there is no doubt about that,” one detective said.
The Husband: Raymond Collins
Chief Det Supt Tom Lockley, head of Staffordshire CID and veteran of many murder hunts was drafted in to head the inquiry.
A squad of police officers, led by Insp Phillip Plumbley, cordoned off the murder scene. Officers used rakes and gardening forks to turn over the long grass covering the half-acre grounds, known locally as The Patch that led to the family home in Arden Place.
More than 200 detectives were drafted in to the investigation. The murder was briefly linked with a terrifying attack on another woman in nearby Coseley who was throttled with a clothes line during a robbery two days after the murder.
Police officers began guarding nurses at Moxley Hospital after they reported attempts by a burly stranger to molest them. And women were warned not to go out at night. Detectives also travelled to Warwickshire in a “sensational development” when the case was linked to that of the Stratford Strangler who had killed nurse Olive Bennett eight months earlier.
The breakthrough, when it came, was not as sensational as thought.
Detectives had gone to Chester to interview Private Kenneth Causer, who was serving with the Army Catering Corps on National Service.
The 19-year-old lived in Queen Street, opposite the spot where the body of Mrs Collins was found and he had been seen in the area that night. He had been on leave at the time, returning to his unit three days after the murder.
The Friend: Joyce Collett
It was thought to be a routine inquiry, and Causer first said he had been to the cinema for a showing of Romeo and Juliet.
But as Det Insp William Gray probed further, Causer broke down.
“I did not intend to kill her, believe me,” he blurted out.
“I only intended to make love to her and she fainted when we were on the grass.”
Causer was brought back to Wednesbury police station. As he stepped from the car, he tried to cover his face from waiting photographers.
He was charged later that night with murder and appeared before a special magistrates court sitting the following day. The court heard that death was due to shock and asphyxia, caused by a hand being placed over a mouth and nose, possibly in an attempt to stifle screams during an attempted sex attack.
The Prime Suspect: Kenneth Causer
At a subsequent hearing, Causer pleaded not guilty to her murder. As the victim’s husband sat in the public gallery, a statement said to have been made by Causer, in which he admitted an attack on the woman but denied intending to kill her, was read out to court.
In it, he confessed: “I had no intention to kill her. I was standing on the corner of Queen Street when she came from the Wednesbury direction.
“She crossed Queen Street to go across the waste ground. I knew her. I followed her and caught up with her. I put my arms on her shoulders. I started to make love to her by kissing her. We were both lying on the ground when I realised she had fainted.
I dragged her towards the wall and left her. I did not think she was dead. After that I went home and had a wash, then went out again and stood on the corner of Queen Street. I saw a bus coming and caught it and went to the cinema.”
In March 1955, Causer was sentenced to death at Staffordshire Assizes for the murder of Lillian Collins. The jury added a strong recommendation for mercy to their verdict which the judge, Mr Justice Devlin said he would forward to the Home Secretary. Later that month the Home Secretary agreed and granted a reprieve.