Murder of an old lady at Chiddingfold 1976

1976, about: Murder of an old lady who died in a large house in Chiddingfold: Derek Cordery: Her body was found at the seat of the fire I believe on floor in the bedroom - she had been murdered by possibly a Slav gardener. I had the dubious pleasure of taking her skull in a container to Frimley Park hospital for dental checks and identification by her dentist.

Kevin Morris: I went to Haslemere in 1974 and left in 1976 so I think it was 1976. I was on early turn when Operations said that Haslemere Fire Service were attending a fire at Combe Court which has two entrances, one in Combe Lane and the other in Prestwick Lane down at the Chiddingfold end. I think most of us knew about the owner Miss Fanshaw and although personally I had not met her, the local village constable Colin Grafham had spoken of her frequently.

I followed an Haslemere Fire Service unit who turned into Combe Court Farm so I went on and up to Combe Court. The place was well alight and other residents who rented apartments/rooms were distraught but there was no sign of Miss Fanshaw or her handyman/chauffeur.

The car, which was usually left out also appeared to be absent so we were not too worried at first. The car was found in a lock up and residents spoke of hearing an argument. I seem to recall Brian Richardson was sent as SIO.

Haslemere Fire Service found the body and Brian looked at me and just said "Coroners Officer". I got home about 11 pm. Her chauffeur had been seen near the lake shortly after that the blaze was discovered. Her body was badly burnt especially around her head and the floor around her head had been burnt through as it was clearly the seat of the fire. Haslemere Fire Service had no hesitation in saying it was suspicious as an accelerant had obviously been used.

The post-mortem was by Dr Ainsworth who, for me, was brilliant as he explained everything as he went along leaving her head till last. Her skull was just that, a skull burnt and black no skin or hair left but it had been fractured. Inside the fracture Dr Ainsworth found skin, blood and hair so he readily exclaimed it was prior to the fire and sufficient to cause death.

The chauffeur was found drowned in the lake and a stain on his clothing proved to be human blood (before DNA) and Brian was happy he had a solved case.

Now my memory of this was that he was Sicilian and the view was he owed her money, they argued, he killed her, poured paraffin over her head and set fire to it. Stricken with grief he wandered down to the lake and topped himself; code of honour in Sicily! This was also the only time I ever saw the Fire Salvage people.

The really odd thing is that last summer I got a call from a lady with a Northern accent who was asking if I would take photos at her father's birthday party in the grounds of her brother's house in Chiddingfold. I said yes and agreed a price (along with a discussion about her living near my home town etc, etc). To my surprise her brother owns Combe Court, big internet guy apparently and the murder was a big talking point. The place had changed a lot but then fires are destructive, but what a coincidence?

John Stone: 1976 is about right for the Chiddingfold murder, for I went to Haslemere in 1975. I was one of the first uniformed officers to attend. The address was "Coombe Court", Chiddingfold, and I got my photo' on the front page of the Telegraph with the burning building in the background. The murdered woman's name was Fanny Fanshaw and the murderer was the handyman/gardener whose body was found in the lake in the grounds the following day.

Jamie Donaldson: I attended as Scenes of Crime Officer. You could just make out the shape of a very badly charred body. The scene was utter devastation with the bedroom completely gutted. The door was gone and so was part of the floor. The door lock was in the debris and in the locked position. Her man servant could not be found.

A post-mortem was carried out that evening and I attended with Cedric Gardner when a skull fracture was found and a piece of skull about two inches by two inches was inside the skull with hair on. This showed the damage had been done prior to the fire. The pathologist said it would take considerable force to cause such an injury and ruled out a fall making the man servant a suspect.

Next day the underwater search unit searched a large lake in the grounds of the house and found his body. It is thought he did the deed then killed himself.

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