The murder of Constance Curtis

1944, 14 April: The murder of Constance Curtis123 a pretty 17 year old factory worker was investigated by Inspector Springate in April 1944. On May 7th News of the World reported that police in an enquiry led by Detective Superintendent Roberts were trying to trace two Canadian soldiers. Constance had been to the fair where she was seen talking to Canadian soldiers one of whom Donovan was picked out on an ID parade at Cove.

PS D. G. Hobbs found the girl on The Moors at 8 am on the 15th April. He saw a girl's dead body lying on the grass, which had been disturbed and two parallel lines ran from the area of trampled grass to where the body was lying, a distance of nearly sixty feet. He found a pair of girl's shoes which appeared to have been pulled off by a hillock over which the body had been dragged.

The body was naked except for her stockings and her clothing which appeared to have been forcibly removed had been thrown over her. A piece of her dress had been torn off and was wrapped around the body.124 Dr Gardner undertook the post-mortem and it appeared that the girl had been strangled, and left naked except for her stockings.125 The girl had been partly stripped and beaten to death.

The men were traced and one, John Francis Donovan, was initially interviewed by Sergeant Bicknall and PC Noakes. A further interview was undertaken by Detective Inspector HA Springate before being committed for trial where he was found not guilty his plea of mistaken identity was accepted.

The prosecution case had rested on the confident identification of Donovan as the man who was with the deceased only an hour or two before her death; he made an alibi which broke down; he gave contradictory evidence. A witness who had seen Connie leave the fair with Donovan went again when the fair returned the following week. She recognised Donovan as being the man with Connie and told PC Noakes who was on duty at the fair in plain clothes, probably tasked to find the suspect.

PC F. Deacon who when giving evidence was serving in the RAF, attended a parade of a Canadian Signals Reinforcement Unit at Cove and found the defendant who answered the description of the suspect. Police Sergeant Bignall went to the fair to support PC Noakes. Bignall stopped Donovan and asked him if he had been to the fair before and he agreed he had been to the last one – when the Constance had been murdered.

Donovan was allowed to go but he gave up his pay book calling later that night at Camberley police station where he was interviewed by Inspector Springate and PC Yalden, denying he had been to the fair the night of the murder. Some days later he was to change his story again and say he was there. An ID parade had been held and Donovan was not picked out by witnesses.126 The Laboratory report stated that hairs submitted to them were like those of Donovan but could not be said to be his with certainty. They were not hairs from Sergeant Horton or the dead girl.127

There was great concern within the legal system, and in particular by the Judge of this case Mr Justice Birkett, over identification of suspects following the case of Adolph Beck in 1896 who had been wrongly identified on a fraud charge and spent a long time in prison. In 1901 he was released on license but three years later was again arrested on a similar charge and convicted. In the meantime another ex-convict was arrested who was guilty of these offences and Beck's innocence was proved. He was given a free pardon and £5,000 in compensation. He died in 1915.128

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123 News of the World (1944). (April 30).

124 Camberley News and Bagshot Observer (1944). (October 13).

125 Camberley News and Bagshot Observer (1944). (October 13).

126 Camberley News and Bagshot Observer (1944). (October 13).

127 Camberley News and Bagshot Observer (1944). (October 13).

128 News of the World (1944). (December 10).


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