The Wheel Chair Murder

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Wheel Chair Murder' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The Wheel Chair Murder' page

By Sue Horncastle

When the residents of Hockley Road, Rayleigh, heard an explosion on a sunny summer afternoon in July 1943 the last thing they expected was that an invalid had been murdered in the street.  It was wartime and aircraft had been spotted in the sky above so enemy action was the first thing to be suspected.

A pile of swisted metal was all that remained of the wheel chair in which Archibald Brown had been pushed by Nurse Mitchell. Amazingly, the nurse had been thrown clear of the blast and was unhurt but Mr Brown was killed instantly.  There was only a small pothole left in the road.  Police investigations led them to suspect Mr Brown's older son, Eric.

Eric Brown was 19 and had been on compassionate leave from the army. Before the war he had been employed at a bank in Rochford but lost his job because of irrational behaviour.  Mr Brown had been completely incapacitated for about a year due to spinal injuries received in an accident many years before.  His attitude to his wife and older son was aggresive and very unpleasant.  Mrs Brown was not even allowed to visit her mother who lived in Rochford.  The boy had lived in fear of ridicule and physical attacks from his father since early childhood.

Army life was a relief for Eric and when he was trained in the use of a Hawkins Grenade mine he probably saw the chance to rid himself and his mother of their troubles.  A mine was stolen from the stores and secreted in the family air raid shelter in Rayleigh when Eric came home on an earlier leave.  In July it was fitted underneath the seat of the wheel chair which was also stored in the locked shelter.

Amazingly, the device did not explode when Mr Brown was first placed in the wheel chair for his walk, which might have killed Eric's mother and the nurse too, but when the invalid moved about on the seat about half an hour later there was a massive explosion.  Eventually, Eric confessed everything to the police, saying, “My father is out of his suffering and I earnestly hope that my mother will now live a much happier and more normal life.” (Totterdell, 1956)

Charged with murder at the Chelmsford assizes Eric pleaded not guilty.  However, evidence was given of his unstable mental state and a verdict of guilty but insane was returned by the jury.  Eric Brown was ordered to be detained in a criminal mental institution for an indefinite period.

Bibliography: “Country Copper.  The autobiography of Supt. G. H. Totterdell, C.D.I.”, 1956. (Kindly lent by Mr G. Wiseman)

See also an audio file in the “Sails in the Wind” article.

This page was added by Sue Horncastle on 19/07/2012.
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