The Great Western Railway was singularly free from homicide, but on 3 February 1936, a case broke the peace in dramatic fashion.
A sharp crack
At 6pm, Violet Fuller, a machinist, boarded a Paddington train at Princes Risborough. She took a seat in a coach near the front of the train.
Just outside Risborough Station as the train passed through a tunnel, Mrs Fuller heard a sharp crack. Almost immediately there was another crack and Fuller thought a carriage door was open. At Saunderton she looked out of the window but saw nothing wrong. As she left the train at High Wycombe she noticed a man sitting in the corner of the compartment next to hers. He appeared to be asleep.
Fuller’s train was the 5.42pm from Aylesbury to Paddington. As the guard walked through the train, he saw a man apparently asleep, looking pale and ill.
The train stopped at Beaconsfield and Guard Wood, rather anxious, returned to the compartment. The sick man had moved and was sitting with his head bent forward. “Don't you feel well?” asked Wood. “No,” mumbled the passenger.
Wood realised the man was seriously ill and with the assistance of two porters, carefully removed him from the compartment and took him to the waiting room. Wood saw nothing unusual in the compartment but as a precautionary measure locked it on both sides. He then rejoined the train and went on to Paddington, arriving at 7.35pm.
Meanwhile Porter Bingham at Beaconsfield carried out some first aid and sent for a doctor. While he was waiting for the doctor the man suddenly said: “A man shot me with a revolver.”
Doctor Kipping arrived at 6.45pm and made a thorough examination. He found a gunshot wound in the left chest just below the heart with an exit wound at the back. The doctor telephoned the county police immediately. Sergeants Jennings and Foster went to the station. The doctor told the officers: “This man is in a critical condition. He has been shot through the abdomen and he will die very soon. He states that he was shot by a strange man when travelling in the train.”
Sergeant Jennings asked the man, who by this time had regained consciousness, a few questions. He name was Arthur Mead. He was travelling in the train from Aylesbury, and said that a man got in at Risborough, pulled out a revolver and shot him. He was dark, about 24 or 25, short and thick, wearing a grey trilby hat, no overcoat and a grey suit. On hearing this Sergeant Jennings immediately telephoned the railway police at Paddington.
He conferred again with the doctor and then said to Mead: “Your condition is very serious. The doctor knows that you will die very soon. Do you understand?” Mead said: “Yes.” The sergeant then took Mead’s statement. It read:
“I, Arthur Mead of 39 Easton Street, High Wycombe, having the fear of death before me and with no hope of recovery, make this declaration. I got on the train at Aylesbury where I went to see my brother-in-law. The man who shot me was not on the train at Aylesbury. Nobody was in the carriage with me. I do not know where he got in. I think it must have been Risborough. There was no argument. He got up from his seat, pulled out a revolver and shot me. I had tried to push him off.
"I had never seen him before in my life. I think it was before we reached Wycombe that I was shot. It must have been, otherwise I should have got out there. I had a 10/- note in my waistcoat pocket. It was all the money I had.”
Mead tried hard to sign this declaration but could not. He died at 3.45am.
Meanwhile, the investigation had got underway. Detective Sergeant OC Griffin met the train at Paddington and examined the compartment. There were no signs of a struggle and no trace of any weapon, but a spent bullet was found under one of the seats.
Detective Sergeant Rawlins examined the body at Beaconsfield mortuary. The clothing consisted of a fairly thick overcoat, jacket, waistcoat, shirt and undervest. There were clear signs of a firearm having been placed close to the overcoat beneath the heart and fired. The cloth was burnt and there was a faint circular mark which indicated that the mouth of the weapon had been pressed against the cloth.
All platforms at Paddington had been closed and many people interrogated. Enquiries were made at intermediate stations by Detective Sergeant Bradfield and other officers. No man answering the description had been traced.
At daybreak a search of the line began and a discovery was made by the ganger responsible for the length between Princes Risborough and Saunderton. About half a mile from Saunderton, he found a gun. He picked it up and noticed a smell of fired powder. The position in which it was found suggested that it had been dropped from the window of a London bound train.
Discovery of the weapon
The object was a humane killer gun. It was sent to a firearms specialist, who explained the bullet found by Sergeant Griffin had been fired from the humane killer and could not have been fired from any other weapon.
When Violet Fuller came forward, her statement made clear that the fatal shot had been fired between Risborough and Saunderton. She said that no-one entered or left Mead’s compartment between Princes Risborough and High Wycombe.
Close investigation was made of Mead’s private life. His wife said he had served in the army during the First World War and in consequence his health had deteriorated badly. He had been receiving hospital treatment for some time and his doctor had advised his removal to a mental hospital.
Mrs Mead said her husband owned two humane killers, one of which she had taken to her brother-in-law. The second one she knew was in the possession of her husband but she did not know where. She thought it was the one that had been found on the line.
The landlord of the White Lion at Waddesdon had known Mead since 1919 and saw him on the morning of the tragedy. He said Mead was very depressed and had tried to borrow money from him. All enquiries suggested the case was not one of murder after all, but that Mead’s wound was self-inflicted.
On Wednesday, 19 February 1936, an inquest was held at Beaconsfield. “One difficult point,” said the coroner, “is that Mead stuck to his statement right to the end. The only suggestions I can make are perhaps that he did not wish the stigma of suicide to fall on the family or he may have thought in spite of what the doctor said that he would recover and that he would be charged with attempted suicide.” The jury returned a verdict that Mead took his own life at a time when he was not of sound mind.
The case indicates the circumstances in which a declaration made by a dying person will be admissible in evidence. Such a declaration is deemed relevant when it relates to the cause of death or to any of the circumstances of the transaction which resulted in death but only when the person making it has shown to the satisfaction of the court to have been in actual danger of death and to have given up all hope of recovery at the time when his declaration was made.
Unfortunately, dying men can, on occasion, as the case of Arthur Mead demonstrates, tell lies as well as anybody else.