The Chalk Pit murder

Body found in Woldingham chalk pit.

Body found in chalk pit.

1946, 30 November: Tom Roberts called to a murder at Woldingham by Superintendent King of Oxted Division.141 Chalk Pit murder: The extraordinary events surrounding the murder of John Mudie whose strangled body was found in a Surrey chalk pit in 1946 and the most unlikely pair who were charged with the crime Thomas Ley, former Minister of Justice in New South Wales and Lawrence Smith, a labourer. A lady whom Ley admired happened to live in the same lodging house as Mudie and he became convinced they were having an affair. His insane jealousy led him to plan the abduction and murder of Mudie. DI and local DS went to the scene. Eric Gardner the Surrey Pathologist plus Keith Simpson.

Body of John Mudie found in a Surrey chalk pit.

Body of murdered John Mudie
found in a Surrey chalk pit.

Fred Shoobridge 1999: I took over the exhibits (I did a months' CID training). "I took them to the office and then on to the Yard if necessary. I made the initial enquiries and took the statements."

For a jealous man to murder a woman or his rival in love is reprehensible enough, but for a man to plot such a murder and pay two men to carry out the dirty work on his behalf, is infinitely worse. Especially when the murdered man is a perfectly innocent individual who had no possible claim upon the attentions of the woman with whom he was accused of having a liaison: in fact the only time he ever met her was when he passed her once on the stairs when she was staying for a few days in the same house.

1946, 30 November: Woldingham Chalk Pit: Walter Coombs walking his dog found a body. Dr Eric Gardner the pathologist called to the scene. Undertook an examination and found man aged about thirty five, dead about forty eight hours, suffered from asphyxiation. Clear from a lack of mud on the shoes killed and brought to the scene.

The post-mortem was held at the Oxted mortuary. Rope burn encircled the neck. Identification card carried in name of John McMain Mudie a thirty five year old barman who had been working at the Reigate Hill Hotel.

DS Fred Shoobridge undertook initial enquiries which took him to Mudie's old digs in Wimbledon where the landlady Mrs Evans said that Mudie had been introduced there to a Mrs Byron Brook the director of a property company during a chance meeting when they met on the stairs.

Letters from a firm of solicitors were found in Mudie's room and Shoobridge interviewed them and they said that they had been instructed by the chairman of a property company Thomas Ley, who lived in Beaufort Gardens, Kensington. Shoobridge interviewed him. As a result of this interview and one with property developers Superintendent Tom Roberts the head of Surrey Constabulary Criminal Investigation Department took over the case.

Woldingham chalk pit where John Mudie's body was found.

Woldingham chalk pit where
John Mudie's body was found.

Ley was a former Minister of Justice in New South Wales. Returned to England in 1930 followed shortly by Mrs Brook who had been his mistress for twenty five years. Ley became obsessively jealous. She was sixty six and did not look any younger but Ley thought younger men were after her.

Roberts called on the assistance of Chief Inspector Arthur Philpot of Scotland Yard who took charge of the case. If it had been murder, Ley, who was twenty two stone, would have needed help to do it and to dispose of the body.

Following publicity an ex boxer John William Buckingham went to Scotland Yard and said that he had been paid £200 by Ley to kidnap Mudie, who was lured to Ley's house where an accomplice Lawrence Smith was. "There was no fight or struggle. We just shut the door on him. Ley paid the money and I left as fast as I could with Smith."

Smith was traced, a carpenter who had worked in Ley's house. He confirmed his accomplice's story but said that when Mudie entered the house, Buckingham was waiting for him, holding a rug, while Smith held a clothes line. "We kidnapped him by throwing the rug over his head, and my job was to tie the clothes-line round his arms, legs and body so that he could not escape, but leaving the rug loose enough so that he could breathe, but not shout or anything like that."

They left Mudie in a chair with a gag round his mouth. Smith and Buckingham left. Buckingham later agreed that he had placed a rug over Mudie's head but denied that he had tripped and fallen and that a gag had been used. Ley interviewed and denied any involvement.

Philpot found that Smith had hired a car and he was identified by one of the people who saw him at the chalk pit. Another witness did not identify Buckingham. Smith and Ley charged. Lord Chief Justice presided. Much argument about the noose found around Mudie's neck and the possibility of murder or suicide. An enlarged photo revealed a straight line mark on the neck, invisible to the naked eye which indicated that the noose had been tightened then dragged upwards in a horizontal position causing asphyxiation.

On 5th May 1947 Ley sentenced to death but reprieved and sent to Broadmoor, Smith also reprieved and sentenced to life. On the 24 July 1947 Ley died of a brain haemorrhage.

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141 Roberts, Tom (1987). Friends and Villains: an Autobiography, Hodder and Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-41150-3, p. 95.


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