Cut Mill Murder 1932

House at Cut Mill taken by PC Tom Roberts.

The house at Cut Mill taken by
PC Tom Roberts.

1932: Cut Mill murder: Just before dinner on October 8 1932, Annie Keen (64) was clubbed three times with a sharpening stone in the scullery of her isolated Surrey cottage. Her throat was cut with a kitchen knife found at the murder scene. Her body was found in a pool of blood by an odd-job boy. It was lying next to an untouched meal that had been laid out for two.

The dinner should have been prepared by Mrs Keen for her and her husband, but he never made it home. Some minutes after the attack on his wife, Albert aged sixty one was beaten with a cudgel on his walk home from work. He was thrown into a nearby pond, and his body found floating there by police. Back at the cottage, police found signs that money had been stolen from the house. It was well known locally that Keen, a cowman, kept all his cash in his house. Detective Sergeant Curry and PC Tom Roberts attended the scene.

Tom Roberts was to become a founder member and later head of Surrey CID, and had the opportunity at the scene to develop some forensic skills. There was no training for detectives, picking up elements of their work from more experienced colleagues. Roberts used his own camera to take photos and developed the film in the bathroom of his digs, thereby also developing forensic photography within the Surrey Constabulary.

Person believed to be Nobes.  Taken by PC Tom Roberts.

Person believed to be Nobes.
Taken by PC Tom Roberts.

Four days later, a local man called Godfrey Nobes was arrested by Surrey Constabulary officers and charged with the murders. He had been seen walking around the woods near the Keens' cottage by a gamekeeper. Nobes was a formerly wealthy farmer now on his uppers. He hadn't paid his rent for four weeks and there were rumours that he was being blackmailed, so he had a motive for the crime. More incriminatingly, ninety six spots of blood were found on his suit and hat. At the trial he claimed that the blood on his suit came from a nosebleed and that he had got blood on his hat because he took it off in a pub and hung it on a peg next to a rabbit corpse.

Roberts believed that the suit worn by Nobes had been heavily blood stained but washed, he said because of a nose bleed. In 1932, the forensic techniques had not been developed to establish whether the blood was from Nobes's blood group.

After forty five minutes of deliberation, the jury, though urged to convict by the judge, pronounced Nobes not guilty. He jilted his fiancée on the courthouse steps, then disappeared for good - some said to live under an assumed name in Kent, others said to Australia.

Why did Nobes get off? Locals at the time suggested that it was because he was a freemason, and the jury was stuffed with freemasons. "I found no evidence of that," says Anthony Scrivener QC, who has reopened the seventy year old case for a TV programmes on unsolved murders. "I think the jury did very well not to convict on the basis of the evidence presented to them. The evidence was incriminating but not conclusive." The prosecution could not prove that the blood on the hat was human, still less that it was Mrs Keen's.

Scrivener, a leading British barrister for more than thirty years, reopened the Cutt Mill murder case to see if, using 21st century forensic scientific techniques, the crimes can be solved. He seeks the advice of forensic pathologists (in the 1930s, it was usually GPs who performed autopsies in criminal cases), scenes-of-crime officers (there was no such thing at the time), handwriting specialists (bank officials were frequently used by the prosecution as handwriting experts in criminal cases before the war), forensic psychologists, and a British scientist who specialises in the size and distribution of blood spattering. It was the blood-spattering patterns on his hat that should really have done for Nobes. Anyone might have supposed that blood on Nobes's hat had not come from being hung next to a rabbit corpse, but from Mrs Keen's clubbed head. This, though, could not be proved at the time. According to a forensic scientist Scrivener interviews for the programme, we can now show that, as Nobes brought down the sharpening stone on Mrs Keen's head, blood spattered on to his hat.

Annie Keen, the victim.

Annie Keen, the victim.

The spattering was consistent with blood rising from a wound such as Mrs Keen's, and the stains on the suit were not consistent with blood that had dripped from his nose. "The study of blood spattering has only really just started in England. It's been going on in the States for a while and has proved very useful in similar murder cases", says Scrivener. "It could have done in this one." Equally importantly, DNA tests can now show that the blood on Nobes's hat was not a rabbit's but Mrs Keen's. Had such forensic techniques been available at the time, the Cut Mill murder case would not have remained unsolved - and Nobes would have swung.

Fred Shoobridge in 1999: Sergeant Lucas took the recruits in the van to search the common for clues. The van had to go back so that at the end we walked to the Hog's Back and caught a bus. That night I was on duty at the police HQ in Guildford and had to clean the place. All the detectives would be called to the murder. Minter, Roberts, Curry; six or seven formed the Surrey Constabulary Criminal Investigation Department. Fred Collins and Tom Roberts were photographic and fingerprints.

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