Towpath murders

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The towpath murders was a case that involved the murder of two teenage girls on the towpath near Teddington Lock on the River Thames, England, on 31 May 1953. The case garnered a great deal of press attention and was described at the time as "one of Scotland Yard's most notable triumphs in a century".[1][2][3][4][5]


The victims were 16-year-old Barbara Songhurst and 18-year-old Christine Reed. The girls had been on a bicycle trip on Sunday, 31 May 1953, and were seen cycling along the towpath beside the River Thames at about 11am. They failed to return home. Songhurst's body was found the next day on 1 June, the day before Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, and Reed's body was found on 6 June.[1] They were examined by pathologist Keith Mant. Both had been beaten and raped.[1]


Alfred Charles Whiteway, separated from his wife and living with his parents in Teddington, was arrested after two later attacks on women in Surrey. At first, he denied any involvement. Later, an axe was found hidden in his car. It was lost, and found at the house of a police constable, who was using it to chop wood. Forensic tests linked traces of blood on the axe, and on Whiteway's shoes, to the murders, and he confessed.[1]


Whiteway was tried at the Old Bailey in October and November 1953 before Mr Justice Hilbery. He was defended by solicitor Arthur Prothero, who instructed Peter Rawlinson, then a relatively junior barrister. Rawlinson cross-examined murder squad detective Herbert Hannam at length, opening large holes in his evidence of the confession, which Whiteway claimed was a work of fiction. Press reports complained at the implication that the police were lying.[1]

On 2 November, after forty-five minutes of deliberation, the jury found Whiteway guilty.[6] An appeal was heard by the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Goddard), Mr. Justice Sellers and Mr. Justice Barry but was rejected on 7 December.[7] Whiteway was hanged at Wandsworth Prison on 22 December 1953. The axe is in the Black Museum at Scotland Yard.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Cullen, Pamela V. (2006). A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams. London: Elliott & Thompson. ISBN 1-904027-19-9. 
  2. ^ The Canberra Times, 17 September 1953
  3. ^ The Canberra Times, 30 October 1953
  4. ^ Life magazine, 22 April 1957 at Google Books
  5. ^ National Archives Freedom of Information Requests, June 2006;
  6. ^ "Murder On Towpath: Whiteway Found Guilty, Sentence Of Death". The Times (52769). London. 3 November 1953. p. 2. 
  7. ^ "Towpath Murder Appeal Dismissed, Regina v. Whiteway". The Times (52799). London. 8 December 1953. p. 5.