The murder of Peter Rampson, 1938
When a small bundle was found on the tracks, it sparked the start of an investigation in to the suspicious death of a young child.
A sad discovery
On a September morning in 1938, as the 4.45am parcels train ran between Putney and Barnes stations, the driver of the train noticed what looked like a white bundle lying in the cess between the lines.
Although not due to stop at Barnes Bridge station, he did so and reported the matter to the staff on duty. They telephoned the staff at Barnes station and the station foreman walked along the track to the point indicated. He found that the white bundle was the body of a male child clothed in just a white vest, and it was obvious that death had taken place some hours previously.
Both sides of the railway track were bounded by long gardens of a select residential area, the track consisting of four sets of rails, with at least six yards from the fences of the gardens to the nearside rail either side. The foreman left the body lying where he found it and immediately informed Railway and Metropolitan “V” Division Police.
The investigation begins
Police officers, together with the divisional surgeon removed the body to the local mortuary, the spot where the body was found being appropriately marked. Kingston District railways police headquarters instructed detective Sergeant Reding and Detective Smith to place themselves at the disposal of the Metropolitan CID to give whatever assistance they could, as Putney and Barnes formed part of their district.
Staff at local railway stations were given details of the finding of the body. They were asked to search for any child’s clothing that might have been discarded, and also to search ladies waiting rooms at the stations concerned. The railway officers, quite pertinently perhaps, enquired how long before the finding of the body death had ensued, and they were told at least eight hours.
The question was then asked if there were any burn marks on the body, and upon being informed that the right buttock and arm were slightly burned enquiries were made as to when the electric current had been switched off. It was established that the current was switched off at about 1.45am.
As a result, it was possible to narrow the time down, and it was established that if the child had been thrown from a train – and it transpired that such was the case – only three trains could have been involved.
The last train on the up local line was the 10.33pm from Barnes Bridge station and, upon questioning the staff there it was elicited that a woman, of whom only a very poor description could be given, was carrying a child wrapped in a blanket and had booked a ticket to Vauxhall.
A productive appeal
Despite constant enquiry an impasse was reached until on Saturday 17 September, it was decided that authority be obtained to put out a broadcast on the nine o’clock news that night, giving as much detail as possible.
The broadcast had the desired effect.
The following evening, a man and woman who kept a boarding house in Vauxhall Bridge Road, called at Rochester Road police station. The said a young woman had been staying there, and one day in the week had been seen with a baby, but without him the following day. When asked where he was she said she had placed him with foster parents. She had left the address and was believed to be in the Caterham area.
Immediate enquiries were instituted in the Caterham area, with the result that Eastwood was located and taken to Putney police station. Her first statement was to the effect that the child – Peter Rampson, aged eight months – was the illegitimate offspring of her husband and a prostitute. The husband was a serving soldier in the Coldstream Guards and had failed to support it. The prostitute had taken the boy to Eastwood stating that if she did not take it in she would go to her husband’s commanding officer. Eastwood took the child but, she was without unemployed and could not care for it. The statement then went on that in desperation she went for a walk and left the child in a doorway in Edgware Road.
She later made a further statement which was tantamount to a full confession. In it she said that she went for a walk, taking the child with her. At Hyde Park Corner she joined a bus and alighted at Barnes Bridge, booking a ticket to Vauxhall. When on the train, she held the child out of the window with the intention of dropping him, but her courage failed her. This she did three times, and on the last occasion the train lurched and the child fell from her arms.
She was charged with murder and committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court.
The jury returned a verdict of guilty and sentence of death was passed. Later this was commuted to penal servitude for life.
The railway police officers concerned saw the case to finality and were commended for their work by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis.