Ash Vale station was the scene of one of the most violent robberies seen on the railways. Booking clerk Geoffrey Dean trusted his murderer, fellow railwayman John Alcott, and lost his life after a savage and unexpected attack.
In early August 1952, 28-year-old booking clerk Geoffrey Charles Dean, lived with his wife and small child in Ash Vale near Aldershot.
On the night of Friday, 22 August 1952, tragedy struck. Geoffrey was brutally murdered while on duty. He was stabbed 20 times for the sum of £160.
The murderer, John James Alcott, a 23 year old railway fireman from Hither Green, London, commenced his annual holiday on Monday 18 August 1952. When he left home on that Monday morning he told his wife he was going to collect his holiday pay.
Preparing for the crime
Alcott travelled to Aldershot and stayed the night in a hotel, after purchasing a dagger type of sheath knife. It can be safely assumed, that he was already planning the murder he committed four days later.
On Wednesday, 20 August, he made the first of several visits to the Ash Vale booking office, this time enquiring the time of the boat trains to Dover from Victoria.
Early the following day, he was back again, asking the porter on duty about a railway lineman before being seen in the porter’s room cleaning his finger nails with the dagger-type knife.
On the evening of Thursday 21 August, Alcott was again at Ash Vale booking office, asking to use the service telephone. He showed a railway pass and was given permission to enter the booking office to use the telephone.
He left the office but returned there at about 7.10pm where he stayed, talking to the booking clerk until the office closed at 8pm.
It would appear he was watching the movements of the staff, and later remained in the booking office talking to the clerk to see how the cash was dealt with.
On the day of the murder, Friday 22 August, he was again seen in the booking office using the telephone, and later at 7.30pm when booking clerk Dean was preparing to close the booking office.
Dean told the porter that although he was closing the office he would be working late on his accounts. Alcott was then in the office and seen by the porter.
The murder takes place
Alcott remained in the booking office until the crime was committed at approximately 8.45pm. At about that time a soldier went to the booking office, but found it closed. As he stood there, he heard some shuffling of feet inside the office and what he thought was two voices.
The soldier saw the notice on informing passengers that tickets were issued on the platform after 8pm and went in search of the porter. He thought no more of it until told about the murder early the next morning and reported what he had heard to the police.
The murder was discovered at about 8.55pm. A junior porter noticed a light still on in the booking office, and thinking this unusual, climbed on the outside sill of the booking office window and, peering through, he saw the legs of a man lying on the floor in a pool of blood. He also saw that the safe was open.
The station master was called and ordered the door of the booking office to be forced open. As he entered, he saw Dean’s body on the floor, face upwards, covered with blood.
The local police were informed, and officers arrived at the station at 9.45pm. In a short time Divisional Superintendent Roberts and other officers, including BTC Police of the South Western Area were on the scene.
Intensive enquiries began. A police incident room was set up at a waiting room at Ash station. All hotels and lodging houses in the neighbourhood were checked.
The morning after the murder, two officers visited a lodging house in Victoria Road, Aldershot. They went to a first floor bedroom, and found a blood-stained jacket, a blood-stained wallet and two 10/- treasury notes badly stained with blood.
The officers were instructed to remain at the premises and question the owner of the jacket should he return. At 11.15pm that night, Alcott returned to the room and was arrested. In his pocket was found a roll of treasury notes.
Alcott said: “That's some of the money,” and made a statement implicating himself in the crime. He told the officers the knife was hidden in the chimney of his room. The knife and a number of railway documents were found there.
The jacket he wore during the murder was found at his lodging, the trousers had been hidden in some gorse bushes in the neighbourhood and the shoes had been left at a local shop for repairs.
Apart from his admission, a long chain of evidence was built up and twenty four witnesses, including the soldier, bus conductors, tradesmen etc. were called to give evidence at the trial.
Dr Arthur Keith Mant, of the Department of Forensic Medicine, Guy's Hospital, giving evidence on his autopsy of the body, said he found a stab wound behind the right ear which had severed the jugular vein and the lingual artery, nine stab wounds in the back of the chest and seven in the front of the chest, one of which had been done with great violence and had passed through the breast bone and the heart. There were also wounds on the face, in the abdomen, arms and legs.
The director of the Metropolitan Police Laboratory gave evidence that the blood stains on the jacket, trousers and shoes of the accused, on the sheath knife and towel in the booking office were all of the same group ‘O’ as that of the deceased. Also that maroon-coloured fibres found on the knife were similar to the fibres of the pullover which Dean was wearing.
Alcott stood his trial on 18 November 1952. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. His appeal on the grounds of insanity was dismissed, and he met his due on 2 January, 1953. If he had been hanged for a previous murder, committed while serving with the Army in Germany, Geoffrey Dean would have lived.