Pilot murdered his wife in Cranleigh 1975 - the Wast Water murder

1975, about: Cranleigh: Surrey airline pilot murdered his wife and then drove up to Cumbria and dropped her body into Wast Water. The victim was identified by the wedding ring on her finger and her murder was detected some years later.

Ray Taylor: I was a divisional DC at Guildford between 1983 and 1986, I had returned to division after being on the Special Crime Patrol. (Burglary Squad) and the Detective Chief Inspector Tim Blake had followed me. I was in the office one afternoon when I received a call from Whitehaven CID in Cumbria making enquiries about a carpet shop in the town.

The DS I was speaking to said that they had recovered a body of a woman from Wast Water in the Lake District and the body had been wrapped in a material that had previously been around a carpet. The material had the name of a carpet shop in Friary Lane in Guildford. The centre of Guildford had changed dramatically with the building of the Friary Centre and many of the smaller roads in the centre of town were now pedestrian areas and the shops that had been in the road had been knocked down. I told the DS that I was not aware of a carpet shop by the name he gave me but I would make some enquires and call him back.

Having spent a lot of my misspent youth (before I joined Surrey Constabulary) in Guildford I knew where the carpet shop would have been so I phoned a few shop owners in the area. Surprisingly in those days we did communicate quite a lot with the local community. I drew a blank so I made one last concerted effort and contacted the Guildford Museum and was told that they had some business directories, with owners and staff listed, dating back several years and they would try to locate the shop.

Shortly afterwards my call was returned and not only had the curator located the shop but had also located one of the members of staff who not only could identify the carpet wrapping but remembered where it had been delivered to. The surprising thing was that this had all happened in one afternoon. I called the DS back who was thrilled to bits on the progress we had made and intimated that it would be necessary to come down to continue the enquiries but there was a need to keep things fairly quiet as it was now considered a suspicious death.

I reported this to Detective Chief Inspector Blake and he contacted the SIO in Whitehaven and it was arranged that they would come down with a team to continue enquiries in Guildford. Much to my disappointment after making the initial enquires I was not to take part in assisting the team from Cumbria. My very good friend Dave Lambert was given this task probably because he as the treasurer of the social club held the keys to the bar and could provide some hospitality for the team in the evenings.

A pilot from Cranleigh was arrested and charged with murder of his wife and the ring found on the body of the woman recovered from the lake was identified as such by her friends. I believe he was eventually convicted of manslaughter as his wife was having extra marital relations and had taunted him over her lover's superior lovemaking techniques.

So whilst it may be true that the identification of the ring was a major factor in identifying the pilot's wife it was the help that I received from the members of Guildford's business community that gave the Cumbrian Police somewhere to commence their enquiries and led to a successful conclusion. As a footnote I must add that my disappointment was compensated for by the number of pints of bitter that was bought for me by the DS I had originally spoken to, whilst entertaining them at Guildford bar.

Ken Dixon: The Wast Water murder in 1975 was a woman (the name escapes me) who owned Freedland House Tea Rooms in Cranleigh High Street (next to the Village Hospital). She was reported missing by her husband at Cranleigh Office, saying she had gone off with another man. Later when the body was found in Wass Water, she was wrapped in a Bramley Linen Care bag or sheet, and traced back to dry cleaners in Cranleigh.

Roger Cole: The body was discovered in a lake in the Lake District by members of a local diving club, the body was in weighted laundry bags which still had the Cranleigh laundry marks on them complete with the 'offenders/victims' own laundry marks. The laundry bags and body were dumped in the lake from a boat, the offender did not quite get to the area over the deepest part of the lake and the body was found on a ledge. The victim's husband was arrested at the airport just after landing. The victim was identified by her wedding ring.

Martin West: My knowledge of it was not gleaned from any police source, so is 'hearsay'. We moved into Mead Road, Cranleigh (where we still live) in 1990. A family with whom we were slightly acquainted, but whose home we had never visited, already lived in the road. On the day we moved in they very kindly came across to offer us a meal at the end of a strenuous moving day and quite late in the evening we found ourselves sitting in their dining room.

They then went on to tell us that the room in which we were sitting was apparently the one in which the struggle leading to the death in question had occurred and I think the story was that the fender on which the victim had struck her head was still in place. The pilot was a man named Hogg, who ultimately served a relatively short prison sentence.

The story seemed to be that the death resulted from a domestic 'fight' resulting in a death in respect of which there was an 'accidental' element, Hogg then panicked and embarked on his elaborate plan to conceal it and reported his wife as a missing person. He was found out when the lake was being searched in relation to another incident. He had not rowed far enough to drop the body at a depth where it would never have been discovered and he had left the engraved ring in place. Apparently Hogg retained ownership of the house whilst in prison, returned to it briefly on his release and then sold it to our neighbours.

Ian Robertson: I was the murder room office manager at the time. It should have been the perfect murder. The body of his wife Mary had been in the Wass Water in Cumbria for seven years. Not seven months, seven years. Any police officer who has ever been involved in taking bodies out of rivers or ponds or lakes can testify to the bloated, disintegrating state of them in only a matter of two to three weeks.

There was a long history of domestic strife between him and the wife. He was by all accounts a grand chap; she was a fly by night heavily involved in an affair. He had retired from the airlines and owned a restaurant in Cranleigh and they lived in the Bramley area. It all came to a head and he killed her in the bedroom at home. Now he has to get rid of the body.

He folded her up with the [knees] drawn up to the stomach and the arms pulled into the front of the chest area. He used sheets and pillow cases from the bed to wrap her up and then covered the same in heavy duty polythene sheeting. She was trussed like a giant parcel. Now he needed an alibi.

He had a son who was at a private school in Devon. He rang the Headmaster and made an appointment to see him on the pretext that he wanted to discuss his son's progress etc. I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but he got the body into his vehicle, plus an inflatable dingy. He then drove down to Devon, went to the school and arranged to call back the following day. He then drove all the way to Cumbria and made his way to Wass Water.

He knew it was the deepest lake in Britain. Passing some road works on the way he stopped and picked up a large piece of concrete. On reaching the lake, he inflated the dingy, got the body into it, having first tied the concrete to the 'parcel'. He then rowed himself out, to a certain point, and tipped the body over the side (apparently a very difficult task without capsizing himself). He then returned to his car and drove all the way through the night and back to Devon for his appointment; a feat in itself.

He eventually returned to Surrey and she was subsequently reported as a missing person. As his wife 'failed to return' after five years he became legally divorced. Where did it all go wrong, seven years later? Wast Water, not only being the deepest lake in the country, it is also the clearest. The water is so clear it is a Mecca for diving and scuba clubs. They use it to teach underwater navigation, etc.

Cumbria is a scenic county and favoured by hill walkers and backpackers. A female French student on a backpacking trip had left a youth hostel with the intent of following along the edge of Wast Water to another hostel. She failed to arrive and was posted missing. Police being what they are came to the possibility that she may have fallen into the lake and drowned. Again being Police, they contacted the local diving clubs and asked them if they were diving in the area to report if they saw or noticed anything unusual.

As a result of this a diver came forward and reported that he had come across a large bundle resting on the side of an 'underwater cliff'. He agreed to take a Police diving team to the object, which was recovered and brought ashore. It was opened up and there inside in a very, very good state of preservation was the Pilot's wife. (It was established that that the water temperature at the point where she was lying stayed at a constant four degrees winter or summer; virtually like being in a freezer.) Additionally, if he had rowed her out just a little bit further she was would have gone down to at least three hundred feet, and would never have been found, as nobody dives that deep.

On further checking of the body, her wedding ring was found. Engraved inside was the first name of himself, and his wife Mary. On the pillow cases over her head was the laundry stamp of 'BRAMLEY LAUNDRY'. The usual circulations by Cumbria CID were made. The names on the ring, and Bramley Laundry led to Surrey taking over the investigation from Cumbria.

The husband was arrested. He presented no problem whatsoever. He put his hands up, and the whole story came out. Numerous people came forward with character references for him. The Courts were lenient. I think he only got three years.

After seven years he must have though he was safe apart from three things. He didn't row her out quite far enough, and a French student went missing. She ironically was found a long time afterwards. She had fallen into a rock gully.

As a footnote, it was the first time for Surrey that a murder room was amalgamated with the murder room of another Force using the new HOLMES system. It wasn't computerised at that stage, being run on a card index system and supporting documentation. It proved one thing however, inasmuch that if all forces use it, it works. The Cumbrian records from the initial investigation were brought down to the murder room at Guildford and were amalgamated into the Surrey investigation with ease.

It nearly was the perfect murder mind you.

Jamie Donaldson: I was on this job as scenes of crime officer and I searched the suspect's house with Cumbria Police to little avail as the case was seven years old. I seem to recall that the victim was identified by her wedding ring that had her name and wedding day engraved on it.

Return to main text

 

Surrey Constabulary badge