The death of Hilary Rougier

1926, 24 August: Knaphill: The Lerwill family moved to Nuthurst in Lower Knaphill in June 1926. With the family was seventy seven year old bachelor Hilary Rougier who was soon a serial patient of local Doctor Brewer until one day the doctor was called in an emergency to attend the house. The doctor found Rougier in a coma and diagnosed a severe cerebral haemorrhage in the night. He died a few hours later.

Following the death and funeral the dead man's family became concerned over the loss of his fortune, in today's terms about £200,000, and concerns of fraud and theft surfaced particularly when the bank pass book was found with details of cheques paid to the Lerwills.

These suspicious led to concern of murder and in March 1928 the body was exhumed and Sir Bernard Spilsbury rejected the local doctor's cause of death as being natural. Morphine had been found in the body.

A detailed enquiry and lengthy inquest failed to lead to any criminal charges against the Lerwill family or anyone else. It remains that his considerable sums of money had been dissipated, his friends the Lerwills from debt rose to affluence but there was no evidence of any criminal offences.

1928, 19 March: The Scotsman: Secret Exhumation – retired farmer's body – a Surrey mystery: A body so mysteriously exhumed by the Surrey police (sic) from the little churchyard of St Johns near Woking was that of an aged farmer who came from a distance to live in the district. Extraordinary precautions were taken to prevent the identity of the person becoming known. Enquiries were made in the district for many months prior to the exhumation and every witness was pledged to secrecy. At the time of the exhumation a piece of the common was also dug, it seems as a distraction from the real work.

The deceased went to the neighbourhood of Woking in the summer of 1926 and was aged seventy living with friends in a large house on the outskirts of the town. Certain organs have been removed for analyses by Sir Bernard Spilsbury and the body was reinterred.

Deputy Chief Constable Kenward and Superintendent Boshier of Woking who are in charge of the investigation have made several visits to the Home Office and a conference was held at Surrey Constabulary headquarters on Saturday night.

1928, 18 May: The Scotsman: Old man's death – body exhumed: The circumstances surrounding the death of Hilary Rougier the aged Guernsey man whose body was exhumed by the Surrey police (sic) were inquired into yesterday nine weeks after the exhumation.

Rougier after his retirement lived for some time with Mr and Mrs Lerwill and it was in their country house which they rented at Lower Knaphill that he died aged seventy-seven. He was thought to be wealthy but his will was proved at less than £50.

The man died in August 1926 and it was not until March 1928 that the body was exhumed. Dr. Brewer was called to the house and certified that the man had died from senile decay, cerebral haemorrhage and coma.

Sir Bernard Spilsbury could find no disease that would account for the death from natural causes. There was not any poison in the walls of the stomach but this did not mean there was no poison at all.

Dr Roche Lynch, Home Office Analyst found alkaloid morphine present in the organs, the sample being taken eighteen months after death indicated that Rougier took a considerable quantity shortly before death. Considerable morphine had been administered.

Dr Lynch said Superintendent Boshier had handed him one hundred and nineteen articles taken from Nuthurst, Lower Knaphill. A considerable number of these proved to be food preparation essences. He was reserving examination of the articles until it proved necessary. The inquest was adjourned.

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