Like a true gentleman, John Bainbridge died on the gallows to protect a woman’s honour. Or so he claimed.

Bainbridge, 24, a private in the Durham Light Infantry, was stationed at Blackdown Camp in Hampshire, when, on December 22nd, 1934, he was granted Christmas leave and went home to Bishop Auckland. During the next few days Edward Herdman, 75, a solicitor and old friend of Bainbridge’s family, suggested to the young soldier that he should make a will, since he might be posted overseas. So, on the afternoon of December 31st, Bainbridge called at Mr. Herdman’s office in Salisbury Place and asked him to draft it for him.

At 6.15 that evening Bainbridge called again to see how the draft was progressing. Herdman’s daughter was present and when she left at 10 minutes to eight Bainbridge left with her. Half an hour later he went into a jeweller’s shop, where he paid the last instalment on an engagement ring for his fiancée. He then caught a bus to Gateshead to go to a New Year’s Eve party.

At 9.50 p.m. Edward Herdman’s daughter arrived home and found her father dead on the floor. He had been battered with a poker, and his throat was cut. His wallet had been removed from his jacket and placed on a table. Although the £40 in it was untouched, other money was missing from the house.

Bainbridge was traced to the New Year’s Eve party and taken in for questioning. It was known that he was short of cash – he had borrowed £18 from a moneylender and asked for £20 more.Yet he had paid for an engagement ring, and had another £5 on him. He also had a small bloodstain on his shirt cuff.

He was charged with murder but swore that he was innocent. He had borrowed the money, he said, from a married woman who he refused to name. If that sounded implausible, his case worsened a few days later when a fellow-soldier at Blackdown received an envelope postmarked Gateshead. There was no letter accompanying the £36 in cash in the envelope. Some of the banknotes were bloodstained and the writing on the envelope was similar to Bainbridge’s.

After a four-day trial at Durham Assizes on MARCH 8th, 1935, Bainbridge was found guilty of murder. A few days after his appeal was dismissed on April 15th his mother received a letter from a woman who signed herself “A Great Friend.”

The letter-writer claimed that Bainbridge was innocent of the crime, and that she was the married woman who had lent him the money. Was the letter written by someone trying to save Bainbridge’s life, or was it genuine? We shall never know, for it did not save him from the rope.

A few days before he was hanged on May 9th he wrote to his solicitor: “Not once did I dream that the result would be as disastrous as this through my refusing to implicate the lady from whom I borrowed that confounded money.”

If she ever existed, he took her identity to his grave.