Peasenhall Murder

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The Peasenhall Murder is a notorious unsolved murder committed in Peasenhall, Suffolk, England, on the night of 31 May 1902.[1] The house where the murder occurred can be found in the centre of the village, on the opposite corner to Emmett's Store. It is a classic 'unsolved' country house murder, committed near midnight, during a thunderstorm, and with many ingredients of mystery.

The victim was Rose Harsent, a servant girl, who was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant. She was unmarried but found to be six months pregnant. The police originally thought it was suicide, but, after investigation, local Primitive Methodist clergyman William Gardiner was arrested, and tried twice in 1902 and 1903.

It was alleged that Gardiner was the father of the unborn child. It was well known among the locals that he had conducted an affair with the victim in 1901. Gardiner also held a position of some prominence in his employment as a foreman at the local seed drill works (Smyth's of Peasenhall). He lived in the main street of Peasenhall with his wife and six children, in a small semi-detached cottage, within sight of Providence House where the murder was committed.

The police investigated the murder and Gardiner was quickly arrested. He was tried twice at Ipswich. The first trial was presided over by Sir William Grantham, the second by Sir John Compton Lawrance. At each trial Gardiner was prosecuted by Henry Fielding Dickens and defended by Ernest Wild. Both times the jury was unable to reach a verdict — it was said that at the first trial the jury was split eleven to one in favour of guilty, and the second eleven to one in favour of not guilty. The prosecution then issued a writ of nolle prosequi. This was distinct from the usual process of a formal acquittal. The consequence of this is that Gardiner is one of the few people in English history to have been tried for murder and to have no verdict ever returned.

This case has been detailed in an episode of BBC One's Julian Fellowes Investigates: A Most Mysterious Murder. Fellowes believes the murder was perpetrated by Gardiner's wife, probably due to jealousy. He also speculates that the wife would have confessed if her husband had been convicted. Gardiner died in 1941 without having been formally acquitted.


  • Robert Church, "Murder in East Anglia: A New Look at Notorious Cases", Robert Hale, 1987, ISBN 0-7090-2963-2, pp. 57–75.
  • Edwin Packer, "The Peasenhall Murder", Yoxford Publications, 1980, ISBN 0-907265-01-4.
  • Aldred, David L., 'Rose of Peasenhall', Ipswich, East Anglian Magazine, Vol. 40, 1981.
  • Bresler, Fenton, 'The Choirmaster's Ordeal', Sunday Express, 26 May 1968.
  • Cooper, Brian, Genesis 38, London, Heinemann, 1964. (Fictionalised treatment).
  • Dickens, Sir Henry F., Reminiscences, London, Heinemann, 1934.
  • Fido, Martin and Keith Skinner, The Peasenhall Murder, Stroud, Alan Sutton, 1990.
  • Freeman, R. Austin (ed.), Great Unsolved Crimes, London, Hutchinson, 1935.
  • Futter, R. H., 'The Peasenhall Murder', Ipswich, East Anglian Magazine, Vol. 14, 1955.
  • Gladstone, Rev. H. H., 'The Unsolved Mystery of Peasenhall', Ipswich, East Anglian Magazine, Vol. 24, 1964.
  • Goodman, Jonathan (ed.), The Country House Murders, London, W. H. Allen, 1987.
  • Henderson, William, The Trial of William Gardiner, Notable British Trial Series, London & Edinburgh, William Hodge, 1934.
  • Jobson, Allan, An Hour-Glass on the Run, London, Michael Joseph, 1959.
  • Jobson, Allan, 'The Peasenhall Murder', Suffolk Fair Magazine, Vol. 2, 1972.
  • Jobson, Allan, Something of Old Suffolk, London, Robert Hale, 1978.
  • Kingston, Charles, Famous Judges and Famous Trials, London, Stanley Paul, 1923.
  • Lambton, Arthur, Echoes of Causes Celebres, London, Hurst and Blackett, 1931.
  • Logan, Guy B. H., Guilty or Not Guilty?, London, Stanley Paul, 1928.
  • Parrish, J. M. and J. R. Crossland (eds.), The Fifty Most Amazing Crimes of the Last 100 Years, London, Odhams, 1936.
  • Pemberton, Max (ed.), The Great Stories of Real Life, London, Newnes, 1924.
  • Reeves, Marshall, 'Suffolk Village Mystery', Master Detective magazine, June 1987.
  • Rowland, John, The Peasenhall Mystery, London, John Long, 1962.
  • Shew, Edmund Spencer, A Second Companion to Murder, London, Cassell, 1960.
  • Smith-Hughes, Jack, Eight Studies in Justice, London, Cassell, 1953.
  • Villiers, Elizabeth, Riddles of Crime, London, Werner Laurie, 1928.
  • White, R. J., The Women of Peasenhall, London, Macmillan, 1969. (Fictionalised treatment).
  • Wilkes, Roger, An Infamous Address, London, Grafton, 1989.
  • Wilson, Colin, The Mammoth Book of True Crime, London, Robinson, 1988.



  • Robert Church, "Murder in East Anglia: A New Look at Notorious Cases", Robert Hale, 1987, ISBN 0-7090-2963-2, pp. 57–75.
  • Caroline Maughan, Julian S. Webb, "Lawyering skills and the legal process" (2nd ed), Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-521-61950-5, pp. 357–360.
  • Edwin Packer, "The Peasenhall Murder", Yoxford Publications, 1980, ISBN 0-907265-01-4.

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