Crawling through scrub on Hankley Common near Godalming, Surrey, two marines were taking part in a commando exercise. It was OCTOBER 7th, 1942, and on reaching the high ground of a sandy escarpment they were shocked to see a hand protruding from a mound of soil and uprooted heather. One of them remained by the mound while the other went to report the discovery.
The area was soon swarming with police, and the body was identified as that of Joan Pearl Wolfe, of Tunbridge Wells, Kent. She had become known locally as the wigwam girl because she had been living rough in a makeshift wigwam built for her by her boy friend, a French Canadian soldier based at a nearby camp. She had been stabbed with a knife with a hooked tip, and had then been beaten to death with a birch stake found bloodstained near the crime scene.
Searching the common, the police found her identity card and a letter to her lover, Private August Sangret, a 28-year-old Red Indian hence the wigwam. And when detectives read the letter, they had no need to look further for the killer or his motive. The note told Sangret that Joan was expecting his child and she looked forward to marrying him.
Sangret denied killing her, but traces of blood were found on his recently washed uniform. He had given other soldiers conflicting accounts of his girl friends disappearance, and his black-handled clasp-knife with a hook-tipped blade was discovered blocking a drain in his camps washroom.
To snare him, Scotland Yards Detective Inspector Ted Greeno set a trap. He told him that regimental police at the camp had informed him that when they had found a black-handled knife stuck in a tree near the wigwam, Sangret had identified it as his.
It was not his, Sangret said. It was Joans. I forgot to tell you about this knife before, I never thought about it. Joan used to carry it in her handbag. She told me she got it from a soldier she went out with before she met me.
He said they had used the knife most days at the wigwam and he had left it stuck in a nearby tree. I was shown the knife by one of the military policemen, and I told him it was Joans.
Asked if it had been returned to him, Sangret replied, No, that knife was never given back to me and it was never given back to Joan. I did not see it again.
Joans burial on the escarpment some 400 yards from where she was slain was believed to have been dictated by the Red Indian tradition of interring vanquished enemies on high ground. Charged with her murder, Sangret was tried at Kingston Assizes in the following February. When the pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson produced Joans skull from a cardboard box, this was believed to be the first time the remains of a murder victims head had been displayed at a trial.
Sangret was convicted, sentenced to death, and hanged at Wandsworth Prison on April 29th, 1943.
Was Joan Wolfe pregnant, or was that just her story to pressure Sangret to marry her? Nobody would ever know, because her corpse was too decomposed for pregnancy to be established.